Is there a preferred state of mind, an optimal form of consciousness, a way to guide the flow of my life? It can be a wild beast, that mind of ours. But can we tame it at least enough to push toward our better angels?
I think we can, but it’s not easy. That said, here is my take on the question. There is a state of mind we’re all acquainted with, at least to some degree. The word used for it is pretty common: Ecstasy.
We can all in one way or another relate to this word. The usage ranges from “Mom, I’m ecstatic about that gorgeous red blouse you bought me” to the mystical ecstasy of Hildegard Von Bingen, expressed by her beautiful music.
Ecstasy is the most interesting state of mind to explore because it seems to be the most creative—even to the point of defying the familiar habits of nature. Far out creative!
To be clear about the root meaning of the word ecstasy. Ek-stasis is the Greek, and means standing or being outside yourself. Definitely, an altered state of consciousness; in ecstasy, we are lifted outside our normal personality. I once dreamt I was flying through a pure blue sky on my virgin-silver Haines flute—ecstatic, in spades! And you? We all, if lucky, can boast of the rare taste of the truly ecstastic. Love and sex are obvious wellsprings of possible ecstasy.
It turns out that there are many ways, accidental and deliberate, to induce ecstasy. A lady friend was driving me across town once when the car hit an embankment, lost traction and began slowly to spin around into the next lane with oncoming traffic. I saw immediately that I might shortly be dead but then strangely lapsed into a state of blissful admiration of everything around me; I was outside myself and feeling calm and serene. By sheer luck we made it unscathed to the other side of the road.
One of the more famous accidental routes to ecstasy is the well-investigated near-death experience. When this happens, you are definitely outside your normal human self. Typically, you may encounter deceased loved ones, see your whole life flash before you, encounter a being of light and pure love, hear unearthly music, feel what you never felt before, and emerge from it all, a new human being, often with paranormal powers you never had before..
We would prefer not to have such terrifying accidents to experience ecstasy and its wonders. We can, however, turn to more gradual, deliberate methods of exploring the ecstatic zone. For example, like shamans, mediums, poets, prophets and mystics, we might fast, meditate, or isolate ourselves, ingest psychoactive substances, sublimate our sexual energies, and so on All directed to trigger ecstasy. In fact, there is a specific drug, MDMA called Ecstasy or Molly. All I can do here is mention that my own experiments with MDMA, conducted with my wife, taught me first hand about the ecstatic dimension of an etherialized eroticism.
People have devised ways to get outside their everyday personal selves with the purpose of tuning into greater powers and new dimensions of reality. There are ways to search for higher forms of consciousness. So, a conversation about ecstasy would be useful, and I would say this. It would be useful to have a practice, an art form, a life-style that helps us. It could be anything. Any practice that tends to free us from the mechanical side of ourselves. The Indians have the word, sadhana—the practice you use to tune into the powers of your latent higher self. “What have you done to surpass yourself” was the question that Nietzsche put into the mouth of Zarathustra. The divine spark inside us is dying to burst into flame.
In my opinion, a great outlet for the ecstatic quest, for finding a healing sadhana, are the arts. The arts are about getting outside the ordinary manacled mind and rearranging reality in such a way that permits more of the beauty, the pathos, the miracle of being to pour into our minds and hearts. The arts all bow to the same goddess, Imagination.
The arts can take us out of our selves, each art form in its own way. It can be any form you resonate with, as long as it gives you a handle on your creative imagination, a way to enter a new dimension of your self.
I’ll end with a short description of my own practice, my night life as a painter. I get out of myself as a painter by the way I paint. I let the painting paint itself; everything begins with doodling, I draw without plan and allow random patterns of form and color. I fall into an easy-going chaos, spontaneous and indistinct.
Then I stop, stand back and look at the outpourings on my canvas—the first step in materializing the image on canvas. In step two, I look for the composition hidden in the chaos, get into the brushwork, delete or change a form or the value of a color. In short, I hand it over to the craftsman to find and bring out the soul of the still hidden image. The spontaneous and the critical finally come together with a sigh of relief.
Exploring ecstasy as a new dimension of consciousness leads to stories that challenge our general outlook. A vast range of reports reveal all manner of strange phenomena. One thinks of the thousands of people who have ecstatic near-death experiences, how their lives are transformed; there are documented cases of instantaneous healings resulting from ecstatic prayer; historically, the phenomena of the great Hebrew prophets, who are undoubtedly taken out of their normal personalities; cases of mental and physical mediums who produce effects that shatter physical theory and enlarge our understanding of the nature of the psyche; the well-documented miracles of Hindu and Catholic saints; ecstasy is always central, the key to extraordinary events.
Ecstasy—a mode of consciousness--is the key factor in amazing cases of levitation—which is supposed to be impossible. There are more interesting ways of being in the world and more interesting forms of consciousness. Ecstasy is a fascinating doorway into the land of the ultra possible. A higher life in all senses.
To explore the details of this story, see Kelly, E. Irreducible Mind, that gets into the data behind the new paradigm of consciousness that is emerging today, and Grosso, M. Smile of the Universe, which reviews data supporting the most powerful phenomena that challenge the belief in reductive materialism.