Nicolae Tanase: Jon, what is the meaning of life?
Jon Turk: It’s all about ecstasy. No. No, I don’t mean the party drug — dancing all night and joining sweaty bodies in the wee hours of the morning. The word ecstasy is derived, in part, from the Latin extasis, for “terror.” Ecstasy, is a subjective experience of total involvement; great rapture. You are in an ecstatic state when you are so “totally involved” that the journey becomes, “terrifying.”
Let’s start with pain — a sore toe. When I was on an expedition in the polar Arctic, I wrote in my journal one day: “My toe looks and feels horrible, mangled and showing the meat that lies beneath the thin and fragile layer of skin. I make a conscious decision today not to pretend that I am above the pain. Just endure. I am good at enduring; I’ve done it before. Count the miles. Open your heart to this pain. Accept it. Embrace it.”
Ecstasy is opening your heart — becoming totally involved — in “what is”, without worrying about “what is not”, or “what should be”, or “how I would create reality if I were Master of the Universe.”
Fatigue is a kissing cousin to pain. Every adventurer knows that when you bump up against a “wall of unfathomable fatigue” you cannot cross it through normal, everyday willpower alone. You cannot talk yourself into pushing onward, tough it out, or rely on resolve. Instead you must find a way to enter into a blissful state that is “beyond willpower,” where you are “in the flow,” where reality dissipates, but it doesn’t. It just changes.
Ecstasy is intensely personal. It can include prayer, meditation, painting on cave walls, skiing, playing the blues harmonica, or, yes, also, dancing all night and joining sweaty bodies in the wee hours of the morning.
But wait a minute. Is there a flaw in my argument? Does this mean that ecstasy can be selfish? Can a person become ecstatic while inflicting physical, emotional, or economic pain on another? Can a person become ecstatic while inflicting pain and suffering on Mother Earth?
No, that’s distorting the point, focusing only on the party drug, again.
The Dalai Lama explains that true ecstasy arises out of compassion — out of the “ethical value of our actions.” He explains: Each action is driven by a person’s kun long, which is the “overall state of heart and mind” at the time of that action. If the person’s kun long is wholesome and compassionate, then the action will ultimately be positive. Ecstatic.
It’s all so simple and yet so complicated. So easy to verbalize and so hard to attain. Maybe only a half a dozen people in the history of the world have completed the journey, who knows. But it’s out there, I’m certain of that. As an ordinary human, I can almost touch it every now and then, for fleeting moments, before my think-too-much-know-it-all brain gets in the way again. But just knowing that ecstasy is out there – tangible and tactile — is, for me, a starting point.
~Jon Turk is a writer, public speaker, and adventurer. His most recent book is The Raven’s Gift: A Scientist, a Shaman, and their Remarkable Journey through the Siberian Wilderness. Jon’s upcoming book, Crocodiles and Ice: A Journey into Deep Wild will be released in September 2016.
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