We all have the potential to serve others, to understand, to grow. If this potential is untapped, we miss the bliss. Self-actualization taps into potential, mobilizing it through our thoughts, words and actions. This article explores three levels of self-actualization as described in the Vedas.

Bodily Potential

Our bodies are delicately balanced machines, animated by the conscious soul. The pains and pleasures of our bodies can be read as messages to tell us something about our bodily health. Listening to the body and learning from these messages is part of realizing our bodily potential.

Of course, as souls, we need not be slavish servants of each bodily whim. We have the power to decide which bodily urges are high priority, which ones can wait and which ones we don’t need to worry about at all. But in any case, the body’s messages are there for a reason.

It is said, yoga indriya samyama, that yoga entails control of the senses. Still, the central importance of sense control in yoga doesn’t justify abuse of the body. In Bhagavad-gita 17.19, Krishna says that this so-called tapasya, or penance, is actually in the mode of ignorance:

mudha-grahenatmano yat pidaya kriyate tapah
parasyotsadanartham va tat tamasam udahritam

Penance performed out of foolishness, with self-torture or to destroy or injure others, is said to be in the mode of ignorance.

The control of the body, or senses, which yoga is known for, is actually about progressive development of bodily potential, and using the body in the service of the soul, and the Absolute Truth, or God. When our bodies are well cared for, we can use our bodies to serve others.

Mental Potential

If our bodily needs for food and safety are basically taken care of, we open a new door of potential in the mental dimension. The mental dimension includes three broad functions:

  1. Thinking
  2. Feeling
  3. Decision-making

Everyone has a potential for thinking, feeling and exercise of will. Unlike the body, which is visible to all, the content of our hearts is known only to us. With that private access comes a unique responsibility to learn both the needs of our mind, and our mental potential.

Here are some questions for introspection:

  • In what situations does my mind feel satisfied?
  • Which subjects are my mind drawn to think about?
  • What is my greatest hope, and what is my greatest fear?

Whatever your answers to these questions, they can be looked at in relation to the soul, and the Absolute Truth. If we try to “be spiritual” without incorporating our bodily or mental desires, our minds will revolt and demand authenticity. Bhagavad-gita 3.6 warns of the pretentious lifestyle:

karmendriyani samyamya ya aste manasa smaran
indriyarthan vimudhatma mithyacharah sa uchyate

One who restrains the senses of action but whose mind dwells on sense objects certainly deludes himself and is called a pretender.

Even to simply say no to our mental demands, we must know what we are saying no to. That said, we rarely even need to say no. We can so often say, “Yes, but… ” to our mind when it wants something. Here are some “Yes, but… ” statements useful for dovetailing mental urges in positive spiritual directions:

  • Yes, you want to read, but we can read something spiritually uplifting.
  • Yes, you like to paint, but let’s paint something personally meaningful, profit be damned.
  • Yes, s/he may seem to deserve punishment, but I will wish them wellness anyway.

Of course, you may not be a painter, reader or vigilante, but anyone can actualize their mind’s highest potential. Arjuna was a warrior, and Krishna encouraged him to orient his mind on the Absolute, even during a fight to the death:

tasmat sarveshu kaleshu mam anusmara yudhya cha
mayy arpita-mano-buddhir mam evaishyasy asamsayah

Therefore, at all times, you should think of Me and fight. With your activities dedicated to Me and your mind and intelligence fixed on Me, you will attain Me without doubt.
(Bhagavad-gita 8.7)

Spiritual Potential

When the body and mind are well, our spiritual potential is ready for full expression. The soul’s potential is service to others. The system of self-actualization in this article has never been separate from spiritual awakening. The body and mind have been looked at in a spiritual context.

Spiritual potential then is to engage everything — body, mind and soul — in service to others. But what is the unique service potential of the soul, considered separately from the body and mind? It is consciousness, which transforms the thoughts, words and actions into divine love.

Love is 99% attention. If we pay attention to something long enough, not manipulating it, or interpreting it, just being conscious of it, we will find some innate beauty there. As souls, we have the potential to find something lovable in all times, places and situations. As Krishna tells Arjuna:

yo mam pashyati sarvatra sarvam ca mayi pashyati
tasyaham na pranashyami sa ca me na pranashyati

For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me. (Bhagavad-gita, 6.30)

A Closing Meditation

“Our consciousness is perhaps the most valuable asset we have to shape our destiny, give direction to our lives, and generate the results that will fulfill our highest aspirations. The mind is a builder.

It can be used to build up or to tear down, and to bring peace or war, health or disease, chaos or harmony. Thoughts are, in a sense, raw materials, building blocks that we use to build the foundations to make our dreams come true… ”

-Ed Winchester
(Founder of the Pentagon Meditation Club)

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