Everybody I know has at least a little bit of agony in their lives. I’m not a morose person, so I don’t tend to dwell on my own agonies, or even the agonies of other people. But they are there.
I don’t even do very well with the common cold. It bothers me that I go to the movies early to get a seat, and then I have to watch commercials. And I really don’t like to watch mean-spirited people speak words that demean others.
Then there are the larger calamities of my life. Somewhere high on the list is the ending of relationships. And even though I have been mostly healthy all my life, for about a year recently I couldn’t walk very long without my back going into terrible spasms. It acted up while I was traveling to Australia last year, so I had to be wheeled through the airport by my assistant, Keahi. I almost died of embarrassment.
The American philosopher and essayist, Henry David Thoreau, said this:
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation… A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work.
I suppose that we’ve all been witness to that quiet desperation. If your life is committed to serving others, you certainly have. I just heard from a woman this week whose son was sentenced to a year in jail. Her soul was crying out with pain. I did my best to console her and to assist her to believe that there was an opportunity in the situation.
I probably don’t have to convince you that life does have some agony for most people. Some of it is certainly self-induced. I get a headache if I eat too much sugar, and I don’t sleep well if I have coffee and ice cream after dinner. And then there are the larger events of my life for which I have to take responsibility—the ending of jobs, the people I attract to me and the people who leave. And on it goes.
But I don’t imagine that if I did everything perfectly (if there is such a thing) that I would avoid all agony. After all, there would still be the American presidential campaign and that’s pretty agonizing!
There are stories—some factual and some in myth and legend—that tell of noble men and women who faced great pain in their lives. Mother Teresa agonized over her faith. After being released from prison, Nelson Mandela faced divorce from his wife of 38 years. Jesus was crucified for bringing an uncommon love into the world.
My point is that for even the happiest of people, at least a little agony is part of the picture. The real question is this: Where is the ecstasy? If agony is a given, I would at least like to ensure that I balance the ledger with some joy and delight. And really, I’d like the thrill of living to outweigh the pain. I want to live a life of ongoing, medium ecstasy, punctuated by occasional spikes of super-sized ecstasy. And then, only every so often, with moderate amounts of bearable agony that doesn’t last too long or go too deep—just enough to make me appreciate how great the rest of my life is.
I hope you are laughing by now, because of course, I don’t get to order up how all this is going to go. No one does. But the fact remains that I’m in it for the joy. I’m in it for the ecstasy. And while I figure that some agony comes no matter what I do, the ecstasy depends on me.
I’ll never forget one of my early ecstatic experiences. I must have been about 12 years old when I was babysitting for the Phelan kids from down the street—all three of them. With my parents out, we turned up the record player almost as loud as it could go. We danced, I carried the children on my shoulders, racing around the house. We laughed and hollered until the house was full of ecstatic joy.
Today, ecstasy is hiking in the Rocky Mountains; strategizing for the future of Sunrise Ranch, where I live. Ecstasy is witnessing my friends make music, or speak a truth that is vitally important to them. And it’s writing to you.
According to a recent medical study, ecstasy is good for you physically. It is certainly good for your emotional health.
Ecstasy isn’t just the Dove chocolate. It is loving the Dove chocolate. It isn’t just seeing a friend. It is telling her how glad you are to see her. It isn’t just good things happening to you. It’s appreciating those good things and making the most of them.
Ecstasy is expressing this mad crazy life inside me in whatever way the moment calls for. It is loving until it hurts. It is the courage to be myself and celebrate life, even in the middle of some agony.
It is lighting up with a brilliant idea or plan that is going to bring something new. It is sharing parts of me I never I knew I had.
What is ecstasy for you?