Sahaja Cultivates Self-Actualization
How Sahaja Meditation Cultivates Self-Actualization
Self-actualization can be described as the higher human quest to be creative, to grow, to acquire knowledge, to develop our abilities and fulfill our potential. All humans have the potential to self-actualize, to become all they can be through a lifelong process of self-improvement.
Most of us have been conditioned to strive for Normal. But Abraham Maslow famously (and controversially) said: “What we call ‘normal’ in psychology is really a psychopathology of the average, so undramatic and so widely spread that we don’t even notice it ordinarily” (Maslow, 1968, p. 16). What he was actually saying is that Normal or Average is a pathology, too, with an inference that there were higher reaches of human development to strive for. Normal, after all, underestimates the extent to which self-actualizing capacities can be developed.
Many of us go through life sensing that “something is missing” or that we want more out of life. So why don’t more of us reach toward self-actualization? When our lower needs have been met, we may struggle to pinpoint, precisely, our higher aspirations, our strongest talents and potentialities, and the reason we don’t quite feel satisfied.
We long for something else, something more, but we may misinterpret that yearning for self-actualization as a need for more of the same: more material things, more money, more love, more fun, more excitement. And we seek to fill this void with any or all of the above instead of focusing inward, attending to who we are at the core and who we can become.
If you’re reading this article online, it’s a safe bet that your lower biological and safety needs have been met. And hopefully, you feel loved, a sense of belonging, have esteem for yourself, and are held in high esteem by others — even if you have moments of self-doubt. If you’re still not sure what you want to be when you grow up, Sahaja meditation can be the catalyst for making your higher needs conscious and discovering your inner Self. Meditation brings about a higher consciousness that may also reveal a passionate calling beyond the Self, an opportunity to make a difference in the world.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who have already found purpose in life and established higher level goals, the practice of Sahaja can enhance clarity and focus and help pave the path to becoming the person you aspire to be. In other words, Sahaja both makes us aware of our higher level needs and helps empower us to achieve them. Meditation allows you to take responsibility for your own self-improvement, at your own pace, and provides an ongoing support system for continued growth and development.
Self-actualization is a primary goal of the typical meditation practitioner.
In fact, Sahaja meditation can function as sort of a “fast track” to becoming a self-actualizing person, and over the longer term, can help fully develop your unique potential. Self-actualization is the intersection at which our unconscious and conscious combine to form an integrated personality, a whole “self.”
Highlights of self-actualizing qualities cultivated by Sahaja meditation include:
- conscious everyday awareness of higher values, ideals and aspirations and increased motivation to achieve them
- self-awareness and mindfulness
- improved ego health, liberation from egocentricity, and increased ability to let go of ego defenses
- sharper perception skills, ability to perceive things as they are — realistically and objectively
- emotional maturity and a maturation of consciousness, freeing the mind to focus on higher being needs (e.g., truth, goodness, justice, richness), rather than only the lower deficit needs (biological, safety, belongingness and love, esteem)
- a more holistic, positive worldview, integrated perspective of self and the world
- openness to change and new experiences
- deeper interpersonal relationships
- emotional intelligence, social consciousness and concern for the welfare of humankind
- self-respect and respect for others;
- comfortable acceptance of self and others; ability to embrace and enjoy the individuality of others
- deep, continually renewed appreciation for small daily gifts that others take for granted.
- appreciation for art, beauty, nature and the subtle aspects of things
- self-determination, autonomy/self-sufficiency, inner-directedness, self-control
- increased frequency of peak and plateau experiences
- creativity, spontaneity, flexibility, originality, sense of humor
- enhanced purposefulness, ability to be solution-focused and mission-oriented
- heightened productivity, efficiency and effectiveness
- higher levels of moral reasoning; ability to transcend black-and-white (good-bad, right-wrong) dichotomies
- comfortable with solitude, being alone with ones’ thoughts
Sahaja meditation purifies attention and teaches us to attend to the present moment. Attending to the present moment increases our perceptual receptiveness. Our perceptions are objective and accurate, rather than driven by preconceptions or misconceptions. We develop a natural inquisitiveness and openness (and open-mindedness) to new experiences and are better able to embrace whatever rises to awareness. We come to appreciate the beauty and qualia in the world around us, while emerging from meditation with a more realistic perspective of ourselves, others and emerging situations. We have greater respect for both ourselves and for others. We are better able to see the perspectives of others, yet are not influenced by external social pressures, for we do not need to rely on someone else’s view of who we are to respect ourselves. We have a greater sense of purpose and a clearer view of the path to achieving our goals.
Over time, experiencing one’s higher Self through meditation becomes a stable internal frame of reference. We develop an unshakable sense of Self, even when the world around us is in flux. We become inner-directed and self-regulated, with an internal locus of control; thus, we are ultimately, self-determined. Emotional self-regulation involves an ability to self-monitor (awareness of your actions) and accurately self-evaluate (judge the acceptableness of your actions), abilities that are improved through meditation. Self-determined people know how to capitalize on their deep and reasonably accurate knowledge of themselves. They know their strengths and limitations. They know how to choose the right skills from their repertoire, and revise as necessary. They have a sense of control and personal efficacy: they believe that they can perform the tasks necessary to accomplish the outcome that they seek and that they will achieve the desired outcome. They are the very paragon of psychologically empowerment.
Self-actualization is a natural and dynamic life-long process of growth and potential in a full, clear, selfless experience, with full concentration and absorption (Maslow, 1954). The need for self-actualization is not pursued merely for relief or to satisfy deficiencies. Its rewards are intrinsic. It is enjoyed for its own sake. Even when all other lower needs are satisfied, Maslow stated that “what humans can be, they must be. They must be true to their own nature.” Self-actualizing people, in their own unique ways, devote their lives to the actualization of what Maslow described as higher level “being” values (B-Values), or ultimate, universal values that define their Being (discussed in Are You Self-Actualizing?). B-Values include: truth, goodness, beauty, wholeness, dichotomy-transcendence, aliveness, uniqueness, perfection, necessity, completion, justice, order, simplicity, richness, effortlessness, playfulness, self-sufficiency. B-Values may actually represent the meaning of life for most people, even if they aren’t consciously aware of it.
Being-cognitions or B-cognitions, which involve one or more of these B-values, are a natural result of practicing Sahaja meditation.
B-cognitions manifests in two forms:
- a global or universal type of consciousness “in which the whole of the cosmos is perceived, and everything in it is seen in relationship with everything else, including the perceiver” (Maslow, 1971); and
- a sharp focusing of attention on a specific object — whether it be a lake, a painting, or another person — so that the rest of the world, including the perceiver, disappears. The percept, or object of perception, becomes the whole of the cosmos.
The first form, in particular, could describe the mystical experience of oneness often reported by Sahaja meditators.
Meditation cultivates a gradual shift away from selfish desires toward moral acts and altruistic motives. This mechanism cultivates emotional intelligence, social concern, genuine altruism and an ability to identify with others through transpersonal experience — that is, a state of consciousness beyond the limits of personal identity and “I.” The self-actualizing person becomes more sensitive to the costs and consequences of unethical acts. Selfish or egocentric motives and negative emotions (e.g., greed and anger) decrease and morality-supporting emotions (e.g., love, empathy, sympathy, and compassion) increase.
Peak and plateau experiences are a hallmark of self-actualization. Transcendence, or experiencing a higher state of consciousness or unbroken “cosmic consciousness” such as Sahaja meditation’s state of thoughtless awareness, have been widely shown to promote the ability to achieve and sustain peak experiences. And regular practice of Sahaja meditation can help convert peaks to plateaus, and hopefully, ultimately, from an altered state to an altered trait (Maslow, 1971).
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Scientific Evidence of How Meditation Cultivates Self-Actualization
Support for Sahaja meditation’s ability to cultivate self-actualizing traits and values includes:
- In one 2016 MRI and Voxel-Based Morphometry study (Hernández, 2016), gray matter volume was also found to be greater overall in the brains of long-term Sahaja practitioners, and specifically in the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and left insula, regions involved in attention, improved performance in cognitive tasks and emotional intelligence. Increased GMV in the insula has been associated with increased self-actualizing, “good life” traits such as personal growth, self-acceptance, purpose in life, self-directedness and autonomy that are known to predict good mental health and increase self-actualization. The Hernández study also found enlarged GMV in Sahaja practitioners’ right hemispheric regions (insula, ventromedial orbitofrontal cortex, inferior temporal and parietal cortices) associated with sustained attention and cognitive control, emotional control, self-awareness, interoceptive perception, monitoring of autonomic functions, and feelings of empathy and compassion. Together, these results suggest that the long-term practice of Sahaja meditation may increase neuroplasticity and enhance our ability to regulate emotions and increase cognitive functioning, self-awareness, empathy and compassion.
- Several studies of Sahaja meditation have demonstrated neurological effects of meditation similar to the coherence, integration and efficiency effects. The effect is particularly pronounced during Sahaja’s state of thoughtless awareness. The meditators’ brains were found to be better connected, better balanced, better synchronized, and more efficient. EEG studies of coherence (“orderliness”) and “long-distance” connectivity between disparate brain regions during Sahaja meditation show that thoughtless awareness produces more balanced, integrated functioning of the left and right cerebral hemispheres. Hemispheric balance ultimately produces more holistic, whole-brain, synchronized thinking. In experienced meditators, these changes in brain activity persisted beyond the state of meditation and remained in effect at followup several months later (Aftanas, Golocheikine, 2005).
- Some studies (e.g., Aftanas L., Golosheykin S., 2005; Cahn and Polich, 2006), have demonstrated that the typical slow-wave (alpha-theta) brain patterns elicited during some yogic meditation techniques (including Sahaja meditation) are also observed during rest, suggesting that Sahaja meditation has the ability to induce lasting emotional trait effects, beyond the shorter-term “state effects.” One explanation may be that experienced meditators, even when not meditating, may be able to enter into a semi-meditative state. Another possible explanation is that regular meditation helps people achieve a permanent reduction of unhealthy internal mental dialogue. The Cahn and Polich study suggests that the practice of meditation may actually alter the fundamental electrical balance between the brain’s cerebral hemispheres, which would influence emotional processing on an ongoing basis.
- Several studies have found that Sahaja techniques allow meditators to “switch off” irrelevant neural circuitry (such as mechanisms of external attention) that interferes with their ability to function optimally, maintain focused, internalized attention and to inhibit negative, intrusive or distracting information (Aftanas L., Golocheikine S., 2001). In this way, Sahaja meditators can achieve psychological optimization, which primes them for self-actualizing pursuits.
- Sahaja meditation regulates emotion through two mechanisms: attentional control and cognitive control. Cognition includes mental processes such as, awareness, knowledge, thought, reasoning, judgment, intuition and perception — all of which are seamlessly integrated in the healthy mind. Sahaja enhances our ability to control what we pay attention to. Spending time in a higher state of consciousness, such as thoughtless awareness, allows us to transcend the mental plane of thoughts and feelings. We’re able to direct our attention to what really matters in life, rather than allowing it to wander into territory that is stressful, distracting or “deficiency-focused.”
While self-actualization is produced from within, it can still be stifled by a variety of external factors, such as lack of experience or education, as well as intervening environmental factors. Replenishing your inner energy through the regular practice of Sahaja meditation makes it much easier to stay on the path.
Aftanas L., Golosheykin, S. (2005) Impact of regular meditation practice on EEG activity at rest and during evoked negative emotions. International Journal of Neuroscience 115: 893-909.
Cahn, B.R., Polich, J., 2006. Meditation states and traits: EEG, ERP, and neuroimaging studies. Psychological Bulletin 132 (2), 180–211.
Hernández SE, Suero J, Barros A, González-Mora JL, Rubia K (2016) Increased Grey Matter Associated with Long-Term Sahaja Yoga Meditation: A Voxel-Based Morphometry Study. PLoS ONE 11(3): e0150757.
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