A Peak Performance weblog

Flow, Glow, and Zero


The need for a new vision

In this millennium people around the world could benefit from a vision of peak performance and self-actualization that can serve as a secular, cross-cultural meeting ground for personal achievement, spiritual and religious progress, ethics and morality, psychological growth, and organizational results–all at the same time.  Such a vision is already available, and holds the potential for a level of change far deeper and broader than anything possible with science, technology, government, law, business, or economics. This book endeavors to introduce some facets of such a vision.  

Why do we need a new vision?  What’s the problem?

A widespread breakdown of structure

Time seems to be relentlessly breaking down all types of structures, theories, customs, and beliefs that we have relied on. While the world is becoming effectively ‘closer knit’, more accessible and interdependent in various ways, we are shedding our former reliance on structures of authority, status, and law and regulation based on precedent, sovereignty of governments, separate states, and the global presence of huge corporations. International disagreement abounds; competition is rampant in political, economic, social, and military fields.

With globalization and modern communication breaking down long-standing temporal and spatial barriers, we’re now quickly affected even by ‘distant’ cultural and religious conflict, conflict between religion and atheism, differences between public-benefit and private business, business and religion, science and religion, religion and spiritual disciplines, religion and education and psychology, economic and environmental problems, and political and governmental ideologies.

A deeper, natural set of values?

How can we handle these problems?  Faith in the ability of the previous ‘sacred cow’ of science and technology to solve our problems has waned.  Some problems just can’t be solved by technological knowledge, and applied technology often has unintended side effects such as pollution and global warming.  

Decades ago, Mahatma Gandhi suggested what was then, and still is, a revolutionary approach: “As human beings our greatness lies not so much in remaking the world – which is the myth of atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.” (p. 10, Rao, 2010)

It’s likely that the breakup of our prior dependence on national, racial, religious, scientific, business, and even family institutions goes hand in hand with time’s call for new ways of viewing our circumstances.  “Peter Berger, an American sociologist . . . argues that the key feature of the 20th Century has been growing acceptance that self realization of the individual is a greater goal than loyalty to any group like the family, religion, race, ruling dynasty or nation.” (p. 174, Rao, 2010) I’m not sure exactly what Berger meant by “self realization.” But in any case, now, in the apparently increasing momentum of the 21st Century, we might propose something radical: rather than leaving the self-structure at the center of consciousness (a la Descartes, who helped start the scientific revolution hundreds of years ago) as the cause of all, what if we challenge this so-called ‘normal’ consciousness structure too?

What if, in the spirit of scientific inquiry, we make a grand hypothesis, look for an all-encompassing view that takes not just personal, psychological perspectives, but all appearance into account? And what if we aim for something that has got not just predictive, technological usefulness for solving our prior problems, but also relevance for the quality of our future lives?

In earlier decades, systems of psychology presumed that all of us had certain desires and needs for food, sex, approval, and esteem. Motivation techniques pivoted around ‘satisfying’ these lower ‘needs’, a never-ending project; lower level needs are never satisfied for long. With wider vision, we may now find that most of these ‘needs’ do not persist at higher levels of development.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow said that of our needs, only the need for self-actualization persistently and consistently motivates us (pp. 163-4, Grove, 1983).  Maslow’s work on peak experience studied highly functioning people, shook up the support for the theories and practices of traditional psychologies, and helped introduce new disciplines of humanistic and transpersonal psychology.

About the same time, spiritual disciplines ‘imported’ from the East helped shift Western attention from external preoccupation toward an inner internal. Apparently the Buddha said, “It is wrong to think that misfortunes come from the East or from the West.  They originate within from one’s own mind. Therefore, it is foolish to guard against misfortunes from the external world and leave the inner mind uncontrolled.” (p. 18, Rao, 2010)

In this 21st century, there is growing acceptance that by developing ourselves we will not only avoid misfortunes from the external world, but also facilitate our inner growth and realize material and bottom-line goals. According to SF Hotel CEO Chip Conley: “I came to realize that creating peak experiences for our employees, customers, and investors fostered peak performance for our company.” (p. 13, Conley, 2007) We might call this movement and approach managing by values, as is now done in segments of the business world. Time seems to be strongly challenging us as individuals to recognize our limitations, to ‘see through’ them, and to discover new levels of inner involvement, moving toward a zone of peak performance.

Not only is there growing acceptance that realization is our greatest goal–some say that the optimal way to develop ourselves, our organizations, and societies, and to progress toward other, material and bottom-line goals is to focus on facilitating values development and realization rather than the bottom line, best practices, or any other ‘place’. This proposition is presented in Chapters Three and Four.

But what values can serve as the ‘basis’ for a new stage in human development?  As stated earlier, time seems to be relentlessly breaking down all types of structures, theories, customs, and beliefs that we have relied on. Maslow wrote, “We can no longer rely on tradition, on consensus, on cultural habit, on unanimity of belief to give us our values.” (p. 9, Maslow, 1970)

Australian yoga teacher Maiida Palmer asked whether something different might be introduced to our cultures, whether any practice could go beyond traditional beliefs and values: “Is it possible to introduce a system of values based on knowledge of the nature of the human person — one that each individual can understand to be natural and effective, and not just a system that is believed, or seems to be true?” The Dalai Lama saw the value in developing a secular morality:  “In the West, religions have lost their dominance. . . . I believe deeply that we must find . . . a new spirituality. . . . This new concept ought to be elaborated alongside the religions . . . . We need a new concept, a lay spirituality. . . . It could lead us to set up what we are all looking for, a secular morality. . . .” (p. 16, p. 104, Dalai Lama, 1994)

Can we now go beyond the traditional and sectarian? Beyond attachments to different groups’ beliefs, principles, injunctions, traditions, and practices?  Bill Clinton once said, “As we become ever more diverse, we must work harder to unite our common values and our common humanity.” (p. 147, Rao, 2010) Can we find sufficiently deep values that will naturally unite us? Is there an overall picture and approach? A comprehensive vision of our potential, and an effective method for progress?

Chapter One begins with a search for peak performance qualities or ‘values’ that can be empirically derived from the literature of most cultures and times. This furthers the development of a secular, phenomenology-based morality that can serve as a meeting ground for tolerance of others and their values, and perhaps go even further, and be seen as a genuine shared set of values that arise directly and naturally from human being, that are not supernatural or other-worldly, not attributed to some ‘external’ or ‘other’ source or cause.

This research presents a detailed description of such a natural meeting ground, the cross-cultural core ‘zone’ of peak performance and realization, as well as two other main levels of experience, providing a broad spectrum of human consciousness and functioning within which different value systems, principles, and methods can be compared. Building on Maslow’s and others’ work, these valued facets of enlightened experience are described with detail and precision that is far more granular and operationally useful than typical one-word descriptions such as honesty and integrity.

A forum for interdisciplinary studies

Different fields of knowledge and transformative disciplines further the health, well-being, and productivity of humanity in countless ways. Much more could be done, but their ideas and approaches often seem to conflict. Frequently this happens because their domains of application, underlying principles, assumptions, and worldviews are unclear, or even unknown.
What if we had, and took, a larger view? Could a more comprehensive view of human consciousness help to resolve some of these conflicts? What if we clarify the assumptions, beliefs, and experiential structures in force with different ways or systems of knowing and being?

I propose that we create a forum to enable interdisciplinary research and cooperation of representatives from different fields. To coordinate and facilitate the work of these disciplines, it would be useful to provide a common ground of language, principles, and methods through which these fields and disciplines can clarify issues across all levels of consciousness and fields of application and to further each others’ pursuits. Researchers and practitioners should be able to determine the presumptions and limitations of their disciplines and make use of what is valuable in other approaches. Many differences among disciplines are due only to a lack of understanding of others’ jargon or meanings. Other conflicts are due to differences in the disciplines’ range of investigation or application—they are simply not addressing the same dimensions of reality or consciousness.

Take one example, using common ground to explore and appreciate differing moral systems. People all over the world lead their lives in different ways, trying to follow varied moral or ethical systems. Ironically, history has witnessed how differences between these systems have lead to conflict, aggression, and even war. A forum could explore what different types of systems there are, how such systems arise, which levels of consciousness they apply to, and whether ‘something’, some dynamic, might explain how they all arise. We might come to appreciate and understand relationships between such systems rather than simply rejecting some as ‘wrong’ or ‘misguided’.

Establishing common ground should help resolve many of these confusing issues, help investigators focus on what’s important, and add precision rather than heat to their explorations. Instead of insoluble conflict among many different fields, we might find complementary approaches, and see that different ways of knowing simply make different assumptions and use different methods to accommodate different learning styles, personalities, cultural customs, and even very different levels of consciousness or human development. Hopefully this book will help  develop this common ground.


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