It feels disheartening to discover how many prominent people seek to discredit Western culture by denying the role of self in anything of value, including members of it that deny self-interest as “selfish”, “self-centered arrogance”, “egotism” and the like, wrongly claimed to be the opposite of “altruism”. The self is important as what it is; our failure to understand that attests more to the powerful influences that come from religion, more than anything meaningful or real. That we should be told to “deny self”, that “selfishness is not a desirable condition”, that one’s thoughts get reduced to “monkey chatter” and so demeaned as undesirable, such as comes from sources found everywhere tells us more about the poor mental condition of those writers and talkers, than it does of any truth.
Self is not made to be banished, except to be taken over by hallucinations, unconsciousness, or invasive memeplexes. So-called “monkey chatter” may, in fact, serve as a natural barrier to protect us from the onslaught of parasitical ideas we get exposed to every day of our lives. Self is not made to be banished, it is made to be attached to something one finds desirable to have or accomplish, or to be or become. The self is what finds one’s purpose to be served as a lifetime aim, a cause to adopt, a task in which to become so involved as to lose one’s sense of self as separate from that. To write, to make music (especially as part of a group), to work a garden, nurture children, pan for gold or stare at the stars, are all such tasks according to their appeal to any individual.
It is that appeal that becomes important to this: Our circumstances, our genetic makeup, and the pressures bearing down upon us all work to lean us toward whatever will most satisfactorily involve us. No one else can make such choices for us. Parents who demand their children to follow their footsteps through life by adopting the means of livelihood they may have worked hard to develop, may doom their children to fiscally rewarding but very unsatisfactory and depressing lives. Priests and clerics who demand their followers abandon themselves to a god and service to the church may doom many of their congregants in that same way. (Could the resultant shallow lives contribute to a reason for why so many of the religious seem so willing to go on missions of suicide?) Businesses who assign people to slots of work within their organizations while paying no attention to (even demeaning) their natural talents and inclinations cannot claim to have the most productive and zealous workers. “Monkey chatter” will not let such persons alone to concentrate the best upon their less-than-desirable work; to “banish the self” at such times contributes to 1zoning, something that could endanger unhappy workers whose mentality seeks to escape the conditions imposed upon them.
When oneself is ‘attached’ to a task, oneself is wide awake, fully focused upon that task and aware of each action taken. When away from it, the attachment does not lessen, but oneself still ponders the immersion into it to which one wishes to return, or the needed rest one recognizes as being a part of the overall accomplishment. One will talk about the beloved activities and effects produced by them upon himself and coworkers also engaged in it. One will dream about it at night, and perhaps arise early to jot down ideas and sketches about how to make it even better. While others, uninvolved, may find it unsettling, oneself remains attached, not banished, except to accommodate their demands or one’s natural needs.
We may rightly refer to such a person’s engagement as “the advanced state of self,” wherein one has uncovered a reason, a virtue, to devote himself to in life, and unabashedly, wholeheartedy pursues that. Such a person has become “self-actualized”, to use Maslow’s term for the highest state one can achieve. He represented it as something to be accomplished only because one can, that one must first surpass the four lesser states of existence in order to possess the intellectual and financial security that enables self actualization.
Self-actualization does not mean in any way “banishment of the self” or instruct us to consider selfishness as something disgusting. No, it is an instruction about what steps are necessary to be completed before we can most effectively attach ourselves to that “bigger that ourselves” life’s aim that gives us sufficient reason to endeavor and from which we derive a meaning existence for ourselves. That does not occur through hallucinatory processes, zombification, nor the supplanting of self with something else.
Martin Seligman, PhD, Fox Leadership Professor of Psychology, in the Department of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, shows he understands this after thirty years of practice: “…there is one thing we know about meaning: that meaning consists in attachment to something bigger than you are. The self is not a very good site for meaning, and the larger the thing that you can credibly attach yourself to, the more meaning you get out of life.” <; Richard Russell, in an email dated 9/23/2006 and posted to a yahoo group, shows he, too, understood that when he wrote, “An important psychological factor that Maslow identified is that a satisfied need is no longer a motivator. That is, you don’t much worry about food if you’re accustomed to 3 square meals a day and know where the nearest grocery store and restaurant are.”
Rather than banishment, self-actualization is only acheived as a result of self-awareness and self-confidence. Heightened senses of self-awareness enable the perception of one’s inherent needs. Heightened self-confidence results from the accomplishments at a lower level that provided the time for pondering insights, and so allowed the individual to gain a sense of direction. Accomplishments at lower levels affirms confidence in oneself, and so provides the drive needed  to aim for ever greater heights. Self-actualization is taught by the process through which it is gained, while the individual is also strengthened to follow through. The small pleasures gained along the way provide motivation and a sense that something great lurks around the horizon that can be had just by one’s arrival there.
This most advanced form did not result from self-denial, but from self-confidence, self-awareness, and self-actualization. It did not result from lurking for months amidst the guano at the back of pitch-dark caves, from accepting anecdotal dogma from ancient times as current truths, nor from marching in lock-step to a drummer different from one’s own internal beat. It is a pity that the poorest members of the world’s social orders will never gain an understanding of that, nor even be exposed to the high concepts for which it stands. It is a greater pity so many of us lucky enough to have been exposed to decent educational systems devalue those systems and deny the good they do, and never make use of our ability to read and write to do more than study advertisements and read the screen blurbs passing our eyes by. In our time, information of this nature is readily available but, for all kinds of reasons, seldom sought by such as those who have been enable to make use of it to lead better lives with greater happiness, joy, pleasure, and balance.
Ah: Balance!
Balance is a rather recent addition to all of this. Ataraxia (mental balance), of course, was a topic of interest in Epicurus’ time. Homeostasis (physiological balance) is rather new by comparison to that. Both work together and affect each other as a system, to maintain (or fail to) a balanced person. What works for individual persons works also for individual groups, individual nations, individual worlds: a balanced existence is most pleasant; imbalance is unpleasant and undesirable at all levels.
Imbalance results from all kinds of adverse conditions: it is present when food supplies are less than needed to feed the person, the group, the nation, the world. It is present when income is not high enough to pay the bills, at any social level. It is present when knowledge is not enough to secure correct approaches to omnipresent problems, including when that lack results from conditions imposed to prevent the gaining of it. You will find it in superabundance where daily stress cannot find pleasures capable to relax it, but only drugs and drink, or religion, that actually act for its increase.
Balance is easy to achieve, once you get past all the hogwash that keeps you from discovering life’s simple secrets. Gaylord Maxwell, longtime columnist for Motorhome Magazine, told his secret in the April 2008 issue: “The objective of being useful is part of my general philosophy that our lives have to have purpose….Although the idea of purpose is often used in a religious context,” he wrote, “I use it in a worldly sense. Having purpose can mean many kinds of goals. Some people focus on self-improvement; others focus on bettering the lives of others. Both are comendable goals, but the latter is by far the most important. Doing things that make life better for others is undoubtedly the most important and satisfying of all purpose goals.” Mister Maxwell makes a fine example of the balanced kind of person that can result from answering the need to attach one’s self to a purpose one finds to be meaningful, and then focus on that task.
©2008 Lloyd H. Whitling

1) Zoning, as hinted in the dictionary, is a way in which the mind divides itself into regions, and by which it enables itself to ponder other thoughts while the body continues on in a somewhat automated fashion at whatever well-learned task it is engaged in. Rather than attaching itself to the task, the self disengages and dangerously seeks other things with which to become involved.