An alteration to altered states

A term that’s bandied around fairly freely is “altered states”. It’s generally taken to mean a trance or super-/para-normal mental state. There’s all sorts of ideas about astral travel, out-of-body experience, remote viewing and so on tied in with it.

I’ve been messing with my mind for quite a long time now, and have used a spectacular range of techniques to get my mind to see things from different perspectives. My conclusion is that there is no mental state that accesses anything that has not been put into my brain via the standard issue senses of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell, and there is nowhere beyond the confines of my body that I can go or see by mental means.

I have not been disappointed by my journeys. It almost saddens me to see and hear others striving to see, hear and feel ‘stuff’ from other planes or to make contact with ‘entities’, or to seek answers from disembodied spirits, whilst overlooking the extraordinary realms of their own mind. I know there are others who have come to truly appreciate the strange lump of tissue between their ears as I have, but it is quite a difficult leap to make. The claims and promises made by new-age and other proponents maintain a certain fear and uncertainty that if you don’t get into their program, method, practice, pyramid or MLM scheme you won’t find “it”.

Maybe a prepackaged model is the right answer for some people. Maybe I’m unusual in not having found a good fit in any of the mainstream or established-fringe bundles. There’s certainly enough in my past to suggest that I am something of a loner, better left to work things out for myself, but even so, I’m reasonably certain that large chunks of the stuff being promoted as keys to health, wealth and happiness are complete nonsense.

Which gets me to the point of this essay. I hate the term “altered states”. Everything I have experienced is a direct consequence of bio-electrochemical activity in my brain. Everything I have experienced is an experience my brain is capable of rendering. Some days I’m in a good mood, other days I’m not. My moods affect every aspect of my thinking and behaviour. It could be said that each mood is an “altered state”. The visionary, hypnagogic, hallucinatory states attained with the assistance of AVS or other means are states that are entirely natural to the brain, if not familiar to, or under voluntary control of, the individual.

The brain has an infinite range of “states” created by subtle blends of neurotransmitters in various regions. The EEG gives some idea of  the location and character of bulk neuronal activity, but barely hints at the subtlety of the system as a whole. It becomes possible to manipulate the workings of the brain with greater and greater precision as one better understands the mechanisms and practices using tools, such as AVS, to nudge the thought processes around. It soon becomes evident that one is not at one moment in a “normal state” and in the next, an “altered state”. Even with the most intense of psychedelics, such as salvia or DMT, there is a recognisable coming and going, with the brain fully occupying every intermediate “state”, even if just briefly.

Let’s dispose of the confusing concept of “altered states” and fully embrace the infinite wonder of the brain by being specific when we speak of experiences beyond the small portion of the spectrum that meets our needs in the mundane world. Let’s start speaking in terms of clear goals and outcomes – I believe that we’ve barely scratched the surface of the things we’ll eventually be able to make our brains do, all things that it is already fully fit and capable of.

All this said, I have really tried to find a basis for the ‘energy’ practices. I haven’t quite closed my mind on this subject, but I’m certainly not spending any time on it. I use all manner of symbol sets in my contemplation, and I consider such symbols as ‘chakras’ to be perfectly fine in their place, but I really think most energy practitioners have confused the literal and the symbolic. It’s a pretty extensive “who knows” kind of area, so I’m not claiming to have the last word, but there’s always someone who will take advantage of the hopes, dreams and vulnerabilities of others to gain fame or fortune. The mind is an awesomely wonderful thing, but methinks not in the way that many a guru would like us to believe.

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  • jc  On July 19, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    … and therefore “caveat emptor” and common sense always seem to apply on this “blue” planet of ours.

    You raise many good points, however still I find the expression useful, and I like Wikipedia’s definition as: “An altered state of consciousness, (ASC)[1], also named altered state of mind is any condition which is significantly different from a normal waking beta wave state.

    An altered state of consciousness can come about accidentally through, for example, fever, infections such as meningitis,[5] sleep deprivation, fasting, oxygen deprivation, nitrogen narcosis (deep diving), or a traumatic accident.

    An ASC can sometimes be reached intentionally by the use of sensory deprivation, an isolation tank, sleep deprivation, lucid dreaming, or mind-control techniques, hypnosis, meditation, prayer, or disciplines (e.g. Mantra Meditation, Yoga, Sufism, dream yoga, or Surat Shabda Yoga).

    It can also be attained through the ingestion of psychoactive drugs such as alcohol and opiates, or more commonly with entheogenic plants and their derivative chemicals such as LSD, DXM, 2C-I, peyote, cannabis, mescaline, Salvia divinorum, MDMA, psychedelic mushrooms, ayahuasca, or datura (Jimson weed).

    Another effective way to induce an altered state of consciousness is using a variety of Neurotechnology such as psychoacoustics, binaural beats, light and sound stimulation, cranial electrotherapy stimulation, and such; these methods attempt to induce specific brainwave patterns, and a particular altered state of consciousness.[citation needed]”(end of citation)

    I also see your point though, and I guess I could equally affirm that I’m always fluctuating from one kind of “state” or “altered” state to another…

    • craigtavs  On July 19, 2009 at 4:19 pm

      I will confess that this post is something of an admonishment to myself. I’ve been guilty of speaking of the ‘altered states’ I’ve attained and allowing that to imply mastery and mystery. The reality is that it is my mind that has led me to pursue certain paths, and it is my mind that has rewarded me with remarkable experiences. Herein is a duality with I am becoming quite comfortable – myself in the dual aspects of observer and observed.
      It’s good that you’ve provided balance by reminding me that the term does have some legitimate applications.

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