There’s a number of ways to altered consciousness.
I’ll start with the more everyday changes in conciousness.
Sleep deprivation is the altered state the most people are familiar with. It is anxious, with tunnel vision, vision disturbances, muddled thinking, and yet in other places it is pleasant, where the cannibinoid Oleylethonalamine is released producing sleepiness, warmth, hunger and ease.
A variety of body caused ‘highs’ can be produced. The body releases its own opiates, the beta endorphins with a variety of things, like food, sex. Also in exercise, where anandamide, natures THC is released at the same time. A good high intensity work out will give you a great clean buzz. Oxytocin, with it’s MDMA like effect on the brain is connected to bonding.
But when talking about altered states, euphoria may not be what people have in mind. A number of physical conditions can produce altered consciousness, such as lack of oxygen, infection or epilepsy. Some epileptics have profound religious like experiences. A fever can in itself produce hallucinations, creating a delirient effect. When I had this, I saw totally realistic snakes slithering over my body! Eww
Trance and fasting
“I achieve an altered state that I can’t explain; I have a secret that I cannot share.” Omar Khayyám
Fasting, a practice used for religious purposes often to this day, results in a lowered blood sugar, which produces a detachment from events and reality.
‘Trance state’ – In trance, a person is in a relaxed state between wakefulness, and sleep- a focused state that is powerfully imaginative, where one may access the subconscious self. A trance state is also used for achieving transcendent spiritual experiences.
It doesn’t matter any scepticism you might have, hypnosis works. Imaginative experiences can feel sometimes real under hypnosis, allowing things like past life regression, or healing visualisations to have a powerful impact on our psyche. Hypnosis can be used for pain relief during brain surgery – that’s how powerful it can be.
“My eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.” – Meister Eckhart
For a more egoless spiritual experience, a deep mindfulness or meditation is required. Traditionally, shamans and mystics have used drumming, chanting, mantras and other repetitive sounds, along with focus on the breath. Also mandalas, or simply observation. These day’s we also have technology to enhance trance, such as light and sound machines and binaural sound to help alter the brains state, although traditional tools like tibetan singing bowls are just as popular as ever.
Daydreaming actually works in a similar manner. It is the activation of the ‘default network’, the creativity state, the part of the brain that activates under low stimulus (sometimes under highly practiced tasks). Indeed between this and dreaming, perhaps we can see why altered states in general are so useful – for their role in meta-cognition, to inspire new ways to think about old things.
Visions and loss of self
Staring at a candle or mirror, or another person’s eyes can alter consciousness, and this has been shown in science. It is important the room it dimly lit. For caring for your eyes, I suggest a mirror or person would be better. Another person’s eyes seem to have to most powerful effect. In an experiment on this, staring into each others eyes – subjects describe:
“Higher levels of attenuated colour intensity than controls, with noises seeming louder than they should. Time seemed to slow down and they felt spaced out. Additionally, almost 90% of them said their partner’s face appeared deformed, 75% saw monstrous beings and 15% even saw traits of a relative’s face emerge on their partner.”
There are some methods of altering consciousness that really take all this a step further into the self. Sensory deprivation can induce visuals, as well as, offer deeply enhanced introspection and creative thinking. Joe Rogan is a huge proponent. He like others, mentions that it takes a few floats before you ‘relax into it’, so don’t be disappointed if not much happens at first.
“It shows me all the different issues in my life that I don’t like and that I need to fix ….then it’ll show me some things where I’m on the right track” – Joe Rogan
Pain, can induce a spiritual or ecstatic experience. In BDSM, this is referred to as ‘subspace’, and people often use this form of pain, such as in ‘suspension’, for spiritual rather than sexual purposes. It is described as a feeling of floating, or flying, detachment from one’s body. Clearly I cannot recommend this approach to ‘try at home’ without supervision, experience and knowledge.
“When you can’t refuse anything and can’t even move, those voices in your head go silent. All you can do, and all you are permitted to do, is feel.” ― Cherise Sinclair
Are we awake or asleep?
Lucid dreaming. It’s something I do myself on occasion, and it’s something you can train yourself to do. Basically, on some level you become aware it’s a dream. And when you do, you gain control of it – you can manifest objects, fly or express supernatural abilities, change your setting by going through doors, mirrors or pools, summon settings, objects or people by thinking about them.
Asking yourself while awake ‘it this dreamlike’ can help give you a sense of checking periodically, make you subconsciously aware of what to look for, to realize you are dreaming when you are. And if you feel like you are waking from such a lucid dream, prematurely, you can stay asleep by spinning in circles, or by touching something physical in the dream.
“You must learn to control your dreams or your dreams will forever control you.”
― Wayne Gerard Trotman