Sunday, December 7, 2008

Abraham Maslow: Peak Experiences

Excerpts from the book Religion, Values and Peak Experiences

In my first investigations, I've used this word (non-peakers) because I thought some people had peak experiences and others didn't. But the more data I collected and the more capable I became in posing questions, I realized that the longer the more of my subjects began to share their peak experiences. In the end I began to develop the habit to expect that everyone had peak experiences, and I began to be very amazed when I met someone who couldn't share any. Because of this experience I began to use the word "non-peaker" not to describe the person not capable to have peak experiences, but more so the person who fears them, represses them, denies them, turns away from them or "forgets" them.

Every person whose character structure (or belief system or way of life) forces him to be exclusively rational or 'materialistic" or mechanistic, has the tendency to become a non-peaker. That means, such a view on life turns the person in question to be disposed to regard peak and transcendental experiences as a sort of insanity, a complete loss of composure, a realization of being overwhelmed by irrational feelings, and so on. The man who is afraid to become insane and thus clings desperately to to balance, self-control, reality, and so on, seems to be shook up by peak experiences and tends to fend them off.

For the compulsive neurotic, who organizes his life around the denial and control of emotion, the fear to be overwhelmed by a feeling (what is explained as a loss of control) is enough to mobilise his entire means of destruction and defense against the peak experience.

I have one example of a very convinced Marxist who denied a real peak experience - which means she turned away from it - and in the end classified it as a sort of wonderful but unimportant something that happened, but could best be forgotten, because this experience was in contradiction with her materialistic-mechanical belief system.

I've met some non-peakers who were ultra-scientific, which means, adherers to a nineteenth century view of science as an unemotional or anti-emotional working, that is entirely controlled by logic and rationality, and who were of the opinion, that everything that wasn't logical or rational, had no respectable place in life.

(I suspect that extremely 'practical', which means exclusively means-oriented people, will also seem to be non-peakers, because such experiences do not make money, bake bread or cut wood. This is also the case for people led extremely by the outward, who barely know what goes on inside them. Maybe people who are narrowed to the concrete too.) Finally, I would like to add, that in some cases I have not found a single explanation for some non-peakers.

The relation between the prophet and the faithful, between the lonely mystic and the (completely extreme) religious organisatory man is often a relation between peaker and non-peaker. Lots of theology, lots of verbal religion throughout entire history and world can be considered as the more or less futile attempt to verbalize the original mystical experience of the original prophets in words that can communicate, and in formulas and symboli!cal rituals and ceremonies.

In short, organized religion can be seen as an attempt to convey peak experiences to non-peakers. In general we should now expect, that this must be a futile attempt, at least in so far as it concerns most of humanity. The peak experiences and their reality of experience are usually not conveyable to non-peakers, at least not with words alone and definitely not by non-peakers. What happens to a lot of people, especially by the ignorant, the undevelopped, the naive, is they simply concretize all symbols, all words, all images, all ceremonies, and turn these, rather than the original revelation, through a process of functional autonomy to the sacred and holy activities. Which means: it is simply the idolatry (or fetishism) that is the curse of every religion. In idoletry the essential original meaning is lost so much in concretization, that these become hostile against the original mystical experiences, against mystics and prophets in general, against those people that we from our current viewpoint should call the truly religious. Most religions have ended with a denial of, and the assuming of a hostile attitude towards the source of self, where they were originally based on.

If we study the internal history of most world religions closely, we shall see, that each one very soon shows the tendency to divide itself in a left wing and a rgith wing, which means, in the peakers, the mystics, the transcendentals or the personally religious people on the one hand, and on the other hand the ones that concretize religious symbols and metaphors, that rather venerate little pieces of wood than what the objects represent, the ones that take word formulas literally and thereby forget the original meaning of these words, and, maybe most important, the ones who see the organization, the church as primary and more important than the prophet and his original revelations. These people will, as many organisatory people that become leading figures in every complicated bureaucracy, be non-peakers than peakers.

We can say the same of professional philosophers, who have the endency to divide in right and left wings. Most official, orthodox, contemporary philosophers are the equivalent of the legalizers, who reject the problems or data of the transcendental as 'meaningless'. Which means, they are positivists, atomists, analytics who are more interested in means than goals. They rather sharpen tools than discover truths. These people are diametrically opposed to another group of contemporary philosophers, the existentialists and phenomenologists. These are the people who tend to fall back on the expeirence as the primary data that everything starts with.

In the past years it has become very clear that certain means, called 'psychedelic', especially LSD and Psylocybine, give us a certain possibility to control the giving of peak of experiences in this area. It seems that these means often bring about peak experiences under the right circumstances (set & setting), so we perhaps don't have to wait until they happen coincidentally. Perhaps we can, when we want, under religious or non-religious circumstances, bring about a stand-alone, personal peak experience and observe this. Perhaps then we would be able to study the experience of enlightenment or revelation at the moment of her birth. And what is even more important: perhaps we could share these means, and perhaps hypnosis could be used as well to bring about peak experiences in non-peakers, with a core-religious revelation, whereby the divide between these two separated halves would be bridged.

What I have said comes down to this: that the data of peak experiences allow us to talk about the essential, the intrinsic, the fundamental, the deepest, religious or transcendental experience as a phenomenon of completely particular and personal nature, that barely can be shared (except with other 'peakers'). As a result the entire envelopment of organized religion - buildings and specialized personnel, rites, dogmas, ceremonies and such - are secondary to the 'peaker', additional and of doubtful value in relation to the intrinsic and essential relgious or transcendental experience. Maybe all of this can even be damaging. From the perspective of the peak experiencing man everyone has their own particular religion, that he develops from their own particular revelations, in which his own particular myths, symbols, rites and ceremonies are revealed. These can be of the deepest meaning for him personally, and still yet completely idiosyncratic, which means, for somebody else of no meaning whatsoever. To say it even more simply: every 'peaker' discovers, develops and maintains their own religion.

Basically it is possible through a right understanding to transmute means-activities in goal-activities, to ontologise them: randomly place in the viewpoint of the eternal, to see the holy and symbolic in and through the individual semblance of the here-and-now. By which factors is this prevented? In general by the powers that already diminish us, pathologise or regresse us, for instance ignorance, pain, disease, fear, 'forgetting', dissociation, redirection to the 'concrete', neurotisation and so on. That means, having no core-religious peak-experiences can be a 'lower', lesser state, a state where we are not 'functioning completely', are not at our best, not completely human, not integral enough. If we are healthy and well and correspond adequately to the concept of 'human', experiences of transcendence should principally be a daily phenomonen.

Maybe that which initially appeared to me as a paradoxical, can now be seen as an evident, completely unsurprising fact. I've noticed something that never got through to me, namely that orthodox religion could very well mean a desacralisation of a big part of life. It can lead to a dichotomy of life in the transcendental and profane-secular, whereby he separates these in time and space, conceptually and empirically. This is in obvious contradiction with the facts of peak experiences. It is even in conflict with the traditional religious representations of mystical experience, not to mention the experiences of satori, nirvana and other eastern forms of mystical and peak experiences. These all agree that the sacred and the profane, the religious and the secular, are not divided. Apparently one of the dangers of the legalist and organisatorial views of religion is that they can lead to the suppression of natural peak, transcendental, mystical or other core-religious experiences, so it is less likely that these take place. Which means, there can be a negative correlation between the amount of religious organisation and the frequency of religious experiences. (Also see Jung in his autobiography "The original sin of religion was, so it seemed to me, that it tried to be ahead of experience... and confirmed my conviction that in religious matters, only experience counted.")

Conventional religions can even be used as defense and deterrent against the shocking experiences of the transcendental. Familiarity makes it unnecessary to be fully consciously thinking, feeling, living, deeply experiencing. Words can be casually repeated, without touching the interpersonal depths, regardless of how true or beautiful their meaning may be. This goes for any symbolical act whatsoever, for instance greeting the flag, or for ceremonies, rituals or myths. They can be extraordinarily important for their effect on the person and, for this person, on this world. But this is only true in so far he experiences them truly. Only then do they have meaning and effect. (translated from dutch, should have checked scribd earlier)

Read the entire book here.

General Quotes:
If you deliberately plan on being less than you are capable of being, then I warn you that you'll be unhappy for the rest of your life.

What shall we think of a well-adjusted slave?

Laugh at what you hold sacred, and still hold it sacred.

You will either step forward into growth, or you will step backward into safety

A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.

I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.

Victory depends on whether or not a duelist has the courage to fight until the bitter end.

Dispassionate objectivity is itself a passion, for the real and for the truth.

Classic economic theory, based as it is on an inadequate theory of human motivation, could be revolutionized by accepting the reality of higher human needs, including the impulse to self actualization and the love for the highest values.

But behavior in the human being is sometimes a defense, a way of concealing motives and thoughts, as language can be a way of hiding your thoughts and preventing communication.

If I were dropped out of a plane into the ocean and told the nearest land was a thousand miles away, I'd still swim. And I'd despise the one who gave up.

One's only rival is one's own potentialities. One's only failure is failing to live up to one's own possibilities. In this sense, every man can be a king, and must therefore be treated like a king.

The story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short.

We fear to know the fearsome and unsavory aspects of ourselves, but we fear even more to know the godlike in ourselves.

What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.

The way to recover the meaning of life and the worthwhileness of life is to recover the power of experience, to have impulse voices from within, and to be able to hear these impulse voices from within-and make the point: This can be done.

The good society is one in which virtue pays.

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