We long for altered states in life.
Is this a bad thing? Is sobriety, the unaltered state, more virtuous? Is it more rational? Is it more real?
Or should we aim to exist in altered states as much as possible?
It seems like everything we love in life is similar to a drug-induced experience.
Sometimes, it’s literally a drug.
Marijuana will get you high. So will cocaine (so I’ve heard). And millions of us consume caffeine every day.
In altered states, you’re taken out of the realm of the ordinary and transported somewhere else.
When you’re in love, for example, everything changes. Your dopaminergic subcortical system lights up and your body releases extra amounts of oxytocin, cortisol, and dopamine. Love is a drug we seek and adore and cherish.
When we’re enveloped in an engaging hobby, we might enter “flow state,” where we experience an altered perception of time, a feeling of utter control, and a lack of self-consciousness.
When we’re drunk, we feel loosened up, less inhibited, and happier (most of us, at least).
We delight in the thrill of roller coasters, the all-encompassing bliss of worship and meditation, the nail-biting suspense of scary movies, and the spell a captivating video game or book can cast over us.
And even watching TV takes us to an altered state. We just . . . turn . . . off. The buzz and flurry of images wash over us, and we unwind.
And when we’re on our phones (who isn’t?), we’re receiving pings of endorphins every time we check our notifications and discover new updates.
Even when we have no external stimuli, say, in a sensory deprivation tank (imagine floating in the dark in body-temperature water), our minds create their own hallucinations.
Altered states of mind are magical. We all seek magic. Why? Because magic feels good. It feels special. It feels . . . right.
You would think that, given the amount of time we spend seeking altered states, they must be a rare commodity. And yet, sometimes, seldom, rarely, or maybe even never, are we ever just “being.” Just sitting, watching, and listening, with nothing special going on. And yet, I think there is a special type of magic here.
Just think: in magical worlds, magic breaks or circumvents the laws of physics. Imagine – a world where unicorns appear out of nowhere, the wind carries people and their umbrellas up and away into the stratosphere for no reason at all, and cotton candy rains from above. Magic everywhere and no control at all. People in that world would look at us and see magic in our mundanity: our predictable rules, our ability to enact meaningful change, our ability to observe and learn, and our ability to empathize with characters in our stories.
Thus I will keep pursuing these altered states (legal ones only for me – I’m a square), and I will keep thanking God that my unaltered state is one in which I possess a great deal of freedom, rationality, feeling, and power.