This article is about self-realization and the “meaning of life”: what is self-realization about? What can the “meaning of life” possibly be?
KEYWORDS: personal development, philosophy of religion, psychology, purpose of life, self-actualization, self-improvement, self-realization, spirituality.
This article is an “opinion” article, or a “theory” article. This means that I am here just trying to outline some of the ideas that I find to be central in the idea of self-realization (or self-actualization), i.e. the idea of “perfecting” one’s life, or “living the best life possible”.
In the following, I am not trying to rigidly “prove” my points. Rather, I am simply taking a more modest approach: I am quite content with merely (loosely) indicating the “territory” or “landscape” in which I am finding myself.
Of course, I do believe that most of the statements in this essay are true, or approximately true. But the goal of this essay is not to prove it (as academic philosophers usually try to do). So we can say that it is a piece of “preliminary” studies, or “preliminary” philosophy, meant to pave the way for future elaboration, corrections, and amendments, etc.
Self-Realization: The Short Story
Self-realization (or the “meaning of life”) is a creative project: the goal is to create your own version of “the best possible life for me to live”.
This is to say that it’s an on-going, conscious “discovery” project: if you are serious about self-realization, then the idea is that you yourself have to figure out a way to improve your life quality. It may be that your current situation is awful. Or it may be that your current situation is quite good. Whatever the case may be, there is always room for improvement. There is always room for change.
So at any point in time, we may ask ourselves questions such as: What do I like? What don’t I like? What would be better? How can I arrive at that better “place”?
Self-realization is thus a never-ending project. And to be really engaged in it, you must continuously adjust, tweak, and modify your life, according to your own feelings, emotions, beliefs, circumstances, and events. This means that you have to be conscious about it. That is, you must be engaged in constant self-reflection, self-examination, etc.
Self-Realization: What is ‘Perfection’?
Self-realization may be said to have something to do with “perfecting” oneself. There are many ideas about self-realization and self-actualization that concentrate on the idea of the perfection of some artistic or creative “expertise”, or “capability”, so that such capability is optimally used, being 100% productive, with the highest quality.
So on such a view, self-realization is about honing one’s skills in a particular domain [note 1]: the painter perfects his paintings, the writer perfects his novels, the inventor perfects his inventions [note 2].
But I think there’s much more to it than that. However, I do not deny that creative people do create artistic works, and some of them indeed create masterpieces; that’s obviously true. And it’s certainly true that some artists are very serious about becoming “perfect” in their specific “trade”. But does such “perfection-search” really count as self-realization? That is the question.
Self-Realization: What is the Game?
Perfection in terms of self-realization, as I see it, is to be able to understand what the game is. What is the game I am playing? Where does it take me? Is there life after death? If there is, how is THAT game played? What is my purpose in this life? How should I transition BETWEEN lives?
So self-realization then is composed of a “transcendent” “game-plan”, covering what is actually going on in this “physical” time-space realm, as well as what is going on in any “surrounding” spiritual realm or realms.
Thus, as I see it, the self-realization project is comprised of two major components: one is the search for the ultimate rules of the game, relevant to this life, and our next lives, so that we can “plan our moves”. I mean, how can you become “expert” at chess, if you don’t know even the basic rules of chess? So you have search for the real rules, which are not commonly known, or commonly addressed.
Then, when you know the rules, you can become expert in the “execution” of these rules, for maximum effect. This is the second component of self-realization.
Self-Realization vs Self-Actualization
In my usage in this article, the word “self-realization” then refers to a practice that does NOT just deal with our physical life here on earth, or some “normal” involvement in society affairs or politics or humanism, etc. So in my usage, I am not using the word “self-realization” as a synonym to Abraham Maslow’s “self-actualization”.
The impression that I get when I am reading his original 1943 article is that he is talking about “earthly life” only. It’s not about spiritual horizons, or other dimensions, or about God, or about afterlife, or anything like that. Rather, for Maslow, it’s about “making a mark” in human society, or something along those lines. It’s about being an extraordinary citizen, it’s about being some kind of role model for “the rest of us”. It’s about being “bigger than life”. Thus, examples of such characters,by Maslow himself, were Albert Einstein, William James, Thomas Jefferson, etc. [Maslow 1968].
So when he chooses “good examples” of people who have achieved some degree of self-realization, he is giving examples such as
Self-Realization: What Is ‘Creativity’?
The creative project is not about painting watercolors or writing science-fiction novels, or inventing new gadgets. Rather, the creative project is about getting control over one’s mind. Only when you have control over your mind, will you be able to be truly creative.
And by creative I do not mean just to be able to produce paintings or novels or inventions. Being creative means PRODUCING reality. For my thesis is that the mind, on some level, affects the fabric of the totality of existence. Thus, as we think, we create our own world around us.
For those of you who are “raised” in academic philosophy, this probably sounds very strange. But that, of course, doesn’t stop it from being true, if it is true. For in this modern world of quantum computing, there is very little “linear” causality to be derived from an analysis of our so-called “external reality”.
1. I am here using the word “domain” in a psychological sense. Although the word “domain” certainly is a broad term (even within the field of psychology), it seems, as I understand it, to have a rather definite meaning in the context of a discussion of people with certain “genius” qualities, such as great mathematicians, great authors, etc. So then a “domain” might be understood as “an area of functioning” [Reber 2009a, p. 230] or an “area of knowledge” [Baer 1999, p. 592] in relation to the “genius” person discussed.
1b. about self-realization and self-actualization.
2. “A musician must make music, an artist must paint . . .” (Maslow 1943, p. 382).
- Baer, John (1999), “Domains of Creativity” in Mark A. Runco and Steven R. Pritzker (eds), Encyclopedia of Creativity. 2 volumes. Volume 1: Acting — Humor. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, pp. 591-596. [Link to book]
- Maslow, Abraham H. (1943), “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review, vol. 50(4), pp. 370-396. [Link to paper]
- Maslow, Abraham. H. (1968), Toward a Psychology of Being. Second Edition. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company. [Link to book]
- Reber, Arthur S. et al. (2009a) “domain” in Reber, Arthur S. et al. Penguin Dictionary of Psychology. London: Penguin Books, p. 230. [Link to book]
- Reber, Arthur S. et al. (2009b) “self-actualization” in Reber, Arthur S. et al. Penguin Dictionary of Psychology. London: Penguin Books, p. 717.
- Reber, Arthur S. et al. (2009c) “self-realization” in Reber, Arthur S. et al. Penguin Dictionary of Psychology. London: Penguin Books, p. 721.
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