Expanded States of Consciousness for Healing and Growth

The long history of humans exploring consciousness through ritual and psychotrophic medicine points to its benefits for modern health.

Photo by Getty Images/omairhq.

Like all explorers, we are drawn to discover what’s out there without knowing yet if we have the courage to face it.

—Pema Chödrön

Over many millennia, humans have explored the vast reaches of our planet: its deserts, oceans, mountain ranges, and forests. Throughout our evolution we have developed numerous civilizations, cultures, languages, weapons, and foods. We have discovered and studied animals, plants, fungi, and minerals. Meanwhile, for as long as we have been exploring our external world, we have pursued the equally fascinating realms of our inner world. There is evidence that humans have been exploring consciousness for thousands of years.

Yet, despite centuries of speculation and investigation into the origins and nature of consciousness, this most intimate basis of our being remains elusive to modern science. Many contemporary philosophers and scientists propose that conscious- ness arises from the brain, beginning at some point in utero and ending at death. This perspective views our consciousness as a result of chemicals and electrical impulses responding to internal and external influences. In another view, the brain and nervous system serve as organic antennae, picking up information like a radio receiver as we move through an ocean of consciousness. Eastern traditions propose that consciousness arises from an empty yet cognizant field of awareness that is the source of all phenomena. Perhaps surprisingly, the physicist Max Planck also held this belief in some form, famously saying: “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”

There is a vast spectrum of state-specific experiences available to our consciousness. Most often, we each feel contentedly separate, as though we are individual organisms moving through space, alternating between comfort, discomfort, or boredom depending on whether we feel attraction, aversion, or indifference in the moment. Sometimes we feel tight in our bodies, mentally contracted, unable to connect with others or even ourselves. We might feel isolated from other people, even those close to us. At other times, we find ourselves feeling open and loving, connecting easily with other people, animals, plants, and our natural environment. We feel a sense of effortlessness and flow and receive understandings and insights, feeling the warmth of compassion toward all of life. We are in a constant dance of experience depending on our state. No wonder people have been investigating consciousness—and ways to shift it—for millennia.

8/23/2019 8:52:38 AM

We have many layers of accumulated, control motivated, suppression to sort through individually and culturally, in order to reach and hear our pure core voices.

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