Peak Experiences in Self-Actualization: Gifts That Transcend Your Head

Decisions, frustrations, squirrel energy and caffeinated thoughts. I’ve been in my head too much lately. Check-lists and ringing phones have left my spirit mechanical and my soul longing for poetry, beauty and prose that flows. I wish for living that transcends the business end of it. Please Universe extend some humanity, some oneness, a sprinkle of stillness and a sense of awe.

Self-Actualization and Peak Experiences: What We Live For

Abraham Maslow included peak experiences in his list of characteristics of the self-actualized individual.  Self – actualization is the tippy top level of being on Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs pyramid.*  A self-actualized person has all their basic needs for food, shelter, protection, belongingness and esteem satisfied and rises to an existence that includes the desire to self-fulfill or become everything that one is capable of becoming. Self-actualized individuals have a propensity for peak experiences; intense moments of joy, awe, wonder, oneness and ecstasy. Following such experiences the being is strengthened, renewed, inspired.

Have You Ever Had Your Breath Taken Away By…

Music: The purity of one note sung into the sun that originates in the earth rises through  bodies and rests in tears that spring from jaded eyes. Songs reminiscent of long ago scents, settings and the sideways smile of an old lover. Space between lyrics where souls wedge in and expand. Singing without thinking because you are in a good place.

Kindness: Love when there could be bitterness. A hand that reaches for yours when you are mired and distant in your own sadness. An offer of listening with no expectation of repayment. Selflessness that makes you want to be a better person.

Resonance: Stories that powerfully echo your own. To be known. Kinship based on common joy and suffering. Meeting the eyes of others and seeing yourself in them. A connection that makes you a little more brave, less alone.  Message received. I feel you. I am you.

The Humanities: Art, music, theater, philosophy, literature, history, religion. Clarity from the ether of imagination manifested into words, melodies, dialogue, prayers. Bold art that whispers to your heart. Literature that befriends and awakens. Weeping from beauty and catharsis. The human condition defined and transcended.

Empathy: A child sobs when he learns of the tormented life of another. Witnessing the belittling of another and never being the same again. An ache felt deeply for another. Raw compassion. What moves us to help.

Stillness: The hours in the morning before the house is up. God, the Universe, your inner voice or your imagination speaking through silence. The moments after you ask for help and the ones after it is received. The pause and quiet beneath the veneer of noise. Where peace and metaphors come from. A calm to be found within and without.

Nature: Retreating to the woods to feel small and infinite at the same time.  A non-judgmental sanctuary of light and silence. Hearing morning doves outside your bedroom window the day after your lover moved out. Feeling less alone. Watching with your children as a hawk circles and pierces the edgeless sky.

Thank you for allowing me to indulge in flow and awe.  To attempt to put into words the ineffable. To escape my clockwork mind.

I feel much more connected to myself and you.

Do you think introverts have more peak experiences than extroverts? What do you need to reconnect with yourself?  Tell me of a peak experience that changed you.   

*At least on the most commonly referred to versions of the pyramid.  Maslow later added a level about Self-Actualization he called Transcendence.

17 thoughts on “Peak Experiences in Self-Actualization: Gifts That Transcend Your Head

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  4. Most people work Maslow’s pyramid by starting at the bottom and working their way up. I think that highly sensitive introverts do the exact opposite: we begin at Transcendence and then work our way down…. (maybe.)

    Also, Maslow himself writes that even self-actualised people are unable to sustain that state of self-actualisation constantly. They ebb and flow in and out of that state… that it’s cyclical…. like wavelengths with peaks and valleys.

    He does state, however, that what sets self-actualised people apart from the rest is that they are generally able to sustain that peak state for longer periods of time than others. And the time in between the peaks is shorter for them when they descend into the valley. They get back up again more quickly than others. And they stay at the top for longer periods of time.

    I like this b/c it validates that there’s nothing wrong with us when we’re in the valley. It’s a natural cycle for everyone. But like a hiker, we get better at climbing back up to the top the more we do it. And of course we like to stay up there longer to enjoy the view.

    See you at the top?

    • You could be right. Sensitive introverts experience awe/splendor/wonder on such a deep level it may be our baseline. Dipping down into the basics (shelter, belonging, sustenance) and rising back to transcendence. It became clear to me about 7 years ago (slow learner) that everything ebbs and flows – the bad and the good. When I am especially mindful I know the low points will pass if I just exercise patience. The rest of the time I let my emotions get the best of me.;)
      The sensitivity and deep processing of introverts/HSPs gives life a true richness. Seeing beauty in small things and experiencing awe/ecstasy/wonder so intensely makes it easy to bounce back fairly quickly.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Love discussing Maslow. Definitely see you at the top.:)

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  6. This was a perfect read for the moment. I feel disconnected in most categories at the moment due to one…lack of socializing on small or grand scales and two… lack of music and the arts. It takes time to develop the sources for some of the aspects again. The article didn’t resonate anything I didn’t realize myself right now. It’s simply nice to read items that reiterate what I’m already thinking.

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  8. This. Such a beautiful post. After being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, undergoing treatment, and suffering the loss of a sister at the same time, those peak experiences are, really, such simple ones for me. Yes … watching a bird circling in the sky. Watching little jimmy lizards (skinks) crawling up a brick wall warmed by the sun. Sitting in the sun in winter. Cool breezes in summer. The sound of magpies carolling. While wishing all beings be happy, I also wish that people would also come to learn that happiness is in the littlest of things, in the journey. It’s not something to arrive at. And also the lengths that friends, one in particular, goes to help me. I am going to a weekend mindfulness and medititation retreat at the end of the month, and I know ahead of time, that is the most grounding of peak experiences I can have. Thank you for another lovely post.

    • It’s funny because I read your comment after I worked on a post for this week but there are multiple similarities between your message and the one I hope to impart in my next piece. Yes, the little things can be the delight that sustains you. It is about the journey, as over-used as that saying is. I also see gratitude as an element of that satisfaction from small things. Seeing nature and connections as gifts and appreciating them helps your soul soar.

      You have a clear understanding of such joy. You have been through difficult times. Your eyes and heart are open.

      Have the best experience at your meditation retreat. Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comment. I always appreciate your insight.

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  10. Didn’t just ‘like’ this post, Brenna. Totally loved it. The information you add at the end about Maslow identifying ‘transcendence’ as being an even higher peak than ‘self-actualisation’ is incredibly important for devotees of Maslow.

    • Thank you! Maslow’s humanism fascinates me. I intend to look further into the transcendence piece he included later in his work/career. There is so much more than transactional living.

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