American psychologist and philosopher Abraham H. Maslow coined the term "peak experiences" to describe nonreligious quasi-mystical and mystical experiences. Peak experiences are sudden feelings of intense happiness and well-being, and possibly the awareness of "ultimate truth" and the unity of all things. Accompanying these experiences is a heightened sense of control over the body and emotions, and a wider sense of awareness, as though one was standing upon a mountaintop. The experience fills the individual with wonder and awe. He feels at one with the world and is pleased with it; he or she has seen the ultimate truth or the essence of all things.
Maslow's work has been called groundbreaking because it concerned the spiritual yearnings of humankind and focused a scientific interest on mysticism. Such an endeavor had been absent since the work of psychologist and philosopher William James at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Maslow described peak experiences as self-validating, self-justifying moments with their own intrinsic value; never negative, unpleasant or evil; disoriented in time and space; and accompanied by a loss of fear, anxiety, doubts, and inhibitions.
The two types of peak experiences are relative and absolute. Relative characterize those peak experiences in which there remains an awareness of subject and object, and which are extensions of the individual's own experiences. They are not true mystical experiences, but rather inspirations, ecstasies, and raptures. It is thought that probably the majority of peak experiences fall into this category. Absolute peak experiences are characteristic of mystical experiences, and are comparable to experiences of great mystics in history. They are timeless, spaceless, and characterized by unity, in which the subject and object becomes one.
Maslow said that all individuals are capable of peak experiences. Those who do not have them somehow depress or...