When I introduced the term EXCEPTIONAL HUMAN EXPERIENCE (EHE) in 1990, it marked the beginning of an expanding and growing effort to discover what could be learned from experiences which are considered "anomalous" within the scientific paradigm.
Within this paradigm, the exceptional experiences are considered anomalous
since it is believed they deviate from the general rule or are out of keeping
with notions of fitness and order.
The category of anomalous phenomena is even extended to include a field such as parapsychology (which has spent most of its efforts in the last twenty years in developing and applying methods taken from mainstream science.) Parapsychology is still not acceptable to many scientists, many of whom rarely look into parapsychology's current methodology.
Even in the face of rejection of them, there are very many kinds and
varieties of exceptional human experiencing, and all of which deserve to
I introduced the term EXCEPTIONAL HUMAN EXPERIENCE because I wanted a general rubric under which all types of nonordinary, paranormal, mystical, supernatural, peak, and extraordinary experiences could be placed.
At one end, for example, the rubric needed to encompass alien encounters, hauntings, and extrasensory perception; at the other end it needed to encompass fleeting moments of acute nostalgia, the euphoria of creating something new, and the wonder of being in love.
Over one hundred and fifty specific types of EHEs have been identified. The list of them is available in a leaflet entitled "List of Potential EHEs" available free of charge from the EHE Network.
The reason I wanted a general term to cover all of these experiences
is that for the most part they have been considered as unique, discrete
experiences not related to each other.
Some, such as out-of-body experiences (OBEs) and near-death experiences (NDEs), do seem to be somehow related.
But rarely is a person who is interested in, say, mystical experience, also interested in poltergeists. Psychologists who study athletes who break a world record in a sport rarely read up on psychic experiences, such as extrasensory perception (ESP) and psychokinesis (PK). People who study the creative process or peak performance seldom take interest in ESP or intuition.
In other words, if an experience is considered anomalous, it holds little interest for those studying general rules of experience, behavior and performance.
Within the rubric of exceptional human experiences, I felt I could examine
a large range of experiences which differed widely - with the exception
that all of them could be considered "exceptional."
An early examination of the different kinds of experiences showed that they can be considered anomalous when taken separately. But when they are combined into the exceptional category, it could be seen that they occurred far more frequently than had been thought.
Phenomena which can be shown to occur with greater rather than lesser
frequency should also legitimately be of scientific interest, or at least
of increased interest.
But should exceptional human experiences be considered with a larger interest?
In order to find out, I set out to identify as many of these experiences
as I could and then to compare them to see what factors they had in common
and where they differed.
I did not expect to find that they were all the same. I did expect that they could be grouped into broader categories than had been customary and that on the whole they were more alike than unlike.
And I hoped to be able to draw some generalizations across all or most of them, generalizations that could not be glimpsed as long as these experiences were studied only individually or in small clusters.
One of the first characteristics that is common to many if not all of
these experiences is that they ARE anomalous.
They do not fit into the modern deterministic paradigm. Hence for the most part, science ignores them or overtly repudiates them.
The fact that these experiences are anomalous is indicated by the word EXCEPTIONAL: they are exceptions to "the rules" of Western civilization.
But an important characteristic is that they also stand out in the life of the individual.
And as I am learning, they are exceptional in another way.
They are among the most important experiences a person can have in a lifetime.
Instead of trying to repress them, hide them, feel ashamed of them, or frightened by them, we should be taught to heed them, encourage them, and follow them - as is the case with many first peoples, including the Indians of the Americas.
For many people exceptional experiences are like events in their lives
that are riveted to a specific time and place.
They arouse wonder, fear, joy, and may have provided a glimpse of a new view of reality.
But as they are not considered acceptable by friends and family and are not taught in school, they are dismissed and for the most part forgotten.
I am not interested in exceptional (anomalous, unusual, nonordinary)
experiences as such - except insofar as a distinction must be made between
real experiencing and what in fact are delusions or illusions of some kind,
especially the psychic and encounter types of anomalies.
People need to know about subliminal perception, rational inference, cryptomnesia, perceptual illusions, and other ordinary explanations of what appear to be exceptional experiences so that they don't fool themselves or are not duped by others.
One significant characteristic of purely exceptional experiences is that
they "stay put" in the past.
They CAN be viewed as past happenings or events, and that is how parapsychology has treated them. This is not the case with exceptional HUMAN experiences - and the difference between exceptional experiences and exceptional HUMAN experiences needs to be explained.
One aspect of EHEs that makes them exceptional is that they are unforgettable
- no matter what explanation is offered for them.
On the other hand, when a reasonable explanation is presented for an exceptional experience, the experience is usually dismissed and forgotten.
If it cannot be dismissed, then the experiencer needs to pay special attention to it. It then becomes personal, as if directed at the specific person involved, and it begins to affect the person.
Then it is no longer simply a past event. It has become a growing, dynamic experience that is somehow related to or relevant to the person and will not go away.
It requires that the experiencers deal with it, or somehow incorporate it into their reality threshold.
Regarding exceptional experience: For example, one might see a ghost
- and which can be considered an exceptional experience.
This can be explained away as illusion or a "trick" of the mind. The experience is thus rationally resolved, and is forgotten about having no lasting impact.
Regarding exceptional HUMAN experience: As but one example, many claim
their lives have been aided or saved by an angel, and the proof (to them)
of this is in the outcome of the event.
No matter what kind of "rational" explanation is offered, none of them explain the event or its outcome, and the memory of it will not go away. Rather, the experiencer knows that it somehow must be integrated into their reality threshold.
Often, a strong sense of yearning (one knows not for what) is associated
If at this point the experiencer seeks aid from a member of the helping professions, even from a member of the clergy, it is likely they will consider it symptomatic of neurotic or even psychotic behavior. And professionals, by whatever means at their disposal (whether talking therapy, electric shock, drugs, or whatever) will attempt to relieve the tension it causes and eradicate the disturbance.
However, with a better understanding of EHEs, it would be essential that
psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, and nurses realize that the
person is undergoing a spiritual or reality emergency and that this could
have life-potentiality. A new synergy of some kind is forming as the result
of the EHE.
Thus, knowledge of EHEs could be used to help the individual realize more of his or her human potential.
If this is the case, and if indeed it IS an exceptional HUMAN experience, then the person, in the words of Christina and Stanislav Grof, is undergoing a SPIRITUAL EMERGENCE, or conversion experience.
If treated properly by the experiencer and those attempting to help him or her, a process of transformation can be observed as taking place that should be assisted, not resisted.
An exceptional human experience then, is an anomalous experience that
institutes a process that potentiates more of the experiencer's higher human
When a person has an exceptional human experience, it is not so much a temporary happening or event. Rather, it is initiates a process that goes on for life.
It could be called an exceptional human process, because it makes it possible for a human to become more than they were.
And the more that they become tends to be of the same order and go through the same stages regardless of the type of exceptional human experience that initiated the process.
My studies of EHEs show that they appear to commence further EHEs of
the same or different types if the individuals involved cooperate with the
When they do, they often change their attitude toward themselves and their relationships with other people.
Their views concerning other life forms also undergo positive change.
And they may begin to sense a kinship with the entire human species, with life itself, and even with the mineral kingdom, the Earth, and beyond that, the universe.
Exceptional human experiences, then, are initially experienced as unique
The experiencer must find the meaning of the experience.
Some types of exceptional experience, such as mystical experiences, conversion experiences, and near-death experiences are extremely meaningful from the start.
In such cases, the need for change and a sense of meaning are built into
the experience and the person is challenged to change immediately - although
it may take some time to come to terms with the fact that they are no longer
the same person and must become accustomed to thinking, feeling, acting
And, in fact, become accustomed to BEING different than they were.
But in regard to any EHE (even if it is a UFO encounter, or a poltergeist,
or a moment of self-realization, or a creative insight) it demands some
People may take up new hobbies or develop a worthwhile cause, or switch professions.
Some might take up meditation or a martial art or some other spiritual exercise that will help them to more clearly understand and respond to the experience that has become a part of themselves.
The response to an EHE must grow out of the experiencer's unique self
Those who seek to help the experiencer can do so best by helping him or her to be guided by the experience itself (and those that follow after), often in the form of synchronicities, and often a sense of intuition which begins to develop.
The person then starts to relinquish dependency on what family, school,
and society as a whole decree as the "normal" response to a given
situation - and to turn instead to their own inner voices and leadings.
They often begin incorporating an awareness that something seemingly outside themselves is working to lead them out and into a new world of connectedness.
Exceptional human experiencers begin to feel more integrated and connected
They begin to meet other exceptional human experiencers and to share experiences and compare notes.
They begin to network informally with other EHEers and perhaps form a group.
They educate themselves concerning the history and pattern of the specific
types of EHEs they have had.
They begin to know that they are not alone - and that they are part of an invisible band of experiencers going back as far as human history records.
And they learn that some who have had these experiences have played an important role in the past and some are doing so today.
The experiencers begin to find their place in this tradition, learning from fellow EHEers past and present, and themselves starting to help those who are not as advanced.
For any EHEer there is the goal and the possibility that they, like Ingo
Swann, for example, may be at the growing edge of exceptional human experience
and be able to engender knowledge concerning new ways of seeing and being.
EHEers of all types also come to realize that to the extent they explore their inner worlds they become connected to the outer world and to other humans and to life.
Eventually, it seems that most if not all EHEs awaken the individual's
species consciousness, so they feel united with humanity, past, present,
This sense of unity, as already mentioned, can extend to other species as well, even as the Amerindians had special totem animals.
Once one has developed a special interest in other species (whether domesticated animals or frogs or snakes or spiders or koala bears) that person can't help but think differently about all species.
A reverence for life develops that enhances one's own sense of well being
- because one is connected to all life, and KNOWS it.
The realization of this connection gives rise to an awareness of the "fitness of the environment" on this planet Earth, which has fostered all the life forms.
And many EHEers become ecologically-minded and aware of the importance of helping the planet to survive, and certainly of developing ways of not destroying it any further than humans already have.
And, without wishing to sermonize, having sensed this unity with Earth itself, one cannot help but turn next to the other planets in our solar system, and beyond that to our own galaxy, and beyond that to the most distant stars.
ULTIMATELY, when honored and worked with, one AUTHENTIC event that sparks
a unique exceptional human experience can lead the experiencer to realize
his or her connection with the entirety of creation.
Beyond that there is the creator - and at that point the experiencer has a pretty good idea who that is.
This, then, is the import of exceptional human experiences for the species - and beyond.
But we must begin where we are now.
First, each person should reexamine their own past experiences to sift out those that may be exceptional.
It is especially important to try to recall childhood experiences or experiences as young adults.
These often set the direction for a life - and if yet unheeded, when incorporated at any age they can still revitalize that life.
Second, one must consciously relate their exceptional experiences to
their present life and concerns - and to the concerns of their immediate
future and even longer term.
By doing this integrating work, an exceptional experience becomes and exceptional HUMAN experience.
I have developed a technique to aid this process which I call the EHE
A leaflet on it is available free of charge from the EHE Network. It is also posted on the EHE Network's Web site.
I am very interested in receiving accounts of exceptional human experiences
- and even more, EHE autobiographies.
I study them, learn from them, and may refer to them in my own work (using real names only with permission.)
I always include accounts of experiences received in our database of experiences (using a code name), and may even ask if I may publish some of them.
If you can contribute directly into the database, entry into it will bring up a format you can fill in to describe the sort of information we would like to know about your experience. If you have more than one experience to contribute, call up a new form for each of them.
If you would like to join others who have had EHEs and/or who are interested
in sharing and studying them, please do consider becoming a member of the
EHE Network. Contact us for information regarding how to do so. (End)