Christmas in the Cemetery: A Peak Experience


Merry Christmas, 2020. I didn’t venture further than twenty feet from my bed this year and it was fantastic. But now I want to finally write about what happened last year on Christmas day, 2019.

Driving to my in-laws house in another state, we pass by this cemetery on a hill. I had always admired it from afar though I really, really wanted to visit. We never stopped because when I say it was on hill, it was on a hill. At the gate you pretty much have to look straight up, and you can’t see the top. The cemetery is also now a preservation of native prairie grasses that have grown over the height of my head.

Well, it was Christmas Day 2019 and we were driving home. It was a gorgeous day, over 50 degrees and sunny. We got an early start home and I told my husband we should really try to visit the cemetery on the hill. We probably wouldn’t have a good opportunity any other time. It wasn’t too cold but being in the winter we likely wouldn’t have to worry about creepy crawly things in the grass like during other seasons. And we still had plenty of light. So we went.

This is the part where I’m supposed to show you I’m a Very Good Writer and start poetically purple-prosing all over the place. But you’ll have to look at other blog posts for that.

Though I can’t articulate it, please believe me, dear reader, I had a transcendent spiritual experience in that cemetery on the hill.

At first it just started out being really amazingly fun and groovy because the place is amazing. Clawing our way up the hill through the grass we found stones from the late 1800’s to the late 19-teens. Some are in English and others in German. And many of them are in great shape for their age, perhaps due to being protected by the prairie grass. (Though in Findagrave listings, the grass is shorter.) Most of the broken stones have been repaired.

Maybe it was the overwhelming sensual experience of being surrounded by prairie grass and antique monuments paired with the workout, but as I climbed higher and the rows of headstones just kept appearing, I felt like I was literally ascending into Heaven.

I know it’s woo-woo tin hat talk, but about halfway up, I just… lost myself. My whole body was thrumming. I felt like I had transcended my body while simultaneously feeling the most at home in my body than I ever had. I felt euphoric. Life and death and the Universe just made sense. I had a moment.

I think that moment was something that is a part of human history and human experience: a Peak Experience.

I just finished reading Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization by Scott Barry Kaufman, PhD. In it there is a chapter about Peak Experiences and the work of Abraham Maslow that explores the occurrence of such experiences within the process of self-actualization. A passage:

What was cognition like in the throes of the peak experience, these “transient states of absolute Being”? Maslow outlined seventeen characteristics, including:

  • Complete absorption
  • Richer perception
  • Disorientation in physical time and space
  • Intrinsic reward of the experience
  • Ego transcendence
  • Dichotomy transcendence
  • Momentary loss of fears, anxieties, and inhibitions
  • Greater acceptance and forgiveness of oneself and others
  • Heightened aestheticism, wonder, awe, and surrender
  • Fusion of the person and the world

Another quote in the book from Maslow ends, “…peak-experience could be likened to a visit to a personally defined Heaven from which the person then returns to earth.

(Seriously, the chapter is basically me on top of the hill in the cemetery. And the entire book is so very good, please add it to your to-read list! But back to the post…)

I don’t need to explain or justify or boast, but I know I had a Peak Experience one year ago today. And I’ve been trying to process it ever since. It almost seems too big for me to hold onto in my mind. When I let everything go, I can touch parts of the experience. Sometimes I’ll pop into that feeling again, but it is brief.

It’s interesting because 2020 has been the most transformative year of my life (I almost typed one of the most transformative years of my life, but no. The most.) I went through and started recovery on a really gnarly medical ordeal stemming from my nerve damage/chronic condition. I confronted aspects of my ego and with the help of some resources I’d not had access to previously I was able to do meaningful and effective work on healing a personal trauma.

On top of that I retired my pen name and turned my efforts to now writing about death positivity and exploring the creative side of death. Cemeteries have become an important part of my life again and I feel excited to create and write again.

This cemetery-on-a-hill experience happened before any of that, but I wonder if such a transformation would have been possible without first having this Peak Experience. There is some evidence that points to this being the case in the experiences of others.

I don’t know. I just know that in my creative and personal strivings, I feel in my bones that I’m on the right track if a whisper of that experience shows up. Maybe it’s spiritual, maybe it’s psychological, or maybe it’s tin-hat. Regardless, it is the meaning behind my work going forward here at Needle & Bow.

Thanks for listening. Here are some photos from that day. ‘Til next time; be sharp, be delicate.



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