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Scoring life's three-pointers. (Stresslines).

Have you ever climbed a tree on a clear day and felt like you could see forever? Probably not. Such an experience is a metaphor for something special in human experience: the upper ranges, the elevated levels of functioning that offer a grand experience.

The best that most of us can squeeze from the lemon of life is an occasional flirt with the peak -- a once-in-a-while clicking on all eight cylinders.

There are times when we are physically agile and feeling stronger, mentally quicker and more insightful, emotionally in gear and well-tuned, perceptually clear and spiritually aware, when all systems are working together for a wondrous moment.

Sports nuts call it the zone -- Michael Jordan hitting those six three-pointers in the first half of the NBA finals against Phoenix. A moment frozen in time, with Michael nodding to the bench, giving the quizzical shrug, palms up, face askew, as if to say, "I don't know how I'm doing it. They just keep going in."

The zone -- that's what the headlines proclaimed. Functioning at the peak.

How and why does the prospect of the peak occur? Biorhythms? A proper alignment of the planets? A sudden infusion of grace from the Great Beyond? Sheer luck? We don't know.

Typically, such rare experiences are transient and seemingly beyond our control. Here today, gone in a minute. If we knew how to engineer the highest level of functioning on daily basis, we would. But, we can't.

Granted, most of us will never have the experience of tossing in three-pointers as easily as popping rocks into a pond. And yet, anyone who works hard at something over a protracted period of time will occasionally experience that unique flow when what we do seems so natural, effortless, efficient, and elevated.

If only we could find some way to capture the zone of the peak experience; put it in a bottle; and take a long, deep draft whenever we needed a shot at hitting the heights.

Is it' possible that some unique individuals have captured some semblance of the zone and live in it daily, moment by moment, milking their experience for every drop of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual satisfaction? Wow. What would that be like?

Well, not like having the powers of a comic book superhero(ine). This isn't fantasy time.

Abraham Maslow, a highly respected psychologist, conducted studies of such individuals and gave them the name "self-actualizers" -- SAs.

Historically, SAs would include public figures such as Albert Schweitzer, Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Aldous Huxley, Pierre Renoir, George Washington Carver, Thomas Jefferson, etc.

Some saints, some sinners, but no hermits contemplating life as a deep well; rather, people who were immersed in the world and all its problems and doing just fine.

In studying both lesser-known contemporary individuals as well as well-known historical figures, Maslow concluded that SAs possessed specific characteristics:

* A clearer perception of reality. SAs, for example, possess a well-developed ability to make good judgments and detect the spurious and the phony in people and events. Their vision isn't blurred. Cognitively, they see the world as it really is. No primrose paths fueled by self-delusion.

* Acceptance of their own human nature with all its shortcomings. SAs lack defensiveness or pose and do not engage in game-playing, cant, guile, or hypocrisy. They're only trying to be who they are. Also, they accept others as they find them and recognize that reality for what it is.

* Simplicity, spontaneity, and naturalness. SAs do their own thing. They tend to sidestep both conventions and minutiae in the interests of a personal vision that is invariably "big picture." They maintain a consistent focus on solving problems outside themselves, but they remain true to themselves.

* Ability to be solitary without discomfort. SAs positively seek and enjoy solitude and privacy much more so than the average person. Their quality of detachment is not strained by social pressure to perform for anyone but themselves. As Thoreau pointed out, "I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion."

* Reliance on the self as a source of growth motivation. SAs cultivate an inner life and use the fruits of their experience and analysis as signposts for both personal growth and indicators for social action.

* Never-ending capacity to appreciate the basic goods of life with awe, pleasure, and wonder. Positivity serves, and their wine glasses are not only half-full but brimming. Optimistic expectation triggers a tendency to find the spice in life.

* Deep feelings of identification with and a genuine desire to help the human race. SAs view their time on earth as serving a purpose larger than themselves.

If we haven't as yet captured self-actualization, we should certainly strive for it. Pathways to self-actualization will only occur when we give up our gripes, let go of delusion and denial, clear the mind of false notions, see reality, own our respective parts of the agony and the ecstasy, live in the moment but have a plan for future surprises, think positively, appreciate what we have, and recognize the kind of beings we are. Then, we might make the world a better place and begin right at home.

Of course, another characteristic of self-actualizers is the peak experience: No matter how we try to clear the obstacles, we must also stay tuned. The zone never happens when the ears are plugged with self-delusion. Maybe it's just blind luck. Or, maybe the universe provides for those prepared to receive.

Dr. Bernard G. Suran, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and diplomat and fellow of the Academy of Clinical Psychology and the American Board of Professional Psychology. This column is published under the sponsorship of the Quality of Life and Career Committee. The committee's website is at www.fla-lap.org/qlsm. The Quality of Life and Career Committee, in cooperation with the Florida State University College of Law, also has an interactive listserv titled "The Healthy Lawyer." Details and subscription information regarding the listserv can be accessed through the committee's website or by going directly to www.fla-lap.org/qlsm.
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Author:Dr. Suran, Bernard G.
Publication:Florida Bar News
Date:Mar 15, 2002
Words:1015
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