'Everybody must get stoned', Bob Dylan, Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
I guess we all going to be able to be legal potheads in a few years. It is now legal to smoke recreational marijuana in 11 states in the U.S. and of the remaining 39 states, 30 of those it is either decriminalized or they have medical pot use or both. There are currently only 9 states out of the 50 where marijuana is still illegal. Oh yeah, in Washington DC it is totally legal. I guess congress takes care of its own, after all, John Boehner (retired republican Speaker of the House) is one of the biggest spokesmen in the country for the skyrocketing legal pot industry.
Other than the fact there is money to be made what is driving this country going to pot? Actually, it is part of our human DNA. Dude, far out, are you saying that genetically we are programmed to smoke pot? Something like that.
We have in our genetic makeup the inherent behavior to seek out and attain an altered state of consciousness.
Altered States of Consciousness or ASCs have been a part of our human experience going back well beyond 100,000 years ago. There is evidence that Neanderthals used medicinal plants. One has to assume that in their experimenting with plants for medicinal reasons they ran across other effects. And if the Neanderthals were partying around the camp fire you just know Homo sapiens were selling it to them.
It is hard to say when we as a species adopted the behavior of entering into altered states of consciousness but it has certainly been going for long enough to become part of our behavioral DNA. I suspect even Homo erectus was cognizant enough to appreciate an altered state of consciousness.
In the normal course of human events there are altered states of consciousness that we slip into and out of during the course of the day almost involuntarily and there is the active seeking of an altered state.
The active pursuit of seeking an altered state of consciousness is directly related to an expanded awareness of self which precipitated the beliefs that supernatural forces might be in control of the natural world. The belief in supernatural forces is the very first impetus towards beliefs in a higher power or entity. Once hominins got there it doesn’t take much of an imagination to see how an altered state might be construed as an avenue of commune with any supernatural force. This is the most likely path to the beginning of Shamanism.
However, setting aside the path to Shamanism, it is my belief that the genetically programmed condition of altered states of consciousness is a deeply rooted requirement for the overall health of the individual and as such we all engage in altered states on a daily basis.
History vs Prehistory
The human experience is often referred to as being divided up between Historic and Prehistoric. The historic period starts with the invention of the written word about 5,500 years ago. The time before that, from about 3.3 million years ago (roughly starting with the making and using of tools) until written records is considered the prehistoric. Point being that for the vast majority of the hominin experience we have no written documentation. No cyber record at all. No Facebook or google to fall back on and see how we lived.
We have no written documentation of our prehistoric past but it is well documented nevertheless. The documentation of archeological evidence and the painstaking analysis of that evidence to unravel the past and reveal how we as hominins lived, worked, interacted and survived is the science of Anthropology – The Study of Man.
Prehistorically, Altered States of Consciousness are Sacred and Powerful places.
Cave drawings leave clues for us like the ubiquitous spiral which is said to be a doorway between dimensions, along with zigzags, grids, dots and other visual images that mimic certain visual experiences when using psychoactive drugs.
Shamans and religious leaders have long used ASCs to commune with a higher power or spirit and/or God. Most spiritual traditions today also provide an avenue of meditation or prayer for the individual to attain an ASC to satisfy the deep longing to transcend normal waking consciousness.
You don’t have to smoke pot or snort or do any hallucinogen to get to an altered state. The most common substance used all across the world to get to an altered state is alcohol. The history of alcohol and humans is at least 30,000 and arguably 100,000 years long.
In fact, the most commonly used psychoactive drugs, apart from drugs taken on prescription, are alcohol and tobacco. The most commonly used illegal psychoactive drug is cannabis (marijuana).
Here is a list (in no particular order) of the most common psychoactive drugs, some are legal and some are illegal;
Of course, you do not have to use any substance at all to attain an altered state of consciousness. Billions of people everyday all over the world use meditation, prayer, chanting, dancing, and trances as a means to reach ASCs.
Whriling Dervishes of Sufism perform a dance called the Sema
Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll
I am not advocating drug use here. Quite the contrary, I think psychoactive drugs are the least desirable way to achieve an ASC. But make no mistake about it, you are wired to experience an altered state of consciousness.
Let’s take sex, I mean why not, everyone likes a good sex reference. We as a species are a sexual reproducing organism. I think we can all agree on that. We are genetically programmed to have a desire to engage in sexual intercourse otherwise we would not perpetuate the species. I believe all reasonable people would agree with that assessment.
You also have an inherent behavioral propensity to engage in altered states of consciousness to no less of a degree than to engage in sexual intercourse. Yes, it’s true. Whoo-hoo let’s party! Not what I am talking about at all.
Here’s the thing, there is the normal waking state, the dream state, the sleep state and… the altered state of consciousness. An altered state of consciousness is a temporary change in one's normal mental state without being considered unconscious
We all experience an ASC every day without taking drugs. When we don’t it is not a good day and typically referred to as ‘one of those days’ or a ‘total stress out’ or a more colorfully as a ‘completely fucking shit day’. Every have one of those? Let me guess, did you have a drink after? Or two? Maybe burn one?
The human psyche has as part of its makeup altered states of consciousness to relieve the stress from living in normal waking consciousness. Sleep and dreaming relieve the stress of wakefulness while they also refresh and revitalize but hey, by definition you have to be asleep.
ASCs are a stress release in the wakeful state.
Stress is the number one killer isn’t it? Yes, it is. Everything bad that happens to your body and psyche is because of stress in one form or another, emotional stress, expectational stress, physical stress, it all takes a toll, it beats you down and harms you. The relief of stress is uplifting and makes you feel better. Extricating yourself from stressful situations is always a priority.
Here’s the good news. You don’t have to walk around in a hallucinogenic haze or a drunken stupor to reach an altered state of consciousness. You can simply transcend the moment just like hominins have done for hundreds of thousands of years.
Transcendental moments relieve normal waking state stress.
Have you ever had the pleasure of sitting around a camp fire or fireplace and feeling the relaxation from losing yourself in the dance and interplay of the flames. Giving yourself up to that experience is an involvement in an altered state of consciousness. The same can be said of watching a beautiful sunset or any number of natural wonders. Small transcendental moments lasting only seconds can have a big positive effect on the body and mind. Humans have benefited from the experience of these moments for hundreds of thousands of years.
Another example of a natural altered state is when you are engaged in an activity and time seems to pass very quickly. After a bit you sorta go, wow, I didn’t realize that much time had gone by. That’s because you had transcended the normal waking state. There are any number of times this happens to us all when we are doing something we like.
Daydreams are the most common form of an altered state and we all do it.
And as far we know daydreaming goes back a couple of million years. It is one of the built-in stress releasers that facilitate us in keeping a healthy psyche while coping with the everyday pressures of life.
Listening to music can also put you into an altered state and break the back of a stressful day.
So, at this point you are probably thinking, Dude, where are you going with this post? First you talk about getting to an altered state of consciousness by doing psychoactive drugs then you get off on this transcendent moment thing and end with daydreaming. What is the point here?
Well the point of it all is Canada. That’s why I used the song ‘Rainy Day Women’ by Bob Dylan, he’s Canadian. Well actually he is a Minnesotan but that’s basically the same thing. What’s Canada have to do with it? The whole country is now going to pot. Marijuana is now (as of 2019) legal in the whole country of Canada and as you can imagine most people credit Bob Dylan for it.
Not me however, I think weed is a sensible choice over alcohol or tobacco as the ‘go to’ psychoactive drug for attaining an altered state of consciousness but taking any psychoactive drug falls way short of meditation.
If you are going to activity seek an altered state of consciousness, meditation is the absolutely the way to go.
The most successful people in the world meditate and there is a reason why.
At this point I would list the benefits of meditation but there are so many this post would get way too long. I have two webpages for you to visit and if you read through them and aren’t convinced then nothing anyone could say or do will convince you.
Here is a great webpage which lists 76 scientific benefits of meditation. The great thing about this webpage is every meditation benefit is well documented to the source.
If you are like me 76 scientific studies conducted in laboratories with all kinds of monitoring equipment is just not enough. So here are 141 other studies that science has given us to show the benefits of meditation.
Rolling it Up
Altered States of Consciousness give you a break from the everyday stress of waking state consciousness. There are several natural and easy ways to attain an altered state without putting psychoactive drugs into your body.
You of course could drink some alcohol, it’s legal after age 21. After all a drink or two is no big deal. I mean we all know heavy drinking is really harmful for you. It causes untold misery. 10,874 deaths in the U.S. from drunk driving in 2017 which affects tens of thousands of loved ones. 40% of crime and domestic abuse is under the influence of alcohol. But a drink or two won’t hurt you… or will it. In 2018 a worldwide study from ‘The Global Burden of Diseases’ came out. They analyzed levels of alcohol use and its health effects in 195 countries from 1990 to 2016. The result was that NO amount of alcohol is safe.
You know ethanol, the stuff they put in gasoline at the pump. Ethanol is actually the intoxicating ingredient of alcoholic beverages. They also use it as a solvent in explosives.
Well you could always smoke tobacco, its legal too. We all know how wonderful that is for your health. It even says on right on packaging it will kill you.
Why am I pointing out the obvious? Because even given what we know about the catastrophic health problems alcohol and tobacco use cause, they are still the two biggest psychoactive drugs that people use.
I mean come on, what other evidence do you need to see that the desire and need for altered states of consciousness is genetically part of our DNA.
My whole reason for this post is not to stop you from getting to an altered state. It’s not even to stop you from drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco. I mean how did that Prohibition thing work in the 1920’s for the U.S.?
I am merely trying to say that there is no reason to feel guilty about an altered state of consciousness or the desire to go there. Perfectly natural and normal and in fact unhealthy if you don’t have that experience daily.