Deep inside, many feel incomplete. For some, the quest to feel whole sits at the heart of a desperate, aching longing that drives a lifelong search. For most who've found it, their journey has taken them farther and deeper than seems humanly possible. Thankfully, the rewards are supreme. Imagine what it feels like to have your heart expand into infinite ecstasy. This can happen - gurus, sages, philosophers, saints have all reached this sublime union. Thankfully, they've taken notes, leaving behind a cheat-sheet to ecstasy.
Turning toward ecstasy
As a child did you ever spin around until you were so dizzy you couldn't stand? At the time you felt different. For a moment the world even looked different. Then wham! Everything returned to normal. Not everyone wants it to. The impulse to spin until the world is new is universal - and sacred. Particularly if your spinning has a soundtrack.
The Whirling Dervishes of Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, teach spinning to music as a way to reach the divine. Founded in 1273, their practice is based on the teachings of Rumi, a 13th century Sufi Mystic poet. Classically defined as "a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God", Sufism is among the most tolerant and liberal of all Islam's paths, and Rumi's creation of Sufism was particularly lenient. Whereas orthodox Islam scolds music and dancing, Rumi believed that music, dancing, and poetry were paths for reaching God. The practice of the Rumi-based Whirling Dervishes is called Sema, and consists of turning as music plays. This simple act is not simple in meaning. Rather, it's an attempt to reach the sacred. This sacred dance begins with the Dervish forming the figure one, representing God's unity. Arms are crossed and eyes fixed on the left hand as the right hand unfolds facing heaven, open to God's love. Throughout this, the Whirling Dervishes listen for God.
For Rumi and his whirling devotees, this love of God was united with love of humanity. Unlike many other religions, Sufism's love of God is divorced from fear. Love, and love alone, is the heart of Sufism. So much so that Rumi wrote: "My religion is to live through love." (1) Believing in an ecstatic, personal, intimate connection with God, Rumi danced a dance that continues to attract followers. As recently as the 1990s, his poetry outsold Shakespeare and Homer. Incredibly, Rumi's simple love poems made him the #1 poet in America. It's as if his popularity unmasks society's overpowering hunger for love. Not everyday, warm and fuzzy love, but a love that strips ego naked and open to a divine lover. In this embrace that is platonic, romantic, familial and holy, this hunger is fed.
This merging of elation and serenity can be yours. Whether or not you follow the Sufi tradition, or have even read one of Rumi's poems, you can feel love's ecstatic union. As Rumi teaches, there are many portals to love. What is yours? Once you know, nurture it. Sustain it. Regardless of your return, living to love makes each day feel like kissing the cosmic.
Praying for love
Attaching love to God is the dominant thought of many religions, including Christianity. Yet for the 16th century Spanish mystic and nun, St Teresa of Avila, ecstasy meant something more complex than God's love. It was an intoxicating mix of pain and pleasure; one that weakens through a battle that ultimately absorbs both ego and consciousness. Here, the soul sleeps until awakened by the trance of divine union. This union was one of complete absorption in the infinite complexities of God. Unlike Sufism's Rumi, St Teresa experienced love of God as including fear of God.
Even if Christian or Catholic, your experience of divine ecstasy may differ from St Teresa's. You may feel as if you've been rocked into joyful sedation, unable to understand or even remember fear. St Teresa believed in the practice of mental prayer as an approach to divine union. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church she applies this definition: "Contemplative prayer [oraci-n mental] in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us." Unfortunately, this simple definition is a reductionist explanation of St Teresa's view on prayer. Far more can be found in her writings, such as The Way of Perfection.
Though St Teresa used prayer to lead her to ecstasy, it's unlikely to have the same effect on others, or you. Still, focusing on those you love and wishing them well can invoke tender feelings. Additionally, turning your attention to those you love reminds you of how connected you are. Quite possibly, after all, you may be thinking of each other at or near the same moment. This love you share, so mysterious and yet undeniable, is surely bigger than yourself. It expands the boundaries of what it means to be human. It is, in fact, divine. By expanding your awareness of love, meditating on your love for others opens you to divine love. If you have no specific religion yet seek the solace of prayer, you can repeat a cherished love poem. Alternatively, you can recite relevant lines from non-denominational prayers. What matters is your attempt to connect with the sacred, to look away from yourself with eyes open and unblinking. Then, and only then, will you see love's divine light.
If to know God is to know truth, the Theosophical Society has scholarly understanding. Founded in 1875, the Society promotes Theosophy, the merging of religious philosophy and metaphysics. Theosophy encourages the study of comparative religions, as well as universal brotherhood and belief in the oneness of all beings. Additionally, Theosophists believe in karma and reincarnation. Focus on love, however, is primary to Theosophy. Regarding love, their International Headquarters states that "altruism and compassion are human expressions of cosmic and planetary realities." (2)
Though there is a virtual library of great writings by Theosophists, Katherine Tingley's encapsulated Theosophical views perhaps most eloquently of all. As head of the organisation in the late 1800s, she wrote extensively on altruism and compassion, which she believed are central to our humanity. So is humanity's untapped power. Tingley's love for all beings, and her belief in the power of love, cries out in her writing. "All nature obeys the command of one whose heart beats constantly for others," she wrote. This union of humanity and nature transcends the scientific view, which is where Theosophy ventures into metaphysics. This is where love of humanity and divine connection meet.
In Theosophy, divinity rests inside. When you love, you practise the spiritual laws that invoke this divinity. Through this you don't just connect with divine love, you are divine love. Resting in your divinity there is no longer any fear. Only hope, only bliss, only love. Ecstasy, and it's all for you.
Taoism's easy ecstasy
In being divinely connected to love you're divinely connected to all, including nature. The writings of Taoism, meaning "path" or "way," are ideal for connecting you with nature's message. In Taoism, the way is demonstrated by nature, and this way is viewed with detachment. Though detachment doesn't excite in the conventional sense, for those who value peace as the highest pleasure, Taoism offers a sustained jolt of joy. So where do you find Taoism's most trusted answers? Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching is Taoism's most renowned text, Taoism's version of The Holy Bible. Yet words were left unspoken. Enter Zhuangi. Also popularly spelled Chang Tzu, Zhuangzi further illuminated the work of the Tao Te Ching. Paradoxically, Taoism's detachment merges spontaneity and inaction. Zhuangzi describes the benefits of this unlikely union when he writes: "Good order results spontaneously when things are let alone." (3) Zhuangi's statement also summarises the Taoist principle of wu-wei or "non-action".
Reflect on your peak experiences: feeling vital and whole, everything is easy, effortless. Every action is relaxed and spontaneous. This is action without action, and as you merge with life's flow you feel ego dissolve until you're united with the Tao. This spirit, this completion is the ecstasy into which you were born, but trapped in life's complexities, you have turned way. Wu-wei helps you return. "By taking it easy in life then essence wouldn't be deficient. When the body is whole essence returns and becomes united with the heavens." (4)
Uniting your spirit with the heavens - isn't this the divine connection you've always wanted? Though Taoism's way may not be yours, it does offer wisdom. Taoism's central concept of wu-wei encourages flexibility. Life, like nature, is always changing. Following these changes connects you with nature, uniting you with the nature of the divine. If you're lost in your search for an answer to divine connection, the wu-wei of Taoism may be your easiest answer.
Many ways to love and ecstasy
It's been said that all ladders lead to heaven. Whether a mere expression or divine insight, it's an analogy worth considering. If following any one religion, spirituality, or way of life devoutly can lead to the divine, does it matter which way we ascend? To Arthur Edward Waite (1857-1942) the answer was no. Waite travelled many ladders in his climb to the divine. In addition to being an expert on Masonic and Rosicrucian traditions, he was an occult historian, author, occultist, poet, Tarot creator, and Christian mystic. Though these are not inclusive of his interests and endeavours, they summarise his major contributions. Proving that you don't have to focus to see, Waite looked for divine understanding everywhere. This gave him a unique understanding. The most reader-friendly and accessible of his insights are included in his Pictorial Key to the Tarot and the Rider-Waite Tarot, which he co-authored.
Showing that the divine isn't where you look but how you look, Waite took a simple deck of cards used traditionally used for fortune telling and turned them into a spiritual chest of gold. Writing about the error in reducing Tarot cards to merely a means of divination, Waite writes: "It is as if the man who knows in his heart that all roads lead to great heights, and that God is at the great height of them all, should choose the way of perdition or the way of folly as the path of his own endeavors." (5) Interpretation is everything. Waite's wisdom was that he saw the divine in everything. He could look into an image on a Tarot card and see more than a picture, more than a route to fortune telling. Instead, he saw a portal to personal growth and evolution of the soul.
Like Waite, you must consider all options before finding your truth and be open to answers in unlikely places. Further, you must be fully present through this process. Waite, Zhuangzi, Tingley, St Teresa, and Rumi show that the potential for love, divine connection, and the ecstasy of these is based on your participation. You must be willing to dance like Rumi, pray like St Teresa, feel compassion like Tingley, or simply just be like Zhuangzi.
Whatever way you choose, and even if you cross and combine paths like Waite, if you have love in your heart and a desire to connect with the divine, any path you take is a sure route to ecstasy.
1. Dalrymple William. What goes round... 5 November 2005.
The Guardian, The Guardian News and Media 2009. The Guardian.co.uk
2. Tingley, Katherine. The Way of The Mystic. Theosophical University Press: 1977
3. Rothbard, Murray. Concepts of the Role of Intellectuals in Social Change Toward Laissez Faire, The Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol IX No. 2 (Fall 1990)
4. Zhuangzi. Chapter 19. Realizing a full life. Being Boundless.
5. Edward Arthur Waite. The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. MT: Kessinger Publishing 2003. Original version 1911.
Other selection sources:
Avila, St.Teresa. The Way of Perfect. Cosmino Classics. 2007.
Ahmed Zarruq, Zaineb Istrabadi, Hamza Yusuf Hanson . The Principles of Sufism. Amal Press: 2008.
Whirling Dervishes of Rumi. The Raindrop Foundation of Texas. Whirling Dervishes.org 2009 http://www.whirlingdervishes.org/whirlingdervishes...
Waite, Arthur Edward.. Occultism and Parapsychology Encyclopedia. Answers.com
Basic Concepts of Theosophy. The Theosophical Society: International Headquarters. PA, California. www.theosociety.org
Tingley, Katherine. Chapter 5: The Heart Cry of the World.
The Way of The Mystic. Theosophical University Press: 1977
Tingley, Katherine. Chapter One: What is Theosophy? They Way of The Mystic Theosophical University Press: 1977
Fox, Allan. Reflex and Reflexivity. Wu-wei in the Zhuangz. Asian Philosophy, Volume 6:1 1996.
The late Galina Pembroke was a freelance writer based in British Columbia, Canada. We greatly valued her contributions to NOVA.