It only takes one singular experience, one powerful and aesthetically moving adventure to change your life. We say, “change is hard, change is slow, change is uncomfortable, change is inevitable.” The truth is change is not the passive experience we paint in our mind’s eye. We are the arbiters, the stewards of our life and the question is, are we going to happen to our life or will we allow life to happen to us?
In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s Abraham Maslow developed a state of being he termed “peak experiences.” These experiences were often described as a state of intense euphoria or fulfillment as the result of engaging in activities such as art, nature, sex, music, meditation, etc. I like to talk about peak experiences in terms of sex because virtually every human beyond a certain age has experienced sex. Most of us have also experienced the rapture of synchronized connection as well as the bleak reality of awkward disconnection while making love.
So the question is what is required to have a peak experience? Peak experiences have some distinguishing characteristics:
- A sense of freedom – without inner conflicts
- Full functioning of mind/body
- Suspension of judgment
- Creative and spontaneous thought
- Intense mindfulness of the present moment
One of the fascinating aspects of Maslow’s writing is his focus on the psychology of healthy people, which he later went on to describe as being self-actualized. Self-actualization encompasses the idea of maximizing our full potential and making choices which lead to being what we WANT to be. I emphasize the word want because it reinforces a crucial aspect of operating at our highest potential…choice.
Choice is the single most important factor in deciding the degree of fulfillment we can expect in our daily lives. When we take full responsibility for being the agency behind the actions of our daily lives, we are not only taking ownership for what we do today but, more importantly, deciding whether or not we WANT to be in the experience going forward. Agency or choice allows us to get behind the kind of person we want to be… and it is a powerful tool for showing ourselves and the world just exactly what kind of life we want to live. One of my favorite TED talks is by the contemporary philosopher Ruth Chang How to make hard choices . In it, she makes the point that instead of agonizing over two seemingly equally valuable choices, on a par, we could celebrate our ability to choose like a superpower. The power of choice literally shapes the course and texture of our life path. I experience this idea as insightful and inherently playful because it is exciting to set aside judgments and live in a space of creative potential…in other words, it emphasizes a life worth living!
It only takes one powerful experience to move our consciousness to the next level, to reset our values toward growth and freedom. When we choose to engage in richly textured and deeply moving experiences, we are positively reinforcing or priming our neural circuits for a peak, self-actualizing experience. I personally believe all aspects of our life, from delicious food, to passionate sex, to incredible yoga…should be part of a rich, sensuous tapestry driving us to be the best we can be in this moment and then the next.
So if change is really choice and choice is our superpower, then when we choose to take care of ourselves, to return to activities, places and people that enhance our spirit for life…we are changing for the better. The moral of the story is to choose wisely and to remember that sometimes you have to make the choice on a moment by moment basis.
Maslow, A.H. (1964). Religions, values, and peak experiences. London: Penguin Books Limited.
Capon, John. “Flow and Peak Experience”
Maslow, Abraham (1968). Toward a Psychology of Being. New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.