John R. Ballew, M.S., L.P.C.
Human beings crave experiences that take us beyond our everyday routines. We need to go beyond the ordinary from time to time and get caught up in something that feels bigger than we are. Getting beyond our sense of individual isolation that feeds our souls. Without at least an occasional experience of bliss, we can become bored or depressed.
Men and women have tried to find this sense of ecstasy through spirituality and religion, sex, psychoactive chemicals or tribal rituals. Nowadays, any talk about ecstasy is often confused with Ecstasy – MDMA, methylene dioxymethamphetamine. X is “ecstatic” because it causes a breakdown in the barriers people feel between themselves and one another, and that’s an experience many people are after. Still, chemical transformation has its limits, even for those who find party drugs work for them.
If you rely on X to feel hot-blooded, it may be time to take a look at what you are doing with the rest of your life. What are you passionate about? Sex does it for a number of us, and that’s what most people associate with the word passion. Some of us find passion in work; some of us find it in involvement with something bigger than ourselves. Some of us get to a transcendent place when we are dancing the night away – connecting with the beat, with others, losing our sense of ourselves as separated from the environment around us.
The experience can be…mystical. My friend Jim says he never feels more alive than when he is out on the dance floor – shirt off, sweaty, glowing, his body feeling alive and juicy. Spiritual experiences are often felt in the body as a subtle connection between the physical self and the emotional self. It can feel hard to explain to others; we may even feel a little embarrassed trying to describe what we are feeling. Modern English doesn’t have good words to describe these experiences. Probably the best word is transcendence – a sense of moving beyond our isolated selves and into deeper connection with our entire self, other people or the world around us. We feel moved to a higher level. It’s hard to explain, but we know it when we get there.
So you’ve danced yourself stupid and you’re feeling blissed out. What happens when you leave the party? If everyday life is just a spacer between times when you can hit the dance floor, take a look at your spiritual life.
Jim learned that he couldn’t order up transcendent experiences like he would order up a pizza. He found himself feeling depressed on occasion. He also found himself relying more and more on party drugs for managing his mood.
There are things we know about how to live passionately. Finding the right balance between living in a highly energetic state on the one hand and being well grounded on the other is important. If we live out of a place of being highly energetic but not too focused on reality, we will eventually crash and burn. On the other hand, living all wrapped up in reality but with little gusto is at least as bad; there may not be a dramatic flameout, but life itself has little exhilaration about it. That’s a problem for those of us who live too much in our heads. We rely on our intellect to help us earn a living; it feels like safe territory for us. But the intellect alone won’t take you where you want to go.
Living passionately requires us to really be in our bodies. That’s why physical stuff like dancing, running and other aerobic activity creates that high sensation. We feel alive! Doing things that wake up our bodies can feel great and help us move past blocked places.
Creativity is another key to passionate living. Gay men are famous for creativity, of course, whether it’s cooking a fabulous meal or painting the Sistine Chapel. What do you do to let your creativity out? Paying attention to the sensual world is another key to waking up our passionate selves. What fragrances do you notice as you read this? What do you see all around you? When we slow down and take time to experience what is going on in the world and in ourselves, we can find a universe of delight all around us.
Slowing down isn’t always easy. That’s why things like massage or meditation help some men get in touch with their passionate selves.
Perhaps the final key to living passionately is to stop settling for less than we truly want in life. Understanding our desires isn’t always easy. Some desires change from moment to moment, some are hard to put into words, and some are, well, a bit embarrassing. That’s OK. Someone once told me, “The space for what you want in life is occupied by what you are settling for right now.” What are you settling for in work, intimate relationships, and the rest of your one juicy life?
Passionate living is much easier if we make a commitment to getting as much as possible out of life. It requires a bit of self-understanding and a bit of self-discipline if we are in it for the long haul.
It’s important to understand that while we may long for more aliveness, passion and ecstasy, there is another part of us that is scared of living life without holding back. That critical voice inside us says things like: Who the hell are you to think you could do that? You’ll probably die if you let go. Better to stay put and not think such extravagant thoughts. So that part of us tries to distract us. While there are many ways for us to distract ourselves from passionate living, one way is all too common in our community: addiction. It’s one of life’s ironies: people use chemicals trying to alter their states of consciousness, but too often end up with addiction problems that make them less conscious than before.
If we want more out of life, we will want to look at patterns that are holding us back right now.