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.

I believe the essence of it is connection. We not only go beyond ourselves, but merge with something greater. The rock face, the wave, the art, the beauty of nature, the beloved, the Beloved. IMG_20120824_104227

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.

Beauty is Power

Beauty is power. Big time. Especially in our culture that places such an emphasis on it. Being physically beautiful can get a person a job, a lover, admiration, validation, and open doors that are closed to the less physically attractive.

My beloved friend Cedar Barstow has developed an extraordinarily insightful system of ethics that she calls “the right use of power.” She has founded an organization, Right Use of Power Institute, and trained many teachers nationally and internationally in her work. She expresses the essence of right use of power thus: “Power guided by loving concern for the well being of all . . . Power directed by heart. Heart infused with power.”

It is not hard to think of  misuses of the power of personal beauty. We hear of it all the time—manipulation, seduction, entitlement, domination, putting down one perceived to be less beautiful.

What then is the right use of the power of personal beauty? How can we use it to benefit others?

First of all we must let go of ego identification with our beauty, (see my recent blog, Beauty is Dangerous,) then humbly receive it as a gift.

I was walking around Wonderland Lake a few days ago with Cedar, brainstorming on this question. A little girl in bright pink slacks whizzed by on her scooter, blond hair flying, little body light and lively, swift, graceful motion. My heart lifted. I turned to share a smile with Cedar.

In the same way my heart lifts when I see the shining eyes of my grandchildren.014-3 Or when I go to a tango dance and delight in the beautiful clothes the dancers are wearing and the grace and precision of their movement.

We have an expression “eye candy.” The sight of a handsome man or a beautiful woman is sweet.

Beauty delights, and one right use of its power is to let it shine.

But there is a deeper question. What is beauty really?

Is it a culturally approved shape of nose, eyes, lips, body? I think not. That is fashion. Fashion changes all the time, and in my experience only occasionally aligns with beauty. I noticed, when I was studying fashion magazines to better understand this question, that most of the models looked sullen. It seems pouting is fashionable nowadays. But I do not think it is beautiful.

No matter what the shape of nose or body, people shine with beauty when they are happy or filled with enthusiasm.

This kind of beauty attracts, draws people to us. Then if we have something to share, if we are teachers, therapists, artists, or business people with a good idea, we have the opportunity to enrich the lives of those drawn to us because of our gift of personal beauty.

The give and take in such a situation creates connection. Those drawn to us appreciate us, and that appreciation opens us to give more freely. Connection is something we all long for. Shining and sharing in this way, is another right use of the power of beauty.

There is a deeper level still.

My friend Charly Heavenrich  is a canyon guide and has for many years taken people on raft trips down the Grand Canyon. He tells me that after a week or so, all the faces of the people in his group are beautiful, stripped of the stress of their usual lives and filled with awe at the magnificence of the canyon.

I have seen that same kind of beauty in the faces of those with whom I have shared a meditation retreat or a Summer Solstice long dance.

Perhaps the most profound way to use the power of beauty is to seek out and develop those experiences and practices that clear away the debris, so that our true selves, our essence, Love, God within us can shine forth.

Then all in our presence are blessed.