Reaching the Peak
Do you remember the best moments of your life?
It is likely in those moments that you were having what is known as a "peak experience". The psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote about these types of experiences as "moments of highest happiness and fulfilment".
Writing in the 1960s, Maslow described peak experiences 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".
Such peak experiences are often associated with self- actualisation and an intense "flow" state. According to Abraham Maslow, a peak experience includes such states as " a sense of wonder, awe, reverence, humility, surrender, and even worship before the greatness of the experience", where reality is perceived with experiences of "truth, goodness, beauty, wholeness, aliveness, uniqueness, perfection, pure potential, completion, justice, simplicity, richness, effortlessness, playfulness, self-sufficiency".
People will often describe a peak experience as feelings of being one or whole, functioning effortlessly without strain, judgement or fear, reaching their highest potential, spontaneous and expressive states, experiences of creativity and complete mindfulness of the present moment.
We have all had a Peak Experience
Does this sound familiar? Perhaps you have experienced something similar while in meditation practice, eyes open or closed. Or perhaps you have had similar peak experiences while simply looking up at the stars on a clear night and being filled with a sense of wonder and awe.
Abraham Maslow believed that while self-actualised people were more likely to access these kinds of flow experiences, all people were capable of having these moments.
Consider your own life. Have you ever been in love? Have you ever created some form of art or music? Have you ever felt a deep peace while walking through a forest or out in nature? No doubt you will have had very many of these kinds of conscious experiences throughout your life. Aren't they wonderful?
“A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
I have been talking to people recently about their own peak experiences and have heard some amazing stories. Janet, a musician and meditator, described a public performance in which she was singing:
"The audience was so there, so with me in that experience, it was just incredibly still and in focus. It was as though you would hear a pin drop. It was not really me, no longer me, just this sort of musical story coming out and we were all in this one still pool."
Several women have told me their peak experience stories about giving birth. "My first baby," said Susan, "It was a long hard labour and when he finally came out he lay on my tummy and I looked at him and I felt absolute love, given and returned."
For myself, the Peak Experience that I remember most also involved birth – not giving birth (although that is a miraculous experience also) but being present at one. I was attending the home birth of one of my friends. Her husband and I spent some hours walking her up and down the stairs, encouraging the birth to come on, and then helped her into a plastic pool of warm water set up in the dining room. The labour pains started coming closer together and the midwife still wasn't there. The husband and I looked at each other and he got on the phone. Apparently, the midwife was stuck in traffic. Suddenly the pains were much stronger and very close together, and it became clear that the baby was going to arrive. It also became clear that somebody was going to have to deliver this baby, and looking at the husband, it seemed that was going to be me.
If anyone had told me beforehand that this was going to happen, I would have predicted that I would panic and not know what to do. But in those moments it was quite the opposite - a deep calm came over me and I became extremely present and focused, "in the flow". I intuitively knew what to do and calmly explained it to my friend and her husband. We managed to get her out of the pool and on all fours on some towels on the floor. I asked her to push and very quickly the head of the baby emerged and then all of the slippery bundle was suddenly in my arms and these small eyes were looking up at me, both of us completely amazed. It was an incredible experience of joy.
When I first heard Maharishi Krishnananda Ishaya talk about peak experiences, that is the experience I remembered and that feeling of complete Presence. When I heard Maharishi say one could choose to be in this 'flow' state through the Ishayas' Ascension practice, that was it, I really wanted to learn.
I have to say that, at the time, I wasn't convinced this was possible. (Because if it was, why wasn't everyone doing it?) But it has certainly become my experience that it is possible to choose to be in this state, any time, even under the most extreme of circumstances. To be able to make all of life a "peak" experience is an amazing gift. And just as amazing is to see that this is possible for all people.
This is why I teach The Ishayas' Ascension.