ETHICS ISSUES: Peak Experiences


American psychologist and philosopher Abraham H. Maslow (1908-1970) coined this term to describe nonreligious quasi-mystical and mystical experiences.  Peak experiences are sudden intense feelings of well-being, and an awareness of “ultimate truth” and the essence of all things. Accompanying these experiences is a heightened sense of control over the body and emotions.

Maslow described peak experiences as self-validating, self-justifying; never negative, unpleasant or evil; disoriented in time and space; and accompanied by a loss of fear, anxiety, doubts, and inhibitions. Relative are those peak experiences in which there remains an awareness of subject and object, and which are extensions of the individual’s own experiences. Absolute experiences are characteristic of the mystical—timeless, spaceless, characterized by unity, in which the subject and object become one. These highest peaks include “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, and the loss of placing in time and space”.  Maslow said that all individuals are capable of peak experiences, but cautioned against seeking them for their own sake, echoing the advice of those mystics who have pointed out that the sacred exists in the ordinary.

I had an Absolute Peak Experience about twenty years ago.  It changed my life, instantly and permanently.  I am indeed fortunate.

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