Altered States of Consciousness
Photograph David Wirzba
Altered states of consciousness have long been a topic of fascination and interest for humans. These experiences can be induced through a variety of methods, including meditation, sensory deprivation, and the use of psychedelic substances. While the effects of altered states of consciousness can vary depending on the individual and the method used, research has shown that these experiences can promote increased wellbeing in a number of ways.
One of the ways in which altered states of consciousness can promote wellbeing is by reducing feelings of anxiety and stress. Meditation, for example, has been found to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, while psychedelic substances like psilocybin have been found to reduce anxiety and depression in patients with terminal illness. These experiences can alter brain activity and increase feelings of relaxation, leading to a sense of calm and peace.
Photography by Jared Rice
Another way in which altered states of consciousness can promote wellbeing is by stimulating creativity and insight. These experiences can increase activity in the brain's default mode network, which is associated with creative thinking and idea generation. Studies have found that individuals who have used psychedelics report increased creativity and novel thinking, which can be particularly beneficial for individuals in creative fields. Additionally, meditation has been found to increase divergent thinking, which is the ability to generate multiple solutions to a problem.
Altered states of consciousness can also enhance self-awareness by allowing individuals to explore their thoughts and emotions from a different perspective. Mindfulness meditation, for example, can help individuals to become more aware of their thoughts and emotions, which can lead to greater emotional regulation and self-control. Psychedelics have also been found to increase self-awareness by allowing individuals to view themselves and their lives from a different perspective, which can help to promote personal growth and change.
In addition, altered states of consciousness can provide individuals with a sense of connection to something greater than themselves, which can promote a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Spiritual experiences during psychedelic sessions have been reported to lead to feelings of unity, transcendence, and awe, which can lead to a greater sense of purpose and direction in life. These experiences can also help individuals to feel more connected to nature and the world around them, which can promote a sense of ecological awareness and responsibility.
Experiencing altered states of consciousness can also have great physical health benefits. Meditation has been found to reduce blood pressure, decrease inflammation, and improve immune function. Sensory deprivation has been found to reduce chronic pain and improve sleep quality. Psychedelics have also been found to have potential therapeutic benefits for a range of physical health conditions, such as cluster headaches and migraines.
How the mind can reach altered states through meditation
The mind reaches an altered state of consciousness through meditation by entering into a state of deep relaxation and heightened awareness. This is achieved by reducing activity in the parts of the brain associated with the "thinking mind" and increasing activity in the parts of the brain associated with the "feeling mind" or the sensory and emotional processing centres.
During meditation, the brain waves slow down and become more synchronised, moving from the beta waves associated with normal waking consciousness to the alpha and theta waves associated with deep relaxation and heightened awareness. This shift in brain wave activity is often accompanied by a sense of peacefulness and tranquility, as well as a heightened sense of sensory awareness and a feeling of being "in the present moment."
As the mind enters this altered state of consciousness, it may experience a range of different sensations, including feelings of warmth, tingling, or a sense of floating or weightlessness. These experiences can vary from person to person and from session to session, depending on a variety of factors, including the individual's level of experience with meditation, the specific meditation technique used, and the person's state of mind and overall health.
Ultimately, the altered state of consciousness achieved through meditation can be a deeply transformative experience, leading to a greater sense of inner peace, clarity, and insight into the nature of the self and the world around us.
Photography by 'The Wind Collective"
Cultural Historic Use
Throughout human history, various cultures and tribes have used altered states of consciousness as part of their spiritual and healing practices. These experiences have often been facilitated by natural substances found in the environment, such as certain plants, fungi, and animal secretions. These have always been held in ceremonial settings by a shaman working with sound and prayer. These experiences are viewed as a way to communicate with the spirit world, gain insight into the nature of reality, and promote physical and emotional healing.
One example of a tribe that has traditionally used altered states of consciousness is the indigenous peoples of the Amazon rainforest, who have been using ayahuasca, a plant-based psychedelic brew, for centuries. Ayahuasca is used in shamanic ceremonies as a tool for spiritual and emotional healing, and is believed to allow individuals to communicate with the spirit world and gain insights into their own lives and the nature of the universe.
Another example is the use of peyote by Native American tribes in the Southwestern United States. Peyote, a cactus containing the psychoactive compound mescaline, is used in religious ceremonies as a means of achieving spiritual connection and guidance. It is believed to allow individuals to communicate with the divine and gain insight into their role within the community.
In Africa, the San Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert have traditionally used the plant iboga to induce altered states of consciousness. Iboga is used in initiation ceremonies as a rite of passage for young people, as well as for healing and divination purposes. It is believed to allow individuals to connect with their ancestors and gain insight into their own lives and the future.
Other cultures and tribes around the world have also used altered states of consciousness for various purposes, such as healing illnesses, divination, and communicating with the dead. In many cases, these practices were viewed as central to the culture and were passed down through generations as part of oral tradition.
It is worth noting that the use of altered states of consciousness in traditional cultures was often guided by trained practitioners, such as shamans or healers, who were responsible for administering the substances and guiding individuals through the experience. The substances themselves were often considered sacred and were treated with respect and reverence.
Today, many of these traditional practices have been threatened by the spread of modernisation and globalisation. However, there has been a resurgence of interest in these practices in recent years, as people seek alternative forms of healing and spirituality. Researchers are also exploring the potential therapeutic benefits of these substances, particularly in the treatment of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and addiction.
Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash
Exploring altered states of consciousness can be a valuable tool for individuals looking to enhance their wellbeing and personal growth. These experiences can promote feelings of calm and relaxation, stimulate creativity and insight, enhance self-awareness, provide a profound sense of connection to something greater than oneself, and have many physical health benefits.
Maison Moemoea Meditations harness the power of therapeutic sound to reach altered states.
If you choose to work with any plant or chemical medicines then its critical to be mindful and do your research on the provenance of the medicine and the people holding the space!
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