Doorways to Self-Transcendence | Numinous Nonsense
Doorways to Self-Transcendence
Mon, Sep 1, 2008
I consider Humanistic, Third Force Psychology to be transitional, a preparation for a still “higher” Fourth Psychology, transpersonal, transhuman, centered in the cosmos rather than in human needs and interest, going beyond humanness, identity, self-actualization, and the like. – Abraham Maslow
In Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs the top of the needs triangle is self-actualization. But as he himself acknowledged later on, self-transcendence, which goes beyond the personal, is the next step in human evolution. The shift then is from actualizing all of one’s skills, abilities, & capacities toward exploring and dissecting the self that is doing the actualizing.
In retrospect, it is clear to me now that the shift away from self-actualization happens as a result of exhausting the possibility that actualizing oneself will lead to ultimate happiness. The primary ways this happens seems to be through becoming acquainted with experiences that bring us beyond ourselves (altered states of consciousness), being moved to achieve enlightenment and join the ranks of the enlightened, or through getting fed up with experiences that we once thought would bring us happiness. The first door has to do with exploring altered states of consciousness (craving transcendent pleasure). The second door has to do with achieving spiritual perfection (becoming more) and the last one has to do with fleeing or negating that which is old (becoming less). In the end, both of these doors are really one and the same. They both lead beyond the self.
When one begins to discover states of consciousness that open up whole new vistas of possible pleasures and powers it is difficult not to be drawn further and further into the search for enlightenment. Surely, we think, enlightenment must be the most amazing and pleasurable experience imaginable. In this way, enlightenment (which we’ll talk about more later) can be a perfect transitionary idea for someone who is moving out of self-actualization and into self-transcendence. The “enlightenment idea” provides a more definitive answer to the question of personal identity. And for those that are still trying to find answers in the realm of experience, or through becoming someone even greater, it promises the most profound experience and realization that one could imagine. The irony is, as anyone who has “experienced” enlightenment knows, is that it is not about gaining anything new, but rather is about stripping away, piece by piece, every misconception about who we think we are.
The other door to self-transcendence is about being fed up with experiences. Nothing we’ve felt, seen, or experienced and really no form of human knowledge or experience whatsoever can any longer provide us with happiness. It’s as if the cracks in the façade of reality begin to become apparent and nothing can really fool us into believing that it is real, at least in the same way it used to. This kind of existential dilemma, when applied to questions of truth and selfhood, can lead one to seek out enlightenment as well. Here we reach toward transcendence not by being drawn to it, but by backing away from untruth.
What’s so fascinating is that each of these doorways to self-transcendence can be traced back to the various types of craving that are described in the Buddhist tradition. The Buddha described three main types of craving in our human experience, namely 1) the craving for sense pleasures 2) the craving for becoming & 3) the craving for extinction. So the three doorways to self-transcendence include desiring transcendent states (craving for sense pleasures), the desire to become a perfectly enlightened being (craving for becoming) and the desire to escape the imperfection of reality (craving for extinction). In this sense, our human cravings are the very same energies that propel us forward on the spiritual path, and make liberation possible. Seeing the profundity of this, both intellectually and in our direct experiences, is a massive step toward a liberation that can include everything in our human experience. The highest highs and the lowest lows then are all part-and-parcel of genuine liberation. Nothing need be left out!