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“The Search for Ecstasy” From MIND ALIVE


Wild rites and states of mind verging on madness have played a part in every world religion. In a state of ecstasy, reached by deliberate rituals or long periods of self-denial and contemplation, worshippers experience heightened states of consciousness and unity with their gods. Official leaders of religious movements have often been embarrassed by this tendency among those in their charge. Unable to deny that the founders and saints of most faiths have known ecstasy, they fear the uncontrollable and irresponsible orgies which often accompany ecstatic conditions.

One problem has been that those who have experienced ecstasies always find it hard to describe their experiences.

Very often they speak of them as “beyond words,” of “unutterable beauty.” When they try to describe the indescribable they usually do so in terms of lights and colors and visions.

For the religious ecstatics, ecstasy is a union with God, and a sense of wholeness and unity pervades them. Radhakrishnan, a Hindu mystic, described his experiences by saying: “A lightning flash, a sudden flame of incandescence, throws a momentary but eternal gleam on life in time. A strange quietness enters the soul; a great peace invades its being. The vision, the spark, the supreme moment of unification of conscious realization, sets the whole being ablaze with perfect purpose. The supreme awareness, the intimately felt presence, brings with it a rapture beyond joy, a knowledge beyond reason, a sensation more intense than life itself, infinite in peace and harmony.” While throughout history people have experienced ecstatic phenomena unsought, many have deliberately used physical stimulants to trigger off what is essentially a mental experience. Drugs, alcohol, dancing, sexual orgies, sexual abstinence, self-inflicted torture, have all been used for this purpose.

Those who frequently experience ecstatic states often have a history of ill health. Louise Lateau, a Belgian, was a sickly child. At the age of 11 she was severely gored by a bull; at 16 she nursed a dying household in a cholera epidemic and at 17 an attack of angina nearly killed her. A devout Catholic, when she was 18 she felt an urge to suffer the agonies of Christ’s crucifixion.

On 15 April 1868 she had a vision of the Christ Child and went into an ecstasy. The following month she experienced bleeding from her side and feet—she had become a stigmatic, someone who repeats in their own body the wounds of Christ. The wounds recurred regularly for the next seven years.

St. Catherine of Siena (1347-80), who had “thousands of ecstasies,” some of them lasting three days, was always in poor health; Dostoevsky (1821-81), the Russian novelist, was an epileptic and experienced ecstasies preceding his seizures.

In their mystical literature the Persian Sufis continually employ the metaphor of “madness” to describe their ecstasies.

“The Search for Ecstasy” From MIND ALIVE is an extract from The Highest State of Consciousness edited by John W. White, published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.

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