March 15, 2013

Feeling Free Through Peak Experiences

The exceptional 1656 painting, Las Meninas, by Diego Velazquez has been known
to induce peak experiences, or ecstatic moments, in some viewers

Have you ever had a moment so gloriously excellent that you lost track of time? A moment that felt so right that you felt connected to everything? When everything clicks, makes sense, and is as it should be?

If we pay attention, these moments of blissful freedom can be repeatedly enjoyed.

What is a Peak Experience?

Psychologist Abraham Maslow called these events 'peak experiences', or times that we have feelings of intense happiness, expansiveness, wonder and awe. Such moments come on suddenly and are often preceded by deep meditation or concentration, feelings of love, great art or music, or the beauty of nature.

I think children live in a state of perpetual peak experience as they see the world through less tainted lenses. But soon such feelings are channeled exclusively for religious purposes, or dismissed altogether as 'daydreaming' or worse. We 'grow up' and forget about our ecstatic connection to life.

But we can get it back. We can put ourselves in situations where peak experiences, or the 'state of flow' as researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it, are likely to occur. We can learn to induce moments of maximum freedom, and then use these brief episodes to change how we live the rest of the time.

The writer Colin Wilson recognized the learning potential of these moments saying, "The peak experience induces the recognition that your own powers are far greater than you imagined them."

What a wonderful thing to discover - that we are more powerful than we realize! So how do we do this thing?

Inducing Peak Experiences and Feelings of Freedom

What triggers a peak experience varies from person to person, but whatever it is, it has to be deeply meaningful to the individual. Many chess players report entering a state of flow, and just about any engaging, enjoyable activity can do the same if you get into it enough and really lose yourself.

Others feel this psychic boost, this brain bomb, while in art galleries and museums. This was powerfully displayed for me in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain, while Linda and I were searching out the 1656 painting by Diego Valazquez called Las Meninas. We spotted the crowd gathered in front of it before we saw the wall-sized painting itself.

To our astonishment, many of the Valazquez appreciators where weeping while gathered in front of this monumental work. A great many others were completely transfixed, unaware of anything or anyone around them. Some had to sit on the cool marble floor as they dropped, weak kneed from seeing the artist's work. The ecstatic reaction of viewers was just as interesting as the painting itself.

Soon we ourselves were drawn in to the magic of this massive, absorbing work of art that dominated the room in which it was hung. Las Meninas, paintings by Goya, and other great works of Western art ensured our own moments of magic before returning to the streets, changed for life by our encounters.

Now Madrid and Las Meninas are far away, but there are other more accessible methods for inducing that feeling of calm, centered, purposefulness. I came up with a list of activities that prompt in me the feeling that life is a wonderful, intense gift not to be wasted on petty concerns.

When I am doing these things, I make myself open and receptive to all the universe chooses to reveal to me, and everything is good.

Activities For Peak Experiences and Feeling Free
  1. Playing guitar while Linda sings.
  2. Baking bread.
  3. Riding my bike.
  4. Doing anything in nature.
  5. Cooking.
  6. Concentrating on learning a new skill (like slide guitar or cooking a new dish).
  7. Celebrating with other people.
  8. Talking to children.
  9. Dancing.
  10. Listening to music.
  11. Painting.
There are many other things that work, because as I have found over the years, the more I am aware of this tapping into the great creative source, the easier it is to access.

How About You?

What induces peak experience for you? What gives you the feeling of being free?


  1. Great Post! To remind us of our own capabilities for a better life experience.

    1. Life can be so much more than just working and consuming.

  2. Anonymous3/16/2013

    I am a writer and there is *nothing* like those amazing times when the you sit down at the keyboard and the words write themselves--those are the moments when my body, my brain and my soul cry, "I am words!" Doesn't happen often (enough), but when it does I know I am doing what I am meant to be doing--what is right for me.



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