Jun 3, 2007

How To Touch The Face of God

I realise that my last post may have been a little too esoteric for some. Someone described that post as being "occultish and mystical".

So for today, I am sticking to more conventional ground (otherwise I may be accused of being a member of some cult). Today, we'll just learn how to touch God's face.

I say that this topic is entirely conventional, because it is entirely based on the work of a very well-known psychologist. He's so well-known that he appears in every standard textbook prescribed for undergrads taking Psychology 101. Many generations of NUS students would have studied him, for he is quite an important exam question.

Yes, we're talking about none other than
Abraham Maslow.

Maslow's interest was in human motivations (what do people want? why do they want it?) and he is best-known for his hierarchy of needs (see above). Briefly, human needs are categorised into five levels. Only when you have satisfied your needs at one level, will you start being interested in satisfying your needs at the next level.

The lowest level of needs are physiological. They are your needs for air, food, water and so on. Once those needs are satisfied, you will become interested in fulfilling your next level of needs - for physical safety and security. After that, you will become interested in the 3rd level of needs, represented by your need for love and belonging (for example, friends and family).

The fourth level of need will be for self-esteem, confidence, achievement, and other people's respect. At this level, you may feel motivated to try to gain people's respect, by pursing conventional symbols of success and status (eg in Singapore, this could be the infamous 5 C's).

The first four levels are known as "deficit needs". In other words, they represent the lack of something. Once you have obtained enough of that thing, your need disapppears. For example, suppose you are very hungry. You then are motivated to get food. However, when you have eaten enough to feel full, you will not want food any more (not at least for a few hours).

The fifth level of need is quite different. This is the level of self-actualisation, which is not a "deficit need". Instead Maslow calls it a "being need" or "growth need". If your first four levels are satisfied and you come to your fifth level, you will seek to fulfill your "growth needs". How exactly a person will seek to do so, will vary from person to person - Maslow
describes it as follows:
"A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write., if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualisation ... It refers to man's desire for self-fulfilment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualised in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming".
The thing about growth needs is that they will never be satisfied. You will always want more and more and more. You will always want to grow. It is the desire to fulfil your full potential. An extract from Wikipedia:
Self Actualization is the intrinsic growth of what is already in the organism, or more accurately, of what the organism is. Maslow writes the following of self-actualizing people:

They embrace the facts and realities of the world (including themselves) rather than denying or avoiding them.
They are spontaneous in their ideas and actions.
They are creative.
They are interested in solving problems; this often includes the problems of others. Solving these problems is often a key focus in their lives.
They feel a closeness to other people, and generally appreciate life.
They have a system of morality that is fully internalized and independent of external authority.
They have discernment and are able to view all things in an objective manner.
In short, self-actualization is reaching one's fullest potential.

Only a small proportion of the general population are believed to be at the 5th level. If you like, you could say that Maslow sees self-actualisers as representing the most-highly evolved, the most developed, members of the human race.

Maslow also thought that although just about everyone has the potential to get there, most simply will not. The reason is that most people are unaware of their potential, or have been conditioned by society to believe that they are "mediocre" or "average".

Another Maslow quotation, to make this clear:

"There seems no intrinsic reason why everyone shouldn't be (self-actualising). Apparently every baby has possibilities for self-actualisation, but most get it knocked out of them ...I think of the self-actualising man not as an ordinary man with something added, but rather as the ordinary man with nothing taken away."

I mentioned touching the face of God. Where does that come in?

Well, according to Maslow, self-actualising people can be further categorised into two groups. He calls them the peakers and the non-peakers. The peakers are the self-actualising people who have peak experiences.

What are peak experiences? Read for yourself -
here and here. Essentially, they are quasi-spritual, or mystical, or religious experiences, far beyond the ordinary. (In most reported cases, these peak experiences do not last very long, not more than a few minutes). I call this "touching the face of God". Here's a brief extract from the account of one individual, Osho, who had a peak experience in 1953:

"And the last day the presence of a totally new energy, a new light and new delight, became so intense that it was almost unbearable -- as if I was exploding, as if I was going mad with blissfulness. The new generation in the West has the right word for it -- I was blissed out, stoned.

It was impossible to make any sense out of it, what was happening. It was a very non-sense world -- difficult to figure it out, difficult to manage in categories, difficult to use words, languages, explanations. All scriptures appeared dead and all the words that have been used for this experience looked very pale, anaemic. This was so alive. It was like a tidal wave of bliss.

The whole day was strange, stunning, and it was a shattering experience. The past was disappearing, as if it had never belonged to me, as if I had read about it somewhere, as if I had dreamed about it, as if it was somebody else's story I have heard and somebody told it to me. I was becoming loose from my past, I was being uprooted from my history, I was losing my autobiography. I was becoming a non-being, what Buddha calls anatta. Boundaries were disappearing, distinctions were disappearing.

Mind was disappearing; it was millions of miles away. It was difficult to catch hold of it, it was rushing farther and farther away, and there was no urge to keep it close. I was simply indifferent about it all. It was okay. There was no urge to remain continuous with the past."

Or in Maslow's words:

"The power of the peak experience could permanently affect one's attitude toward life. A single glimpse of heaven is enough to confirm its existence even if it is never experienced again."

Peak experiences aren't as rare as you might think. They also come in varying degrees of intensity. A belief in "God" isn't an essential pre-requisite for touching God's face, either.

If you go and think about it, Buddha's enlightenment under the bodhi tree would, in Maslow's terminology, be an unusually intense peak experience. Subsequently, it became a plateau experience (Maslow's term again) whereby the experience becomes permanent and continues indefinitely (in Buddha's case, for the rest of his human lifetime).

Maybe you too would like to touch the face of God, if only briefly. If so, well then, hurry up, climb through Maslow's hierarcy of needs, and go to Level 5. Don't waste time being mediocre. Go and become everything you were supposed to become.


zhixiang said...

many singaporeans are still stuck in level 1. they worry about their job and debts more than their interest.

its sad that most of them cant attain level 5. worst is when they think making money is the human race. getting stuck in the rat race is all they want.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Wang, my current tool of choice is mindfulness meditation. With it I have managed to reach some little peaks of bliss, peacefulness and contentment here and there in limited pockets of time but it takes work to maintain the peaks, i.e. to establish the plateau.

For those interested it was this book: Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn that finally helped me to 'get' the concept of mindfulness after 2 years of on and off sampling of a variety of Buddhist readings- and this book itself isn't even an actual Buddhist text.

I salute the transition of your blog from political commentary to personal development. If your intention of the transition was to help the man in the street in as great a way as possible, I would say you are well on the way there and may you continue with your good work.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, I find this post a bit ... frightening.

Anonymous said...

Even food has so many different levels from a simple meal to an extravagant dinner of exortic dishes. If one is not contented with a simple meal and keep on craving for new and more expensive taste, how can one move up to the next level ? Many Singaporeans including the highly successful ones are stucked here.

Anonymous said...

TM is a good program. Even Bill Gates learned to "fly" from them.

Anonymous said...

Just to add, Bangkok used to have a very good TM centre. The Singapore one used to be of low standard.

Anonymous said...

erm, just go and look for Shunryu Suzuki's 'Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind'.

Or, just try the Zen breathing exercises.

And when you're walking, just walk; don't think about anything else.

Anonymous said...

hmm...if his theories were right, our PM must be at 'buddha' or gandhi stage..:)

zingzing said...

Don't worry too much for those Singaporeans who are unable to reach Level 5. In Singapore, from Level 1 to 5 everything is the same: Money, Money, Money, Money, Money.

So, when you hit Level 1, you have already hit Level 5. How wonderful! Don't forget that Singapore is really unique and extraordinary. Our Emperor decreed, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

There are many ways to get the high feelings. I know of the following situations which will cause the glands to release hormones like endophine into your blood stream inducing a temporary feeling of bliss.

1. Exercise
2. Drug
3. Orgasm
4. Achievement
5. Light at end of tunnel
6. Change in environment
7. 60 seconds in -60 C (German discovery).
8. Meditation

Mr Wang Says So said...

There is probably some kind of relationship between what Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi calls "flow experiences" and what Maslow calls "peak experiences".

I think you could say that peak experiences are a much smaller subset of flow experiences.

A flow experience is what Roger Bannister had, when he was running that race to become the first man to run the mile under 4 minutes.

If you google around for his personal account of that race, you'd realise that he was having a flow experience, possibly even a peak


This is how he described how he felt when he was running the mile:

"No longer conscious of my movement, I discovered a new unity with nature. I had found a new source of power and beauty, a source I never dreamt existed."

Compare the above with descriptions of the peak experience as supplied in my earlier links. There is always this sudden sense of unity with nature / the world / the universe etc and the consciousness of "self" is stripped away (in Bannister's case, he says that he was "no longer conscious of his movement" - and bear in mind that he isn't sleeping, or resting, or in a daze - he is actually running as hard and fast as he can).

Will write more later, am busy at the moment.

Anonymous said...

One more

9. Laughter

lau min-tsek said...

Roger Bannister could be having an endorphin peak, from the intense physical exercise while running. This could bring about brief episodes of superhuman activity or a heighten state of consciousness.

(actually, the more interesting angle to the story is how many people consider the 4 minute mile to be humanly unbreakable way back then. Right after Bannister broke through the 4 min barrier, a whole bunch of people soon broke the 4 min mile barrier too. Sort of how your mind tells you something can be done (because it has been done), so you can actually do it.)

There have also been many documented cases of people who report seeing things like a bright light (or things along that line) while under very large stress (like - about to fall off cliff -that sort of thing), followed by a very clear and presicent sense of being. There is a term to discribe this, but I can't remember it. One theory is that a large amount of chemicals in the body, such as endorphins mix with adrenaline, can produce this phenomenon. As I recall, the research are still on going and not conclusive.

In some religion, to touch the face of god involves some form of drug use. This takes the form of psychotropic plant/mushroom or some form of trance. Egs are the mexican shamans (stories of Don Juan Matus), the American Indian (spiritual dreams - I think they call it waking dreams or dream walking or something), and even hinduism.

A friend from India told me how her caste has permission from the Indian government to allow their priests to use banned psychotropic drugs/plants for spiritual reasons.

Well, the above are not exacting on topic, just to expand on the concept of "touching the face of god".

Lau Min-tsek said...

Which reminds me.....

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds, – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless falls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor eer eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high, untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

John Gillespie Magee

Mr Wang Says So said...

There's a big problem with using drugs for this kind of thing (quite apart from the fact that it's illegal) ... when I have time, I'll dig up the explanation given by Osho on this. In brief, over time, you'll need more and more drugs to achieve the same state, and eventually, to get to the same state, you'd just have to overdose till you're dead.

Not Recommended by Mr Wang.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, I am not sure if you briefly highlight one thing, could there always be a mixture of those 5 levels at the same time? And also even if one has attained the last level, he could be easily pulled back or downgrade to lower levels again due to unusual circumstances?

Mr Wang Says So said...

I have had a kind of peak or flow experience in court before ... It is quite bizarre, very difficult to explain. It is like I could read 4 minds at the same time - the judge's, the defence lawyer's, the accused person's and the witness's. Before the person could open his mouth to say something, I already knew what he was going to say, and I already knew my next three questions and his next 3 answers; and I already knew what everyone in the court was thinking about what the guy was saying. It wasn't just "knowing" through logical thinking and guessing; it was really just pure "knowing".

In my head I could even hear the defence counsel thinking "Shit ...! My client didn't tell me that" and I could hear the judge thinking "That's it, game over, game over" to himself.

lau min-tsek said...

Oh, I guess you are thinking about addiction or how the body adapts to the chemical signals and lower the sensitivity to them (homeostatic effect).

Use of psychotropics require great care. They are very potent chemicals/medicine.

Come to think of it, use of psychotropics in creative industry is not all that rare. Eg, many jazz and rock musicians in the 60s (less now) use psychotropics (eg marijuana) to acheive a heightened state of consciousness while playing music. ie, they think they become more creative and spontaneous.

Of course...... there is a price to pay, including addiction, "crashing" from the high, and even death.

And many of these same musicians when they get older, will not recommend using drugs anymore.

Anonymous said...

There is a new area of science pioneered by a Canadian Professor who claimed and demonstrated that he has located the area of the brain which when stimulated will induced one to have psychic experiences like seeing Jesus if one is a Christian or Buddha if one is Buddhist.
Using drugs to induce a high are very dangerous as one becomes addicted to external sources beyond one's control. The drugs effectiveness also wear off and one will need more and more to get the same high.
In mediation it is the body natural mechanism which produce the hormones.

Anonymous said...

For those interested, the brain emits different waves during different state of consciousness.
U can read a brief description of it here :

Mr Wang Says So said...

Yeah ... I've had the experience of reaching theta in meditation, and then automatically staying in alpha for the rest of the day. Just blissed out, calm and happy, no matter what happens.

And the space between stimulus and response widens ... You feel like you have vast control over your response to anything, and so you don't get irritated or angry or impatient or stressed about ANYTHING.

Lasts about 18 hours for me.

Cannon said...

The secular god is the Aggridant.
Check out Maslow's "Politics 3"
at www.maslow.org.

Anonymous said...

Free meditation in Singapore at :

This gentle soul used to teach meditation for free at the Buddhist Library :


After Lee Hsien Loong had cancer, he took meditation lessons from Dr. K K Tan.

zj83 said...

"The reason is that most people are unaware of their potential, or have been conditioned by society to believe that they are "mediocre" or "average"."

In addition, I would like to add Skinner's explanation to the animals (including humans) interaction with the environment with regards to Maslow's hierachy. Just in case, some plp r unfamiliar with B.F Skinner, here the brief summary of him here; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B_f_skinner

Skinner belief that an animal are born into the world with the intention of emitting operants*. The environment (environment varies in different contexts or cultures) will "encourage" "desirable" behaviors through rewards and "discourage" "undesirable" behaviour through punishment.

might Sounds chim to people who did not study psychology, however, skinner's believe actually shaped or enlighten my way of thinking and beliefs abt a person's success or failure in our contexts. Environment have been a powerful factor that i tend to tink that we neglected it. And yes i agree to what mr wang have written in his post-we are constantly being conditioned by our society through a system of rewards and punishments, whether conscious or unconscious. So if a person are unable to fufill his/her self-actualisation may not be solely that individual fault, enviornment can be the power factor which we take for granted most of the times.

Skinner wrote a book in how society can be managed or planned in a successful manner; in his book "Walden two", he wrote abt an utopian society, Walden two, embracing on his behaviorial techniques. An old book, which you may have to order online-which i did. I am 1/4 into this book, though a very slow n dull start. It get very interesting chp aft chp, moving into the methods and reasons of using behaviorial engineering in 'shaping' each individual into a competent and useful member of the society (community in "walden two") to read more abt the details on the book, copy the link below :

Skinner(1976) "The choice is clear: either we do nothing and allow a miserable and probably catastrophic future to overtake us, or we use our knowledge abt human behavior to create a social environment in which we shall live productive and creatives lives and do so without jeopardizing the chances that those who follow us will be able to do the same. Something like Walden Two would not be a bad start."

*"operants" are behaviors that leads to consequencies (positive or negative outcome) operating upon the environment.

Anonymous said...

Anybody want to know the levels of our gahmen ?

After much research and thinking, I conclude that all levels of need by gahmen is astonishly MONEY.

Loving need of Money, security need of money, basic need of money, ego need of money, self-actualization of money NOT ENOUGH => Ultimate enlightenment of GAHMEN !

Clarence said...

Haha everyone has read about maslow's hierarchy of needs before. And those who have read about it before also know that it's just another model, albeit one of the most famous ones (or should I say, the most famous) on human needs.

To (anonymous june 4 1:04pm - please put a nick next time so its easier to reference you), yes of course you can have a mix of all 5 levels. You don't necessarily have to progress from one level to the next.

That's the limitation of this model. It does not show how you can be at level 5 yet still be bothered about the nitty gritty of life - inevitably, everyone needs money to survive! And also, bear in mind, no one can feel safe enough in this age of terrorism and whatnot. Well maybe, if you're a cocooned Singaporean who has never been outta the country and your idea of an overseas trip is Johor Bahru or worse, Sentosa, then maybe...

Clarence said...

To Mr/Ms Anonymous third from the top, there's nothing frightening about this post. Seriously you should get more frightened when you look at the Auditor General's report on our country's ministries and stat boards.


Chew on that!

lee hsien tau said...

Maslow was spot on.

When Basic and Security needs have not been met, viagra is not needed.

Go teach the smart boy in the PM's office about Maslow.

Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks for your blog.

My peak experience came in the form of "the God-Man" Avatar Meher Baba


It hasn't been an easy journey, before or after, but
now it is one filled with guidance and compassion.

Who knew?