awe <> “peak experience”

every now and then the sky is just awesome

every now and then the sky is just awesome

When Abraham Maslow talked about the ‘peak experience’ in his work “Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences” he mentions the word ‘awe’ nearly 20 times. But after reading this work many years ago, my mind interpreted the ‘peak experiences’ more exotic than they are.

Many when reading Maslow, think about an occurrence some time ago. That experience has been deformed by memory to grander proportions, and as such is not within reach today. Even more people think they never had a peak experience in their entire life.

Awe is always available. A smile can bring ‘awe’, a duck flying in the night, lightning, beautiful clouds, a poem, a picture, a colour you have not appreciated before, art, nature …

You have to make a little bit of time for awe. If you don’t make time for it, you will not see it. Not even when the sky is full of it.
But every moment you spend waiting during the day, you can look around and turn frustration into awe.

Somewhere in primary school, most of us are taught to lose our awe. Young children often open their mouth in speechless amazement. But when we are seven, we are taught to control ourselves and our emotions. We are taught not to give away what we think. Although awe is not really an emotion, it is one of those things we put in the closet. This in an effort not to show to others who we really are – also an effort to protect ourselves from ridicule and mockery.

Unfortunately, the closet becomes a shadow, and we forget to even open it to ourselves, losing that connection with the inner child, the real you, the real me.

After the calls of despair we start looking for the key. We can only find the key to the closet when slowing down, and when giving less power to the mental chatter. Then awe and inspiration come back to us. They become the every day peak experience that Maslow wrote about now nearly 50 years ago.


28 thoughts on “awe <> “peak experience”

  1. Living with wonderment as a guiding force brings much magic onto the path. All you have to do to be re-minded (for me this is re-wiring with the power of simplicity) is walk into a garden with a child not yet stuck on video games and experience the ooohs and aaaawes at what is life growing.

    Best teachers in my world have always been the ones with the most unlearning… or those who are not yet tainted with the false layers of surface truths.

    • could be – there are a lot of emotions it seems – but awe makes the mind still and neither happiness nor sadness does that job well.
      So if it is an emotion, it is a special one.

  2. Thanks for pointing this out: ‘You have to make a little bit of time for awe’ – something familiar here; a small delay before I see it, and if I’m not open to awe, it’ll just get shut away in the closet. I’m going to take a look at Maslow now. Nice post

  3. Thanks, Bert! I didn’t know anything about Maslow but his infamous hierarchy of needs (and even for this, I am not sure if I could tell the original from geeky cartoons)

  4. I use my little but big phrase “AWE-and-then-SOME” often. I was lucky when I was young – my mentor mum (my good mate’s mum) taught be to say WOW! and mean it. I was and still am in awe of her love. The world is filled with awesomeness and my life is filled with awe-inspiring moments. Thanks!

  5. Peak experience a state of awe some people might mistake this as a sexual experience unless they have some knowledge of Maslow

    I think apart from meditation there are some good train of thoughts around that can help toward a genuine awe experience, I guess this awe thing is personal to every individual.

    So what does this awe experience lead toward, how does it shape us in a spiritual or moral sense?

    • Peak experiences are usually not of sexual nature. But when the ordinary becomes extraordinary they can be. Awe is indeed a very personal thing. It can help people to connect to inner silence when they really need it, like in times of turmoil. I think that this is the most important aspect of awe. To reconnect to something worth living for, to reconnect to silence and be able to sleep, to close the door of a recent and hurtful past behind them. You cannot prolong the awe moment, but you can relive its plateau when watching a picture of the object of your awe, listen to awesome music, be moved with hairs standing during a service and relive that moment through a video on youtube. It will give you energy to continue, it will give you more than hope, it will give you a moment, just one moment of Light. And the power of these moments is cumulative.
      Moral sense? I found in several cases that some of my students became less assertive, less agressive, and in less than 1 month became ‘normal’ again, much more interactive in a positive way, perhaps through more self compassion they felt more compassion for others?
      Spiritual sense? In awe I feel Silence. In Silence i feel Inspired. Where does the Silence come from?

  6. Hard to believe it has been 50 years since Maslow wrote about peak experiences. Profound truths in your piece. Awe is natural and IS squelched out of us by the need to conform which you have written about, and schools, like you say, and the hardships of life, like depression, as you have said. Loved the post!

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