A LOVE SUPREME

I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The altered state of mind

Daniel 7 and 8 records several visions that Daniel received. At the end of chapter 8 we read: I, Daniel, was exhausted and lay ill for several days. Then I got up and went about the king's business. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding. (8:27)

In Chapter 9 Daniel reads Jeremiah and confesses the sins of the nation to the LORD. Gabriel then comes to give Daniel insight.

Then this from chapter 10. Notice the physical/emotional/psychological state of Daniel (in bold):
At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. 3 I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over. 4 On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, 5 I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. 6 His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. 7 I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; the men with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. 8 So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. 9 Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground. 10 A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11 He said, "Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you." And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling.

This post continues my exploration of the mystical side of the faith, and here is my question: Could Daniel have received the visions of chapter 10 if he had not been in an altered physical/psychological state? It is clear that he did not eat for two weeks and did not use "lotions." Basically, he went organic and drained his body of food. When the "man dressed in linen" came, Daniel was the only one who was able to see the vision. His companions had a feeling of terror, such that they split the scene, leaving Daniel alone to witness the vision.

Are there certain mystical/spiritual experiences that we cannot receive if we are not in a correct physical/psychological state of mind?

Many Christians in the west have been quite bashful when it comes to mystic experiences, because spiritual experiences can be easily written off to an altered state of mind. For example, what's the difference between Daniel's vision and a hippie who dropped some groovy acid 35 years ago?

I would not say that all mind-altering experiences are spiritual, nor would I suggest that one has encountered God just because they had a groovy trip. But I do find in Scripture a theme of people preparing themselves to receive spiritual experiences by altering their state of mind. This is particularly the case by the means of fasting and prayer. When one fasts and prays it alters one's psychological state. When this is combined with a genuine seeking of the face of God then it happens (from time to time) that God reveals himself in the form of a vision or some other similar experience. Consider, for example, that Jesus fasted 40 days (quite a long time!) before facing his wilderness temptations (Matthew 4). In Acts (13:2) we find that the church received a revelation to send out Paul and Barnabas while praying and fasting. The implication of chapter 13 seems to me to be that praying and fasting was a regular part of what the church did at that time.

Admittedly, one would be foolish to assert that fasting/prayer is something of a formula by which one could conjure up God at will. However, I do believe that in certain circumstances, particularly of extreme need for God, a certain receptiveness may be required. Prayer, fasting, and meditation demonstrate a certain openness, desire, and expectation that God will speak and that God will meet with us. I suggest that for all of the abuses of spiritual experience, it is nonetheless still real that God meets those who wait expectantly, and putting one's self in a physical/psychological state of receptiveness can be a necessary part of being receptive.

39 comments:

Beautifully Profound said...

Maybe it's because God wants us to be in our most vulnerable state in order for him to reveal his plans for us through visions.

ktismatics said...

Have you tried any mind-altering techniques, Erdman? Did they "work" for you?

Emily said...

I appreciate you bringing this up. Sometimes we forget very basic principles and overlook connections (i.e. Jesus fasting before His temptation).

What's your take on fasting? I have heard that the Bible advocates going organic (like you mentioned--just food from the ground... veggies, fruit, potatoes...) I've also heard it can be just abstaining from television or some other unnecessary activity.

Also, do you see a certain period of time that someone should fast? One week? Two weeks? Until you receive some special message? (I'm afraid I'd fast for 3 years and still be like... "Ummm.... are you there? Am I blind? What's up?")

Jason Hesiak said...

Doyle - Lol. Erdman - I await your response :)

emily - He's already here. Sometimes our eyes open :)

Melody said...

I've never understoof the fasting thing at all. It seems like it would be incredibly distracting.

My first thought on reading the passage was, "Of course he's seeing things he hasn't eaten for three weeks." Though it looks like he ate, but avoided certain foods. I don't know what counts as "choice".

Jonathan Erdman said...

A Doyle in time saves nine:

Have you tried any mind-altering techniques, Erdman? Did they "work" for you?

I have fasted. Also, I do try to empty my mind as much as I can before I pray - but I really don't do that very often, not nearly as often as I should.

I do notice that as a general the more effort I put into being receptive to God the more I receive. Again, I don't think there is a formula here, but by and large I think God makes himself known to those who truly want to know him....and yet again, this is not formulaic. (Nothing is formulaic, and we have Ecclesiastes and Job to demolish spiritual formulas.)

As to whether or not it "works" would, I suppose, depend upon the end that you desire. I think that "spiritual" experiences of meditation and yoga, et al can be very psychologically, mentally, and emotionally positive, even for those who really are not all that interested in meeting God. And of course there is Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds for those interested in "expanding their minds."

Jonathan Erdman said...

Emily:
What's your take on fasting? I have heard that the Bible advocates going organic (like you mentioned--just food from the ground... veggies, fruit, potatoes...) I've also heard it can be just abstaining from television or some other unnecessary activity.

Also, do you see a certain period of time that someone should fast? One week? Two weeks? Until you receive some special message? (I'm afraid I'd fast for 3 years and still be like... "Ummm.... are you there? Am I blind? What's up?")


First of all, there is a lot of science behind fasting. Biologically speaking, there are wrong ways to fast - things that can hurt the body. I believe that fasting (combined with prayer) has a great deal of biblical precedence, but fasting also has a great deal of health benefits - it clears the body of toxins, rests and recuperates the digestive system, weight loss, develops discipline, et al.

How one fasts depends upon how long one fasts and how long one fasts depends upon what goals to accomplish. Is it for spiritual or physical purposes? Or both? There are many factors.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody:
I've never understood the fasting thing at all. It seems like it would be incredibly distracting.

This is surprising coming from someone like yourself who appreciates the positive benefits of healthy eating....

Melody said...

Ok, I understand fasting from a health perspective, just not from a get closer to God perspective.

My senior year of I cut out sugar, hydrogenated fats, and all things deep fried. It was very healthy, but I couldn't sleep because I kept dreaming about margarine.

Distracting.

Jason Hesiak said...

I've never understood the fasting thing at all. It seems like it would be incredibly distracting.

This is surprising coming from someone like yourself who appreciates the positive benefits of healthy eating....


This is not surprising to me, considering that its coming from someone who, you know, so enjoys their "stuff." Especially since ridding ourselves of our dependence on our "stuff" is oftetimes the whole point of fasting.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Well, I guess it just has to do with the fact that fasting is a deliberate effort to abstain from something and open one's self to what God may have.

There is a sense in which it is an attention grabber. Ghandi fasted and got the attention of a whole nation, forcing them to cease fighting. Something similar is involved when a godly person petitions the Almighty and shows that they mean business by putting all things to the side (work, play, food, etc.) and focusing on the petition - the burden of the heart.

Melody said...

Jason, golden or not - don't be an ass.

Jon, interesting thoughts. I've never really heard of fasting as attention grabber. People always talk about fasting to get rid of all distractions and...hunger tends to be distracting.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Hunger can also be a reminder to a person of the urgency of the petition. The result is then to channel that energy into prayer and petition.

The greater the sacrifice, the greater the need for God to show up.

Jason Hesiak said...

Jason, golden or not - don't be an ass.

Melody - you were open and honest about your "stuff." That was cool. But, first of all I get the feeling that it really wasn't a confession...so...OK maybe it wasn't as "open and honest" as I thought. But if you were being "open and honest"...again, cool.

Secondly, don't be narrow minded; open your mind to something beyond the little world that determines what you've been taught and surrounded with.

And Erdman - I don't think Doyle was talking about fasting :)

Melody said...

Jason, it wasn't as much a confession as a statement. I think it only counts as confessing if it isn't common knowledge.

But you have this tendency to speak to me or about me in belittling terms and oddly enough, that bothers me.

ktismatics said...

"I don't think Doyle was talking about fasting"

Sure I was, as one technique among many. The Erdmanian gave the theoretical and anecdotal reasons why fasting might "work," but I'm not sure whether he felt like it helped him concentrate, open his mind to God, grabbed the audience's attention, earned a hearing by virtue of his sacrifice, etc.

The brain runs on glucose; when you fast your system finds stored sources of glucose to run the brain on. But there's no reason to believe that you'd experience a boost in brain function while fasting. You might feel light-headed after 2 or 3 days, but that would be more a cognitive deficit. Maybe having a lower-functioning brain keeps it from interfering with messages that God beams into your head -- Erdman's "emptying my mind as much as possible" theory of mystical communion.

Any kind of change probably attunes you to things more acutely. A change in the inner metabolic state maybe makes you more acutely aware of inner phenomena -- as long as you can keep your mind off how hungry you're getting.

Jonathan Erdman said...

What you (Ktismatics) describe is the experience from a purely biological perspective. I would add that when someone has an intense burden their ability to "concentrate" throughout the discomfort of fasting is probably heightened. For example, if a loved one is in critical condition at the hospital you could go for quite some time in a heightened state without sleep or food or drink because you are intently tuned in to an object you care about. The perception of the urgency of the moment triggers something in us, even from purely a biological standpoint.

But what if there is more than pure biology at work? What if there is a God? What if Dualism of body/soul (or some such similar theory of soulishness) is true? Then we are talking about more than mere biological cause-and-effect. As I see it, much of this particular discussion would turn on whether or not "God is there and he is not silent" (to borrow the line of someone whose apologetic I don't really see eye2eye with).[1]

Jason Hesiak said...

I would add that when someone has an intense burden their ability to "concentrate" throughout the discomfort of fasting is probably heightened. For example, if a loved one is in critical condition at the hospital you could go for quite some time in a heightened state without sleep or food or drink because you are intently tuned in to an object you care about.

I definitely experienced this when my dad was dying...or a few months before when I thought he was dying. I was home from school for like a week or two because we thought he was dying, but then he got better. But then when I went back to school, for like two weeks I couldn't draw a line because every single little stimulus to my mind and senses was so intense and acute that...like...I couldn't really handle it. And there did seem to be something spiritual interwoven into what was being impressed upon me.

Interestingly when I told my professor why I hadn't done any work for two weeks (kinda feeling bad about it), we had a conversation about "absence"...and how now I understood bettere what architecture is really about.

Jason Hesiak said...

But you have this tendency to speak to me or about me in belittling terms and oddly enough, that bothers me.

You have a tendency to say things that don't make any sense and that intentionally contribute to why my life sucks, and oddly enough, that bothers me.

More seriously...I really don't think that your position on "stuff" is consistent with the centuries of Christian tradition, which, to me, makes much more sense than where you or our culture stand on the matter. But then its kind of hard for me to know how or what to say to you about that, because the both of us came up in a Christian cutlure that doesn't have much connection with all those centuries of roots. When I try to expose you to the roots a bit, it feels to you like I'm throwing dirt in your face. That's not my intention. I don't know what to say or how to say it, but please try to forgive my tactlessness.

The situation is further complicated for me by my personal stake in the matter...my work life sucks ass because of the "rule" of the market. This is something that is blatantly and obviously true...something we've talked about...but you've not only failed to even aknowledge but pretty much seemed to have dismissed. So it makes communication with you feel like the heaving of large animals over a tall and wide fortified city wall. Do notice, however, that animals are less explosive and generally less deadly than cannon balls and such things...and generally easier to avoid if desired.

:)

ktismatics said...

"when someone has an intense burden their ability to "concentrate" throughout the discomfort of fasting is probably heightened."

No, you're talking about fasting itself as a technique for heightened awareness, not as a source of heightened discomfort that you need something else to overcome. I'm just following your lead here. And I also asked what your experiences have been in this regard. You gave me hypotheticals, so I'm returning the favor with a little more science to back it up.

"What if there is a God?"

Okay, what would he do? Would he override the physiological response? Would he use the physiological response (e.g., reduced brain activity)? Would he reward your suffering, even if you weren't subjectively aware of it?

Melody said...
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Melody said...
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Melody said...

Well Jason, not much that you say makes any sense to me.

my work life sucks ass because of the "rule" of the market. This is something that is blatantly and obviously true.

To you, to you it is blatant and obvious - but not to me. I don't see it at all.

something we've talked about...but you've not only failed to even aknowledge but pretty much seemed to have dismissed.

Well, again, it makes no sense to me. I wouldn't know how to acknowledge it. It's like asking me to acknowledge your fairy godmother...except that I might be able to pull that off.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics said:
"What if there is a God?"

Okay, what would he do? Would he override the physiological response? Would he use the physiological response (e.g., reduced brain activity)? Would he reward your suffering, even if you weren't subjectively aware of it?


I don't know what he would do. You know my theology well enough to know that I prefer not to stuff Elohim in to a Guide Book. My point was simply that if God is real, then there is another dynamic besides that of the biological.

I still think that abstaining from food is part of pushing out all other concerns so as to more acutely concentrate. Admittedly, it may not be a good state of mind to edit books or do accounting, but the concentration is different. I guess I'm not sure how to explain it b/c it strikes me as something more mystical and intangible. Sorry.

You can feel free to dismiss it as experiential nonsense, completely explainable on physiological grounds. That is a valid interpretation, which is why I make sure to interject that how one interprets the phenomena also depends upon whether or not one believes that God does actually "move in" and "speak to" the believer. If there is no God, then I think one can quite easily explain these feelings from their observations. Yet if there is a God, then things are obviously quite different.

Also, you asked about my experiences, but I thought I shared those with you earlier - right after you asked about them. Here is what I said earlier:

I have fasted. Also, I do try to empty my mind as much as I can before I pray - but I really don't do that very often, not nearly as often as I should.

I do notice that as a general the more effort I put into being receptive to God the more I receive. Again, I don't think there is a formula here, but by and large I think God makes himself known to those who truly want to know him....and yet again, this is not formulaic. (Nothing is formulaic, and we have Ecclesiastes and Job to demolish spiritual formulas.)


So, yea, I mean, it has "worked" for me....I just don't like a purely pragmatic approach to these things b/c it reminds me so much of health-and-wealth gospel types where God is just a means to an end (riches). Just because I fast or pray does not mean God is required to act....at least, I don't think so.....

ktismatics said...

"I have fasted" -- does this minimalist description represent a verbal fast? I too have fasted, the longest I think was 3 days. My subjective experience was that I felt clearer-headed and more sharply attuned. This I think peaked on day 2. By day 3 I felt a bit weaker, but I never felt overwhelmed by hunger. Since I had set the time aside for prayer, I also prayed more. The one time I've fasted in my current agnostic state I only kept it up for a day and a half. I didn't feel much different from usual this time, maybe because I just did it out of curiosity, with no expectations or agenda.

Since so many different mystical traditions incorporate fasting, there must be some sense of altered awareness that's commonly experienced and that's probably physiological at least to some degree. Surely denying physical hunger is an exercise in mind over matter, attitudinally de-emphasizing the physical world that so occupies us most of the time. And the lowered brain metabolism might keep your thoughts a little less focused, a little more free-floating, like just before you fall asleep, so there's more possibilities of having unusual ideas come to mind.

This reminds me of my post a couple days ago on tongues-speaking that you and Jason were conspicuously absent from. It's another widespread mystical technique for letting your mind defocus.

ktismatics said...

My daughter just handed me a school permission slip for me to sign, for "attending a performance of Mark Strivings, a local Comedy hypnotist (and former public school teacher!). Here's part of the FAQs provided on the form:

Q. What is hypnosis?
A. Hypnosis is a natural state of mind of which there are many levels or states. The hypnotic experience is that of an altered consciousness.
Q. Can a person be hypnotized against his will?
A. No. If a person resists, hypnosis will not work. Hypnosis requires consent and cooperation.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics:
I too have fasted, the longest I think was 3 days. My subjective experience was that I felt clearer-headed and more sharply attuned.

I have heard this from others who have fasted. These testimonies were not by people fasting for religious reasons, but for health and wellness. One of the side effects can be clarity of mind. But from my reading and dialog there is no "one way" that people respond to fasting. Much of it is subjective, based upon physiological and/or emotional and/or mental and/or (I would add) spiritual state.

Since so many different mystical traditions incorporate fasting, there must be some sense of altered awareness that's commonly experienced and that's probably physiological at least to some degree.

I think this is true.

This reminds me of my post a couple days ago on tongues-speaking that you and Jason were conspicuously absent from. It's another widespread mystical technique for letting your mind defocus.

Jason and I have decided (in Derridean fashion) that we would speak into this post by not speaking. We are thereby leaving broken traces and feel that 'tis better not to leave a sign without a signifier.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics,

And what is your professional opinion of hypnosis???

Jason Hesiak said...

I guess my absence has been filled by the presence Erdman's words now.

Doyle - I printed like 4 of your most recent posts this morning and read three of them, plus the comments of two of them, plus some of the comments of the third during lunch. You will be hearing from me. Some interesting stuff there on substance :) Among other things, of course. Your daughters descriptions of heaven and hell are priceless. As well as her fart in Erdman's general direction :)

ktismatics said...

"Jason and I have decided (in Derridean fashion) that we would speak into this post by not speaking." They are there and they are silent.

My professional opinion of hypnosis? I've never hypnotized anyone, but I have been hypnotized -- twice in fact, once by my daughter when she was 10 years old (she read about how to do it on the Internet). The experience is not unlike what you describe as emptying your mind in order to be receptive -- in this case, receptive to the hypnotist's suggestions. It's like that pre-sleep state, relaxed, drifting, loosening the signifiers from the signifieds. Relaxed... drifting... your eyelids are getting heavy...

Jonathan Erdman said...

your eyelids are getting heavy...

Dang. How did you know?

Sara said...

Interestingly, I recently read this passage, 1 Samuel 14:24-52, about fasting.

The following are comments about these verses by Beth Moore from her study called A Heart Like His.

"Note an important fact about fasting. God , not man, must call 'fasts'. Fasting called by God will result in added strenth, not depleted strength. Fasting for any other reason works against us rather than for us. Fasting is a wonderful and highly effective discipline of God, but we must follow His instruction for fasting so we will be strengthened rather than weakened in our battles."

Jonathan Erdman said...

I'm with you, Sara.

Oh, and by the way, Beth Moore is the man....figuratively speaking, of course!

Sara said...

yes, beth moore. i knew you'd come around and start recognizing the brilliance. "the man" huh. doesn't that term alone tell us something about the cheuvenistic (spelling?) society we live in.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Yes, it is very telling. We are all a product of the system: Fight the Power.

Emily said...

I do try to empty my mind as much as I can before I pray.

Do you mean you take a vacuum and suck out all of your non-prayer thoughts before praying? Expand please.

I do notice that as a general the more effort I put into being receptive to God the more I receive.

Do you mean you don't just ask God for something but stop and search your mind/a passage of Scripture for something He wants to tell you? Or you just try to listen for Him throughout your day?...

Jonathan Erdman said...

I guess it varies. If my mind feels particularly "full" on a particular day, then I find it refreshing to think about "nothing" and just let myself relax, trying to transcend the busy nature of American life. To do this might just mean kneeling in silence for a time. Or, more often, I put on music that helps me drain my mind of thoughts.

Although I am not very good at it, I find that when I can empty my mind of things it allows me to focus more on having a worshipful attitude during prayer.

I wish I had more to offer, but quite honestly I am not a very good pray-er. But I do think it is important not to only approach God as though prayer was another task on our to-do list. I think that reflecting on Ecclesiastes 5 that got me thinking in this direction, that is, that prayer should be worshipful, reverent, full of awe ("awe-full"!), and fearful. "God near to listen..." (v. 1)

Emily said...

Your thoughts are appreciated. It can be good to look at other ways of doing things, re-examining habits, purposes.

Daniel said...

Fasting increases our appetite for God.