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Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences
Abraham H. Maslow
Appendix F. Rhapsodic, Isomorphic Communications
In trying to elicit reports of peak-experiences from reluctant subjects or from non-peakers, I evolved a different kind of interview procedure without being consciously aware that I had done so. The "rhapsodic communication," as I have called it, consists of a kind of emotional contagion in isomorphic parallel. It may have considerable implications for both the theory of science and the philosophy of education.
Direct verbal description of peak-experiences in a sober, cool, analytic, "scientific" way succeeds only with those who already know what you mean, i.e., people who have vivid peaks and who can, therefore, feel or intuit what you are trying to point to even when your words are quite inadequate in themselves.
As I went on interviewing, I "learned," without realizing that I was learning, to shift over more and more to figures of speech, metaphors, similes, etc., and, in general, to use more and more poetic speech. It turns out that these are often more apt to "click," to touch off an echoing experience, a parallel, isomorphic vibration than are sober, cool, carefully descriptive phrases.
We are taught here that the word "ineffable" means "not communicable by words that are analytic, abstract, linear, rational, exact, etc."-Poetic and metaphorical language, physiognomic and synesthetic language, primary process language of the kind found in dreams, reveries, free associations and fantasies, not to mention pre-words and non-words such as gestures, tone of voice, style of speaking, body tonus, facial expressionsall these are more efficacious in communicating certain aspects of the ineffable.
This procedure can wind up being a kind of continuing rhapsodic, emotional, eager throwing out of one example after another of peaks, described or rather reported, expressed, shared, "celebrated," sung vividly with participation and with obvious approval and even joy. This kind of procedure can more often kindle into flame the latent or weak peak experiences within the other person.
The problem here was not the usual one in teaching. It was not a labeling of something public that both could simultaneously see while the teacher pointed to it and named it. Rather it was trying to get the person to focus attention, to notice, to name an experience inside himself, which only he could feel, an experience, furthermore, which was not happening at the time. No pointing is possible here, no naming of something visible, no controlled and purposeful creation of the experience like turning on an electric current at will or probing at a painful spot.
In such an effort, one realizes vividly how isolated people's insides are from each other. It is as if two encapsulated privacies were trying to communicate with each other across the chasm between them. When the experience one is trying to communicate has no parallel in the other person, as in trying to describe color to the congenitally blind, then words fail almost (but not) entirely. If the other person turns out to be a literal non-peaker, then rhapsodic, isomorphic communication will not work.
In retrospect, I can see that I gradually began to assume that the non-speaker was a weak peaker rather than a person lacking the capacity altogether. I was, in effect, trying to fan his slumbering fire into open flame by my emotionally involved and approving accounts of other people's stronger experiences, as a tuning fork will set off a sympathetic piano wire across the room.
In effect, I proceeded "as if" I was trying to make a non-peaker into a peaker, or, better said, to make the self-styled non-peaker realize that he really was a peaker after all. I couldn't teach him how to have a peak-experience; but I could teach that he had already had it.
Whatever sensitizes the non-peaker to his own peaks will thereby make him fertile ground for the seeds which the great peakers will cast upon him. The great seers, prophets, or peakers may then be used as we now use artists, i.e., as people who are more sensitive, more reactive, who get a profounder, fuller, deeper peak-experience which then they can pass on to other people who are at least peakers enough to be able to be a good audience. Trying to teach the general population how to paint will certainly not make them into great painters, but it can very well make them into a better audience for great artists. Just as it is necessary to be a bit of an artist oneself before one can understand a great artist, so it is apparently necessary to become a small seer oneself before one can understand the great seers.
This is a kind of I-thou communication of intimates, of friends, of sweethearts, or of brothers rather than the more usual kind of subject-object, perceiver-percept, investigator-subject relationship in which separation, distance, detachment are thought to be the only way to bring greater objectivity.
Something of the sort has been discovered in other situations. For instance, in using psychedelic drugs to produce peak-experiences, general experience has been that if the atmosphere is coldly clinical or investigatory, and if the subject is watched and studied as if with a microscope, like a bug on a pin, then peaks are less apt to occur and unhappy experiences are more apt to occur. When the atmosphere becomes one of brotherly communion, however, with perhaps one of the "investigator-brothers" himself also taking the drug, then the experience is much more likely to be ecstatic and transcendent.
Something similar has been discovered by the Alcoholics Anonymous and by the Synanon groups for drug addicts. The person who has shared the experience can be brotherly and loving in a way that dispels the dominance hierarchy implied in the usual helping relationship. The reported reciprocal interdependence of performers and audiences could also serve as an example of this same kind of communication.
The existential and humanistic psychotherapists are also beginning to report that the "I-Thou encounter" can bring certain results which cannot be brought about by the classical Freudian mirror-type psychoanalyst (although I feel sure that the reverse is also true for certain other therapeutic results). Even the classical psychoanalysts would now be willing to admit, I think, that care, concern, and agapean love for the patient are implied, and must be implied, by the analyst in order that therapy may take place.
The ethologists have learned that if you want to study ducks and to learn all that is possible to know about ducks, then you had better love ducks. And so also, I believe, for stars, or numbers, or chemicals. This kind of love or interest or fascination is not contradictory of objectivity or truthfulness but is rather a precondition of certain kinds of objectivity, perspicuity, and receptivity. B-love encourages B-cognition, i.e., unselfish, understanding love for the Being or intrinsic nature of the other, makes it possible to perceive and to enjoy the other as an end in himself (not as a selfish means or as an instrument), and, therefore, makes more possible the perception of the nature of the other in its own right.
All (?), or very many, people, including even young children, can in principle be taught in some such experiential way that peak-experiences exist, what they are like, when they are apt to come, to whom they are apt to come, what will make them more likely, what their connection is with a good life, with a good man, with good psychological health, etc. To some extent, this can be done even with words, with lectures, with books. My experience has been that whenever I have lectured approvingly about peak-experiences, it was as if I had given permission to the peak-experiences of some people, at least, in my audience to come into consciousness. That is, even mere words sometimes seem to be able to remove the inhibitions, the blocks, and the fears, the rejections which had kept the peak-experiences hidden and suppressed.
All of this implies another kind of education, i.e., experiential education. But not only this, it also implies another kind of communication, the communication between alonenesses, between encapsulated, isolated egos. What we are implying is that in the kind of experiential teaching which is being discussed here, what is necessary to do first is to change the person and to change his awareness of himself. That is, what we must do is to make him become aware of the fact that peak-experiences go on inside himself. Until he has become aware of such experience and has this experience as a basis for comparison, he is a non-peaker; and it is useless to try to communicate to him the feel and the nature of peak-experience. But if we can change him, in the sense of making him aware of what is going on inside himself, then he becomes a different kind of communicatee. It is now possible to communicate with him. He now knows what you are talking about when you speak of peak-experiences; and it is possible to teach him by reference to his own weak peak-experiences how to improve them, how to enrich them, how to enlarge them, and also how to draw the proper conclusions from these experiences.
It can be pointed out that something of this kind goes on normally in uncovering, insight psychotherapy. Part of the process here is an experiential-educational one in which we help the patient become aware of what he has been experiencing without having been aware of it. If we can teach him that such and such a constellation of preverbal subjective happenings has the label "anxiety," then thereafter it is possible to communicate with him about anxiety and all the conditions that bring it about, how to increase it, how to decrease it, etc. Until that point is reached at which he has a conscious, objective, detached awareness of the relationship between a particular name or label or word and a particular set of subjective, ineffable experiences, no communication and no teaching are possible; so also for passivity or hostility or yearning for love or whatever. In all of these, we may use the paradigm that the process of education (and of therapy) is helping the person to become aware of internal, subjective, subverbal experiences, so that these experiences can be brought into the world of abstraction, of conversation, of communication, of naming, etc., with the consequence that it immediately becomes possible for a certain amount of control to be exerted over these hitherto unconscious and uncontrollable processes.
One trouble with this kind of communication, for me at least, has been that I felt rhapsodizing to be artificial when I tried to do it deliberately and consciously. I became fully aware of what I had been doing only after trying to describe it in a conversation with Dr. David Nowlis. But since then I have not been able to communicate in the same way.
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