The Holotropic State

The Holotropic State

Alternative states of consciousness are nothing new.

When you drink a beer or glass of wine, or even if you daydream or don’t get enough sleep, your experience of the world can be changed enough for psychologists to say that you have entered an ‘alternative’ state.

The term ‘holotropic state’ was coined by Czech psychologist Stanislav Grof to describe a type of alternative state that he recorded in patients over four decades of research. The term means ‘moving towards wholeness’.

Stanislav Grof, Czech psychologist and pioneer of early psychedelic research
Stanislav Grof, Czech psychologist and pioneer of early psychedelic research

One way to induce a holotropic state is through the use of psychedelics like psilocybin (the active compound in “magic mushrooms”) or lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).

Since psychedelic substances became illegal in the USA in the 1970’s [check this], Grof discovered that the state is also achievable through meditation, and even through controlled breathing – an exercise called ‘holotrophic breathwork’.

Holotropic states of consciousness are associated with a sensation of greater awareness, often accompanied by feelings of awe, ‘connectedness’ and ‘oneness’ with the universe, and the dissolution of a sense of self. Typically the experience is very intense, even overwhelming, yet a person typically does not lose touch with everyday reality.

Usually in holotropic states the intellect is not impaired but rather operates in a way significantly different from its day-to-day functioning. While we might not be able to rely in these states on our judgement in ordinary practical matters, we can be literally flooded with remarkable new information and insights on a variety of subjects, from our personal relationships, to careers and personal growth, to a overwhelming sense of wonder for the world around us.

In some cases we can also experience extraordinary revelations concerning various aspects of nature and the cosmos that transcend our educational and intellectual background. By far the most interesting insights gained through holotropic experiences involve philosophical, metaphysical and spiritual issues.

A sensation of ‘waking up’, where the rest of our conscious lives we are asleep.

[They are often characterised by changes in day-to-day sensory perception with profound changes in colour, shapes, sounds, smells and tastes, even for familiar objects.]

Many have described these experiences as among the most profound of their lives, next to getting married, or the birth of a child.

The emotions associated with holotropic states cover a broad spectrum that range from feelings of ecstatic rapture and heavenly bliss, through to episodes of terror and significant emotional suffering, often depending on the context of the experience.

The experience may help people catch a glimpse of, or perhaps just come to understand how the Buddhist concept of enlightenment may be a real and attainable experience.

Like many psychoactive effects the direct pathways through which it works is unknown. But it’s speculated that it the filters through which we perceive reality are temporarily inhibited.

A few lines about preventing these bad side effects.

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A Long History

Evidence that substances have been used for thousands of years. The holotropic state may be the most recent name for a tradition that dates back thousands of years.

A number of potent psychedelic substances including DMT were found in this pouch from Bolivia, which dates back to between 900 and 1170 AD. Photo by Juan V. Albarracin-Jordan and Jose M. Capriles.
A number of potent psychedelic substances including DMT were found in this pouch from Bolivia, which dates back to between 900 and 1170 AD. Photo by Juan V. Albarracin-Jordan and Jose M. Capriles.

Slideshow of connected ideas?

Connected to the concept of Satori, and Buddha nature. Holotropic states can have enduring emotional changes that can last for months, or even years and decades.

While understanding the risks associated with such altered states as the holotrophic state, reviving rituals that create a lasting connection with our planet at a time when it is at its greatest peril – from climate change, to deforestation, and coral reef bleaching, the holotropic state may be one of the most powerful tools we have to create sustainable change.

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Say hey to Owlbert Einstein

Curator of the Big Ideas Network

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