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.