While solving the acrostic puzzle in the Sunday Times I lingered at this clue: ‘Manifestation of pure ecstasy.’ What is pure ecstasy? On first reading, it’s normal to think we want ecstasy at least once in a while.
The definitions are: A trance-like state of such intensity that one is carried beyond rational thought and self-control; a total suspension of sensibility or voluntary motion; the trance, frenzy or rapture associated with intense religious devotion.
Some think ecstasy is intense lust - that’s just your id messing with you. A trance? I go into a trance when I enter a supermarket - that’s just fluorescent lights and big business messing with me. Is ecstasy intense satisfaction? Satisfaction doesn’t transcend normal consciousness. Is it joy: the emotion of great delight caused by something exceptionally good? Joy doesn’t put you in a trance; it puts a big grin on your face.
Looking back on events in my life that left me in total suspension of mental power, I can think of very few. I was dating a famous person and we were having lunch at the Cafe des Artistes in New York City. People were staring at us and I was wearing a big furry hat that framed my face and made me look a bit like Lara in Dr. Zhivago. I was in extreme nervous overstimulation - almost the opposite of ecstasy.
A more ecstasy-like moment came during a vacation in Montego Bay. I sat at a table in a modest apartment across the street from the Caribbean. I was content to sit up straight and be very still, hands folded. I felt perfect health and well-being in every part of my body. Emotion was absent. It was a moment of unremarkable perfection. Unremarkable because there were none of the markers of the physical world.
Another moment came on a summer afternoon in my front yard. I was weeding as my grandson gently crashed his big wheel into a maple tree pretending he was a construction worker. I could hear him murmuring to himself. We were comfortably aware of each other but not together. After a while we went inside and made pancakes. Practically no words were spoken. Again a moment of unremarkable perfection.
Perfect health and perfect balance might bring on ecstasy. Perfect tandem awareness of another, engaged but apart. Two good clues. I suspect ecstasy is the opposite of emotion. It is a sense of rightness in the moment that is intense and profound but also unremarkable. If we try to define it, it’s gone.