NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Sunday, December 4, 2022

What Are Peak Experiences?

In my prior article, What is Self Actualization and What Qualities Do Self Actualizers Possess?, I began a discussion about Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs with an emphasis on self actualizers and their characteristics.  

Peak Experiences

What Are Peak Experiences?
According to Maslow, peak experiences play an important part in self actualization, which is the focus of this article.  He believed peak experiences make it possible to experience your true self (see my article: Becoming Your True Self).

Although Maslow believed that self actualization is rare, he believed that it's possible for people to have peak experiences.

Peak experiences are transcendent moments of joy, elation, awe, ecstasy or wonder (see my article: Seeing Small Wonders All Around Us If We Just Take the Time to Notice).

These are exceptional experiences that stand out from other experiences and often include:
  • A sense of fulfillment
  • A significant experience that increases awareness, possibly a turning point in life
  • A spiritual sense of being at one with the world
When Do Peak Experiences Occur?
Peak experiences often occur while: 
  • Working on a creative project
  • Spending time in nature
  • Watching a sunset
  • Falling in love
  • Making love
  • Having an orgasm
  • Meditating
  • Having a lucid dream
  • Having an intuitive dream or experience (see my article: Dream Incubation)
  • Feeling the rapture of music
  • Feeling moved by a work of art
  • Experiencing synchronicities
  • Experiencing a sense of flow while dancing or moving
  • Spending time with close family and friends
  • Participating in a spiritual practice
  • Participating in sports and being "in the zone"
  • Engaging in an enjoyable activity where you have a sense of flow
  • Helping someone in need
  • Achieving a challenging goal
  • Feeling triumphant after overcoming a challenge
What Do Peak Experiences Feel Like?
People often describe peak experiences as altered states of consciousness where they feel euphoric.  

Maslow described peak experiences as experiencing the highest state of happiness.  

During peak experiences people often describe their experience as surrendering to something greater than themselves.  

For instance, standing on a beach and experiencing the vastness of the ocean, you can feel the power and beauty of the ocean. You can also experience how small you are compared to this large body of water.  You might also feel a sense of oneness with the ocean as you watch the ebb and flow of the waves.

Often there is a loss of time and space as you merge with your surroundings.  For instance, if you are stargazing, you can sense the timelessness of the experience as you appreciate the beauty.  

Past, present and future can together for you in that moment.

Identifying Your Own Personal Peak Experiences
In order to understand the personal meaning of peak experiences in your life, think back to times in your life that were transcendent and meaningful.  

It might have been for only a moment, but these memories usually stand out.

Peak experiences often occur when people are intentional and have a sense of purpose.  Maybe you were having fun at the time with others. Or you maybe you were alone when you had a meaningful experience that changed your perspective.

Peak experiences also occur when you have a sense of deep fulfillment.  So, you can think back to times in your life when you felt especially fulfilled and joyous.

Why It's Important to Identify Peak Experiences From Your Past
Peak experiences can be life changing.  

When you identify the types of experiences that gave you a sense of wonder, awe and transcendence, you become aware of the most meaningful times in your life.

By identifying these powerful moments in your life, you can get a sense of what's most important to you and how these experiences enhance your life.

In addition, you'll get a sense of what inspires these moments for you so that you can enjoy more peak experiences as you can become more attuned to them.

For instance, if you had a sense of purpose and fulfillment when you did artwork, but you gave up doing artwork, you'll realize how important that work was to your sense of well-being. You might also realize you want to make time to do artwork to have those experiences again.

You might also remember other times when you felt most alive, in a state of flow, and consider how you can have other similar experiences.

An example of that might be a meditation practice.  You might remember a time when you went into a deep trance state when you felt at one with the world.  If you have stopped meditating and you remember how fulfilling it was for you, you might want to resume meditation.  

Can You Create Peak Experiences?
Peak experiences are often spontaneous.  They can be momentary or last hours or days.  

I believe you can prime yourself for having peak experiences if you're aware of these heightened states from the past, you're open to experiencing these states again and you cultivate the mindset, circumstances and environment that could inspire peak experiences.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.