Written 9:16 AM Jul 1, 1997 by gtimes@post8.tele.dk in igc:pna.news
Ecstasy Junkie
A PNA dispatch
archives: November 1994

Ecstasy Junkie
Infatuated with infatuation
By Paul Englar

The recent return of the drug debate in the Danish media inspires me to write about my own experiences with the drug Ecstasy. It seems that each time the "drug problem" is brought to light, we tend to view it in a rather statistical way: How many people are using, how fast the use is growing, which age group finds it most interesting, what the "rush" feels like, and, especially, how many people are hurt by it rather than the cultural context that has created the drug use. Reports from doctors tell us how the drug affects the nervous system and the brain, and psychologists describe the havoc the drug may wreak in the life of the regular user.

Yet rarely do we find a discussion that delves deeply into why people find the drug experience so attractive. What makes them use Ecstasy? Why in particular are so many young people suddenly using the drug? It seems too easy to blame youthful naiveté, the mindless hunger of youth for new experience.

Ecstasy is aptly named - the name of the drug describes the most common experience of the user. My experiences with it are slightly different from the average. I tried it for the first time at the age of thirty; I had never before used any drug. I tried out Ecstasy in a so-called ritual or therapeutic situation together with a small group of people guided by a man who had been trained in the therapeutic administration of Ecstasy by a leading American psychedelics expert. The whole procedure was clandestine for obvious reasons. We prepared for the Ecstasy ritual through ten weekly group therapy meetings. We all prepared ourselves by resting well the day before taking the drug, fasting and taking vitamins and minerals to compensate for its physiological effects. The ritual itself was preceded by a ceremony that put us in touch with the solemnity of the act. And the fears that some of us felt as we put the pill into our mouths were discussed.

From that and subsequent drug rituals, I find that the initial Ecstasy experience most often falls into two categories: first, fear of the drug is so prevalent that the effect is resisted, reducing the experience to a series of psychological tensions. And second, the more typical experience of ecstasy itself. The heart "opens" and feelings of warmth and connectedness flow in, filling the body. If one is prepared, this "love experience" can be so fulfilling that a sense of unity prevails - connectedness, not only with those present, but with all the loved ones in your life and even with God and the universe. The effects of the experience usually carry over into daily life for days and even weeks after the drug-taking.

After my few personal experiences with the ecstasy of Ecstasy, I found myself confronted with a dilemma: How was it that such an important experience as ecstasy - the opening of my heart and the flow of love between myself and other people - was so rare in my daily life? This dilemma could have been resolved by regular use of the drug, as so many who try the drug find themselves doing. Perhaps because of my age, my responsibilities as a father and my miserable economic state at the time I chose not to try and re-achieve the feeling of ecstasy by use of the drug, and confront the pain caused by my insight into how little ecstasy I normally experienced instead.

This is not to say that ecstasy - the experience, not the drug - has been totally lacking from my life. Though rare as they are, I have, like most people, had deep ecstatic experiences. Childhood, especially the early years, was filled with the ecstatic experience of play and laughter. Dancing and music has also brought rather rich and subtle experiences, and lately meditation and sitting in the steam bath also occasionally bring me ecstatic bliss. But perhaps the most common experience in our society is the ecstasy of two lovers in the beginning of a love relationship - infatuation.

The experience of ecstasy in our culture seems to be intrinsic to the novice in love - the child, lover or drug user just starting out on a new path of love, or "heart awareness". Psychedelic researchers like Stanislov Grof have shown that the use of psychedelic drugs can often lead to the re-experiencing of birth, first in a psychologically painful way and then in an ecstatic way when the emotional scars have been worked through. Their research seems to say that the child enters the world ecstatic, ready to begin a life of love.

According to esoteric texts from the old mystics of Europe, the East, or any mythology belonging to a homogenous, whole culture past or present, one finds that mythology and supporting ritual were often designed to bring community members to an experience of ecstasy - not only in the beginnings of their lives as children or young lovers, but even later, after the initial rush of infatuation had worn off. The primary purpose of any mythology, said mythologist Joseph Campbell, is "to awaken wonder and maintain in the individual a sense of wonder and participation in the mystery of the universe."

If we look at our growing drug use and the increasing infatuation with romantic infatuation that has permeated Western culture these past few decades, it seems that our "mythology", conscious or unconscious, does succeed at least in awakening a sense of wonder and participation in the individual. It is maintaining this sense that seems to be lacking.

Ask teenagers about regular drug use and many tell you that eventually the ecstatic experience wears off and is replaced by a sense of powerlessness, of being in the grips of the drug itself. If we look at the tendency in our love lives to constantly break off relationships when the initial rush of infatuation has passed, only to seek the same rush in a "new" love, it is clear that our culture lacks the healthy mythology needed to guide us through the ecstastic infatuation of the novice to the more subtle ecstastic experiences of mature love.

Someone once said that in the West we are closest to being adults - closest to our deepest needs and the ability to achieve them - when we are teenagers. After adolescence we go to sleep and adjust to the rather everyday boredom of trying to get ahead in the world society has fashioned for us. Our need for ecstasy - so obvious in the infatuated, drug-experimenting teenager - is channeled by our culture into the desire to be successful, with all the material wealth and status that our Western "mythology" promises. Ecstasy in the West has been reduced to a giant rush, found only in the laughter and joy of early childhood, in the early experiences with drugs, and in our infatuation with infatuation.

Paul Englar is a documentary filmmaker outside Copenhagen.

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