Peak experience

Peak experience

Peak experience is a term used to describe certain transpersonal and ecstatic states, particularly ones tinged with themes of unification, harmonization and interconnectedness. Participants characterize these experiences, and the revelations imparted therein, as possessing an ineffably mystical (or overtly religious) quality or essence.


Many of the nuances the term now connotes were expounded by psychologist Abraham Maslow in his 1964 work "Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences" [] . To some extent the term represents Maslow's attempt to "naturalize" those experiences which have generally been identified as "religious" experiences and whose origin has, by implication, been thought of as supernatural. Maslow (1970) believed that the origin, core and essence of every known "high religion" was "the private, lonely, personal illumination, revelation, or ecstasy of some acutely sensitive prophet or seer" (p.19).

The nature of peak experiences

Peak experiences are described by Maslow as especially joyous and exciting moments in life, involving sudden feelings of intense happiness and well-being, wonder and awe, and possibly also involving an awareness of transcendental unity or knowledge of higher truth (as though perceiving the world from an altered, and often vastly profound and awe-inspiring perspective). They usually come on suddenly and are often inspired by deep meditation, intense feelings of love, exposure to great art or music, the overwhelming beauty of nature, or even through the use of various natural or synthetic substances (e.g. LSD, Marijuana, Magic Mushrooms, Peyote etc). The experience can also be triggered by intensely negative situations such as severe illness or confronting death.

Maslow (1970) describes how the 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 can be therapeutic in that they tend to increase the individual's free will, self-determination, creativity, and empathy. The highest peaks include "feelings of limitless horizons opening up to the vision, the feeling of being simultaneously more powerful and also more helpless than one ever was before, the feeling of great ecstasy and wonder and awe, and the loss of placing in time and space" (1970, p. 164). When peak experiences are especially powerful, the sense of self dissolves into an awareness of a greater unity.

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.

Sustained Peak Experience

Maslow defined [] lengthy, willfully induced "peak experiences" ("plateau experiences") as a characteristic of the self-actualized. He described it as a state of witnessing or cognitive blissfulness, the achievement of which requires a lifetime of long and hard effort, and also self-actualization.


"Peak experiences are transient moments of self-actualization" (Maslow, 1971, p.48).

On peak experiences: "Human beings do not realise the extent to which their own sense of defeat prevents them from doing things they could do perfectly well. The peak experience induces the recognition that your own powers are far greater than you imagined them." - "Colin Wilson" []

A somewhat more facetious and ironic viewpoint:"We can have in life but one great experience at best, and the secret of life is to reproduce that experience as often as possible." - "Oscar Wilde"

Drug Culture

The term peak experience and peaking are widely used in the drug subculture to describe such states, specifically when induced by the consumption of hallucinogenic substances.Fact|date=January 2008

See also

Shulgin Rating Scale

Flow (psychology)


* Maslow, A. (1970). "Religion, values and peak experiences." New York: Viking.

* Maslow, A. (1970). "Religious Aspects of Peak-Experiences". Personality and Religion. Harper & Row: New York.

* Maslow, A.(1971). "The farther reaches of human nature". New York: Viking Press.

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