Updated: Dec 22, 2020
Altered states of consciousness can be broken up into two distinct types: exogenous or endogenous experiences, meaning they come from the outside or the inside respectively. Typically, we consider psychedelic states to be those that originate from either plant material and man made chemicals thus making them exogenous altered states. However, non-ordinary states of consciousness can arise from numerous internal experiences ranging from near death experiences to meditation. While harder to obtain than taking a pill, endogenous altered states can have a profound effect on the individual all the same. Here are a few to try without breaking the law.
Meditation is perhaps one of the oldest, intentional endogenous ways to alter the consciousness. The fact that almost every known culture has a form of meditation, should speak volumes to its effectiveness. In fact many of the following altered states could be considered a type of meditation.
The effects of these internal altered states can be immediate, although most people will need to train to have more profound experiences. This is because the mind works to maintain itself in this reality. There are also the added benefits common with training in any discipline by creating resilience to distraction and strengthens the mind and spirit. Science shows that long term meditation can change the shape of the brain and therefore the biochemical make up. This implies that diseases influenced by biochemical factors can be addressed with meditation.
Breathwork is a large subcategory of ancient meditative practices currently seeing a renaissance. One of the most well known types is Holotropic Breathwork, a term coined by early psychedelic explorer, Stanislav Grof. This famous psychedelic researcher, Grof developed this breathwork technique once LSD was made illegal. Another, more modern interpretation of breathwork is the Whim Hof Method, who’s creator demonstrates its strength with feats like running a marathon at the North Pole in shorts.
Many breathwork traditions include ritual, music, and a deeper, faster breath to reach another plane of consciousness. While achieving effects will take considerable effort, results can usually be reached within the first session. Some methods may be effectively causing hyperventilation so care should be taken if you have any medical conditions.
Dark Retreats were a psychedelic wonder of the ancient world. If hearing that Jesus or your favorite mystic went into the mountains on a vision quest brings up images of a bond fire on the side of a beautiful vista, you’d be mistaken. Great philosophers and pious religious zealots alike would journey into the deep bowels of mountains in order to experience this non-ordinary state. Once they were cut off from even the slightest shimmer of light and left alone to their own thoughts, these early journeyers began to experience visions and revelations.
Modern dark retreats are light sealed rooms complete with a bed and bathroom. Noise is dampened as much as possible to mimic the caves of old. If the loneliness and darkness don’t give you enough material to work with, on day 4 you will begin to hallucinate. According to Mantak Chia in Darkness Technology, without the sensory input of vision, the brain begins to manufacture DMT in small amounts. Tpically, dark retreats last 4-20 days and most choose a simple vegan diet for the duration. Learn More.
Chanting is a widely used tradition that is at its simplest, a short repetitive intonation. Words may be spoken or sung as with “Hail Mary’s” or Kirtan. The rhythm and repetition of words can serve to place the practitioner in a trance like state. People have reported feelings of oneness, joy, divine presence and extasis. The rhythmic flow of words creates energetic balance and helps to open stuck channels.
Scientifically, chanting mantras has a Neuro-linguistic effect. Chanting reduces stress by literally drowning out the inner critic giving the psyche a sabbatical. Because it requires focus, chanting has a positive effect on concentration. If that wasn’t enough to make you try to invoke an altered state with chanting, it helps to strengthen the lungs similar to singing.
Flow States are the out of body or total body experience that occurs when one is completely immersed in a task. It is probably one of the harder altered states to experience predictably. It is often associated with extreme sports where the danger element causes the brain to hyper focus on not-dying.
Colloquially known as “being in the zone”, the flow state was first described as such by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975. It balances arousal and control. The intense focus merges awareness and action until the sense of self dissolves and time distorts. Jamie Wheal, the modern disciple of this altered state, has investigated flow states for performance enhancement by examining psychology, neurobiology, technology and pharmacology.
Pursuing endogenous altered state of consciousness will not be in vain even if you don’t reach the deeper mysteries of the universe immediately. From the dedication required in pursuing these states to the emotional processing that occurs with both successes and failures, internally produced altered states can promote self growth and insight. Endogenous non-ordinary states can rival even the most exogenous, psychedelic experience.