A newsletter from Jacquelyn Strickland | Jan 2005 Vol. 2 Issue 1
Images of Peak Experiences:
The 4th Annual West Coast Gathering
of Highly Sensitive People
September 30 - October 3, 2004
St. Anthony's Retreat Center,
Three Rivers, California
Many images come to mind from the 4th Annual Gathering of HSPs on the West Coast. First, was the spiritual feeling and beauty of St. Anthony's Retreat Center. It was an oasis, in the midst of the parched landscape of late summer, and the ambience invited a grounded peacefulness which immediately enfolded me.
A second image, formed during our group field trip excursion, was being in the presence of the giant sequoias in Sequoia National Park. One could feel the ancient history and wisdom provided by these living trees - some as old as 1,200 years!
And, like so many others attending this HSP Gathering, I was awed by what slowly evolved over the course of our four days together. Simply put, the essence of this Gathering was profound. It was co-creation at its finest; its highest. But co-creation of what?! I have processed and pondered this question almost daily since October, 2004. My processing provided me with fond memories of other previous spiritual experiences I've had - usually in the wilderness of the Colorado mountains. On an intuitive level, the concept of peak experience kept coming to me, and so I decided to research the topic.
The term peak experience was first coined by Abraham Maslow in an original paper in 1959. He described peak experiences as "rare, mystical, exciting, deeply moving, and exhilarating ..." Further, he writes: "peak experiences are sudden feelings of intense happiness and well-being, possibly the awareness of an "ultimate truth" and the unity of all things ... the experience fills the individual with wonder and awe....he or she (gender added) feels at one with the world, and is pleased with it ...."
In one research study, many subjects reported experiences of: love, creativity, insight and an enhanced aesthetic appreciation of their surroundings. They seemed to "feel complete in a loving, unsoldering, compassionate, and perhaps amused acceptance of the world and of themselves...the peak experience chases away fear, and there is a healthy child-like behavior in the person." (Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2nd Edition, Volume 3)
According to Maslow in Toward a Psychology of Being, people in peak experiences are closest to their true identities, their real selves. They appear to be more integrated; less split; they appear to be more synergistic with less internal friction. They can often become "at one" with their artistic experience of the music, the painting, or the poetry they are creating.
Finally, Maslow later also recognized the existence of a lesser, yet still positive, experience, making its own contribution to the self-actualized personality. He described seven categories of this less, yet still positive experience as containing: divine experiences, conquest of a skill, excitement, human relationships, beauty, earned success and completion.
Maybe my research explains why so many of us found the word profound to be best when describing this unique Gathering. Were we all having "peak experiences?" I can only speak from my own experience and the observations I was privileged to make.
For example, did you happen to see Carol McGuire one evening at sunset? There she was with her camera in tow, practically skipping with joy, as she yelled much like a child: "I'm going off to explore this area now, see you later." The smile and innocent joy on her face touched me immensely. I felt like a proud mother seeing her off-spring engrossed in a precious moment of love, creativity, joy and unfettered concern. Thank you, Carol!
And what about Sunday afternoon when we were caravanning into Sequoia National Park? Did you happen to see Molly Scherrer hanging out the window of the car as we drove through the entrance to the park? She was in two worlds at once: time and place seeming to be disoriented. She had not been to Sequoia National Park since she was a child....and positive memories, feelings of love, acceptance, and joy were flooding her being. After what seemed like a very long time, she returned to the car where the song "Once Again" (from the Eagle Flies CD) by Joanne Shenandoah was playing on the CD. We both looked at one another, and tears began streaming down our faces, as we sang along...."Once again, I feel you near me; once again, time has healed my wounds." Thank you, Molly!
Sharing our creative talents of art, music, poetry, story, photography, song, sculpture, monolog, stained glass and science fiction on Friday and Saturday evenings also seemed to produce moments of unexplained joy and acceptance. Again, my research into peak experiences explains this so well. While HSPs shared their various creative talents, I could see "the appearance of a calm sureness, a rightness, as if they knew exactly what they were doing and were doing it whole-heartedly, without doubts, equivocations, hesitations, or partial withdrawal. This is akin to a feeling of grace, smooth and effortless, as when everything 'clicks' or is 'in the groove.' " (Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2nd Edition, Volume 3)
A feeling of total grace is what enveloped me as I read the words to Laurie Brewer's fable about the pain of insomnia. Her words flowed out of me, whole-heartedly, without effort, creating a compassionate enfoldment in the room. I remember proudly seeing Laurie's beaming face as she heard her work being performed. Thank you, Laurie!
And was there a dry eye in the room after Steve Marsland performed his original piano composition - the one he wrote at age 16, when he fell in love for the first time? Steve recently shared this comment with me: "When I played the music I felt everyone's energy flowing through me and felt a power stronger than any time I had ever played this music for any audience - it was so strong that I had to stop at the end of the piece and not play any more since I felt I would burst with this positive energy flow." Before his standing ovation, you could have heard a pin drop as we were all totally engrossed in his music. Or as Abraham Maslow might have queried : "Did we become the music, if only for a moment?" Yes, I think so. Thank you, Steve!
I'm sure you will remember Nancy Brewer, a quiet observer who came to support her daughter Laurie. I can still remember her bright blue eyes, her hat and her soft, wavering voice. Imagine our surprise on Saturday night, when she spontaneously arose, went to the front of the room, and asked to sing for us. She sang two of the sweetest lullabies in her native German language. Her voice was quivering and soft, and her eyes sang out in love. What a moment. Thank you, Nancy!
It was another moment of total recognition when we realized we were in the presence of a child prodigy, all grown up. Nick Rodin , aka, Clark Kent :), shared his amazing drawings of all the planets in the solar system, completed when he was only in the first grade! They had been professionally framed and showed a simple, yet exquisite portrayal of the all the planets from a child's eyes. Nick remembered reading Dick and Jane during his school days, while in his private world of being a highly sensitive (and gifted) child, he was reading about the planets and expressing his understanding and awe of them through his drawings. Thank you, Nick!
And, thank you Kazumi Matsuda from Tokyo, Japan! It was delightful to learn about the Japanese art of origami. Through the simplicity of folded paper, you invited us into your culture, and it was wonderful see, hear and share in your joy and pride. The colorful forms you made were fun, and it was nice to learn the meanings behind them. Thank you.
Then there was Michele Rhoten, a Life Coach, and one of the presenters who spoke on Developing Intuition. Each time I saw her, there were tears welling up in her eyes for which she made no attempt to hide, nor apologize for. She assured me they were tears of joy. Upon arriving home I received this note from her: "...my entire life has changed as a result of this gathering. When I said I was leaving exponentially more myself, I truly meant it. It made me realize that I had surrounded myself with people who were more prone to see my weaknesses than my strengths and I had to somehow prove to them that I was 'okay.' The support at this gathering opened up a new paradigm for me ... one where I know it is our birthright to be viewed and accepted as 'creative, resourceful and whole...' and where we are recognized for our unique contribution to the world. Once again, thanks for being the catalyst.!!!" And thank you, Michele! Your tears were beautiful and touched all of us I am certain.
Of course, we can't forget the whole-hearted, unequivocal performance by Leisha Dillard from New York City. It is easy to see why it is Leisha's dream to have her own one-act play on Broadway! Her five-minute monologue spoken from the heart felt experience of a highly sensitive child was indeed deeply moving. Thank you, Leisha!
Peter Messerschmidt made an interesting observation during our closing circle remarks. He said: "As I go to these gatherings, I go with the resolve to learn more about the HSP trait, and thus about myself. But I always come back to the simple fact that while I can learn any amount of 'academic' facts, it is the people who stay in my heart and soul once I get back to the real world. The conversation then turned that paradigm on its head as we sat together and someone said 'This is the real world.'" Thank you, Peter.
So, what's next? Thank you to Chuck Hansen for eloquently asking this question. I don't know what's next, Chuck, but I do appreciate your sharing the words of Dr. Aron's that you carry around in your head: "You'll find the healing process unfolds in a precise if organic way, bringing up what is needed as if it were guided by some higher, kind intelligence." (from The HSP in Love, p. 100) And thank you for your impromptu presentation on the work of Dr. David Hawkins, author of Power vs. Force who states: "....the process, and therefore the experience of life itself, is organic -- that is to say nonlinear ...this is the source of man's inescapable intellectual frustration."
I like to think our final closing circle outside, overlooking the valley, was evidence of a non-linear, organic healing process that had come full circle. I know I took a risk when I chose to play "Prayer from the Creator" from the Sisters CD. I shared this prayer only because it felt right, it felt complete. And I agree with Eniko Erdo that: "it seemed to transport us into a transcended state." Yes, the closing was emotional, although that was not my intention - it just happened - another "peak experience?" Maybe.
My research into peak experiences revealed: "After peak experiences, people often feel lucky, fortunate, graced. Peaks are not planned or brought about by design: they just happen." (Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2nd Edition, Volume 3)
Yes, I think we all felt lucky, graced and fortunate to have attended this gathering. As Chuck Hansen, said: "I went to learn about being an HSP, and I experienced being an HSP." Well said, Chuck.
Thank you, one and all.
With love, Jacquelyn
Jacquelyn - on a San Francisco rooftop -
reveling in being a HSP
Spiritual Beings in Human Form
October 2004, California
photo by Laura Ciapponi
Aron, Elaine, The Highly Sensitive Person in Love
Maslow, Abraham: Toward A Psychology of Being
Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2nd Edition, Volume 3.
Song, Once Again, from the Eagle Flies CD, by Joanne Shenandoah
Prose, Prayer From the Creator, from the Sisters CD. Used with permission by Silver Wave Records www.silverwave.com