Touching the Hem of the Universe: Inviting Ecstasy

 

For a breath of ecstasy, give all you have been or could be.

-Sara Teasdale

In kindergarten, our class took a mini field trip to hear a musical performance, and I remember sitting on the floor in a circle with the other kids as a big brass band played When the Saints Go Marching In. Goosebumps flared up from my head to my toe, and my heart quickened; by the time they had reached the rousing conclusion, tears of joy were streaming down my face. I hadn’t even realized that I was moved to tears until the kid next to me burst out laughing and exclaimed, “You’re crying!” Her finger-pointing spread halfway around the circle, and my face flamed with embarrassment–and denial. I put on my most unaffected face and changed the subject, but it would not be the last time that I would be broken open with joy or beauty, or the last time that I would hide my heart’s ignition for fear of being sensitive in an insensitive world.

Ecstasy was my closest companion, and I found her in the pink lady slippers that grew beneath the birches on our property in rural Pennsylvania; I found her in the topaz explosion of sunset and the wild wind before a summer storm. I found her shimmering on the paper that held my 12-year-old scribblings of poetry and in love’s first hour when I tiptoed into adulthood. Ecstasy was a way of life, something I kept to myself because it was too deep to articulate and too pure to invite misunderstanding. Ecstasy was the reason why I have never needed to take a drug and the reason why I survived the abyss.

The Greek root for “ecstasy” is ekstasis, or to stand outside oneself. In our modern, common language, ecstasy often means intense pleasure, but it is much more than this; it is being in the grip of beauty so deep that it swallows us whole and brings us out of self-consciousness and into a state of Consciousness. Reclusive mystics, serial lovers, and adrenaline junkies seek the same elusive thing: that moment when the dam of reason breaks and we lose identity and touch the hem of the universe in a state of feeling excruciatingly, exquisitely alive. Sometimes we go into ekstasis during the most unlikely time–during intense physical pain or abysmal grief–and slip through the door that leads into something we have never experienced before. Shamans and seekers of mind expansion alike can agree that ekstasis cannot be forced, controlled, or sustained for long periods of time, yet those of us who have experienced it are testimony that it is possible.

I once led a women’s workshop, and I asked the ladies to express a memory of deep joy or ecstasy, and to their own amazement, all but one participant were at a loss. Some of these women were in their 60s, yet ecstasy had eluded them to the point that they did not quite know what the word meant. Our modern age is not one that is conducive for cultivating soul-expanding pleasure without drugs, alcohol, thrill-seeking, or risky sex, and this alone is the very reason why each and every one of us needs to make room for it.

True ekstasis is natural intoxication, one that needs acute senses and invitation. Every human being is capable of it, given the right circumstances, and sometimes, relinquishment of all petty distraction and the unnecessary. In the overstimulation and haste of everyday survival, our senses dull and our emotions flatline. Physical and emotional bodies naturally contract during times of stress, loss, struggle, fear, or pain–and with this contraction comes a drawing-in. We gulp our food without tasting it, look but do not see, hear but do not listen, touch but do not feel, inhale but do not smell. But that is the most beautiful, powerful time to open ourselves, petal by petal. Ekstasis is a moving force, energy that comes into us from somewhere else yet from deep inside the core of consciousness; it needs space to fill. It needs us to be open, vulnerable, human. It needs us to trust it.

Nine years ago, after living acutely with senses wide open for decades, I decided that nailing myself shut would somehow give me an easier life. I intentionally shut down my psychic sense, stopped listening to beautiful music, stopped writing and reading poetry that gave me great joy, and did not allow anything into my awareness that might prompt me to feel something. In essence, I willingly imploded, sold out, and attempted to live like most people I knew: half-conscious. It was not long until my health buckled and panic attacks hijacked my body multiple times a day, but I did not realize how corking all of that vital life force impacted every facet of my being. It would be almost 6 years before I would be blasted awake again, on an ordinary night I decided to download a song and sit in my near-empty studio. We had relocated a few months earlier, and the excitement of setting up a new painting space had quickly soured to the conclusion that my muse was dead and I would probably never paint again.

Then the music came on, came into me like clever, unstoppable flood waters. It slipped past the deadbolt of my consciousness–and my soul, within seconds– flew out of self-imposed lockdown. I sat motionless for two hours as I sobbed and watched the Samhain eve moon etch a vein of gold into the night. Ecstasy held me in her arms and welcomed me back home.

That night of inner thawing would unexpectedly catalyze the most profound spiritual healing and awakening of my life five months later, but I was not prepared for what it asked of me. I was not prepared to be so utterly broken open by beauty that I would sometimes lie on my studio floor, unable to move from the crushing weight of being that awake, that open, that happy. Ekstasis demanded that I look her in the eye and meet her with a level of self-honoring I had never been willing to give. I had to love myself or be ripped to shreds in her tempest. The old self who chose being small to accommodate others who had also chosen to be small would need to die into the new Self, the Self that would expand to hold the Unlimited.

It is easy for all of us to trip into the the urge to contract, fold into ourselves out of the personality/ego’s need for protection, but only in expanding are we truly safe; only in the inferno of our heart-fire can we find our indestructible force field, and in turn, our inborn, exquisite capability to experience ekstasis, to stay inside of joy even when we are unhappy. This has become my sole spiritual path, one that has transformed me at the cellular level. The frequency of joy is God/dess, the Creative Force, the eternal, unextinguishable fire of the soul and the road Home.

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Connect with author-artist Marlaina Donato at: www.MarlainaDonato.com

Author Marlaina Donato

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