“Peak Experience” is a term coined by Psychologist Abraham Maslow to describe the times of emotional transcendence in human life.
“Maslow envisioned moments of extraordinary experience, known as Peak experiences, which are profound moments of love, understanding, happiness, or rapture, during which a person feels more whole, alive, self-sufficient and yet a part of the world, more aware of truth, justice, harmony, goodness, and so on. Self-actualizing people have many such peak experiences. In other words, these “peak experiences” or states of flow are the reflections of the realization of one’s human potential and represent the height of personality development.” –Daniel Schacter
Often a peak experience evokes an expansiveness beyond mundane awareness that is simultaneously exalting and humbling. Which reminds me of a teaching from the Midrash:
Why did God choose Mount Sinai for the giving of the Torah and Ten Commandments/ Utterances? According to Midrash , all the mountains competed for the honor. Only Mount Sinai kept quiet, for it was small and humble and sought no honor for itself. Because of its humility, and because its small size had never made it the object of idol worship, Mount Sinai was chosen as the site of divine revelation.
–BeMidbar Rabbah 13:3 (Hebrew)
This Midrash reminds me of the saying of the Hassidic rebbe, Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa that everyone should keep notes with two truths tucked into separate pockets, ready to reach for the one needed as a corrective in any situation: “For my sake the world was created,” in one pocket, and “I am but dust and ashes,” in the other. For me a peak experience can simultaneously give both feelings: of being an ephemeral creature and yet indescribably privileged to experience the majesty of God’s universe.
Featured Image: Denala, Alaska, by Barbara via Flickr
Listen to a Moroccan Jewish Chant, or return to the Gateway of Mountains.