We hear a lot about self-obsessed New Yorkers with their mandatory shrinks, with the UK opinionators bewailing the imminent import of this kind of navel-gazing to our famously repressed shores. We also hear that Blessed are the Poor, but Maslow suggests we can’t attain spiritual ‘self-actualising‘ until our material needs have been met.
I think that Maslow and Matthew are both right, and I think the answer is about ego. The poor only have God to give them identity and hope, so they subvert the pyramid. Those who have attained the peak of material gain also know an emptiness that can only be filled spiritually. One interpretation of the journey up the pyramid is about furnishing the ego, establishing it and consolidating it through things and roles and relationships, until it takes on the polished veneer that acts as a protection in life against ‘other.’ Ego boundaries keep us safe, but they also keep us from God. I think that those with no ego or those with a strong one are best placed to be receptive to God. In both cases they know the limits of ego. It is those struggling in the middle to erect a dyke and keep it watertight that are distracted. Last year at the Ashridge Leadership Conference I sat outside with Josie Gregory, Megan Reitz and Marjo Lips Wiersma and we drew a parallel between the Ashridge gardens and our souls. We reckoned that the personality – the ego – was the bench in front of us, set in the garden of the soul. And for us to be able to sit safely and contemplate the garden, we need a solid bench, or we need to sit on the floor. A wobbly one sends us scurrying for beermats and screwdrivers and we never notice the flowers. So I say bring them on – send us your shrinks and we will employ them: I am keen on navel-gazing, as a necessary part of the spiritual quest. Those of us who are spirituality mature enough to connect straight to God may do so, but those of us who are weak may need first to make sense of our createdness before we are ready to face our creator head-on.