Altered States of Consciousness: 7 Perception Doors
Why bother with altered states of consciousness?
Aldous Huxley famously said - - “Our brain is a reducing valve”. That is, our brain acts as a reducing agent for the information that the world presents to our senses. This especially seems to be the case as we grow older. Remember how wondrous and beautiful the world seemed when you were a child?
Now Aldous Huxley's quote was in the context of his experience with the use of psychedelics and how it expands the mind to more sensory data than usual, and recent research seems to be confirming it. However, it is my contention that psychedelics isn't the only door to perception other than our normal waking state of consciousness that could be used for strong, potent experiences; although psychedelics is the only that doesn't require prior mastery -- just consume it.
We seem to have 7 other tools at our disposal to access states and pieces of information both in the subjective and objective world, which would otherwise be filtered out from our perception in our normal, waking state of consciousness.
I'd like to submit here, that every human being must master, or at the very least, make use of these 7 tools to have a complete experience of being human.
Mastering use of these 7 tools is a sure way to help us navigate our own psychocosm and inner worlds to its fullest. But not only that, mastering it will also help us perceive our objective world at a more finer detail, if not at the time of perceiving (as in the case of psychedelics), but at least at a later date.
The goal of this guide? To provide you with the best possible resources to master these 7 tools, or “doors” of perception and to give you the fastest possible path to mastering all of them.
The best part about tackling all of them at once is that working with one will almost always help with treading the other paths easier. For example, instead of only working with psychedelics because they are potent and “quick” will not be nearly as rewarding and useful as knowing the terrain of your own psychocosm with other methods of inducing altered states of consciousness.
Even when it comes to meditation, which is of course the holy grail and the elixir to achieving the ultimate state of consciousness (union with the universe), it can be easier to have yourself to let go, drop your mind and meditate if you have experience working with the other 6 methods in the first place. The goal of Hatha yoga, for example could be seen as a rough example where sense withdrawal comes into play.
Hatha yoga has eight limbs (Ashtanga) where the third limb is Asana (physical postures), fourth limb is Pranayama (breath work) fifth limb is Prathyahara (sense withdrawal), followed by Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (Meditation) Each limb is mastered before tackling the next.
Another example would be the Tibetan dream yoga or Milam.
Therefore, you might want to work towards unlocking more than one one door of perception at a time, to achieve faster results with each door of perception!
Lucid Dreaming is the conscious form of dreaming. That is, you are aware, inside the dream, that you are dreaming.
It is perhaps one of the more easier form of altered state of consciousness that you can experience, and you may already have experience with sleep paralysis, lucid dreaming and lucid dreaming induced out of body like experiences. However, it is a skill that definitely will take some time to master and experience reliably and repeatedly, and the techniques for mastering it can be various and deep.
Once you have reached a certain level of control within the dream, you will enjoy the benefits of exploring vast landscapes within which all five of your senses participate. Imagine for example, exploring your mind's version of the Amazonian jungle while hearing the birds, feeling the trees, smelling the flowers and tasting the fruits. The limits are endless.
Lucid dreaming is not simply limited to such things, either. As bizarre as it may sound, it can be a doorway to a world unknown to even your subconscious, beyond a point.
Similar experiences are usually only accessible to people who take high doses of psychedelics, get into a state of deep meditation, hypnosis and other forms of accessing altered states of consciousness. Some call it a form of lucid dreaming induced out of body experience. Whatever it may be, it is a skill that requires a lot of practice and mastery to replicate reliably. The goal of Tibetan Dream Yoga or Milam for example appears to be this very thing.
For those who want to master the art of Lucid Dreaming, the following book will be all you will need:
Behind the Veil: The Complete Guide to Conscious Sleep by Daniel Kelly
Lucid dreaming is perhaps one of the most important skills you can master to experience life to its fullest -- It will extend your overall amount of time “lived” considerably.
Considering that an average person sleeps for 8 hours a day and lives until the age of 80, that is more than 26 years spent sleeping! You really only have “lived” in your waking state of consciousness for 54 years, if you manage to reach the age of 80.
Master the art of Lucid Dreaming, and you will have added considerable amount of years to your overall life lived.
Trance inducing methods
Achieving a “Trance” state is usually done by a sort of sensory overload. According to Wikipedia definition:
“Trance is an abnormal state of wakefulness in which a person is not self-aware and is either altogether unresponsive to external stimuli but is nevertheless capable of pursuing and realizing an aim, or is selectively responsive in following the directions of the person who has induced the trance. Trance states may occur involuntarily and unbidden.”
Trance should not be conflated with meditation, where the state of mind is total awareness. It is more similar to Hypnosis than meditation.
The person doesn't appear to be self-aware in a state of trance, but the keyword that has been highlighted above is that the person is capable of pursuing and realising an aim.
What aim? Trance like states are often used in occult circles to perform magick, divination, induce visions and so on. Shamans use trance inducing methods like drumming, to traverse the worlds beyond.
The following are some of the methods of achieving a trance or “gnosis”:
- Mantra chanting
- Seidr - - shaking trance
- Shamanic drumming
- Long distance running
- Dancing and music
- Use of excitatory emotions such as anger and fear to slip into a trance
- Pain induced trance (not recommended)
The benefits of working with trance states should not be overlooked. Even if you do not believe in, or fancy working occult, magick, divination and so on, it is a skill that will definitely enable you to traverse your own psychocosm and bring back artifacts from it in a very profound way. Performed correctly, it will also induce visions.
A potential Shaman, for example, often display traits of psychological pathology. Histeroid crisis, schizophrenic behavior and so on are often considered traits that signaled a person is to be trained as a Shaman.
The training to become a Shaman often involve working with and mastering various ways to achieve trance states, including Shamanic drumming.
Mircea Eliade in his book Shamanism: Archaic techniques of ecstasy called this the act of “Shamanizing”. This “Shamanizing” cured the psychological abnormalities and enabled the Shaman to function and act quite normally and even be better adapted than the average person, enabling them to be psychological doctors and healers!
If you want to master the art of inducing trance states, I highly recommend the following book as a start:
Seidways: Shaking, Swaying and Serpent Mysteries by Jan Fries
For those who really want to go deep and learn more about Shamanism and how they worked with various forms of trance inducing methods, I recommend reading our article on Shamanism.
The use of psychedelics is perhaps the most potent and fastest way to achieving an altered state of consciousness.
Humanity's encounter with the mystical and the evolution of the phenomenon of Shamanism, religion and culture itself, is perhaps due to a consumption psychedelic compounds in the form of mushrooms and plants hundreds of thousands of years ago.
Many of the oldest religions and spiritual discipline credit their discoveries to the consumption of psychedelic compounds! A lot of this is discussed in our article on the phenomenon of Shamanism and psychedelics. This idea is also reflected in the stoned ape theory by Terence Mckenna.
Keep in mind that if you are a beginner, always start with low doses and have the best possible set and setting. Also, while working with hallucinogens, the most important part of it is the integration of the experience.
If you have worked with and have knowledge of various magick and occult practices and other forms of methods of inducing altered states of consciousness, then you will not only have an easier time working with psychedelics, but you will also have an easier time integrating your experiences at a deeper level.
It is also highly recommended that you go through the following book:
The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys by James Fadiman
Breathwork is perhaps the perfect tool to induce a strong altered state of consciousness.
This goes for in-depth breathwork systems like the Pranayama (although it will require a lot of time to fully master) or more simple but effective techniques such as the Wim Hof breathing and Holotropic-Breathwork by Stanislav Grof.
If you didn't already know, Stanislav Grof is one of the earliest researchers in the field of LSD therapy. After the research was completely banned by the government, Grof developed a system of breathing which he trademarked as “Holotropic Breathwork”.
Both the Wim Hof and Holotropic breathwork are quite similar, the difference mainly being the setting, duration and intensity in which the process is carried out.
In Holotropic Breathwork sessions, participants have reported to being involved in breathing sessions lasting as long as 3 hours or more, for consecutive days, watched over by experienced guides and therapists.
If you are highly experienced with Pranayama, forms of trances and other types of altered states of consciousness and the terrain of your own psychocosm, perhaps you can skip the need for a guide altogether. Otherwise, it is highly recommended that you go through a session like that under the supervision of an experienced guide/therapist only.
Wim hof breathing is similar, but usually lasts shorter. You could of course, extend the session for however long you want depending on your abilities. But the key thing to remember is to take it slowly and not to strain yourself just to get a “high”.
Here's a tutorial by the man himself:
You could also use the following as a follow along video, after going through the tutorial:
Sensory deprivation can be seen as the opposite of trance inducing methods to achieving an altered state of consciousness. It is usually achieved through a sensory inhibition, rather than a sensory overload.
Done successfully, it can induce visions and bring out phenomenon from your subconscious and even enable you to traverse “other worlds”. The effects can be quite psychedelic and also, therapeutic.
Most ways to achieve a sensory deprivation altered state of consciousness can be hard, arduous and painful. The most painless way would be to get into a sensory deprivation tank.
Now you could buy a flotation tank for yourself, but be prepared to spend a lot of money. Otherwise, look for flotation therapy centers near you. I suggest you visit this website: https://floatationlocations.com
Other ways to achieve a sensory deprivation induced altered state of consciousness are as follows:
- Mastery of Hatha yoga until the fifth limb (Sensory withdrawal)
- Absolute exhaustion
- Zen meditation
Hypnosis is an altered state of mind where you become extremely suggestible, relaxed and have heightened imagination.
You will be aware of the surroundings and the instructions given to you, but you will tend to focus your mind based on the instructions given by the hypnotherapist, handing over the key to your mind to the therapist.
In conventional hypnosis, a hypnotist only acts as a facilitator who helps in relaxing yourself and taking you to those experiences (through relaxation techniques or induction methods) that perhaps have repressed emotions attached to it. A hypnotist can go through your experiences with you help you integrate your experiences.
Self - hypnosis is when you put your mind in a high state of concentration without the presence of a facilitator . The idea is to get your whole attention to a single place by avoiding every other external stimuli. Self- hypnosis may not be as effective as hypnosis done by trained hypnotherapist in curing phobias, depression or anxiety but with enough practice, you should be able to traverse the inner worlds of your psychocosm deeply. This could be seen as akin to inducing a sort of trance state on yourself.
The best way to begin the trial of self-hypnosis is by consulting with an actual trained therapist - who can make sure whether you are doing it right and also guide you.
Speak Ericksonian: Mastering the Hypnotic Methods of Milton Erickson by Richard Nongard
Meditation: The holy grail of altered states of consciousness
The best way to describe meditation would be to “just be”, without letting yourself and your thoughts get in the way. Meditation is unlike all other forms of altered states of consciousness in that it does not make you disconnected from your normal waking state of consciousness.
It is instead, best described as going back to being the authentic self, not muddled by thoughts, emotions, opinions and other forms of conditioning.
It is the simplest thing a human can do, but for most of us, the hardest also!
There are various methods and techniques of meditation, but the principle is the same, and the paths lead to the same door.
In the Vigyan Bhairav Tantra, there are a total 112 methods of meditation. I highly recommend you go through each one every day, until you find the method that “sticks” and works best for you.
The following is an excellent resource for the list of 112 methods and instructions on it:
It is my hope that I have compiled all forms of achieving altered states of consciousness and directions on how to start working with them. Whether it be just for the purpose of working with your own psyche or to indulge in occult practices, having some mastery over altered states of consciousness is an absolute prerequisite.
Once again, it is highly recommended that you work with different doors of perception at once. Also, you may want to work with opening some doors before others. For example, you may want to start working with lucid dreaming, trance inducing methods, breathing and meditation before working with psychedelics, hypnotherapy and sensory deprivation!
I'd appreciate comments and do let me know if I've missed any form of achieving an altered state of consciousness.