Peak States of Consciousness: Acquiring an Exceptional Quality of Life (Article 1)
by Grant McFetridge from The Institute for the Study of Peak States
"This article was written for the June 2004 issue of Sentient Times: Alternatives for Personal and Community Transformation, a magazine in Oregon. It briefly describes peak states and the new techniques to acquire them that are now appearing."
- Grant McFetridge, 2006
What are peak states?
Have you ever noticed that some people just seem to be happier, healthier, more successful, unruffled no matter what's happening, exceptionally positive about life, able to weather life’s ups and downs more easily than you do? I think we all have, but why are they this way? In the current psychological paradigm, it’s believed these people had either better genes or a better environment - great childhoods, fewer traumas, better genetic backgrounds, better friends, better prenatal care, and so on.
However, it turns out that there is a very different and totally unexpected reason for this phenomenon. To explain, I'll ask you to see if you can recall a moment in your life where you felt very, very different and wonderful? Perhaps everything seemed to be exceptionally perfect, time slowed down as if you were a child again, or some other aspect of what was going on was so remarkable and unique you’ve never forgotten it? Those brief moments are what Dr. Abraham Maslow in the 1960s called 'peak experiences'. These unusual people you know are actually living in a relatively continuous peak experience, and, as you might imagine, it makes how they experience life very different from the way that most people do. Psychologists call these long lasting peak experiences 'peak states', to indicate that they have a longer time duration.
There are quite a number of very different peak states, each with very different characteristics. Examples of some of the most frequently found states are: a feeling of underlying happiness no matter what else one might feel; an underlying sense of peace with no emotional pain on any event in one's past; a experience of such effortlessness that it feels like one's body is only made of air, not flesh; and feelings of extreme aliveness in oneself and one's surroundings. Other, rarer peak states are described in literature on western, native, or eastern spiritual and shamanic practices. Each state is experienced exactly the same by anyone who has it - and in general the states can be accumulated, as if each were a beautiful marble to put into your pocket. Regardless of which peak state you might have, your quality of life is greatly improved by having it, irrespective of any other issues in your life.
Bruce, an electrical engineer, talks about his lifelong peak state:
"...It's hard to describe, but it is an unshakeable serenity that does not depend on anything external, or internal for that matter. It enables me to feel compassion for real human challenges, yet not to be stymied by them. Most of the time I'm able to feel a concern, do what I can to remedy as appropriate (respond wholeheartedly), and then move on to the current situation..."
How psychology views peak states
As strange as it might sound, most professionals doing therapy and psychological research have not realized that the phenomenon of peak states of consciousness even exists! Because the old beliefs about mental health are so ingrained, even the few who are studying exceptionally mentally healthy people in the new discipline called 'positive psychology haven't considered the idea.
The very strong dominant beliefs in our culture about why some people have an exceptional quality of life or mental health have blocked much of the really fundamental work in finding ways of improving people's lives. For example, although the last decade has seen the sudden availability of amazingly fast and effective healing techniques for emotional and physical issues (like the 'power therapies' EMDR, EFT, TAT, TIR etc.), these therapies just heal particular issues. Although healing these painful or debilitating issues is often critically important to us personally, when the issues are gone we're back to our normal lives, feeling pretty much the same as we always have. These issues are like having a cut - when it happens, it hurts, but when it heals our body just goes back to the way it always was. We don't suddenly get stronger or healthier than we were before we were injured.
I'll give an analogy to illustrate the difference between healing an issue and having peak states. From our perspective, living without peak states is like being in hell. A therapist can come along and pull pitchforks out of us (i.e., heal trauma), but this still leaves us suffering in the heat and brimstone. Since this condition is all we know, we consider it normal! Average consciousness is characterized by the lack of the wonderful feelings and abilities that peak states gives us. It's not the absence of pain that makes life feel like it's worth living, but rather the presence of the feelings and abilities that peak states give us.
Why is this information important to us?
Why should you and I care what psychologists are doing or not doing? For the simple reason that once one realizes that some people have peak states of consciousness (even from babyhood), the next logical question is "Can I get one?" Until the last few years, the answer would have been "Probably not". Getting peak states, not just peak experiences, has been considered a relatively rare occurrence even among people who dedicate their lives to spiritual practices and other disciplines. Thus, the assumption was that you would have to meditate or do other spiritual practices for years if not decades, and then, if you were particularly lucky or blessed you might succeed. Those of us with more conventional lives simply don't have the time or dedication for a goal that might not ever manifest.
However, this picture has started to radically change in just the last few years. Technique developers worldwide have been coming up with radically new approaches to give people peak states, approaches that literally have never existed in the history of the planet. This near-simultaneous worldwide appearance of a variety of effective new processes has completely changed what one can expect for oneself. These processes are characterized by their speed, lasting effect, and ease of use. Although the field is still in flux with extremely rapid change, the techniques are literally improving daily in an amazing display of cooperativeness and camaraderie among many of the key people doing this work. Using our previous analogy, it's as if we can now hire a moving company to move us from the hot, stinky nether regions to a penthouse in heaven, where we can much more comfortably deal with any remaining pitchforks in our lives.
Jenny, a workshop participant, describes the changes with her new peak state:
"...I can concentrate at work even with noise going on around me (cubicle hell). I am not irritated by noise like I used to be. I recently played the piano and was able to read the music and play and even ENJOY playing (it sounded beautiful). It was such a chore when I was taking lessons. I can stay on task at work, am calm and patient...."
What are these new techniques?
As I've said, there are a variety of new techniques available now, developed independently from all over the world. They range from advances in brain biofeedback training procedures and equipment (Biocybernaut Brainwave Training with Dr. James Hardt, Megabrain Power by Michael Hutchison), to a specific kind of brief daily focus on positive expectations (The 15-Minute Miracle with Jacquelyn Aldana, Excuse Me, Your Life Is Waiting by Lynn Grabhorn), to using the latest generation of effective trauma healing procedures in unique ways (PEAT with Zivorad Slavinski, The Inner Peace Process with Grant McFetridge). Generally, the newest generation of techniques are fast, effective on a large percentage of people, and inexpensive - often just the cost of a book. Older techniques generally don't work nearly as well, but the field is changing so fast it's a bit like the computer industry - many people are working hard to improve their techniques by incorporating the latest work by others, so at any given moment to find the best 'product' requires some shopping around.
What exactly do I mean by efficient and effective? The newest techniques can take between an hour and a week (or some processes take daily maintenance of about 15 minutes), and tend to make the state remain with few or no repetitions. And on average any given technique works on better than half of the people who try them. Clearly, this is a dramatic shift from the requirement of a lifetime commitment that we normally associate with fundamental inner change.
Because these approaches to having an exceptional quality of life are so new, it's not easy to find any sources that summarize the information on the available techniques. At the moment the only book that we know of that has a summary of most of the various approaches is our own "Peak States of Consciousness: Theory and Applications". Unfortunately we don't know of any website that gives an overview of this new field. However, a number of organizations that focus on 'quality of life' and 'positive psychology' are starting to investigate this area and we expect the situation to change in the next few years.
What do I have to do to experience one of these new techniques?
Some of these processes can be simply tried from a book. Others need trained facilitators to run you through the processes. In any case there is no guarantee of success, although some process developers give a money-back guarantee if it doesn't work. (They expect a certain number of failures, but feel it's not ethical to charge for something that doesn't succeed.) If you are interested in following up and trying one of the new techniques for acquiring a peak state of consciousness, for the next few years it's going to take some effort on your part to track down and use the books or travel to the people who can run you through one or more of these processes. Since these are 'first generation' techniques, most of the technique developers are busy improving and testing their processes on workshop volunteers. Again, the situation is a lot like that of the early days of the personal computers. If you enjoy the excitement of becoming involved with a whole new field of human endeavor in it's initial growth, by all means jump in. However, for most people, it will probably be 10 years or more before they can reasonably expect to find a local specialist with whom they could simply schedule an appointment.
Grant McFetridge is the director of research for the Institute for the Study of Peak States in Canada (www.PeakStates.com). He is the creator of the Whole-Hearted Healing regression technique for healing trauma, and is a pioneer in prenatal trauma work. His first book, Peak States of Consciousness: Theory and Applications, Volume 1: Breakthrough Techniques for Exceptional Quality of Life has just been published.
Copyright 2004 by Grant McFetridge