How to develop your Astral Senses - or breaking free from Fantasies
The most essential dependency we encounter as magicians is our ability to extend our sensual ‘reach’ beyond the physical realm. Wether we call them ‘siddhis’ or ‘astral senses’ - without being able to open our senses to input from beyond the physical realm any spirit will struggle to directly connect with us.
A common misunderstanding is that these ‘astral senses’ would be different or separate from our physical senses in any way. However, truth is there is no difference in nature between our everyday physi cal senses and what many magicians call ‘astral senses’, i.e. our ability to interact with objects and beings beyond the physical realm. Rather than two different sets of senses we really only have one - which can be trained to operate on various and actually the most amazing levels.
Maybe you think this is just common sense - which is great to hear, as it took me almost two decades to realise this simple misunderstanding. Like many for years I was trying hard to discover and develop ‘new’ senses within myself, rather than reconnecting and refining with my existing ones...
Now, what follows from the insight of the unity of our senses, once we have truly understood it, is this: a great magical teacher will focus on the development of the physical senses of their Neophyte just as much as their ability to reach into the non-physical realms. In fact, a great magical teacher might disappoint the Neophyte in no insignificant ways by handing them over an egg as their first magical paraphernalia - instead of a wand or dagger.
The egg will be for the Neophyte to hold it in their hand for an entire day, while they follow all their everyday activities. Experience tells that quite some eggs will break before one of them will make it through an entire day without a crack in its shell - sheltered safely by the Neophyte’s hand from dawn to dusk. And come that night the Neophyte will wander over this feeble thing called consciousness that connects their fingers and mind - requiring so many attempts to execute such a simple task as protecting an egg...
After many such exercises the Neophyte will realise a strange paradox: They discover the simultaneous fragility and strength of their senses. A muscle can exert significant power on an object, but only for a very short time. Our fingers can feel the most delicate differences in surfaces before they grow numb. Our mind can be busy with the most complex of tasks when a simple phone call makes it drop everything... Our role with regards to our own senses is to be both a protector of them and to be protected by them. It is one of true co-dependency.
A great magical teacher will craft the journey of experiences for his Neophyte in a way that they learn to respect and support both states of their senses - fragility and strength - as well as the need to constantly shift between these two. This is true for muscles just as much as it is for taste buds. It is true for our eyes when looking into the physical just as much as when looking into the astral realm. And slowly the Neophyte will learn how to induce and harness both states, focussed attention and deep relaxation of their senses.
So, in order to travel out into the realms of non-physical reality we need to break free from the prison - not of our body - but of our intellectual minds. In fact the old Gnostics where both right and wrong when they spoke of the body as the jail of the spiritual man. Because long before the body might turn into a problem on our spiritual journeys it is certainly our minds that will stall any progress - unless we learn how to deal with them appropriately.
Our intellectual minds today do not resemble the minds of our Gnostic forefathers in any way. A brain raised on a diet of internet-reality, TV, social networking and video games - sheltered from most physical sensual experiences a human would naturally make when living closer to nature - simply functions in its very own way. Our situation today is very different from the one of our forefathers two thousand years ago. Thus the Neophyte’s journey needs to adjust accordingly. Learning how to rediscover our physical senses in order to extend them into the astral realm slowly, is part of this necessary adjustment.
"We think we are our memory of our past actions, attitudes, and remembered records. That's not who we are, but it takes a lot of learning and energy to discover that, just as it took a lot of energy and learning to build that picture for ourselves in the first place. The energy required for being who we really are - full persons - comes from burning all the bullshit beliefs you built your mind out of. Fortunately, since one's mind is a constant bullshit generator, there is unlimited supply of fuel." (Blanton, Radical Honesty, p.230-23)
Today the grave we are buried in alive isn’t our physical bodies any more; it is our intellectual minds. The jail we imprisoned ourselves in are all the ideas about who we are and ought to be that we introjected and co-created for ourselves. The metaphor of a ‘jail’ couldn’t be any more fitting as all that these theoretical ideas and concepts do is to isolate us from present moment, sensual experience. Rather than using the gift of our senses to realise what is around us, we block them off and shield ourselves from them, only to wrap ourselves up in the two-dimensional ideas about what should be around us.
So the challenge the Neophyte needs to overcome in the atrium of the temple is to break free from the jail of their intellectual mind - and then to stay free of it from the rest of their life. The trick in doing so, is not to try to stop the ‘interpretation machine’ that is our intellectual mind from working, but to apply it to the world in a different way.
Traditionally in the Western world we are taught to think of our minds as the central hub of our identity - and of our senses as peripheral interfaces that occasionally feed new information into this central processing machine. Freeing ourselves from the bullshit jail we locked ourselves into, means turning this understanding upside down. It means giving up on a stable sense of identity and reconnecting with our senses in an genuine, unfiltered way. Thus what we perceive isn’t immediately occupied and interpreted by who we believe we are or ought to be in relation to this new information, but we begin to take sensual information for what it truly is: a constant mode of discovery - neither good nor bad - and an ongoing adventure into the world around us. The moment we stop protecting the artificial construct of our identity, we are free to re-engage with our senses in a completely different way. The world changes from an assault machine on our egos into an exploration machine - into non-judgemental, unfiltered, present-moment reality.
Learning how this difference feels - sensually - from within us when we engage with the world is the trick. All it takes is to swap the position of our senses from the periphery of our identity to its centre…
Gustav Meyrink in his initiation-novel ‘The Green Face’ provides a symbolic illustration of an purportedly ancient Kabbalistic technique called ‘The Changing of the Lights’ (‘Die Umstellung der Lichter’). A more ritualistic approach is offered in the practices of the German magical lodge Fraternitas Saturni that aim to exchange the positions of Saturn and Venus within the practitioner. On a non-symbolic level the procedure refers to the act of replacing one’s mind with one’s heart and vice versa. What it results in - amongst other more occult implications - is a human who has moved his mind from the dark and secluded space within one’s skull to the actual surface of contact with the world: into the tip of their fingers, the tip of their tongue, the sight of their eyes… It means replacing second-hand interpretation of data with its actual experience.
Well, here is how I think we can use a similar approach as the Kabbalists used when they aimed to ‘replace the inner lights’ in order to break from the bullshit jail of our minds. Only this approach doesn’t require rituals but the courage to explore it in everyday life. I am thankful for Brad Blanton to outline the concept in his wonderful book ‘Radical Honesty’ quoted above.
It all begins with accepting that there are only four different modes of activity for our mind and senses to work in. They can be kept busy understanding 1) what happens within our bodies or 2) outside of our bodies. If they aren't involved in these two modes of experiences they are either busy 3) fantasising or 4) worrying. Now, these last two points need some defining - as they can mean many things to many people:
• Fantasies: basically this is the true bullshit fuel. Fantasies here are any concepts of reality that aren't directly connected to an authentic, direct experience but constructed by theorising (thinking, reading, debating, etc.) about a potential past, future or present experience. Thus you should feel free to include all types of theories, philosophies, doctrines, morales, ethics and all other constructs in this category that are supposed to teach us how things are 'ought to be'. Of course feel free to also include this book in this bullshit category. If what I am sharing doesn't build a bridge to real and concrete experiences on your end, reading this is a waste of time.
• Worries: Well, worries are closely connected to fantasies on most occasions. It is rare that we truly worry about something that actually takes place in the present moment. I.e. 'fear of dying' would be an acceptable worry when our car starts to spin in full speed on slippery tarmac; or 'fear of loss' when my toddler has figured out how to open the front gate and is just scrambling out on the main street... Fortunately occasions for acceptable types of worries are rather rare. Yet, because our minds love worrying this gives them plenty of time to delve into what I call 'phantom worries’. In this category you can find all sorts of concerns that you or others nurture and that are mostly fed by fears of not living up to the unrealistic fantasies we have created in the first place.
Now, here is an overview on the four modes of activity of our mind and senses:
Let's redraw this chart and model the true scale of these four activities as they take place in most of our everyday lives:
Looks different, right? The good news is - we just discovered two gigantic fuel tanks. I.e. energy that we charge into worries and fantasies all day long. The moment we stop fuelling our energy into these useless tanks, we release an incredible amount of power and engagement back into our actual lives. In theory it is wonderfully simple: Kill your fantasies, kill your worries and release the energy back to your actual life.
The unfortunate piece of news is that most of our fantasies have been around since our earliest childhood. Over time most of us learned to mistake them for reality. It means the ‘fuel tanks’ are locked and the lock is called 'habit'... So let me share a drawing of how life could look like once we break open this lock and kill our (reflecting, thinking, judging, inner-dialoguing, worrying, concerning, just-wishing-the-best, hoping, shaming and fearing) habits.
Once we break free from the bullshit jail we resolve the boundary between ourselves and the present moment we are a part of. We begin to experience anything that happens within or around us in real time. Of course we will never be able to shut down our fantasies or worries completely. They will always form part of the background of our lives. However, we can ensure that they do not become more important than what is actually happening right now.
Or in other words, once the lights are exchanged, presence always is the most important experience. A Neophyte who had the privilege of being introduced to magic by a teacher in such a way has received an invaluable gift. Not only will they develop and strengthen their physical senses and engagement with the physical world. Yet, they will also understand from the very get-go that true magic is a tool that fosters and expands the experience of presence - not a secret escape-machine from what might seem the most challenging thing in life: to bear and co-create our own destinies.