Consciousness is dynamic. Everyday we pass through various states of consciousness. When we dream we can do things that would be unthinkable in the ordinary reality because they defy for example physical or social laws. In a dream it is not unlikely to find yourself flying around or throwing a cake into the face of your boss. You do things that would not appear in your ordinary everyday consciousness.
When we do things that we know very well, on the other hand, we are in an automatic mode of consciousness. Imagine you are driving to work and are at the same time engaging in other activities and thoughts. When you arrive at your destination you don’t remember how you got there. Where were you, where was your consciousness? In another state.
Consciousness is not uniform, it keeps changing and shamanic cultures acknowledge that fact. Members of indigenous communities see spirits in nature and communicate with them. For them hearing voices is not immediately a pathological event as it is in the west. It is part of their field of experience. Because in their worldview animal and ancestor spirits are real and to hear them is very normal.
People of all times and places have altered their consciousness. To reach a state of altered consciousness various techniques can be applied such as meditation, fasting, trance dance, singing or breathwork. There are also various substances, natural as well as chemically produced, that take us to these altered states, such as cannabis, peyote, ayahuasca, MDMA or LSD. These medicines/drugs can create strong impressions, colorful visions and bring the person ingesting them in contact with unconscious parts of himself. His perspective on life might change profoundly. The linear demands of society such as getting a degree, job, marriage and kids become relativized. Such an independent perspective can be threatening to the establishment. The reason for the worldwide ban on mind altering substances is not based on any scientific facts but purely on moral evaluation. While these substances are illegal in most western countries we have other psychoactive drugs that are legal because they are part of our culture such as coffee, alcohol or antidepressants.
What is consciousness? Who are you in relation to your consciousness? Why are consciousness altering drugs illegal in the west when they are part of human culture?
Interview with Marc Aixalà, Engineer and Psychologist, trained in holotropic breathwork and integration specialist for difficult psychedelic experiences