“The ability to be human is rooted in our capacity for self-transcendence.” ~ Abraham Maslow
Earlier in this series, I spoke about our “need” for meaning. Let’s return to that concept and expand on it just a bit. Where I’m going is to open you to seeing that in certain aspects of your life you are driven based on your “humanness” and in other areas your urges come from somewhere beyond that place.
But first, what are “needs”? Why are “needs”? Where do they come from? Do they serve any purpose?
On one level, this seems like a topic that needs no explanation. We simply recognize that we have some urges within us that need to be met and they motivate us to seek something that will satisfy the urge. We are thirsty, we drink. We are hungry, we eat. Etc. Simply stated, “needs” are motivators that move us to act.
Previously I mentioned the psychologist Abraham Maslow and his so called “hierarchy of needs”. Most of us know this from the famous pyramid diagram used to explain it. Again, his is just one theory of many that seeks to explain human motivation. However, there are aspects of his theory that resonate with me deeply and appear to be in alignment with what I have come to see as true.
Specifically, Maslow proposed that our needs could be categorized into two broad categories. On the one hand were what he termed “deficiency” needs. With these motivators, we perceive some type of “lack” and we are trying to “fill” it. The second category he labeled as “being” needs, ones that were not driven by lack but instead by a personal sense of overwhelming “fullness” of life and a desire to give from that sense of fullness.
Maslow’s deficiency needs were “lower” on his hierarchical scale and dealt with things such as physical desires, safety, security, love, belongingness and personal self-esteem. Generally, we must fulfill these needs first before we can turn our attention to “higher” needs. It’s hard to focus on our life’s purpose when we are starving for food.
Most, if not all, of these “lower” needs in Maslow’s model relate to our humanness. These base needs help us to maintain our physical bodies, to survive and to reproduce. They also deal with our ideas of how well we connect and fit in with other humans and address our desire for success in being a part of our human community.
So, we might consider that “why we have needs” is that they serve a material evolutionary advantage. Meeting them positions us to be successful in the material world. That success allows us to pass along our genes to our offspring and keep the species going.
As we are successful in meeting our human needs, we learn what works and what doesn’t, and we update our mental map accordingly. But this mapping activity only addresses our success in the material world. Frequently bigger questions relating to purpose and meaning in life are not addressed as we navigate material life. These questions of meaning take us to Maslow’s higher needs.
And, what are those “higher needs”? Maslow’s “being” needs relate to such things as seeking “self-actualization” and “self-transcendence”. To self-actualize means working towards our highest potential, creating a feeling of flow or ease in life, seeking to fulfill our perceived life purpose and so on. Self-transcendence relates to connecting with some greater power or presence in our lives, to transcend the individual self. Both connect to our desire to find deeper meaning in our lives.
As we consider these “being” needs, they don’t appear to give us any kind of physical evolutionary advantage by our acting to fulfill them. Yet there they are, pushing us along. Rather, we might start to see that they relate to desires that “transcend” our sense of being an individual physical human being. Instead, these urges move us beyond our sense of being an individual human so as to find a connection to something greater, something deeper, something that connects us to the universe in a greater way. In other words, these higher needs motivate us towards our spiritual nature.
So here is something I would like you to think about. As you go through your day and you act, what is motivating your actions? Are you seeking to meet certain needs based on your being a human being? No doubt you are.
But also look at those times when what stirs you to action seeks to call you to something beyond your humanness. When are those times? What is it you desire? Does your need for deeper meaning in life come from some place higher?
Ultimately, what I want you to consider is that you have both human needs and spiritual needs.