Collecting "Peak Experiences" used to be my favorite hobby! Until I realized I was an addict.
"Peak Experiences" get you HIGH
Like most of my generation, for the first 30 years of my life, I was more than happy to rack-up amazing experiences for the "thrill of it". For me, this started as a love of travel: my first solo-overseas experience to New Zealand was my first Peak Experience. It gave me a HIGH that surpassed all other substances: it lit me up, made me feel alive-- and even better: irreversibly transformed me, putting me on a trajectory that changed my life forever.
It wasn't long before I wanted this "High" again, so I began traveling as much as I could-- chasing the original rush of my first Peak Experience.
Like any addiction- it's nearly impossible to recapture the essence of the original high, but you will still chase it endlessly trying to.
After my passport filled up, I chose new challenges to see if I could feel the high again: working as a scientist in the jungles of Borneo, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, even selling everything and moving to Spain... and YES, these experiences DID make my pulse race, my palms sweat, and every sense in body heighten -- making me feel truly ALIVE. And YES they did give me Peak experiences like I wanted... (but they never got me nearly as high as the first one...).
The "Highs" are real in several senses: If I were to draw my life on a graph, these would be the sharp, vertical 'peaks' which interrupted the stable (boring) horizontal line.
(Hence why they're called "Peak Experiences").
But part of the reason they are so amazing is because they also tend to "tap into the vertical dimension" which is where Spirit and our Soul lives... and when we tap into this: our life changes.
What makes a Peak Experience?
The renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow (of "Heirarchy of Needs" Fame) coined a Peak Experience as:"rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality, and are even mystic and magical in their effect upon the experimenter."
(First of all- how great is the word "oceanic"?)
Second of all: in summary: they are life changing.
Peak Experiences can be the "3Ms: Magical, Mystical, and Mysterious".
It's good to know that Peak Experiences are not always positive, (you might've expected the negative ones to be called "Valley Experiences"...), but even intensely painful and uncomfortable moments (like childbirth--OMG! or a death in a family, illness, etc.) can also be life-changing. Peak experiences interrupt our regularly-scheduled programming to give us a "PEEK" into the wider universe and the depths of our soul.
My favorite Peak Experiences are more than just travel-- they are the in the "3Ms: Magical, Mystical, and Mysterious".
They change the trajectory of our lives, make us see ourselves in a whole new light, pierce the veil of perception, and cause us to question reality itself. Some of us have only a small handful of these in our life, while others have more than they can count, but they come in different flavors, and that is what makes us keep wanting more.
William James knew these kind too and described them as having a few things in common:
They are ineffable-- just when you think you grasp it, if falls through your fingers
They can't be controlled -- you can't MAKE them happen, and often they happen TO YOU
They shift your reality -- you can no longer see the world or yourself the same
They have a noetic quality -- these experiences feel like little pockets of knowledge/wisdom given to you at once
Peaks touch the "Vertical Dimension"
So why are these experiences so amazing? I would say it is because you are touching the "vertical dimension" when you are in them.
The vertical dimension is not the everyday-life-horizontal-dimension, but instead is the timeless, wondrous, indescribable energy that we tap into in spectacular moments of our lives. They are immeasurable, but we can feel when we are in them. And sometimes we are in the "North" and experience being part of something much greater than ourselves (I call "Spirit"). And sometimes we are in the "South" and experience our immense personal power within ourselves (I call "Soul").
Read more about the vertical dimension in this blog.
How can your Peak Experiences give you a Peek into your soul?
We can't always be in a "Peak" moment, but recognizing when we HAVE been in them helps us gain the most insight into how we make meaning of the world and what our purpose is in it.
Here are some ways to do that:
1) Trust that the only REAL meaning of life is YOUR meaning:
No one but yourself can give meaning to your direct experiences.
After years of past-life memories, in 2010 I finally had my first past-life regression. This experience single-handedly changed me FOREVER, but when I try to explain HOW, I can be at a loss for words (although of course I've tried!).
This meaningful Peak experience fell into the category of the "3Ms" (Magical, Mystical, or Mysterious) making it nearly impossible to explain. It strongly influenced the reconstruction of my faith and how I view reality, but I did not fit nicely into any "pre-packaged" philosophies, religions, or spiritual practices.
So I had to make meaning of it in the only way I could, and I have allowed my meaning to be living, breathing, and changeable so it can evolve with my understanding of the experience (which is does often!).
Trying to get others to understand my meaning of it would require them to have the exact same experience as I did-- and they can’t-- so I keep the meaning to myself, but trust that it is true to me.
Making our own meaning allows us to make sense of our universe and our role in it. Sometimes Peak experiences remind us of: how connected we are, that there is more to reality than we think, that we are part of something bigger.... and more.
Trust your meaning... because the only meaning of life is YOURS.
2) Remember Peak Experiences are seeds. Real Growth happens AFTERWARDS
This one is for my fellow Peak-addicts out there, who I will call "Pac-Mans". While you are busy chomping up yoga retreats, 10-day vipassanas, ayahuasca ceremonies, and more: remember that these “pellets” are actually supposed to be the beginning of a transformation that is waiting to unfold within you. If you quickly move on to chomping up the next pellet, you are missing your opportunity to #integrate the wisdom and meaning behind these moments.
Remember-- there was a reason you chomped up that Peak Experience in the first place... what was it?
Allowing your Peak experiences to be the seeds of Growth means they can break up the stiff soil of your normal life, aerate the possibilities for a new way of thinking and make you yearn for light and water (deeper understandings of what you experienced). Nourishing your experience will sprout it and give you even more insight into why you were meant to have it.
For me, just by trusting the mystical experience of my past-life regression, I planted the seed of a deeper, more non-traditional path of spiritual exploration. Things from my regression that did not make sense at first laid dormant until they blossomed at a later time-- giving me even more insight into why my soul had to personally discover these truths at such a young age.... But I am STILL Growing from this experience as the small sprout I planted ten years ago has become taller and more branches unfold daily.
Part of my life's purpose now is to help others make sense of their own past life memories. It is not a coincidence that something so life-changing for me planted the seeds for my further interest in helping others make sense of this way-of-being in the world. The profundity of my experience must have indicated that this topic would intermingle with my life's purpose for years to come.
3) Whatever you loved in your Peak experience is what your Soul is always craving
Your soul knows what it needs to enact it's purpose and unfold you in the right direction... and that comes to light during your Peak Experiences.
Traveling the world made me feel ALIVE: the sights, smells, and sounds of somewhere new became addictive because I wanted to feel fully human.
So now that I (and everyone else) am not allowed to travel (sigh. #COVIDtimes) I could get extremely depressed that my favorite hobby has been taken away from me OR I can realize that the real reason I loved travel was to feel ALIVE and find (more) ways to feel this in my daily life.
As an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) I need lots of sensory stimulation beyond my daily routine -- I need to stop and smell the roses, pet the passing puppy, and taste the cupcake I see in the shop window-- because this makes my soul happy.
You don't need to chase and re-capture your Peak Experiences: you simply need to listen to what your soul is hungry for.
Loved the vipassana retreat? Give your soul plenty of silence during your week.
Loved learning a new language? Make plenty of time for beginners mind in your day.
Like teaching English in a foreign country? Hop online and continue helping others digitally.
When we don't listen "higher" to the symbolic nature of our soul's cravings-- our first instinct is to give it the original experience that quenched it... but look at your Peaks from a bird's eye view: what were the main symbolic interactions that stood out (helping, learning, overcoming obstacles, solitude, etc.)?
This is what your soul REALLY craves... This is your purpose.
Want help making sense of your "Peak Experiences"?
I actually devote an entire coaching package to this very topic!