Bellini's 'St Francis in Ecstasy'

I have no idea why, perhaps I’m currently in a particularly good – or even great – patch, or it could be because at last the Australian summer has kicked in, but I’ve been thinking a lot about ecstasy, not the drug (except it’s impossible not to think about the drug in this context), rather those moments, or periods, of real, pure, unadulterated enjoyment, because they do happen, they can actually occur in our lives.

Last year I wrote a post about the ordinary type of ecstasy, those little moments of bliss, such as drinking a glass of freshly poured cold water in bed just before turning out the light, or finding yourself feeling as free as ever when on a push-bike.  This time, however, I’m interested in the bigger, more expansive events, those ones that can well and truly knock us for a six.

It’s a strange word, this ‘ecstasy’.

My trusty 1992 edition of the Oxford has it as ‘an overwhelming feeling of joy, rapture’, adding that it comes from the Greek ‘ekstasis’, meaning ‘standing outside oneself’, which is rather lovely, if only it were possible, and perhaps it is.  My 1932 Pears’ Cyclopedia doesn’t actually know the word ecstasy, just ‘ecstatic’, which it defines as ‘rapturous’.  My 1976 Roget’s (yes, these dates are important, if you were wondering) heads towards the slightly more level-headed world of ‘gratification, delectation, relish, zest, gusto’, and, quite strangely, ‘kick’, but then the more lively ‘bed of roses’, ‘bed of down’ (which I love, both the idea and the actual thing), and the totally sexy ‘velvet’, before far-too-swiftly moving on to ‘pain: suffering’, which is a bit of a cold shower, it has to be said.

Back to where we were: rapture.

Here goes a list.  Discounting a small (sweaty, and potentially stupid) handful of chemically assisted midnight hours of bliss, I have felt an overwhelming feeling of joy when:

  • being a boy and falling in love with other boys
  • sharing the most intimate moments with a certain long-term man
  • sun-baking naked when reading, or not reading
  • being informed that something I’d written was going to appear in print, as in on real pages
  • listening to a record and slowly but surely realising that it’s becoming very, very important to me.

But now, inexplicably, I find myself thinking of those minutes and hours after a funeral, when it seems perspective has been turned on its head, when we may well be outside of ourselves.

This could be ecstasy, too.

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