Exploring The Human Mind: Achieving The Different Altered States of Consciousness
The mind is probably the most complex part of a person’s anatomy; one moment, a person is focused and fully aware of where he is, what he is doing, and what’s happening around him, yet the next, he’s spacing out, his thoughts wandering freely, until he falls asleep. These are all different states of consciousness, and can be either passive or active.
How people alter their states of consciousness can vary, but there are several very well-known methods that are present in today’s culture. It can be as simple as day-dreaming or as complex as using chemicals. Some of these methods are good for the physical and mental state, others occur as a natural physiological phenomena, while there are some which are generally discourage for their negative effects.
Sleeping and Dreaming
When a person sleep or dreams, he is not entering a state of unconsciousness, but rather, a state of reduced or altered consciousness. Of all the methods, this is the most beneficial to humans. No person can live without sleeping. Sleep not only allows us to save and build up energy, but it also causes a restorative function for the brain (Kalat, 2007, p. 375).
For example, a student who gets enough sleep is more alert, and ends up doing better in class, compared to a student who gets less hours of sleep at night. Sleep also strengthens learning and memory, therefore causing the brain to perform well when it is awake.
Dreaming occurs when a person enters a stage of sleep called the REM or Rapid Eye Movement. No one knows why people dream, but many believe that it causes many benefits, including daily information processing, brain growth, and cellular rejuvenation (Edlin and Golanty, 2007, p. 84).
Other experts say that it’s the way the brain discerns useful information and sets it apart from the useless ones. Although dreaming is generally viewed as good phenomena, there are instances when negative effects arise from it. One example is experiencing nightmares, which, in some cases, can affect a person’s mental health.
Meditating is a practice popular both in the West and East. Many people believe this altered state of consciousness works through the way the mind is used to control not only itself, but also the body. To meditate, a person uses brain wave activity that is centered on contemplative and reflective thoughts. (Hanson, et. al., 2005, p. 547)
This altered state of consciousness, although very different from sleeping or dreaming, is believed to be also very beneficial. It not only provides spiritual illumination, but it also causes a person’s mental state to become peaceful and serene.
Meditation also allows the physical and psychic energy to flow towards creative and constructive channels (Adiswarananda, 2007, p. 27). In some countries, India for example, people are able to achieve certain goals by meditating (Hanson, et. al., 2005, p. 547).
Hypnosis is an example of a state of consciousness that is used for medical purposes. Franz Anton Mesmer, a Viennese physician, was the first to use it as a medical technique, during the late 18th century to the early 19th century.
While his patients were in a trance, he would make them hold on to metal rods that transmit healing energy (Edlin & Golanty, 2006, p. 36). There are many methods in which the state of hypnosis can be induced in a person, such as eye fixation or relaxation, but a great deal of practice is involved before perfecting it.
Although hypnotherapy is very useful in medical practice, it is not widely used anymore due to various reasons, such as time constraints, as well as the availability of more practical treatment options, such as medications. Another reason is that there’s a negative thought attached to hypnosis. Many people think that they can be forced to do harmful actions to themselves or to others while under a trance (Edlin & Golanty, 2006, p. 36).
Drinking alcohol is perceived by many as a social activity, but too much of it will cause a person to enter another state of consciousness. Alcohol is the most common depressant drug, and works by enhancing the natural painkillers of the body, the endorphines (Bernstein & Nash, 2006, p.158).
When alcohol gets into a person’s system, he or she becomes “high” and unfocused, and affects the vision, hearing, speech. It creates a “happy”, careless feeling among people; in this altered state of consciousness, they become audacious and fearless.
Unfortunately, the altered state of consciousness brought by alcohol can have a negative effect on people. Alcohol abuse is now one of the most predominant problems in the U.S. and other countries. In some cases, alcohol consumption even leads to poisoning. The depressant effect of alcohol in the brain’s respiratory center can lead to irreversible brain damage or death (Edlin & Golanty, 2006, p. 399).
Drugs are often used to treat sickness or ailment, but there are several who works to change a person’s state of consciousness. One specific example is the psychoactive drugs. Heroin, cocaine, and marijuana are common examples. Another example is narcotics drugs, such as opiates. When used, a person uses this enters a state of consciousness where he is happy, warm and content, with no feeling of pain or anxiety (Kalat, 2007, p. 98).
However, these drugs mentioned are illegal, since they cause substance abuse and addiction, which can eventually lead to more harmful effects on the body. Of course, some of these drugs still have medical effects. For example, marijuana is known to reduce tremors and reduce pressure in the eyes. However, its negative effects stand out more than its useful ones.
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