Alliance for Mystical Pragmatics

Alliance for Mystical Pragmatics

Harmonizing Evolutionary Convergence

Glossary Menus

The Jonah Syndrome

Although we all have an impulse to improve ourselves, we are often held back from actualizing our unfulfilled human potential by what Abraham Maslow called the ‘Jonah Syndrome’ in 1968. As he said, “We are generally afraid to become that which we can glimpse in our most perfect moment, under the most perfect conditions, under conditions of greatest courage. We enjoy and even thrill to the godlike possibilities we see in ourselves in such peak moments. And yet we simultaneously shiver with weakness, awe, and fear before these very same possibilities.”

This is not a new phenomenon. Arjuna had a similar experience, recorded in the Bhagavad Gita. When Krishna showed him the Ultimate Cosmic Vision—“all the manifold forms of the universe united as one”—Arjuna said, “I rejoice in seeing you as you have never been seen before, yet I am filled with fear by this vision of you as the abode of the universe.”

This is not only an individual constraint. From the point of view of society, Maslow points out, “Not only are we ambivalent about our own highest possibilities, we are also in a perpetual … ambivalence over these same highest possibilities in other people,” which he calls ‘counter-valuing’.

At the heart of these inhibitions is the fear of letting go completely of attachment to everything in the relativistic world of form, including whatever gives us a precarious sense of security and identity in life, such as financial possessions. As spiritual seekers throughout human history have realized, we can only be free of such existential fears when we realize that they are based on illusion, the basis of any spiritual community living the Truth that sets us free.