Many years ago now I ran the Guildford TM Centre with my then partner. One day the centre taught a lovely gentle woman who turned up in all innocence to learn meditation. From the outset of learning she started to see angels and divine beings and in the absence of any reasoned explanation it troubled her deeply. There was nothing we could say because the very notion of the Super Senses was of another order entirely. She came for counselling on several occasions but in the absence of any proper guidance she eventually stopped meditating. What she experienced was almost certainly the super-sense altered state of sight triggered by starting meditation.
Experiences of altered states are not, however, confined to practitioners of meditation. They can happen to any one of us and can last for a brief moment or for several weeks. Many years ago when I ran meditation courses for Surrey Adult Education I first asked people how many were there because they had had what they would describe as a Spiritual Experience. Most hands would be raised.
During the process of Yoga practice the experience of altered states is a natural, all be it relatively rare, occurrence. The general advice in practice is always that they should be ignored and not spoken about. The reason being because exploiting the experience runs counter to what one is attempting to do in practicing Yoga – reveal the Self by sublimating the Ego. This is a process that brings complete stillness to the Mind and not mental chaos that sometimes accompanies altered states. This advice is therefore sound because ultimately these are stages one wants to pass through not enjoy, (or at least be aware of the consequences of indulgence). One of these stages is the Transition of the Super Senses in which the ordinary senses are magnified and accompanied by feelings of ecstasy.
When I was taught this aspect of Samkhya I naively assumed on hearing of it that passing through this fire would be a process of simply ignoring these magnified experiences. I did not realise; could not imagine the effect they might have on my Ego/Mind and its compulsion to exploit and possess any appearance of happiness in the form of Bliss. Altered states do not come alone. They are startlingly beautiful and can overwhelm the small self, fundamentally altering the core reality. They change lives and forever.
One quite literally Sees differently for a short while and without guidance it is nearly impossible to navigate this ocean. The result of being drawn in and trying to possess the experience sets up a cyclic process that is anything but quiet. It can produce a state of frantic mental activity and as such this should be a warning, particularly if that person suffers unduly from powerful negative emotions such as fear or shame or an ongoing feeling of flat greyness or depression. Hence it is that psychotic episodes are more prevalent in those who have encountered abuse in their young lives. Add to this an intelligent mind and the condition worsens exponentially.
The experience itself profoundly opens up perception and it is this enhanced perception that appears to support the experience and the Bliss that accompanies it. Unwittingly one starts to ‘talk it up’ in an attempt to perpetuate the exalted state. This, (not the initial experience) is ‘Spiritual Psychosis’ and the episode can leave one emotionally devastated. This is the realm of madness. Naturally, after a period of sometimes destructive delusional activity, awareness descends back into an ordinary state. This usually leaves one utterly bereft or in despair; a condition that is familiarly called the Dark Night of The Soul. We treat people we find in this condition (note not with) as sick when in reality they have just sipped nectar at God’s table before they were prepared and for a while they have been intoxicated. What they need, however, is guidance not drugs and therapy.