Peak Experiences: They Come to You, But You Have to be There

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Yesterday, I had one of those peak experiences, you know, an Abraham Maslow special - transcendent, ecstatic, a sense of harmony with everything in the universe - and no, it wasn't mania.


    This involved bringing my didgeridoo to a drum circle. You may recall, something similar happened to me about two months ago. (Check it out here.) Said Oscar Wilde:


    We can have in life but one great experience at best, and the secret of life is to reproduce that experience as often as possible.


    The occasion was Stand Down, an annual weekend gathering that offers refuge and community to homeless veterans and connects many of them to social and medical services. Jon Natchison, a psychologist and Army veteran, co-founded the event in 1988. 

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    “Dr Jon” is also part of the local drum circle scene, which is how he and I met several years ago. At every Stand Down, Dr Jon organizes a drum circle to entertain the gathering. 


    This is my third Stand Down. I join Dr Jon’s drummers on the stage. This is an all-star cast. Dr Jon slaps his djembe. BANG! We join in. Each drummer feeds off the other, then we are literally feeding off the feed. We feel it - something special is happening. Not your usual special. This is special beyond special. 



    For what that sense of special beyond special is like, we need to listen to Elizabeth Gilbert - author of "Eat, Pray, Love." In a 2009 TED talk, she related how the desert people of North Africa used to gather for sacred dance and music that would go on for hours and hours. Every once in a while, something transcendent would happen. As she describes it:


    It was like time would stop, and the dancer would sort of step through some kind of portal. He wasn't doing anything different than he had ever done, one thousand nights before, but everything would align. And all of a sudden, he would no longer appear to be merely human. He would be lit from within, and lit from below and all lit up on fire with divinity.


    The people would shout, “Allah! Allah! Allah!” Over the course of time and geography, this became, “Ole! Ole! Ole!”


    Of all things, I happened to stumble onto Ms Gilbert’s TED talk as I was winding down from Stand Down. Talk about synchrony.


    Curious, I pulled up a 2014 TED talk of hers. Here, she talked about a sense of home. Basically, your home is whatever you love more than you love yourself. And once you’ve found it, you need to “build your house right on top of it and don't budge from it.” 


    As I interpret all this: Peak experiences are extremely rare. Chasing after them is futile. They come along when they come along. Savor them when they happen, but be mindful of that inevitable Monday morning right around the corner. In the meantime, have the courage to engage in activities that you love. Good things tend to happen when you put your house in the right place.




    For a local news report of this weekend’s Stand Down in San Diego, click here


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    Question: Your insights into peak experiences - feel free to share.


    Extra credit: Are you fearful of relating your peak experiences to your psychiatrist or therapist?


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Published On: July 21, 2014