What do we mean by the ecstatic life? In Webster’s Dictionary some synonyms for ecstasy include the following: overwhelming emotion, rapturous delight, mystical trance, intense exaltation of mind or feelings, a state of intense bliss or beatitude, a powerful emotion that lifts us out of our self, an experience of radical wonder, awe and amazement, a luminous vision of beauty, a state of sublime reverie, an tender and elegiac mood, a diaphanous state of transparency to Being in itself, contemplative serenity and peace, intimate communion, sensuous and spiritual surrender, transcendental joy.
In her book, “The Hunger for Ecstasy: Fulfilling the Soul’s Need for Passion and Intimacy,” Jalaja Bonheim writes, “There comes a time in each of our lives when the inner ‘serpent’ (see the Kundalini Tantric Yoga Tradition) demands its freedom. We know that this time has come when we begin to long for new avenues of self-expression. We begin to dream of dancing with wild abandon, of writing poetry, traveling to faraway places, or making love with total freedom. Though we might be frightened, we yearn to take risks–to speak the truth when doing so feels risky, to reveal ourselves in new ways, to experience, to explore the outer boundaries of our potential. Unlocking the cage take courage, no doubt, but once we taste the joy of full self-expression, there is no turning back.”
In the chapter of her book entitled “The Practice of Presence,” Bonheim explores such pathways to transcendent and transformative ecstasy as divine presence, healing ritual, slowing down, meditation and silence. In the chapter on beauty she explores such themes as beauty as the mirror of the soul, the senses as divine messengers, adorning the body, the power of natural beauty, everyday beauty, and music. She writes, “Anything beautiful allows our senses to savor the sweet taste of the Divine.” The ecstatic life is one in which we learn to “savor” the wonder and beauty of life, to experience radical amazement and intoxicating joy.
The poet and essayist Diane Ackerman who calls herself a “natural ecstatic” writes: “Ecstasy is what everyone craves –not love or sex, but a hot-blooded, soaring intensity, in which being alive is a joy and thrill. That enravishment doesn’t give meaning to live, and yet without it life seems meaningless.”
“The ecstatic life” is not incompatible with the contemplative life. Contemplation and ecstasy are two aspects of the same awareness of expansive and intensified experience. Nor is the ecstatic life incompatible with the life of rational reflection, ethical integrity and creative purpose. The ecstatic life integrates the natural, physical, emotional, social, aesthetic, imaginative, rational, volitional, ethical, intuitive and spiritual dimensions of life, much as is symbolized in the image of the seven yogic “chakras” or “energy centers” of sentience and consciousness that all need to be opened, honored, expressed and synthesized. The ecstatic life is what “integral yoga” is all about. Someone has described it as “full-blast living.” Someone else has described to as a beautiful flower opening up and blooming. Sometimes the ecstatic life will be experienced as a profound sense of serenity and peace. At other times it will be experienced as euphoric pleasure and joy. Sometimes it will be experienced as heartache and melancholy. Or it may make its presence known as luminous light or flaming heat.
Below are some beautiful pieces of artwork that evoke the spirit of the ecstatic life. Enjoy!