There are experiences that occur during the course of a human lifespan which defy description. These events are moments of sheer bliss or understanding, in which the individual experiencing the phenomenon has an intense feeling of discovery, excitement, or contentment. These events are known as Peak Experiences, moments where one is totally immersed in an endeavor or event, and feelings of awe and grandeur sweep through the consciousness, producing an experience unlike anything else.
Abraham Maslow is credited with being the first to explore this phenomenon, and is recognized as one of the founders of humanistic and transpersonal psychology. In 1968 Maslow postulated that intense feelings of love, experiencing works of creative expression, such as visual art, and music, as well as the beauty often experienced in nature.
It is thought peak experiences occur at some point in everyone’s lives, however; the intensity and the motivating factor can be vastly different. A study in 2002 of 103 college staff members revealed that 93% had achieved peak experience at some point. Music was most frequently described as the motivating factor; more specifically — but not limited to — performing musically (www.leaonline.com)
Maslow believed that humans spent long periods of time in states of inattention to the world around them, and that peak experience occurred during heightened states of awareness.
Peak experience is also a term utilized in the drug culture, often to express feelings of heightened awareness that a user feels after using a substance to achieve an altered state of mind. It should be noted that throughout time humans have not been satisfied with their inherent mental state, and have long sought to alter it with music, rituals, meditation, drugs, and other various methodologies.
There are several common motivating factors that lead to peak experience. One of the most noted is that of scientific achievement. Upon solving a problem, or making a discovery after investing huge effort for long durations of time, it is common for a scientist to feel a heightened awareness, or euphoria. When playing or listening to a particularly beautiful passage of music, it is not uncommon for an individual to become so absorbed in the activity that it becomes a peak experience. During sex or while experiencing intense feelings of love is another common vector for peak experience.
There are several sensations and signs often associated with peak experience, they include an increased heart rate, feelings of bliss, joy, and understanding, as well as feeling chills, and goosebumps (gooseflesh) on the skin. Peak experience usually lasts from a few seconds to a few minutes.
These peak experiences are not uncommon in a religious context, where people are overcome with the energy, or perceived spiritual significance, during private reflection, or group activity.
Peak experience is relatively rare, and although it is memorable, often times the exact circumstances surrounding the experience are not remembered and almost impossible to reproduce.
Peak experiences are the defining moments of being alive, which allow us to distinguish the rest of our lives from that which is the state of truely living.