In his 1964 book, Religions, Values and Peak Experiences, psychologist Abraham Maslow broadened the definition and understanding of ecstasy. Instead of crediting solely the supernatural for our human moments of inspiration and interconnectedness, Maslow believed that the essential experience attributed to religion could be seen as a private revelation. A sacred consciousness is brought on by awareness, personal action and participation and is illuminated from within.
I once saw Swan Lake at the American Ballet Theatre at Lincoln Centre in New York City. Settling in as the lights dimmed and the chandeliers ascended, organza tutus appeared on the stage like soft, floating objects of meditation, gradating from pale pink to apricot, then an effervescent custard and dove — a rainbow in slow motion of tertiary greys. A universal, intoxicating, multi-sensory eye massage hushed the audience into a state of breathlessness.
After the ballet, I stepped out into the Lincoln Center Plaza. Her central fountain skipped and splashed under a rosy moon and reflected the golden interior lights of the adjoining houses of worship: the Philharmonic, the Juilliard, the City Opera. I floated down Columbus Avenue in a state of euphoric appreciation — a tumbling illumination and recalibrated artistic vision harmonized with the universe — in innocence and wonder, in possibilities and understanding. The meaning of life and beauty appeared to me while bearing witness to the sweat and conviction of generations of fellow travellers in art.
“We can have in life but one great experience at best, and the secret of life is to reproduce that experience as often as possible,” wrote Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Despite Wilde’s sarcasm, as artists, we might build and multiply our highs to harness the awe, the growth, and the feelings of empowerment. Here are a few ideas:
Identify moments of ecstasy and when they occur.
Seek out and create experiences that can be identified as “peak aesthetic moments.”
Recognize when you “switch on.”
Go for a variety of triggers: simple, extravagant, strange, alone, comforting, challenging, shared.
Work the lingering creative edge gained from your revelations. Make it count.
Do it regularly.
PS: “The person in peak-experiences feels himself, more than other times, to be the responsible, active, creating center of his activities and of his perceptions. He feels more like a prime-mover, more self-determined (rather than caused, determined, helpless, dependent, passive, weak, bossed). He feels himself to be his own boss, fully responsible, fully volitional, with more ‘free-will’ than at other times, master of his fate, an agent.” (Abraham Maslow)
“I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.” (William Blake)
Esoterica: Ecstasy is worth chasing when the results are your own personal boom of productivity. Possibilities may be close by or they wait in other worlds. Last August Dad and I joined plein-air painter and hiking guide Liz Wiltzen in the Canadian Rockies for an encounter with ecstasy called “heli-painting.” This September 4 – 7, Liz carries the torch with American watercolourist and colour master Stephen Quiller. A few spots are still available for this plein-air experience of a lifetime.
Liz Wiltzen and Stephen Quiller guide the next Helipainting Experience September 4 –7, 2014. For more information, visit Canadian Mountain Holidays Art and Photo Workshops.
Glacier Mont Blanc, The Alps
oil on linen, 117 x 92 cm
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