Increasingly, I find myself considering the question: what is an altered state of consciousness?
It is a phrase that can lead us to think of states induced by drugs, chemicals or certain dynamic situations and practices: psychedelics, drumming rituals, vision quests, meditation retreats, prolonged time in sweat lodges, fasting or during an illness, intense sporting and endurance events, and even through accidents and trauma. Any and all of these have the potential to shift us into a state thats fall firmly outside the scope of our daily experience and consciousness. And all of them invoke a temporary dissolution of the ego, and the potential for a heightened sense of connection to that which lies beyond self.
This transcendental connection has been consistently sought by humankind throughout every stage of our history. Sacred plants with hallucinogenic or psychedelic properties, and deeply potent rituals, have long been part of the ‘medicine’ of communities and rightfully respected as portals into the sacred.
In modern times, more and more people are seeking a path to communion through such methods and medicines. We intuitively sense that we can stretch beyond the known and go further and deeper. We sense that there are spaces we can touch within ourselves that are beyond our ego and personality, and that give us access to the spaciousness of life itself. The desire to move beyond ordinary perception and enter into a ‘dance with the Divine’ strikes deep into the heart of our true nature.
yang versus yin
Over the past year, I have been learning about the diverse practices and medicines that can launch us into altered states. I find them both fascinating and alluring. Part of me wants to jump in and take the journey they offer. However, I realise that something else holds me back. Tuning in, I find that there is a quiet voice within me asking a persistent question: is there another way?
I have begun to wonder if these dramatic methodologies for shifting consciousness are the only way. Though many people have wonderful, life-changing experiences, it is also the case that many don’t. Such methods and medicines are not always kind, helpful or reliable.
However, what strikes me most forcibly is that there is a definite Yang quality to all of these paths: they attain a result by imposing change in the body. Having spent twenty five years immersed in subtle energy medicines and spiritual teachings that invite transformation, rather than impose, I find myself pausing at this threshold.
how many changes in an hour?
On a daily basis we constantly move through different states of consciousness, often without realising that we are doing so. Though these shifts are subtle - not so bright, dramatic or dazzling as the above - I find myself intrigued by them. Is it possible that there is a path more yin, born out of the very fabric of our daily lives, where the veil of perception does not need to be torn away, but can gently melt away?
In his lovely book, The Relationship Handbook, George Pransky writes: ‘Life is the experience of living in altered states of consciousness all the time. . . What we see and think right now is different from what we saw and thought a few minutes ago. Life is a progression of altered states.’
What is the native elasticity and reach of our own consciousness within the weave of our daily lives? Where can our own consciousness take us without more Yang interventions being necessary? What states of expansion are gently and organically available to us from right where we are?
everyday high notes
How often do we stop to feel and notice the ‘high notes’ that arise and are available to us in every moment? Beautiful grace notes that go largely unnoticed. I think we all notice our low notes and, indeed, we can be too focussed here. What happens when we utilise the divine gift of our awareness to notice and abide in the high notes?
Syd Banks’s Three Principles teachings speaks to the deep power of looking for and resting in beautiful feelings. The channelled teachings of Abraham-Hicks speak of our evolution as being ‘a gentle path’. Spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, talks about letting go of our addiction to thought and allowing ourselves to sit in pure presence. Joseph Campbell has spoken beautifully about us ‘being transparent to the transcendent’.
These spiritual teachers are all pointing to something that is gentle, loving and innate to us. They all affirm that what we seek is what we already are. No striving is acquired, just a deep gentle allowing and receiving.
This feels like a different path . . . another way . . . a melting into expansion and being. A shifting away from the too-tight self into the infinite expression of our true nature.
what does this look like and how does it help?
These beautiful grace notes become more apparent once we know what we are listening and feeling for:
A fresh new thought arising that helps us to feel lighter and more spacious
Moments when we pause for long enough to drink in the wonder that Is and feel ourselves filled with gratitude
The quiet voice within that is constantly available, tending and guiding us
Delight in little things
A quiet honouring of that which feels harmonious and true for us
Visions of new possibilities
These are all moments when our higher consciousness breaks through. If we allow this, and are present to this, these higher states of consciousness begin to extend their reach. They are beautifully contagious - for us and for those around us: the more we recognise them, the more we see and feel them.
The further we go with these . . . the further we travel. Our underlying state of consciousness fundamentally alters. The levels of expanded consciousness we can access alters. We begin to experience and abide in life from an altered state of consciousness.
I find myself wondering: Who would we be if we followed the high notes? What is our higher consciousness calling us to be and do?
what are we capable of?
We are the Divine. It does not make sense that access to our Divine Consciousness is only available via strenuous pathways, or specific processes. It is Who and What We Are. When we listen for this we find this.
Open the door. What is your consciousness capable of? What shimmers in the fabric of the everyday, speaking to you of something more? What happens when you align to this?