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Peak Experiences - What are they, and are they important?

 
hannahtoo
 
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hannahtoo
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21 March 2018 07:01
 

Skepticism is a good thing in the face of miraculous claims.  All the people mentioned on this thread are human.  They have their good and noble aspects, as well as their weaknesses and failings.

 
sojourner
 
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21 March 2018 22:56
 
brazen4 - 21 March 2018 01:38 AM

I understand your skepticism and have a good bit of my own. When ever big money starts to become a prominent part of the “spiritual” picture a detraction in the basic message seems inevitable. Whenever magic claims of any sort are part of the picture I have no interest at all. Tolle doesn’t make any magic claims but I don’t see his message as anything more than basic old time Zen teachings. He sort of puts his own stamp on it so I don’t hold that against him. I discovered him about 6 or 7 yrs ago and found his story of “peak experience” fascinating. I listened to a few of his lectures and that was it. I just listened to one of his recent offerings as we are talking about peak experience and he still sounds OK to my ear. Not compelling though. When I want some good old fashioned Zen I put on Alan Watts. Now there was a character, did his lecturing in the 50’s and 60’s, a little before my time but not much before. He was a Brit who came to the US through academia and just had a great grasp and knowledge of eastern religions. He could divulge info without getting all “spooky” and had a certain British flair. Apparently he was quite the party animal also and later on in life kinda over did it. Getting back to money influences, I’m a little worried about Harris. His live shows open with the audience sounding like they’re at a rock concert. I hope Sam isn’t falling prey to that seductive rockstar energy. I know the money must be good. The recent talk about “merch” gives me a sinking feeling and I hope he steers clear.


Regarding Harris - the whole celebrity thing doesn’t really worry me. Based on anecdotal observation, I feel like an excess of attention tends to be a good influence on introverted types (see people such as Bill Gates, who appears to have been softened and perhaps enlarged by it) who shun it in the first place; and a terrible influence on people who crave it even minimally. As I’m pretty sure Harris falls in the first camp, I’m not concerned.


On Tolle - I think someone on here mentioned him years ago so I downloaded one of his books, and it was a bit too new agey for me. If I recall correctly, he talks about things like ‘energy bodies’, which, again, is just a little too new age for me. But I agree that I think he essentially takes mindfulness teachings and packages them in his own way. (Although I’m not even sure how I feel about mindfulness as an isolated practice anymore. I always had a bit of “What’s the point of this again?” feeling about it, and recently read that the Dalai Lama said that, far from clearing his mind at all times, he does what sounds like just the opposite? [“Of course,” he remarked, “while I’m asleep, during dream time I do analysis. As far as I’m concerned a relaxing period of thoughtlessness is a waste of the potential of our brains.”], so I’m not clear on what the truly “Buddhist-y” perspective on this is, ha ha!)

 

hannahtoo - 21 March 2018 07:01 AM

Skepticism is a good thing in the face of miraculous claims.  All the people mentioned on this thread are human.  They have their good and noble aspects, as well as their weaknesses and failings.


Yeah - I’m not sure what to make of some of the claims I spoke about in earlier posts. A more charitable interpretation might be that those teachers thought their students needed something with a “Wow!” factor in order to become fully engaged in practice, which would ultimately be in their best interest. Without any real detail it’s hard to conclude much - but it’s a reminder that it’s a good idea to keep a skeptical (open, but skeptical) mind when evaluating things.

 
 
icehorse
 
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icehorse
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13 April 2018 16:54
 

I’ve meditated off and on for decades. These days I mostly do the “chop wood, carry water” sort of meditation. I also was fortunate to have many good experiences with psychedelics. In my experience, quality psychedelics, used with a good “set and setting”, can facilitate spiritual experiences, although - as we know - defining “spiritual” is no easy task.

I would say that the psychedelic experiences have been for me a sort of path finding tool. It’s far easier for me to have peak experiences in normal life since having the psychedelic experiences. They’re not as powerful, but I’d still call them “peak”. One example is that when I see a beautiful slice of nature, a sunset, or light in the trees, or the milky way, I’m far more easily gobsmacked than I used to be. Like “blown away” gobsmacked. Nowhere near like LSD or shrooms, but “peak” nonetheless.

 
 
brazen4
 
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13 April 2018 19:10
 

Dude, you are still carrying water?  That takes some commitment to basic living. I did a lot of that earlier in my adult life, also used kerosene lighting for a number of yrs. I relate a lot to your descriptions of the way you view “peak experience”. Music appreciation is also something psychoactive drug use enhanced a lot and even though I haven’t used any for 25 yrs or so I maintain that the benefit remains. Projects around my property never stop needing to get done and that is how I maintain a connection to basic living as most of it is basic (I live in the woods, quite rural). I am much better at approaching a project and completing it in a measured fashion than I have ever been and I attribute some of that to meditative mind set, but I am also just “older and wiser”. If there is anything I would call peak experience at this pt in my life it usually has more to do with realizing more about my internal workings, emotional triggers, trauma history, etc. and on occasion I will feel an overwhelming feeling of gratitude ( the kind you don’t have to pin on someone or something) that I’m still alive and still able to live the kind of life style I live.

 
sojourner
 
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14 April 2018 11:21
 
icehorse - 13 April 2018 04:54 PM

I’ve meditated off and on for decades. These days I mostly do the “chop wood, carry water” sort of meditation.


Yeah, I find the inevitable mild world-weariness that comes with age is something of a focus in my life right now. I like that saying (used in various situations,) “Anyone who is not a/n X at 20 has no heart; anyone who is not a/n Y at 40 has no head.” I definitely see the pros and cons of both. I think my earlier practice had more of a giddy, fresh, open quality to it - but a lot of carelessness as well. I think I am somewhat more methodical at this point, relatively better at putting personal dramas into a more mature perspective (relatively better, ha ha!), and am overall calmer - but can be blasé and “been there done that, I have more important things to worry about now, whatever” about practice as well, so now I have to work on that aspect.

I also was fortunate to have many good experiences with psychedelics. In my experience, quality psychedelics, used with a good “set and setting”, can facilitate spiritual experiences, although - as we know - defining “spiritual” is no easy task.

I would say that the psychedelic experiences have been for me a sort of path finding tool. It’s far easier for me to have peak experiences in normal life since having the psychedelic experiences. They’re not as powerful, but I’d still call them “peak”. One example is that when I see a beautiful slice of nature, a sunset, or light in the trees, or the milky way, I’m far more easily gobsmacked than I used to be. Like “blown away” gobsmacked. Nowhere near like LSD or shrooms, but “peak” nonetheless.


I can’t speak to what peak psychedelic experiences are like, but from a meditative perspective, yeah, I think I notice nature much more than I did before. Just driving down the road sometimes I’m blown away at how gorgeous the trees around here are at various times of year. On the downside I think that can apply to both positive and negative states. I feel like meditation is good at helping me to not sweat the small stuff, but I also feel a deeper sadness over problems that really are significant, whether at a personal, global, or even historical level. Sometimes I reflect on mankind’s history of atrocities and get really down about it - so I think in a way meditation puts people closer to all states.

 
 
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14 April 2018 12:48
 
brazen4 - 13 April 2018 07:10 PM

Dude, you are still carrying water?  That takes some commitment to basic living. I did a lot of that earlier in my adult life, also used kerosene lighting for a number of yrs. I relate a lot to your descriptions of the way you view “peak experience”. Music appreciation is also something psychoactive drug use enhanced a lot and even though I haven’t used any for 25 yrs or so I maintain that the benefit remains. Projects around my property never stop needing to get done and that is how I maintain a connection to basic living as most of it is basic (I live in the woods, quite rural). I am much better at approaching a project and completing it in a measured fashion than I have ever been and I attribute some of that to meditative mind set, but I am also just “older and wiser”. If there is anything I would call peak experience at this pt in my life it usually has more to do with realizing more about my internal workings, emotional triggers, trauma history, etc. and on occasion I will feel an overwhelming feeling of gratitude ( the kind you don’t have to pin on someone or something) that I’m still alive and still able to live the kind of life style I live.

Well okay, it’s more like “drag hoses, carry hay bales”  smile

And yes, I’ll add music appreciation (and art appreciation) to the list. I remember going to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam and standing in front of certain paintings thinking: “I’ll bet 50 million people have seen this painting, and that most of them have had a strong emotional reaction to it. That’s one guy, a few hours of work, and 50 million people impacted… wow!”

 

 
 
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14 April 2018 13:11
 

  Something that I have had a hard time explaining or defining is that feeling that when “high” I could get closer to the “essence” of things and also see “through” other peoples bullshit. There were people I knew that I had always found somewhat annoying but when “high” I couldn’t stand to be around. The other side of that is that I could often “see through” someones neurotic presentation and sense the emotional pain behind it and feel empathy that I didn’t know I was capable of. These are things mostly associated with pot use. I used to grow really kick-ass weed. It helped finance my life through most of the 80’s.

 
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14 April 2018 22:17
 
brazen4 - 14 April 2018 01:11 PM

  Something that I have had a hard time explaining or defining is that feeling that when “high” I could get closer to the “essence” of things and also see “through” other peoples bullshit. There were people I knew that I had always found somewhat annoying but when “high” I couldn’t stand to be around. The other side of that is that I could often “see through” someones neurotic presentation and sense the emotional pain behind it and feel empathy that I didn’t know I was capable of.


I think this speaks to the empathy / compassion discussion that seems to be a hot topic these days. Empathy can actually lead to avoidant behaviors - which makes sense, if you don’t want to ‘catch’ negative emotional states via empathy. What does that accomplish except creating two people who are now in a negative mental state? Compassion is associated with prosocial behavior, which also makes sense, as it seems to be composed of empathy in addition to a desire to help. A recognition of a negative mental state and positive action to alleviate it - if effective, now you have two happy people.


I think this dynamic is fairly straightforward when it comes to routine, day to day interactions where we have the ability to make an impact one way or the other. In those cases, cultivating compassion - that added ability to help - both for one’s own emotional states and for others makes total sense. Where I find it difficult is when confronted with scenarios where helping is not a realistic option. This is where I don’t fully understand Buddhist thought - on the one hand, one is encouraged to develop compassion; on the other, Buddhism is quite upfront about the idea that we are all in ‘samsara’ and suffering is entirely unavoidable until full enlightenment. Until a person has their Bodhi tree moment, negative mental states are inevitable. In the words of Akon, until enlightenment, we’ll be “posted up right here in rain sleet hail snow”.

[ Edited: 14 April 2018 22:22 by sojourner]
 
 
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15 April 2018 12:45
 

Just a quick note on empathy.I see empathy as being able to be in the presence of anothers negative emotional state and NOT catching it. Just being a witness and knowing that you can identify with the kind of emotional pain that you see in front of you. Catching anothers emotional state, in some cases, is part of what is called co-dependency. I do understand what you are talking about though.

 
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15 April 2018 19:42
 
brazen4 - 15 April 2018 12:45 PM

Just a quick note on empathy.I see empathy as being able to be in the presence of anothers negative emotional state and NOT catching it. Just being a witness and knowing that you can identify with the kind of emotional pain that you see in front of you. Catching anothers emotional state, in some cases, is part of what is called co-dependency. I do understand what you are talking about though.


Thanks for clarifying you personal usage, as I know terms like ‘love’, ‘empathy’, ‘compassion’, etc., vary a great deal from person to person. For clarity, I’m referring more to the way the term is used in research, academic papers and such. In that realm, empathy is used in different ways but seems to be largely converging around what would be called ‘simulation’, which is a part of how children come to understand others. ‘Simulation’ is the internally felt - well, simulation - of another’s states. (As opposed to ‘mentalizing’, which is considering another person’s states using more formal logic and language - in other words, actively ‘thinking about’ what is happening, verbally analyzing it. Simulating and mentalizing likely come together in development, when children develop the ability to understand others.)


Simulation in that sense is not co-dependence, it is a very necessary developmental skill. It is the reason we flinch when we see another person bang their knee (our own system replicates that person’s pain, in a much diluted shadow form, motivating us to help those in pain); or how children come to understand how another person is likely feeling in a given situation (their own system replicates the situation internally and runs a simulation of how they would feel in that situation - information that can then be applied to the other person.) And research has shown - so far as I know - that over empathizing is actually on the opposite end of the spectrum from co-dependency, as it tends to create avoidant behaviors. Imagine walking into a gymnasium and knowing that if anyone in that room hurts themselves, that pain will be telegraphed to you in some form. It’s no wonder that over-empathizing creates a walking on eggshells dynamic (while a under-empathizing would result in something like sociopathy, I would think.)


(An aside - I don’t know a great deal about co-dependency, but my general impression is that codependent people are attracted to the idea of caring for someone in a difficult situation, but ‘helping’ in the sense of not really improving that person’s situation, more like coddling them in the short term in a way that stunts long term growth. I’m not sure if that relates to empathy / compassion in the most direct sense - I think the empathic person would be most comfortable around those who for whatever reason are more immune to negative mental states, as, if you are sharing a state with someone, better to share it with someone who’s in a good mood most of the time. The compassionate person would be motivated to help but would want to genuinely help, not keep the other person small by offering ‘help’ that was clearly ineffective.)


As far as just witnessing another state and identifying with it - I dunno, this is where I have difficulties. The totality of human experience includes many states that I can’t identify with. I just can’t look at the victims of the worst kinds of abuses and go “Oh yeah, I totally get it, I feel you.” I feel more like “That experience would completely break me. I can’t imagine a universe where any sentient mind had to endure it.” I suppose that’s where parts of ‘practice’ such as building strength, resilience, and equanimity come in, but even so - the mental tortures that exist in humankind and human history are pretty extreme. An excerpt from The Book of Joy, with the Dalai Lama speaking:

“Absolutely, absolutely.” The Dalai Lama was agreeing, swaying back and forth, from side to side, looking down thoughtfully, fingertips touching. “This reminds me of my friend who told me about being sent to a Chinese gulag at the time I escaped from Tibet. The night I fled from the palace of Norbulingka, I went to a chapel to pay my respects, knowing that it was likely the last time I would ever see it again. My friend, who was already a senior monk at Namgyal Monastery, was there at the chapel. Lopon-la, as he is affectionately known by his fellow monks, did not know it was me, because my visit was top secret, and I could not tell him. Then as soon as I had left the palace, the Chinese bombardment started. They arrested many people and about one hundred and thirty were sent to a very remote area, like during Stalin’s rule, when people were sent to Siberia. After eighteen years of hard labor, Lopon-la was able to come to India, and he told me what had happened during his time in the work camp.


“They had no shoes, even during the very coldest of days. Sometimes it was so cold that when you spit, it would land as ice. They were always hungry. One day he was so hungry that he tried to eat the body of one of the other prisoners that had died, but the flesh of the dead person was frozen and too hard to bite. “Throughout the whole time, they tortured the prisoners. There is Soviet-style torture and Japanese-style torture and Chinese-style torture, and at this camp they combined them all into an immensely cruel kind of torture.


“When he left the camp, only twenty people had survived. He told me that during those eighteen years he faced some real dangers. I thought, of course, he was talking about dangers to his life.” “He told me he was in danger of losing . . . his compassion for his Chinese guards.”


I could hear a gasp in the room at this extraordinary statement, that the greatest danger for this man had been the risk of losing his compassion, losing his heart, losing his humanity.


I mean I’m sorry, call me weak if you want, but I won’t pretend for a second that I wouldn’t be a raving lunatic on about, I don’t know, day two of that? No, make that hour two… wait, I think probably minute two… I can’t say I have developed the ability to simply be a still, unmoved witness to such situations specifically because I know I wouldn’t be an unmoved witness in such situations. To those bodhisattva types who have obtained that - I mean, good on them, but I don’t know how anyone gets there.


A last note on empathy - in some cases, I do think it can be afflictive, when unbalanced and such. But I think it serves an extremely important role. When I think of the Dalai Lama, it makes me sad that he is no longer traveling due to age and fatigue, and his tradition of reincarnation (sorry, I know that will be too ‘woo’ for many here,) with the Panchen Lama has been broken. And yet I can see how Tibetan Buddhism will live on in the hearts, minds, lives, and actions of the many people who have absorbed something of it. It seems to me that empathy is closely linked to what they call ‘transmission’ in Buddhism and might call ‘learning and absorbing’ in the West. In cases like that, I think it has an important role to play.


Sorry for the super long post, ha ha, this is obviously a topic that really interests me on many levels!

 
 
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15 April 2018 19:59
 
brazen4 - 15 April 2018 12:45 PM

. . . I see empathy as being able to be in the presence of anothers negative emotional state and NOT catching it. . . .

A subtle definition, spot on. Dictionaries fail at this sort of thing!

 
 
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15 April 2018 20:46
 

Getting off topic here, but for those interested in empathy, Harris and Paul Bloom have an interesting previous podcast on Bloom’s views on empathy (he is literally “Against Empathy”, lol, which sounds like being “against rainbows and sunshine” until you read his arguments on the topic.) I think what Bloom is actually against is unbalanced, unchecked empathy, so the title is a bit polemic, but he has some interesting thoughts on the topic of empathy vs. compassion.

 
 
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15 April 2018 22:18
 

NL and others, great input. I was a sub abuse counselor for 15 yrs before I retired and in order to do that work and not take it home I had to refine my approach toward what being “helpful” meant to me. I found I was pretty good at it and thoroughly enjoyed my job. I found that, generally speaking, when I could listen attentively and Identify without allowing my own emotional self to engage, that I was able to, more creatively, be of some assistance to my client. Granted, this is a formal relationship and not “every day” and it only sort of applies to our conversation. I slowly came to realize that other peoples problems/issues are not, and cannot be mine, as much as I may be able to Identify with them. That, in fact, I always have my own problems/issues and that, especially in a counseling setting, it is important to maintain my own emotional balance and that that was part of the skill of counseling. So in a way I learned to be in the presence of others unbalance while maintaining my own which, as it turns out, is very useful at times in everyday life. Just to be clear, I do not claim to have a lock on this skill and can still find myself feeling tearful while witnessing anothers extreme distress. I liked the input re early childhood development and that aspect of the (purist?) forms of empathy. I believe that there is no reason that the kind of compassion described re the monk towards his tormentors is not possible….and….I know for sure that I don’t have it…..yet?

 
sojourner
 
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16 April 2018 08:12
 
brazen4 - 15 April 2018 10:18 PM

NL and others, great input. I was a sub abuse counselor for 15 yrs before I retired and in order to do that work and not take it home I had to refine my approach toward what being “helpful” meant to me. I found I was pretty good at it and thoroughly enjoyed my job. I found that, generally speaking, when I could listen attentively and Identify without allowing my own emotional self to engage, that I was able to, more creatively, be of some assistance to my client. Granted, this is a formal relationship and not “every day” and it only sort of applies to our conversation. I slowly came to realize that other peoples problems/issues are not, and cannot be mine, as much as I may be able to Identify with them. That, in fact, I always have my own problems/issues and that, especially in a counseling setting, it is important to maintain my own emotional balance and that that was part of the skill of counseling. So in a way I learned to be in the presence of others unbalance while maintaining my own which, as it turns out, is very useful at times in everyday life. Just to be clear, I do not claim to have a lock on this skill and can still find myself feeling tearful while witnessing anothers extreme distress. I liked the input re early childhood development and that aspect of the (purist?) forms of empathy.


Yeah, I think there is a lot of good work being done right now on ‘compassion fatigue’ and related issues. I think even for the healthiest person this is just an inevitable difficulty in the way we delineate duties in society. I assume that in our evolutionary past, hunter gatherers did not designate certain people in the tribe as those who would deal with the various forms of anguish of others all day every day (and those forms of anguish, while I’m sure substantial in a hunter gatherer environment where you could easily be eaten by a bear, were probably more limited in scope simply in that you didn’t have huge populations of people where the small percent from each group in a particular type of distress was handed off to a given professional, be it a therapist, oncologist, first responder, and so on.) Our compassionate responses have different kinds of demands placed on them in that kind of artificially engineered environment, I think, and of course if you were dealing with those with substance abuse problems all day long, I’d find it unusual if you didn’t have a hard time with that on some level. I don’t know that our primate minds are totally wired, at a subconscious level, to say “Oh, literally everyone I saw today was in terrible despair but that’s just my job” - historically, if everyone you saw around you was in terrible despair, it would be a signal that something was very very wrong, that there was a plague in the community or something.

I believe that there is no reason that the kind of compassion described re the monk towards his tormentors is not possible….and….I know for sure that I don’t have it…..yet?


It’s actually more compassion towards the monk that I find difficult - compassion here being a sort of positive, loving desire to help. I mean yes, if he was right in front of me and I could help him, I wouldn’t go “I’m sorry, I am too filled with existential angst by your story, so I’m just going to stand here and stare at you in horror.” Obviously, if I was able to give him food or shoes and whatnot, I would. But as a general story about mankind that I have floating around in my head, what I feel in regard to that story is much more horror than compassion - just despair at the unjustifiable problem of suffering in the world that can never be solved. That is where I don’t really understand the Buddhist idea that we should be compassionate while simultaneously realizing that this very compassion, in the most ultimate, universal sense, can never really be effective, as suffering (in the samsaric realm, at least,) always continues. I do have faith that there is a resolution to this seeming conundrum, however, which is why I continue to practice.

 
 
brazen4
 
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16 April 2018 13:22
 

one pt: I don’t think that a goal of Buddhism is to change the universe we live in from predatory to something kinder. It is more like an alternative, optional way to deal with it as a human in a less emotionally painful way. Also to reduce your own, personal contribution to the suffering of other life forms, especially humans. The only control any of us has over the big picture (and how big a picture do you want to envision?) Is control over our own behavior, and I mean control in its strictest definition, and lets face it, that’s a full time job. Any behavior/efforts you chose to engage in, personally, that benefits others as well as your self are, well, greatly appreciated, you know, stay your course. No one is keeping score but it rarely goes unnoticed.

 
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