What Is a Peak Experience?

Self-transcendence often begins with a peak experience
Stepping into the transformative brilliance of cosmos

Stunning grand-design spiral galaxy taken by the Hubble Space Telescope

Transcending the Separate Self
Awesome! Beyond words! Time is lost. Place disappears. That terrible, shame-based self-consciousness that so many humans suffer evaporates in a blissful instant of Beyond Self.

Feelings of exaltation and inner knowing take over. We are absorbed into nature, with heightened perception and a profound sense of the interconnectedness of all things. Spiraling into a cosmic “flow,” we lose all sense of a separate ego self as we slip into a state of oneness with the Divine and the entire universe.

Who Peaks?
Peak experiences can happen to anyone at any level of psychological development. From very young children to the elderly who may be pondering the deep existential questions that arise at the end of life (if not before), human beings have the capacity to be transported out of their everyday awareness in experiences as simple as a brief “aha moment” of personal discovery all the way to states of unitive consciousness where they understand what William Blake meant when he wrote:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

Peaks Are Temporary
It is universally accepted that peak experiences are “brief, but extremely intense, blissful, meaningful, and beneficial experiences of expanded identity and union with the universe.”¹ The additional fact that such experiences are resistant to willful re-creation is a challenge for seekers of self-transcendence.


Fortunately, psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote extensively on the exceptional, psychologically healthy individuals he identified as “transcenders”—leaving useful and insightful observations to help us light our own path through the mundane to the transcendent.


A key characteristic of the self-transcenders that Maslow and others studied was their propensity to be positively affected by their own peak experiences. Even though the “peaks” were often no more than flashes of insight, they seemed to leave behind an essence of magnanimity, compassion, and selflessness that permanently elevated the transcenders’ way of being so that personal growth became their primary motivation.


¹ Roger Walsh and Frances Vaughan, Paths Beyond Ego: The Transpersonal Vision. (Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1993), p. 2.