The term “self-actualization” was first introduced by the philosopher Kurt Goldstein and referred to the motive a person has to realize all of their potentialities. This means, whatever is possible for you, or can be dreamt of, can actually become a reality if you just move toward self-actualization. Goldstein believed that this was actually the fundamental motive behind everything that a person did.
The concept of self-actualization was made even more popular Abraham Maslow in his famous theory of the hierarchy of needs. Self-actualization was considered to be the final level of a person’s psychological development. It could only be achieved when all the other basic needs of an individual were fulfilled. Then the ‘actualization’ of their full potential would take place.
So how do we know the difference between what is “possible” for us and what is “impossible”? Pursuit of self-actualization is the very process which helps us to answer this question and many things about ourselves can also help us to understand this process. We have already mentioned many other self-referencing terms that are discussed in spiritual work such as self-observation, self-knowledge and self-awareness. By engaging in these forms of spiritual effort, we come closer to actualizing our potential every day.
Self-observation is a spiritual tool that can be used to help us uncover our unconscious psyche and turn it into part of our conscious self. Many people are surprised to learn that most of the thoughts and actions which they experience take place unconsciously. We are rarely aware of what we are thinking about at any given time and we function primarily as “sleep-walkers” or “robots” which have been pre-programmed to carry out certain tasks in an unconscious manner. By engaging in the effort of self-observation, we watch ourselves each moment and attempt to keep our awareness on our thoughts and our actions in a heightened manner throughout the day. Surprisingly, we often cannot keep this effort up for more than a few minutes before we are distracted back into our sleepwalking routine and have to be aroused many hours later to remember what we were trying to accomplish! With some practice, however, self-observation helps us to uncover our deeper potentiality and to eventually put it to work and make it an actuality.
Self-knowledge is yet another tool that helps us on our quest for self-actualization. Self-knowledge begins through a study of the many theories about the human being and the self, such as in the case of psychology, sociology, physiology and other scientific approaches to the self. Eventually we come to realize that no “theory” of the self can truly tell us who we are and that we must employ a sense of humility about our self-knowledge and turn toward self-awareness and self-observation more and more. Spiritual students begin to employ the tools of meditation, contemplation and prayer to understand themselves better, always going deeper and deeper into the essence of their true Self.
Through the use of self-observation, self-knowledge, self-awareness and other spiritual practices, a person can slowly come to realize their more essential self and this is the process of self-actualization as it slowly comes to light. Through this process we learn to face our greatest fears and let go of them. We also come to realize that all of our happiness and sadness in life comes from within rather than without. A tragedy is only a tragedy because we decide for ourselves what meaning we place onto it.
A success is also a success only because we determine it to be that way. We learn to let go of our aversions and our attractions and to see that there is a wider picture that was obscured by the “self” of which we were previously unaware. The “self” eventually merges into the “Self” and the separation that was first perceived between our “self” and the rest of the world comes to be seen as an illusion. We are part of a much larger Self and our quest becomes an arrival at that which we sought from the beginning. This is the essence of “Self-actualization” through the process of self-actualization. The small self merges into the larger Self and potential is said to have become actual.