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Peak experiences are here and now

SuuntoRun — 15 June 2021

Witnessing a volcanic eruption, photographer Chris Burkard reflects on peak experiences.

Photographer Chris Burkard on the side of erupting volcano in Iceland


American photographer and artist Chris Burkard travels the world documenting amazing people, places and events. Recently he was visiting Iceland, a country he adores, to go on a bikepacking adventure. But life had other plans. A volcano erupted, and Chris knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to capture this incredible force of nature. It didn’t disappoint.


Press play to watch the power of nature!


What he witnessed blew his mind and got him reflecting on peak experiences, those almost altered states of consciousness characterised by euphoria and wonder. “I was just so honored to experience it,” he says.

We caught up with Chris and asked him about the experience and what he’s learned about peak experiences through his years of travelling the world and witnessing incredible things.


Do you often travel to Iceland?

I do! In fact I have been there 43 times. In some ways it's an obsession and I think what draws me there the most is the landscape as it’s so visceral and ever changing. But honestly, it's the people that keep me coming back and that keep me engaged and interested.


How did you feel standing so close to a live volcano?

Oddly enough I truly felt at home. At peace.. Like it's something I have been doing for thousands of years. In many ways it felt incredibly calming.


You mention peak experiences in your Instagram post – I imagine your work has brought you many – do these happen by chance or are there things, in your experience, we can do to invite them to occur?

I think that a “peak” experience is the byproduct of the time you put in. You realize at a certain point that to truly experience the height of something you need to slow down, be patient and really recognize when a moment is special. Sometimes a peak moment won't slap you in the face or excite you right away. You realize it later. It sort of dawns on you. I like to give myself the time and patience to recognize these moments. Rarely, when I do recognize them in “real time” it can feel really special.


What does a peak experience feel like to you?

It's a moment when your mind and heart and body are all in sync, it’s the certainty of knowing that there is no other place on Earth that I should be right now.


Do your peak experiences only occur in epic situations like your visit to the volcano, or, say, while surfing a perfect wave, or can they also occur in everyday life?

Everyday life. With my kids, at my property. On my bike commute. It's just the knowledge that a moment is special, will rarely be repeated, and you sort of get a glimpse of the future. And realize I need to cherish this.


You talk about the importance of giving yourself the space to experience before shooting – how do you personally approach this?

Honestly in some ways it kind of sounds like voodoo, but I truly feel like the way to really experience a place is to make an offering. An offering of time and interest and engagement. Not hiding from its many moods and feelings. Its storms and high winds. That is how you find a connection. You have to go through those things to really feel a place. I firmly believe that if you invest that time into a place and put in that effort, you are rewarded.


All images: © Chris Burkard