Have you ever heard of peak experiences?
I just climbed the mountain Tungufjall in Öxarfjörður, Iceland. It’s not very high, at roughly 500 meters, but the view from the top is amazing.
Anybody who’s climbed a mountain knows that hiking is always an adventure. There are highs and lows, successes and defeats.
Reaching the top of a mountain is a literal peak experience. After hiking for hours, reaching the chilly winds and spectacular views are an incredible reward.
After a few minutes of gazing over the magnificent landscape, I started to feel cold. I started to feel hungry. I felt like heading back down into the warmth of home.
It’s funny that it took all that work to spend a few minutes on a cold, rocky precipice, only to head straight back down.
I think that’s what happens in the metaphorical sense of peak experiences as well. It’s all a matter of perspective.
We reach great heights after tons of work, whether it be playing a concert after months of practice, or publishing a book after writing every day for a year. Or maybe finishing a marathon after training in rain, wind and snow.
And it makes us feel amazing, but that feeling is usually very fleeting.
The thing is, we can only appreciate the peak experience if we spend time in the valley first. If we were constantly in a flux of good emotions, that would become baseline for us, and we would probably start grasping for something more.
In this world, everything waves. Like waves in the ocean, they build up and crash down, only to repeat endlessly. What goes up must come down, and then it goes up again.
So then what’s the point of seeking these experiences, only to come (sometimes crashing!) back down?
I would say the point is the expanded awareness of the way of the world. A new perspective. Just as seeing the earth from 500 meters above puts our lives into perspective, showing us how small we really are, seeing our lives from the lens of a peak experience also shows us something.
It may be difficult to figure out what that something is, and therein lies the real work.