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Sister Alma Rose: Porch Time

What’s Tearing You Up?

Spirit, may we rest in You today, giving ourselves up in perfect trust. Amen

In general, it’s difficult to imagine being busy and enchanted at the same time. Enchantment invites us to pause and be arrested by whatever is before us; instead of our doing something, something is done to us. This is the way of the soul, which is primarily the receptive power in us; by letting ourselves be slowed down and affected by nature, we are fashioned into persons of substance, even if at a more active, conscious level we are forcefully engaged in becoming something else.

If busyness is an emotional complex, then it’s really likely that when we are the busiest, we are doing the least. We can be extremely active without being busy, and busy without accomplishing anything. —Thomas Moore, in The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life

The new hierarchy of needs


The American psychologist Abraham Maslow (MAZ-low; 1908-1970) in 1943 proposed a “hierarchy” of human needs. His theory was that people have to take care of their most basic (deficiency) needs — to climb out of the hole, if they are in one, and establish themselves on solid ground — before they can engage in frivolous pursuits such as morality and creating art (growth needs).

      It’s an attractive theory. For one thing, it lends itself nicely to the making of colorful pyramid diagrams, and it also is generally consistent with the history of civilization. Before the invention of the  plow, for example, people pretty much spent all their time hunting and gathering and breathing and excreting, as represented on the lowest level of the diagram. The plow made it possible for one person to produce food for more than one family, so people were able to accumulate more than they needed and get paid for the surplus, while those who were freed from the tyranny of hunting and gathering became artisans or slaves.

      The problem with Maslow’s theory is that it’s not borne out by human experience, as Maslow himself came to realize. You don’t have to graduate from Belonging to Esteem in order to become honest or curious.

      “I have recently found it more and more useful,” Maslow writes in The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, “to differentiate between two kinds of self-actualizing people, those who were clearly healthy, but with little or no experiences of transcendence, and those in whom transcendent experiencing was important and even central…. It is unfortunate that I can no longer be theoretically neat at this level. I find not only self-actualizing persons who transcend, but also non-healthy people, non–self-actualizers who have important transcendent experiences. It seems to me that I have found some degree of transcendence in many people other than self-actualizing ones as I have defined this term….”

      Perhaps the greatest flaw in Maslow’s theory, however, is its failure to account for the importance of chocolate at every level of human experience. Sister Alma Rose has taken the liberty of modifying the graphical representation of Maslow’s hierarchy to indicate that the more spiritualized one’s existence, the greater one’s need for chocolate. Sister Alma Rose cites no references, as the phenomenon is self-evident.


Sister Alma Rose is never busy


The table below—Needs, Wants, Obligations, Passions and Joys, Clutter—lists typical American-style activities that might or might not be necessary. Draw a line through those activities that don’t apply to you, and add to the list any activities that occupy your time and resources.


Use this table to do steps 1 through 7 below. Do them in order: Finish step 1 before you go on to step 2, and so forth.


1.   Consider each entry on the list and classify it as a need, a want, an obligation, a passion, or clutter. It might fit in several classifications, but choose no more than two.


This entire exercise should require no more than half an hour, so its purpose is not primarily an examination of your values, although if it causes you to reexamine the “necessity” of living in a suburban four-bedroom house, which creates the “necessity” of you and your spouse both having full-time jobs and the additional “necessity” of placing your toddler in day care… Sister Alma Rose will not stand in your way. On the other hand, she will grant you the “necessity” of living in a house or apartment rather than under a bridge. She will not think you’re shallow and stupid if you list “watching American Idol” as “a passion,” either.


2.   Identify the hierarchical level (see “The New Hierarchy of Needs” at top) of each need. (A few of the P-level activities, such as breathing and excretion, need not appear on your list. On the other hand, medical tests and procedures probably eat up much of your time and money.)


3.   List the corollary needs that each activity engenders. (Let’s say you have moved from an apartment to a house with a yard. You now have the additional expense of home-maintenance stuff like a lawnmower and a couple of garden hoses. You have had to take a second job. Your child-care expenses are higher. You need a more reliable car; and so forth.)


4.   Identify the source of the need: Does it arise from your personal needs and values or is it externally imposed, by the demands or expectations of others?


      A friend told Sister Alma Rose this story:


When my two younger children were in second and third grade, we were living in a city where winter temperatures sometimes dropped below zero. It was a three-block walk to school, and every morning I struggled with the boys to put hats on their heads and mittens on their hands, while they resisted. Eventually I concluded that, if they failed to bundle up on cold days, it was their hands and ears that were going to get cold, not mine, and that the only reason I made such an issue of it every day was that I wanted to be considered a Good Parent by teachers and school officials. I decided that there were contests of will worth winning and that this was not one of them. I stopped forcing, and they, of course, began wearing hats and mittens.


5.   Indicate how each activity (be it need, want, obligation, passion, or clutter) affects you; that is, does it energize you or deplete you?


6.   Briefly describe, for each activity, what the consequences would be if you stopped doing it.


7.   Finally, reexamine and if necessary reclassify each activity. If you determine that an activity is mostly clutter, eliminate it from your life. If you have too many obligations, can you delegate some of them? If there are no passions—or if there is nothing Self-Actualizing—on your list, then your life is probably not very satisfying and some rearrangement of priorities is in order.




Did you leave time for enchantment?

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