Joseph Campbell called these moments "peak experiences." They can come from anywhere, and usually we don't see them coming. They are similar to being "in the zone" for an athlete, but more accurately it's the feeling that comes after a great personal performance in the afterglow of the zone and the glory of competition. Most sports interviews are cliched and unimportant, but following one of these performances by an athlete, you can see the feeling in their eyes somehow and here it in their voices. Usually, their answers are matter of fact and imperceptibly different from their usual ones, but there's a calm and an energy. For most athletes it is a special feeling that only comes around a few times a year. All the preparation and practice you do is in search of that feeling and when you have it, you fight to keep it, and if you're smart you leave some breadcrumbs along the way so that you can find a way to access it again when it's gone. Just as it can be hard to see coming, you never know when it will leave you. It could happen slowly, or it could happen in one seemingly insignificant moment and then you have to find your way back.
When I was playing hockey I was always searching for some ideal that rationally I knew could never exist. The perfect period, followed by the perfect game followed by the perfect season. It wasn't a concrete goal, but it was always a struggle I engaged in to try to reach it. With so much out your control in sports and in life the goal of extreme focus or peak experiences seems as good as any other goal. The idea of that focus and connection to time and humanity was the whole point of the mask in the picture at the top of this page. At a certain point in my hockey career, I was no longer concerned with my physical game. I knew if I could tap into that peak experience, my body would take care of itself. Jack White, when asked if he has fun on stage said something along the lines of, "I don't really know how to respond to that question. Every show I'm involved in a struggle. I don't really know what I'm aiming for, but I'm trying to engage in that struggle and come out on top."
I use athletics as my example, because it's where I have the most experience with it, but the feeling I'm talking about can manifest in many ways. It can be the moment you fall in love or perhaps from completing a big project at work, if you truly love your work. Usually it comes from sustained effort over a long period of time. Although I would never want to do one on my own, I always love to watch the end of a marathon, where people achieve goals that they have usually worked towards for a long time. Watching athletes hit personal bests and break records at the olympics always brings me to the edge of tears when I think of the four year struggle those athletes go through for one event, sometimes lasting only 10 seconds. It is probably the most concrete example of this phenomenon. Anybody who has won a significant sporting championship will tell you that the journey to get there amplifies the experience of making it to the top. When we won the Calder Cup, the feeling lasted close to a week and even through the revelry and literal drunken stupor of our celebrations, it persisted.
There are shortcuts to this phenomenon as well. Some use drugs to try to get there, but there are obviously many pitfalls along that route. As I said before, music can be one of these shortcuts. The most amazing one to me is in art. When a piece of art hits you, it can instantly transcend you to that place and it can take you back to all of the other peak experiences you have had in your lifetime. It's like stepping into a wormhole. Sometimes, when it's truly great you can almost see the artist's experiences as well, reflected in your own. It's not usually a conscious thing, but if you concentrate on it, it's there. To me, that must be the pinnacle experience. To have your work, something you created out of nothing, bring people to their own peak experiences seems almost like alchemy. I think it is, in some way, the hope of every great artist to inspire others to reach those peak experiences, but also have them spin off their own peak experiences and create something that furthers the chain of those peak experiences. One of my favourite bands, Tool, ended alot of concerts by asking the audience to take the experience and the feeling that they had, good, bad or indifferent and create something with it.
Today we went to Lingyin temple in Hangzhou and I had one of these peak experiences. Inside the temple there is an enormous, 50 foot high Buddha sculpture which is beautiful and amazing in it's own rite, but on the other side, there is a wall carved with a scene from one of the Sutras, that was so beautiful and awe inspiring, that it literally took my breath away. If I were not so manly (kidding, I'm just calloused and cold), I would have cried from the beauty. Someone asked me after seeing it if I believed in God. My answer is not important, but I know for sure that the artist or artists that made that piece did, and I know that they definitely have inspired others to do so as well.
Please tell me about your peak experiences in the comments, whether they are significant or not. They may help someone else. I have pictures of the temple, but as it is a place of worship, I was unable to take any photos of the pieces I mentioned. They are seared into my mind though, along with the feeling they gave me that I am trying to hold onto.