Psychology For Dummies
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People have been deliberately trying to alter their consciousness since the beginning of human history. Human beings have used meditation, medication, religious rituals, sleep deprivation, and numerous other means to alter their levels of everyday awareness.

Psychologist and author Stanley Krippner identified more than 20 states of altered consciousness. One of the more common states is dreaming. Here are four altered states of consciousness:

  • Rapture: An intense feeling of overpowering emotion, experienced as pleasurable and positive. People have reported experiencing rapture after sex, ritualistic dancing, religious rituals, and the use of psychoactive substances.

  • Trance states: An alert but very suggestible state. An individual in a trance is focused on a single stimulus and oblivious to much of everything else going on around them. Religious rituals, chanting, hypnosis, brainwashing, yoga, and even music can induce trance states.

  • Daydreaming: Rapid thinking unrelated to an individual’s current environment. Daydreaming can often result from boredom, sensory deprivation, and sleep deprivation.

  • Expanded consciousness: Increased awareness not typical of everyday experience and awareness. People try all kinds of ways to “expand” their consciousness from using drugs to sensory deprivation. There are four levels of expanded consciousness:

    • Sensory: An altered experience of space, time, and other sensory phenomena.

    • Recollective-analytic: An experience in which individuals develop novel ideas and revelations about themselves, the world, and their role within the world.

    • Symbolic: Identification with a historical figure or famous person accompanied by mystical symbols, such as having a vision of a crucifix or an angel.

    • Integral: A religious and/or mystical experience usually involving God or some other supernatural being or force. The person usually feels merged with or at one with the universe. This state has sometimes been called cosmic consciousness. Krippner and other experts believe that very few people are actually capable of attaining this level of consciousness.

Basics of meditative state of consciousness

Meditative states of consciousness are considered an atypical form of consciousness but not necessarily abnormal or maladaptive. There is an intense concentration and focusing of attention upon a particular facet of experience, mental activity, or physical experience.

The meditative state has often been referred to as watching yourself think. The purpose or goal is to engage in the practice as a form of mental training to increase a person’s ability to concentrate, stay calm, and be aware. It’s also used as a positive coping strategy in the face of distress or adversity.

Meditation is considered to be a mental enhancement technique. There are many different forms of meditation that differ in subtle ways. The focus of meditation may be one’s own thoughts (as in mindfulness to the sensations of the body in body-scan meditation) or on a statement or phrase repeated over and over (as in religious chanting or some prayer).

Practicing meditation has been associated with positive health benefits, such as reduced stress and muscle tension. It has been used in conjunction with psychotherapy for depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although historically associated with Buddhism, many consider meditation to be a nondenominational and nonreligious practice and applicable to medical-, educational-, athletic-, and even business-related goals.

Drugs and conscious life

Perhaps one of the most common methods for altering consciousness is the use of drugs. Drug use is an ancient phenomenon as well as a contemporary practice. Archaeologists have found traces of cocaine in mummified bodies from ancient Egypt.

Some people claim that one of the purposes of taking drugs is to gain added insight into the concept of consciousness itself. Most people who have used drugs report that they do so in order to get high, or intoxicated.

The state of being high actually represents a change in consciousness, perhaps going from a level of awareness that induces negative feelings to a different level of awareness where an individual no longer feels “bad.” The idea that drugs are an escape rings true, if you consider that many mind- and mood-altering drugs trigger a transition from one state of consciousness to another.

Not all drugs necessarily have an impact on consciousness. Drugs whose main effect is the alteration of consciousness are called psychoactive drugs. Common psychoactive drugs and substances include LSD, PCP, marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, barbiturates, ecstasy, and alcohol.

Although some people consider drug use for the claimed purpose of expanding their consciousness to be a good thing, there are many negative effects of psychoactive substance use and abuse. Addiction, brain damage, mental illness, psychological distress, and social and legal problems are common consequences of psychoactive drug use. Strong caution is recommended to anyone considering the use of drugs.

How to alter the mind through hypnosis

Hypnosis is a procedure in which a person, called a hypnotist, suggests changes in sensations, feelings, thoughts, or behaviors to a subject. Some psychologists think hypnosis is simply an increase in suggestibility that allows the hypnotist to “control” a subject’s behavior. Other psychologists propose that hypnosis is actually an altered state of consciousness in which a person dissociates (separates) from their normal or regular state of consciousness.

The key to understanding the mechanism of hypnosis is suggestion. A hypnotist begins the process with some pleasant suggestions and progresses to more sophisticated requests. This process is called hypnotic induction.

The more controversial applications of hypnosis involve past-life regression and the recovery of repressed memories. There is little scientific evidence supporting the legitimacy of past-life regression through hypnosis. Anything that someone reports can only be verified through historical records, and if it can be looked up for verification, the individual in question could have looked it up to fake a regression.

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Adam Cash is a clinical psychologist who has practiced in a variety of settings including forensic institutions and outpatient clinics. He has taught Psychology at both the community college and university levels. He is currently in private practice specializing in psychological assessment, child psychology, and neurodevelopmental disorders.

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