Abraham Maslow’s self-actualization movement took root in the 1940s and bloomed thirty years later when seekers started reading books such as The Prophet, I’m Ok-You’re Ok, and Be Here Now. These bestsellers moved me to cultivate a deeper self by rooting out my hatred for lima beans.
I tilled the backyard of my Jersey Shore bungalow and planted seeds of the detested vegetable. After a few weeks, bumps appeared under the thick skin of the seed pod. I diligently hosed away aphids, leafhoppers, and mites, but I was sure my crop was deformed. Consulting Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening, I learned the bumps were part of the bean apparatus—four lima beans per pod.
The morning of the first harvest, I pulled the bean pods from the vines, broke them open and started eating the sun-drenched crop right there on my knees in the garden. My neighbor flew out of her back door.
“Stop! You can’t eat raw lima beans! They’re poison!”
Uh-oh. Another reason to hate them.
But I was determined to use lima beans to crack open the hardened interior space between the habitual prison of what was and the freedom of what could be. I brought an apronful of beans inside, cooked, salted, and buttered them. They were good. I’d turned a corner.
Eating the once-dreaded lima bean aerated my closed mind. It served as a gateway to other new experiences: breaking free from a Christian cult, my bad marriage and dead-end jobs. Shifting my consciousness from hating to loving lima beans gave me courage. I could imagine abandoning my secluded basement with its graveyard of empty Smirnoff bottles. Surrendering to a new job as a single mother, my only task was to organize the best plan for a nine-year-old boy’s future happiness—by getting sober. Again.
I returned to Alcoholics Anonynous unable to stop drinking, but too afraid to ask for help. I’d go to meetings, sit in the back, talk to no one, leave early, and go home. Falling into bed sober, I’d feel victorious. The next day, I’d think about nothing but drinking. Drinking and not drinking. I’d drive around in search of a liquor store where no one knew me. By the time I got the vodka bottle in my hands, I’d feel relieved just holding it. For a few brief moments my body, mind and soul were free.
But I wasn’t free. Before a previous downfall, I’d never even considered sobriety until I was forced into a mental institution. Now it was clear: my drinking was beyond my control. I was a full-blown alcoholic.
I opened up at an AA meeting miles from home on the edge of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. I said my only option was to drink myself to death. Recovered alcoholics from that group sat with me every day until the obsession to drink lifted. It was February 1976. Forty-five years ago.
Lima beans and love freed me at last.
Maslow’s self-actualizing characteristics:
- Efficient perceptions of reality. Self-actualizers are able to judge situations correctly and honestly. They are very sensitive to the superficial and dishonest.
- Comfortable acceptance of self, others and nature. Self-actualizers accept their own human nature with all its flaws. The shortcomings of others and the contradictions of the human condition are accepted with humor and tolerance.
- Reliant on own experiences and judgement. Independent, not reliant on culture and environment to form opinions and views.
- Spontaneous and natural. True to oneself, rather than being how others want.
- Task centering. Most of Maslow’s subjects had a mission to fulfill in life or some task or problem ‘beyond’ themselves (instead of outside themselves) to pursue. Humanitarians such as Albert Schweitzer are considered to have possessed this quality.
- Autonomy. Self-actualizers are free from reliance on external authorities or other people. They tend to be resourceful and independent.
- Continued freshness of appreciation. The self-actualizer seems to constantly renew appreciation of life’s basic goods. A sunset or a flower will be experienced as intensely time after time as it was at first. There is an “innocence of vision”, like that of an artist or child.
- Profound interpersonal relationships. The interpersonal relationships of self-actualizers are marked by deep loving bonds.
- Comfort with solitude. Despite their satisfying relationships with others, self-actualizing people value solitude and are comfortable being alone.
- Non-hostile sense of humor. This refers to the ability to laugh at oneself.
- Peak experiences. All of Maslow’s subjects reported the frequent occurrence of peak experiences (temporary moments of self-actualization). These occasions were marked by feelings of ecstasy, harmony, and deep meaning. Self-actualizers reported feeling at one with the universe, stronger and calmer than ever before, filled with light, beauty, goodness, and so forth.
- Socially compassionate. Possessing humanity.
- Few friends. Few close intimate friends rather than many perfunctory relationships.
- Gemeinschaftsgefühl. According to Maslow, the self-actualizers possess “Gemeinschaftsgefühl”, which refers to “social interest, community feeling, or a sense of oneness with all humanity.