“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and his feelings as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of consciousness.” — Einstein
On very special occasions, we as human beings can tap into extraordinary and ineffable experiences of oneness, merging with the boundless sea of energy that constitutes the universe.
What if I told you that your mind is actually an intricate mosaic of infinite parts playing out the patterns of the cosmos, and that your consciousness is not separate from the primordial fuel that moves galaxies?
What if I told you that your perception of yourself as an individual identity is an illusion? How would you live your life then? What decisions would you make if you embodied these truths?
This concept often arises for those who dabble in mind-altering medicines. Psychedelics in particular widen our ordinary perceptual awareness and increase mystical experiences in those journeying.
This concept of non-dual or unity consciousness reaches into philosophy, history, and even modern science, and we will be diving into each of these elements in this article.
As we explore this rich facet of intentional psychedelic use, it’s important to remember that these profound shifts in awareness are inseparable from the therapeutic benefits we more frequently address. With that being said, let’s dive in!
Understanding Duality & Non-Duality
At its core, non-duality encapsulates an idea that there is no fundamental separation between self and other, or between various elements of existence.
However, this concept has pervaded the minds of philosophers, writers, artists, religions and entire cultures while somehow remaining fundamentally cohesive.
It appears that feeling oneness may transcend subjectivity and be a hidden yet intrinsic state of human consciousness.
The Reducing Valve
In Aldous Huxley’s 1954 book The Doors of Perception, he posited an influential theory of consciousness known as the “reducing valve” theory.
In this theory he likens the human condition—the mind and the ego—to a filter or reducing valve which filters the amount of perceptual information consumed in what is otherwise an infinite stream of information.
This filtering process serves the purpose of creating a self-concept, a particular worldview, and a story about self and external objects.
This filter processes only a tiny portion of available information, picking and choosing what feels relevant to our lives. We otherwise wouldn’t be able to function in the world and would be overwhelmed by infinity.
Qualities of the Mystical Experience
When it comes to the qualities of a mystical experience, the writer and philosopher William James “suggested four main characteristics of mystical experiences in addition to oneness” (Lente & Hogan, 2020).
Those qualities were “(1) ineffability, (2) a noetic quality, (3) transiency, and (4) passivity (a sense in which mystical experiences are involuntary and uncontrollable.”
“Since then,” Lente and Logan posit, “oneness has been considered a core characteristic of mystical or awakening experiences by other researchers.”
The transcendental movement is another example—with artists, writers, and philosophers like Walt Whitman—of how this theme has pervaded even western culture.
“I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul,
The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me…
I am the poet of the woman the same as the man.”
— Walt Whitman
These themes of truth as paradox, inclusivity, and nonduality have long remained the inspiring undercurrent amongst both ancient and modern spirituality.
Qualities of the non-dual state of consciousness:
- Transcendence of the conventional boundaries between self and other
- A profound sense of interconnectedness with one’s environment
- Bridging of polarities like good/bad
- Dissolving of ego and sense of individual self
- Heightened feelings of compassion, empathy, and a sense of belonging to a larger whole
- Exploration of deeper truths beyond everyday perceptions and conditioned beliefs
- A feeling of transcending time
- Ecstacy or positive emotion
- A sense of purpose and sacredness
- Paradoxism (in which truth is experienced as paradoxical, encompassing dual or opposing qualities)
- Long-lasting positive results toward self-actualization
This perspective clearly challenges conventional notions of individuality and separation, urging us to consider the interconnectedness that underpins all of existence.
At the heart of non-duality lies the recognition that duality itself is a construct—a product of our limited perceptual apparatus.
Duality arises from our cognitive impulse to categorize and comprehend the world around us. Non-duality urges us to transcend these mental constructs and embrace the fluidity of existence.
Ways to encounter mystical states are through:
- Deep meditation
- Peak experiences
- Creative breakthroughs
- Near death experiences
- Psychedelics and mind-altering substances
While we certainly will be covering more about how psychedelics can spawn these states of consciousness through their influence on neural activity and neurotransmitter systems, ancient cultures knew the incredible uses of these medicines long before modern science.
A Glimpse Into the Past: Traditions & Religions on Non-Duality
The modern term “non-dual” actually arose from a translation of the ancient Hindu Upanishads and Advaita Vedanta, which holds the idea that our mundane perception of reality is an illusion (maya) and only god or source is ultimately real (Brahman).
But across nearly every culture and epoch, there has been an acknowledgement of the Great Mystery in one way or another, oftentimes invoked by humankind’s relationship with entheogens.
In indigenous cultures and ancient Egypt, substances like ayahuasca, peyote, blue lotus, and psilocybin mushrooms have been revered as tools to commune with the divine and experience profound shifts in awareness throughout psychedelic history.
At its core, non-dual states of consciousness point to a profound understanding of reality—one that transcends the conventional divisions between self and other, grand and mundane, and ultimate truth and conventional truth.
From tribal traditions to Vedanta, Shaivism, Buddhism, and Taoism to Jewish Kabbalah, Christian mysticism, and Sufism, there has always been embedded this concept of transcending separation.
In Advaita Vedanta, for instance, this illumination of the ultimate reality gives rise to the understanding that the distinctions between the individual soul and the divine are illusory.
The Buddhist Mahayana’s concept of “emptiness” (shunyata) aligns with the idea that inherent existence is an illusion, and true understanding arises when the conceptual barriers of duality are transcended.
Similarly, Taoism’s teachings of the interconnectedness of all things and the harmony of opposites reflect the non-dual perspective, where divisions are dissolved, and unity is embraced.
So, while traditional paths often emphasize the gradual cultivation of mystical states through rigorous spiritual practices, psychedelics can provide a shortcut, catapulting individuals into altered states of consciousness and deeper creativity.
It is evident that feelings of supreme unity, oneness, and transcendence beyond separation are a cornerstone of mystical and spiritual experiences, and psychedelics are a tool which provide access to these illuminations.
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Scientific Explanations for Mystical Experiences & Unity Consciousness on Psychedelics
Now that we’ve covered some more philosophical and historical perspectives on nonduality, let’s bring it back to the topic at hand—the ability of psychedelics to invoke mystical experiences.
According to this 2021 report by Timmermann and colleagues, “Psychedelics can reliably and robustly induce intense, profound, and personally meaningful experiences that have been referred to as ‘mystical-type,’ ‘spiritual,’ ‘religious,’ ‘existential,’ ‘transformative,’ ‘pivotal,’ or ‘peak.’”
“Some specific facets of these potentially transformative psychedelic experiences include: a perceived transcendence of the physical bounds and laws of this ‘consensus reality,’ and the witnessing or comprehending of spatial and temporal vastness, a sense that the ‘cosmos is fundamentally conscious’ and/or that all things are essentially inter-related or connected, i.e. the so-called ‘unitive experience.’”
And according to Ko and colleagues, these peak experiences including experiencing “universal interconnectedness” are “closely linked to both symptom reduction and improved quality of life” (2022).
When it comes to psychedelics and the brain, there is real and evident data showing the ways in which these substances can interact with and alter the parts of our brain responsible for self-concept, time, and typical thought patterns.
When it comes to the brain on serotonergic hallucinogens, the Default Mode Network, a functional system in the brain associated with self-referential thought, is temporarily and greatly diminished in functioning.
Interestingly, those with an overactive DMN have proven to have higher incidences of depressive tendencies. This could suggest that psychedelics help us reconnect with the divine and dismantle patterns of rumination.
In a double-blind study testing the long term psychological effects of psilocybin, participants reported not only feelings of profundity and meaningfulness but also the sensation of merging in unity with the environment (Griffiths et al., 2006).
“The volunteers judged the meaningfulness of the experience to be similar, for example, to the birth of a first child or death of a parent. Thirty-three percent of the volunteers rated the psilocybin experience as being the single most spiritually significant experience of his or her life, with an additional 38% rating it to be among the top five most spiritually significant experiences.”
Aside from the magnitude of the experience for subjects, “the volunteers often described aspects of the experience related to a sense of unity without content (pure consciousness) and/or unity of all things.”
As we are understanding more deeply these magical substances through scientific exploration, we are illuminating collective human consciousness with self-awareness and gratitude for the larger universe that holds us.
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