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How Personal Transformation Occurs Following a Single Peak Experience in Nature: A Phenomenological Account



This study focuses on a particular form of positive transformation taking place in the wilderness, defined here as peak transformative experience. A large number of studies have been conducted on the negative transformative effect of a single traumatic event, while very little research has focused on positive transformational events. We addressed this lacuna by studying a unique case of quick positive transformation, taking place in nature. This study goes beyond the common description and outcome of the peak experience by focusing specifically on the process of personal transformation. Applying a phenomenological approach, 15 participants aged 28 to 70 years, who identified as having had such an experience, were interviewed. Analysis of these interviews revealed the “essence” of the peak experience in nature which led to the rapid transformation. This essence involved the recognition of formerly unknown aspects of self, projected onto nature and experienced in an embodied way, evoking an insight into a meaningful personal issue. Choosing to own these newly discovered aspects and integrate them resulted in rapid personal transformation. The findings are discussed, underscoring the centrality of nature in this process, the importance of free choice, and the potential for harnessing positive transformative peak experiences in nature for human development.
Journal of Humanistic Psychology
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DOI: 10.1177/0022167817714692
How Personal
Transformation Occurs
Following a Single Peak
Experience in Nature:
A Phenomenological
Lia Naor1 and Ofra Mayseless1
This study focuses on a particular form of positive transformation taking
place in the wilderness, defined here as peak transformative experience. A
large number of studies have been conducted on the negative transformative
effect of a single traumatic event, while very little research has focused on
positive transformational events. We addressed this lacuna by studying a
unique case of quick positive transformation, taking place in nature. This study
goes beyond the common description and outcome of the peak experience
by focusing specifically on the process of personal transformation. Applying
a phenomenological approach, 15 participants aged 28 to 70 years, who
identified as having had such an experience, were interviewed. Analysis of
these interviews revealed the “essence” of the peak experience in nature
which led to the rapid transformation. This essence involved the recognition
of formerly unknown aspects of self, projected onto nature and experienced
in an embodied way, evoking an insight into a meaningful personal issue.
Choosing to own these newly discovered aspects and integrate them resulted
in rapid personal transformation. The findings are discussed, underscoring
the centrality of nature in this process, the importance of free choice, and
1University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
Corresponding Author:
Lia Naor, University of Haifa, 199 Aba Khoushy Avenue, Mount Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel.
714692JHPXXX10.1177/0022167817714692Journal of Humanistic PsychologyNaor and Mayseless
2 Journal of Humanistic Psychology 00(0)
the potential for harnessing positive transformative peak experiences in
nature for human development.
nature, peak experience, transformation, identity, phenomenology
The objective of this study was to understand the distinct qualities of rapid
personal transformation evoked by a single peak experience in nature.
Although well researched from many different aspects, we have yet to under-
stand in a satisfactory way how nature contributes to this process. Our starting
point is the profound and beneficial human–nature connection, conceived by
Searles (1960) as “one of the most basically important ingredients of human
psychological existence” (p. 27). This notion has been studied at length, fea-
turing an extensive and growing body of empirical evidence portraying a cor-
relation between direct contact with nature and healthy optimal human
development (Adhémar, 2008; Kaplan, 2001; Pretty et al., 2007).
Nature’s profound and beneficial effect on human development has been
traced to the human’s biological, psychological, and evolution-based
design, which has generated several key theories. The “biophilia” theory
was the first theoretical basis pointing to the innate human tendency, rooted
in our biology, to affiliate with nature as symbolizing life (Wilson, 1984).
The biophilia hypothesis (Kellert & Wilson, 1995) stresses the human need
for direct contact with nature from an evolutionary psychological perspec-
tive as a basic construct of human development, contributing to one’s
identity. Inspired by these theories, Ulrich (1999) presented the psychoevo-
lutionary theory, which emphasized the human evolutionary preference for
natural landscapes due to the immediate sensory and emotional human
response. From this perspective, humans experience nature in a way that
may enhance adaptive behaviors and reduce health-related problems, well
before these have been analyzed through cognition. According to Kaplan
and Kaplan’s (1989) attention restoration theory, the natural environment,
distinguished by these unique characteristics, enhances psychological well-
being by allowing a form of effortless, involuntary, and direct attention to
take over. This form of cognitive perception, unique to wilderness experi-
ence, enables the recovery of limited and fatigable cognitive resources,
eliciting quiet attention, and self-reflection, which various studies have
shown to be a key factor for effective functioning, self-awareness, and per-
sonal growth (Aspinall et al., 2013; Basu, Kaplan, & Kaplan, 2014; Hartig,
Evans, Jamner, Davis, & Gärling, 2003).
Naor and Mayseless 3
Based on these theories, an extensive and growing body of empirical evi-
dence in various fields shows a correlation between direct contact with nature
and healthy and optimal human development (Adhémar, 2008; Hartig,
Mitchell, de Vries, & Frumkin, 2014; Kaplan, 2001; Ryan et al. 2010). Besides
the positive effects of nature contributing to well-being (its restorative effects),
there are clear indications that nature can also contribute to profound experi-
ence and to personal transformation (Cohen, Gruber, & Keltner, 2010; Greeley,
1974; Hood, 1977; Keutzer, 1978; Laski, 1961; Pretty et al., 2007). However,
the specific process by which swift personal transformation occurs in nature
has yet to be more fully described.
Furthermore, although understanding and facilitating change and transfor-
mation is arguably quite fundamental to psychology and in particular its
applied branches, very little is known about the process and potential of a
single transformative positive experience and very little empirical research
has examined the factors potentially leading to their occurrence in general
and in particular in nature (Miller & C’de Baca, 2001). The result is a serious
gap in understanding their influence (Yair, 2008), and their potential for self-
development and mental health (Cardeña, Lynn, & Krippner, 2000; Palmer &
Braud, 2002). The present study addressed this lacuna by focusing on the role
of a single peak experience in nature in a transformative process, defined in
this study as a peak transformative experience.
Peak Experience
Abraham Maslow (1975) coined the term peak experience to describe pro-
found moments lasting from seconds to minutes that were characterized by
clarity of thought, sharpened senses, and a feeling of an “ultimate reality”
eliciting feelings of unity and great joy. In Maslow’s (1975) seminal work
The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, peak experience was associated with
ultimate human development, presented as a significant experience that pro-
vides an opportunity for positive change and transformation. This process
often involves a significant shift in the individual’s value system from ego-
centered values to values of connection and service to others. In light of this,
peak experiences may be of great importance to the study of psychological
health, self-actualization, and human flourishing.
Empirical and theoretical scholarship has grappled with defining peak
experiences and studied their occurrence and manifestations. These experi-
ences are commonly described as surprising and powerful insight-laden, life-
validating moments in which everyday perception is surpassed by a much
greater and exalted state of consciousness involving a new and expansive
knowing of self and/or the world (Goud, 1995; Greeley, 1974; Laski, 1961;
4 Journal of Humanistic Psychology 00(0)
Maslow, 1969; Skalski & Hardy, 2013). The prevalence of the peak experi-
ence has been assessed by several studies to date that point to their commonal-
ity among at least 65% of the general population as well as their association
with psychological health (Greeley, 1974; Hay & Morisy, 1978; Keutzer,
1978; Noble, 1987; Wuthnow, 1978). Most of the research has dealt with the
definition, prevalence, taxonomy, and outcomes of peak experiences (Maslow,
1964; McCain & Andrews, 1969; Noble, 1987; Owens, 1972), focusing less
on their transformative effect.
Currently, a distinction has yet to be presented between those experiences
that are described as peak experiences and those experiences that have a posi-
tive and long-lasting impact on one’s life. In accordance with our research
objective, this study is primarily concerned with those experiences that
resulted in positive personal transformation.
In general, personal positive transformation is described as a profound shift
in one’s experience of consciousness that results in long-lasting changes in
worldview or ways of being, and in changes in the general pattern of the way
one experiences and relates to oneself, others, and the world (Coburn, 2006).
In most accounts, the process of personal transformation is a gradual process
of awareness and personal growth, such as in psychotherapy that occurs over
a period of months or years and results in specific alterations in a given
behavior or diagnosed mental disorder (Baban & Craciun, 2007; Bien, 2004;
Fosha, 2006; Higginson & Mansell, 2008).
Transformative Positive Experience
However, profound positive change may take a different course and may
involve a moderately rapid shift (Hayes, Laurenceau, Feldman, Strauss, &
Cardaciotto, 2007), often following a transformative experience. Transformative
experiences (often peak experiences) are considered to be those events that lead
to a lasting change in the structures and functions of consciousness of mind, of
emotions, of perceptions, of identity, and of self-image (Metzner, 1994; Vieten,
Schlitz, & Amorok, 2009). We are currently only starting to learn about posi-
tive peak experiences that lead to transformation.
Miller and C’de Baca (1994, 2001), pioneers in this area, provided some
of the most significant empirical research in the field of abrupt transformative
positive experience, termed by them “quantum change.” Quantum change is
defined as a deep shift in core values, feelings, attitudes, or actions in a rela-
tively short period of time, described by participants as “a vivid, surprising,
benevolent, and enduring personal transformation” (Bien, 2004, p. 493).
Naor and Mayseless 5
Analysis of interviews with 55 participants (31 females and 24 males)
who retrospectively recounted such experiences, point to the revealing of an
important insight or “truth” that altered their value system. These meaningful
insights served as life-altering centers of motivation, leading to a fundamen-
tal change in perception of self and reality and one’s identity (Miller, 2004).
These alternations involved perceiving material things as not important;
grasping the importance of love, and awareness of the interconnectedness of
all beings. A 10-year follow-up study involving 30 of the original participants
found that this new value ordering was maintained with little variability
(C’de Baca & Wilbourne, 2004). Their study points to the transformative
effect of a single experience of profound insight, focusing on the type of
insight and outcomes but not on the environment that may have influenced
the experience or the actual process, leading C’de Baca and Wilbourne (2004)
to conclude that “very little is known about the process of a single transfor-
mative positive experience” (p. 540). The present article has addressed this
lacuna by specifically studying the distinct role of nature and the inner pro-
cess that led to these profound outcomes.
Nature and Positive Transformation
Nature and the wilderness in particular are commonly cited triggers of peak
experiences (Cohen et al., 2010; DeMares & Krycka, 1998; Greeley, 1974;
Hood, 1977; Keutzer, 1978; Laski, 1961; McDonald, 2008).Whether through
the landscape itself or the types of activity, the experience of deep immersion
in nature has been found to contribute to a sense of belonging and connection
to the world. This embodied acknowledgment may alter one’s perceptions
toward a more holistic, ecocentric perspective which in turn, may result in
personal transformation. (Cohen et al., 2010; Pretty et al., 2007).
In Ellison and Hatcher’s (2007) extensive review and analysis of personal
wilderness accounts among women hiking alone over 2,000 miles on the
Appalachian Trail, this perception shift was elicited by solitude in nature.
Solitude allowed the time and space for self-reflection within a nonjudgmen-
tal environment. This theme is prevalent in a variety of studies among partici-
pants involved in various states of wilderness immersion (Hammitt & Brown,
1984), including canoeing (Swatton & Potter, 1998), hiking (Fredrickson &
Anderson, 1999), solitude (Coburn, 2006; Ellison & Hatcher, 2007) and
modern vision quest ceremonies (Williams & Harvey, 2001; Wilson, 2011;
Wood, 2010). Analysis of research results point to deep immersion in nature
and solitude enabling self-examination, critical reflection, and reconnection
to self, serving as key components by which former attitudes, beliefs, and
behaviors may be challenged and altered, leading to transformation.
6 Journal of Humanistic Psychology 00(0)
Brymer, Downey, and Gray (2009) found that this was the case among
individuals participating in extreme sports in nature. For some, the shift in
self-perception resulted in dramatic changes in other aspects of life. Shostak-
Kinker’s (2012) study focusing on the effects of long-term engagement in
rock climbing illustrates this. The researchers describe the engagement in
nature as a “joyous level of concentration” that, over time, resulted in “tan-
gible mental benefits which transfer to other parts of their lives (e.g. fostering
an appreciation of simplicity in life while instilling presence in the moment)
influencing a climber’s core life values” (p. 2).
The significance of the wilderness environment for eliciting profound and
transformative experience lies not only in its inherent restorative ability but
also in enhancing sensory aspects. This was a main finding in McDonald and
Schreyer’s (1991) integrated, critical synthesis of many empirical studies
related to the spiritual benefits of leisure. These researchers conclude that
wilderness experience “creates a unique combination of extreme states of
consciousness and increased sensory acuity” (as cited by Fredrickson &
Anderson, 1999, p. 23). They also state that visual, gustatory, olfactory, audi-
tory, and kinesthetic senses are enhanced when in a wilderness setting.
Additional findings by Beck (1987) support this notion, leading him to con-
clude that “wilderness-like settings heighten one’s level of sensory aware-
ness, resulting in peak experiences” (Fredrickson & Anderson, 1999, p. 23).
Such peak experiences, which may occur spontaneously in nature, involve
absorption in the moment, a sense of timelessness and spacelessness, feelings
of profound awe, and experiences of unity. In many instances, these experi-
ences contribute to an expanded consciousness and may lead to major self
and life transformations (McDonald, Wearing, & Ponting, 2009; Terhaar,
2009; Williams & Harvey, 2001; Wood, 2010).
From this perspective, natural surroundings deeply arouse us and connect
us to our bodies, senses, emotions, instincts, and environments, ultimately
provoking different ways of being and doing that in turn raise the potential
for broader definitions of self and life (Trace, 2003). These unique aspects of
nature, which have profound beneficial effect, have led to the concept of
nature as a transformational space, the focus of Grady’s (2009) qualitative
study. Grady’s depiction provides an insightful overview of the unique char-
acteristics of nature that contribute to it being conceived as a transformational
space. These include (a) feeling connected to something bigger than oneself
that evokes spiritual experience, (b) peaceful attunement with the environ-
ment reminiscent of the primary object relationship, (c) a sense of awe and
elevation in the face of nature’s intensity and power, and (d) freedom from
the need to comply with societal expectations allowing connection and
expression of one’s true self.
Naor and Mayseless 7
In fact, nature in its wholeness is deemed a vital life source through which
one connects to the fullness of human potential and which leads to healthy
development (Bratman et al., 2015; Kellert, 1998; Oliver & Ostrofsky, 2007).
This may be the reason why people resonate, synchronize, and benefit pro-
foundly from connection with nature in ways that cannot be substituted by
alternative means (Brymer, Cuddihy, & Sharma-Brymer, 2010). As such,
contact with nature may be a critical resource for mental health, one which is
especially important in our rapidly urbanizing world (White, Alcock,
Wheeler, & Depledge, 2013).
The research thus far has provided ample insights into the uniqueness of
the natural environment, including being far from daily duties and stimula-
tion, sensory enhancement, a vast landscape enabling the time and space for
introspection and deep contemplation, solitude, and nature evoking aware-
ness of interconnectedness. However, we currently know very little about the
process of transformation and how it is achieved moderately quickly follow-
ing a single peak experience in nature. The objective of the present study was
to expand our knowledge of the ways and means by which such a process of
transformation in nature occurs. We focused on the perspective of those
undergoing such an experience and applied qualitative phenomenological
The main research questions addressed in this study were as follows:
Research Question 1: How has peak experience in nature led to rapid
personal transformation from the perspective of those undergoing that
Research Question 2: How was nature implicated in this process?
General Approach
Qualitative methodology was chosen as the method of inquiry because it
would enable a personal and sensitive rapport with participants while cap-
turing the richness, depth, and complexity of the experience from the indi-
viduals’ perspectives. Qualitative methodology is especially appropriate
when a phenomenon cannot be readily observed and researchers seek to
understand psychological processes that have yet not been spelled out in full
(Creswell, 2008). In this case, exploring the depth and meaning of the
researched phenomena was achieved by focusing on personal stories,
accounts, and meanings, as presented by the individuals themselves who
were the main source of information (Doherty & Chen, 2016). Specifically,
8 Journal of Humanistic Psychology 00(0)
a phenomenological approach was adopted as it aims to discover and under-
stand “the lived experience” from the individual’s perspective, without look-
ing for a single “true” reality or objective measurable fact (Giorgi, 1997).
This involves extensive description of the specific experience in all its rich-
ness and layers, while seeking the distinct meaning individuals ascribe to
their experience (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). Edmund Husserl, credited as the
founder of modern phenomenology, exhorted researchers to capture the
richness and ambiguity of experience by reflecting on its visceral texture
and the sensuous perceiving of life as “given” to the experiencer, pregnant
with layers of implicit meanings. This is particularly important for experi-
ences in nature, where sensuality and physical experiences are central.
Phenomenology as a research methodology includes this deep and detailed
personal account of experience, while also striving to develop a composite
description of the common “essence” of the lived experience that is beyond
personal meaning (Creswell, 2008). Gaining both the individual and com-
mon perspective has been clearly described by van Manen (1990): “lived
experience is the starting point and the end point is to transform the lived
experience into a textual expression of its essence” (p. 36).
Participants and Research Design
The participants comprised 15 adults (aged 28 to 70 years), 5 men and 10
women, who replied to a request sent through the Internet inviting people
who experienced a transformative peak experience in nature to participate in
the study. The participants came from different lifestyles (e.g., farms, cities,
and communal settlements) and countries (Argentina, Israel, and America)
and combined a variety of situations in which the peak experience occurred
(challenging physical situations as well as calm meditative states). Distance
from the experience varied considerably and included experiences that
occurred 2 to 30 years prior to the interview. Versatility in the chosen sample
contributed to the variability of the researched phenomena.
Following the receipt of institutional review board approval and partici-
pants’ informed consent, in-depth, semistructured interviews were conducted
individually with each participant, allowing for flexibility and openness
(Weiss, 1994). Conducting a face-to-face, personal interview also enabled a
deep rapport with the experiencer while allowing the researcher to gain addi-
tional information, including the way in which the information was presented
(e.g., facial and emotional expressions). The terms of the interview were
clarified to each participant, who received a written consent form prior to the
interviews, which were conducted by the first author. It was not difficult to
find participants; in fact, many people replied and were eager to share their
Naor and Mayseless 9
experience. Interviewing and data analysis went hand in hand and the number
of participants was determined by the saturation principle, namely, when no
new themes or insights were gained. The interviews lasted between 1.5 and
2.5 hours and were held in neutral settings; the accounts were audiotaped and
then transcribed verbatim into a written document. Participants were pre-
sented with one broad general question asking them to describe the peak
experience in detail, focusing on the way in which they perceived and inter-
preted the event (Holstein & Gubrium, 1994; Patton, 2002; Schwandt, 1994).
Additional open-ended questions were asked when more information was
Data Analysis
In congruence with the phenomenological methodological approach, a thor-
ough reading of the entire data multiple times was undertaken until a sense of
deeply knowing the participants’ lived experiences was obtained. Gradually,
significant statements or quotes (codes) which express a particular point or
meaning emerged, providing an understanding of how the participants expe-
rienced the phenomenon (Moustakas, 1994; Polkinghorne, 2005; Smith,
2004). These significant statements or quotes were highlighted and then
developed into clusters of meaning pertaining to specific themes. The themes
were used to describe what the participants experienced (textural descrip-
tion), as well as the conditions, situations, contexts, or settings that influ-
enced how participants experienced the phenomenon (structural description).
These initial themes were then organized into meaningful categories or gen-
eral core themes that had similar meanings and interpretations (Smith, 2004).
The general themes were then examined to find connections and interrela-
tions between them (Strauss & Corbin, 1998).
The process of data analysis requires deep reflection and critical concen-
tration, through which the phenomenon is viewed with curiosity and disci-
plined naiveté (Giorgi, 1985). The phenomenological researcher attempts to
be open and nonjudgmental, using “bracketing” to become aware of one’s
implicit assumptions and predispositions and setting them aside to avoid hav-
ing them influence the research (Morrow & Smith, 2000). Additional strate-
gies implemented to ensure the trustworthiness of the results included
grounding of interpretations in direct quotes from the data, exhorting sensi-
tivity, practicing reflexivity, consulting with peers, and checking with partici-
pants to learn how well the interpretations reflected the interviewee’s
meanings (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005; Morrow & Smith, 2000). These strate-
gies served as a tool for increasing the trustworthiness of the data and the
general integrity of the research process.
10 Journal of Humanistic Psychology 00(0)
The phenomenological analysis of the interviews revealed the “essence” of
the peak experience in nature as involving a meaningful insight described as
the discovery of unknown or discarded aspects of self. Despite the accepted
definition of the peak experience as a momentary and surprising experience,
in this study, the peak experience was associated with a lifelong challenging
personal issue reflected metaphorically through concrete and mostly unavoid-
able situations in nature. The often avoided conflictual issue was projected
onto nature, offering the opportunity for new conduct and resolution through
concrete and experiential embodiment of this personal issue in light of a
newly discovered insight.
Four major themes related to the process of rapid transformation following
one peak experience in nature were identified: (a) nature as a concrete and expe-
riential setting reflecting and embodying a lifelong significant and challenging
personal issue; (b) dissonance in facing the avoided and challenging issue; (c)
meaningful insight, felt as a peak experience that shed new light on ways of
dealing with the issue; and (d) choosing to own and embed these aspects into
one’s identity and life. These themes formed a typical general narrative of the
transformative process, manifested in various ways. Detailed extracts from the
interviews, translated from Hebrew, are presented to exemplify these themes.
The participants’ names have been changed to protect their identity.
Theme 1: Nature as a Concrete and Experiential Setting
Reflecting and Embodying a Lifelong Significant and Challenging
Personal Issue
All the participants described an experience in nature that embodied and
reflected in a concrete and unavoidable way an issue that they had been strug-
gling with throughout their lives. Still, for all of them, this issue was not
expected or sought after and was mirrored by nature so clearly and with an
ultimacy that could not be escaped.
Tamar, a 48-year-old mother of two, described herself as a very indepen-
dent woman who constantly sought freedom of choice, which she attributed
to her difficulty with authority and inability to hold a job as an employee as
well as to having difficulty committing to marriage. The next quote gives an
example of the way in which nature reflected Tamar’s personal limiting issue
regarding independence within a concrete situation.
Tamar was hiking in the desert with a group when the trail took a steep
descent. Tamar recalls herself waiting for everyone to pass and only then did
she became aware of her fear, she felt scared and stuck, as well as mute and
Naor and Mayseless 11
helpless. In this concrete situation, Tamar’s independent behavior pattern and
inability to ask for help was reflected and embodied through the natural
I’m standing there seeing from a short distance the cave we were just in where
I felt so secure and suddenly I’m stuck! I don’t know what to do . . . I remember
standing there stuck and saying to myself—you don’t know how to ask for
help, what’s your problem? Why aren’t you asking for help? Why do you
always think you need to overcome everything on your own . . . that’s it and it’s
a major issue in my life . . .
Lital, a 49-year-old mother of three and factory worker, was a second-
generation holocaust survivor who described her life prior to the experience
as living in constant fear and anxiety. While on a boat in the Arctic, Lital was
confronted with a specific and concrete situation that revealed her lifelong
fear and anxiety, especially as related to helplessness and fear of death, which
were so entrenched in the holocaust legacy of her family:
My whole life I carry the burden of being a second-generation Holocaust
survivor, the whole identity is so heavy that I don’t really know who I am . . .
a lot of fear, worry and lack of trust that things will work out or that I will be
okay. I’m always expecting something bad to happen. I don’t like my job or
my lifestyle but I’m so scared to change anything, there is just always that fear
of death and then I’m on this boat in the Arctic and all of a sudden temperatures
dropped to −10, it’s a cold you cannot imagine . . . , I’m freezing, literally it’s
the utmost feeling of helplessness . . . a real fear of death . . . I have no other
word to describe the feeling and I don’t know if I’ll die from the cold . . .
In these examples, nature mirrored and embodied limiting aspects of life-
time personal issues which participants had formerly avoided confronting in
their daily lifestyle. It was in these concrete situations that they were con-
fronted (sometimes forcefully) with usual ways of being or limiting self-per-
ceptions that were to no avail. Discomfort, frustration, and dissonance were
evoked when the usual ways of being were fruitless and constraining.
Theme 2: Dissonance When Facing the Avoided and
Challenging Issue
Most of the participants (13 out of 15) felt dissonance when facing the
avoided issue and their limiting self-perceptions in the situations they encoun-
tered in nature. In these situations, former conduct or mind-set was to no avail
evoking dissonance and inner conflict.
12 Journal of Humanistic Psychology 00(0)
Hadar, aged 36 years, described herself as a people pleaser, always putting
others’ needs before her own and not really connected to her own needs. On
a hiking trip in the desert, she was faced with this issue in an embodied way
that was clear and unavoidable:
I’ve always been on the move, doing . . . my decisions were always based on
what people were expecting from me, always looking for a way to please. . . .
We were a group sitting on a ledge in the desert. I vividly remember feeling hot
and not wanting to climb even though I told the group I was going to climb to
the top. I felt so tired and the rocks looked so big and I had this inner conflict
because I really didn’t want to climb, but I told everybody I would. I felt so
distraught, didn’t know what to do . . .
Eliya, a 70-year-old mother of three and grandmother, described herself as
a very successful psychotherapist but always passive:
I was always passive, going where I was told to go and doing what was expected
of me. In this situation I also didn’t ask where we were going, who, what . . .
like a dummy that loves to be led . . . like a turkey on a skewer . . . who am I to
ask or to answer . . .
In accordance with Eliya’s typical behavior, she signed up for a trip to
Jordan without asking for details or information and was not aware of the
physical challenges on the trip. On the second day of the trip, she found herself
on the ledge of a deep canyon that required a sheer jump into water to descend.
In this concrete and specific state, her usual behavior pattern of being led and
being passive was mirrored and embodied in a situation in nature:
and then the moment came . . . and for the first time in my life there was no
return . . . it was concrete, I saw the canyon we walked through and I knew
there was no going back, it was concrete . . . and I had to make a decision to
jump or to be pushed . . .
These narratives exemplify the dissonance felt following a challenging
situation in nature that could not be overcome by the usual ways of conduct.
For the participants of the present study, this dissonance in nature included an
embodied experience, surfacing in a powerful and unique way.
Theme 3: Peak Experience, a Moment of Meaningful Insight
It was in these concrete situations, which required confrontation, that a
moment of insight revealed new ways of dealing with the issue. This insight
Naor and Mayseless 13
was described as the discovery of new, empowering parts of the self, and
offered a solution to the challenging issue.
The extreme conditions in the Arctic in a boat, placed Lital in a situation
in which her regular behavior and perceptual patterns were to no avail and
she experienced a terrorizing fear of death until the moment of insight in
which she discovered new abilities and potential:
I was freezing, and in that low situation I started to meditate and say to myself
Lital, life is good, you can do it, it will be okay, and I go over and over these
words . . . at a certain point I fell asleep and realized that I had calmed myself
down! That was a moment of very specific understanding that I overcame fear
and now I can overcome any fear. That insight and situation was so vivid it
brought me to know that I can rely on myself . . . I can now say everything will
be okay and I know it will all work out.
Hadar, who used to please others, was faced by a situation in the desert in
which her need to please others, which in that case was reflected in the expec-
tation that she would climb the hill, was challenged, and new awareness of
self and needs emerged as an insight:
All of a sudden I heard myself say enough!! This was so new to me because I
always did what was expected of me and this was a moment where I said
enough! I don’t have to go anywhere . . . and then I turned my head and saw the
view, it was so amazing and I knew I did not have to move, all was perfect . . .
it was that moment of understanding in which I knew that I could change my
thinking and understanding of myself and my surroundings . . . that was a
moment of very very meaningful personal insight.
These insights are perceived by the experience as ultimate truths having to
do with an authentic knowing of self and accepting it as such.
Theme 4: Choosing to Own and Embed These Aspects Into
One’s Identity and Life
Insight itself, though powerful and compelling, was not enough to make a
transformation. In the 12 cases in which the peak experience in nature resulted
in transformation, a conscious choice to embrace the insight was made.
Lital, who overcame her deepest fears in confronting the freezing Arctic
weather, decided to implement her new-found strengths in her life:
The meaning of that experience is that I have free will, that’s mine, I’m a free
person. I consciously chose to think challenge instead of fear and I put that
14 Journal of Humanistic Psychology 00(0)
formula into everything I knew and slowly the challenge, the unknown became
okay, for the first time in my life I really understood the meaning of freedom
. . . I asked myself what do you want, without feeling guilty or ashamed or
scared to be in touch with my needs and desires. I want to be a writer, to create,
not to feel scared and guilty . . . I left my job in the factory, lost 20 pounds and
am now working on a play.
As illustrated in the example of Lital, that moment of insight, evoked by
experience in nature, led to a profound change in her perception of self and to
an overall transformation in her life. These moments of insight are triggered
by nature in many ways and do not always involve an external challenge as
opposed to an internal one, as in the case of Hadar, who chose to attend to her
need and not to climb the mountain, although she had promised to:
That moment was one of the most liberating moments in my life, I could choose
to let go of all my stories, I could be naked, no family, no degree. . . . In that
moment I knew that I could change my thinking and understanding of myself
and my surroundings. From that moment on, I was concerned and connected to
my needs more than to others. There is this inner sense of wholeness . . . I can
count on myself . . . I let go of what people are expecting and was filled with
such happiness, unbelievable . . . this wheel started to turn, . . . I guess the
divorce was part of that . . . I left my job . . . I am in control of my life.
Hadar chose to implement this new insight in her daily life, which brought
about major changes in her personal and professional life.
These accounts show the way in which the situation in nature confronted
the participant with a lifelong and limiting issue reflected by nature in a
concrete and actual situation. The experience involved a personal process
in which old perspectives were challenged and new insight into self was
revealed. Choosing to implement these insights provided the opportunity
for personal transformation. Without such choice, no major transformation
appears to occur. This was the case for Erik (aged 68 years), who recalled a
profound moment in nature when gazing at the void between the stars on a
dark night in the desert. Lost in time and space, he experienced what he
called “a unifying force” and gained an understanding of how monotheism
came to be. As an atheist, experiencing the irrational space and power of
nature on that starry night expanded his awareness regarding belief in a
higher force. Although significant, Erik did not describe the experience in
relation to personal transformation or any lasting change. It seems that
transformation does not occur unless some form of dissonance is experi-
enced and one consciously chooses to implement the newly discovered
insight in life.
Naor and Mayseless 15
The present research taking as its central focus the inner world of the partici-
pants, enabled us to gain a deep understanding of the unique process of trans-
formation while assessing the contribution of nature and the peak experience to
its occurrence. Despite the varied range of both participants and experiences,
the essence of the peak experience was revealed to be one in which the partici-
pants discovered and confronted unconscious or avoided aspects of their per-
sonality. Phenomenological analysis of the transformative process revealed a
distinct narrative involving three main constructs or themes. The first is nature
as an element through which profound and meaningful life issues were pro-
jected and mirrored saliently and with a sense of clarity. This projection, usu-
ally under extreme conditions, evoked the second component, the peak
experience, described as a moment of insight, a revelation or the emergence of
significant new knowledge relating to one’s life. This meaningful insight shed
new light on ways of dealing with the issue through newly revealed aspects of
self. The third component of the narrative, transformation, involved two
aspects, dissonance and free choice. The challenging and unusual situation in
nature revealed the limiting personal issue in a manner in which habitual
behavior was to no avail. This situation required a new perception or line of
action, thereby arousing dissonance while offering the opportunity to choose a
new perspective. Long-lasting personal transformation emanated from the indi-
vidual’s decision to own and apply these newly discovered aspects to life, lead-
ing to an expansive and more whole and authentic identity.
The findings of this study expand on previous research that has emphasized
nature as a restorative environment adaptive to the human’s biological, psy-
chological, and evolutionary needs, thereby linking the unique aspects of
nature to beneficial outcomes (Adhémar, 2008; Burns, 2005; Hartig et al.,
2014; Kaplan, 2001; Pretty et al., 2007). The innovative findings of the cur-
rent study reveal the actual process elicited by nature as embodying, mirror-
ing, confronting, and even pushing one to discover as yet unknown aspects of
self, significant to growth through its many concrete and experiential mani-
festations. These opportunities provided by nature, elicit meaningful personal
issues in concrete situations that call for complete physical and emotional
involvement, providing opportunity for new awareness of self and, ulti-
mately, profound change. From this perspective, nature is not only a physical
setting or backdrop for profound experience but is experienced as an “active
agent” in the process of personal growth (Berger & McLeod, 2006).
16 Journal of Humanistic Psychology 00(0)
The Peak Experience
Despite the accepted definition of the peak experience as a momentary, short,
and surprising experience seemingly distinct from one’s life, the phenomeno-
logical analysis enabled us to uncover the broader scale of the peak experience
as part of a life process. For the participants in our study, the experience in
nature was perceived as a moment of profound insight deeply related to a
lifelong significant issue. Previous studies have shown that a peak experience
involves the discovery of a meaningful insight (C’de Baca & Wilbourne,
2004; Grady, 2010). The results of this study shed light on the nature of the
profound meaning and revealed knowledge, in which unconscious or contra-
dictory aspects of the self (regarding inner strength and personal potential)
were discovered. The actual moment of insight was cognitive, perceptual, and
emotional, and although not lengthy, substantial knowledge became conscious
that involved embracing and repossessing those aspects of the self through
which new self and world perceptions were created. In nature, the concrete
and personal experience seemed to validate those aspects hence perceived as
authentic inner truth, enabling the participant to internalize them as integral
and empowering aspects of self. From this perspective, the experience is a step
in the process of personal growth and when perceived and treated as such, may
contribute significant personal knowledge to the process.
Although peak experience is commonly perceived as an ultimately posi-
tive experience (Goud, 1995; Greeley, 1974; Laski, 1961; Maslow, 1975), in
this study, participants described hardship and dissonance as integral to their
peak experience, which involved both positive and negative emotionally
laden experiences. This duality accords with current conceptions within posi-
tive psychology maintaining that the nature of flourishing involves a com-
plex and dynamic interplay of both the positive and the negative, whereby
actualizing the full human potential includes appreciating and embracing the
complex and ambivalent nature of life (Held, 2004; Ivtzan, Lomas, Hefferon,
& Worth, 2015; King, 2001; Ryff & Singer, 2003; Wong, 2011).
Previous literature has focused mostly on the transformative outcome of pro-
found experiences (e.g., Metzner, 1994; Vieten et al., 2009). This study focuses
on the process of transformation as perceived by the individual. This unique
process was revealed as involving significant insight but also as including two
new constructs—dissonance and free choice. For 3 of the 15 participants, the
peak experience in nature was not described in transformative terms. In these
cases, dissonance or/and free choice were not relayed by the participants, and
Naor and Mayseless 17
this absence that coincided with the lack of an experience of transformative
change led us to underscore the significance of these two constructs (i.e., dis-
sonance and free choice) to the transformative outcome.
Dissonance. Theoretical models of personal transformation present disso-
nance as a necessary stage; involving the dismantling of old perceptions
before new construction may occur (Duff, 1989; Ferguson, 1980; Mezirow,
1992). In the current research, the newly uncovered aspects revealed through
the peak experience often contradicted the individual’s self and world per-
ception up to that moment, leading to dissonance. In this state, one strives to
find a balance by choosing either to ignore the new information, in which
case no transformation will occur, or to expand or change common percep-
tional structures of the world as well as of self, leading to transformation.
These findings are congruent with Mezirow’s (2003) theory of transforma-
tional learning. According to this conceptual perspective, the transformative
process involves the dismantling of an old perceptional structure and the cre-
ation of a new one in its place which leads to a completely new mental struc-
ture which changes the person’s outlook and character (Laski, 1990).
Free Choice. Specifically, in this study, profound positive outcome required
the individual to make a conscious choice to implement the newly revealed
self-knowledge. This aspect of choice is new to the field dealing with trans-
formation and specifically with peak experience, thereby highlighting the
person as an active agent in the process. Free choice as a basic construct in
the transformative process may hold potential worthy of further consider-
ation for those seeking to harness these experiences for personal growth and
The clinical literature on quick and transformative personal change often
involves traumatic events (Calhoun & Tedeschi, 2014). In contrast, the pres-
ent study provides an illustration of a moderately quick transformative
change following a single positive peak experience. Such experience, though
it seemingly occurs spontaneously, is reflective of a lifelong process and sig-
nificant struggle to be who one really is and to actualize one’s own potential,
a process coined by Jung (1933) as “individuation” (Whitmont, 1969). From
this perspective, the peak experience is an asset embedded with personal
knowledge through which one’s potential and strength can morph into con-
sciousness. In this study, nature emerged as the vehicle that revealed and
enabled an as yet unknown, unconscious, and even contradictory aspect of
self to emerge through concrete embodied experience. The concrete and tan-
gible manner in which personal issues and aspects were revealed and con-
fronted enabled the participants to internalize the revelations, which could
18 Journal of Humanistic Psychology 00(0)
then be practically implemented in life, ultimately resulting in transforma-
tion. This explanatory and psychological perspective is novel and may con-
tribute to the study of personal knowledge embedded in these experiences
implemented as such in the process of personal growth and self-actualization,
specifically as occurring in nature.
Caveats and Conclusions
Research findings in qualitative methodology are the outcome of a cocreation
between participants, interviewers, and the researcher, thus providing a rather
subjective prism. Further limitations include the distinct research sample,
which restricts the generalization of conclusions. Furthermore, the phenom-
enological approach is but one way of analyzing and conceptualizing these
phenomena. Other methodologies would have provided additional and
important perspectives. Future research may examine ways in which personal
knowledge and insights revealed through profound experience could be con-
sciously and intentionally facilitated in growth processes. The present
research has shown that these single, often brief experiences are not simply
“peak” but also a gateway to significant self-knowledge and personal growth
(Naor, 2014; Yair, 2008).
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publi-
cation of this article.
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Author Biographies
Lia Naor is a graduate student in the Department of Counseling
and Human Development at the University of Haifa. Her profes-
sional and academic focus is on the process of personal growth
and transformation, specifically as occurring in and through
nature. She has integrated her passion and expertise in the field of
nature therapy and personal growth by “Ways of knowing,” a
model for therapeutic quests in nature that she developed. During
the past several years, she has sought to learn more on the transformative power of
nature through academic research and teaching. She has presented her work in aca-
demic conferences worldwide and has published book chapters on
the topic.
Ofra Mayseless is a professor of developmental psychology at the
Faculty of Education, University of Haifa, Israel and the former
dean of that faculty. She also served as Head of the National
Pedagogical Secretariat, Ministry of Education Israel. She has stud-
ied attachment and caregiving processes and the transition to adult-
hood in Israel. For the past 10 years, she has also investigated the
search for life’s meaning and purpose and processes of spiritual
development and has recently authored a new book on “The caring motivation” in
Oxford University Press.
... Contained within this lens is the idea that Earth connection helps you to accept and integrate aspects of yourself that you have previously dismissed or not been aware of. Naor and Mayseless (2017) suggested that peak transformative experiences, moments of connection which create significant change in an individual's life, can occur in the natural world, when it is used as a mirror to project challenges upon, and to discover new ways of dealing with the issue that are then integrated into an individual's identity. This suggests the potential of Earth connection containing a developmental perspective. ...
... Using body sensations is indicative of the emotion pathway, while interpreting the feedback of the natural world as answers of the Earth suggests the meaning pathway. Additionally, Naor and Mayseless (2017) highlighted that a transformative peak experience consists of cognitive, perceptual and emotional components that allow an individual identifying an unconscious aspect of personality through projecting a profound life challenge onto nature. Nature mirrors back this challenge creating insights into new ways of dealing with the life challenge that the participant then integrates into their daily life (Naor & Mayseless, 2017). ...
... Additionally, Naor and Mayseless (2017) highlighted that a transformative peak experience consists of cognitive, perceptual and emotional components that allow an individual identifying an unconscious aspect of personality through projecting a profound life challenge onto nature. Nature mirrors back this challenge creating insights into new ways of dealing with the life challenge that the participant then integrates into their daily life (Naor & Mayseless, 2017). When this lens is combined with Final Interpretive Lenses 6 and 8, it suggests that receiving feedback to questions asked helps an individual to identify not only an unconscious aspect of their personality, but also to integrate any insight received into their daily life. ...
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This study explored direct experiences of women’s relationships with the Earth and how this impacted their lives. Using the transpersonal research methodology of intuitive inquiry, 10 White Western women aged between 36 and 64 were interviewed. Thematic content analysis was used to identify the emerging themes within the data and create descriptive summaries. The research found that connecting to the Earth may help us (a) process difficult emotions and experience more positive ones; (b) stay present and deal with life more effectively; (c) feel in control of changes in our lives; (d) realise that we need to give back to the Earth for what it provides for us; (e) expand our sense of self to include a sense of a divine cycle of life, and; (f) feel part of the Earth as we develop a clearer sense of who we are on an individual level. A definition of Earth connection is proposed: Earth connection is a subjective sense of feeling part of the Earth. It helps an individual to gain a deeper sense of who they are within a divine cycle of life. It also promotes a sense of a reciprocal relationship between an individual and the Earth.
... It can evoke profound insights related to significant life issues that empower and foster personal growth. In some cases, these sensations of awe can be paramount transformative experiences (Naor & Mayseless, 2020). It is important to note that Büssing (2021) opines that experiencing instances of awe will not directly influence a person's well-being. ...
... (Crowther et al., 2020, p. 72) Many perspectives of awe emerge from that quote, themes that according to empirical studies on awe can contribute to personal well-being and growth. Among these themes are: self-reflection (Büssing et al., 2020;Schneider, 2009), putting things in wider perspective (Naor & Mayseless, 2020), understanding the meaning of life (Büssing, 2021;Heschel, 1951), adopting more prosocial behavior (Büssing, 2021), and overcoming difficulties due to developing coping strategies (Sundararajan, 2002). ...
Awe is a complex experience usually followed by various physiological, psychological, and social benefits, thus improving well-being. This theoretical paper highlights a yet unexploited naturally occurring potential for facilitating and promoting well-being: experiencing awe during physiological birth. The key is to enter into 'birthing consciousness,' a unique psycho-physical altered state of women that often occurs during physiological birth, similar to other altered states of consciousness triggered by reduced prefrontal cortex function. This state supports a healthy birth and positive postpartum mental health. Birthing is a novel example of a natural and intense awe experience combining all three types of generators of awe: physical, social, and cognitive. Thus, in addition to the particular benefits for women and their offspring, this novel example of experiencing awe in birthing may serve in future studies to address more complex dimensions of the phenomenon of awe in promoting well-being. Impact Statement This study endorses the idea that birthing consciousness, a unique psycho-physical altered state that birthing women often enter into during physiological birth, advances a self-transcendent sensation of awe. Experiencing awe during birthing empowers women, thus promoting well-being in the challenging postpartum period. Unfortunately, modern birth settings are often barriers to birthing with awe-and many women experience childbirth as traumatic.
... They generate both affects (direct emotional or intellectual responses) and effects (transformative experiences). Affects and effects can be converted into symbolic self-meaning by challenging beliefs or behaviours and enabling one to discover hidden aspects of the self (Clayton et al. 2017;DeMares and Krycka, 1998;Naor and Mayseless, 2017), which has been shown to significantly and consistently improve eudaimonic well-being (Pritchard et al. 2020). ...
... For example, a review found that nature helps children's abilities to form positive relationships, social competencies, emotional management and self-expression (Mygind et al., 2021). Intersubjectivity deepens our sense of ourselves by widening our sense of others and otherness (Cleary et al., 2017;Naor and Mayseless, 2017), which leads to 'unselfing' -where ego dissipates into the landscape and receptivity to affordances increase as we become more mindful and observant (Zhang et al., 2014). As Macfarlane (2012) described in his re-tracing of the old paths of England, "I felt a sensation of candour and amplitude, of the body and mind opened up, of thought diffusing at the body's edges rather than ending at the skin". ...
Biodiversity risks losing relevance in an increasingly urbanised, unequal and disembodied world. Beyond basic material needs, we might gain the greatest well-being from eudaimonia – the freedom to flourish and live meaningfully. Immersion in nature improves the fundamentals of eudaimonia: psychological, emotional and social health. This presents an opportunity to re-frame biodiversity from a passive entity needing to be saved by ‘good people’ to a catalyst in the quest to become good. Drawing on the capability approach, I propose that wild landscapes – defined as self-willed, ecologically complex communities comprising functioning ecosystems – are mediums that facilitate our search for meaning. Features of wild landscapes (organisms, habitats, structures) stimulate unique perception and experience that afford the elements of self-meaning (ideas, narratives, memories). Ecological processes (succession, disturbance, dispersal) generate dynamic perceptual experiences, which improves our ability to comprehend meaning by restoring cognitive functions and relational values. Functioning ecosystems continually create and permute features in space and time, instantiating ever-varying patterns from which to adapt meaning as our contexts and aspirations change. Wild landscapes thus provide infinite value for our freedom to become. As widening income inequity amplifies asymmetric power structures, increasing the agency of those who seek to improve society is one pathway to a sustainable future.
... They can be observed during a learning process (Lanier et al., 1996), during peak performance, sports activities (Privette, 1983), and within the musical domain (Gabrielsson et al., 2016). They can be triggered in various contexts, also in response to psychological turmoil (Taylor, 2012), and nature exposure (Naor and Mayseless, 2020). Among frequent aftereffects, there are heightened feelings of happiness, joy, and ecstasy, as well as fulfillment, peak performance; and, generally, psychological effects are seen as dependent on the context of emergence of peak experiences (Lanier et al., 1996;Solberg and Dibben, 2019). ...
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The concept of transformative experience (TE) has been widely explored by several disciplines from philosophy to neurobiology, and in different domains, from the spiritual to the educational one. This attitude has engendered heterogeneous models to explain this phenomenon. However, a consistent and clear understanding of this construct remains elusive. The aim of this work is to provide an initial comprehensive interdisciplinary, cross-domain, up-to-date, and integrated overview on the concept of TEs. Firstly, all the models and theories on TEs were reviewed to extract and analyze TEs’ main components emerging from different disciplines. Then, this preliminary analysis was integrated with an in-depth examination of redundancies and particularities across domains and disciplines, to provide an integrated theoretical framework of TEs and a preliminary interdisciplinary operational definition of TEs. This examination, in turn, can help organize current research and theories, thus providing suggestions for operationalizing TEs as well as encouraging new interdisciplinary research endeavors.
... These exemplary studies about nature during psychotherapy Sonntag-Östrom, et al., 2015;Revell and McCloud, 2017), or during rehabilitation (Poulsen, Stigsdotter, Djernis, & Sidenius, 2016;Sonntag-Östrom, et al., 2015), together with other phenomenological work on nature experiences in general (Naor, & Mayseless, 2020;Schweitzer, Brymer, & Glab, 2021;Snell, & Simmonds, 2013) provide the first suggestions that nature can have an impact on clients' inner world experiences. More specifically, previous work suggests, that nature might facilitate a coming closer to inner world experiences. ...
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Background: Natural scenery is known to have restorative qualities, such as recovery from stress, mood enhancement, and replenishment of attention. These restorative qualities of nature may contribute to the prevention and treatment of mental health problems and promote well-being. Previous research about the restorative effects of nature concluded that the field would benefit from studies with high methodological rigour that concern psychological mechanisms that (in part) explain the restorative benefits of nature. Besides a value for the field of restorative environments research, such studies also have value from a societal standpoint, because it could facilitate the further development of preventive initiatives and even nature therapy practice. Aim: Therefore, the aim of the present dissertation was: To further the understanding of the restorative effects of exposure to nature in order to inform both preventive and clinical interventions that consider nature as a supportive environment. Methods: Chapter 2 described two lab studies (N = 257) that investigated a clinically relevant personal characteristic that might constrain or bolster the effectiveness of the restorative benefits of exposure to nature: depressive symptoms. Chapter 3 presented three lab studies (N = 506) that examined whether nature influences cognitive coping with psychological distress. Chapter 4 (N = 127) also studied the psychological process of cognitive coping but with a different experimental manipulation (i.e. feelings of stress) to induce a capacity for restoration before environmental exposure. Chapter 5 presented a phenomenological qualitative study (N = 12) that investigated how clients experience nature during individual outpatient psychotherapy. More specifically, it was concerned with clients’ inner world experiences regarding nature during treatment. Results: Chapter 2 suggests that nature-based interventions may be especially beneficial for people suffering from depressive symptoms, because the two presented experiments show that participants with more (rather than less) depressive symptoms displayed more stress reduction after viewing nature rather than built settings. The studies presented in Chapter 3 are the first to reveal that viewing nature influences cognitive coping with psychological distress. It described a novel potential two-step pathway as an underlying mechanism of restoration. In the first step of this pathway the capacity for directed attention replenishes. Second, this renewed capacity is directed towards internal processes, creating the optimal setting for reflection. Chapter 4 shows that even though restoration occurred, viewing nature did not seem to evoke restoration by means of cognitive coping. It establishes a difference in personal circumstances, i.e. between the affective states of psychological distress and feelings of stress, with regard to whether cognitive coping is influenced by nature exposure or not. Chapter 5 reveals that nature brings clients closer to their inner worlds. It is the first to unfold in a conceptual model the way observations of the natural outside world impact clients’ inner worlds. Conclusion: The present dissertation indicates that the natural world is especially effective for people with an emotional vulnerability and that nature seems to foster reflection by facilitating cognitive coping with psychological distress. In addition to these effects, or maybe because of these effects, the natural outside world seems to bring clients closer to their inner worlds. The present dissertation is the first to really unfold how nature brings this about in a two-step pathway of restoration and reflection, and additionally with a conceptual model of nature’s lived experience. Together with the broader line of research about the value of nature for mental health, the present dissertation underlines the importance of considering nature as a supportive environment for both preventive as well as treatment interventions. More specifically, the present dissertation states that numerous evidence based treatments can be enriched by considering nature as a supportive environment for psychotherapy.
... Walking in silence and solitude awakens my intuition, especially when I do this in nature. Naor and Mayseless (2017) found participants reported being in a single experience in nature evoked personal transformation and a peak experience, where transformation was described as involving free choice and dissonance. Maslow (1962) asserted peak experiences echo elements of psychological health with the associated effects of feeling "more integrated, more alive, more individual, less inhibited, less anxious, etc." (p. ...
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Utilizing autoethnography methodology blended with Moustakas’ (1990) heuristic research data collection and analysis elements of intuition and immersion, the study explored my experience of intuition and immersions within the Holotropic Breathwork® community. Holotropic Breathwork® was developed by Stanislav Grof and Christina Grof (2010) as a technique for self-exploration and experiential psychotherapy. I was the researcher and only participant in this study. This involved my engagement in the practice of Holotropic Breathwork®, in enhanced states of awareness, from 2016 to 2019 at eight Holotropic Breathwork® immersions, each five-and-a-half days long, with a total of 16 breathwork sessions as a breather. Relevant literature and personal experience on intuition and Holotropic Breathwork® were critically reviewed to engage the topic and research questions. Data collection, analysis, and interpretation was conducted over a two year experiential and immersive autoethnographic writing process. Data collected for analysis included journal entries, reflexive notes, cultural texts and books, pictures, collages, vision boards, videos, artifacts, and personal secrets and stories. Data analysis followed a synthesis of Chang’s (2008) suggested cyclical process of data collection, analysis, and interpretation, the use of intuition as defined by Moustakas (1990) and the simple strategy as highlighted by Adams et al. (2014) by analyzing and interpreting through the process of making sense through story to identify themes. Specifically, I incorporated intuition to access emotionally charged memories and material from my past for examination. I applied self-care strategies and sought trusted support to cope and process emotional pain due to anxiety, depression, fear, insecurities, distress, and self-distrust. The study revealed the courage to ask for what I need, immersive self-care, trusted support with lived experience, and trusting myself in the present moment from my experience of intuition and immersions in the Holotropic Breathwork® community. The findings of this autoethnography support the use of intuition in research and the integration of Holotropic Breathwork® experiences derived from further self-exploration and the therapeutic writing of autoethnography. Future research on intuition and Holotropic Breathwork® may benefit from utilizing intuition to investigate links between Holotropic Breathwork® experiences, intuition, immersion, self-care, support networks, and self-trust.
... These exemplary studies about nature during psychotherapy (Revell and McCloud, 2017;Dybvik et al., 2018), or during rehabilitation (Sahlin et al., 2012;Sonntag-Öström et al., 2015;Poulsen et al., 2016), together with other phenomenological work on nature experiences in general (Snell and Simmonds, 2013;Naor and Mayseless, 2020;Schweitzer et al., 2021) suggest that nature can have an impact on clients' inner world experiences. More specifically, previous work suggests that nature might facilitate coming closer to inner world experiences. ...
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Nature is considered to have restorative qualities that can potentially improve psychotherapy success. However, little is known about how clients experience nature during psychotherapy. The research aim of this phenomenological qualitative study was to study how clients experience nature during individual outpatient psychotherapy that took place while walking in nature. More specifically we were interested in clients’ inner world experiences. All participants (N = 12) received treatment through licensed therapists for a DSM-5 classified disorder. Semi-structured interviews were conducted. To uncover true lived experiences during these interviews, participants were asked to close their eyes and envision themselves during a psychotherapy session in nature. The verbatim transcripts were coded by means of inductive thematic analysis and the results were member checked. Results showed that nature brings clients closer to their inner worlds. How nature brings this about is unfolded in a conceptual model of lived experience. We argue that psychotherapy can be enriched by considering nature as a supportive environment because bringing clients closer to their inner worlds is of essential value in facilitating successful treatment interventions.
... As the global studio was designed to be open and emergent, allowing for each student to follow their own areas of fascination and curiosity, it was also incredibly important to provide learners with sense-making tools throughout the three weeks (Naor & Mayseless, 2017;Ross, 2019). Reflexivity as a form of sense-making and integration was continually encouraged, in particular in the group circle dialogues-and sage questions were posed as reflection and meaning making-a profound enabler for transformative learning (Duerr et al., 2003;Hart, 2008). ...
Chapter in the Palgrave Handbook of Learning for Transformation. ABSTRACT: Why is it important to learn in communities with utopian ideals and experimental praxes, and what can these experiences teach us about designing and facilitating transformative learning? This chapter examines a global studio that took students from the Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation (BCII) at the University of Technology Sydney to the intentional community Auroville, in India. We identify principles of educational design that might create enabling conditions for ‘peak transformative experiences’ within this learning context. These design principles consider everything from location qualities and philosophy of place, to assessments and facilitated provocations for expansion of consciousness and integration of whole being and many ways of knowing.
Single-session therapy (SST) is an approach to service delivery, based on the precept that the power for psychological change rests with the client. The following is a systematic review of the qualitative literature that considered the question, what are people's experiences of single-session therapy? Ten papers were selected for review. Analysis draws on Curt's (1994) concept of critical polytextuality, in which “texts” can be read to create multiple meanings. Findings suggest that what clients find helpful about SST matches what people find helpful about psychotherapy more generally. Unlike “more traditional,” longer-term psychological therapy however, SST is valued in terms of being available at the point of need (as opposed to the point at which someone reaches the top of a therapy waiting list). Analysis focuses on issues relating to time in therapy, what help means to different people, and how the complexities of people's lives may guide these meanings.
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Transformative tourism (TT) has been gaining a lot of attention over the past few years due to its power to transform both the individual and the world we live in, in a positive way. Although presently consisting of a plethora of studies, transformative tourism lacks the lens of a bibliometric approach to track its growth in a more objective and quantitative manner. In this article, a total of 250 publications were analysed using several bibliometric performance metrics, science mapping techniques, such as citation analysis, co-occurrence, and co-authorship, as well as enrichment procedures. By combining these methods, the study identifies the most prolific journals, reference studies in the field, key authors, collaboration patterns, geographic distribution, preferred methods, major research topics, as well as an overall research timeline in this area of study. Findings suggest that transformative tourism could become the heart of tourism in the upcoming years as it begins to take deeper roots through new junctions and discoveries, appealing to more researchers and practitioners, with the literature on TT thus gaining momentum. This paper contributes to fill a research gap and capture the evolution of the fast-growing concept of transformative tourism using bibliometric analysis. The article provides useful insights as well as further research directions for both researchers and tourism practitioners interested in this field of study.
Given a variety of potential treatments and outcomes in ecotherapy and environmental health approaches, and the dynamic nature of health, it is important to carefully consider your choice of research methods in this area. In this chapter, we discuss three research programs that provide excellent role models: Forestry Scotland's “Branching Out” program; the United States and Canada-based Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Industry Research Council; and the University of Illinois Landscape and Human Health Laboratory. As the program strategies highlight, attention to the basics of research design and selection of practically useful research outcomes will serve prospective researchers well, along with flexibility and willingness to innovate. The chapter also describes the linkages between environmental psychology and human health and well-being, including the empirical basis for ecotherapy and environmental health approaches. Key factors involved in research design in ecotherapy and environmental health include how to operationalize “nature” as a therapeutic mechanism.
This chapter explores the connection between well-being and nature. The opening section discusses the current 'mismatch' in the relationship of humans with their natural environment, which has some implications for physical and emotional well-being. The succeeding section discusses the psychoevolutionary perspective of our species' development and the evolving concepts of health and well-being in relation to ecology. A detailed discussion on the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual benefits of interaction with nature is conducted and parallels are drawn with the correlates of happiness. Extensive research from different fields and related case studies are provided to corroborate the author's assertions. Succeeding sections tackle the implications of the studies for therapy, planning, and for promoting a lifestyle of well-being. The remainder of the chapter explores the universality of man's love for or enjoyment of nature and the related study of human interaction with animals.