Defining Peak Experience
Written by Mo Khan on May 2014

Peak Experience is what makes it most rewarding and worthwhile to pursue the fulfillment of our potential. Peak experiences are those moments of realizing that we have done better than we have ever done before. Those that dare to realize their best have such experiences to the extent that they continue to exceed their best through continual progress.

The nature of peak experience has been historically associated with realizing a spiritual release to an ecstatic and euphoric state of mind. Up until recently, Peak Experiences were associated almost exclusively with mystical religious practices to overcome the ego and its trappings. What if however, this state of being is not necessarily limited to religious or spiritual practices alone?

Artists, intellectuals and seekers of all walks of life and traditions have written extensively about their own so called peak experience, as have dedicated and accomplished athletes when they have accomplished an extraordinary achievement. Competition it seems brings out the best in those who aspire to be great or accomplish great things. But is it the competition itself that allows a peak experience to happen or is it rather doing better than one’s own best as part of the process of improvement that makes the peak experience possible?

Whether as an athlete, spiritual adherent or intellect, it is in the process of training and practice that extraordinary accomplishments become possible in the first place. It starts with the individual and ends with the individual doing the work where strengths can be converted into a power. This is not to say there is no coach or teacher involved in the process. Any guide can do only that, guide one and encourage one to push further than some previous limit. The decision and the ability to overcome ones fears or self imposed limits is always that of the individual who takes the chance. Motivation, whether it comes from within or as inspiration or encouragement from someone else, is still only motivation alone. Ultimately, we need to do the work to surpass our limits.

In the process of training or practice, we always compete with ourselves first. As individuals competing against ourselves, we always find the toughest adversary to be our last best performance and the attitude from ourselves that we have already peaked. In the process of improvement, we go through stages of progress which really represent gains over our previous best. With consistent effort and adjustment, it is possible to make improvements that in total allow us to succeed over our given or chosen limitations. Making the gains along the way which are the accomplishment of goals, we experience the rewards of overcoming fears, apprehensions and ideas about our personal limitations. The most convincing critic being first of all, again, ourselves. When we recognize these gains, the sense of victory over the old self is a high we can relate to as a peak experience.

The Nature of the Ego

The ego is the extension of our survival instinct. We are lucky to have it, or we would likely not survive all the threats posed in the course of living. It’s sole purpose as encoded into the base our our brain and thus mind is to be aware of dangers. The psychological term ego has to do with the basic fight flight instincts that carry over into attitudes and behaviors, but the root or purpose of the ego is still exactly the same as the animal instinct to survive. Either way, the ego exists to keep us safe from harm and keep us alive as long as possible by avoiding risk. In fact, it could be argued that ambition itself is a survival instinct and exists to overcome competition or face dire consequences. When the challenge becomes real however, and a genuine threat presents itself in the way of risk of irreversible loss, injury or death, our ego moves swiftly from fight to flight. Ego is a double edged sword and should be recognized as such. This is why struggling to achieve through ambition alone leaves us always wanting more, never fully satisfied. Is there an alternative to finding fulfillment and success without an ambition based on ego?

Mind, Body and Spirit

The three dimensions of being: Mind, Body and Spirit are common between the intellectual realm of psychology and all of the major spiritual or religious teachings. A peak experience requires that we surpass the limits of all three of these capacities in order to become more and thus realize more of our personal potential. The ego exists within the mind and body and therefore cannot push us to achieve our full potential. This is because you cannot solve a problem from the same perspective that gave rise to the problem in the first place!

Let’s consider a simple goal and what a peak experience would mean according to the idea that we exist as mind, body and spirit as opposed to the notion that we are mind and body alone where the ego lives. As an example, you decide to participate in an endurance contest which will test your personal limits. When you begin to train, within the first 20 to 30 minutes almost all the available sugar in your body is exhausted and your breathing becomes strained. You summon your mental determination to continue and so you take control of your breathing and perhaps adjust your pace by mentally pushing towards some short term goal for distance or time. Mentally you have made the adjustment and take control of your body and then as you begin to lose control of your form, the motivation to continue becomes a challenge. Immediately, the panic response of the ego comes into play with fears and rationalizations of why you should stop. At this point, the only way to continue is through sheer will power. This is the spirit where neither the mind or the body are in control. If on every occasion you push yourself to such a limit, allowing of course time to rest and recover, it is possible to prepare for the ultimate contest where we push ourselves further than ever before. Along the way, as you push your limits, you gain the benefits of recognizing the improvements by being your best.

Through a discipline, you have developed not only your body and mind, but also your spirit and will power. A coach or trainer can help you make adjustments, but cannot compete on your behalf and grant you victory over yourself. Is this not in principle the same process that a spiritual person follows towards overcoming their ego?

By letting go of false limitations imposed by the ego to keep us safe from harm, we make it possible to exceed our best. Through determination to overcome ourselves, we can do better than just succeed as defined by anyone else, including our ego. Peak experiences are the rewards bestowed upon us by becoming free of the limits dictated by ego, pride and a world that fears empowering us before we are ready. We need to prepare ourselves by being committed to excellence which we demonstrate through our actions.

Using SELF-CARE for Peak Experience

SELF-CARE is not limited to problem solving. The individual components of this methodology also make it possible for the practitioner to plan for success. My suggestion to apply this framework is as follows:

Sense: Identify your natural strengths or weakness where you feel the improvement would benefit you most
Experience: Envision where an improvement in this area could benefit you in terms of your emotional well being and be clear in what your motivation would be to realize this improvement.
Life Force: How would your mood, vitality and enthusiasm for life in general be improved through realizing your objective?
Faith: Where do you lack the faith? Isolate in objective terms what's missing that causes stagnation.
Courage: You need to have the courage to face the challenges along with the failures and risks associated with taking a chance. You also need the courage to face the pains that come from pushing yourself to your limits. Depending on the risks involved, be clear through the guidance of professionals on what precautions are necessary for you to safely proceed.
Appreciation: Set short term, medium term and long term goals that represent peaks along the way and proceed as you meet each goal by conditioning yourself over time.
Respect: You need to respect your well being in terms of mind, body and spirit as well as the rules around the challenge in question. If winning is determined by the judgment of experts, you need to respect their criteria for evaluation as well as the guidance from professionals that coach you along the way.
Effort: Plan your training and train consistently, doing your best along the way. Do not attempt to push yourself to complete failure without the guidance of qualified trainers or professionals that look out for your safety.

It is entirely possible for anyone to exceed their best and enjoy peak experiences. A specific discipline and focus on training with sincere intentions to exceed ones limits and a philosophy of continual improvement are the essential set of requirements.
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