Mindsight: Going Back to The Start

The imagination is the greatest ability we have – for what may be born of dreams extends far beyond the reaches of the eye, which is limited by our reality – yet the bounds of reality extend far beyond the morrow, all the way into the clouds and past the horizon. Mindsight – our ability to see past today, past practicality, beyond the abyss of fear and the cove of doubt – this is the key that unlocks doors where others see walls. It is through this magic of evolution that we may dream while we are awake, seeing what others do not.

If you think this is the stuff of mere daydreaming, fancies and whatnot, then you, my friend, are seriously shortchanging yourself.

Things do not happen by mere chance: that couple that is going to make love tomorrow on the yacht of their dreams, you think that is mere fortune? No. That, my friends, is the product of a dream, a plan, a goal, and, of course, hard work.

The problem is, most people confine their dreams to their resources rather than letting their dreams detemine them. If your dreams do not guide your reality, as a needle does a thread, your reality will guide your dreams. Unfortunately, most people lose their ability to dream – both through lack of use and the normal setbacks of life. We’ve all given up at some level.

That last sentence is heartwrenching, isn’t it.

You see – dreams need to be curated, protected, and evolved, but the difficulty is that we live in a society that applies immense pressure on us; our values, our goals, and our desires are constantly being dictated to us by our peers, our parents, and ultimately our fraglie and insecure egos.

I hit a point last year when I realized my dreams weren’t even mine.

They belonged to an ex or someone I felt I needed to best, or my wish to gain approval from someone who doesn’t matter. Ayn Rand was right; selfishness is a virtue. Luckilly, I can still afford to be selfish: no wife. No kids. No limits. It sounds absurd but it’s true; if you’re out there and you’re feeling sorry for yourself about being single, you are seeing it all wrong. No, you can write your own ticket.

But most of us, single or taken, struggle with this – with determining what is we really, truly want.

The irony, and the key to unlocking the mystery within us, lies in the past; before society replaced our dreams with things: flat TV’s, great shoes, nice cars, a great place, this is adult shit. Children, on the other hand, know better. We all know better. We’ve just forgotten.

Go back in time. Remember when you were a child. Remember that thing you did that made the hours pass like minutes. The thing that dissolved reality into a mere sidenote. That; the call you stopped answering a long, long time ago still lives within you, and if you pick it back up, it will ring as true today as it did on afterschool afternoons twenty years ago. It’s 1995, and you are on the floor in your room looking at a book, feeling like you just set foot on the moon. Fast forward ten years and you were working in a call center not even realizing what happened to you. Five years later and you just wanted what others had. It’s a sad story, but it’s the story of an adult life. Wrought down by the weight of living, we forgot what we loved. We traded in our dreams for flat screen TVs, twenty inch rims on our leased SUVs.

It is time to reach back in time and take back the light that once kindled your soul.

“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” – Carl Jung

Awaken. Please.

I am begging you, as the pain I brought on my soul has long begged of me.

I write this because today I am taking full responsibility for my childhood dreams: I own them once again, and I am no longer owned by the pressure of society, a pressure no child really knows.

When I was a kid, I loved nothing more than books and boats. I read every book in my school library on sailing, even Kon-Tiki. Dove, Spray, Adrift – you name it. I remember one day, while reading a story of sailors eating hard-tack at sea, just wishing I had some old, stale bread in my kitchen. I just wanted to taste it, I wanted to live it. And for a time, I did.

But then life happened. That drug of love, and the desire to be cool, to be admired, the desire to admire myself for the things society upholds as measures of happiness and success took over.

I’ll save you my autobiography, but at thirty I am once again as bitten by those same bugs as I was at eleven.

It’s an incredibly beautiful and healing thing. This, my friends, is as true to myself as I can be.

Books and boats.

P.s. We may know the dreams most suited to us by the ease and comfort in which we can clearly imagine ourselves in them. So, try them on, until, just like Goldilocks, you find the one that feels just right. So chill out; you had it all figured out as a child. You need only remember. Now go get lost in it. Once more. For your own sake. Don’t let yourself down another day more. You read this, and I wrote this, for a reason.

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Wake Up With Your Dreams

N.G.U
Never Give Up
It warrants a seriousness – you see
You musn’t ever, ever give up on your dreams

For if you do dear child,
You will awake without them
And a day without,
Is spent in doubt
But a day with,
Is-a life well-lived
So to the wise,
These words I give:

Before each night’s sleep,
Stow dreams to keep
In your heart of hearts,
For a blessed start


Background

When I was seventeen years old I got my first tattoo: n.g.u (On my right inner-forearm). It’s an acronym for never give up; an oath of sorts, a vow of commitment to my hopes and dreams. Dreams I have at times forgotten, which is to say, dreams I have at times given up – for to forget, to go to sleep not relishing the dream in your heart, is to have given up.

Never give up; never forget; never let go of your dreams.

I hope you sleep with your dreams snug in your heart of hearts, and I hope you awake filled to the brim with excitement, eager to continue progressing ever forward on your journey.

Do not ever let yourself forget what makes you tick. For if you do, you won’t know why you’re getting up in the morning. And that’s a sad life – one I vow never to return to.

A More Fluid Look at Life and Going Beyond Maslow’s Hierarchy

I tend to be the kind of person who seeks to understand why things work, particularly when I am interacting with a subject or discipline in a creative capacity. An example of this is seen in my User Experience Design work. I know the programming languages beneath modern front-end interfaces and thus am able to approach interaction design and research from a transparent and holistic perspective, which enables me to have more mastery than someone who only sees the pixels but not the technology and capabilities beneath them.

A complex example, but I think as humans we often mistakenly seek to believe that things are simple, when the nature of reality itself is complex.

It’s not just modern reality that’s inherently complex, (i.e., technology, politics, or careers) but all of reality. Consider for a moment our individual natures: from the Coping Strategies and Defence Mechanisms that drive our behaviors, to the early childhood attachment patterns that shape our internal working models for relationships; the opaqueness of our self-schemas is so complex that few people are even aware of the factors that lie underneath our individual bias and identity.

Note: I did not include biological influences in the preceding paragraph because, while I do believe the foundational basis for our mechanisms of development is rooted within our DNA, I hold the opinion that environmental factors exert a dominant influence on our development over innate factors*.

*I do not know how an intellectual disability would effect this assumption.

The truth is, most people don’t even know why they believe the things they do and even fewer know why they do the things they do. Being human is a complex process (There are 86 billion neurons in your brain.); however, regardless of modern understandings on the complexity of human life and the incredible progress science has achieved in understanding the human mind – many people are operating based on beliefs which go back to the dawn of man (note: Why did the Neanderthals bury their dead along with tools 50,000 years ago?). Yet, even independent from our religious theologies, most adults gain their individual beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors with an operational basis for learning that closely resembles adolescent cognitive development. The progression of their identity remains a static and linear process that accommodates and assimilates ideas, concepts, and beliefs based on personal experience. Well, isn’t that how you learn about life? Yes. That’s exactly how most people learn about themselves and life. And that’s the problem. We learn like sponges and we act like sheep. I recognize that those are cheap metaphors, but I find it a pity that so few outside of academia and medical sciences seek to study and apply the ideas, theories, and models born of some of the absolute brightest minds in human history.

On the first day of my first Psych class (Psych 90) I learned an extremely important lesson on life. The professor (Whom I ultimately disagreed with in many regards i.e., she believed that ‘perpetrators of vile crimes towards children could be fully rehabilitated’.) began the class by teaching us that one must be subjective and critical in learning; that we mustn’t merely absorb what we read or hear, but that we should examine and interpret it, forming our own opinions and beliefs, and decode for ourselves what was of value and what was not. That one lesson has allowed me to learn about life in a way that has enriched and expanded my learning far beyond what I previously knew was possible. As a result, I’ve asked questions that I would have never asked and I’ve formed original and informed opinions rather than forming an allegiance solely to the ideas of others. It was a gift of autonomy as a student that benefited me immensely as a human being.

Perhaps the greatest application of this gift has been in my journey to understand myself through self-study, writing, and introspective reflection. The benefits in each of these areas have not been solely in the practice of intelligently discounting particular ideas and concepts, but moreso in the power to discern the lessons, ideas, and thoughts that have have been the greatest propellants of my growth as a human being.

Without this single consciousness expanding lesson I might have been another inmate in the asylum of life – walking around believing my waking thoughts and the words and actions of others.

Instead, I am capable of bypassing the shallow, skeptical, and biased filter of the ego and processing the internal and external data of life (thoughts, ideas, input, experiences) in a manner that reconciles the outer ‘truths’ of reality with the innermost truths of my soul. This practice of objectively processing yet subjectively filtering the world is slowly allowing me to become more aware of my Cognitive Biases.

An additional, compounded benefit is that this practice / approach allows me to have more fluidity in my identity and beliefs, and a far more open mind than I otherwise would have had. The most recent example of this and the impetus for my writing tonight was in the comments left on my previous entry on Self-Actualization vs. Self-Actualizing. The first comment brought to my attention the inherent and unattainable nature of the achievements within Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid for those with scarce resources. As someone who experienced poverty growing up, and someone who still would not meet all of the requirements as traditionally defined by Maslow, a seed was definitely planted within me. I could look at the pyramid and feel my own shortcomings to a degree that instilled a sense of inadequacy in myself compared to my goals and the ideal self model I hold.

Then tonight, an additional comment contained this statement: Trick for you: Turn Maslow’s famous pyramid upside-down and leave the levels the same.  

Hmm… So I began doing some internet searches on ‘inverted Maslow’s Hierarchy’.

One of the better thoughts on this can be seen here. (worth a read – esp for creative people.) and I’ve excerpted a key takeaway below.

It all made sense. Maslow’s theory that one must satisfy a lower-level need before addressing an upper-level need is actually sound — it’s just that he got the order inverted for creatives. Self-Actualization is the fundamental need that drives all creatives. It is, in many ways, their most basic need. Of course, once they’ve satisfied their own creative mandates, creatives want others to know and appreciate what they’ve done. Esteem is thus something that can be sought only after a creative has satisfied himself. And though many creatives long for intimate relationships, they’re rarely able or willing to put the time and energy into making them work — love simply takes too much time away from the process of creating. Thus, establishing intimate and meaningful relationships is something many creatives can do only after achieving a certain measure of self-actualization and esteem. Finally, many creatives seem to view their own safety, security and physiological needs with a sort of “disdain” — as if the act of assuaging them (or the effort spent in trying) is so pedestrian, banal and trite that their fulfillment is tantamount to “selling out.” Only the most successful, respected and loved creatives ever seem to achieve the top echelon of the inverted Maslow Pyramid.

In reading this, I connected to the idea of self-actualization being a fundamental need based on my own experience and knowledge about myself. I have 100% repressed and stifled my lower level needs based on my need to self-actualize. To some degree, this has been an almost emerging theme in my life over the past few years. Why? Because it was more important to me.

And in this way, am I not able to hypothesize that Abraham Maslow’s own bias led him to develop a hierarchy based more on his bias, then the reality of all humans. Had Abraham Maslow not heard of the starving artist who self-actualized his potential and aptitude in his art, often at the expense of his lower needs?

In returning to the excerpt above, the writer also posits that: And though many creatives long for intimate relationships, they’re rarely able or willing to put the time and energy into making them work — love simply takes too much time away from the process of creating. Thus, establishing intimate and meaningful relationships is something many creatives can do only after achieving a certain measure of self-actualization and esteem. However, in this instance, I cannot agree. I’ve often put love above my desire to self-actualize personally and professionally, and even as I’ve failed to meet lower needs at times I’ve been able to experience incredibly intimate and meaningful romantic relationships. Perhaps only lately, as my priorities have shifted and life has changed, have I invested more in my self-actualization and less in my intimacy.

As a reference, here is a drawing of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (a full list can be seen at Wikipedia)

mah

In taking a fluid look at Maslow’s Hierarchy, I am not reinventing the wheel, but overlapping concepts seen first in Clayton Alderfer‘s 1969 revision of Maslow’s Hierarchy, known as ERG Theory (Existence, Relatedness, Growth), which is similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy, but differs mainly in the following: (source)

Alderfer’s ERG theory demonstrates that more than one need may motivate at the same time. A lower motivator need not be substantially satisfied before one can move onto higher motivators.

The ERG theory also accounts for differences in need preferences between cultures better than Maslow’s Need Hierarchy; the order of needs can be different for different people. This flexibility allows the ERG theory to account for a wider range of observed behaviors. For example, it can explain the “starving artist” who may place growth needs above existence ones.

The ERG theory acknowledges that if a higher-order need is frustrated, an individual may regress to increase the satisfaction of a lower-order need which appears easier to satisfy. This is known as the frustration-regression principle.

Another more fluid reinterpretation of Maslow’s Hierarchy was developed in 1991 by Chilean Economist Manfred Max-Neef, who created Human Needs and Human-scale Development to address the inadequacies of traditional models of human development in relation to Latin American Economic systems and Western ideas about poverty and it’s role as a barrier to fulfilling human needs.

In Max-Neef’s model for Fundamental Human needs there is no hierarchy beyond life sustaining needs, and multiple needs may be met simultaneously. Additionally, activities may be pursued that fulfill multiple needs. Another key contribution was that Max-Neef classified satisfiers (ways of meeting needs) under five different categories:

  1. Violators: claim to be satisfying needs, yet in fact make it more difficult to satisfy a need. E.g. drinking a soda advertised to quench your thirst, but the ingredients cause you to urinate more, leaving you less hydrated on net.
  2. Pseudo Satisfiers: claim to be satisfying a need, yet in fact have little to no effect on really meeting such a need. For example, status symbols may help identify one’s self initially, but there is always the potential to get absorbed in them and forget who you are without them.
  3. Inhibiting Satisfiers: those which over-satisfy a given need, which in turn seriously inhibits the possibility of satisfaction of other needs. Mostly originating in deep-rooted customs, habits and rituals. For example, an overprotective family stifles identity, freedom, understanding, and affection.
  4. Singular Satisfiers: satisfy one particular need only. These are neutral in regard to the satisfaction of other needs. They are usually institutionalized by voluntary, private sector, or government programs. For example, food/housing volunteer programs aid in satisfying subsistence for less fortunate people.
  5. Synergistic Satisfiers: satisfy a given need, while simultaneously contributing to the satisfaction of other needs. These are anti-authoritarian and represent a reversal of predominant values of competition and greed. For example, breast feeding gives a child subsistence, and aids in the development in protection, affection, and identity.

This satisfier classification makes an important distinction in that:

From the classification proposed it follows that, for instance, food and shelter must not be seen as needs, but as satisfiers of the fundamental need for Subsistence. In much the same way, education (either formal or informal), study, investigation, early stimulation and meditation are satisfiers of the need for Understanding.

I’m very excited to explore Max-Neef’s model more, and you can as well: Download Manfred Max-Neef Fundamental Human Needs

As the result of the thoughtful comments of two readers and the teachings of that Psych90 professor, I was able to examine my own inability to classify myself under the rigidity of Maslow’s Hierarchy, and recognize that there is no perfect model for every individual, but in studying the contributions to humanity from people like Abraham Maslow, Clayton Alderfer, and Manfred Max-Neef, I’m better learning about the things that motivate and drive me, and why the hell I do the things I do. We’re all just trying to get our needs met, aren’t we.

From here, I’m going to be looking at all three models, and introspectively discovering which elements of each apply to me and then creating a tailored model that reflects the integrity of each school of thought yet accounts for my own stark individuality.

I do truly believe that we can experience Self-Actualization and Freedom / Transcendence (as encompassed in Max-Neef’s model) along the entire journey of life because the potential exists in each of us. I also believe that the path to meeting the entire spectrum of our needs in healthy ways requires us to be willing to get to know ourselves at a level that’s far more complex than any understanding we’ve ever had of ourselves. The day I know what (the underlying psychology of) my real beliefs are and why I do the things I do might just be the day I understand who I am. Until then, I’m doing my best.