Peak Experience

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A Peak Experience is a mild, positive, Connection Event synchronous with the LP Connection Experience, first recognized and named by Abraham Maslow.[1] Keutzer[2] reports that 80% of a sample of college students reported peak experiences and that these reports were independent of religious activity, age, or course level.

A Peak Experience is characterized by a sudden feeling of intense happiness, well-being, wonder, awe, loss of fear and defensiveness, and transcendent joy[3] Davis, Lockwood and Wright (1991: 88) define a peak experience as follows. A peak experience is an experience that provides:

…an almost overwhelming sense of pleasure, euphoria, or joy, a deep sense of peacefulness or tranquility, feeling in tune, in harmony, or at one with the universe, a sense of wonder or awe, altered perceptions of time and/or space, such as expansion, a feeling of deeper knowing or profound understanding, a deep feeling of love (for yourself, another, or all people), a greater awareness of beauty or appreciation, a sense that it would be difficult or impossible to describe adequately in words.”

Syncretic Terms for Connection Experience

Connection Experience > Conversion Experience, Mystical Experience, Peak Experience, Pure Consciousness Event, Religious Experience, Spiritual Experience, Transcendental Experience

See Also

Connection, Connection Experience, Connection Axes

Notes

A Reward for Being Good?

Peak experiences are sometimes described as a “reward” for “being good.” Henry Geiger says in the introduction to Maslow (1971), and while expressing his confusion about the etiology of a peak experience, “We don’t know how the peak experience is achieved; it has no simple one-to-one relation with any deliberated procedure; we know only that it is somehow earned.” (Geiger quoted in Maslow, 1971: no page number in introduction) Geiger’s statements are questionable given that Maslow himself suggested, in the same book, that peak experiences may be elicited and are most often achieved through sex, music, and exposure to natural settings. In addition, Keutzer (1978) notes that several triggers exist including music, entheogens, prayer, nature moments, peaceful moments of quiet reflection, etc. In general, peak experiences are positively associated with individuals who are balanced, creative, and psychologically (Maslow, 1959) and physically healthy, and who have a more androgynous or feminine (as classified by the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI)) orientation (Mercer and Durham, 1999). However there are contraindications and these would include low self-esteem, imbalanced development (i.e., lack of attention to artistic, right brain sensibilities), high levels of anxiety, significant childhood or perinatal trauma, stress (Hood, 1977) and the ingestion of Crown Stupifiers like alcohol.

Researching

We may examine peak experiences by requesting narrative records. Typically a researcher will ask “what was the most ecstatic moment of your life?” or “have you experienced transcendent ecstasy” (Maslow, 1971: 168). Hoffman and Muramoto (2007), in their retrospective analysis of childhood peak experiences, asked master’s level human service class of approximately 60 individuals “Think of the most wonderful or joyful experience of your life up through the age of 14. Describe this experience and how you felt. Has it subsequently affected your life? If so, how?”

It is not possible to elicit narrative records of peak experiences from children, however it is possible to study the peak experiences of children by relying on the retrospective recall of adults. After placing “author’s queries” in newspapers, Hoffman (1998) asked:

Can you recall any experiences from childhood—before the age of 14—that could be called mystical or intensely spiritual? Or, to put it another way: Can you recall any childhood moments in which you seemed to experience a different kind of reality—perhaps involving a sense of rapture or great harmony? As a child, you may not have recognized the experience as extraordinary or unusual, but think now from your current vantage point. I am especially interested in childhood experiences or perceptions that have endured in your memory and may have permanently affected your view of life or death, god, the universe, or the nature of human existence. (p. 114).

It is important to note that individuals may be reluctant to report their peak experiences either out of fear of being disparaged and belittled, because they feel that the experience will “lose power” if they do, because they cannot find the words to adequately describe it, or because they feel the experience is too intimate and personal to share (Keutzer, 1978).

Hoffman and Muramoto (1998; 2007) have provided a qualitative typology useful for categorizing childhood and adult epiphanies.

Theory

Sharp (2010) describes a peak experience as a "positive spiritual experience of awakening." A peak experiences is essentially a gentle, spontaneous crown opening. A Peak Experience is a brief period when the Consciousness is more "present" in the physical vehicle. Operationally a peak experience is a moment when the Consciousness Quotient of the Physical Unit is elevated above average or "normal" levels.

A Peak Experience may be viewed as a positive, but weak Mystical Experience. According to Maslow, everyone is capable of having a peak experience (Maslow, 1962) and in fact most people, when asked, report having peak experiences either in adult hood or childhood. Keutzer (2007) reports that 80% of a sample of college students reported peak experiences and that these reports where independent of religious activity, age, or course level!

Peak experiences are very common, probably far more common than even the scientific literature suggests. However the etiology of the Peak Experience is not well understood. There is general agreement that psychological health is a precursor, but little systematic research has been done to establish the psychological or sociological precursors. It is the hypothesis of this author that peak experiences are more prevalent in healthy families and healthy environments.

There are questions about the prevalence of peak experiences in children. As with adult peak experiences, these are probably very common, perhaps even more common than in adulthood especially when we consider the cumulative abuse most adults bear. Research on the relationship between peak experiences and childhood trauma (i.e., abuse, neglect, poverty and other factors is desperately needed.

Further Reading

Sosteric, Mike. (RSGAS). The Rocket Scientists' Guide to Authentic Spirituality. St. Albert, Alberta: Lightning Path Press. [1]

References

  • Armstrong, T. (1984). Transpersonal Experiences in Childhood. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. 16(2): 207-230.

Davis, John, Lockwood, Linda & Wright, Charles (1991). Reason for Not Reporting Peak Experiences. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 31(1): 86-94.

Hoffman, Edward (1998). Peak Experiences in Childhood: An Exploratory Study. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 38(1): 109-120.

Hoffman, Edward & Muramoto, Shoji (2007). Peak-Experiences Among Japanese Youth. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 47(4): 497-513.

Hood, Ralph W. (1977). Semistructured Nature Experiences. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 16(2): 155-163

  • Keutzer, C (1978). Whatever Turns You On: Triggers to Transcendent Experiences. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 18: 77-80.
  • Maslow, A. H. (1959). Cognition of Being in Peak Experiences. Journal of Genetic Psychology. 94: 43-66

Maslow, A.H. (1962). Toward a Psychology of Being. New Jersey: Van Nostrand Company.

Maslow, A. H. (1971). The Farthest Reaches of Human Nature. New York: Penguin.

Maslow, A.H. (1972). Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences. New York: Viking.

Mercer, Calvin and Durham, Thomas (1999). Religious Mysticism and Gender Orientation. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 38(1): 175-182.

Sharp, M. (2010). The Rocket Scientists' Guide to Authentic Spirituality. St. Albert, Alberta: Lightning Path Press. http://www.michaelsharp.org/the-rocket-scientists-guide-to-authentic-spirituality/

Wuthnow, Robert (1978). Peak Experiences: Some Empirical Tests. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 18(3): 59-75.


References

  1. Maslow, A. H. "Lessons from the Peak-Experiences." Journal of Humanistic Psychology 2 1 (1962): 9-18.
  2. Keutzer, C. "Whatever Turns You On: Triggers to Transcendent Experiences." Journal of Humanistic Psychology 18 (1978): 77-80.
  3. Maslow, A.H. The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York: Viking, 1971.
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