When you hear the term ‘altered states’, what do you think of? Often people equate the term ‘altered state’ with mind altering drugs like LSD, psilocybin and peyote. While it’s true that these terms are often used together, they can and often do describe two very separate phenomena.
Drugs are one of the many ways a person can achieve a non-ordinary or altered state. But since people often misuse drugs, using them is not a particularly healthy or useful method for getting into an altered state. If someone wants to improve themselves there are many other healthier ways to move into a non-ordinary state from practicing martial arts to riding a motorcycle.
Types of Altered States
Altered states of consciousness are a state in which the mind can be aware but is not in its usual wakeful condition. Today we’ll look at physical activities, hypnosis, meditation, lucid dreaming, and a couple of other methods you can use to enter a non-ordinary state.
Many people use physical activities like rock climbing, sky diving, surfing, and skateboarding to move into an altered state. Other activities that take high levels of physical ability and mental concentration, such as martial arts and yoga can do this also.
The reason behind this is these people work so hard to become good at these activities that, when practicing, their minds go into ‘the zone’, a place of ultra-heightened but relaxed awareness. This, in turn, allows them to accomplish all types of amazing physical feats.
These experiences are just as mind altering as any drug. This is because these activities stimulate the brain to naturally produce similar drugs to ones’ people take to experience a chemical high.
Hypnosis ( One of the simplest altered states to achieve)
For the most part, there are two types of hypnosis, self-hypnosis and clinical hypnosis or hypnotherapy. Whether you use self-hypnosis or see a hypnotherapist, your goal is to reach an altered state of heightened suggestibility. The purpose behind this is to let your conscious mind drop its guard. This allows you to be more inclined to align with the positive suggestions you hear. As a result, the hypnotherapist or, in the case of self-hypnosis, the script you’ve developed or recording you are listening to, can give positive suggestions directly to your subconscious mind.
Hypnosis is safe and can be very effective. In fact, most people find hypnosis to be a powerful, but simple way to enter an altered state.
Most people equate mediation to the chanting monks they see on the National Geographic Channel. While meditation is often associated with monks, mystics, and other spiritual disciplines, you don’t have to be a monk or mystic to use it to enter an altered state and enjoy its benefits.
Meditation is simply a state where you consciously and simultaneously relax your mind and body. An easy way to think about meditation is as a mind exercise or a mental workout. While many people often presume that the goal of meditation is to empty your mind, this is just one of its possible objectives.
The purpose of meditation is to clear your mind of the constant barrage of negative distractions we all experience. You can leave behind the noisy neighborhood, talkative officemates, city traffic and unwanted spam, at least for a short while. This helps you relax your mind, letting distractions gently float away, leaving you feeling refreshed and focused.
No matter what type of meditation you practice, studies have shown it to it be very useful for improving mental discipline. It does this by giving you mental tools to examine your behavior in the moment and stay calm, no matter the situation you find yourself in.
I personally practice mindfulness meditation. We’ll talk about mindfulness next.
Mindfulness meditation is not about emptying your mind. In fact, it is just the opposite. The aim of mindfulness is to keep thinking. As the thoughts pass through your mind you take note of them. By taking note of them you can uncover and then deal with your unwanted thoughts and beliefs.
Another benefit of mindfulness is it teaches you to focus on the only time you have, which is the present, this moment. By focusing on the present moment, you can double or triple your productivity. Paying attention also improves your personal and professional relationships.
You can practice mindfulness sitting, lying down, or even walking in the park. For more information you can pick up my book, Modern Mindfulness, on Amazon, that helps a beginner get started with this practice.
Using lucid dreaming, you, as the dreamer, are aware that you are dreaming. This gives you the ability to control what direction your dreams go. You can use this altered state as a testing ground to experience things you couldn’t in real life for therapeutic or other purposes.
Not everyone can experience lucidity in their dreams. On top of that, lucid dreaming takes a lot of practice. Most people find it easier to try and maintain a state of ‘ hypnagogia ‘ which is the moment just before you fall asleep. In this altered state you feel you as if you are not quite asleep and not quite awake and the great thing about this is, you’re already in this state at least twice a day!
Thomas Edison reportedly used hypnagogia to generate ideas. Her could do this because it puts a person in a state of heightened creativity. Hypnagogia can also be used for self-development and self-examination.
Altered States and Self-Improvement
As you can see, you can use altered states to make swift and permanent changes in the way you see the world. When you see the world differently, you can see different options which can give you different results. This is how you use altered states for self-development. Pick one or two of these practices and see how they can work for you!