I remember back in Nursing School when I first learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs and how the period toward self actualizing was built. First came food and water, then shelter, then love, then somewhere near the top, if you were one of the lucky ones, you could somehow attain self-actualization. Wow, I had marveled, that didn’t seem that difficult, after all, look at all the stuff that I had acquired in the bottom of the pyramid.
For years, this notion has settled into the forefront of my psyche, convinced that one day, pow, I will reach it. A decade or so after first learning of this pyramid, I stumbled across a qualitative research paper – I think that I was taking a Stats Course at the time, and it stated in strong qualitative language that many of the homeless and the destitute have actually attained self-actualization. That they had indeed skipped the lower part of the triangle and were living their lives with great mindfulness, not needing or wanting food and shelter.
Yesterday at breakfast, we met a Brit who was in India for a month – studying and practicing Buddhism. I may mention that it is one of the oldest religions, beginning around 500 BC. This man sitting next to me at breakfast, in his mid-50’s was seeking this self actualization as well, an elusive vision that leads to greater understanding of all things, he stated. I researched this concept a bit more and found
The Noble Eightfold Path—the fourth of the Buddha’s Noble Truths—is the way to the cessation of suffering (dukkha). It has eight sections, each starting with the word “samyak” (Sanskrit, meaning “correctly”, “properly”, or “well”, frequently translated into English as “right”), and presented in three groups known as the three higher trainings.
Prajña is the wisdom that purifies the mind, allowing it to attain spiritual insight into the true nature of all things. It includes:
1. ditthi: viewing reality as it is, not just as it appears to be.
2. sankappa: intention of renunciation, freedom and harmlessness.
Sila is the ethics or morality, or abstention from unwholesome deeds. It includes:
3. vica: speaking in a truthful and non-hurtful way
4. kammanta: acting in a non-harmful way
5. ajiva: a non-harmful livelihood
Samadhi is the mental discipline required to develop mastery over one’s own mind. This is done through the practice of various contemplative and meditative practices, and includes:
6. vayama: making an effort to improve
7. sati: awareness to see things for what they are with clear consciousness, being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion
8. samadhi : correct meditation or concentration, explained as the first four jhanas
The practice of the Eightfold Path is understood in two ways, as requiring either simultaneous development (all eight items practiced in parallel), or as a progressive series of stages through which the practitioner moves, the culmination of one leading to the beginning of another.
As I continued to converse with this man from England, it became clear that he was a kind and gentle soul, and when one of the stories, told by my friend became a little too ‘intense’ for him, he gently laughed and changed the subject quickly. He found no pleasure in listening to a story that sought to conquer – or to the emotion tied to it. I wondered if anyone else had picked up on this.
As we finished up and began to head out for the day, the front desk rang our room, “There is a gift waiting for you”, they said. They sent it up and it was the Lonely Planet’s Guide to India. We had lusted after the Brit’s copy and I had said a few times that we should have had one, as EVERY other traveler in India seems to have had a copy. I suppose that the central tenet of Buddhism was shining through here too – Karma. That which you give, you shall receive tenfold. I hope that this is the case for this man.
So back to my original idea – here we are, as a North American society, with the bottom of the pyramid so full, that the top has become blurry. We want more food, more shelter, more love, and we never ever find self-actualization because we are so caught up in this other pursuit, as though these ‘things’ will help us achieve the necessary higher power to feel, and be, complete. Most people are not even aware of this higher ‘becoming’; this consciousness of the mind, instead, looking to another higher power in order to find this, and in the process turning away from themselves.
Next time, I become sad or depressed, I will think about that Brit who changed the subject, or the street kid in Old Delhi who guided us to the spice market (2 km) and would not accept a tip (even though he could have clearly used it) or the man in the leather shop trying to make a buck, who took me by the hand and showed me where I could find something that I was looking for (in another shop), or Vijay, my driver for a couple of days, who sat patiently with me while I tried on shoes and indicated his favourites, even though he couldn’t never dream of buying any, or Ali, my Took-Took driver in Jaipur, who I ‘dumped’ like a hot potato, because everyone said he was a hustler, but in my mind, he will always be a good kid, just trying to pay the bill for his family.
There are so many stories that I will remember from this trip. I hope that means that I am another step closer to the realization of what life is all about. The Me Generation – the prevalent narcissism that pervades our society is shameful. The ‘apparent’ love that we shower on ourselves will never be requitted. As Mason Cooley once said, “Narcissus weeps to find that his Image does not return his love.” While we all can have our moments of this adoration of self, I for one, hope that I can remember some of these lessons, and will dream of my own light shining down, helping to create a pure heart with true intentions and be comforted by some ancient wisdom that says that such Karma will always come back to warm us!