“The peak experience; the mystical experience, the oceanic feeling of great ecstasy, wonder and awe, the absence of time and space, the conviction that something extremely significant and meaningful is happening.” — Abraham Maslow
The expression peak experience was first used by the psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1964 in his book “Religions, Values and Peak Experiences.”
Throughout the ages, mystics and saints have described feelings of great peace, joy ecstasy, wonder and gratitude—experiences beyond time and space, of being one with everything.
We often view these attainments as verging on superhuman—reached only after years of intense spiritual practice an dedication.
After interviewing hundreds of people however, Maslow discovered that, far from being confined to yogis in deep meditation in Himalayan caves, peak experiences can be had by ordinary people from all walks of life—even people with no spiritual background.
He found for example, that couples in love, women going through childbirth, long-distance runners, sports men and women, mountaineers and people witnessing scenes of great beauty often use the same vocabulary and expressions that mystics do when relating their experiences… time stopping, connection, peace, joy, awe, wonder.
He mentions the experience of a 17-year old teenager during a football game, who, as he ran the length of the field with the ball, described how the world disappeared, all sense of time vanished and how he was overcome with a tremendous sense of space, presence and aliveness.
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So, How To Explain Peak Experiences?
How is it that anyone can have these experiences at any time?
In short, it’s because (and your mind may well totally disagree), peace, love, joy, aliveness, connection, and bliss are all attributes of your true nature. They already exist at the core of your being… whether you are aware of them or not.
“Your natural state is one of ecstasy, but you miss it because you’re busy focusing on what the mind has to say about everything.” — Michael Singer.
Peak experiences happen when, for some reason, there is a temporary pause in the incessant stream of mind chatter that normally prevents us from experiencing the joy and bliss of our true nature.
A peak experience is a peek behind the curtain of the busy conditioned mind.
In my book “Awaken the Happy You”, I use the analogy of a lighthouse surrounded by fog to illustrate the relationship between the mind and the light of our true nature.
In infants, before identification with the mind takes place, the light of the inner being shines brightly. The qualities of joy, aliveness, wonder, connection etc. are clear to see in young children.
You could say that, with no mind stories (fog) to dim the light of their being, their lives are a continuous peak experience.
In adults, it’s a very different story. We spend our days compulsively pre-occupied with the content of our busy minds and as a result, fail to notice the inner qualities of the true self.
The thick fog of the mind blocks out the light of the lighthouse BUT beneath the fog, the light continues to shine as bright as ever nevertheless.
A peak experience happens when the mind is temporarily stunned into silence—during childbirth, upon witnessing a spectacular sunset or when a mountain climber is perched precariously on the sheer face of a cliff.
When we are completely present in the moment, the mind stops and what remains is the presence, peace and deep connection of our true nature.
We don’t have to go looking for it or create it.
It’s always there and when there’s a break in the clouds of the mind, the light of our being naturally and effortlessly shines through.
How To Make Peak Experiences Last?
A major difference between the experience of ordinary people who spontaneously have a peak experience and that of an infant or a saint is that it tends to be temporary and unexpected.
The saint or mystic is not identified with the passing clouds of the mind and, as a result, is always conscious of the inner reality. Established in their true self, their whole life is an ongoing peak experience.
As soon as the the long distance race has finished, the baby has been delivered or the gorgeous sunset has faded, the busy mind tends to creep back in again through habit, and the intense feelings of bliss, aliveness and connection leave with it.
For some, there may be a residue an after taste that remains. An intense peak experience can leave you with a knowingness that a reality far greater than what you normally experience exists—and a desire to get back there.
In truth, a peak experience is the experience of “home” that we’re all looking for, consciously or not—a coming home to ourselves.
A lot of my coaching clients come to me thinking they want to switch off their busy minds and quickly realise that what they are really looking for is to come home to themselves.
Until we consciously connect with the peace and stillness of our true nature and learn to live our lives from that place, rather than from the tumultuous surface level of the mind, there will aways be a sense of ‘something missing’.
There will always be a feeling of inner restlessness and a desire to come home.
Coming Home to Yourself
“Life is meant to be lived in eternal joy, infinite freedom, unconditional love and unbounded awareness. Any other life is utterly missing the point of being born as a human.” — Maha Sadashiva Isham
Unless you are fortunate enough to have a spontaneous spiritual awakening, which does happen to some people, meditation is the path to developing a deep relationship with your true nature.
There are two parts to your being—the restless and ever changing thoughts, feelings and emotions (which most of us call ‘me’) and the still, silent, unchanging ground of who you are., the true Self.
Regular meditation with a qualified teacher can help you shift your identification away from the thinking mind and onto that part of your experience which is constant, timeless and unchanging.
This is where true peace is found. And where life becomes a seamless peak experience.
Here’s a meditation you may wish to try and if you’d like some personal meditation instruction, I’d be happy to help.
Being Yourself Meditation (19 minutes)
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