Existential Psychology

Physical Deterioration and Self-Actualization

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One of the dichotomies of human existence in the realm of self-actualization is that your body remains subject to the laws of nature while your Self transcends these laws by deciding, on a moment by moment basis, upon the unique path that only you can walk to develop your unique potentialities.

A friend of mine had an interesting question, which is what if this unique path relies heavily on the physical body? For example, take a basketball player who strongly believes that his route to self-actualization lies in getting as good as he can at his sport. Unfortunately his physical peak will occur at an early age, usually late 20’s or early 30’s, at which point he won’t be able to compete with the younger, fresher, more athletic bodies coming up through the system. Is he doomed to have to one day soon look back on a short period of his life with nostalgia?

My thoughts quickly darted to yoga as a way to answer this question. The same problems of physical deterioration will one day derail all the greatest yoga masters, who become unable to do asanas later in life that they could do when they were younger and stronger. Their response, if they are truly yoga masters, is to concentrate on the parts of their practice that are not dependent on the physical realm in the first place. They focus on their breathing, on mindfully existing in the present moment, and on continuing to peel layer after layer of their Selves in order to reach Samadhi. The point is that when their bodies falter, yoga masters don’t skip a beat and just keep focusing on the important embedded goals of the practice that were there all along.

If you have a sport or physical activity that you believe defines you, the route to continued self-actualization is to delve below the superficial and discover which aspects of the activity bring out that deeper yearning, allowing you to express the most important parts of your being. It might be the chance to test yourself, a forum to channel your competitiveness in a healthy way, or the opportunity for deep concentration where you forget the rest of the world for a while.

If you can discover these deeper personal reasons for your activity then you will have no problem directing your development even when physical deterioration starts to get in the way. Our actions, along with satisfying our material and physiological needs, are a vector for expressing our deeper existential needs. If you can find out which of these needs are being satisfied by your activity, you’ll begin to see that the activity is secondary and in fact largely unnecessary as long as you can keep expressing and developing the deeper parts of your Self.