Altered Traits, and States
"Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness,
whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different."
William James, "Varieties of Religious Experience", 1902
Two recent books document the potential of altered traits, and states:
"Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body ", by Davidson and Goleman,
My experiences of psychedelically altered states included dozens of weekend LSD "trips",
mostly with friends, from 1970 through 1980.
What I remember of my experiences
were feelings like: WOW! This in incredible!, frequently accompanied by
great clarity of mind, greatly enhanced sensual perceptions and diminution of habitual egocentric thinking.
In those states I was aware that my normal "rational" consciousness is subject
to emotional and mental problems.
(Now I understand that each of us is variously afflicted.
Our emotions were engendered through evolution.
We inherited our animal progenitors' instinctive responses to threats and opportunities;
fight, flee, or freeze responses are activated based on our emotionals, particularly greed or anger,
as well as our individual delusions).
Conversely, my experiments were covert -- it was dramatically obvious that I might damage my
livelihood and normal relationships if my experiments were disclosed.
While "stoned" I could not relate to most people since underlying mental states, emotions and intentions seemed obvious to me but unknown to them.
I might for example have preached, or giggled hopelessly, during casual conversations or business meetings.
Toward the end of my experimentation with psychedelics, I wrote letters to myself from my altered state --
trying to express the enormity of the experiences
and how important it was to address the difference between normal and altered states of consciousness.
(I had earlier read into philosophy and psychologies
and then tried psychologists/psychiatrists,
encounter groups, Transcendent Meditation,
Silva Mind Control, Tibetan Buddhism, and finally psychedelic drugs.
Relative to my indoctrinated childhood ideals circa world war 2,
there was a continuum of wars, depressions, poverty, inequities, and slavery,
as well as business, societal and political exploitation, competition and conflicts.)
My later psychedelic experiences simply and intimately dramatized those conflicts in personal terms.
"How to Change your Mind", by Michael Pollan.
The end of my experiementation with psychedelics came after
touching on similar altered states during zen sesshins, beginning the in mid 1970s.
Both the intensive meditational and the psychelic experiences were brief, unsustainable and difficult.
Zen practice however seemed to offer a progressive path. My practice of zazen has continued
since the 1970 for almost 50 years,
including daily meditations and seasonal week-long retreats (sesshins),
for perhaps a cummulative total of between 20,000 and 30,000 hours of zazen.
I am aware of many changes in my "traits", hopefully reflecting Buddhism's "four immeasurable minds",
i.e., kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.
I see these mostly in comparing my past (abysmal) with present hopes and views,
but also in my awareness of diverse hisorical, emotional and physical influences on behavior and reasoning.
Zen hopes just to "see things as they are, and let them go as they go" moment by moment, maintaining our practice forever.
And to live fully, responding appropriately to each situation in each moment.
Zen is described as a "religion before religion"; people and even priests
from many diverse religions also practice Zazen.
Believing in a particular theology and practicing specific rituals are not necessary.
Zazen is an objectless meditation,
yet it reaches to all aspects of one's life.
Zen can be rationalized as simply seeing beyond delusions, the delusion of a permanent unchanging Self.
Nevertheless in zen one is invited at some later stage in practice to have a "general housekeeping of your mind",
to take everything out, including ideals and beliefs, examine and investigate them, and then put helpful things back.
Buddhism identifies three
"marks of human existance", i.e., change, suffering, and no-self.
Careful reflection can free you from the delusion of a permanent, abiding Self;
nevertheless that changing delusion continually reestablishes itself.
The permanent Self delusion is well understood and documented,
an ancient heritage stemming from evolution.
Kahneman's book, "Thinking, Fast and Slow",
documents myriad biases and related irrational tendencies in our "rational" consciousness.
There is substantial research advancing into brain, "mind" and consciousness.