Last week I wrote about an experience I had during a breathing meditation called Ananda Mandala.
This experience was one of intense love, gratitude, inner peace and what you could call “bliss” – as well as strong feelings of oneness and an almost complete lack of sense of self.
In the first post I described the experience and – since it’s what my rational mind likes to do – this post is going to examine it a bit, break it down, unpack certain elements and look at what we might be able to learn/get from these types of experiences.
Gratitude, Love, Wonder, Bliss, Oneness – What do we make of all this?
Although intense, profound and even ‘enlightening’ – a state of consciousness like the one I experienced is hardly unique.
People have been reaching (and attempting to reach) these states for thousands of year – whether through meditation, yoga, psychoactive substances, manipulation of breath, food/water fasting or some other means.
And while scientific rationalists will attempt to explain away any deeper meaning of this by simply pointing to changes at the level of the physical brain – the truth is that our understanding of the relationship between consciousness and the biological brain in highly incomplete.
(This is called the hard problem of consciousness)
Accordingly – skeptics of spirituality would do well to try something like this out. (After all, who knows what kind of ‘garbage’ there is inside of you..?)
The Ananda Mandala-induced bliss state also reinforced my belief that we are all living on two levels at once – whether we’re aware of it or not. In my head this is a completely inarguable fact, one that every subsequent ‘spiritual’ experience just confirms more strongly.
However – all our experiences are necessarily filtered through our pre-existing belief systems, paradigms/models for understanding reality and so on. It’s inescapable for anyone, me included, so really – I can’t know for sure.
Strong similarities to psychedelic experience
There were a number of common elements between this meditation-induced state and certain psychedelic trips I’ve had, most notably with LSD. In particular there was this strong humour that arises seemingly our of nowhere, with no real reason or cause for existing.
It’s not so much that something or even everything is funny – there is just “funniness” existing there.
In part this was similar to the 1P-LSD trip described in detail here – but actually closer to a different one I had later, with double the dose and a much more intense peak.
About 2-3 hours into this trip I’m lying on my bed with headphones on and ‘the last thing I remember’ – visually at least – is my ceiling fan, now purple and green, billowing in and out like a giant mushroom-jellyfish and then swirling into oblivion.
Next I’m struck by the indescribable beauty of all of existence – my life, everyone’s life, every aspect and intricacy of humanity and the universe/God experiencing itself.
It’s impossible to describe in words, almost by definition, as words are just symbols for the real thing and a poor set of tools to transmit the experience of consciousness with the blinders of ordinary human perception taken off.
So I’m crying now, sobbing at how beautiful it all is – but laughing at the same time, because I still have a vague sense of lying on my bed, looking at the plain ceiling of my apartment and this just makes it even funnier. But it doesn’t matter what I’m looking at, because in this state looking at anything is the same as looking at everything.
The expansive sense of love and gratitude for the beauty is about half of it – the other half is the strong, STRONG message “Don’t forget, never forget how beautiful it all is. Never, never forget.”
And it seems obvious to me that all of my suffering, and all suffering really, is simply caused by forgetting this ultimate truth.
LSD in under 10 words:
Here’s the real beauty of the universe. Don’t forget!
..then inevitably you forget & have to go back again…
— Freedom & Fulfilment (@Aaron__FF) March 7, 2016
Much of the feelings were the same during the Ananda Mandala experience, which is interesting. New neuroimaging research has just come out showing the effects of LSD on the brain – I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some overlap with the hyper-oxygenation and breathing of this meditation.
But the fact that you can bring about aspects of a psychedelic experience “naturally” is quite incredible. I understand now on a much more experiential level how non-drug related experience – meditating in a cave alone for many years, for example – could substantially change ones resting state of consciousness.
Are we “tuning in” to different states of consciousness?
As I mentioned, the exact relationship between consciousness and the biological brain is not very well understood.
There is a theory, however – one that I don’t think has much scientific backing at all – that the brain works sort of like a radio antenna, tuning in to different frequencies of consciousness.
While this may or may not be true – it’s an accurate description of what it feels like large amounts of the time.
Being lost in a flow state, for example – it really feels like you are not “you” for that brief period of time and something else is ‘doing’ it through you. The ancient Greeks called this being inspired by the muse – they believed a creative individual was literally possessed by something external and that was how art, music, and poetry was created.
In these creative states, is it possible that we’re just tapping into some field of consciousness that already exists somewhere in the universe? And in accessing that state, we’re able to bring it back down to earth/into this reality?
Experience doesn’t belong to the experiencer
Immediately after this experience I hesitated to describe it to anyone but my closest friends because this felt egotistical – like I was somehow imposing myself on the experience.
When we talk about experiences we necessarily describe them in a sort of possessive way – “I had this experience”, as if it somehow belongs to us.
Because of the selfless nature of the Ananda Mandala-induced state, talking about it in these terms felt like stamping my ego all over it – when really this state was just “out there” and didn’t really belong to me or anyone at all.
What’s more, when people hear about experiences like these they often interpret it in one of two ways –
Those not into spirituality may feel like they are being condescended to or that the person is somehow bragging about reaching a peak state. (To be fair – large numbers of New Age hippies are extremely condescending and this certainly doesn’t help the matter.)
By contrast, people who are into spirituality will look at the person who has the experience with admiration or even reverence, as we often see in cases of guru worship.
But both groups are completely missing the point. Experience doesn’t belong to us at all – it just happens, flows by, like everything else in the field of consciousness.
Even the act of wanting to enter into such a state – which “I” am certainly guilty of as well – seems fundamentally mistaken at this level. The “I” doesn’t get to “have” the experience – there’s no “I” there at all!
Ram Dass once described his guru Neem Karoli Baba as a “doorstop” to the real thing – God, ultimate truth, the totality of being, whatever.
So for a while he worshipped the man himself, but then one day realized that there was nothing there – this physical body was just an open doorway straight to the divine, existing in the physical form of an Indian guy wrapped in a blanket.
He eventually understood that it wasn’t about the person, it’s never about the person, there aren’t any people at all.
(This is hard to write about without it sounding like complete nonsense.. but I do my best..)
Sat Chit Ananda – The Subjective Experience of God
Sat chit ananda is a Hindu term that translates as “being, consciousness, bliss” or “truth, consciousness, bliss”. It is, according to Hinduism, the most/best that a human being can experience the ultimate reality.
It’s always there, according to the belief – this combination of being, consciousness and bliss underlies everything and is the ‘truth’ behind the veil of the material/physical world.
“Being” can also be “absolute existence” and is meant as everything that exists – that makes sense. Likewise the “consciousness” part makes sense too, as we know that exists.
But bliss? Why is absolute joy or bliss part of the underlying nature of reality? There’s no logical explanation for that… but that’s how it goes in Hinduism and it’s certainly the way it feels during these types of transcendent experiences.
“God” here isn’t meant as an authoritative figure or a ruler/creator who is separate from his creations. God here is God as everything – the creator and the creation that is as much you as it is me, the computer that I’m typing on, the tree outside the window, the window itself and so on.
And the way it seems is, we’re all really having “the subjective experience God” all the time. It’s all around us because it’s all there is.
(And even if you don’t believe this to be true.. the world becomes quite magical when you choose to see it this way. That is to say that – independent of it being “truth” or not – there are real practical benefits to adopting this view.)
Are Religions All Fighting Over the Same Thing?
There is an old adage where four men go to touch an elephant in the dark. They all touch a different part of the elephant and come away from this disagreeing about what an elephant is really like.
“It’s long and it moves like a snake!” says the man who touched the trunk.
“No, it’s flat and wide like a wall!” says the man who touched the side of the elephant.
“You’re both wrong,” says the man who touched the leg, “It’s like the trunk of a tree!”
They fight over the true nature of the thing – all the while not realizing that they were all touching the same thing. And, the adage goes, this is what’s happening with religion as well.
Is this really true? Almost certainly not. There are clear and irreconcilable differences between religious beliefs that can’t be explained away so easily.
However… there is something to be said for the fact that peak experiences are necessarily filtered through our pre-existing models of the world – religious or otherwise. This is undoubtedly true for me, as each subsequent ‘spiritual’ experience I have just confirms my own beliefs about spirituality – and this then drives me to seek out further such experiences.
This is likely the case for religious people as well. For example, a Christian who is carried away in ecstasy while singing in a gospel choir may attribute their experience to the love of Jesus – while a Hindu yogi practicing in a cave somewhere imagines they have just made a breakthrough on the path to enlightenment.
(Maybe this is how Islamic fundamentalists also feel when they blow themselves up?)
Now are these exactly the same experience? Who knows. (Is any experience exactly the same as another?)
But potentially we are all just experiencing the same thing. And ironing out the details, unfortunately, is close to impossible due to the nature of the experience itself. Even just thinking or talking about it already forces you to filter it through systems of thought and language.
It’s the paradox of trying to bring these very foreign states of consciousness back to this reality – as it currently stands, we just don’t have the tools to do it well.
And what we’re left with is these inadequate representations, sometimes accompanied by the
gnawing feeling underlying understanding that none of it ever comes close to measuring up to the real thing.
Why is this important?
Humanity has been suffering from mass delusions of the deepest kind for the past several thousand years, and we’re only just now starting to get over it.
Going forward we seem to have three options:
1) Stick with the divisive nonsense of the past and continue to believe that religious dogma – most of which is now demonstrably wrong – best describes our reality.
2) Take the no-nonsense, hard headed atheist approach that there is definitely nothing more going on than what appears on the surface… and that we are simply a random biological mutation, a product of evolution floating on a rock in space surrounded by a cold and uncaring universe.
3) A third way.. that incorporates what is useful from the first and keeps what we can demonstrate to be true about the second.. but that doesn’t cut anyone off from the subjective exploration of consciousness – or the fact that we don’t really know anything!
As society becomes more open to psychedelic use, to spirituality, and as the old institutions and belief systems continue to die off.. we can and should come together to develop something befitting the world we live in today.
And, to tie it all back, it would seem that practices like Ananda Mandala have a place in this system, whatever that may look like.
After all, who doesn’t want to feel indescribable gratitude, love, oneness, loss of ego – and along with it any worry, anxiety or fear? Add to that bliss, joy, laughter and so on – these states are considered universally positive by any sane and rational person.
The trick is figuring out how to integrate that into the rest of society – but there doesn’t seem to by any argument as to whether these sorts of states, and by extension the methods that bring them about, are good for individuals and society.
Peak Experience —> Life Goes On
(At least until you get fully enlightened?)
The truth is – besides the idea that higher states of consciousness are valuable in and of themselves – that the real value of these types of experiences is what we can take from them and bring back into this world.
And while spirituality is great, and we should do our best to explore and understand consciousness – besides of the time spent meditating, tripping on psychedelics, or doing crazy breathing meditations – we are all still going to feel and act like egos 99% of the time.
Even in the case of complete enlightenment, there is still the saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water”.
What do you do after..? You just keep doing what you were doing before.
(What else can you do?)
The collective ‘awakening’ of humanity is necessary and positive.. but the end result isn’t all of us floating up into the sky and turning into white light. We are still going to be here, on this planet, in this reality, and we are still going to need to figure out how to make it work.
(All the while realizing that none of it is real, ha-ha)
So… what do you think?
I love talking about this stuff – if you have any thoughts, post a comment below and let me know what you think.