If you could give someone you cared about any experience in
the world, what would you choose? What would be the single most
lasting, most beneficial, most therapeutic experience you could
offer someone? As a psychologist, after twenty years of considering
the question, my answer is that for many people it would be an
experience of ecstasy.
I am using the terms ecstasy or ecstatic in a specific manner.
The word ecstasy comes from the Latin expression ex stasis which
means, "to stand outside oneself." During ecstatic episodes,
the individual experiences an alteration in perception
during which they perceive things and events from a perspective
outside of the physical body.
To illustrate these perceptual changes,
consider the following account:
A number of years ago my life came to an abrupt standstill.
Since that time my perspective on death has changed radically.
One evening after retiring for the night I awakened from a
deep sleep. I suddenly found myself floating1
30 feet above the roof of my home. My recollection of this
experience remains as vivid today, as if it occurred five
minutes ago. From my vantage-point above the roof, I could
see through and down into the ceiling and room where I, more
accurately, my body, was sleeping. At that moment I was conscious
of a small cord floating along side me. It seemed to connect
me to my body, as I was asleep. It was at that moment of awareness
that I snapped my logical mind to attention, and with that
cognizance I was immediately pulled, actually sucked down
into the body that lay below me. This was not a dream. The
next conscious emotion was that of anger. Anger that this
body seemed such a heavy useless appendage compared to the
lightness of spirit I had experienced moments before. I was
astonished at my awareness of gravity and its restrictive
That was fifteen years ago. With that experience I was
initiated into another reality, and since that time, whatever
fear of dying I may have had is gone. The gift of that experience
was a turning point was a turning point in my life, shaping
who I am today." (Eve Bernshaw, Life & Death, Vision Magazine,
Along with these changes in perception, the experience of ecstasy
is almost always accompanied by alterations in affect or emotion.
People report a very strong, positive emotion usually described
as peace, calm, joy and freedom, as in the following account:
I was floating1
in darkness wondering what was happening to me. Though I was
not particularly aware, I felt myself drift up out of my body.
Suddenly I entered the light, which I happily recognized. I
knew then that I was again in the presence of God, and that
this time I had died. The light was brilliant and filled my
vision. I did not remember my life, nor did I know the circumstances
of my death. I had some regrets at first, but my joy was greater
than any regrets. I was spontaneously prayerful, calm and extremely
happy. As I floated for some time in the light I repeated over
and over with great feeling, 'Thank you, Father.' I was not
thankful for dying, but for being in the presence of God and
And finally, there are alterations in cognition during
most ecstatic episodes. It is very common to hear people say that
during their experience of ecstasy they simply "knew" things.
This is not a type of knowledge that comes through the five senses,
but a type of gnosis, a direct knowing:
The lights went out and I was in this blackness,
but I saw this brilliant light. A hand reached down and I stretched
out my hand and grabbed onto it. And it pulled me out of this
blackness into the light and I had no sensation of fear or pain.
It was really euphoric and ecstatic. I was pulled or drawn into
this place and there I had a conversation with this being and
a lot of questions were answered just as I thought them up.
And I thought, WOW, this is neat! I remember having the thought,
'What is the cure for cancer,' such a big thing and right away
I had the answer. And it was so simple, it was so damn simple
why hadn't anyone thought of it.2
This being said, 'You've got to go back, it's not your time
yet.' There was something that I was supposed to do and I remember
him saying, 'Tell about your experience.' We conversed for a
while longer and then all of a sudden I was sliding down and
he held my hand and then he let me go and I went back into my
body and woke up.
In these brief descriptions, one begins to get a sense of how
compelling the experience of ecstasy is. But even more profound
are the dramatic positive and lasting effects these episodes experience
has on the lives of the people who experience it. For example,
the aftereffects that have been shown to be associated with the
experience of ecstasy at the point of apparent physical death,
or an NDE, include the following: an almost complete lack of fear
of death and a conviction in the belief of life after death, a
greater appreciation for life and a determination to live it to
its fullest, a sense of being reborn with a renewed sense of purpose,
a stronger, more self-confident personality that adjusts more
easily to the problems presented by daily life, a more inwardly
spiritual awareness, a lessening of interest in material possessions,
more interest and involvement in relationships and a strong need
to be of service to others more. The experience of ecstasy, although
itself transient, is accompanied by a lasting sense of what can
only be described as wisdom derived directly from the experience
Still the question arises, why would this particular type of
experience have such a profound impact on people's lives? The
explanation is really rather simple. Almost all experiences that
occur during the course of our daily lives are confined to the
levels of body and mind. After a lifetime of experiences at these
two levels of being, during episodes of ecstasy, one transcends
these levels and enters a third level of existence, a level many
had never even imagined existed. And having experienced this,
there is a shift in one's basic identity. Where prior to this,
their experience, and therefore their deepest sense of self, was
confined to the body/mind, they now realize that there is another
dimension to their existence, to their very being. One no longer
identifies exclusively with the body and the mind, but also realizes
that they possess a spiritual self which is as real as the physical
and psychological self, but lies above and beyond both of these.
So the experience of ecstasy is healing in the broadest sense
of the word. It makes us whole by allowing us to recapture a sense
of our spiritual selves from which most of us have been so long
been alienated. Even if not felt consciously, at some level we
all feel a sense of dis-ease when we are cut off or alienated
from any aspect of our being. If you cut off or deny painful emotional
feelings, they will often come back and haunt you in the form
of depression. Depression isn't a feeling per se; it's a sense
of dis-ease that occurs when we attempt to cut ourselves off from
our emotional self. In a similar manner, as long as we are cut
off from our spiritual self, we can never really feel whole. On
the other hand, having even one experience of ecstasy is often
enough to reestablish the connection with our spiritual selves.
And so you see why, all things considered, the experience of ecstasy
would be an excellent choice for the single most important experience
you could offer another person.
1. ...noted the experience of "floating"
in the first two experiences
2. ...asked Joe about the "cure for
cancer" that the 3rd experiencer recieved knowledge of. He
replied that the interview had been conducted back in 1981, and
the cure had something to do with "heat." Beyond that
he didn't have further recollection.