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Image from Sam Souhami

It wasn’t until thirty years ago, in the 1960s, that there began to be any widespread realization that ecstasy is a legitimate human need — as essential for mental and physical health as proper nutrition, vitamins, rest and recreation….

Do not suppose, however, that we are merely a society of lotus-eaters, lolling on divans and cuddling lovely women. Ecstasy is something higher, or further out, than ordinary pleasure and few hippies realize that its achievement requires a particular discipline and skill that is comparable to the art of sailing. We do not resist the vibrations, pulses and rhythms of nature, just as the yachtsman does not resist the wind. But he knows how to manage his sails and, therefore, can use the wind to go wherever he wishes. The art of life, as we see it, is navigation.

Ecstasy is beyond pleasure…. ecstasy can be achieved in battle, by ascetic self-torture and through the many variations of sadomasochistic sexuality. This we call the lefthand or negative approach. The righthand or positive approach is through activities that are loving and life-affirming. Since both approaches reach the same point, it must be noted that ecstasy is always a pleasure/pain experience, as when one weeps for joy as when there is a certain hurt in intense sexual orgasm … — Alan Watts

My parents went through the Great Depression. Their minds had been focused on survival by circumstances. They dreamed of being creative but first they had to feed and clothe six children. Roosevelt’s New Deal helped create a society where people from the lower classes could rise, and that’s what my parents did. My generation took all that abundance as normal and began to experiment with mental and creative frontiers. Ecstasy through drugs entered the youth culture as a norm. Mere survival wasn’t enough anymore.

I put a toe into that culture and quickly pulled it back after one bad trip. I was more interested in art and the psychology of spirituality anyway. I veered off. I went to Europe, learned French and became a hybrid American and never looked back. The American search for ecstasy, especially related to that era, looks quaint to me now. It looks like a reaction to our buttoned-down parents way of living. I have a lot more sympathy for people of my parents’ age now. They went through some hard times. They reacted just as you or I would in similar circumstances. We were privileged and didn’t know it.

Still, humans have a capacity for grounded ecstasy if they keep their wits about them as they approach it. Drugs blast the door open and release energies that some people can’t integrate. Caution is advised when dealing with the unconscious. We can’t imagine its power. Psychosis is not a joke.

Finding the meaning, the juice of life, involves clearing mental debris deposited by our personal and collective culture over time. Ancient cultures approach this paradigm with discipline, with guides, with insight. If aids are used, ayahuasca for example, reliable and knowledgeable experts keep an alert eye on the process. Yes, we do have ecstasy in us, if we can see through all our barriers to it. Cleansing our so-called lenses of perception is an arduous task. We Americans are babes in the woods when it comes to inner processes. We want it quick and easy.

Grounding in genuine love and work is our first order of business, I think. Sometimes those things come slowly or not at all. In that case, the search for ecstasy is likely to take the form of addiction to some activity or substance.

We are driven by the need for ecstasy, but being centered in a true self and a real life should probably come first.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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