Beyond Words, by William Segal

Painting by William Segal, Self Portrait in a Yellow Hat

Painting by William Segal, Self Portrait in a Yellow Hat

How, indeed, could it be possible for a man, who is limited on six sides—by east, west, south, north, deep, and sky—to understand a matter which is above the skies, which is beneath the deep, which stretches beyond north and south, and which is present in every place, and fills all vacuity?
—St. Gregory the Wonderworker (c. 213-268)

“The moment I die to myself, the moment I throw myself away, joy—even ecstasy—bursts through me. At this moment, I can say yes to everything I affirm as my existence. All the world is fine just as it is. Ecstasy is an experience that is beyond verbal and intellectual comprehension, a glimpse of another existence and completely different from ordinary attitudes and viewpoints. The onset of the ecstatic moment does not depend on, nor does it come from, outside oneself. It is a call from the “purity in oneself,” in St. Gregory’s words; it is present everywhere and fills all vacuity. It is the same force which animates one’s instinctive drives, one’s associative thoughts. But it is a force which now takes another form.

How can one experience ecstasy without transcending oneself, without freeing oneself from the incessant domination of one’s instinctive life? To go out of oneself, to be in touch with one’s essential reality, is to hold in abeyance those forces which dominate one’s existence.

Sometimes a sudden shock will bring a cessation of the associative processes, will intervene to free one from imprisonment by oneself. But too often man is unable to disengage himself from himself. He is unable to move outside of the two-dimensional bondage of this twenty-four hour conditioning by society into the free world of joy and ecstasy. From the moment of his birth, an ersatz culture has chipped away at whatever spiritual dimension he may have possessed.”

—From PARABOLA, Summer, 1998. Excerpted from Opening: Collected Writing of William Segal (198-1997), (Continuum Publishing, New York, 1999)

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