The Most Important Experience

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 influence.

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, June 1999)

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 the light.
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 itself.

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.


About the Author:

J."Joe" Timothy Green, PH.D
is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Laguna Hills, California.



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.

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