Years ago, one of my therapists asked me, “Are you addicted to ecstasy?” (Not the drug, the state of being.)
I was startled by the question, had never considered such a possibility. Later, taking a walk alone to integrate the session, I answered him. “Damn right, I’m addicted to ecstasy. Without it, life wouldn’t be worth living.” The tell-tale conviction of the addict.
Since then I have thought a great deal about ecstasy. It is wise to understand one’s addictions.
I think most people seek ecstasy at some point in their lives, in some way. Or if they do not seek it, long for it.
The word literally means “to stand outside.” So the experience of ecstasy is one of moving beyond ourselves, breaking free of the walls of our ego, our duties, our fears, all the trivia of incarnate existence, and opening into another dimension.
Some seek ecstasy through speed—flying downhill on skis, racing on a bicycle, a skateboard, or in a car. Some seek danger—hanging on a cliff face, riding towering waves on a surfboard, any activity so life-threatening that there is no room for thought.
Others seek ecstasy in quieter ways—immersing themselves in nature, in the creation of an art form, in the arms of a beloved, in meditation.
Some say we should not seek ecstasy, but contentment. Let go the drama, live gently. They say the higher we fly, the harder we fall, the brighter the light, the deeper the shadow.
It is true. Clara (Never Again), muses on her life. “It had not been an easy life. It was like the wild mountains around her, ecstasy in the high places, despair in dark ravines at the bottom of sheer cliffs. Not often the wide, level path.”
Yet I would not want a life without ecstasy. I would let go the addiction. Addictions are never good; they warp life. I have been working for years to find more contentment, less drama.
But I also know that moments of ecstasy can be an invaluable resource, a renewal, a shift in perspective that can turn one’s life around.
At the beginning of her story (Leaves in Her Hair), Lyra was tormented by inner voices, struggling with an unhappy marriage, cut off from her art. Then she found her magic glade and Derwydd, the dryad of the oak tree. Her ecstatic times of dancing with Derwydd into the light strengthened her to return home and transform her life.
Back in 1972, I took a three month spiritual training called Arica. Toward the end of the training, we were asked to go to a place alone for three days and nights with a regime of practices to follow. One practice was to begin with an awareness of light at the center of the chest and then, breath by breath, to expand it—to fill the body, the room, the building, the city, the planet, and on out into the universe.
That practice was a major turning point for me. When I reached the boundaries of the universe—never mind that such a thing is inconceivable—there was light, and light and beyond that Light. When I came back at last to the quiet room, my hands folded in my lap, the candle flickering, I knew I would never be the same again. Whatever ill might befall me in the years to come, I would always know the Light was there, within and around me.
So. I seek contentment, but also ecstasy. For me the paths are dancing, meditation, hiking in the high country, and . . .
You never know in what unexpected moment you will be surprised.