Maslow on the Spiritual High Plateau
As I'm starting to write the introduction to my second PhD paper on the phenomenological characteristics of the "spiritual high plateau", I'm reading whatever I can find that Abraham Maslow, who coined that phrase, said about it. I'd like to share with you something I found.
It is the most comprehensive statement he made about it. He said it at the Second Council Grove Conference in April 1970, just a couple of months before he died. He made it when he spoke, with the small group of colleagues that met at that conference, about his experience in the last period of his life. Here is what he said:
"As these poignant and emotional discharges [of peak experiences] died down in me, something else happened which has come into my consciousness, which is a very precious thing. A sort of precipitation of what might be called the sedimentation or the fallout from illuminations, insight, and other life experiences that were very important – tragic experiences included. The result has been a kind of unitive consciousness; which has certain advantages and certain disadvantages over the peak experiences. I can define this unitive consciousness very simply for me as the simultaneous perception of the sacred and the ordinary, or the miraculous and the ordinary consciousness, or the miraculous and the rather constant or easy-without-effort sort of thing.
I now perceive under the aspect of eternity and become mythic, poetic, and symbolic about ordinary things. This is the Zen experience, you know. There is nothing excepted – and nothing special, but one lives in a world of miracles all the time. There is a paradox because it is miraculous and yet it doesn’t produce an autonomic burst.
This type of consciousness has certain elements in common with peak experiences, awe, mystery, surprise, and esthetic shock. These elements are present, but are constant rather than climactic… The words I would use to describe this kind of experience would be "a high plateau." It is to live at a constantly high level in the sense of illumination or awakening or in Zen, in the easy or miraculous, in the nothing special. It is to take rather casually the poignancy and the preciousness and the beauty of things, but not to make a big deal out of it because it's happening every hour, you know, all the time."