The answer to this question turns it right upside down. Because all other states of consciousness are ‘altered’, whilst our awakened state is our natural state, and everything else arises out of this.
Many of us have experienced altered states during our spiritual journey – extended periods of absolute bliss, peace, oneness and an unconditional love and acceptance for all things. We have experienced alternate dimensions, astral travel, physical energy movements and chakra activation. We have connected with past life memories, spirit guides… and the list goes on. There is almost no end to the stories we can tell, about how we temporarily became something other than what we are… about how we temporarily experienced an altered state of consciousness – a radically different reality.
The mind can take us literally anywhere during our meditations, ecstatic dances, shamanic ceremonies, extended chanting sessions, transformational retreats or yogic practices. The mind can conjure up an altered reality based on anything we can imagine, weaving fantastical and mystical stories around our rich tapestry of inner experiences. And most of these altered states feel so good that we believe them to represent the awakened state – something to recapture and hold on to.
But there is really only one truth in all of the altered states that we achieve…
All states are temporary, and we always return back here, to life, unfolding, now, in this moment.
Spiritual awakening is not about achieving a particular state of consciousness. In fact, it includes all states, because it is the unchanging and timeless awareness in which all states arise. There is nothing mystical about awakening, because it is simply about seeing things as they really are, rather than through the mind – it’s about perceiving reality directly and intimately, without the distorting filter of ego.
This can be confusing, because many people believe (and hope) that awakening brings a permanent state of bliss and joy… a permanent end to suffering. But in reality, awakening is not about blissful states of consciousness at all – and this erroneous belief just creates more seeking, and less opportunity to see things as they really are.
Of course, awakening does bring less suffering, because all seeking has ceased. But nothing is ‘found’ except clarity of perception. When we see things as they really are, we see how everything arises from the awareness that we are. And this means that all states of consciousness arise from the awareness that we are. All states of consciousness are altered from that baseline of awareness, including the egoic state of consciousness.
So, we don’t need any altered states of consciousness to perceive things as they really are. But we do need an altered state to believe in separation and duality. And it takes a huge amount of energy and effort for us to create and maintain that altered state of ego and identification with our thoughts.
Once we truly see this, we can enjoy our amazing and blissful spiritual experiences, without trying to cling onto them, without trying to wrap them around a distorted idea of what awakening should be (because all ideas about what ‘should’ be are just more ego).
And as we allow all experiences to arise and fall in the awareness that we are, we naturally expend less energy on seeking. As we let go of trying to grasp and maintain those blissful highs and amazing realisations – as we fully embrace each arising moment without trying to change it, we notice how that moment unfolds with perfect grace and ease, with a much deeper underlying bliss – the bliss of ‘being’, rather than of ‘experience’ – the bliss of unconditional acceptance.