Today is Good Friday and tonight is Passover. Both traditions mark the arrival of Spring as well as a time of remembrance and tradition. From the awakening of the world outside to the obligations inside it is a time of joy and reflection. They are holidays outside of ourselves and the daily pace of life.
Our current world, at least in developed societies, rarely has time for such reflection anymore. Far too often we are expected to mechanically keep going through our daily slog. The only antidote offered is selfishness, rebellion and retreat back into our own skin for a few moments of pleasure. Old holidays based on ghosts do not mean as much as they used to.
That system is obviously not bringing happiness to many people’s lives. I would like to propose an alternative outlook on life which I will call “extasism”.
The word “ecstasy” has several modern meanings. To most people, it has sexual overtones that suggest that sex is the only real source of happiness. It’s also the name of a drug, a close cousin to methamphetamine, that literally bores holes in your brain. But the word itself comes from the Latin term “ex stasis”, or outside the body. The principle is that true happiness is an out-of-body experience – feeling the world as if you are floating above and apart from it.
The idea of being “ex stasis” is more than a state of joy. Nearly all religions have some tradition of being “not of this world”, or at least the rough and tumble daily life that diverts attention away from the things that really make anyone happy. Gnostic traditions in Christianity were present from the beginning up through the middle ages, and they have their roots in the Essene practices of Judaism. Add in Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, or animist traditions and you can see the common thread among nearly all people, all around the world.
To truly live outside of yourself is more than a few moments of meditation, it’s a way of life. That’s why the concept of Extasism is necessary – a non-religious movement based on being able to step outside of your own troubles and see the world from a different perspective. It needs a handle like Capitalism or Marxism because, as a philosophy, it has the potential to change how society and culture are organized.
Think for a moment about the problems that we see in politics, business, or any other aspect of the world we’ve come to make for ourselves. Eventually, nearly everything comes down to selfishness – the desire for power or money or whatever it is that people think is going to make them happy. But those who practice what our culture teaches rarely seem joyful, they only seem to want more and more all the time. A truly happy person is, at their base, satisfied.
An active alternative to selfishness is the only way beyond this. Exstasism starts with being able to see someone else’s point of view and listen to what they are genuinely saying, but it also engages them because every perspective outside of your own is a chance to learn something new. This curiosity is usually the first step towards being materially satisfied.
That’s not to say that Exstasism doesn’t have something to offer materially. Any good negotiation starts with an understanding of what the other party needs and careful listening. Two people are rarely completely at odds with each other, unable to budge, although it may take some time outside of yourself to understand where they are coming from. While Exstasism means that happiness does not come from things, it goes without saying that we all need a few things for our own survival.
While true joy might feel like you are outside of yourself, it does not naturally follow that being outside of yourself brings you happiness in return. The practice has to be more active than that, always trying to be decent and kind to the people around us. While people are people, cultures are cultures – we all have different definitions of what “decency” means and how people should act in any situation. Bringing the joy, the ecstasy, to a diverse world must always seek understanding between people and giving the benefit of the doubt whenever possible.
There is also great joy to be had in understanding how silly we all are, at least viewed from outside ourselves. Happiness often starts with not buying our own BS.
There is much more to it than this, of course. Exstasism is in many ways a continuation of the concept I have long advocated, taking a “Strong half-step back” from life – just far enough to gain some perspective but not so far that you can’t get your hands dirty. But in a world where labels are important and common decency is awfully rare it seems that some kind of “movement” is necessary. We can all develop this together, if you are up for it. What say you to an anti-selfish movement based on understanding, decency, and ultimately bringing true happiness to the world?