Maslow gave us a nice pyramid. Human needs. A hierarchy.
The theory goes that we meet the needs at one level and move up.
This seems to makes sense.
Searching for food, water, warmth and shelter could take all the attention until they are found.
Then there would be space to go after the psychological needs – feelings of belonging and intimacy and accomplishment.
Then once we have these, on to the very top: self actualisation – achieving full potential, respect and creativity.
The pinnacle of the pyramid! A self, fully actualised, solid, real, secure. The ultimate aim for all of us. The subject of a zillion self help books. The final destiny. Peak living.
Much later Maslow added another layer to the pyramid.
Beyond self actualisation, ’self transcendence’.
What could that be?
We could think of it as a series of questions…
‘Who or what is the self?’
‘Where is it?’
‘What is actually true or substantial or objective about it?’
‘What is constant about it?’
Exploring these questions can lead to only one conclusion:
This self that we believe ourselves to be cannot exist in the way we think it does. Identity is an idea. Belief in self is a belief. The only constant is the space in which these ideas, beliefs and experiences appear.
And now this is a bit weird because it begs the question: what actually is at the top of the pyramid?
And the answer has to be: No one. No thing.
The struggling, insecure self scrabbling up the mountain with needs and desires, always with its eye on the summit, would look at this nothing and say:
‘Really…? Really… Is that what this whole damn trial has been about? Finding NOTHING? is that it?’
But that self has now been seen for what it was, it is no longer there to judge or to need or to seek. And so the nothing is revealed for what it is: everything.
And the everything is love.
Purest, all-encompassing, conditionless, love. That is who we are. Hidden deep beneath the layers of frustration, anger. Hidden indeed by the search.
Love looks back down the side of the mountain, at everything once believed. And now it is clear.
It is clear that the idea of self arose from love. That it’s very existence as an apparently separate object allowed an infinity of other apparently separate objects to appear: language, food, shelter, money, cars, trains, family, friends, employers…
We see that every experience, all objects, all doing has only ever been love gifting itself a world of separation, and, in that gift, guiding itself back to knowing.
This is seen clearly.
Until it’s not.
Until momentarily there it is again: the struggle, the confusion, the desperation, the separation, the need… and an idea of an incomplete self that should be able to fix all this, control all this, change all this.
And oh how it looks in this moment that this need to not suffer must be fulfilled, that the self could secure itself if it tried hard enough, that the self can choose and make the right choice.
The suffering is love. Love is saying ‘be still’. Through love, the knowing of who we are will prevail. Nothing will be found, no self, no need, and nothing out there to be needed.
And, in this way, each moment of suffering becomes a gift. A gift of needs buried deep, brought to the surface, honoured by love, dissolved by love.
The self identity was only ever a bundle of imagined needs and now the needs are heard and seen and loved and accepted into the nothingness they always were.
Layer by layer, back down through the pyramid, the self disappears into the no-self, limit dissolves into the infinite, need dissolves in the completeness.
There is no need for self actualisation. An idea of self happens. There is nothing that has to be done with it. And this apparent self will arise and act. Doing arises. As it always has. Except this time there is no confusion.
There is no potential to be realised. Because it is realised fully now. Now is all there is and all that could ever be.
There is no need for creativity. Creation is the very nature.
There is no need for intimacy, belonging and accomplishment. Love makes those concepts beautifully redundant. The absence of separation makes the opposite of them an impossibility.
And then perhaps finally, ultimately, the most vigorously defended, there is no need for this body to be alive. There is nothing to secure.
And free of the need to be alive, life is lived as never before.
There are no needs. There never have been.