Peak-experiences occur while running, driving, dancing, meditating, and sometimes when least expected. Peak-experiences release creative energy and promote self-growth. You know truth when you experience one. There is no question when you realize a universal truth. It simply arrives.
Abraham Maslow, a well-known American psychologist, thought that peak-experience can help us to achieve personal growth, integration, and fulfillment. According to University of Rochester’s Dr. Sandy Stahlman, “Maslow believed that we should study and cultivate peak-experience, so that we can teach those in our culture to those who ‘have never had them or who repress or suppress them,’ providing them a route to achieve personal growth, integration, and fulfillment.”
I experienced the most amazing awareness of truth or peak-experience ten years ago, and it changed my perception and influenced both my psychology practice and how I am writing my second book.
As I was driving home from seeing clients at my office, from the left side of the top of my head, I felt and heard the words, “Stop analyzing and theorizing, just be.” Then, a beautiful flood of poetry caused me to cry and sob. I didn’t want to stop the flow so I continued to drive, and for 45 minutes I experienced such profound beauty, similar to poetry with crescendos of sobbing and pure awe. The message continued, “Stop analyzing, theorizing, and be.”
At the end of this experience, I felt light and full of love and connection. It was truth.
As I walked into the chinese restaurant where I usually stop for dinner on Thursday nights, I felt a connection to everyone in there. I wanted to love them and share with them my experience, but I didn’t. However, those 45 minutes of bliss and beauty left me wanting more truth.
Victor Frankl, a psychologist and medical doctor who studied peak-experiences and also experienced one, shares in his book A Man’s Search for Meaning, “A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire.”
Afterward, Frankl added “self-transcendence” to Maslow’s hierarchy. Transcendeance means “going beyond,” while “self-transcendence” means going beyond a prior form or state of oneself.
Before that night in my car, I had never experienced what others describe as a “stream of consciousness” or a peak-experience. It revealed to me a universal truth. There was no doubt, and it was beautiful.
Healing and Therapeutic Effects
According to Wikipedia, “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 usually come on suddenly and are often inspired by deep meditation, exposure to great art or music, or nature’s beauty. They can occur when your mind is open and during activities such as dance, running, and writing.
As Maslow shares in his own book, Religion, Values, and Peak-Experiences, “Then, I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss.”
Peak-experiences can also be extremely therapeutic in that they tend to increase the individual’s free will, self-determination, and creativity. 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.
My experience seemed to be related to the words, “Stop analyzing and theorizing, just be,” which may seem difficult for a psychologist to understand, but it was a deep truth that changed my perception of “doing” versus “being.” As a result, my practice has become more based on mindfulness over the past five years.
One year following my peak experience, I had a similar experience that lasted about ten minutes. It has been five years since my first experience, but I eagerly await another. These natural peak experiences are possible for everyone and they help people achieve personal growth, integration, and fulfillment.
Why don’t we experience more of them naturally or do we take them for granted when they occur? Would life be different if we encouraged peak experiences? Would we make better choices? Choose better mates? Create less drama, less pain, less suffering. Would we live, run, or dance with more purpose with universal truth as our guide?
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A bit over a month ago, early in the AM of 12/26/13, I had an unprecedented (for me) peak experience which seems to have healed something. I was in a semi-waking state, thinking about my son who I had thrown out of our house the day before (due to violence), and how much I really have in common with him. Suddenly I experienced an intense explosion of energy in my abdomen, which quickly spread throughout my body and poured from my face, fingers, and toes. Even though it only lasted 10 or 15 seconds, Iat that moment I knew well-being–and forgiveness–as I never had in my 57 years on the planet.
For the next two days my heart seemed to beat about 10 bpm slower than usual. And much of that newfound peace has persisted. Some sort of permanent healing occurred, for which I am deeply grateful and in awe.
Perhaps not coincidentally, I have been engaged with my therapist for several months with EMDR therapy. I had also exercised the first of the three essential prayers–“HELP” (the others being “THANKS” and “WOW”)–even though I am not religious.
My lingering frustration is in trying to share this profound experience with my loved ones. I haven’t yet figured out how to discuss it so they even begin to get it, or express any interest. For example, my brother-in-law asked me what I do differently now, in the sense of “OK, what good is it doing you? While a valid question, the point I was trying to convey–unsuccessfully–is that after having an experience like this, I now KNOW that things are possible that I did not know of or believe. I don’t know whether the greatest impact is the healing that occurred, or the demolition of limitations I was imposing on possibility.
You are doing a good and worthy thing with your life.