Ecstasy with a foreign flair

by Jan Wheatcroft

EC-STA-SY n. feeling of overpowering joy; rapture; exaltation (being ‘beside yourself”)

I am lucky that the work that I do and have done in the past are things that I enjoy, that are also challenging and creative. And so I have sailed through life involved in pleasurable studies and jobs happily learning and exploring with the occasional foray into a more difficult or unpleasant place, which I quickly escaped from whenever possible. 

I loved the study of anthropology, the Graduate field work with Native Americans, the Archaeology in Israel, working in a bookstore, teaching elementary school, teaching ESL. All of these fields have been so structured with the ability for me to be creative and develop ideas in my own way. Even when working selling ads for the COURIER I was given the room to make the classified pages personal and creative. 

I love working with my various crafts today, showing and selling them and sharing my ideas with people. I love writing down my thoughts whether it be for personal discovery, travel journals or writing for the newspaper.

Along with good choices and the highs of enjoyable work and adventurous travel, I have had exceptional experiences of ecstasy a number of times while traveling. (I do not include sexual passions and the delights of meals among them here.) My first experiences were while I was on the Greek Island of Skyros and was part of the Skyros Center community of people who came together. We gathered to learn about ourselves, to struggle and soar with others from different cultures and to be open and learn (over a number of years) to let go of life’s numbing fears which inhibited positive progress.

Through classes, writing and physical activities in a beautiful spot we gathered, shared, laughed, cried, felt pain and joy. However, it was when we let ourselves go and experience emotions through dance and movement that I first felt the feeling of overpowering joy; a sweet feeling of being “beside myself.” I was uplifted, flying without wings or a plane. This was a place where it was safe to let myself go. To allow the “me” of me to fly out.

We would gather in a stone and cement circle under the shade of trees that overlooked the water. It took me some time to learn that there was no “right way” to move to the music and that no one was really watching or judging what I did. I was just tapping into the experience of the body, rhythms and music, and the others who were exploring like me. I can close my eyes and still see us in that spot, each one in his own space and yet all of us together. 

When I lived on the Greek Island of Samos, I learned to ride a motor bike. At first I was scared—just as I was always scared of riding a bicycle. But I took the first step and, with two friends, rented my first bike the bike shop in our small village. I forgot how to stop the machine and just rode straight into a wall to get it to stop, bruising my chest a bit. I must have liked it, as eventually I bought my own small, blue motor bike and would ride it all over the island. I learned to sweep up the mountain roads leaning to one side slightly as I came to a bend and taking the curve just as a painter might drag his brush as he forms an arc. I did not wear a hat or scarf. I loved the feeling of the wind blowing my hair about, short as it was. I loved the feeling of speed, although in reality I wasn’t going very fast. It was just a little motor bike.  But it felt like I had great power and could fly.

The island was lovely and green in the interior. There were hills covered in olive groves, their leaves a silvery green; then came bare hills covered in sage and wild herbs. The smells were fantastic. Near each village, there were orchards of oranges and lemons with darker green, shiny leaves.  The roads wove between small villages and as I approached them, I would let their names roll off my tongue deliciously, “Chora, Pagondas, Manolates, Psili Amos.” Sometimes I stopped for a coffee or to chat with the local villagers, but mostly I just drove or flew around the roads feeling a sense of freedom that I have never felt before or since.

The combination of the location, the motorbike, the air and the feeling of flying and swooping was like no other experience I have ever known. 

Later, when I spent other summers on Skopelos Island, I also rented a motorbike and had the same experiences. I was free. I thought about buying a bike when I returned to live in Claremont but I knew it would not be the same. I would not feel as safe and it was not a beautiful place to let myself go. I would be stuck in traffic, there would be lights and lots of people so I allowed that experience to be part of the Greek years that played such an important part in my life. 

I do not move like I used to today. My legs and feet are stiffer and even though there is still a sense of wildness in my core that once existed, it is harder to get the inner motor started.

When I last returned to Greece, I visited both Samos and Skopelos. I went immediately to Nick’s Rent-A-Motorbike where I had once worked and found there were no more motorbikes for rent.  Only motorcycles were available and one had to have a motorcycle license to rent one.

I rented a car and drove into the hills and was sad to see most of the hills had been burned by fires and many places were bare. I have my memories of that ecstatic experience, which can still make me gasp at the thought of those times. Times pf letting go, being free, being in touch with a beautiful part of oneself and of the joy of being alive.


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