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The Peak Experience

The ultimate in uplifting moments is the peak experience: the moment of ecstasy, spiritual fulfillment, and bliss. To illustrate this type of experience, Maslow once asked 190 college students for written responses to the following instructions:

I would like you to think of the most wonderful experience of experiences of your life; happiest moments, ecstatic moments, moments of rapture, perhaps from being in love, or from listening to music or suddenly "being hit" by a book or a painting, or from some great creative moment. First list these. And then try to tell from the way you feel at other times, how you are at that moment a different person in some ways.

From the responses, Maslow put together a composite syndrome of the peak experience. No one person reported this in its entirety, but it included the phenomena most commonly reported to Maslow.

What were some characteristics of peak experiences described by students, according to Maslow?

1. The experience or object is seen as a whole, detached from possible usefulness, expedience, and purpose.

2. The experience is fully attended to, given "total attention."

3. The experience seems ego-transcending, self-forgetful, and egoless.

4. The experience is felt as self-validating and self-justifying, carrying its own intrinsic value.

5. The experience is accompanied by a characteristic disorientation in time and space (e.g. the creative artist oblivious to surroundings, lovers to whom a day seems like a year or a second).

6. Particularly in musical or religious experiences, the world is seen as a unity, a single rich live entity, or a part is perceived as if it were for the moment all of the world (Maslow, 1968).

Maslow concluded:

These moments were of pure, positive happiness when all doubts, all fears, all inhibitions, all tensions, all weaknesses were left behind. (Maslow, 1962, p.9)

Peak experiences are often accompanied by a peculiar and distinctive feeling of "oneness with the universe." The feeling of separateness, distance, or alienation from the world disappears. During a peak experience, people feel loving and accepting of all creation. Maslow told of a subject who said that during a peak experience "I felt like a member of a family, not like an orphan." (Maslow, 1962, p.9)

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Copyright © 2007-2011 Russ Dewey