Excerpt from The Kiss of the Whip, pp. 27-28.|
Ecstasy is a word that's been maligned in modern Western culture as the rationalists have debunked the extravagant claims of the spiritualists. The debate has obscured the simple fact that ecstasy is a very real, albeit special state of consciousness for humans. Humans have two types of consciousness to be reckoned with, the normal and the joy of ecstasy. In common with Eastern thought, Western religion still holds ecstasy to be a state of blissful union with God and therefore the ultimate reality. Medicine believes ecstasy to be a delusion and proclaims the everyday stupor of normalcy to be true existence. Taking note of modern man's efforts to stay level-headed and unimpassioned, Thoreau cynically commented that "most men live lives of quiet desperation."
Every culture has developed techniques to awaken man from his everyday
lethargy. Today, Christianity espouses an approach that seeks to create
religious ecstasy through deprivation, discipline and fasting. But in
the past there were major Christian sects whose homo-erotic gospels advocated
ecstatic pleasure to achieve union with God. The Roman Church inevitably
declared these heretical and wiped out their adherents with a singular
viciousness. Instead of repression, many Eastern religious philosophies,
such as Tantric yoga, seek to channel and use feelings and sexual impulses
to reach the clarity of mind necessary to approach divinity. Sex, in combination
with awareness and consciousness, thus has meaning beyond basic procreation.
One of the better books with this consciousness is The Divine Androgyne
by Christopher Larkin writing under the name "Purusha." A former monk
and film maker, he seeks to reconcile Eastern and Western ecstatic thought.
[Another such book is the recent Queer
Dharma: Voices of Gay Buddhists.]
Ecstasy isn't always the heavens opening up with holy spirits showering you with bliss. You don't need to join an Eastern religion or Western monastery. Even if you're not mystically inclined, an ecstasy results when your physical, emotional and mental faculties are overwhelmed. This means that ecstasy can occur on a purely bodily, or emotional or psychic level. More commonly, it's a combination of these which can affect you profoundly. A really good orgasm is a minor physical ecstasy that rolls our eyes up, sets our mouths agape and makes us grunt in muffled cries. None of us presents a very pretty sight for polite society. And, from the descriptions of eye witnesses, neither did the saints who experienced religious ones. Read descriptions of St. Teresa of Avila's grunting, writhing transports of ecstasy while at church services and you'll understand why the Inquisition considered burning her. Any good ecstasy, including orgasms, can trigger complex emotions, sometimes joy, fear, weeping, laughing, sadness or terror for no apparent reason. After some really intense sm scenes, the bottom may find himself trembling with waves of conflicting emotions that seem to be without cause.
In general for a sustained experience of ecstasy, a rhythmic quality is needed for the change into the ecstatic trance. There are no rituals without regulated beats of dance or music or both. The combination leads to a more profound state precisely because it involves the body, the emotions and the mind. From the sacred chants of Christianity, to the dance of whirling dervishes, to the drumming of the Buddhist monks, to the tribal songs and dances of initiation ceremonies the object is to leave this reality and enter into a transformed one.
What is reality to such an altered state of consciousness? Humans have grappled with that question. Beyond saying that reality exists, little more can be said. Discipline, whether of the religious, secular or sm bent, is a strategy of finding your way through reality. You can base it on intuition and feeling, or on fakir which is a working with the body to overcome its limitations, or on yoga which concentrates on the mind or on the Greek ideal of trying to achieve a balance among body, mind and emotions. However you enter into this altered consciousness, via the sling, the pew, through poetry or the whipping post, ecstasy is a valid and valued aim of SM.