Maslow first discovered what he called "peak experiences" in self-actualizing individuals; however, it gradually became apparent to him that a great many people have them.3...He believed that so-called "mystical experiences" were essentially the same thing as P.E.4...I believe that they are the same, but prefer the term P.E. because of the lack of supernaturalness implied by the latter. P.E. is also a phenomenon which has been evaluated scientifically, and should be readily accepted by many to represent a valid altered state of consciousness, with only its source remaining in question.
Maslow concluded that during a P.E. people have a better, truer perception of reality. During this altered state an individual achieves the same insights that many philosophers have had regarding the unifying aspects of reality.5...Some of the words he compiled which are common to P.E. include truth, beauty, joy, ecstasy, wholeness, dichotomy-transcendence, perfection, order, simplicity, uniqueness, justice and completion.6
Briefly stated, Maslow describes the major features of a peak experience in the following way, which also should again be noted as paralleled by my own experience. One has the perception that the universe is a totally integrated and unified whole and that one is a part of it. A "cosmic consciousness" is experienced so that the whole cosmos is perceived as a unity and one's own place in this whole is simultaneously understood. Self boundaries are lost as one becomes integrated with the rest of existence; however, self-identity and individual awareness persist.
During a P.E. one's concentration is totally absorbed and there is the truest and most total kind of visual perceiving or listening or feeling. One experiences superhuman, almost "god-like" perception of apparent reality. There is a feeling of omniscience. Great insights and revelations are achieved and profoundly felt, associated with feelings of intense joy and ecstasy. The experience alters one's perception of the meaning and value of life, and makes life seem much more important and worthwhile. There is a time and space disorientation so that the ability to estimate a time interval is lost.
The dichotomies, polarities and conflicts of life are transcended and resolved. The world is seen only as a beautiful, good, desirable place to be. It is never experienced as evil. The presence of evil is accepted and understood as part of the whole--as being unavoidable and necessary. During the omniscient perceptive state, evil is seen as a product of limited or selfish vision and understanding. The greater the understanding, the less the condemnation or blame, disappointment and shock that will be experienced. There is a transient loss of all anxiety, fear, confusion, conflict and inhibition. It produces the long-lasting effect of one becoming more loving, honest, innocent, non-needing, less selfish, and even more god-like. One is left with an all-embracing love for everybody and everything, which in turn leads to a strong impulse (drive) to do something good for the world. There is an eagerness to repay the peak experience with a sense of obligation and dedication to humanity. The best verbal description of a P.E. is not nearly good enough, since words cannot begin to capture the essence of the experience.7
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