How to Design Cathartic, Ecstatic, Communal Experiences

Edgy experience-design principles you haven’t heard of.

Read this article if you are passionate about creating transformational experiences. I will share with you the principles I leverage to take people out of their heads and into their pulsating bodies.

After reading Recapture the Rapture, by Jamie Wheal, I was little confused as to what to do. He talked about the importance of rites of passage, of sacraments, of responsible entheogen usage, and of scripture and worship. But, I was not sure what to actually do as a community architect.

His chapter on ethical cult-building was insightful but not practical. In his culture toolbox, he elaborates five elements: metaphysics, ethics, scripture, deities, and sacraments. I had never thought of metaphysics and scripture in the context of community building, so this was a plus. It really broadened my understanding of my mission to revive human connection in the developed world. Jamie argues we need to build new metaphysical and ethical frameworks to accomplish this…

But I’ll leave the theoretical and sense-making frameworks to the philosophers. As a facilitator and party scientist, I am much more interested in sacraments. Specifically, rituals involving social-bonding.

Meaning System 3.0 is a fancy term for a new culture that saves humanity. A culture that transcends the gender and culture wars and unites us all in facing our greatest challenges as earthlings. In describing Meaning System 3.0, Wheal emphasizes the importance of three habitual processes embedded in human life: catharsis, ecstasis, and communitas.

Catharsis is release and healing. Ecstasis is liberation and transcendance. And communitas is heartfelt connection to humans, self, and nature.

My mission in simple terms is to normalize a practice of cathartic, ecstatic, communitastic expression. And I believe a great way to realize this is through the modality of collective joy. However, the experience design principles below apply to all types of experiences. They are universal.

Finally. Let’s identify the principles for designing rituals that meet the standards for Meaning System 3.0.

Set the Stage

Participants must know that the experience has a different intention. They must see it in a different light. This is not just an entertainment experience. It is a transformational one. And so, how we invite people and communicate the experience to people must be informed by this unique intention.

We want our participants to drop in to a different state of consciousness during the experience, and so they must enter the event with aligned motives. The goal is not fun or socialization or relaxation. The goal is to heal and transcend.

In designing my experiences, I set the stage by crafting an excellent ‘liftoff package’ for my attendees. Within the liftoff package, I describe the techniques we will be using, I explain how they can participate, and I give them accurate expectations. I want them to know where they are going so that they can fully trust me as a facilitator and fully participate in the experience.

The second way I set the stage is through video communication with my guests. Again, this is about building trust. With transformational experiences, your guests need a level of safety and trust to fully open their hearts and give up control; surrender is an essential characteristic of transformation. They need to know, like, and trust you as their host.

So whatever we can do as hosts before the experience to cultivate this is indispensable. Direct communication is one manner. Giving your participants activities to do before the experience is another. Yet another is what the host does to open their transformational experience: the opening ritual.

I have discussed the importance of opening rituals in many of my other articles (see how to bring people together in a pandemic). An effective opening ritual does the following: 1. it promotes a sense of psychological safety among participants; 2. it evokes a prosocial and relaxed state of mind in participants; and 3. it generates a sense of trust in the host.

In summary, setting the stage involves building trust before your guests arrive and orchestrating an opening ritual.

Set Intentions

The intentions of your guests deserve a section of their own. If intentions are aligned, participants will validate one another’s liberation and expression. If they’re not, participants will not feel safe to let go and release. So, it’s necessary to be very clear as to the purpose of the experience. Ensure that people who are just looking for a fun or social thing to do are not present. This damages the bubble of psychological safety.

Guide participants in their intention-setting by referencing the purpose of the experience: to transform through accessing altered states of consciousness. If you make this clear, you will not have to deal with the confusion of uncomfortable guests.

Incorporate Techniques of Ecstacy

At last, the most juicy part of this article.

Wheal discusses multiple techniques of ecstacy in his book: sex, respiration, entheogens, pain/pleasure, and music. A technique of ecstacy is a means to induce an altered state of consciousness that produces a profound change in psychology. In other words, a technique of ecstacy is a method for producing a mystical experience. And as Wheal references in the book, having a mystical experience is closely correlated with emotional well-being.

So to produce a transformational experience, the experience designer must incorporate a ritual that leverages a technique of ecstacy. I am no professional in the realm of sacred sex, entheogens, respiration, or pain induction. But I am a professional in the realm of music; music, dancing, and singing are my essential tools for electrifying audiences and breaking down social categories.

If you’d like to explore how to design and facilitate music and dance rituals, I have written about it in my newsletter. And will continue to write about it until the end of time.

My suggestion to facilitators is to train in a technique of ecstacy and then apply it in your experience.

This article was about levelling up your experiences. Making them cathartic, ecstatic, and transformational. It’s about time we as experience designers leverage the ancient techniques of ecstacy and elevate global consciousness.

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