The function of the brain and nervous system and sense organs are in the main eliminative and not productive. Each person is at each moment capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe. The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful. (Aldous Huxley quoting C.D. Broad referencing Henri Bergson).
Last weekend I read Huxley’s Doors of Perception, the infamous tome beloved by a generation of users of psychedelic drugs (perhaps most notably, Jim Morrison). Huxley advocates the use of mescalin and LSD as a Door in the Wall (as noted by H.G. Wells)–a passageway to the extensive realms of reality/being/consciousness that are normally inaccessible. Obviously this route is not one for practicing Mormons. But Huxley also discusses other Doors–fasting, mantras/prayer, meditation, and yogic breathing, to name a few.
That which, in the language of religion, is called “this world” is the universe of reduced awareness, expressed, and, as it were, petrified by language. The various “other worlds,” with which human beings erratically make contact are so many elements in the totality of the awareness belonging to Mind at Large. Most people, most of the time, know only what comes through the reducing valve and is consecrated as genuinely real by the local language. Certain persons, however, seem to be born with a kind of by-pass that circumvents the reducing valve. In others temporary by-passes may be acquired either spontaneously, or as the result of deliberate “spiritual exercises,” or through hypnosis, or by means of drugs. Through these permanent or temporary by-passes there flows, not indeed the perception “of everything that is happening everywhere in the universe” (for the by-pass does not abolish the reducing valve, which still excludes the total content of Mind at Large), but something more than, and above all something different from, the carefully selected utilitarian material which our narrowed, individual minds regard as a complete, or at least sufficient, picture of reality.
He goes on to say that fasting, certain breathing exercises, chanting, etc. change the chemistry of our brains, thus lessening the efficiency of their function as “reducing valves.” Aspects of reality which are usually blocked slip through our filtering systems. We experience an expanded mode of being.
Mormons are familiar with this concept of a greater reality being blocked for certain purposes. We believe that our minds are extensively veiled, unable to access the vast majority of what we know (i.e. everything we learned and experienced during our premortal eons of existence). Brigham Young even taught that the spirit world–the intermediary sphere of postmortal existence–exists right here, as part of the boundaries of this earth. We just can’t see it, because it is veiled.
Huxley’s assertions made me wonder: could the veil be partially physiological in nature?
I hasten to say that I do not believe that any amount of fasting, breathing, drug usage, hypnosis, or anything else can enable a mortal to rend the veil in the fullest sense (revealing the face of God). God reveals himself only to those he so chooses. And I believe anyone who attempts to force their way into such an experience is foolish indeed.
But I believe there are lesser degrees of the divine presence that are appropriate and beneficial to seek out. Indeed, the primary purpose of prayer is to commune and communicate with God–to bridge the gap in awareness, which we could also call a veil, that separates us from him. Fasting is a way to lessen the body’s dominion over the spirit, and could very well be a means of thinning the veil. And I’ve already stated that I’ve found simple breathing-meditation to be a profoundly spiritual practice.
So, I ask of you: what are the potential benefits and dangers of purposefully seeking expanded consciousness, specifically greater awareness of/communion with the divine?