The Science of Individual Actualization

Academically, there is a consensus about what is necessary to individually actualize. Abraham Maslow laid the foundation for understanding the specific conditions that need to be met for individual actualization, which much of psychology still draws from. Contrary to popular understanding, Maslow never described the components of individual actualization as a pyramid of needs,1 but rather as an overlapping ebb and flow. Therefore, we should not conceptualize our individual journeys as climbing a ladder. This idea only reinforces hierarchy as a framework of human experience, which self-actualization in the age of crisis requires us to break free of. 

Alternative models have since been developed. For example, Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman suggests that we visualize Maslow’s framework of individual actualization as a sailboat, which more accurately represents our potential to find momentum. Figure 5 highlights the fundamentals. The term “safety” refers to basic necessities, such as food and water. The term “connection” refers to our networks of individuals and access, which influence our self-esteem. Together, safety, connection, and self-esteem represent the stability required for individual actualization. The sail is founded on exploration, which is the driver of growth and from which love and purpose arise. The boat metaphor helps us understand individual actualization as the interconnectivity of circumstances. Overlooking any of the aspects will cause the vessel to lose momentum or sink. Kaufman argued that the sailboat is a better metaphor than the pyramid because life is a vast ocean of possibilities, not a senseless climb to the top to some arbitrary point.

Figure 5: S. Kaufman (2020). Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization TarcherPerigee (391) p. xxxv.

Safety represents specific material and informational standards that must be met in order to accomplish individual actualization. In 1943, Maslow identified these requirements2 that have played a foundational role in the science of individual actualization. In the context of the single truth, every individual lacking access to these resources and systems is squandered potential. As our time experiences progress, the gap between who is and is not safe and secure in their personhood will continue to expand. In combination with the surrounding crises, our present trajectory ensures that individual actualization becomes more difficult by the moment for many. 

Connection is the embrace of our oneness with the relational universe. Grouping is a natural phenomenon we observe in many species. We observe it through animals forming packs, flocks, or schools, and within the human development of community, friendship, and companionship. We all struggle with tribalism and the desire to be accepted as we are. Depending on our circumstances, the degree of our desire for connection varies in direction and depth. The need for connection is a biological phenomenon, part of our human machinery that cannot be avoided. It is also connected to our experience as observers within the relational universe. When two people communicate, they enter a temporary state of neural coupling where their brain waves mimic each other within a shared time experience.3 It is therefore unsurprising that an absence of connection is harmful to human health. For example, loneliness is reported to be more dangerous than smoking. It is a significant cause of suicidal ideation and para-suicide, Alzheimer’s disease, and other dementia and adversely affects the immune and cardio-vascular system.4 Encouraging connection is a journey undertaken both through the practices of individual actualization and the organization of systemic actualization.

Maslow detailed the idea of self-esteem in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality. He broke the concept down into secure and insecure self-esteem. An individual with secure self-esteem understands that self-worth and confidence are the foundations of personal growth. People with insecure self-esteem build themselves up by hurting and diminishing others. Studies suggest that those with poor self-esteem are at high risk for depression.5 Insecure self-esteem is an aspect of the relational universe that draws from our crisis of desire. How often do we feel insecure as a result of observing others who have more? To struggle with self-esteem is deeply human. This struggle is made more difficult by our being surrounded by systems encouraging comparison, competition, and consumerism. 

Secure self-esteem is the byproduct of accomplishment. People who feel good about their efforts and outcomes are more likely to internalize their judgments of self-worth. They draw value from challenging themselves to be more than they were in past moments, caring little for what others do or say. In combination with healthy connections to others, the individual develops a growth mindset that further solidifies their oneness with the relational universe. 

In a universe governed by the single truth, exploration is a core component of individual experience. Exploring interests is an exhilarating experience. Exploration is how we become more. Every moment we spend focusing on something, we spend becoming it. A process of learning and loving makes work and hobbies worth doing. Exploration is also a healing mechanism, a means of overcoming trauma through growth. It encourages openness to new experiences, imagination, intuition, and sensitivity.6 To be open is to avoid imposing static ideas on an ever-changing universe. We can embrace known frameworks without personally attaching ourselves to them. Individual actualization is developing an understanding that no system we create can ever adequately represent or embody us. We are always more than the ideas and things we create. The single truth ensures that all systems and philosophies lose value over time. Each spreads the ideas and values of the moment of their creation onto the immediate present. Therefore, the individual should avoid defining their identity as the specific undertakings, beliefs, or groups they inhabit. How and why the individual explores are not important, as long as they have the knowledge and resources necessary to do so. 

Love takes many forms. How we love ourselves, how we love others. How we love our partners, our children. Friends and strangers, family and neighbors. Love is central to mythos past and present because it is transcendent. It is an experience that changes us in ways we did not know existed. It defines us; those who are loved are able to love more. Maslow wrote, “Clinical study of healthier people, who have been love-need-satisfied, shows that although they need less to receive love, they are more able to give love. In this sense they are more loving people.”7 He segmented love into two categories, deficiency love (D-love) and “love for the being of another person” (B-Love).8 D-love is wanting; I love you because I need you. B-Love is selfless; I love you because loving is part of who I am. To be a highly loving person in the relational universe permeates everything the individual does. It influences intent, which influences imagination and action. B-Love extends outward, a bond with the vast otherness surrounding us to create wholeness in an otherwise fractured world. Those embodying B-Love excel in universal concern, universal tolerance, trustworthiness, and benevolence. These traits manifest in our interactions with others as belief in equal opportunity, blind justice, and vital security for all. B-Love is a characteristic we seek to develop within ourselves because it aligns with our understanding of oneness with the relational universe. Yet, as Maslow mentioned, those able to achieve transcendent love are often the ones who were loved. Love is a form of information we give and receive. Birth lottery determines how the individual understands love.

Love highlights the inseparability of individual and systemic actualization. We recognize love as a vital component of the human experience yet understand that each inherits a circumstance completely out of our control. This does not define the individual, so long as they have alternative pathways of access and agency available. Our development of a more secure individual through systemic actualization is an act of self-love. It recognizes the value and divinity of each individual and constructs the systems necessary to further promote loving atmospheres. The insecure parent is a stressed parent. Stress, like all emotions, influences our time experience. Security does not guarantee that the child will receive love, but it is always preferable to the alternative. 

Embracing the philosophy of system and individual as a single self is an act of self-love that aligns us with the single truth. We recognize ourselves as the totality of our circumstances, a form of observing being that is inseparable from the world around us. The pathway toward personal connection with the universe, a love for oneself and others, blooms into an expansive trust. When the individual realizes selfless love, they become comfortable with vulnerability, opening themselves to deeper connections with others and the universe around them. To be willingly vulnerable is to understand that genuine control in the universe is attained by letting go. Letting go of our desires to maintain control of circumstances, of others, and of outcomes, and instead directing our focus and energy toward the immediate present. What am I doing to enhance the love I give and receive within the universe right now? Synchronicity is an understanding and application of the knowledge of the relational universe. To understand and embrace the totality of the moment alongside your agency within it. Like the spiritual technologies of past and present, individual actualization requires a relinquishing power to become more powerful. Unlike our present decaying institutions, there is no blind allegiance to the single truth. We seek radical love and trust within ourselves and our systems because we understand that doing so aligns us with the nature of our universe. 

To encourage love and trust within society imbues harmony into our relationships. It is easier said than done, as the systems surrounding us today encourage mistrust. These informational arrangements input ways of thinking and being into the individual that calcify over time. We don’t trust others, and perhaps more disturbingly—we don’t trust ourselves. If you find either of these statements true within your experience, do not stress. We cannot control the factors that brought us to this moment. However, choosing to direct our focus on a new direction is always within our power. Our options are plentiful, but there are only two that matter in the moment. Do I embrace radical love and trust, or not? Only one answer brings us closer to the wholeness we seek. 

Purpose is the synchronization of meaning and system within a moment. Those able to realize purpose reorganize their beliefs and behaviors to breathe life into their vision. It becomes a productive labor of love. Creation permeates the moment, and individual and universe align. Our purpose impacts our systems, just as our systems influence our purpose. Purpose is imagination applied over time; it continuously expands the capacity of both individual and collective to be more than they are.

Purpose tips the sail because it is the culmination of exploration and effort on a focus we love. As the individual is driven toward purpose, they begin to embody hope in a way that extends beyond positive thinking and visualization. Hope helps us identify alternative options when we are faced with challenges.9 It helps us understand failures as opportunities for growth,10 be more resilient in the face of adversity,11 and is unique in its ability to buffer the individual against the negative impacts of traumatic experience.12 Purpose generates hope, which threads itself throughout the immediate present. At this stage of individual actualization, habits, practices, and beliefs become self-reinforcing feedback loops that empower us to create significant change in the world.

Individuals living their purpose often become leaders within their respective passions. Purposeful work is a defining characteristic of knowledge economy labor, environments where the relationship between individual and system is known and nourished. Purposeful leaders operate organizations that rely on high degrees of trust and cooperation, viewing each individual as a valuable source of insight and value. They create cultures where peers focus on seeing the best in others, value their feedback, and collaborate to mutually enhance their professions. Purposeful work environments and the knowledge economy they exist within are most commonly associated with software start-up culture, but we can find examples in all industries. They are forms of work where learning, creativity, exploration, and experimentation are blended into productivity that is as enjoyable as it is effective. 

Through the lens of history, purposeful individuals and their impacts may be judged as good or evil in relation to the immediate present. Individually actualized beings are powerful forces within our universe, and their impacts often ripple through time experiences well beyond their personal expiration. Gandhi and Hitler were both purpose-driven individuals, yet today we possess the hindsight to understand the difference between noble and nefarious deeds. Exploring the process of shaping ourselves and our systems to encourage individual actualization en masse forces us to grapple with the reality that positive only exists alongside negative. Good and evil are immature and inadequate labels for individual actions; we grapple with a conflict of good versus good. Even the most heinous of our species act in support of a good that they imagine to be true. We have been recording events long enough to understand that spiritual technologies of the past lack the necessary meaning frameworks to prevent malicious visions of the good. So long as salvation religious texts dominate popular belief, they will be used to encourage the violence they contain. When individuals frame purpose in the context of otherness, they deny basic universal tenets as we now understand them. These individuals perpetuate actions that greatly misalign with our present understanding of the natural universe and our relationship with it. The separation of self-actualization into individual and systemic actualization within the framework of the single truth provides humanity a pathway to reshape our definitions of meaning and purpose. In doing so, we significantly reduce the possibilities of developing individuals claiming rigorous cause in visions of the good that rely on actively harming others, such as the subjugation of one group for the benefit of another.

The science surrounding transcendent experiences is detailed and growing. Present understanding tells us that individuals operating at the highest degrees of individual actualization open themselves up to the potential of mystical, or peak, experiences. As we’ll explore throughout the chapter, several pathways exist to these moments—some quicker (and more temporary) than others. There are many names for the transcendent experience and various degrees of intensity through which it may be felt. At its lowest intensity, there is a state of being commonly referred to as flow. Flow is the state of being in “the zone.” Absolute Unitary Being13 is a psychological term referring to the greatest intensity of transcendent experience, a mythical illumination revealing our complete unity with all else.14 All forms of transcendent experience share the dissolution of boundaries, providing the individual with an understanding of the inherent interconnectivity between themselves and the universe outside of them. When you and I sit for a coffee, we are a single happening experiencing itself from two unique coordinates. We each enjoy the moment in our own way, but both lack the capacity to grasp its totality. 

In a universe governed by the single truth, there is no correct or specific path toward individual actualization. We are always changing, so the language of correct and incorrect cannot apply to our process of becoming with any authority outside of individual preference. Yet, despite this, many of us apply our practices to define our identities. It is a habit rooted in our ego, a desire to be something. The technical term for transcending our individual ego is healthy self-loss,15 a state of awareness where our ability to define personal meaning is not limited to definitions in relation to something else.

If this sounds fantastical and unrealistic from the perspective of your time experience, don’t stress. It is a lifelong practice that you have already begun to undertake. Some may experience the mystical through meditation, others through self-hypnosis such as prayer, and others still through the ingestion of sacred plants. My personal journey is anecdotal evidence that supports the accuracy of our scientific understanding of individual actualization. The mystical experience is very real, and while it may extend hours, days, or even weeks, it is not permanent. However, there is an aspect of momentary divinity that most people are familiar with: awe. Awe can best be described as a sense of wonder and amazement, experiencing a moment that takes your breath away. The view from the mountaintop you just hiked, the music that moves you to tears, or the art that you cannot look away from. These are just a few awe experiences that provide the uninitiated with a glimpse of the divinity readily available within the moment. 

The collective works of social scientists, past and present, provide a detailed framework of individual actualization and what milestones must be met in order to obtain it. We understand it as an achievable elevation of the human spirit. Through practice, we can change the way we experience reality in the most literal sense, becoming aware of a way to bring higher purpose, order, and interconnectivity into an otherwise chaotic time experience. It is not presently available to all because many inhabit time experiences of perpetual struggle. We know how vital a secure and loving environment is for early childhood development, and those who experience scarcity and struggle in youth often carry the trauma into adult life. Therefore, we connect the dots between individual actualization and the need to eliminate birth lottery as a factor in determining fate. 

Consider the science of individual actualization from the lens of the single truth and our understanding of the time experience as a momentary totality. An individual occupies a moment from a unique place in space. Surrounding them is an environment: whatever exists outside of their body. Together, the individual and the environment create a single experience, a happening. This is the self; one cannot exist without the other. Humanity is an introspective observer within an informational universe. If there were no flow of information, we would not be—at least not within any framework we can comprehend. Existence is the process of observing and being observed as information by others. I see you. You see me. Yet we embody different realities, our individual journeys carving universal frameworks that no other can truly grasp. Together we’re just snapshots of one ever-changing and ever-evolving universe. We are time, embodied in a complex meat machine powered by a gray mass housing infinity. As the expression of our being is always in relation to others and the outside world, the information inputs we receive from our environments program us to think and act in certain ways. There are no circumstances where we can escape this relationship, and in examples where we try—such as long-term solitary confinement—we know the results to be extremely harmful to the individual.16 Just as the single truth ensures that our environments exist in perpetual change, so do we as individuals. We cannot separate or stop the influence of the outside on the internal; therefore, they are one. 

It is inappropriate to label individual actualization as self-actualization, but academia is not to blame. Human understanding of our relationship with the universe has advanced significantly thanks to modern cosmology. However, the creation dogmas of the salvation religions have long been ingrained in the human psyche, giving the individual a static and distant form from the divinity they possess. To understand and embrace the belief that the individual and the system is a single self is to reject the dominion past mythos places on present thought. In doing so, we better align ourselves with the single truth and the relational universe.

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Cooperation and Competition
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