When you think of the word ecstasy, what do you think of?
Humans have been hunting ecstasy since the beginning of time. Genuine ecstasy is much more than happiness. It’s an overwhelming sense of bliss, which takes you outside yourself and stops time. You never forget it. It changes your life.
For many, their first taste of ecstasy leads to a lifetime of trying to replicate the experience. They want to taste the magic one more time.
Yet ecstasy is an elusive quarry. For most of human history, the route to ecstasy was long and arduous. It required feats of endurance, years of practice on the meditation cushion, or mastery of rhythmic movements like drumming or dancing.
Religion was the most well-known way to get there. Whirling dervishes, Tantrics, shamans and ascetics sought ecstatic states for that feeling of oneness with the divine.
Yet today the hunt for ecstasy is heating up in the most unlikely place:
Tech entrepreneurs are hoping to “hack consciousness” with the goal of boosting productivity and solving seemingly impossible problems.
The whole story is laid out in Stealing Fire, one of the most buzzy business books of 2017. Authors Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal talk to Navy SEALs, Google, futurists and neuroscientists to find out what all the fuss about ecstasy is.
Except, to avoid confusion, they call it by its original name, ecstasis.
Ecstasis is “a very specific range of nonordinary consciousness” defined by four traits:
When you’re in a state of ecstasis, you slip loose the confines of the ego. You’re no longer you. You’re connected to everything around you.
Time stops. You’re no longer thinking about the past or considering the future, but totally immersed in the present moment.
Everything you do seems easy. You’re in a state of flow, where the task you’re engrossed in feels intrinsically rewarding.
Now, here’s the bit tech entrepreneurs are most interested in…
Because your concentration is so focused, you find yourself coming up with innovative ideas that seem to come out of nowhere. These ideas arrive so complete, so richly detailed, it’s as if you downloaded them from the collective unconsciousness.
Artists and creatives have used ecstatic states for millennia to come up with their most powerful work—often helped along by psychoactive drugs or alcohol. Think of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Kahn” or The Beatles’s song “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.”
But mind-altering substances aren’t necessary. Ever noticed how many cutting-edge entrepreneurs are also adventure sport addicts? That’s because adventure sports provide another gateway to ecstasis.
Elon Musk of Tesla, Sergey Brin of Google, and Sir Richard Branson have all used altered states to come up with some of their most innovative ideas.
That’s because the appeal of ecstasy goes far beyond pleasure. It’s the boost in performance and innovation.
“Studies show that altered states boost motivation and creativity nearly 400%, while cutting learning times in half,” Kotler claims. 
Ecstasis could be used to help you study, come up with a winning proposal at work, or kill that presentation.
Luckily, you don’t have to be a wealthy entrepreneur—or an artist or athlete—to taste the benefits of ecstasis.
Ecstasy is coming to the masses, thanks to disciplines like meditation, yoga and tai chi; technologies like neurofeedback and isolation tanks; and mind-bending events like raves and Burning Man.
We already spend $4 trillion a year pursuing altered states of consciousness, Kotler estimates. We just don’t usually see it as such. Coffee is one of our most popular brain boosters, but activities like gaming and listening to music can shift our consciousness, too.
The explosion of nootropics, or cognitive enhancers, points to just how hungry people are for a way to boost their performance without side effects.
The quickest way to taste the benefits of altered states of consciousness is to start a meditation practice. High performance coach Brendon Burchard found that high performers at the top of their game nearly all share the same habit: they meditate on a daily basis.
Apps like Headspace make it easy. Specialized meditation music like Holosync can enhance brain wave activity, helping you drop in the zone more quickly.
Will you experience ecstasis right away?
But even 10 minutes of meditation a day can give you a clearer mind and a more peaceful center. It’s not ecstasy, but it still feels pretty good.