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Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness and Inner Healing Intelligence

Have you ever had one of those moments?

…when time slowed down, your senses came alive, and you felt a deeper sense of connectedness to what was happening?

For me it was snowshoeing in the early morning across a frozen crater lake atop Mt. Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We had camped at -60°F on the summit that night. My feet felt like frozen sirloin steaks. It took about an hour to get them into their boots and I thought I’d try moving around to get the blood flowing again. I was running over the lake when a gust of wind blasted through the valley below up onto the peak where it crashed through the alpines surrounding the lake, releasing millions of tiny ice crystals from the pine boughs, scattering them into the sun’s rays. The crystals became floating prisms, dancing in the wind, setting the air ablaze as a dazzling fractal rainbow. Time stopped, and all of it…the pain in my feet, the colors, the crisp smell, my body expanding and contracting with breath, the dancing is-ness of it all was just all that there was. I stopped running. I just stood there…knowing…no longer fleeing the pain. It was extra-ordinary!

We often refer to the psychedelic experience as a “non-ordinary state of consciousness” that is significantly different from our “day-to-day” state of awareness. A non-ordinary state of consciousness represents a recognizable deviation from our general pattern of awareness. Although we use the designation “non-ordinary” for convenience, these types of states may not be all that non-ordinary.

On a continuum, non-ordinary states of consciousness can range from a caffeine high to being in a flow state while surfing a wave to a “far-out” psychedelic state. Indeed, we make use of a wide array of sacred technologies for accessing non-ordinary states of consciousness, such as meditation, drumming, chanting, sensory deprivation, holotropic breathwork, hypnosis, etc. So, we have this term “non-ordinary”, which may be a bit of a clumsy term, but it serves as a placeholder that allows us to refer to a state of consciousness that is generally more expansive and connective than the state in which we are accustomed.

Modern science investigates the biological effect that non-ordinary-state-of-consciousness-producing-chemical-compounds such as MDMA and Ketamine have on the body. We are also interested in understanding the therapeutic potential of the subjective experience of a non-ordinary state of consciousness. Spending time in a non-ordinary state of consciousness disrupts our conditioned way of thinking, allowing us to make new connections and see things from a different perspective.. In non-ordinary states of consciousness, we access insights that are valuable for our healing and growth.

We access insights through our willingness to be-with our feelings. A psychedelic experience makes more available our feeling-of-what-has-happened, and we never really know what we will see or feel. Our task is to learn how to surrender to the ride, and psychedelic assisted therapy is designed to help us let go into a being-with the experience, rather than following any predetermined method for responding to the experience.

Being-with our thoughts/feelings/experience is distinct from doing-with. Being-with is a non-instrumental approach to healing which is predicated on the understanding that living systems naturally and perpetually move toward wholeness and well-being. A seed contains the blueprint for the unfolding of growth, adaptation and repair; a broken bone heals when given rest; mother nature knows just what she needs. In humans, we refer to this life-giving phenomenon as inner healing intelligence.

We observe that both the body and psyche operate according to the principle of inner healing intelligence. This is not a rationally directed process, but an innately intuitive process. Psychedelic medicines help us quiet down the rational mind while activating connections to unconscious material that is otherwise habitually repressed. In “ordinary consciousness,” traumatic experience that is too painful to be aware of is disavowed or exiled into the unconscious. Psychedelic medicine stimulates a non-ordinary state of consciousness in which painful experience can be brought back into awareness for processing and integration. It is our willingness to see, to be-with, to allow-back-in that creates the conditions for our inner healing intelligence to do its thing…to move us back into right relationship with parts of ourselves and our environment.

It might be helpful to consider that much of our disharmony, or dis-ease, is an artifact of our attempts to deny the reality of what has happened. For example, let’s say I’ve had some pretty painful experiences in life that have impressed upon me the feeling that I am not good enough, and during these occasions I haven’t had a wise mentor by my side to help me see that although I have been rejected, I am not inherently inadequate…I just feel that way because, well, that’s how humans feel when we have the experience of being unwanted or unliked. In the absence of wise counsel I internalize a painful feeling of inadequacy and try to keep the pain out of my awareness by working hard to achieve things that prove my self worth (even though there is nothing wrong with my self worth). Working hard to achieve something that does not need to be achieved is an example of being out of balance with myself and the world around me. This disharmony is sustained by my unwillingness or inability to be-with my painful feeling of rejection which creates a blockage for my inner healing intelligence. To be-with my feeling of inadequacy in a non-ordinary state of consciousness temporarily removes the blockage and allows my inner healing intelligence to show me, in whatever way is best for me, that being rejected was hurtful, but my interpretation that there is something wrong with me is a misperception and misunderstanding of who I really am and how I really belong.

Bringing It All Together

Although non-ordinary states of consciousness may not be all that non-ordinary, the term is useful for referring to a set of experiences on the consciousness continuum that are less sculpted by rationality and repression, and where there is more openness to experience. A safe setting, such as that offered by psychedelic assisted psychotherapy, offers the potential to feel comfortable enough to be-with disavowed parts of our self. This letting-back-in clears the way for our inner healing intelligence to bring us back into harmony with ourselves and our environment. And so it is that when we are willing to surrender and trust, we find that we are held and healed by the great mystery of it all…sirloin-steak-feet and all!

So, if you’re badly needin’ that healin’ But you just can’t stand that feelin’ Trust your psyche, trust your soul It knows, so just let go No need to do anything Just be-with the feeling!

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