Abraham Maslow noted the obvious, basically that if you’re sinking then all of your attention goes into treading water. If you’re floating you can kick back. relax and think about other things like getting the attention of that cutie over there in the bathing suit’ or about who we all are out on this lake actually. After all, there’s still a lot to figure out about who, or I should say how we are–how we got here, how we work, and how to best be together–still a lot of mysteries, Maybe you can talk to that cutie about how we are. Maybe you’ll get so into the conversation you forget about cuteness.

Maslow mostly gets interpreted in the macro-arc of a whole lifetime over which you might go from water-treading and cuties to “self actualization” (wondering about how we are actually). Not enough attention goes into micro-Maslow. In the course of a day we shift up and down Maslow’s hierarchy.

You and I might be up to our elbows in a self-actualization conversation, but if my bladder is suddenly full, you’re going to have to hold that next deep thought while I head for the head. I remember a deep conversation with a noted philosopher. The conversation vanished into thin air when a cute bathing suit walked by. It happens. I remember a conversation with a psychology colleague. I laid out a grand theory about Buddhism and Evolutionary Psychology. His response was “Yes, but what does this theory say about my back pain, because it is incredible?” His back become the topic and understandably so. When your back is screaming, who has energy for self-actualization?

Some have no choice but to tread water all day. Some get so into treading water they can’t imagine anything else. Some wouldn’t want anything else. Still, as Maslow noted, when the options open, people tend to move up the hierarchy toward greater intimacy with each other and with what, instead of self-actualization could be called Omnispection, beholding life from many perspectives, including the introspective “How am I?” and the interspective “How are you?” Self-actualization can be a richer place to connect, to find deeper answers to “How are we?” than “cute.”

When a friend asks, “How are we today?” The best response may be, “How much time have we got?” That response is colloquially tied to complaining, as though if we have more time I would lay out my full litany of reasons why the treading I’m forced to do is a drag. But for those with time to float the question becomes a respectful way to see whether there’s time for greater intimacy.

Time is really the underlying issue. We have a limited amount of it and the first priority is treading water so we don’t drown. The second priority broadly speaking is to connect—intimacy with each other, intimacy with this wonderful mysterious world we arrive at without instructions, packing slip, or a complete back-story. When there’s time we can float together.