I recently read an article by Abraham H. Maslow (one of the most influential psychologists of the last century) called “Theory Z”, in which he distinguishes between two sub-groups of “self-actualizers” (those at the peak of his “pyramid of needs”), which he called “transcenders” and “nontranscenders”. He wrote:
“[Transcenders] may be said to be much more often aware of the realm of Being (B-realm and B-cognition), to be living at the level of Being; that is, of ends, of intrinsic values; to be more obviously metamotivated; to have unitive consciousness and “plateau experience” more or less often; and to have or have had peak experiences (mystic, sacral, ecstatic) with illuminations or insights or cognitions which changed their view of the world and of themselves…”
Maslow lists more than twenty characteristics of “transcenders”, and below are some that I especially resonated with:
❇ For the transcenders, peak experiences and plateau experiences become the most important things in their lives, the high spots, the validators of life, the most precious aspect of life.
❇ They speak more easily, normally, naturally, and unconsciously the language of Being (B-language), the language of poets, of mystics, of seers, of profoundly religious men… Therefore, they should better understand parables, figures of speech, paradoxes, music, art, nonverbal communications, etc.
❇ They perceive unitively or sacrally (i.e., the sacred within the secular), or they see the sacredness in all things at the same time that they also see them at the practical, everyday D-level. They can sacralize everything at will; i.e., perceive it under the aspect of eternity.
❇ They are much more consciously and deliberately metamotivated. That is, the values of Being…, e.g., perfection, truth, beauty, goodness, unity, dichotomy-transcendence, B-amusement, etc. are their main or most important motivations.
❇ They seem somehow to recognize each other, and to come to almost instant intimacy and mutual understanding even upon first meeting. They can then communicate not only in all the verbal ways but also in the nonverbal ways as well.
❇ They are more responsive to beauty. This may turn out to be rather a tendency to beautify all things… or to have aesthetic responses more easily than other people do….
❇ They are more holistic about the world than are the “healthy” or practical self-actualizers… Mankind is one and the cosmos is one, and such concepts as the “national interest” or “the religion of my fathers” or “different grades of people or of IQ” either cease to exist or are easily transcended…
❇ Of course there is more and easier transcendence of the ego, the Self, the identity.
❇ …transcenders are less “happy” than the healthy ones. They can be more ecstatic, more rapturous, and experience greater heights of “happiness” (a too weak word) than the happy and healthy ones. But I sometimes get the impression that they are as prone and maybe more prone to a kind of cosmic sadness or B-sadness over the stupidity of people, their self-defeat, their blindness, their cruelty to each other, their shortsightedness…
❇ …transcenders show more strongly a positive correlation — rather than the more usual inverse one — between increasing knowledge and increasing mystery and awe …at the highest levels of development of humanness, knowledge is positively, rather than negatively, correlated with a sense of mystery, awe, humility, ultimate ignorance, reverence, and a sense of oblation.
❇ Transcenders should be more “reconciled with evil” in the sense of understanding its occasional inevitability and necessity in the larger holistic sense, i.e., “from above,” in a godlike or Olympian sense…
❇ Transcenders… are more apt to regard themselves as carriers of talent, instruments of the transpersonal, temporary custodians so to speak of a greater intelligence or skill or leadership or efficiency. This means a certain peculiar kind of objectivity or detachment toward themselves that to nontranscenders might sound like arrogance, grandiosity or even paranoia…
❇ Transcenders are in principle (I have no data) more apt to be profoundly “religious” or “spiritual” in either the theistic or nontheistic sense.
❇ …transcenders, I suspect, find it easier to transcend the ego, the self, the identity, to go beyond self-actualization…
In the epilogue, Maslow concludes: “I have found approximately as many transcenders among businessmen, industrialists, managers, educators, political people as I have among the professionally “religious,” the poets, intellectuals, musicians, and others who are supposed to be transcenders and are officially labeled so…. Any minister will talk transcendence even if he hasn’t got the slightest inkling of what it feels like. And most industrialists will carefully conceal their idealism, their metamotivations, and their transcendent experiences under a mask of “toughness,” “realism,” “selfishness”… Their more real metamotivations are often not repressed but only suppressed, and I have sometimes found it quite easy to break through the protective surface by very direct confrontations and questions.”