Altered StatessBy altered states I mean altered states of consicousness; and to be even more specific I mean states of consciousness that turn off the default mode network. As I understand it, the default mode network is the neurological basis for the self and is involved in activities such as: autobiographical information, self-reference, reflecting on emotional states, thinking about others, remembering the past, and thinking about the future. This pattern of neural activity is the "you" in your head. It's the constant flow of chatter in our head that receives the world around us and reflects on it, it's the voice in our head.
Turning off the default mode network isn't as scary nor difficult as one would expect: we do it every night when we go to sleep. Meditation is another way of turning off the default mode network. Psychedelics are another method of achieving the same state. Why do this though? What's the benefit of turning off your sense of self? Well, it's a way of leaving the simulation. It's a way of breaking out of the ordinary day-to-day stream of life and enter into something else entirely. This might sound like far-fetched bullshit, but it's hard to describe what it feels like to lose all sense of self. It might be more useful to talk about my own experiences with modulating the default mode network...
My interest began when I was a kid and I heard about lucid dreaming, the idea of being able to control your dreams sounded really interesting to me. I started learning about methods to realize you're in a dream without waking your body up. This was my first experience with playing with altered states. In my lucid dreams I could fly, explore, and try to gain an understanding of what a dream is and how it works. The fact that every night we go to sleep and hallucinate intensely while our body goes into paralysis is really insane when you take a step back.
For years I've meditated on and off, I'm trying to be more consistent with it, it's hard to be really consistent with meditation for me. From what I've been told, as well as what researchers have found, adept meditators can turn off their default mode networks. They can achieve a state of "no self" or egolessness. I haven't reached this point yet in my practice, although I have had some very profound experiences with meditation. There exists another short cut of getting the same effect, though... psychedelics.
Firstly, I think a lot more research needs to go into psychedelics and their safe use. They are very powerful substances, and they demand respect from the user. I don't advocate for the use of psychedelics unless someone takes the experience seriously. That's not to say that joyfulness should be out of the equation, however set and setting are extremely important and having someone that can guide you along safely is also useful. With that disclaimer out of the way, I can say that I have personally achieved profound experiences through the use of psychedelics. My psychedelic experiences have inspired insights into myself and the world around me that I find extremely valuable.
From doing LSD in a sensory deprivation tank to traveling to Peru for an ayahuasca retreat, I've had a fair share of exporing these states. I wrote quite a bit about my experience in Peru, and I hope to make that journal publically available at some point. I think I will continue to explore these states as safely as I can, mostly through meditation techniques and sensory deprivation tanks. I want to try to reach these states without the use of a drug, and be able to maintain the states and more easily move between them. I think some of my deepest insights have stemmed from these states, and I think therein lie deeper mysteries of our universe and consciousness that are waiting to be discovered.
Furthermore, many civilizations have accessed these altered states throughout history. The use of psychedelics underlies many ancient civilizations from the Incas to the Greeks. In Peru they refer to ayahuasca as opening a portal between our world and the spirit world. They have been using these drugs for thousands of years. I think modern science has a lot of catching up to do with understanding these altered states and incorporating them into the broader worldview that science has given us. There is a lot to be discovered!