Friday, September 07, 2012

Numinous Self-Actualization

"A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization. This term ... refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming." - Abraham Maslow (1908 - 1970)

Forty two years ago (and, in view of the commentary to follow, a faint echo of Adams' answer to life, universe, and everything), my family and I took a trip out west that I have never forgotten. My 'family' back then was made up of my parents and both grandparents on my dad's side. I have never forgotten that trip for two reasons: (1) it was the last trip that all of us were together on (my grandparents were - in 1970 - well into their 80s and it was upon our return to 'home' that year - on Long Island, NY - that health issues that would eventually take both their lives first appeared); and (2) it was the first time my 10 year old self was exposed - and spiritually awakened to - the extraordinary aesthetic riches that mother Earth offers.

Now fast-forward to the present; more precisely, to 10-25 August, during which time my family and I (including my wife, our two sons and my mom, who just happens to be the same age as my grandfather was in 1970) flew out to Denver, CO to rent a 32-ft RV and used it to explore the Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone national parks. (This trip was 2/3 as long as my 1970 trip, but covered many, if not all, of the memorable sights and sounds I remember from long ago.) Long in planing (dating back about three years, at least), I wanted to make this trip for two reasons: (1) to provide my kids an opportunity to experience a similar reverie of nature's beauty and/or a "spiritually awakening" as I had at their age (mission accomplished on both counts!), and (2) to give myself an opportunity to re-experience memories of a bygone time that I now, and will always, cherish. It is in the unabashed failure to achieve this second goal that I wish to focus on in the words that follow.

Despite my longing for - and all my earnest efforts to recreate - the exuberance of my youthful adventure, and though there were certainly moments during which time's ineffable veil parted just a bit to reveal to my mind's eye a dim indistinct sepia-like 'print' of what I saw 42 years ago, the sad truth is that I was thoroughly and at all times aware of being inextricably mired in a 51 yo body, with all its attendant life's bumps and bruises, experiences, and never-ending responsibilities; a fact that my 10 yo self could neither fully anticipate nor fathom! Try as I might, and cliche-ridden though it may be, I found it impossible to recapture the essence of my remembered youth. Except - that is - through watching my children dance to the tune of their own blissful reverie, and by engaging in photography.

What I yearned for most of all (from my experience as a 10 yo) was what I remember as a pure innocence of being; a joyful and unconscious participation in nature's rhythms. I had absolutely no concerns, no worries, no pressures of life (or panic over whether - after enjoying the "view" at 12K ft on Colorado's trail ridge road - I would be able to safely drive a 12 foot wide RV down twisting hairpin turns in lanes barely a foot wider and roads that fall off 8% grades and plunge thousands of feet down on either side!). I remember just "being in the moment," playing, laughing, hiking, splashing in lake water, and pausing on mountaintops - with nary a conscious thought - to gaze out into the infinite expanse of our western landscapes. But there were far too many distracting and nagging thoughts intruding into the 51 yo version of my younger self to allow such innocence (though memories of how easy - how effortless - it once was - and is, for my children! - reminded me that it is not the state that is inaccessible, but my all-but-convincing left-brain attitude that makes it only appear to be inaccessible). In truth, it was not my 51 yo body that was the problem, but that I had forgotten that the "I" that had experienced all those wonderful things in 1970 has not aged at all. 

Rather than quietly and gracefully surrendering to the flow of time and nature, I was, so to speak, swimming against the tide, desperately trying to turn back time to reinsert myself into a long-deceased body and mind so that I could re-experience the past exactly as it - and I - were back then, 42 years ago. But my soul was already where I needed to be; where I was, in 1970, in 2012, and whenever - and wherever - else I need to be. It is a timeless, yearning-less state forged by a numinous connection between self and nature. And, as so often happens (with me, at least), photography reminded me of my foolishness. 

The child does not yearn to return to anything, or to any time or state; it simply delights in being, in experiencing. As I tuned out my incessant left-brain confusion, and refocused my attention on the beauty around me, my hand instinctively reached for my camera, and all yearnings ceased. Numinous self-actualization...

"It's also helpful to realize that this
very body that we have, 
that's sitting right here right now... 
with its aches and it pleasures...
 is exactly what we need 
to be fully human, 
fully awake, fully alive."

- Pema Chödrön (1936 - )


Cedric Canard said...

Nice story and beautiful photos as always Andy. I went through a similar experience some years back. Yearning for the past, wishing for the future, we all do a lot of that. Of course there is nothing really wrong with that if we do it with awareness. Truly experiencing the yearning, the wishing. Understanding where it comes from, fully being while the feeling washes over us. Without any attachments we can, as you say, simply take delights in being.

BTW, the National Parks of the U.S. were some of the most magical places I have visited. Their beauty had a significant impact on me. To the point of making me feel "fully alive" as you've quoted Chödrön as saying.

Patricia Turner said...

So nice to read this new post...I've missed your insights! This post reminds me of one of my recent posts on the idea of the Heart's GPS...when we listen to it we will always end up where we are meant to be!

mairedodd said...

i just happened to stumble upon your blog and am so happy i did... a beautiful post... and how coincidental that my 20 yr. old daughter just went out west to grand teton and yellowstone for the first time this summer... looking forward to following you!

Christopher Kilkus said...

Nice Blog! Thanks for sharing with us.

Christopher Kilkus