I was recently interviewed by Drema Baker of If… Journal for an article on spiritual ecstasy and awakenings. She drew from an interfaith pool and received fascinating feedback. It’s a nice article, entitled Wake Up! The Role of Ecstasy in Spiritual Practice.
It’s been a long time since I’ve shared my spiritual experiences with others. I was working regularly with my friend Don for about two years, but that ended when he got hisself a grrrlfrien’. Ahem.
The first question posed was whether or not the ecstatic spiritual experience (ESE) was rare. Who knows? Well, Teresa of Avila, maybe. She definitely had something going on! While WASP culture looks down on any energized experience (reference the disdain for those who speak in tongues or who practice “Voodoo” or any number of other ecstatically based traditions), many other traditions actively embrace the ESE.
Tribal shamans use drumming, drugs, fasting, dancing, and other means to achieve ecstasy and travel to the Otherworld. These practices are found worldwide. And they’re even found in my living room! (OK, not the drumming, drugs, and fasting, but I do participate in ESEs.)
ESEs are not limited to Pagan traditions. As noted above, the Catholic saint Teresa of Avila often channeled ecstasy. When I was growing up as a good Roman Catholic girl, I had ESEs at Mass on a regular basis. The golden-white light would come up from the Earth, through the soles of my feet, and out through my hands, head, heart, and even my hair. It felt like I was a vessel for divine light. I loved it. I always felt lighter and at peace after it passed. I felt total joy while I was in it.
The same phenomena happen now that I’m Pagan, but in more complex ways. I try to remain open to Spirit all the time, so I can become a channel at any time. I’ve had an uncanny number of ESEs in restaurants. I have no idea why. Perhaps my gods have a wicked sense of humor. Regardless, the light comes from the Earth or sometimes down my back and fills me up.
Rather than being confined to joy, however, I experience this connection to Spirit in a variety of settings, including tragic ones. It most frequently happens when I’m with someone else. If I sense something heavy coming on, I ask their permission before I begin speaking to them. As an example, a friend and I were out for dinner and I was overcome by Spirit. As I began to speak, I told her that her marriage was over. We cried our eyes out. I kept asking permission to speak until she finally said she wanted to hear the whole shebang. (Her marriage was indeed “dead” in the Tarot sense of the word; she and her husband went on to totally reinvent it.)
While some might call this a “negative” experience, I don’t. I still consider it an ESE. The process is the same, though the message may be different. I still feel full. I don’t always feel joy in the moment, but I feel a pure form of whatever emotion is appropriate; in the case of my friend, I felt a pure form of grief.
The most intriguing part of Drema’s article for me was when some interviewees cautioned against seeking such experiences, calling them “dangerous.” Hunh? I don’t understand this point of view at all. I don’t know what’s dangerous about it, unless maaaaybe you’re not grounded and you get totally freaked out. But the whole point of ESEs is to touch the divine as you see it. You access a part of your brain you don’t normally get to reach. You have a spiritual re-awakening. In my practice, this is a recurring phenomenon. For others, it’s a one-shot deal. Perhaps that’s why I consider it normal and desirable—I’m just used to it. Practice makes perfect! 😉
For anyone interested in spiritual exploration, I suggest you read Drema’s article and then reflect on your own experiences. I do readings for people and am happy to serve as shaman in this capacity. Feel free to contact me if you want insight into your way of living or advice on how to open the door to a more in-depth relationship with Spirit. (That sounds like a commercial—not my intention. It’s just who I am and what I do.)