It’s 5:37 a.m., Monday morning, September 20, 2010.
I've just returned from dropping my nephew off at work. Before returning home, I stopped at a convenience store and picked up bread, milk, and other items I’ll need to prepare breakfast for my family in a few hour’s time. Then I will begin my day, in earnest, running errands, tending to tasks, so on and so forth. I know I have an unassuming and plain appearance.
I look like any other man of my age, of my background, and no one around me would know I am a man on fire, in the mind, in the spirit, in the heart, in the soul.
I burn in continual ecstasy.
This is me:
My bleeding merciful heart
Throne of my soul
Rules the kingdom of my mind
constructed of Jelly, Bone, and Gold.
It has taken many years for me to learn how to integrate this sense of self into my daily life and not have it consume me to where I'm no longer able to function as a member of society, and as a man with responsibilities to his family and to himself.
If I'm not careful, this sensation would consume me, from the inside out. Thus, I always make sure I'm grounded in reality.
The Holy Ghost
My first encounter with ecstasy came in 1975, when I was a six-year-old boy staying for the summer with my grandparents, in my father’s home town in Puerto Rico. It's one of the most vivid memories of my childhood.
Behind the backyard of my grandparents’ home was a hall where people from that part of the barrio came to worship. Every night, as I tried to sleep, I would hear them sing and chant, repetitively, Jesucristo. As the night would progress, the singing and chanting would get louder, while the words from the congregants would devolve into a series of incoherent mumblings that alternated between moaning and screaming.
One morning, I asked my grandfather about the hall and the noise from there. He told me not to worry about what crazy people do.
I tried not to worry, as my grandfather instructed, but it was hard to ignore the singing that filled the open spaces of my grandparent's home at night. The congregants of the hall sounded like they were experiencing both pleasure and pain. I had to see for myself what this was like. I knew it was strange but strange appealed to my curiosity. One night, I asked my parents if I could go to the backyard, alone, to check on one of the pigs my grandparents kept in the pen. Rather than going to the pen, I jumped the fence and walked into the hall.
I walked in on men and women, teenagers and children, swaying to the repetitive proclamations of the minister on stage, declaring in Spanish, “Jesus Christ, the embodiment of love, died so that we may live.”
This is all he said while an old man sat towards the back, banging on a small conga drum. The proclamations of the minister, combined with the beat of the drum made me want to sway my body like the others around me. I didn't because it felt strange and strange was bad in the world I was being raised in.
Instead, I forced myself to stand still as I watched with awe and terror several of the congregants begin to convulse. They shook as if struck by electricity before falling on their knees and raising their hands in the air.
I remember the minister yelling, in Spanish, "Holy Ghost come for us. Holy Ghost come for us. Come save us. Come tear our hearts apart."
At this point, my grandfather and father came into the hall and carried me away in a manner that made me feel that I had been in some terrible danger and that I had to be saved before it was too late.
Five years later, I'm with my mother in the Bureau of Vital Records in Ponce, waiting for her name to be called, when this woman sitting next to us got up, yelled, “Santos,” and began to convulse, much like congregants in the hall years before. No one around us flinched as my mom and I watched her eyes roll back until completely white. Then just like that, she stopped. The expression on her face showed the sudden awareness that she had lost control of something deep in her, and the pain from knowing she made a spectacle of herself. She apologized to all of us around her before hurrying away.
After our day was over and we returned home, I told my grandfather what had happened and what I had seen. My grandfather dismissed it again, this time as the idiocy of the Pentecostals. He joked that the great guardian spirit of rats appeared to him the night before, telling him not to kill anymore rodents on his farm. I knew my grandfather believed in something but he despised Christians and cared more for the work involved with his crops and livestock than people who did nothing more than pray and wait for God to help them. He didn't care for people, especially men, who did nothing but lose themselves in abstract thought, wondering why. Thus, as an 11 year-old, I felt I would never be a man because I wanted to understand what I had seen, I wanted to think in the abstract, and not dismiss it like my grandfather.
The need to understand gave way to the need to survive my teenage years in the ghettos of the New York City area. Much like my grandfather's only drive was to survive by nurturing his crops and livestock, my only drive was to survive and try to find ways to fit in, without the streets claiming me.
The Sky Goddess
I joined the US Navy in 1988 and deployed for Operation Desert Shield in August 1990.
Each day and night on that deployment, when I was not working the long hours, I would dream, but in my dreams I was working and missing my newborn son. Every time I would wake up, I would hope I was not where I was, deployed, working non-stop, where my existence had been whittled down to the notion that I am nothing more than a pawn, a tool, in a game of chess played by world leaders.
I no longer felt I had spirit – I no longer felt I had a soul. I was dead inside and ready to die on the outside.
In October 1990, my ship made its first port of call in Hurghada, Egypt. The opportunity to tour the Valley of Kings and the Temple of Karnak came up and I was able to get in on it. Before sunrise that day, we boarded charter buses and were escorted by Egyptian security forces through the vast expanse of desert with mountainous backdrops and into the lush green area along the Nile River. By late morning we arrived in Luxor. Once there, our tour group boarded a ferry and then another bus to complete the final part of the trip, into the Valley of Kings.
Our tour guide took us into the one tomb that was available at the time - Ramesses VI.
As we made our way down, the tour guide pointed out graffiti in Greek and Latin lettering scrawled on the passage's wall, left by ancient armies. I felt like I was descending back into time. At the bottom of the passage, we entered the burial chamber. I looked up at the ceiling and saw the most beautiful thing at that point in my life.
Nut, the Egyptian goddess of the sky, stretched out from one end of the ceiling to the other.
With all the stress and fear in my life at the time, with my day in, day out routine, surrounded by men with no inclination to think about life beyond the gray of the ship because to do so would be strange, and feeling like nothing more than an object and not human, to see this sight of the sky goddess, and the immense deep beauty of this art on this high ceiling, for the first time in my life I realized my place in the universe.
All the pain of my separation from my newborn son, all the hardship and struggle involved with leaving his mother behind, and the anguish of my situation with members within my division on the ship at the time meant nothing - nothing at all! Problems come, problems go, we are born into the world and we will pass from the world but this image of Nut, the sky goddess will continue to exist, for thousands of more years and for a brief second I grasped the enormity of what eternity truly meant.
Since then, when I think of that moment, I think of Teresa of Avila. Her words…
Let nothing trouble you,
Let nothing make you afraid.
All things pass away.
God never changes.
Patience obtains everything.
God alone is enough
Later that evening, at dusk, our group returned to Luxor and toured the Temple of Karnak.
Scandinavian tourist surrounded our group; we were all looking up in wonder at how the temple's high pillars rose above us, with tons of slabs of stones resting on top of the pillars, seemingly floating above us. Then came the call to prayer; the muffled voice filling the air.
It was the first time in my life I have ever heard the Adhan.
In hearing it, and looking at the wide open smiles and bright eyes of all the tourists around me…
and in remembering that feeling of having an idea of what eternity truly means from looking at the mural of the sky goddess, Nut, twist in my heart,
like a splinter,
the muffled and melodious call cracked my soul open.
Out poured all this love.
All of a sudden I was in ecstasy, where
I wanted nothing more in the world, more
than wanting to be home with my son, more
than wanting to be away from the ship
and away from my anger
and my fear,
I wanted nothing more than to kneel
and show my devotion to Love
and to God
and only God
Surrender to Love.
Then, at that moment, I heard in my mind the voices of the Catholic priests of my childhood, men of no imagination, yelling at me not to do so for I would go to hell if I did cause their god was not our God.
I don’t remember anything else after that. Don’t remember the four-hour journey back to Hurghada, or coming back to the ship. In looking back upon that memory it feels that the experience consumed everything else of that evening.
Days later, my ship was underway once again, patrolling the area near the tip of the Sinai Peninsula, in the Red Sea. I could no longer work the way I was able to before, with the full focus the deployment required of me – I was still in ecstasy. At night, when I couldn't sleep because within a few hour’s time I would be back at work, I would go outside. I would lay flat against the rough deck and look at the night sky. In looking up I felt connected, knowing that under these same stars’ billions of other human beings like me, with their own joys and sorrows had their own lives, their own problems, their own triumphs. I was not alone! I would continue to look up at the whole of the Milky Way Galaxy stretch from horizon to horizon and see Nut the sky goddess stretched out just the same as I had seen in the tomb. The Universe is a work of art!
I was drunk from the sensation. I felt like I received a summoning from the Universe to live and, in living it, seethe and burn from the inside.
I was injured in the Persian Gulf War and left the navy in 1991. I moved back to my hometown, determined to live my life with that burning feeling.
I studied Sufism and the ecstatic writings of Rumi and Rabia. I also read Augustine of Hippo’s Confessions and Dante’s Inferno. I wanted to understand, with the full scope of my mind, what I was feeling, the powerful force of love that burned in me. The more I read the more I understood and this showed in my appearance.
I let my hair grow. I pierced my ears.
There, I would dance to house music all night, until I would come to a point where I would open my eyes and I would feel like that six-year-old boy, back in Puerto Rico, watching the Holy Ghost come over everyone around me. Unlike when I was six, the Holy Ghost didn't pass me over this time. Instead, it would hit me, through the hard bass and grooves blasting from all corners of the club, ripping to shreds any sense of self I had.
Dance was prayer.
In those moments, the ecstasy I was feeling was not powered by vodka or pills or stamps of LSD; I never had a need for alcohol or drugs.
The ecstasy I was feeling was powered by my memory of the moment I was in the burial chamber, looking up at the sky goddess, Nut.
As time went on and I became more involved with the downtown nightclub scene, the burning feeling began to wane. It was getting old to come to places like the Limelight alone and not able to share this experience with someone I could love.
I wanted to love.
I wanted to be loved and share this burning feeling.
One night, as I danced to a track called, Thousand, by the recording artist, Moby, a topless Spanish woman came up.
She said nothing as she pressed her breasts against my chest and began to grind her body against mine. She ran her hands down my back, as her grinding against my body grew with intensity, matching the buildup of the song. I didn't realize another woman had joined in on our dance, until I felt her body against my back and her hands grabbing my crotch. In the darkness of that room, with only laser lights slashing though puffy clouds generated by the smoke machine, I experienced a hedonistic fantasy - two women using me to please themselves. In the span of those few intense minutes, I was in a different type of ecstasy where I was outside of myself, looking on how every part of these women’s bodies were offered up for my consumption, with their responding to the feel of my hand, and of my lips, and my tongue by rolling back their eyes to only show white.
And just as the song finished, they disappeared…
They were gone...
I was left feeling even more alone, used, thrown away.
The Valley of Bones
For the first time in my life, I discovered the flip side to this burning feeling was a terrifying and bone crushing depression, fueled by the sense I was living a life filled with boring routines. I felt like I was nothing but bones, in the valley of the Prophet Ezekiel’s vision in the Old Testament, waiting for a mighty wind to come upon me and bring me back to life.
I got to a point where I knew no amount of prayer or sex could ever bring back that spiritual sense I felt in the heat of the dance or in the arms of the only powerful love I had experienced up until that point in my life. I began the retreat from the world of senses. I didn't want to desire. I didn't want to feel. I didn't want to love. I still wanted to feel compassion for others.
I went to war against my desires. I entered a mindset where I didn't feel but was still able to have the kind of love for others that I believed formed the basis of compassion. I took up Zen Buddhism, and spent all of my free time, in the solitude of my empty apartment, studying koans and sutras, and meditating.
In this solitude, I wrote what I now consider one of the best poems I've ever written. A vision inspired by the memory of what became a dead sense of the ecstatic and the spirit. The great Sufi mystics, Rumi and Rabia taught me how to come to this vision. I called the poem, Ezekiel. One day I'll publish it through this website
The poem was my way of noting for myself what this ecstasy felt like - the anchor my soul needed should I go too deep in Zen - my reminder that I will always be a person with a center of spirituality deeply rooted in the heart.
A year later, I looked at the poem and rejected every idea presented in it, the concept of spirit and soul. I threw away all copies I had of the poem and deleted the file from my floppy disks.
I wanted no reminder that I was lost.
I had forgotten that I shared copies of this poem with people I would meet at poetry readings. In 2000, my soul came looking for me - I was contacted by a young woman who worked at the Nantucket Short Play Festival. She had a copy of Ezekiel, given to her in 1994 by acquaintance we had in common. This acquaintance gave her my contact information so that she gets my permission to adapt the poem for use at the festival. I gave my permission and later on received a copy of the modified poem, through the mail. I read the poem once more before filing it away; nobody in my world back then gave a fuck about soul and spirit - it was all about project management, stock options and hustling for that promotion.
After 9/11, I reevaluated my life and I did all I could to reconnect with myself. One night, as I was browsing YouTube for old dance music, I stumbled upon a song by an Icelandic group of musicians called Gus Gus, called Believe.
The reactions of the band members in the last minute of this video brought me back to when I was six years old, walking into that hall in my grandfather's village in Puerto Rico and watching the faithful congregants bodies get possessed by what they believed was the Holy Ghost.
It brought me back to the feeling of ecstasy when I was a 21-year-old man in the Valley of Kings and Temple of Karnak.
It brought me back to when I was a lover, in the rave era of New York City circa early 1990s, in the dark nightclubs, loving life with all the power and fury I had in me.
I remembered what that feeling of being overpowered by ecstasy felt like and I felt like I found my path to home again. In the video, the lead singer implores listeners to believe.
My religion is Love. The world is an Ecstasy.
It's 2010 and I've since reclaimed my spirituality and integrated it within the scope of my daily life. After all, I'm a practical man, with no use for anything that is going to remove me from living every moment in reality, in the here and now, and not in some far off land or frame of mind.
In a way, I've become like my grandfather.
I have no use in a narcissistic form of spirituality that involves in only saving myself, making myself happy. I'm only interested in a brand of spirituality that makes us better human beings. That doesn't compel anyone to aspire to be some supernatural spirit, far removed from anger, fear, and frustration for on the flip side, if one does not experience these emotions, how would one know the real human emotions of happiness, hope, and patience?
I no longer give a shit in any belief system that demands I adhere to ritual for the sake of ritual. I'm careful with anyone that comes with a smile, claiming they have an answer for life and it involves neglecting it for some great reward in the beyond.
I have no use for priests, nuns, imams, rabbis, religious leaders, theologians, or anyone else that claims to know what God is like, what an afterlife is like, and insist that I alter my life to make sure I perform acts that will enable me to gain entrance to whatever they consider paradise.
I don’t know what’s beyond this moment and no one else does and rather than waste time and speculate, we should be good to each other for the sake of being good to each other, rather than for some reward. When I pass from this world, I will know the answer, and at the moment, it won’t matter for I will not know the difference anyway.
Bottom line, the only thing I know, down to the bone of my soul is that I know absolutely nothing. Nothing. I learned that from Socrates.
To sum up…
I’m the most human person you’ll ever meet. My body, my mind, and my soul has needs and I have no qualms in meeting whatever it demands, all in balance.
When my time in the universe is complete, I can't think of no greater ecstasy than to no longer be alive but rather return to the source, my creator.
I will be home.
September 20, 2010