June 25, 2017

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Peak Experiences

The nature of peak experiences

Peak experiences are described by Abraham Maslow as especially joyous
and exciting moments in life, involving sudden feelings of intense
happiness and well-being, wonder and awe, and possibly also involving an
awareness of transcendental unity or knowledge of higher truth (as though
perceiving the world from an altered, and often vastly profound and aweinspiring
perspective). They usually come on suddenly and are often
inspired by deep meditation, intense feelings of love, exposure to great art
or music, or the overwhelming beauty of nature.

Maslow (1970) describes how the peak experience tends to be uplifting
and ego-transcending; it releases creative energies; it affirms the meaning
and value of existence; it gives a sense of purpose to the individual; it
gives a feeling of integration; it leaves a permanent mark on the individual,
evidently changing them for the better. Peak experiences can be
therapeutic in that they tend to increase the individual’s free will, selfdetermination,
creativity, and empathy. The highest peaks include “feelings
of limitless horizons opening up to the vision, the feeling of being
simultaneously more powerful and also more helpless than one ever was
before, the feeling of great ecstasy and wonder and awe, and the loss of placing in time and space” (1970, p. 164). When peak experiences are
especially powerful, the sense of self dissolves into an awareness of a
greater unity.

Maslow claimed that all individuals are capable of peak experiences.
Virtually everyone, he suggested, has a number of peak experiences in the
course of their life, but often such experiences are taken for granted. In so-called”non-peakers”, peak experiences are somehow resisted and
suppressed. Maslow argued that peak experiences should be studied and
cultivated, so that they can be introduced to those who have never had
them or who resist them, providing them a route to achieve personal
growth, integration, and fulfillment.