I recently had the pleasure of attending Queerope, a 5-day virtual rope conference for LGBTQIA+ folks, hosted by the amazing team at Karada House. The event was exquisitely held, and I could spend a whole post detailing what an extraordinary feat the team managed to pull off, over several platforms and five days, with participants from 23 different countries and teachers Zooming in from as far afield as China and Japan. But that is not the focus of this post. Because more than anything, for me the event was a reminder that, to quote a certain book I come back to again and again, ecstasy really is necessary.
It’s been a while since the last time I was a participant at an event like this, rather than a space holder, and had a chance to sink into the ecstatic possibilities that arise in safe and permissive space dedicated to embodiment, pleasure, and creativity. My experience during those five days ranged from tender to funny, connective to profound, and I learned loads. On the other side of the conference, some of the side-effects of ecstatic experience I noticed in myself were:
Feeling joyful, alive, and energised.
A sense of being more fully present in my own skin, and more aware of myself and how I was feeling.
My brain firing with creative and change-making inspiration, which lasted for a week or two after the event.
I appreciate this may seem like a strange time to be writing about ecstasy. Many people have had their usual avenues for ecstatic experiences closed since March, and, at least in this country, it doesn’t look like that’s about to change for the better in the immediate future. For others, ecstatic experiences are shared experiences, and these times are making sharing a much more complicated prospect than it once was. And maybe some of you haven’t quite found a route to ecstasy that works for you yet, but the people or events you might have been planning to access that were potential portals into that flavour of experience aren’t available right now, and you’re feeling like there isn’t a way in for you.
I also happen to know that, for some of you, this year has been a source of permission – to slow down, to turn towards yourselves, to tend to the work within and in your close relationships that was calling out to be done – and an opportunity to discover and access more ecstasy than ever before.
In all of the above, there is information to be found, there are clues and sign-posts that can point you towards ecstasy. So let’s do some detective work in the direction of your more ecstatic life. I know this year has been a fucker for so many of you; some of you will have been fortunate enough to stay safe, to stay healthy, and to stay afloat during this time – and some of you will not. Whatever your circumstances, I’m coming from the position similar to adrienne maree brown’s when she writes that “pleasure is a measure of our freedom”* – and trusting that we could all do with some more of those “ecstatic side-effects” I mentioned above right now.
Identifying the ecstasy you want
Some questions to consider, write, doodle, or walk on:
What did you miss most during lockdown?
What hunger in your heart have you most struggled to feed this year?
What have your moments of peak joy been since March (yes, these can be small joys, small is beautiful)? If none come to mind, what were your moments of peak joy last year?
Questions like those above can point you towards two things:
- Relational needs: These are the needs that you bring to relationship, and that get met for you in relationship with other people. I notice that this year has made these more apparent to many of us. Having those needs amplified can help you identify them and name them – which in turn can support you in orienting towards them, and bringing them to the table in current or future relationships. So make a note of them – not least because they may also lead you, in a roundabout way, to more shared ecstasy.
- Possible sources of ecstasy: Experiences, situations, activities or practices that stimulate ecstatic experiences for you. If the answers to the questions above that you think fit into this category seem currently impossible or out of reach, take a breath.
Rather than despairing, see if you can dig a little deeper.
Take the sources that come to mind one at a time, and explore:
How does that experience make you feel?
What qualities does it have that cause that feeling?
What need do you think it meets for you?
Once you’ve done that, ask yourself:
Can you currently access a version of this experience, virtually, or in another way that’s safe enough for you and others right now?
Or, can you create an experience, in whatever your particular version of the current situation is, that would have a similar flavour, cause you to feel a similar way, and meet that same underlying need that this potential source of ecstasy meets?
Expanding the ecstasy you have
Perhaps you are feeling inspired by the questions above, and have embarked on a potentially ecstatic experience accordingly. Or perhaps you have found that some of your most ecstatic experiences are closer to home than you thought. How do you expand those experiences, and allow them to expand you in turn? Here are some tips for accessing, enhancing, and expanding ecstatic experiences:
We have been reminded multiple times this year that breath is a privilege. So first and foremost, if you’re reading this, let’s take a deep breath or two together.
I also think of breath as a subtle superpower. One of the ways we can use that superpower is to enhance our ecstatic experiences. Think back to peak moments of pleasure and ecstasy in your past – and notice what was happening with your breath in that moment. Chances are your breath was an active participant in the experience.
Breath invites us into our bodies, and into our senses that are receiving and participating in the experience we are having.
Breath makes space in our bodies for the sensations we are receiving to move through us, so that they are less localised and more long-lasting.
Breath helps us to build and expand on those sensations, and also to let go into them, so that they can become heightened, and we can become ever more present to them.
I’m noticing many of us are finding it particularly hard to be present in the midst of the many uncertainties of this strange year. Rather than berating yourself if that’s the case, get curious about what you need to be present. For some, the breath will do it – while others will need to find ways to discharge mental and/or physical energy before they can take that deep sigh that indicates their arrival into their bodies, into the moment.
Do you need to speak what’s on your mind – to a loved one, to a therapist, to the autumn wind?
Do you need to walk or shake or dance your way into the present moment, releasing all that has been weighing upon you layer by layer, one motion at a time?
Do you need to take it to the water – a long bath, a good cry, washing your cares from your precious body one at a time?
Being present is vital for rendering an experience ecstatic – the more present you are, the more you can let the ecstatic experience in, and also notice if something needs to change to render it more so. In short, the more available you are for ecstasy. So in your quest for ecstasy, give yourself permission to include whatever it is that you need to support you in being more present.
Permission is the key to any ecstatic experience. It’s why those experiences are more accessible for many of us in safely and skilfully held spaces; it’s not just the guidance we are given into our embodied experience, but also the explicit permission to be there, that can make those spaces so potent.
Giving ourselves permission is an essential practice for an ecstatic life.
So give yourself permission. Give yourself permission to try things, to make mistakes, to find out more. Give yourself permission to be playful. Give yourself permission to experience ecstasy in a way that doesn’t look like someone else’s ecstasy, or the ecstasy on TV, or the ecstasy you were told you were allowed to have, or the ecstasy you had in the past. Give yourself permission to go for it. Give yourself permission to ask: What would feel really good in this moment? And what about this moment? And this one? And then follow that.
Give yourself permission to allow for the possibility that ecstasy is necessary.
We are in danger as a culture, as collectives, as change-makers, of thinking of ecstasy as a frivolity, a luxury. But look at what just five days of a small online conference with a big ecstatic predisposition did for me: I felt more alive. I felt I knew myself better. I felt connected with other people. And I felt inspired and energised to make change. So many of us want change right now – for ourselves, for our communities, for our world. Ecstasy fuels change. Take that one step further, and it becomes clear that, if we can render the ways we make change together ecstatic, we render change-making sustainable. So I hope something in the above will inspire you to get curious in the direction of your own ecstatic life, and I hope that your own ecstatic experiences will fuel the changes you wish to see in the world.
* I believe the pleasure adrienne is referring to here is pleasure that feels good, consensual, and safe-enough for anyone involved or impacted – and this certainly applies when I encourage you towards ecstatic experiences in this post.