"What one can be, one must be" - Abraham Maslow
I read this quote recently in an article where the author was emphasising it as – we ‘must’ become whatever it is we can be, i.e. we must strive towards it like a duty. If we don’t, we feel the pain of wasting our life.
I do resonate with the pain part. I have had many times when I feel driven by an impulse to not ‘waste’ my life. But I also often wonder if this pain is really a need for external striving, or an inability to simply rest in my own wellbeing.
When I first read the statement "What one can be, one must be", I interpreted it as “What one can be, one must, by definition, already be” i.e. Whatever you can be, you already have all the potential in you to be. When I look at it this way, the energy is more about allowing and surrendering into my full potential, it is a joyful affirmation that I am already my full potential. As opposed to the idea of I ‘must’ do it, which is a more stressful feeling. It also assumes I am not it yet, I have to somehow ‘reach’ my full potential as opposed to simply allowing it to birth forth through me.
The image I get is of an acorn, within this little bulb is the potential of a great oak tree. It doesn’t have to strive to become the oak, it doesn’t have to be worthy, it simply is by its very potential. And yes, there are many acorns that don’t grow into great oaks – it needs the right nurturing conditions. But providing nurturing is a very different energy to striving.
The interpretation is quite important! In the first one, the action is almost punitive – you ‘must’ do it or else. Or else what? You have wasted your life? You have failed? Your life has not been worthwhile? I think this is a very common interpretation, I feel this in my own system – a deep belief structure built through generations of cultural rhetoric. Our personal growth literature is littered with it “fulfil your potential”, “be the best version of you you can be”. Our marketing slogans are full of imagery of success as the ‘right’ car, the ‘right’ life choices, the ‘right’ brand. It makes sense, this interpretation that we have something to fulfil, and we ‘must’ do it in order to reach some goal of personal perfection and fulfilment.
But using your body (that never lies) as your barometer, when you sense into this statement and the emphasis is on the ‘must’, how does it feel in your body?
"What one can be, one MUST be".
For me, I feel pressure, tightness, a sense of not being enough, not having done enough, guilt.
And when I feel into a different interpretation, "What one can be, one must be already", I feel a sense of relief. “I’ve got this”, all the tools are readily available, I am that already, I am more than enough. I am the acorn. I get an image of water, of nurture, of sunshine – it’s a gentler feeling, my potential and what I can be is already here, I am already that. Instead of striving and beating myself up for not achieving as much as I think I need to, I am reminded that my job is to nurture my potential, to feed it with love, with Reiki, with good vibes. To step into action that feels good and right, to honour my rest-time and moments of inactivity. Life is seasonal, sometimes we move quickly and powerfully, and other times we rest and release.
Do you get the same feeling? Maybe not, but the point is not which interpretation is correct, but which interpretation is correct for you. Paying attention to the bombardment of messaging we get from our external environment and then how our body is responding to it. When we become more mindful of our body reactions, the subtle tightness that arises when we hear something that feels off, the subtle opening or relief when we hear or think something that feels right.
And in this way we release beliefs that we may have believed for a long time, or uncover unconscious bias that drives us. And ultimately that’s what it’s all about – to become more self-aware, to nurture ourselves in the way only we know is true for us. To grow into what one can be.