The psychologist Abraham Maslow used “peak experience” to describe the present moment, the experience of the Now. A peak experience could also be labeled a theophany, an epiphany, flow, ecstasy or an experience of the numinous. “A comprehension or perception of Reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization” is a good definition of a peak experience.
“The highest human attainment possible for any of us” would be a conventional way of expressing it, but that is problematic definition because it is not an “attainment” at all but rather a realization. Also related to being in the present moment are the hypnogogic or hypnopompic states, experiences involving the Implicate Order or the Akashic Record and the experience of our intuition.
And finally in the most simple and pragmatic way we describe a peak experience in Simple Reality as choosing to respond rather than react to what is happening.
“Not until Maslow codified the benefits of the peak experience, as well as what he called the Being-values (i.e., values which correspond to the awareness of the transcendent realm), did researchers, educators and the various helping professions begin paying closer attention to the attitudes, behaviors and values of human health.” Notice how close Marsha Sinetar’s descriptors (attitudes, values and behaviors) are to the Simple Reality definition of worldview (beliefs, attitudes and values). A peak experience is an experience of our natural state in P-A, a spontaneous transcendence of the old narrative.
Seth stresses the important realization that peak experiences are perfectly normal but not often sanctioned by our P-B story. “Natural ‘mystical’ experience, unclothed in dogma, is the original religious therapy that is so often distorted in ecclesiastical organizations, but it represents man’s innate recognition of his oneness with the source of his own being, and of his own experience.”
A peak experience can have a powerful transformational effect. The great Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, describes the experience of the perfection of Simple Reality. “I feel a perfect harmony in myself and my surroundings, and this sensation is so strong that for a few moments of such bliss I would give ten years of my life … perhaps my whole life.”
Arjuna Ardagh describes a peak experience calling it a “radical awakening.” “Robert was out on an evening walk. He had been through a series of trials and tribulations over the previous several years, and his mood was blacker than the night. ‘I am finished,’ his mind announced. He still has trouble explaining what happened next. ‘I was overcome by a sense of relief,’ he reports, ‘a sudden feeling of inexpressible freedom. I even began to laugh out loud. My body was filled with happiness, as if I were suddenly getting a joke I’d been missing. For the first time I was feeling really good for no reason at all. I was totally here, in this moment. I could feel the trees around me, and hear the sounds without having to listen to thoughts telling me things needed to be different in some way. Everything was being experienced but the ‘me’ was gone … you taste reality outside the limiting confines of the mind, when you know yourself to be limitless, much bigger than—yet still containing—the body, beyond birth and death, eternally free … It is the moment when you can intuit the real potential of life, free from the incessant machinery of complaint and ambition … Such awakening can leave an imprint on the body and psyche. You are left with a deep knowing of the perfection of things, even when they are going wrong.’” When we seem to have “hit bottom” in our life, a peak experience is often triggered as a sort of reminder message of our true identity. “Do not despair, you have mistaken your nightmare for reality,” it seems to say.
This happened to Ramakrishna when “… at one point in his life he was in such anguish that nothing held meaning for him. On the verge of suicide and in a moment of madness, he ran to fetch a sword. But at that very moment his mind was enlightened.” In his own words: “It was as if houses, doors, temples and everything else vanished! And what I saw was an infinite shoreless sea of light; a sea that was consciousness.”
Psychologist Jung explained peak experience this way: “… the numinosum ‘was the influence of an invisible presence that causes a peculiar alteration in consciousness.’” Reading in the Abstracts of the Collected Works of C. G. Jung we find a more detailed description: “…psychic experiences as spontaneous expressions of religious or mystical truths make them difficult to explain in purely scientific terms. Nonetheless, it is contended that numinous experiences, whether they are interpreted as merely pathological or as divine inspirations, derive from an overwhelming breakthrough of unconscious material into consciousness. The metaphysical interpretations ascribed to these psychic happenings are seen as consciously elaborated hypotheses; gods, then, are not external forces but images projected by the psychoid realm. The validity of the inner experience of transcendental reality remains, but as a product of man himself.”
Peak experiences also have the power to take us beyond the illusion of the ego or the false self. “The experience of the objective fact is all important, because it denotes the presence of something which is not I,” says Jung, “yet is still psychical. Such an experience can reach a climax where it becomes an experience of God.” Jung, being a Christian, speaks in religious terms.
Marsha Sinetar concludes our article: “The peak experience conditions the personality to death because during it, the individual ‘ego’ (i.e., separate sense, the ‘I’) vanishes. With this vanishing goes the fear of death, since the ego, the I, is what keeps those fears in place, believing as it does that there is a death—that is to say, a no-life condition—to fear. When the personality joins something so much larger, eternal, infinite—even with the disappearance of the separate sense of self—the fear of death goes.” Obviously, peak experiences give us an insight into a truer, more profound reality and could be a valuable resource that our culture dare not continue to ignore.
References are available in Trilogy 2 – Who Am I?