11 min read

Ritualized Rebirth: Maslow’s Misinterpretation & Sacred Death Practice

How to find your Self by losing your self.
Ritualized Rebirth: Maslow’s Misinterpretation & Sacred Death Practice

If you aren't feeling great emotionally today, it's best to wait until you're more grounded and open to read this. I'm holding no punches, and we're kicking things off with some bold statements.

💛 The Most Honest Idea

If you recall from the first letter in this series, a guiding question for every post here is "What is the most truthful thing I can write right now?"

That thing is this: I hope you die soon.

Not physically, of course. A psycho-spiritual death.

I hope your sense of smallness, your feelings of being an isolated individual, your doubts, fears, hopes, dreams, desires, your sense of identity as a small bio-electric process in your head, and your relentless focus on yourself all die soon.

Your self-centered focus, the relentless interpretation of how all of Reality can best serve you and you alone — is the single greatest barrier to uninhibited bliss, power, and meaning in your life.

Your ego is your obstacle. It is the Final Boss. Hidden in plain sight all along.

It is the ultimate self-recursive loop. It exists solely as a narrative cycle in your mind, and generates every single one of your problems, neuroses, anxieties, depression, confusion, and heartache. It disconnects you from humanity, it allows you to contribute to systems that destroy the planet, and it steals away the vast expanses of wellbeing, peace, and power available to you at all times, in all places.

The great trick of life is this: the death of the ego is not the death of the Self. That which feels most fatal, is actually the most freeing.

The death of the mental strange loop you refer to as "I" is the single most important thing you can do for yourself and for the world.

The death of the small self unlocks a level of Being that can only be held, perceived, and appreciated by all of existence. And until you can identify your True Self as the Totality of All That Is — you will be forever blocked from this. Or better said, forever distracted from it. It's always available to you in each moment, but you spend your time trying to fulfill the needs of an illusion — your ego.

⛔️ Maslow's Fatal Misinterpretation

If modern culture has taken any single psychological model and based the entirety of its sociological structure and values around it, it's Maslow's Hierarchy.

The quintessential model of the evolution of a conscious individual. The blueprint for the flourishing of the 'Self-Made Man'. Simply ascend the levels of Maslow's Great Pyramid, and Master Life. At this point you have Won the Game. You have reached Self-Actualization, the peak of human progress.

All of this, every single line of it, is bullshit. It's backwards, and it's keeping you running in circles of empty self-satisfaction. Here's why.

📚 The model that every textbook has adopted is wrong.

They systematically exclude the final level, Self-Transcendence. Of rising above and beyond the individual self, and like the Tibetan Monks and their epic Sand Mandalas — the moment the picture is perfect, it is destroyed, forgotten, seen through as impermanent and imperfect.

Now we can cut them some slack, as Maslow died before this final level worked its way into his public theories. But it's a fatal error. To act as though your process is the most important thing in your life is fundamentally flawed.

❌ It was never designed as a linear hierarchy.

Maslow never presented his work in the form of a pyramid or hierarchy. The above image, that of progressive waves of needs intensity, is the depiction he created. This may seem trite, but it's an essential point for a number of reasons:

  • Needs never fully disappear, you can never fully resolve a need. They simply increase or decrease in intensity based on your context.
  • There are no clear-cut delinitations. You're never at the "I'm working on the Love/Belonging needs now" stage in your life. They intermingle and co-arise.
  • The depiction as a pyramid is fundamentally flawed. Celebrity suicides (and the phenomenon of suicide itself) is the obvious example here. Suicide never comes from a lack of food. Some of the most 'actualized' individuals take their lives regularly, and the pace is increasing.  

👤 It glorifies the individual above everything.

The standard presentation of Maslow's Hierarchy as a pyramid with the actualized individual at the top creates an embodied value structure that once an individual has achieved what they consider to be self-actualization, they are done.

They have the completed the worldly task that they have come here to do.

This, over and above anything else, has created the phenomenon of all Western Elders simply moving to Florida, riding on pensions, and contributing nothing to the culture that supported and enabled their entire journey.

This glaring deficit of Elder Wisdom in modern culture (to say nothing of the fact that merely ascending Maslow's Hierarchy as depicted does not guarantee Wisdom at all), is contributing deeply to the problems we face as a collective. Adult children running around.

This 'Self-Actualization as Goal' mentality also systematically engenders one of the 3 'Dark Triad' psychological traits: machiavellianism, or "by whatever means necessary".

Reality exists solely for the actualization of Me.  

This behaviour allows an individual to justify the bankrolling of their lives off the backs of planetary resource boundaries and the exploitation of multiple countries, cultures, and peoples. The ends always justify the means. And the results of this is apparent: collapsing biosphere, exceeding planetary boundaries, rampant suicide/nihilism, collapse in civil discourse, subjugation and exploitation of peoples and cultures.

🗺 It orients this quest as the 'journey of a lifetime'.

Finally, the structure of Maslow's Hierarchy instill in all who agree to it a deep sense that this is the 'process of a lifetime', rather than something that can and should happen quite rapidly through the maturation process of adolescence into adulthood.

The future of humanity, the flourishing of future generations, even the bliss and beauty of existence that is your birthright, don't have the time to wait for the potential possibility of somewhere down the road you figuring this out.

We have lost the ecology of practices, primarily the Rite of Passage into adulthood, facilitated via a ritualized sacred death/rebirth practice that enable the rapid self-actualization required while creating the cultural conditions required for them to transcend that process and arrive back home as a Fully-Integrated member of society.

Fortunately, cultures have figured this out. This isn't something we need to create for ourselves, it's just something we need to remember and integrate once again.

🧬 Genesis in Blackfoot Culture

The kicker that gets left out of the discussion is that Maslow was heavily influenced by the Blackfoot culture of Alberta, Canada in the development of his model.

You can see in the image above that the Blackfoot culture has Self-Actualization at the bottom of the pryamid (though they did present it as a triangle, it was a tipi, symbolizing the connection between heaven and earth).

The Self-Actualized individual is the foundation of culture. It is literally the starting point.

Yes, self sovereign, capable, composed individuals are necessary, any sound system needs its component parts to be functional. I'm not overlooking the importance of Self-Actualization — I'm merely pointing to the fact that it is the foundation, the starting point.

We need a systematic way to facilitate the Actualization of Everyone – so that we can finally get to work architecting a regenerative and sustainable global culture and collective way of being.

The Actualized individual isn't a trophy to display on a wall. It's not the mission of a lifetime. It's Basecamp. It's where you begin the journey from. The actualized individual is now capable of showing up to the group, taking a seat at the table, and contributing to the collective.

💀 Death/Rebirth Rituals & Rites of Passage

Here's another fun fact: adolesence was manufactured. The liminal space between being a child and an adult was created as a system of oppression to create a docile populus. (I'll cover this in a future piece).

Throughout history in indigenous cultures, the transition from child to adult was clear, delineated, and powerful. It was facilitated via the Rite of Passage — a sacred and often intense physical and psycho-spiritual process that served two purposes:

  1. It facilitated the maturation and actualization process in the individual. Rites of passage bring individuals to their knees in the agony and ecstacy of life, they show participants that they are fundamentally connected to the Great Web of Life and cannot ever be separate. Many of them included death/rebirth practices (more on this in a minute).
  2. If the individual was successful, the culture and adult population viewed and treated this individual as an adult. This reciprocal mirroring from the adult population is also essential and often overlooked. The individual is now given a seat at the table, with adult responsibilities.

This two part process created the necessary inner<>outer dynamic requires for a complete identity-level transformation: the individual felt this shift internally, and this internal shift was then mirrored back and honoured by the collective.

This clear deliniation between childhood and adulthood has been entirely lost in modern culture, and it shows. Adult children abound. Obsessed with themselves, unsatisfied with everything, and entirely unwilling and often also incapable of helping with anything beyond their immediate circumstances.

No actualized culture, no system, can perpetuate itself when its substrate and consitituent elements are unable to bear the weight and responsibility of maintaining the system.

⚡️ The Bliss of Being

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man's-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. ” ― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart

All fear is fundamentally the fear of death. Either you are afraid of physical harm/illness which would lead to physical death — or you have a social fear (like public speaking) because being ostracized/exiled from the group in ancient times led nearly inevitably to physical death.

This is where the sacred power of death/rebirth practices comes in. It is only through continual self-obliteration, ripping apart the ego, that you come to the realization that you, the Real You, is fundamentally indestructable.

You cannot die. You cannot fail. There is no mistake that you can make. You lack nothing. You require nothing. You are the entirety of existence manifested in a locus of awareness.

In forgetting your small self, in willingly surrending yourself to Life, only then can you return to your True Identity — the Entirety of Existence. You are not a small helpless monkey. You are the Great Web of Being. That Which Does All Things.

And it is in this realization that you are imbued with the Power, Grace, and Purpose of All That Is. To die to the small self is to be born anew as the All Self.

This is the great myth of the phoenix. The sacred rebirth. The first birth into the world, and the second birth into your dharma. Into your calling. To realize and enact your True Nature – as a God on Earth. As a part of the Great River of Being. No longer swayed by the petty opinion, needs, or desires of the mind, ego, and small self. These are all illusions.

This is what I wish for you.

I want you to be reborn. To claim your birthright as a Twice Born human, and step into the role of an Infinite Player playing an Infinite Game. To recognize the beauty of stewarding all of yourself, not just the small locus of awareness.

To feel the almighty power and wisdom sewn into your bones.

If this is something you're ready for, I will cover specific techniques/resources for Death/Rebirth practices in a future letter.

🌀 The Strangest of Loops

And here's where it all becomes truly hilarious. Truly ecstatic. Truly beautiful.

Like we spoke about in our first article, reality is a strange loop. The edge becomes the center, over and over and over again.

This Ego Death Process is in fact the path to true Self-Actualization. This is how you fulfill all the needs of every hierarchy.

  1. You can never self-actualize the small self. The small self is in fact the only obstacle to your complete Self-Actualization. Like the Hungry Ghosts, the ego will take in absolutely everything and never be satisfied. There is never enough for the ego. In rooting firmly down in your true identity as the entirety of existence, your needs are always fulfilled. Life provides everything. You have no individual need, while simultaneously living in a Reality that provides everything in every moment.
  2. Levels of self-actualization no longer become 'nice-to-haves', they become 'non-negotiables'. Immediately upon dying to yourself and arriving in service to the whole — your health, wealth, relationships, and contributions are cultivated and refined. You do the things your soul yearns for because that is how you deliver exponentially more value to the collective, by following what lights you up the most and giving it freely.

You become a vessel of service to the collective, to all of your Self. No longer focusing on one small corner, you now submit in gracious service to everything. Looking for the area that you are most fit to serve.

Only in dying to your own needs, submitting to the service and the collective of the whole, do you ever arrive deeply full. This is the law of Life. Empty yourself, and you will be full. You are already whole, and the death of the individual, separate, lacking self is the only obstacle.

There's no such thing as personal development, there is no person to develop. There is only the Great River of Being flowing through all things, and the recognition or lack of recognition of this fundamental truth.

Trust Life. Surrender completely into it. Take the ultimate leap of faith.

It is when you have died to your need to control, to satisfy your selfish desires, surrendered yourself to the grace and flow of life, that you are free and able to truly act in the greatest service, to the best of your capacities, for the greatest good of all.

It is only these twice-born humans who are truly able to be of deep service to the whole. Who are even willing to be of true service. To let life flow through them for the collective.

The world needs you. Your Soul needs you. Die to yourself. The other side is beautiful. Life will hold you. You are safe. Drop your personality. Leave it behind you. Attach to nothing, there is no external label or possession that can contain the immensity of your existence.

In dying to the small Self, in removing the obstacles to the deep realization of your absolute immensity in the present — you open the gates for your True Self to arrive, to deeply enact with purpose and presence excactly what is needed.

And once you are ready to show up, as a Fully Realized Being, and begin seriously playing the Game of Life — we will meet you there, and architect a culture the world has never seen.

🛠 This is what we will cover next week: Cultural Architecture.

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