The Gentle Art of Slipping into an Alternate Reality

By George A. Boyd ©2022

Q: So many people today seem caught up in an alternate reality. They are lost in conspiracy theories, swept away in cults, or they just believe really strange things. Are there some markers to indicate that someone is slipping into an alternate reality?

A: Perceptual and cognitive changes mark someone entering an alternate reality. Some of these markers that you may see include:

  1. Perceptual anomaly – Things seem strange or different. Your world has changed; you may not be able to put your finger on what has changed.
  2. Derealization – The initial experience of the world seeming strange morphs into a global sense that the world around you is unreal. The actors in the world seem like robots. You may view the world as if it was a matrix-like computer animation.
  3. Depersonalization – As this trance-like migration from reality continues, you may sense your own life seems unreal. You may question the motivations to which you have dedicated your efforts—whether your education or career choices make sense anymore, or if your dreams are really worthwhile to pursue.
  4. Mindset shift – At this step in the journey into an alternate reality, you reach a state of delusional conviction. A demagogue or a cult leader may convince you that you have been lied to—and this person will then promise to tell you the truth that has been hidden from you. They will program you into believing their warped version of reality, so that you look to them to inform you about what is really going on the in world. You may begin to have spurious signs that indicate the truth of what they are saying. You may have delusional “revelations” that prove to you that they are telling you the truth.
  5. Identity shift – At this stage, you will have entered that alternate reality and identify with it. You believe alternative facts about the world you have been told. You now live in the alternate reality and have disidentified with your former life. You now orient your life with new relationships with those who belong to this group, and look to the leader of this group to guide you.
  6. Delusional contagion – When you become established in the alternate reality, you may attack others who do not believe in your new worldview. You may attempt to convert others to join you in your delusional mindset and alternate reality.
  7. Paranoia – If you stay in this state of altered awareness for long enough, you may begin to resort to magical thinking. You believe you can simply wish for what your want and it will manifest. You embrace a feeling that you are omnipotent and can simply create what you want. If people push back on your beliefs, you may feel you are under attack—that others are trying to undermine your movement and drag you back into the matrix—and you can become paranoid at this stage. Alternately, you can continue to believe you are all-powerful; you become grandiose and arrogant.

When people undergo disruptive loss or experience trauma, they may become temporarily uprooted from the established routine of their lives. This can move people into stage three—they are not sure what is true anymore. They question their lives. They question their faith.

It is these people who have had these disruptive experiences that become vulnerable to the demagogues, the cult leaders, the terrorist and hate group recruiters, or the media influencers that introduce them into the mindset, and ultimately, lead them to identification with a movement anchored in an alternate reality.

Q: You mentioned cognitive changes. Can you be more specific with what happens to people’s thinking and belief when they become caught up in an alternate reality?

A: People who are grounded and anchored in their lives have seamless integration between their ego, their Self, and their Soul. The ego is the experiencer of the events of your human life; the Self is the decision maker that decides what path to follow and what goals to pursue; and the Soul expresses its gifts and genius—its super powers—through your life. These three work together: there is little internal conflict and you make progress towards your goals.

As people begin to drift off into an alternate reality, we see a corresponding shift in their cognition—in their thinking and beliefs:

  1. Empirical – Thinking is grounded in observation and experience. Your beliefs are consensually validated; you restrict your beliefs to what you can verify.
  2. Speculative – This type of thinking introduces “what if” and “what might be” scenarios for your consideration. It extrapolates from facts and infers what might be someone’s motivation, or what might be possible if someone did things differently. Used constructively, it can promote positive change or catalyze new insights. Used destructively, it can undermine a person’s sense of identity and meaning—it can attack their ego and their sense of who they are—and this can make people more susceptible to the influence of those who seek to establish them in an alternate reality.
  3. Interpretive – This type of thinking reflects upon the meaning of symbols and events. Symbols are templates of meaning: you can attribute almost any meaning to a symbol. This private interpretation helps you make sense of your world, and enables you to construct a coherent philosophy and a set of congruent values. When you begin to adopt others’ interpretations of symbols and events, you may begin to drift into the mindset established in an alternate reality.
  4. Fixed conviction – One of the signs you have entered the world of an alternate reality is when you begin to have a belief that cannot be verified empirically, and it is not amenable to refutation or criticism. You may consider these convictions as ultimate truths, articles of faith, or sacred revelations that cannot be questioned. If these core convictions have been dictated to you by a demagogue, a cult leader, or a leader of a terrorist or hate group, you may become increasing under their control.
  5. Dissociative – At this stage, you become detached from reality and enter into a trance-like state. Your belief is based on a perception in an altered state of awareness, and may be subject to distortion. If you receive ideas while you are in an altered state of awareness, moreover, you can become extremely suggestible and believe whatever you are told.
  6. Revelatory – As detachment and dissociation with your life and reality is sustained, you may begin to receive communications from a noumenal being—a spirit, a guide, or an angel—or you might receive a purported revelation from the Divine. These types of beliefs have no rational basis and cannot be verified. The most fantastic notions can be conveyed in these encounters with Spirit World.
  7. Identity distortion – At this stage, you adopt a false identity state, divorced from your native grounding in ego, Self, and Soul. You might identify as a nucleus of identity or a spiritual essence that is not aligned with your innate being. In other cases, you might believe a grandiose delusion that you are a world savior or embodiment of another archetype.

In those who embrace conspiracy theories, we commonly see that they tap into stages four, five, and six—many demonstrate fixed conviction and dissociative trance states; some are also having revelations that confirm their delusional beliefs. Cult leaders may additionally induce identity distortion in their followers.

Those who are trying to come back from their involvement with cults and prolonged immersion in an alternate reality may find our Cult Recovery Coaching Program helpful to re-own your life, your genuine values, and your sense of life direction and purpose.

Types of Dissociation and How to Come Back

By George A. Boyd © 2021

Q: How do you comeback to grounded awareness if you remain continually dissociated?

A: It’s important to identify what type of dissociation you are experiencing:

Type one – You are dissociated because of delusional beliefs and disorganized thinking. This type arises from psychosis, and you may need the assistance of psychotherapy and a psychiatrist.

Type two – You are voluntarily keeping your attention in union with an ensouling entity, and you disidentify from your life and your personality. This type of dissociation comes when you identify with an ensouling entity or nucleus of identity and you choose to remain in this state of awareness—you may believe that it is the Supreme Reality and you choose to embody this essence. Followers of Vedanta and Advaita schools of Jnana Yoga practice this type of dissociation, with an aim to realize union with Brahman.

Type three – You remain in an altered state of consciousness to avoid facing a painful life experience or trauma. This type of dissociation is found in those who try to stay high with alcohol or drugs, or those who seek out ecstatic spiritual experiences to avoid focusing on core issues of pain, shame, or fear.

Type four – You maintain a state of consciousness of being present, where it appears that your life unfolds on its own. You stay in the flow state and witness your life occurring without you making any choices. This type of dissociation occurs in those who attempt to remain in a state of mindfulness, and is found among those who practice Taoist and Zen contemplative detachment from life.

Type five – You are so abstracted into mathematical or theoretical modeling of the world that you no longer identify with your life or your Self, but you see them as theoretical constructs or ideas. Those who are philosophers, mathematicians, or physicists can dissociate from their normal lives through abstraction into science and philosophy.

Type six – You identify with a spiritual essence, or with the loving, devotional mindset of a nucleus of identity and become abstracted into union with that spiritual essence. You regard the world from this lens of love and virtue, and you may forget your Self and your life as you live from this consciousness of pervasive love. This type of dissociation is found in saints, and devotees of Bhakti Yoga and traditions anchored in the Transcendental Sphere.

Type seven – You involuntarily identify with a nucleus of identity or ensouling entity when your Kundalini rises and becomes fixed in that spiritual essence. Here your attention becomes dissociated from life and your personality, and you re-identify with this spiritual essence.

At the bottom of several types of dissociation—particularly types one, two, three, four, and six—is the sense that it’s not OK to be in your normal awareness. You feel or believe that it’s somehow unworthy or demeaning to be in this normal state, and you seek to be present in a transcendent state.

Other types of dissociation appear to be trance-like states that arise with deep concentration—these are typical of types four and five. While it might be all right for someone to be in the waking state of awareness in these perspectives, the depth of their contemplation keeps these individuals dissociated while they are engaged “following the Tao” or seeking a deeper layer of truth and meaning.

In two types of dissociation—types one and seven——you experience detachment and dissociation as largely involuntary. You might wish to return to your waking state of awareness, but powerful intrapsychic forces keep you locked in an altered state of consciousness, regardless of what you might wish.

The Possibility of Coming Back from Dissociation

Remaining in altered states of consciousness through dissociation can bring with it a series of untoward symptoms. Among them are:

  • Derealization – this is the sense that the world is unreal.
  • Depersonalization – this is the sense that your life and your personality are unreal.
  • De-motivation – this is the loss of desire to pursue personal goals and dreams.
  • Emotional numbing – this is the inability to feel your feelings.
  • Disembodiment – this is the sense that you are viewing your body from outside from the standpoint of being in your astral body.
  • Mental silence – the experience of absolute silence and stillness in your mind, so that you cannot think.
  • Volitional paralysis – this is the inability to choose or carry out voluntary behavior.
  • Heightened suggestibility – this occurs when your reality-testing mechanism is shut off in an altered state of consciousness, and you come to believe in conspiracy theories and delusional ideas—and follow unquestionably the suggestions of charismatic leaders who come to dictate many aspects of your belief and behavior.
  • Perceptual decoupling – this is the experience of beholding the world from a mythological or mystic viewpoint that is divorced from any practical application in your life.
  • Cognitive disorganization – this is the experience of hearing voices that lie to you about what is real and what your life means, and that construct delusional beliefs.

Among the keys to coming back from dissociation are:

  1. Recognize you are in an altered state of consciousness—either voluntary or involuntary.
  2. Remember the waking state of awareness, and move your attention back to that state.
  3. Notice what comes up as you place your attention in your waking state of awareness—whether you feel it is not OK for you to be there
  4. Process any beliefs you have that make it not OK for you to be in your waking state of awareness, until you can feel complete comfort in being fully grounded and present in your life.
  5. Set criteria for when it is appropriate to be in an altered state of awareness, and delimit the time you spend in these states, so you can balance personal life with your spiritual life.
  6. Address any traumatic or painful issues through effective self-help methods, psychotherapy—or psychiatric intervention, if required. [We teach some of these self-help methods in our intermediate meditation classes, the in-person Mudrashram® Master Course in Meditation and the by-mail and online Accelerated Meditation Program.]
  7. Learn to lower your Kundalini back to the fully grounded state. Those of you who are having difficulty with this may wish to request a Kundalini Recovery Services consultation from us.

Some temporary dissociation is commonly experienced in prayer, meditation, and hypnosis. If you return to normal awareness again after this experience and take the time to integrate what you have learned and discovered, you will strengthen your ability to function as a human being.

If you remain in a dissociated state, however, this can lead to a variety of issues that can disconnect you from your life and detract from your ability to function as a human being. We encourage you to be able to experience and operate in your inner worlds of mind and spirit, but also to be able to live in this world in your authentic human life.

Exploring the Motivational Spectrum

By George A. Boyd © 2021

Have you ever noticed that people approach their activities with different levels of willingness to engage in them? Here are some examples of different motivational mindsets:

  1. Enthusiastic embrace of an activity – you do it joyfully and freely; you look forward to doing the activity.
  2. Encountering difficulty – you may have an initial enthusiasm for the activity, but you experience disappointment in your results from doing the activity—you discover you are not very good at the activity. You may become self-critical, wary and vigilant that others may criticize you or make fun of you. You may try to find out why you encounter these difficulties and try to improve them.
  3. Trepidation – You have reticence to begin and continue an activity. You may not trust your performance or your ability, and you may do it with some anxiety or fear that you will fail or that you may risk hurting yourself.
  4. Avoidance – You have a resistance to do an activity. You find excuses for not doing it. You procrastinate in starting it. You may sabotage your efforts so people won’t trust you to do activity correctly.
  5. Defiance – You stubbornly and defiantly refuse to do the activity. You cannot be persuaded to consent to participate in the action.
  6. Capitulation – You do the activity only because you are coerced, threatened, or intimidated to do the action. You may have genuine dislike for the activity, but you feel you must do it, or you genuinely face negative consequences: violence, abuse, punishment, incarceration, or death.
  7. Surrender – You carry out in response to an inner command or direction you receive from your Soul, from your spiritual Master, or the Divine. You carry out the activity as your duty in service to your Soul or God, in spite of your personal feelings or the opinions of other people.

You may wish to examine which of your current activities fall into each of these categories. You could do a brief inventory to see what activities your truly enjoy and love to do, and those that being up stress and conflict.

The Role of Desire in Motivation

Positive motivation is founded upon desire: you want to do something. Negative motivation is founded upon aversion: you don’t want to do something, but there are consequences for failing to do the action.

People cope with their desires in different ways, depending on whether they can satisfy them directly, whether they are attainable, whether they or other people approve or forbid them, or whether they are attempting to relinquish desires to achieve a state of spiritual transcendence or enlightenment.

You may wish to notice what you desire, and which of the following strategies you are using to fulfill, suppress, or transcend your desires:

  1. Direct action – You have a desire: you act on the desire. No deeper aspect of your psyche or a “Higher Power” hinders you from taking direct action. You bear the full responsibility for the consequences.
  2. Fantasy – You cannot act on your desire due to your circumstances. You may fantasize about achieving what you desire. You may feel envy or jealousy for those who are able to enjoy the desire, but you can’t. You may feel something is wrong with you, because you can’t have what you want, when others can have it. You may engage in a symbolic or substitute activity to vicariously enact the desire. For example, someone might resort to masturbation instead of having a regular sexual partner. In this strategy, you feel frustration and unhappiness.
  3. Taboo – Your conscience forbids you from enacting certain activity. Alternately, those around you may forbid the activity. You may attempt to indulge in the activity secretly. This inner conflict may make you split your perception of yourself into a good, obedient self and a bad, defiant self. You may find that part of your psyche aligns with your values of goodness, truth, and righteousness; part aligns with rebellion and to the sense of entitlement to do forbidden things. Your conscience may criticize, argue with, and punish your bad side; your bad side may feel it is persecuted or under attack, and may redouble its defense of what it desires and its right to have it.
  4. Dissociation – In this strategy, you enter an altered state of consciousness through prayer, meditation, or hypnosis, and identify with a spiritual essence. While you are in this altered state of consciousness, your bad side’s activities may be temporarily suspended. You may disidentify with your ego and your personality, and re-identify with this spiritual essence—you may distance yourself from your former behavior through regarding the part of you that did bad behavior in the past as your sinful self, but now you have abandoned that sinful self, because you have been saved and reborn.

If you remain in these altered states of consciousness for extended periods of time, you may experience dissociation, where you can no longer feel your authentic feelings; depersonalization, where your life no longer seems real; or de-motivation, where your personal desires no longer seem worthwhile pursuing anymore. Instead of acting on your desires, you may instead enact a prescribed lifestyle. If your authentic desires emerge, you may attempt to meditate or pray them away.

  1. Decompensation – At this stage, you experience vivid hallucinations and projection of your repressed desires as intrapsychic demons and devils, which appear to attack you. You are engaged in a pitched inner battle to overcome these resurgences of your desires, which appear to personify in the depths of your mind. It may be difficult at this stage to identify these demons and devils as your own desires, because you have disowned them. Instead, these personifications appear to be part of a universal force of evil—Kal or Satan. Some people may adopt severe austerities at this stage to attempt to suppress this evil they see within them. Some people become psychotic at this stage.
  2. Monastic surrender – You surrender your desire for wealth, sex and sensual pleasure, and to pursue your personal dreams or desires. You may take a monastic vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience. You live a life according to the dictates of the scriptures of your faith at this stage; you may belong to a monastic community. You may engage in isolation to avoid temptations; you may become a hermit or holy wanderer. You spend you day in prayer, contemplation, and meditation. In some religious communities, you may carry out service or ministry. You submit yourself to the guidance of a spiritual mentor, who gives you regular guidance and direction for what you must do.
  3. Agya – Your life, desires, mind, and will are completely surrendered to the Will Divine. You enact this Divine direction in your daily life. Those who become Gurus, Prophets, and spiritual Masters operate from this platform. When you function from this level, you allow yourself to become the instrument for Divine Light, Grace, Love, and Wisdom to express through you. This inner Divinity fully overshadows and controls your life.

You may wish to examine which of these strategies you are using to avoid fulfilling your desires; through psychotherapy and coaching you can sometimes free yourself to embrace your natural desires and let go of the self-torment of strategies two and three—fantasy and taboo.

Those of you who are trying to avoid your desires through strategy four, dissociation—and you have gotten involved in a religious or political cult—can often benefit from a structured program such as our Cult Recovery Coaching Program, which can walk you through the steps to re-own your life, your sanity, and your genuine desires.

Those of you who have moved onto the platform of decompensation—strategy five—may frankly not be reachable though psychotherapy, coaching, or spiritual intervention. If you are functioning at this level, your challenge is to determine whether you seek to dedicate your life completely to God, in which case, you may opt for the wraparound support of a monastic community, or whether you will embrace your authentic human life and its desires again, and come back down to earth.

It may be valuable to determine which of your desires could be satisfied through direct action, and which legitimately need to be deferred—or outright jettisoned; for not every desire of the human heart is noble, worthy, and good. As you reflect upon the motivational spectrum, you may wish to identify healthier ways to achieve your dreams: psychotherapy may help those of you who are deeply entangled in the throes of self-torture and self-sabotage.