Properly utilised, altered states of consciousness are probably the most powerfully inspiring tools a creative can equip themselves with. I’ve already mentioned dreaming, time in nature and travel as ways to find inspiration, these are a few ways we can essentially alter our everyday consciousness and orient ourselves toward more expanded and innovative states.
An altered state of consciousness is any state that differs from the socially accepted norm of consciousness, so in modern culture this tends to be the alert, problem-solving state of consciousness, ruled by the language centred, time-bound mind. We are led to believe that this “is” consciousness, but the fact is consciousness is a wide spectrum of states. In ordinary life we may experience dreaming, fever, drunken intoxication, caffeine high, nicotine high, endorphin high from exercise, depression, anxiety, orgasm, elation, exhaustion and many more. These can hardly be said to be the same state of consciousness. Then there are states triggered by techniques like yoga and meditation, time in isolation or use of controversial substances. These are definitely different.
Not all states are conducive to being creatively inspired, and some are definitely more useful than others. It’s really up to you to experiment with what works for you. Here are three ways I suggest dipping your toes into using altered states for inspiration:
Mindfulness helps us freeze the frame so that we can become aware of our sensations and experiences as they are, without the distorting coloration of socially conditioned responses or habitual reactions. – Henepola Gunaratana
Mindfulness meditation is essentially about being here now. This is more difficult than it may at first appear. The alert, problem-solving state of consciousness tends to have us fixated on the future, the past, our judgements and our caricature of reality in our head, rather than what is actually happening in the present moment. Mindfulness acts as a form of introspection and awareness focussing, asking us to bring our attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment only.
Sit comfortably, relax and try to simply notice your surroundings with your senses only. Try to let words and judgements and thoughts of anywhere or anytime but here and now fall away. Practicing doing this can develop a razor sharp attention to detail in the external world and clarity in the internal, increasing our receptivity and attentiveness to creative inspiration. Give it a go.
Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer. – William S. Burroughs
I mentioned previously that the mind is a process, one among many, but this process tends to take precedence in the alert, problem-solving state of consciousness because the mind is our most powerful problem solver. This can make it a problem in itself, when it is our default state of consciousness to seek out problems everything becomes viewed in terms of being a problem – to a hammer everything looks like a nail. Though we can get some creative traction from healthy problem solving, compulsively viewing the world in terms of problems is more likely to stifle and de-motivate us. Inspiration and creativity are far more able to thrive in a positive environment where the mind can be applied as one precision tool among many rather than the one tool to rule them all. In order to get around our mind we can calm it through relaxation and we can tame it by giving it something to focus on. That something is a mantra.
A mantra is simply a repeated word or sound, said over and over again until it drowns out our normal state of consciousness and shifts us into a different one. Practice mantra meditation for long enough and the reflexive internal chatter of normal consciousness will cease, giving us a greatly increased level of peace and clarity. Do this often enough and it is possible permanently alter your everyday waking state. With the mind more tame and less compulsive we are more open to inspiration and able to apply our cognitive tools to it appropriately. Try it.
I paint what cannot be photographed, that which comes from the imagination or from dreams, or from an unconscious drive. – Man Ray
I previously talked about daydreaming as a way to become creatively inspired, pathworking is basically a form of directed daydreaming. A pathworking will take you on a journey through an inner landscape through visualisation. The journey is planed beforehand and has specific objectives in mind. By utilising our imagination through visualisation we can communicate with our own unconscious (or possibly, some would say, the collective unconscious), as we do passively in dreams. By consciously planning a journey we signal a symbolic change in consciousness and by clearly stating what our intentions are we inform the unconscious, giving it all it needs to formulate a response. Communicating with this part of ourselves may be pleasantly surprising or even baffling, but is definitely worth experimenting with if you are a creative, as it is essentially your muse and motivating force.
Some like to pre record a pathworking and play it back to themselves, while others prefer to guide themselves from a plan laid out beforehand. I prefer the latter. A scenario I have often used is that of walking through a forest until I come to a deep wide river, there is a bridge to cross it and I know that on the other side in a clearing someone will be waiting for me to answer a particular question I have in mind. Imagery such as crossing over water, going underwater, going underground, going up or down a staircase, or up a mountain, is powerfully symbolic of connecting with our unconscious. If you provide the space for it to symbolically communicate with you it can be a powerful source of inspiration.
Art is a marriage of the conscious and the unconscious. – Jean Cocteau
Altered States of Consciousness are many, varied and worth experimenting with for their creative and inspirational power. Forms of meditation, such as mindfulness, mantra and pathworking can aid us in developing our observational and creative faculties, open us to inspiration and even help us go directly in search of it through contact with our own unconscious.
Whether it’s just indulging in a caffeine high (as I do quite often) or spending time in isolation tanks or going on a shamanic ayahuasca journey in the Amazon, have altered states helped you find inspiration? Are you intrigued to give any a go for this purpose? As always, I’m interested to hear from you – so let me know what you think in the comment’s box below.
Yes, altered states often help me with my creativity! I often mentally picture where I am going, then dance it into reality, often using humming and repetitive tunes to fine-tune . As I am dancing, I feel energized and the creative juices begin, and as I am creating, other images/music emerge and take over. Other times something wonderful just ‘pops into my mind’ and I must catch it quickly! Often, when I am in deep meditation under a tree, or near a river or some other naturally wild place and I feel a communion with all things, and this gets me into my heart place and inspires creativity. When I am totally silent and still, my greatest ideas come, as they do in my dream state ( awake and lucid dreaming) too! Other times I used substances with discipline, to enhance and speed up the experience ( coffee, dark chocolate,marijuana ). I think the most altered states that I experienced were post my feet operation, in which it took me 4 years to walk again, and during this time- I think through pain- I created the blueprints for creative projects for some 20 years!
Thank you for sharing, Bridget. That sounds amazing, and remarkable about the pain post your feet operation. Pain is an interesting one with reference to altered states. I’ve had some intensely inspiring experiences from migraine headaches and asthma attacks. I’ve been thinking about writing something about catharsis and creativity. I’ve wondered about pain and distress as aspects of that, and the need to express and/or experience them, as well as passing through them into altered states.
Oooo, I love dark chocolate, as well as other things 😉
I hope you have outgrown your asthma attacks? Yes, do one on catharsis, as the release is often very creative; not always for public viewing, but good for the soul, and can be edited later! When I nursed for many years, many patients with terminal illnesses in their latter days- with heaps of pain- and their acceptance of death, often had a heightened sense of reality, access to the afterlife and communication with those that had passed over. Pain can definitely be a catalyst for altered states, as shamans know, and the ancients often would fast and deprive themselves of sleep, or undergo huge ordeals, in order to elicit these altered states, and it is interesting to note that total darkness and sound deprivation for one week, causes the stimulation of natural DMT ( 5-MeO-DMT) by the pineal gland. http://ionaparamedia.50megs.com/whats_new_1.html http://www.consciouslifestylemag.com/pineal-gland-activation-third-eye/ hope you have outgrown your asthma attacks, frightening I bet!
Yes, thankfully I’ve outgrown the asthma attacks, and the migraines too. It was interesting with asthma, as I learned breathing techniques to deal with it and through that an interest in breath work and how that affects consciousness (pranayama is amazing). I had a few near death experiences with asthma, with one being particularly intense and life changing when I was in my early teens. Everything I’ve read and heard about DMT trips seems like what I experienced.
The hyperventilation from asthma and the more intensely painful migraines have triggered natural trips. I’ve also had that from meditation, but it’s required a lot of discipline/fasting/sensory deprivation or overload. This is why I think the imagination is the last great frontier; there is so much about consciousness yet to be explored or utilised. I feel that submitting to and pursuing, rather than fighting, these experiences seems the best approach, given an appropriate context. I think these are experiences we should be having as part of figuring out what it is to be in the world and that they may be as important to human development as puberty.
It must have been a humbling experience to nurse patients with terminal illnesses. Must have taken a lot of strength too. Much respect to you.
I’m glad you have outgrown both your asthma attacks and migraines, phew… and that they triggered your awesome ‘trips’ :)! Sounds like these OBE/NDE experiences, definitely led you to work with ‘vision’, archetypes’ and deeper levels of consciousness, and acted as a trigger to breath work and pranayana! Awesome! Near death experiences certainly change ones’ perspective on reality. I have had some too, including one 20 metres under the sea with an inter-dimensional being. My mask had filled up with water and I freaked out and left my body, and this gorgeous ‘light being’ removed my weight belt ( I felt her gentle hands unclasp the belt) guided and directed me back into my body. We spiraled back to the surface very quickly, and I didn’t even get the benz! When I surfaced a guy who was fishing from his boat, said that as he watched me spiral up he was amazed to see a green turtle spiral up with me, and indeed there she was! :). I felt most calm as I stroked the turtle and felt as though a huge weight had lifted from me! Did the ‘being’ operate through the turtle? The amazing thing about that experience, is that after it I conceived straight away. I had been trying for 4 years without success, so I feel that this experience was integral to me becoming a mother! In my childhood and youth I practiced yoga ( including hatha) and lots of deprivation exercises to strengthen my mind and body. In my nursing years, I had the great fortune, at times of ‘touching’ people with cancer and leukeamia and them going into ‘total remission'( if that is what they truly wanted; I believe the patient healed themselves, through that desire and with the help of the unseen ones). Patients said that they saw ‘angels’ move through me! This didn’t go down well with the ‘medical establishment’ so I had to leave nursing, yet I continued this work as a private counsellor for many years! Yes, it is humbling to care for those who are on ‘death’s bed’ and this role I continue with today, often helping people accept and to ‘have a good death’ and often helping their family come to terms with their passing over, often through messages of their loved one’s communication with me ‘from the other side’. These days I don’t deprive myself ( I think it was necessary in the past, as people had smaller chakras, and I was probably playing out an old discipline from previous embodiments) as I have chronic pain from psoriatic arthritis and entheses, thus must be gentle with myself! I am like Chiron, the wounded healer, able to heal others, yet not myself! Yes, you are right, in that the imagination is the last great frontier, and that ‘surrender’ is the best medicine. We live in exciting times where quantum physics, psychology ( Jungian) and ‘old age’ philosophical truths conjoin in a beautiful dance. WE are so lucky to be here NOW! What archetype best describes you?