In the ancient Greek, ekstasis means “to be or stand outside oneself, a removal to elsewhere” from ek- “out,” and stasis “a stand, or a standoff of forces”. It also translates as a “displacement of the mind” or as we would call it, astonishment, amazement, ecstasy.
I was introduced to the term through Karen Armstrong’s book, “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life” (highly recommended) as the ultimate goal to which all religions and spiritual practices aspire. The Oneness. Enlightenment. The concept is not new, and the pursuit of that depth of human experience isn’t either. She elaborates on how we discover that wholeness – though compassion, which is at the root of all of these various practices.
However, at one point in the book, I found it disconcerting that Armstrong refers to that feeling of ekstasis as something beyond description. It is a universal feeling, but it is one we have no words for.
Armstrong is a religious historian, and her book is heady indeed, heavily laden with research and well-thought out devices. However, as a writer, I can’t help but take umbrage at the thought that I cannot describe something.
If ekstasis is trancendence in its purest form, how can it be beyond description?
There is a clear physical feeling associated with this ekstasis. My chest feels expansive, able to hold everything for a moment. There’s an openness that begins at my heart and crests up and up my neck and to my chin, cheeks, temples. A chill overtakes me and runs down my spine. It’s rapture.
It’s looking at a night sky basking in the wonderful feeling of how inconsequential I am in the grand scheme of things – and really, in any scheme outside my my immediate circle of family and friends. I feel as if I am one with the breeze blowing over me, with the brilliant sunset as night falls, with the moon as it illuminates lovers on the beach.
It’s the minor guitar chord with perfect tension and anticipation.
It’s when a lover takes your hand and grasps it in that most careful, firm way as they pull you into them. It’s when they press their hand to the small of your back, and you are completely lost. The feeling suddenly shifts, sinking lower down into your belly, to the toes, the fingertips. Eyes meet, and more cascading chills fall, like chords from the song you’ve always wanted to write but were never able to until this moment. It’s the deepest pleasure and highest echelon of being, disorienting to the senses as you become dizzy at a mere touch.
I feel taller, like there is a beam emanating from the crown of my head, and I have to share it with as many people as possible, that they might see and benefit from their own light.
It’s when your child crawls into your lap, and you feel their soft warmth and smell their head as they snuggle into you. That joy and peacefulness runs so deeply, you can feel it course through your veins in a way that grounds you, and the rootedness is somehow simultaneously and impossibly uplifting.
It’s having nothing to say because the moment is whole, complete without words.
So I suppose Armstrong was right, after all.