by Aletheia Luna
"Altered states of consciousness" sounds like something from a
cheesy 80's sci-fi movie or a trip down the rabbit hole of Alice
But each and every day you and I enter into altered states of
Whenever you get transfixed by a screen (aka. your phone or the TV)
and dream at night, you enter into an altered state
However, at some point in life, most of us have a bizarre -
or even frightening - experience that we can't quite explain.
strange experiences are actually blissful and ecstatic.
And other times,
these odd undergoings are a mixture of both joy and pain.
Have you ever gone
through something that blew your mind and temporarily shattered
'your' reality, but you've never really understood why it
happened or what it meant?
What you've likely
experienced was, in the words of mythologist
Joseph Campbell, a "Call to
Adventure" or call to walk your one and true life path and
find the meaning of life.
What is an
Altered State of Consciousness?
Altered states of consciousness (ASC), also known as a
non-ordinary state of being, occurs when we temporarily access a
state of mind that isn't usually available to us.
Altered states can be
either deliberately stimulated or may occur randomly and without
Altered States of Consciousness
There are a number of different types of altered states of
consciousness out there.
Some examples include:
Altered States of Consciousness
An encounter with
unfathomable beauty, terminal illness, or any extreme of
human experience might induce a sudden shift in
consciousness, a sacred knowing.
But perhaps more
commonly, states of non-ordinary perception are first
entered with practice - meditation, prayer, chant, trance
dance - or perhaps with a sacramental entheogen such as
peyote, psilocybin mushrooms, or ayahuasca.
Altered states of
consciousness can be produced by:
deprivation (e.g., float tanks)
(e.g., LSD, Mescaline, Ayahuasca, etc.)
Deep states of
This list isn't
exhaustive, but these causes may give you an idea of what triggered
your own altered state of consciousness.
15 Signs You've Had an Altered State of Consciousness
As defined by psychologist and shamanic teacher
Christa Mackinnon, there are a
number of different signs that you've experienced an altered state
How many of these signs can you relate to?
(time slows down or speeds up)
Altered sense of
body (you may feel disconnected from your body or
hyper-tuned into different parts of it)
or narrowed perception (you are hyper-aware of some part of
your reality or experience)
experiences (symbols and imagery, often of an archetypal
nature, come to mind)
dialogue (i.e., the 'monkey mind' or inner narrator turns
hypermnesia (that is, memory loss, or conversely, detailed
recollection and remembering of past events)
(an increase in being open to suggestions)
stiffness and fixed posture)
Age regression or
progression (accessing past self or creation of future self)
anesthesia (reduced feeling in body, i.e., numbness)
relaxation or activation (i.e., feeling extremely calm or
(feeling disconnected from one's thoughts, feelings, and
sense of self)
Other signs that I'm
adding to this list include:
Ability to access
deeper insight (epiphanies, revelations)
Access to flow
states (i.e., "being in the zone," intense attunement to the
perspective (i.e., ability to make new connections and see
from a "bird's eye view")
Do you need to have
experienced all of these signs to have undergone an altered state of
consciousness experience? No.
Some of these signs may
apply to you, and some won't. That's normal and okay...
This list is also not exhaustive, so keep that in mind.
Why Do We
Experience Altered States?
Now that you have an expanded understanding of altered states of
consciousness, you might be wondering "WHY?"
Why go through such
What's the purpose?
What's the point?
There are various
explanations out there ranging from depressing to mediocre to
For instance, many traditionally-trained psychologists and
psychiatrists would assign many types of altered states of
consciousness to merely being a form of pathology - a mental
Others explain altered states as neurological misfirings of synapses
or chemical imbalances in the brain.
And still, others believe that altered states of consciousness are
always and only ever signs that you've,
"upgraded your DNA"
etheric energy field,"
...and other such new age
My stance is that there's no black or white explanation. Yes, some
altered states may be due to trauma and mental illness, and others
may be neurological impairments.
Perhaps it is possible to
with aliens or enter alternate
But overall, it's my conviction that,
altered states of
consciousness are meaningful and often pivotal points in a
They possess deep value
and are ripe with insight and the possibility for personal
transformation. Often, such non-ordinary states set in motion a
necessary existential crisis.
In this way, I believe that many altered states are "calls to
adventure" to take a closer look at our lives, work through our
inner wounds, and reconnect with our
At the core of altered states of consciousness is a move to be more
of Consciousness as a Path of Soul Initiation
Most altered states of consciousness throughout history can be found
in a religious or spiritual context.
Whether it is,
trance-inducing Sufi dancing
the chanting of
the deep prayer
practices of Buddhists
ingestion of entheogens like
peyote in Native American
...altered states have
always been valued as sacred.
There are three main reasons why altered states of consciousness
have been seen throughout the centuries as sacred:
They shift us out
of the small and narrow ego-self into the big and expansive
They enable us
access to deep self-understanding and consequent
They empower us
to spiritually evolve.
In the words of depth
… a conversation with
soul is not likely within the defended confines of ordinary
The conscious self
must look at its own psyche from a different perspective, from a
unique angle, from a position of altered awareness, like viewing
earth from outer space, or returning home after a month in an
practices induce liminal states of temporary ego dissolution
that release us from the usual rules and norms of our
personality and culture, opening the way to fresh observations
and creative adventures.
Altered states gift us
with the ability to temporarily exit the straightjacket of the
constricted and conditioned self and access a higher (or deeper)
We all have an animating spark of life, a core essence, an authentic
Self - and for those of us who are lost and don't know how to find
that inner Center anymore, altered states are the pathway to
In fact, I'd go so far as to say, in many cases, that the Soul
drives us toward or even triggers altered states of consciousness to
beckon us "back home" via soul searching - back to our true path.
Altered States Sometimes Terrifying?
If altered states are so positive and are signs of spiritual
awakening, why are they sometimes horrific - even terrifying?
My answer is that altered states are sometimes frightening because
they can bring us face-to-face with our mortality, biggest wounds,
and greatest fears.
Sometimes altered states are the product of, or produce themselves,
A PTSD veteran, for
instance, may enter an altered state whenever they hear a
gunshot on TV.
person may enter a period of psychosis, which is an altered
Some altered states, it
seems, are the result of a traumatized self (or
ego) trying to piece itself back
Another reason why altered states may be terrifying - this time in
those who are otherwise mentally sound - is that the ego doesn't
feel prepared to access higher realms of consciousness (as can be
seen amongst those who have blissful mystical Oneness experiences
and the like).
If you've ever observed (or been one of those) people who have taken
an entheogenic drug, you'll notice that one's mental state is
Those who are in a state of fear, mistrust, and resistance to life
often end up having "bad trips." Whereas those who let go, trust,
and allow the ego-self to subside, end up having joyous and euphoric
In essence, one's mental state is everything when it comes to
altered states of consciousness.
How Do I Make
the Most of My Altered State Experience?
Going into an
altered state is nothing weird. You do it all the time.
The question is
whether you use the altered state to produce change, and if
so, how are you going to use it?
We go into altered states
of consciousness every day, but there are some altered states that
can't be ignored.
They must be integrated -
or transferred into your life in a meaningful way. Without
integration, such profound experiences will miss out on unveiling
their innate, precious, and rare powers.
Here are some simple ways you can make the most of your altered
state of consciousness experience:
"What was the
experience like and what may have triggered it?"
"What part of
the experience stood out the most to me?"
the deeper meaning of this experience be?"
Draw it. Drawing
engages the right hemisphere of your brain and engages a
more subconscious, creative, and emotion-centered form of
experience (and don't think too much about it!). You may
choose to create a scene-by-scene image, or one single image
that summarizes the whole experience. Reflect on it
images, or realizations come to mind?
Find a practical
application. Having a non-ordinary state of consciousness is
all fine and dandy. But the true value in that experience is
how it translates into your daily life and lived experience.
In other words,
what practical changes can you make? How can you use your
experience to help others, achieve your dreams, or walk a
path that feels true to you? Be pragmatic and ground your
experience in reality.
Altered states of consciousness can feel cosmic, horrific, eerie,
otherworldly, hyper-real, or peaceful depending on your state of
mind and ego receptivity.
But regardless of what triggered them, such intense experiences are
powerful forms of Soul initiation - they can be seen as
invitations from your deeper Self to awaken and evolve.
When approached consciously, altered states can be used to reorient
you to your true calling in life. They can break you out of the fog
of lethargy, self-centeredness, narrow-mindedness, and sleep-walking
that the ego-self is prone to falling into.
As sage and psychoanalyst Carl Jung commented about altered
makes claims on you."
In other words, altered
states of consciousness are often experienced without us choosing
And sure, while being thrown into the stratosphere of non-ordinary
consciousness may be totally scary and confusing, it also plays the
role of humbling us - it helps us to see that Life is so much larger
Existence is so
And consequently, a
sense of sacredness can re-enter our domesticated lives...
We can reconnect with our