Sunday, February 26, 2006


Years ago, after my first exposure to religious fanatics I asked my mother what made them. She said, "Do you know that feeling you get when you see something really beautiful and your chest swells up like it's going to burst and your spine starts singing and you can feel and see and hear and smell everything?"


"How often do you feel that?"

"Not very often, maybe once or twice a week."

"Most people never feel that in their whole lives, Rory. Can you imagine that?"

I could, and it was horrible.

"If you feel it only once, you'll think it's religious and holy. You'll spend the rest of your life trying to get it back. A fanatic is someone who has only ever felt that once."

Hmmm. Wonder if I've offended anyone? This state of soul-singing joy is unbelievably intense and devoid of any awareness of self. It's not quite the same as satori. An article I read some time ago claimed to have mapped the brain functions of intense religious experience- this is it.

It is not the same as battle-joy, though. When every attempt to de-escalate or avoid has failed and the fight is on and only one person will walk away and civilization and rules and pretense slip away, that is battle joy. It is pure, one of the few pure things in life. I am me and nothing more, but I am me totally and totally in the moment. All that exists is me, the threat and the situation. It is a cold and maniacal joy, like your whole being, mind body and soul a single muscle at the perfect moment of action. Your soul laughs but it makes no sound because it doesn't occur to share or display.

My mother told me that most people have never experienced the spirit joy. I don't know if that's true. I hope not, but it seems that there would be many more secret smiles if it were common.

The battle joy I know is rare because so few have been in a position to feel it. It's not the same as an adrenaline rush and it is orders of magnitude beyond anything I have experienced in competition or training. It is addicting and I hunger for it... and like many addictive things it takes more and more to trigger the rush.

The spirit joy is content and it doesn't seem to diminish with exposure, but become easier... though it is hard for me to access around people or crowds.

Have you felt these joys? Have you felt them both?


Anonymous said...

Spirit joy--most days. Battle joy--once, and I hope never again.

pax said...

Book recommendation: Surprised by Joy by CS Lewis.

You'll disagree with most of it, but it will speak to you anyway.