Saturday, March 22, 2014

Mind Altering Everything

Easy it is to know what a substance will do to us. The first run may be exciting, scary, weird, alarming, calming or euphoric. Understandably, this is the first dance and the experience is new. Eventually, the effects may become familiar and even inviting. We may find ourselves turning to it almost unconsciously, like a reflex of the mind. At this point, it takes a certain brand of self-awareness to avoid dependency or addiction. It is dangerous ground to find more comfort in the bedrooms of the altered mind than in the foyer of the soul. In this dark scenario, the physical substance becomes the key to those rooms and the hand will not let go.

This post is not about addiction. It is not even really about physical substances. It is about something far different.   

Think about the first time you tried something forbidden- a cigarette, a beer or something else…

A cigarette is lit and smoke is pulled into the lungs. Nicotine breaks the blood-brain barrier and begins to bind to receptors in the brain.  Thoughts become more vivid, while a certain buzz of a calming, but stimulating variety is felt. One may, of course, cough and realize this smoke being pulled into the lungs has adverse side effects. Regardless, the mind is altered ever so slightly by this physical substance. Step forward in time. Another cigarette will surely be pulled from the pack and sparked up. This cycle will continue until a steely resolve breaks the loop. Of course, a single cigarette or even one drag may be all it takes to never touch it again. This is a physical substance that alters the mind.

A couple beers are knocked back. Feelings of stress or tension begin to wash away. Behind the scenes, the ethanol begins to suppress the central nervous system as the GABA receptors fire up. The consumer is most likely indifferent to this particular knowledge of the chemical workings. It is rather the physical, mental and emotional effects that are felt as inhibitions fall to the wayside. Suddenly, everything may seem more vibrant. The personality comes forth and one can’t help but to feel more engaging, intriguing and entertaining. These perceptions can be delusions, or at the very least, a variance of a delusion. That is the ugly underbelly of alcohol. It lights us up while also muddying our perceptions of others, the world and the self. Take it to its darkest degree- it numbs. Herein lays the escape, a way to run from unresolved internal and external battles. Unfortunately far too many people lock themselves in this bedroom of the altered mind. It takes unrelenting courage and strength to bust that door down and walk downstairs into the foyer of the soul. This is a physical substance that alters the mind.       

Drugs, drugs, drugs; Illicit or legal; Acquired from friend or a pharmacist; Tolerated or shunned; Pill or herb; Synthetic or natural; Take your pick. There are so many mind altering substances out there, each with their own unique effect and relationship with the user. They can excite, ignite, dull, warm, cool or take us to other places. No need to elaborate anymore (no admission of use). These are physical substances that alter the mind.  

It doesn’t just stop at physical substances; not by a long shot. Here is the hidden realm.

You make someone laugh. I mean really laugh! You tell an absurd or ridiculous joke and they laugh so hard that tears well up. They fire back with a story, not just any story, but one that puts you right there with them at that moment in time. You see the street, the lights, the faces and their reactions, but you were never there. You are at the command of an expert storyteller. The peak of the event comes spilling forth as you break into uncontrollable laughter. Blood flow increases in the brain as stress hormones take a nose dive. Endorphins fire around and euphoria sweeps over the mind. A unique and sacred connection is forged between two friends. This is a metaphysical experience that alters the mind.

You fall for someone, I mean really fall. Everything they say is everything you want to hear. The physical (attraction) and metaphysical (connection) merge as love comes floating up out of the ether. The mind obsesses and you are fully staged in the only socially acceptable form of insanity. In the brain, serotonin drops as dopamine rises and new images and emotions are seared into the amygdala. Describing lovesickness this way sounds so sterile and modern. Perhaps, I should try to describe it the way a romantic poet would have.

Where once I saw the sun
Where once I saw the moon
Where once I saw the stars
I now see you

I once was me
You once were you
One we are now,
No longer two

Spirituality is not dead; muted sure, but not dead. The unfortunate state of the modern world is that spirituality has been sent out to pasture while things I prefer not to mention occupy us. What then do we talk about when we talk about spirituality? It is not physical thing by any means. In fact, it is the highest arch of the metaphysical. It is not religion, but it is the individual who feels that connection with a god on the deepest level. It is not yoga, but it is the person who understands the hidden realms not just in yoga, but also in ritual, meditation and the natural world. Spirituality is also not solely some ethereal thing. It is most definitely personal and if you want a practical example then here you go- Family. There is most definitely spirituality in family for there is love and devotion on the deepest levels. Ideally, the love for a parent or child surpasses all others. And here is the kicker- when a patriarch or matriarch passes, we still feel their presence. I suppose you can explain that away with memories and brain chemistry, but then again, that is too sterile and modern. Besides, we are talking the metaphysical here and so….

 This is a metaphysical experience that alters the mind.

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