Altered States

Is It All But A Show? On Meditation And Altered States

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I have had some experiences regarding the staged status of the world myself. In my late teens I would sit in the woods for hours, being amazed how perfectly artificial everything looked. So the idea that the world is just a big show has been very appealing to me. It certainly helped me with dating. It has even been helping me with marrying, and that’s one point where problems with this attitude are showing up (… of course, stupid). Having one another around all the time makes the show a more serious thing, no? That’s not to say that I took marriage lightly… well, okay, I probably did.

But there are other problems, of course. How long can you manage to live in such a fresh bright state if you’re facing a future of ecological and social cataclysms? And if you’re having kids, that inevitably will be affected by these things? The show gets a little uncomfortable here.

Sure, meditation helps. I have my experiences with that, too. I started meditating when I entered university to calm me down before sleep. It was such an intense and wondrous time, and I was so full of ideas and thoughts, that I had to find a way to center and detach myself. I basically reinvented SaZen back then, and it served me well beyond academia for about a decade. Since then I’m able to center in the split of a second. That’s nice.

Well, a problem showed up when I started to reactivate this practice in the context of my family life a good bit after university. My creativity decreased. I was a better person, more aware, more open, more loving, but the stream of ideas dried out. Not that good, when you try to make a living from it.

Some years later, when my creative plus family life had run me into constant sleep deprivation, I tried meditation again to buffer its negative side effects. But this time meditation was so refreshing, that I couldn’t fall asleep after it anymore.

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See, I totally get that meditation gets you to a point above or beyond the opposites of existential experience, but I don’t think that’s a point of higher reality, let alone a point of enlightenment.

The same thing is true with the reality you experience in the (unfortunately) so-called altered states of consciousness. They represent only one view at the expense of every other. Maybe they are a little difficult to reach, but they are not higher, nor especially enlightening. I guess the New Age has proven this.

I would even argue, that both, meditative and altered states, can be used to distract, manipulate, repress and exploit people. Meditativeness, being in the here and now, and let go of your ego, keeps people accepting and unreflecting. Perfect customers, members, soldiers. And, let’s say, cathedrals, or cinema, or maybe soon VR, well, DMT for the masses.

There’s the story of the Japanese Zen masters playing a disgraceful role in WWII Japanese nationalism. Look up the books by Brian Victoria. That the grandeur of spiritual imagery, writings and architecture of the Abrahamic religions is deeply entwined with the history of war is sufficiently well-known. There’s this unsettling connection between the sublime and ideology and war…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m pro-meditation and I’m pro-altered-states. But it does at no point get more real than reality, so to speak. It is all reality. And it is all just parts of it.

People are interpreting their experiences in the context of their time, and that’s probably the point of it: You have to carefully evaluate them; considering that even the experience itself is already an interpretation that your imaginative mind did synthesize for you. With an unprecedented historical record on this topic, I think we are no longer allowed to romanticize or to spiritualize meditative or altered states.

See, your experience may be gold. But whatever comes up, go prove it. Check it out. Do the research. Compare the data. Otherwise you’re going to make a fool of yourself.

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But meditation will certainly help you to cope with that… 🙂

(Images from Avengers: Age Of Ultron)

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