I’ve been going through an intensely creative phase lately. All poetry. Averaging nearly a poem a day. Reading Kerouac. Contemplating Maslow. Both now having stirred my interests in Buddhism. They make me want to retreat to the mountains and meditate. I remind myself that I’ve got a hiking trip coming up next month. My own little mountain retreat is on the horizon. Kerouac is right when he says, “This is the beginning and the end of the world right here.” When you’re out there, way up high, where the air is thin, surrounded by nothing but the most enormous stillness you’ve ever seen.
The more I read Maslow (now, sadly, closing in on the completion of his oeuvre), the more I wish he was also a poet (and that he was still alive, so I could ask him 850 different questions about this self-actualizing business and how I might properly test this theory on myself). I wish, too, that more scientists–Maslow included–thought in metaphor. If only because I find myself with a too-strong desire to rename all the clinical things. To make a particular state of being beautiful if it feels beautiful, happy if it feels happy, like a spoonful of sugar if it’s sweet, or solemn if its experience is so. But, there is so much to learn from an exercise like this. It occurs to me, more significantly, that to conceive of my own emotional states (particularly the complex ones) in terms of metaphor allows me to more clearly explore and express their nuances, their shades of meaning, even briefly to detach myself from them, to make them a thing apart from my innermost self, a picture I can paint, a thing I can refine with my own words and imbue with my own meaning. But, I’ve already discussed that in The One-Two. The kind of detached seeing that allows for self-definition and little acts of self-appreciation and enjoyment.
Maslow. The most significant four pages of his journal, to me, hinge on his discussion of just this kind of seeing. The kind of seeing, or awareness, that allows us to revel in the minutiae of our daily existence, irreducible amounts of ecstasy. “The basic life-functioning pleasures of just living, breathing, walking, sneezing, kissing, etc.” The little miracles of life. The most rudimentary, even rugged, forms of awe. And, to my mind also, for that reason, the most elevated. No pretension. No fluff. Nothing overblown. Nothing taken for granted. Just little pots of gold. The simple pleasure of experiencing oneself. Maslow struggled to name it. “Body pleasure” and/or “functional awareness” as a precursor to other, higher forms of self-consciousness. But, he never came up with just the right metaphor for the experience. “Self-finding” he called the pursuit of this type of awareness. I prefer self-fashioning, of course, but, perhaps the finding comes first.
It’s a humble kind of vision. The kind that transforms everyday activities, even challenges–including the occasional sacrifice and the absence of creature comforts–into opportunities for pleasure. Into the little pots of gold hidden at the end of every rainbow. Maslow knew it, too. He called them “function pleasures.”
Stress the unjaded palate of the self-actualizing person, of the peaker = retention of the most basic, biological, body pleasures & sensory pleasures = a kind of versatility = the ability to enjoy the finest wine and Dago red, the finest cheese and local cheddar, great food and meat & potatoes, & even bread & cheese.- A.H. Maslow
My man. (I’m smiling, if only because bread and cheese are two of my favorite foods, and the mention of Dago red always takes me back to grandma’s house at Christmas time.) It is this kind of versatility that’s necessary for balance, for self-expansion, for what I see as a well-rounded personality. A sense of self that’s strong enough, rooted enough not to have to cling naively to status symbols or other emblems of one’s worth. It is sometimes the absence of finer things that cultivates taste. Indeed, a periodic neglect of the finer things may be a prerequisite for the cultivation of taste (and personality, which, I am beginning to think, are practically one and the same).
I must stop myself here because my thoughts are returning to the mountains. To the heft of the silence. To an occasional fondness for roughing it. For forcing oneself to pare down. To be alone with the bite of the air, with the rush of the water, with the cool breeze and the sweat, the pack on your back, and the dirt beneath your fingernails. All little pots of gold. All part of a grander celebration of life.