Transformational Change through Peak Experiences

CHANGE

I want to write about change.

Deep fundamental change.

Because that’s what we are truly striving for.

Change.

We read to find answers to our problems. To experience the satisfaction that comes from finally discovering that elusive solution. That’s change.

We read to gain inspiration. To enable us to move from A to B. That’s change.

We set goals to realise our growth and agency. To surpass our pre-conceived limits. To stretch ourselves beyond what was previously possible. That’s change.

Change is the core element underlying many of our desires. When we want new results, more sleep, increased wealth, a new career, a vacation, a walk around the block … we simply want change.

We want to experience a shift.

We want to experience growth.

We want to feel good.

We want transition.

We want motion.

We want LIFE.

Change IS LIFE.

BEYOND STATUS SYMBOLS

And what about deep change? That change that nourishes us in a fundamental way … that delves beyond the success symbols of the society we find ourselves in, that bestow status, external prestige and respect?

Each age has its own systems, its own symbols of prestige.  In ancient times, philosophers, sages, and thinkers were highly esteemed. The Renaissance Age saw the rise and celebration of artists and scientists.

In terms of status symbols, the owning of slaves has been a tragic but accepted symbol of importance in various societies and historical periods. In our Western age today, our status is not only measured in displays of wealth and entrepreneurial achievement, but lies in our work productivity and social media popularity. The number of likes we get can see our self-esteem quotient fluctuate violently on a day-to-day basis.

Even, perhaps absurdly, the now humble pineapple was a status symbol back in the 18th century.

So, who are we beyond all of this? Do we merely yearn to acquire the status symbols conferred by the prevailing paradigms of the day? Of our family, of our culture, of our age? Are we merely reduced to being products of the society and systems we are borne into? Or is there something more?

Outside of the ingrained influences of the systems you live within, what do you truly want? How do you know? What will truly satiate you, and make you feel good from the inside out?

What we are exposed to can limit or expand our vision of what we think is possible in our lives. Exposure to new environments and experiences is what changes us. It’s what transforms us. Exposure presents us with new options, and new possibilities.

PEAK EXPERIENCES

Far superior to external symbols of success are PEAK EXPERIENCES – those moments where life flows through us effortlessly, moments that raise us above our normal existence, that stretch us to new possibilities. These are the experiences that can lead to deep transformational change.

What is a peak experience?

Abraham Maslow described peak experiences as

“sudden feelings of intense happiness and well-being, possibly the awareness of an “ultimate truth” and the unity of all things … the experience fills the individual with wonder and awe….he feels at one with the world”.

According to Maslow, these experiences encompass

feelings of limitless horizons opening up to the vision, the feeling of being simultaneously more powerful and also more helpless than one ever was before, the feeling of ecstasy and wonder and awe, the loss of placement in time and space with, finally, the conviction that something extremely important and valuable had happened, so that the subject was to some extent transformed and strengthened even in his daily life by such experiences”.

Peak experiences are often described as transcendent moments of pure joy and elation. These are moments that stand out from everyday events.” 

They are “a high point in the life of a self-actualizer, during which the person feels ecstatic and more alive and whole than is usual”.

A peak experience is “a desireless state where all needs are met”.

During peak experiences people are “closest to their true identities, their real selves.”

Peak experiences are those that truly nourish us. More than the fleeting success of the realisation of a goal. Or the hollow acquirement of an external status symbol. One that only matters in comparison to others.

The exhilaration, the taste of the infinite, the paranormal, the delight, that ecstasy – these are sensations that cannot be surpassed.

That moment of awe when you lose sense of yourself but feel completely in the wholeness of yourself all at once. You are AT ONE.

The runners high.

That feeling of oneness with a piece of music.

The loss of time and space.

The birth of a child.

An experience of the “higher life”. The intangible, the untouchable.

Peak experiences help to liberate us from our existing stories to create ourselves anew. They transform us.

THE NATURE CONNECTION

Peak experiences often occur in nature. One study published in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology outlines how nature provides an ideal setting for peak experiences, leading to profound personal transformations and long-lasting changes.

In the study, one participant details how she was able to overcome lifelong identity issues, a sense of helplessness and a fear of death, when confronting freezing cold temperatures in the Arctic, where she feared for her life. She integrated new-found strengths from that experience leading to some profound life changes:

“The extreme conditions in the Arctic in a boat, placed Lital in a situation in which her regular behavior and perceptual patterns were to no avail and she experienced a terrorizing fear of death until the moment of insight in which she discovered new abilities and potential…”

Lital noted: “That was a moment of very specific understanding that … I can overcome any fear. That insight and situation was so vivid it brought me to know that I can rely on myself . . . I can now say everything will be okay and I know it will all work out… I consciously chose to think challenge instead of fear and I put that formula into everything I knew . . . I asked myself what do you want, without feeling guilty or ashamed or scared to be in touch with my needs and desires. I want to be a writer, to create, not to feel scared and guilty . . . I left my job in the factory, lost 20 pounds and am now working on a play.”

Another participant who shared a peak experience gained from hiking in the desert stated:

“That moment was one of the most liberating moments in my life, I could choose to let go of all my stories, I could be naked, no family, no degree. . .  In that moment I knew that I could change my thinking and understanding of myself and my surroundings. From that moment on, I was concerned and connected to my needs more than to others. There is this inner sense of wholeness.”

This experience provided a “profound insight” triggered by nature to a challenging long-term problem for the participant – one of chronic people-pleasing.

It appears that the peak experience in nature, involving some form of hardship or challenge, and being distinct from normal life, provides the space needed to experience our lives anew, to gain awareness of previously unseeable solutions.

Peak experiences in nature evoke “discovery of new, empowering parts of the self”, a change in perspective of our selves and our capabilities, and thus the transcendence of our former narratives.

That is true transformation.

NO NEED FOR EVEREST

How then do we cultivate peak experiences without the need to climb our equivalent of Mount Everest, or drive miles and miles to the nearest nature spot?

Is it possible to enjoy peak experiences in our everyday lives?

Yes.

  1. By engaging in activities for sheer enjoyment, rather than the end result

We increase our chances of experiencing high elevated moments when we stand in our joy, rather than the ego driven pursuit of undertaking an activity purely for the result or associated gain in status.

“There seems to be a connection to having peak experiences when engaging in an activity for its inherent value to us rather than from another type of motivation—such as a deficiency need, or a need connected to our ego identification. In other words, when we are engaged in activities for the pure pleasure or meaningfulness of them, it’s possible that the peak experience state becomes more accessible.” (Martha Kezemidis)

2. By making the ordinary “extra ordinary”

Peakers tend more often than nonpeakers to say their lives are very meaningful, that they think about the meaning and purpose of life.”

By intentionally making the ordinary “extra ordinary”, we can transcend our everyday routines. We can flip the script of our lives – the habitual programme that keeps us stuck on the repetitive treadmill that we call life. We need to give our lives meaning and purpose, especially the ordinary moments, to open ourselves up to experience more peak episodes.

IDEAS FOR CULTIVATING EVERYDAY PEAK MOMENTS

“The sacred is in the ordinary…it is to be found in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbors, friends, and family, in one’s own backyard… To be looking elsewhere for miracles is to me a sure sign of ignorance that everything is miraculous.” (Abraham H. Maslow)

Some ideas for creating peak experiences in everyday life:

  • Read/watch/listen to new ideas outside the realm of what seems possible today – expand your mind.
  • Do something new – a new place to walk, explore a new part of your neighbourhood, work in a different spot – expand your sense of self and the world around you. Open up new pathways in your mind.  
  • Make everyday moments more meaningful – choose to embellish and celebrate the previously meaningless and mundane– e.g. the end of the month like the end of a year, a Thursday, your half-year birthday – acknowledge that we are the ones that give life it’s meaning.
  • Change your routine – see what new insights you gain or new ideas that come to mind when you step outside of your norm.
  • Maximise the opportunities we have in everyday life to witness glimpses of the transcendent – get up early to watch a sunrise, stargaze at night – stop taking the simple and available pleasures in life for granted.
  • Push yourself out of your comfort zone, do something that scares you, even a little, each day.
  • Put some music on to get you “in the zone”.  
  • Define your purpose at the start of a day – to be more loving, more peaceful, more forgiving, more friendly, more assertive …
  • Be more present with the people in your life, rather than thinking about the next thing on your list to do.
  • Review your day, your week, your month, by the peak moments you experienced, rather than activities or results achieved. What was truly memorable? What was meaningful? How can you re-create it?

Find what’s Sacred in Your Ordinary.

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