I am told that a person feeling absolute joy - a person in an ecstatic state - is difficult to live with. That states of heightened euphoria can be alienating for the person who lives with you or who spends a great deal of time with you. This because that person cannot (or will not?) share in your euphoric state. That it is a kind of "false euphoria". I ask myself how can euphoria be false? Certainly, one can't fake euphoria. It is either there or it is not there. Ecstatic states, as writer William James knew, can be transcendent. They take you from this world and transport you to another and I have found that this way of being - this state of existence - is a certain light that one projects or does not. I have been told that I am "light" in this way because I soar to such heights that it is virtually impossible to keep up. I'm also told that it is taxing for the other person because it is energy unfocused and unbridled. Most people want someone, I am told, who is absolutely "even", not in a state of euphoria.
Sounds counter-intuitive to me. I think euphoria is contagious. That being around me is light, silly, child-like. That I love like a child. That I live like a child in that I live in the Now, and that I do so without feeling the need to define this for anyone else because frankly, I do not feel that as an adult, I should bend to the desire of other people to be pigeon-holed and fit neatly into a social register that I refuse to be part of. So I am utterly lacking in definition then? I don't think so. I think I'm rather open about things and in some ways, likely too open, offering up almost too much of myself because I see no reason to hide. Some people call this "brave" as I see in comments on articles, other people would call this "stupid". It all depends on your point of view.
Yes, I could and have sit about moping and god knows I am. But the whole stadium self pity thing gets old and I refuse to be a martyr because there is no point because at the end of the day, martyring oneself is almost arrogant. It tells people that you feel you are almost "important enough" that you deserve to be punished. It says that you feel that your actions have such a profound effect on others (which again, is arrogant; what if you do not count that much?); to me, playing the martyr is narcissistic. It is to overplay and overestimate your importance. Joy on the other hand is a thing you can share with others. You can share it by simply "being" with another person and allowing them entrance to you - a sort of direct access and openness, or that person can sit idly be - insecure in their own ability to be part of that joy, or threatened that perhaps that joy has nothing or little to do with them. The general feeling that well, if I didn't cause or was not the motor behind this joy, then you ought not feel it. Again, this is just another form of narcissism and a way of over-estimating the self.
Yes, people have brought me joy - and many griefs as well. That I am now more dependent on the self, on myself, and my ability to find that joy independent of anyone else is to my credit. It also prevents me from being hurt, in some way, by the actions of others because I refuse to allow them to define me, and in doing so, I am not hurt by names hurled at me, and conversely, I am grateful for compliments and the like, but am cautious not to let this define me either. What I am saying then is that the only person who defines me is then me. If i trusted others, then I am either great or shit. It's never inbetween with me: I am either loved or hated. I find and have found that few people find a middle-ground with me and perhaps that is because I too fluctuate between extremes, I'll admit that much, but also, that I rarely feel a middle-ground about anyone else - so right back at ya. Maybe that's why others can't find a middle-ground vis me. I don't offer that up, and so then I don't get it in return. When I love, I love. When I don't care, I really don't care.
I don't judge that as "bad" because such judgments (Good, Bad, Right, Wrong) these absolutes, serve little or no purpose. They do not change the fact of what is, nor do they change the fact of what we eventually do. We do as we do because in the final account, the illusion of some "control" is illusory. Listen, I'm not a Calvinist, but do I think that some things are pre-determined? Absolutely. I also believe that destiny is a real thing and that there are some things, some feelings even, that we are destined or doomed to feel and there is little we can do about that. Love is one such example in which we have little to no control. You either feel it or you don't. You can perhaps (and I say perhaps) determine how to act, but even then, that is a social construct, not a human construct because we live with this delusion that we have control over our thoughts and our feelings when in actuality, we simply do not anymore than we have control over what we dream - and we do dream. We dare to dream. At least, a true visionary dreams and even lives a dream. Is that Good or Bad? Or is it all shades of grey.
How neat life is to box it so clearly and stick to the broadstrokes. I can't say I blame anyone for wanting to define live in such simple (simplistic) terms. It certainly would make life easier. I think this is part of the reason people are so attracted to the Seven Deadly Sins. They are a neat litle outline of what we "should" and "should not" do. They tell us some things are "forbidden" and they are absolute in how they spell it out for us. This is an easy out. It means that you do not, or cannot, think for yourself. That you require a book or someone else (who was likely a visionary himself) to tell you how to act. That you do not trust yourself to make independent decisions. In such ways, the church becomes a parental figure - telling us what we can and cannot do. Admonishing us when we are "bad" - when we defy social convention.
I have served on the altar in one for or another for a good part of my life. I have worked in the service of the Episcopal Church and proudly so. I have been the Officiant, I have taken confession, I have absolved, I have ran the Evening Vespers and gladly so and with great joy because my God, or my god, is not one of absolutes. In fact, morality, if we look at it closely and philosophically, is a thorny and messy issue. The Bible, the Zohar, etc. etc. are full of contradictions and if I followed either strictly alone and did not have any sense of moral animal in myself, then I would be stoning certain people while loving my neighbor. I would believe that Christ never had a lover (is this sacrelige to believe that perhaps he did?), I would believe that to be homosexual is "absolutely wrong", yet I work in a church that clearly believes in gay rights, the ordination of women, absolute absolution, that we may, as Lewis Carroll - the writer, photographer, logician and mathematician as well as ordained deacon - he thought it through as one would a logic question. The conclusion was that if God is Good, and that we are created in His image and he is "perfect" and gave us "Free Will" then how can we act against the will of our creator? Again, if our God is perfect and we are his reflection, then how can what we do be absolutely wrong? Are we eternally damned and born into original sin, or is it more complicated than that?
I agree with Carroll here. We have Free Will in some ways, but even that is illusory to a large extent. Free Will means that we have some control over our thoughts, feelings, etc., yet we all know that we do not. And if we believe in this God, then how can our Free Will be Wrong in any absolute sense - in short, unless our god is a sinner, then how can we not be also, as we live in his image? As the service closes and the minister states during the Confession, "And pray for me too, for I am a sinner as well..." Which is to say, in short, that I am wholly human, which does not mean you cannot be wholly human and holy at the same time. The two can and do co-exist in each of us, yet some see it, others refuse not to and how wonderful that must be! To have such a simplistic view of life! In the final account, one who lives by sticking to the broadstrokes fails to live - or fails anyway to see the point of life, which means to actually live it and take it on its own terms. What do you do if Eve is the apple of your eye?
Ahhh... It's as tricky as you make it. Would it be equally wrong if it had been a pear and not an apple? It seems totally arbitrary. Was it the apple that was the problem or the offering of the apple and the partaking of same fruit? Obviously, partaking of the same fruit - so it's "wrong" to share. It is "wrong" to yield to temptation, we are taught. It means we are "weak willed". It means we are "immoral". What if it had nothing to do with will and everything to do with what we actually want? What if it is a pure and clear and real want? It gets tricky, doesn't it. Is it better to live a lie, to deny the self; does that mean your place in heaven is then reserved? I seriously doubt it. Christ died because he defied social convention - and yet this is the very thing by which we live, refusing to follow in his footsteps all of the way. We're so fascinated by the cross and the martyrdom and the idea of self-punishment and self-denial that we have lost sight of how Christ himself lived. And he LIVED. He died, yes, and if you believe, then he died for you. It seems to me that he died because he defied social convention of his day because he absolutely had faith in himself. That he, like Moses, like St. Paul, like Mohammed, felt great states of exhaultation and did not shut this out of his life.
So why then is euphoria or ecstatic states bad? (bad is not my term, but a judgment of others). If anything, I should say that euphoria allows us to act in ways that we would otherwise be afraid of. And that further, by opening this door to true joy, we are more open to true religious states.
Witness the Inuit and Native American culture in which the village Shaman prompts himself into an ecstatic state (either induced with the aid of certain natural compounds or thorugh a natural state, often epilepsy). Is this bad too? Is it then bad that I am epileptic and capable of reaching such heights, or is it that in those cultures anyway, I would be viewed as a direct conduit to the Divine. That, in fact, if anyone has a direct line to God or god, when he or she picks up I am at the other end of the line: jerk the tin-can wire and it is the one in this ecstatic state with whom the gods speak - not the average person who is incapable of this type of euphoria. This is why the shaman speaks on behalf of the village, much the way the poet speaks on behalf of many people. Such people say what cannot be spoken by others - because they either lack the right words or perhaps the desire to open themselves up this much or even the inability to say so. In some cases, I know that it is a lack of courage (and I only say this because I have been told as much by some who have felt that they could not say certain things, yet I say it for them - an act which again, may be stupid or brave, I can't decide. Or perhaps it is stupidly brave).
Regardless, the point is, if euphoria is hard to live with, imagine howling grief, or to me, and worse, imagine how boring it would be to live with someone who is incapable of feeling this. They feel happiness and that's great - maybe that is as high as most people get. I can't say. Certainly I have been happy, but that's a different matter and I'm still failing to see what is so bad about euphoric states. As for "isolating", i think that those around you can either choose to partake and share of this gift (and I do think it is a gift), or they can find it inaccessible or perhaps there is a certain jealousy there but in any case, they either cannot or refuse to access it. This is not my fault, nor is it my issue anymore than I am responsible for the happiness of another. Yes, I try hard to make those I love happy - but ultimately, the onus of being happy or not depends on the self. We are each of us responsible for our own emotional state. I realize that is incredibly hard to hear because we don't want to believe that because life experience has taught us - me included - that other people's actions can have a profound effect on our mood.
Anyone who has been devastated by another knows damn well that it hurts like hell and howls and wraps itself about you like a mourning cloak. That sometimes, you just want or need to sheet the mirrors and sit shiva for those days or hell, even those months I've been there. But in the final account, it was up to me to bring myself out of it. Noone else could do it for me; i had to do it myself. This is being responsible for the self. I could have folded my hand there and then and I thought of it. God knows I thought of it. But ultimately, I chose otherwise. I feel that was a good choice, if you must judge it. But it was a choice. I can grieve all manner of things in my life and god knows I have true reasons, but where does that get me? Regret can only take you so far before it gets boring for you and for those around you. If you want to die, then do it. That sounds cold, I know, and I have experienced death from suicide in my life, and it was incredibly painful. But the truth remains that there is and was nothing I could or can do to sway someone who truly wants to die. A cry for help, yes, I can do something. But if a person really wants to die, then they'll do it no matter what I do. Despite my best effort, I cannot change that person's mind and to think that I could is again, ultimately a very arrogant point of view. It is, as I said earlier on, to overestimate my or your importance. Suicide is rarely about just one thing or one person. It is instead an amalgam of events and people and situations and that's it. It all adds up and becomes too much to bear.
I understand this. I've certainly been in "that place" and occupied that space, but I am here and as such, I choose to live. It is an active choice we make every day and yes, we have some control over that but not fully. Any of us could die and any day and don't I know it extremely well. I live with the proverbial Sword of Damacles hanging over my head every day, in full-knowledge that the seizure that finally kills me might be on this day. I've been asked, How do you cope? My answer, What choice do I have? There you have it again - free will only goes so far. It is illusory, particularly in some cases and in my case, that I have any real or true free will in this matter. I do not. Epilepsy is all about loss of control: i've learned to live with that.
So where am I going with this? Nowhere else - I've said all that I have to say for now. Clearly, there is a lot more to say - this is a long and philosophical discussion and I could and you could go back and forth for days on this topic. Instead, right now, in this moment, I just want to be alone with my thoughts. I want to take the bad and shine the spotlight somewhere else. Yes, like anyone I have my share, more than is fair, of major problems at the moment or any given time perhaps, I simply choose today to not focus on these things. I very easily could but to what end? I may as well throw myself on my sword and be done with it.
So maybe I'll let it out and allow a good cry. After that, I choose to listen to O Mio Babino Caro sung by Renata Tibaldi because it is a song about life and love and captures the true range of human emotion and expression. Opera covers all of the great emotions, as does certain classical music. I choose today to live in the aria of the here and the now.
Thanks for listening,
sadi ranson-polizzotti, editorial director