Ecstatic practices have long been used in many cultures around the world as a means of shifting a person’s consciousness, and expanding one’s awareness to encompass a greater reality. A common ecstatic practice in the Sufi tradition, known as Sufi whirling (or Sufi spinning) involves practitioners spinning for hours in worship of the Creator, eventually achieving heightened states of consciousness, bliss, and ecstasy through the ritual.
The Shakers, a 17th century branch of Protestant Christianity, were known to engage in hours of shaking their bodies as a means of elevating their state of consciousness. Similar practices of shaking exist in tribal societies in Africa, India, and the Middle East. Kirtan (or devotional singing) is another form of ecstatic practice, where practitioners repeat various names of God for hours through singing and chanting, which is believed to help dissolve the ego and create an opening for greater divine connectivity.
While there is no specific formula for how to enter into an ecstatic state, there are numerous techniques that can create a suitable inner environment for letting go and expanding one’s consciousness. Ecstatic practices typically involve moving one’s attention out of the head, and down into the body. It is through the sacred vessel of the body that higher states of consciousness can be accessed, usually through some form of repetitive action. This repetition can take the form of making (or simply listening to) repetitive sounds, engaging in some form of repetitive movement, or in extreme cases, body-mortification practices.
In my experience, ecstatic practices have served as a reminder of the larger reality of Oneness that we are all a part of, and can facilitate the integration of this larger reality into everyday life. By getting out of the head and allowing oneself to let go for a time, the personal self falls away, making space for the Universal Self (or Higher Self) to emerge. Feelings of ecstasy, bliss, and oneness with the universe are commonly experienced in the ecstatic state, which can last for hours or days, depending on the depth of the experience. Once you have personally felt the expansiveness that often accompanies an ecstatic state, the everyday reality that most people consider “normal,” often no longer seems so real or solid. To feel this discrepancy can be a bit unsettling at first, but ultimately is a step towards liberation from the limitations of such a narrow version of reality that most people are accustomed to.
Finding the Right Practice For You
In order to tap into the ecstatic state, begin by finding a practice that feels inspiring to you. Whether it is devotional chanting, ecstatic shaking, or something of your own invention, what matters most is that you feel intuitively guided to do it. Once you have arrived at an ecstatic practice that feels good to you, the next step is to get out of your head, and move your attention down into your body—which is sometimes easier said than done. Most people are accustomed to constantly monitoring their self-image and how others are perceiving them, that letting go of thinking can often prove to be the most challenging part of this process.
The key is to use your breath to keep your attention down in your body. When a thought arises, come back to the breath and just let go. Feel the experience in your body, and do your best to stay focused within the bodily sensations. It may be helpful to keep your eyes closed, as well as to remember that the altered state, as experienced through ecstatic practices, is an age-old human expression, one that has only recently been covered over and forgotten in the last few centuries of modern living. You can reclaim this sacred form of expression by being committed to letting go of your mind for a time. Stay with your inner experience, and the feelings and sensations that arise within you as you engage in this repetitive form of worship. Stick with the practice, doing it much longer than is “reasonable,” or “logical” by your mind’s standards (1-2 hours will usually be sufficient to begin shifting your awareness). It is usually when you surrender your need to control your experience, that the breakthrough occurs in this practice. Keep your body relaxed, be conscious to take deep, slow breaths, and enjoy yourself. Although unfamiliar to many, and sometimes even intimidating, the ecstatic state is powerfully transformative, and can expand your view of yourself and reality.