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We all enter into altered states of consciousness every day.

Whenever you are absorbed by a screen (phone, television) or sleep at night, you enter an altered state of consciousness.

At some point in our lives, most of us will have a bizarre experience that we can’t quite explain. Sometimes these special experiences are truly blissful and ecstatic, other times it’s a strange mixture of joy and pain… Have you ever experienced something that took your breath away and temporarily shattered your understanding of reality, but you never really understood why it happened, or what did that mean What you probably experienced was, in the words of mythologist Joseph Campbell, “The Call to Adventure,” or the call to follow your unique life path and find your life’s purpose.

Altered states of consciousness occur when we temporarily enter a state of mind that is not normally available to us. Altered states can either be deliberately induced or appear spontaneously.

There are a number of types of altered states of consciousness. For example, drug-induced hallucinogenic or psychedelic states, hypnotic states, meditative states, out-of-body experiences (astral travel), extraterrestrial abductions,  shamanic trances,  yogic states (e.g. Siddhis),  lucid dreaming, psychosis (mental illness), mystical experiences.

Causes of Altered States of Consciousness

An encounter with unfathomable beauty, with a terminal illness, or with any extreme, can cause a sudden shift in consciousness. More often, states of unusual perception are entered through exercise—meditation, prayer, chanting, trance dancing—or through the use of a hallucinogen.

Altered states of consciousness can be induced in an individual by trauma (mental, emotional and physical), sensory deprivation, poor sleep,  fasting , breathing exercises (e.g. holotropic),  prayer,  astral projection, entheogenic substances, near-death experiences, hypnosis and trance states, deep meditation, ego death, shamanic or spiritual healing.

The list is not exhaustive, but may give an idea of ​​what likely triggered your own altered state of consciousness.

Signs You’ve Experienced an Altered State of Consciousness

The following described manifestations come from the definition of psychologist and shamanic teacher Christy Mackinnon.  How many of these signs can you identify with ?

  • Time distortion (time slows down or speeds up)
  • Altered body perception (you may feel disconnected from your body or retuned to different parts of it)
  • Heightened focus or narrowed perception (you are hyper-aware of some part of your reality)
  • Visionary experiences (symbols come to mind and images, often of an archetypal nature)
  • Internal dialogue has ceased (i.e. the “monkey mind”, or inner narrator, shuts down)
  • Amnesia or hypermnesia (i.e. loss of memory or, conversely, very detailed recollection of past events)
  • Openness (you have been more open to unusual thoughts and events)
    Catalepsy (muscle stiffness)
  • Age regression or progression (accessing a past self or creating a future self)
    Analgesia or anesthesia (body numbness)
  • Intense relaxation or activation (i.e. feeling extreme calm or extreme fear)
    Dissociation (feeling disconnected from one’s thoughts , feelings and self-perception)
  • Ability to take a deeper look (you had an epiphany)
  • Flow state (i.e. intense attunement to the present moment)
  • Big picture perspective (i.e. the ability to see new contexts and see things from a bird’s eye view)

You don’t have to personally experience all of these signs to have a full altered state of consciousness experience.  Some of these signs may apply to you and some may not. It’s alright. Moreover, this list is not exhaustive.

Why do we experience altered states of consciousness?

Why undergo such an experience? What is the purpose? What is the point?

There are various explanations. From depressing, to average, to cosmic. For example, many traditionally trained psychologists and psychiatrists have attributed many types of altered states of consciousness to a mere form of pathology, that is, to mental illness. Others explain the altered states of consciousness as a neurological failure of synapses, or a chemical imbalance in the brain. Others believe that altered states of consciousness are always and only a sign that you have “entered alternate universes”, “upgraded your DNA”, “cleared your etheric energy field” and other similar explanations according to new age spiritual philosophy.

There is probably no black-and-white explanation for this phenomenon. Yes, some altered states can be caused by trauma and mental illness, others can be neurological disabilities. It may be possible to communicate with aliens or enter alternate universes… But overall, altered states of consciousness are meaningful and often pivotal events in a person’s life. They have deep value, provide insight and offer the possibility of personal transformation. Often such extraordinary states set in motion an existential crisis, so many altered states of consciousness are really a “call to adventure” to take a closer look at our lives, work through our inner wounds, and reconnect with our soul. At the core of altered states of consciousness is a focus on the interior, on the soul.

Altered States of Consciousness as a Path to Spiritual Initiation

Most altered states of consciousness throughout history can be found in a religious or spiritual context. Whether it is Sufi trance-inducing dance, Hindu chanting, Christian prayer, Buddhist meditation practice, or the sacramental ingestion of entheogens, altered states have always been valued as sacred.

There are three main reasons for this:

  1. They move us from the small and limited ego-self to the large and expansive True Self.
  2. They allow us deep self-understanding and subsequent self-transformation.
  3. They encourage us to develop spiritually.

Most soul-encounter experiences induce borderline states of temporary ego dissolution that free us from the usual rules and norms of our personality and culture and open the way to new observations and creative adventures.

Altered states of consciousness give us the ability to temporarily leave the straitjacket of the conditioned self and gain a new perspective. We all have a spark of life, a basic essence, an authentic Self within us – and for those of us who are lost and no longer know where to find our inner Center, altered states of consciousness are a possible path to enlightenment.

The soul drives us towards altered states of consciousness, or even triggers them, to beckon us to embark on our spiritual journey through further searching.

Why are altered states of consciousness sometimes scary

If altered states of consciousness are so beneficial and a sign of spiritual awakening, why are they sometimes scary? Because they can bring us face to face with our own mortality, our greatest wounds, and our greatest fears. Sometimes altered states of consciousness are a product of trauma, or the experiences themselves create the trauma.

For example, a war veteran with PTSD may enter an altered state of consciousness whenever he hears a gunshot on television. A schizophrenic can go into a period of psychosis, which is also an altered state of consciousness.

Some altered states of consciousness are the result of a traumatized self (or ego) trying to piece itself together.

Another reason why altered states of consciousness can be frightening—this time to people who are otherwise mentally healthy—is that the ego does not feel ready to access higher states of consciousness, and the unusual experience simply freaks it out .

If you’ve ever watched or taken an entheogenic plant, you’ll notice that one’s initial state of mind is everything. Those who are in a state of fear, distrust and resistance to life often end up with a bad trip. Those who trust the process and let the ego-self recede will end up with joyful and euphoric experiences.

How to make the most of these experiences

Transitioning into an altered state of consciousness is nothing strange, you do it all the time. But the question is, are you using it to cause change, and if so, how?

We enter into altered states of consciousness every day, but there are some states that cannot be ignored as common experience. They must be meaningfully integrated into your life. Without integration, these deep experiences will be wasted.

Here are some simple ways you can get the most out of your altered state of consciousness experience:

Write it down and ask yourself the following questions: “What was the experience like and what could have triggered it? What part of the experience stood out to me the most? What might be the deeper meaning of this experience?”

Draw it. Drawing engages the right hemisphere of your brain, the more subconscious, creative and emotional part of you. Find a practical application of your experience. Experiencing an extraordinary state of consciousness is great, and the real value of this experience is how it translates into your everyday life. What practical changes can you make? How can you use your experience to help others, achieve your dreams, or follow the path that is right for you? However, be pragmatic and ground your experiences in reality.

Altered states of consciousness can be cosmic, terrifying, otherworldly, hyperreal, or peaceful. Depending on your state of mind and ego receptivity. Regardless of what triggered them, such intense experiences are a powerful form of spiritual initiation – they can be seen as an invitation from your inner Self to awaken and evolve.

When approached consciously, altered states can be used to refocus on your true-life mission. They can lift you out of the fog of lethargy, self-centeredness, narrow-mindedness, and somnambulism that the ego tends to fall into.

They make sacred claims on you. In other words, we often experience altered states of consciousness without choosing them. And while being thrown into the stratosphere of extraordinary perception can sometimes be terrifying and confusing, it teaches us humility. It helps us see that Life is much bigger than us. Existence is so mysterious… And then the sacred can re-enter our domesticated lives.

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