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At the end of my cancer treatment in September 2015, I was given a clean bill of health. That day I came home to a world that looked sparkling and full of possibilities. The city outside my window seemed more alive, beautiful art works more delectable, the smell of flowers more vivid, moments spent with my husband more precious. I was seeing the world with fresh eyes. I later came to realise that my good news had induced what is known as a peak experience. The peak experience was first studied extensively in the nineteen sixties by the psychologist Abraham Maslow. A peak experience involves a feeling of joy and illumination in the moment. The immediate consequence of a peak experience is that one sees life as more valuable and meaningful. Maslow’s work on peak experiences was considered groundbreaking because he studied psychologically healthy people rather than those with psychological disorders.
In his book Super Consciousness, Colin Wilson describes how the author Graham Greene had a peak experience following a game of Russian Roulette. His feelings of elation at his own survival induced what Wilson explains as a moment of ‘mini cosmic consciousness’. Greene describes a feeling that a light had been turned on inside his head. Wilson suggests that such a light bulb moment simply opens one’s eyes to a richness that has been hidden in plain view. The difference involves a question of perception. The world appears more wonderful because one is intoxicated by the happy outcome to an extreme situation.
Later in the book Wilson relates how the poet Rupert Brooke was able to induce regular peak experiences in his daily life. Brooke could feel supremely exhilarated simply by drinking in the everyday sights of his local English village. A wall, a pavement or any other mundane sight held a uniqueness and perfection that to him seemed utterly delectable. Brooke describes this as a feeling of being ‘in love with the universe’.
For many people developing cosmic consciousness requires hard work. The practise of phenomenology can help. Phenomenology recognises the active and intentional nature of human perception. It encourages a conscious relationship with the world around us. Through phenomenology we enter into a feeling relationship with even the most ordinary objects in our environment. This is felt not just through the five senses but through the very core of our consciousness.
Next time you find yourself taking a familiar neighbourhood walk, you might like to stop and consider the uniqueness of everything around you. When you begin to see the richness in things you previously overlooked, the world will come alive in all its vivid colour.
Super Consciousness by Colin Wilson (Watkins, 2009)
New Pathways In Psychology by Colin Wilson (Taplinger, 1972)
Beyond The Robot – The Life And Work Of Colin Wilson by Gary Lachman (Tarcher Perigree, 2016)
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