Maslow Peak Experiences


Learn about Maslow's theories; definition of peak experience; peak experiences tips;
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

                Abraham Maslow

What is a peak experience?
Maslow, the term's inventor, says that  "peak experiences are 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, and is pleased with it ...." They are moments when you feel more at one with yourself and the world, more integrated.  You feel happy, even ecstatic, interconnected and in harmony. Peak experiences are one type of mystical experiences, and perhaps one of the most interesting in that Maslow aims to talk about mystical experiences in non-supernatural terms.

Is a peak experience a good thing?
Maslow certainly thinks so.  
He says they are "rare, mystical, exciting, deeply moving, and exhilarating". He also thinks that when you have a peak experience in this moments you become like a self-actualiser. "Any person in any of the peak experiences takes on temporarily many of the characteristics which I found in self-actualizing individuals. " (Towards a Psychology of Being, p. 97).  There may also be longer-lasting effects. Peak experiences  can also make you more creative and less neurotic.  "The peak-experiencer becomes more loving and more accepting, and so he becomes more spontaneous and honest and innocent" ((Maslow, Religion, Values and Peak Experiences)..A peak experience is also " visit to a personally defined heaven from which the person then returns to earth. This is like giving a naturalistic meaning to the concept of heaven." (Maslow, Religion, Values and Peak Experiences).

Colin Wilson agrees. "Human beings do not realise the extent to which their own sense of defeat prevents them from doing things they could do perfectly well. The peak experience induces the recognition that your own powers are far greater than you imagined them."

In  Appendix D of Religions, Values and Peak Experiences Maslow considers a key question

What is the Validity of Knowledge Gained in Peak-Experiences?

The sceptic might suggest a distinction between insight and delusion, and ask how we know that the perception gained in a peak experience (or any other mystical experience) is non-delusional, let alone containing some unique key to the ultimate  truth. Maslow's  answer is that at least the peaker gets the awareness that, in those moments, live really is worth living. Maslow replies "There is no doubt that great insights and revelations are profoundly felt in mystic or peak-experiences, and certainly some of these are, ipso facto, intrinsically valid as experiences. " "The peak-experience is felt as a self-validating, self-justifying moment which carries its own intrinsic value with it" (Maslow, Religion, Values and Peak Experiences). But are the insights valid? Maslow says "The history of science and invention is full of instances of validated peak-insights and also of "insights" that failed. At any rate, there are enough of the former to support the proposition that the knowledge obtained in peak-insight experiences can be validated and valuable. " Maslow believes that peak-experiences "does not make four apples visible where there were only three before, nor do the apples change into bananas. No! it is more a shift in attention, in the organization of perception, in noticing or realizing, that occurs. "

Peak Experiences & Values
One type of knowledge Maslow thinks one can gain in Peak Experience is of B-Values (Being Values). These are :-
1. Truth: honesty; reality; (nakedness; simplicity; richness; essentiality; oughtness; beauty; pure; clean and unadulterated completeness).
2. Goodness: (rightness; desirability; oughtness; justice; benevolence; honesty); (we love it, are attracted to it, approve of it).
3. Beauty: (rightness; form; aliveness; simplicity; richness; wholeness; perfection; completion; uniqueness; honesty).
4. Wholeness: (unity; integration; tendency to oneness; interconnectedness; simplicity; organization; structure; order; not dissociated; synergy; homonymous and integrative tendencies).
4a. Dichotomy-transcendence: (acceptance, resolution, integration, or transcendence of dichotomies, polarities, opposites, contradictions); synergy (i.e., transformation of oppositions into unities, of antagonists into collaborating or mutually enhancing partners).
5. Aliveness: (process; not deadness; dynamic; eternal; flowing; self-perpetuating; spontaneity; self-moving energy; self-forming; self-regulation; full-functioning; changing and yet remaining the same; expressing itself; never-ending).
6. Uniqueness: (idiosyncrasy; individuality; singularity; non comparability; its defining-characteristics; novelty; quale; suchness; nothing else like it).
7. Perfection: (nothing superfluous; nothing lacking; everything in its right place; unimprovable; just rightness; just-so-ness; suitability; justice; completeness; nothing beyond; oughtness).
7a. Necessity: (inevitability; it must be just that way; not changed in any slightest way; and it is good that it i5 that way).
8. Completion: (ending; finality; justice; it's finished; no more changing of the Gestalt; fulfillment; finis and telos; nothing missing or lacking; totality; fulfillment of destiny; cessation; climax; consummation; closure; death before rebirth; cessation and completion of growth and development; total gratification with no more gratification possible; no striving; no movement toward any goal because already there; not pointing to anything beyond itself ).
9. Justice: (fairness; oughtness; suitability; architectonic quality; necessity; inevitability; disinterestedness; non-partiality).
9a. Order: (lawfulness; rightness; rhythm; regularity; symmetry; structure; nothing superfluous; perfectly arranged ).
10. Simplicity: (honesty; nakedness; purity; essentiality; succinctness; [mathematical] elegance; abstract; unmistakability; essential skeletal structure; the heart of the matter; bluntness; only that which is necessary; without ornament, nothing extra or superfluous ).
11. Richness: (totality; differentiation; complexity; intricacy; nothing missing or hidden; all there; "nonimportance," i.e., everything is equally important; nothing is unimportant; everything left the way it is, without improving, simplifying, abstracting, rearranging; comprehensiveness).
12. Effortlessness: (ease; lack of strain, striving, or difficulty; grace; perfect and beautiful functioning).
13. Playfulness: (fun; joy; amusement; gaiety; humor; exuberance; effortlessness).
14. Self-sufficiency: (autonomy; independence; not needing anything other than itself in order to be itself; self-determining; environment-transcendence; separateness; living by its own laws; identity).

       From Appendix G.   B-Values as Descriptions of Perception in Peak-Experiences

How to have more peak experiences

You will search in vain for a Maslovian recipe to create peak experiences.  The reason is explained in Colin Wilson's New Pathways in Psychology (page 19).  Wilson asked Maslow whether you can create peak experiences at will.
  "No, Or almost entirely no!", Maslow asserted. " In general, we are "Surprised by Joy".. Peaks come unexpectedly .... You can't count on them.  And hunting them is like hunting happiness. c's best not done directly. It comes as a by-product, an epiphenomenon, for instance, of doing a fine job at a worthy task you can identify with".

Colin Wilson  thinks the above is only partly true. He thinks they have a structure that can be duplicated (p. 21). The preconditions are:
energy, vigilance, alertness, preparedness
The fact that the full text of Religions, Values and Peak Experiences is to be found in the Psychedelic Library suggests another possible way to have peak experiences ...  The current author would suggest that creativity, love, contact with nature, sport, meditation, parenting are other possible sources of peak experiences. There is also a connection worth exploring between peak experiences and flow, and between peak experiences and the writings of Viktor Frankl.

External Resources

full text of Religions, Values and Peak Experiences by Maslow is available on-line.

The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology has a good section on Maslow and peak experiences

Good short article on Peak Experiences by Lifework

Excerpt from The Handbook of Humanistic Psychology

Supraconsciousness networ
k page on Peak Experiences

Review of Religions, Values and Peak Experiences  & Toward a Psychology of Being by Tim Knepper, Fall, 2001

Last interview with Maslow, 1969

Wikipedia entry on  Peak Experiences

© Tim LeBon 2006 - if citing material from this page, please refer to it as by Tim LeBon

Return to Personal Development Through Philosophy & Psychology by Tim LeBon at