Friday, February 11, 2022

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, February 12, 2022 - The Function of Ecstasy

It’s funny the words we see all the time and use regularly, yet when called upon to spell them, we blank. 

When I decided to write about ecstasy I misspelled it. I could have sworn it had an X in it. 

Which made me laugh to myself at the irony of it because we do often equate ecstasy with X-rated things. Perhaps it revealed a bias in me. 

Conversely, when one describes having an “ecstatic experience,” many first think of religion and spirituality, or a view from the mountaintop. 

I would argue that, at some level, they might all be the same thing.

I say this by way of making a belated New Year’s resolution for myself. And perhaps suggesting one to you as well. Have more ecstasy this year. A lot more of it.

The word ecstasy comes from the Greek ekstasis meaning to stand outside oneself; to leave one’s body. I also read that it was a removal from one’s “proper place.” Ouch. That almost seems like religious judgment against potentially religious experiences when put that way.

Ecstasy is also described as a rapturous experience where one leaves one’s body to experience epiphany, enhanced connection to Spirit, and insight into the oneness of all existence. Is that improper? Hardly.

One might say we have a complicated relationship with the subject of ecstasy. But what is our real actual relationship with ecstatic experiences? How do they affect us physically and emotionally? Is there a difference between different types of ecstasy? Does the brain register a difference between sexual, environmental, and spiritual ecstatic experiences? Science says it does not. 

There is actually a field of study on the effect that religious and spiritual experiences have on our brains. It’s called neurotheology. During intensely religious or spiritual experiences, generated by meditation, speaking in tongues, or trance-mediumship, the brain undergoes a transformation that shifts its focus from the frontal lobes, which regulate attention, language, and behavior, to the thalamus, which regulates the flow of incoming information. 

One could argue this to be evidence of something outside of ourselves engaging with us more fully. And while there’s room for that perspective, there isn’t enough definitive evidence to confirm it.

Suffice it to say, that we experience ecstasy quite differently than our normal walking life. We temporarily forget ourselves, and all of our attention is given to the experience itself. 

What might we conclude from the available facts? While it’s hard to say with any definity, we do know that biologically, our body and brain chemistry is altered to the point where new perspectives often become possible. That, in and of itself, makes it worthy of consideration as a potential pathway toward making a change for the better in our lives. 

Many of us feel that we need to make a change now. Our recent global challenges make existential reevaluation an inevitability. We don’t exactly know who we are anymore. Many of us have thought we knew ourselves and our desires quite well. Only to find that as the earth shifts beneath us we are suddenly wanting different things, or feeling depressed, unfulfilled, underappreciated.

What role might ecstasy have in guiding us toward whatever it is that will help us to resolve these new discrepancies of identity?

These are all fancy words and terms that often confuse us when it comes to the practice of just feeling better. Mainly because the process of feeling better is a confusing one to begin with. The ambiguity of our language to describe it belies the inner confusion we feel. 

But that is the brilliance of seeking ecstatic experience. It is beyond words or understanding, yet it is accessible to us. It has the capacity to create change within us that we cannot predict or understand, or even foresee the need. We often don’t know what we need when we feel depressed or unfulfilled, or anxious, in order to feel better. 

Ecstasy is a temporary removal from that which frustrates us. And in the process, the soil of our emotional state is tilled and replanted with something we might never have thought to deliberately ask for. 

Ecstasy is a surrendering to something outside of ourselves. It may not be religious, or even as profound as the words we read from great poets. But each of us have opportunities to experience it and make profound use of it in the process.

So the advice here is to deliberately seek ecstasy. As well, to take whatever ecstatic experiences we might already enjoy, such as sex or nature, and lean into them more fully. Mindfully. With an expectation that something within us is being altered and can be made anew. 

Even the simple act of joyfulness is an opportunity to be remade. We might not understand the mechanics of it, but we don’t need to. Lean into it. Foster new opportunities for it to exist in your life. That act alone will transform you. 

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