This post is the final of three excerpts from my paper “The Experimental Art of Ego Dissolution,” which I presented as part of the Glaukopis Conference at Burning Man in 2008. I’m in the desert again right now, experiencing a little secular ecstasy of my own, so new posts will start up again after Labor Day.
Knowing what we do about the neurology of ecstatic experience, the anthropology of ecstatic ritual, and perhaps some of the purposes of ecstasy, what is the next step in this conscious evolution? It is possible to create the facility of movement into and out of ecstatic states, making us able to utilize the power of ecstatic experience as a transparent tool for our own means. The purposes could be therapeutic, as with current research into psilocybin mushrooms and post-traumatic stress syndrome, or community building, developmental therapy to foster intimacy between adopted children and parents, perhaps, or personal growth. Like any other mastery of a craft– the mastery of the brain is a constantly evolving process. We attempt to manipulate and exert control over our own mental functions with different rates of success. At this point in our scientific history, the control we wield over our brains is painfully limited- but we are constantly aspiring for more. Neuropharmacology, for better AND for worse, has made progress in manipulating the hormones, neurotransmitters, and coronal bloodflow that inform personality and decision making.
Then there are the engineering attempts, like Michael Persinger’s Koren Helmet (or God Helmet), which attempts to stimulate the temporal lobe through externally applied electrical current with the intention of inspiring ecstatic religious sensation. I think a combination of mechanical and chemical means, combined with dedication to historically effective methods will prove effective in allowing people the facility to move throughout various states of consciousness, including ecstasy. While most of the tribal rituals I have spoken of are subtle in their stated goals, there are traditions such as Tantra, Sufism and a great many other mystic paths that share the superobjective of interacting the with the universe in an ecstatic state. Just as any repeated task done correctly improves one’s ability to repeat the task more efficiently and effectively, I believe that proper attention to ecstatic practice will allow one to move into and out of the state with relative facility.
A breadth of practice is important, too- the more paths you take to reach ecstatic states, the greater similarities between the different states you may recognize. And again, like any other practice, cross training is important for overall fitness. Upon repeated practice of ecstasy, one can reach a state of objective consciousness- wherein the rapturous emotions are neither overwhelming nor even present, possibly. This is what I consider to be a “manageable” experience of ecstasy, in which the ego is still dissolved, but the sensory input isn’t as skewed and overwhelmed. In this state, the benefits of ecstasy can be efficiently integrated to maximum potential.
Ultimately, as we integrate the science of consciousness with the human practice of ecstatic exploration, we can become more efficient engineers of social change. Acknowledging the benefits of ecstasy and even simple pleasure is a radical act with implications for reframing pleasure as a necessity for survival and cultural potency.
Ecstasy is a gift and a tool that deserves to be wielded with wisdom and intention to recombine and recreate collective and individual realities.