Spiritual ecstasy is not a feeling or an idea but a shift of perception in which direct contact with spirit is made. Being in ecstasy does not have to express itself through intensity of any kind. The biblical injunction “Be still and know that I am God” is an invitation to ecstasy.
I prefer the spiritual definition because it is inclusive of the physical and the mythical. The most famous example of spiritual ecstasy is probably that of Saint Teresa, who dreamed that an angel came and pierced her heart with a golden arrow. She describes this experience in intensely physical terms, as a burning pain that was almost unendurable until it wondrously transformed itself into equally intense pleasure.
The mythic ingredients of the angel and the arrow are unmistakable once we think back to the god Eros with his quiver and bow. In her ecstasy Teresa felt nothing less than the intimate embrace of God, and the erotic and mythic overtones of her experience make it no less divine. Being supremely spiritual, her ecstasy is able to include every level of interpretation.
What usually makes ecstasy so intense and extreme is not the experience itself but getting to it. The common images of God or an angel coming down from heaven to pierce, shatter, and penetrate the ecstatic one do not have to be taken literally; they serve to remind us that many layers shield us from contact with spirit. To receive the gift of ecstasy is an exquisite experience, as told in a remarkable passage from Greek Orthodox manuscript written a thousand years ago:
For if we genuinely love Him,
We wake up inside Christ’s body
Where all our body, all over,
Every most hidden part of it,
Is realized in joy as Him,
And He makes us, utterly, real.
Adapted from The Path to Love, by Deepak Chopra (Three Rivers Press, 1997).