For skeptics, astral travel is a controversial notion because of the lack of direct physical evidence. For lucid dreamers, it bears striking resemblances with internally generated wake induced lucid dreams (WILDs).
So, as a skeptic and a lucid dreamer you can imagine where I stand.
But it hasn't always been this way. For years I believed astral projection was a real, obtainable goal. I did everything in my power to achieve it.
Here's what happened when I did.
As a teenager I was set on having out of body experiences.
Through meditation practices, I'd already had some tantalizing experiences of passing through the "vibrational state"; a harsh buzzing sensation which marks the onset of conscious sleep.
Around the same time I began having lucid dreams.
Soon, I'd managed to separate my awareness from my body in bed, and float in my bedroom. Sometimes it was clear I was floating in a dream bedroom. Other times I felt it was absolutely for real (even if it was difficult to see much).
Over time, I had more WILDs, in which I entered my dreams, consciously, from a waking state.
If I didn't imagine a dream scene in time, I'd start dreaming of my bedroom, and then I'd float out my body and out the window. It was as tangible as any "astral projection" experience.
And so it made sense to me that the most likely explanation of all was that these slightly different exit methods were all internally generated dream states.
When I looked at it that way, all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place.
Interestingly, the core experience of astral projection, out of body experiences, sleep paralysis and wake induced lucid dreams are very similar.
It begins when you are half-asleep in bed. You may feel paralyzed. You are aware of lying in bed, yet there are some funny sensations going on.
As you dissociate from your body, you begin to feel as if you're floating. Your mind shuts off awareness from your physical body. As long as you are awake, and your body falls asleep, you will naturally transfer your awareness to a more flexible replica body; a dream body.
You could describe this as a spirit or astral body. Or you could call it your lucid dream body. It's all about perspective.
To carry the perception that you are still paralyzed, or somehow stuck in your body in bed, will almost certainly create a frustrating experience. It may even become scary - especially if you start to dream that evil entities or astral spirits have entered the room. No-one likes a night time intruder.
Those bold enough to "separate" fully can explore the room, pass through walls and windows and even fly out into the night. It's no wonder that this incredibly realistic experience is interpreted as a spiritual one.
Consider the difference between an internal experience (created inside your mind) and an external experience (created outside your mind).
If there's one reliable principle in lucid dreaming, it's that your expectations play a leading role in your experience. This is just one way we can establish for ourselves that it's an internal experience. It's not real.
Equally, during an apparent astral projection experience, you might travel to different astral planes, see layers of ethereal realities shaped by energy and light. Yet one key similarity remains: in astral projection, your thoughts guide the experience. So is it real?
In the same way, if you imagine a friend's house on your astral travels, you will likely zap there in an instant. If you imagine your body back in bed, you will quickly return to it. And if you expect to see the legendary silver chord connecting you to your body, it will materialize.
As lucid dreamers, the expectation principle often works in our favor. We can use it to manifest dream figures and objects, change the scenery, and fulfill our greatest desires. Even if things turn sour and we experience a lucid nightmare, we remain aware that none of it is real and we are safe.
For the astral traveler, the power of expectations can be a major hindrance. Not least because of the direct emotional implications of mingling with the spirit world. One example is from the blogger Erin Pavlina who described her first astral projection experience as terrifying:
Under the effect of sleep paralysis, Erin sensed three other entities in her bedroom, trying to coax her out of body.
She had problems trying to breathe, scream, and free herself from the paralysis. The more she fought it, the more terrified she became, until she eventually woke up.
She later had a nervous breakdown.
Erin believed her spirit was in a literal tug-of-war against the presences in her room (who, incidentally, she could also hear talking about her).
This was bad news for Erin. She was convinced these visions were real. Sleep paralysis can be scary enough, even when you know it's all in your head. Imagine the fear if you truly believe it to be evil visitors from the spirit world.
In other words, with the total lack of scientific evidence for a spirit world, I see no reason to plague ourselves with irrational beliefs that transform our lucid dreams into personal nightmares. Especially if we dabble with sleep paralysis and lucid dream experiences on the sleep-wake border.
To feel safe in your lucid dream explorations, I suggest consciously recognizing that any entities you perceive through sleep paralysis or wake induced lucid dreams be accepted as dream figures. There's no need to draw upon theories of astral projection or out of body experiences.
This calm recognition will help reduce your fear and lead to better lucid dream outcomes.
This is a controversial subject. It touches on that sensitive spot where people hold their personal religious and spiritual views. By suggesting there's no such thing as an afterlife, I may be tearing up your world view.
I hope you choose to remain open-minded to both possibilities. You control your choices, and you control your internal lucid dream experiences. It's the only way you'll be able to feel safe in the dream space.
Erin went on to have many more astral projection experiences and met many more negative entities in the spirit world. Eventually she learned to fight them Buffy The Vampire Slayer-style. Wouldn't it be fantastic, though, if she didn't have to go around in fear, defending herself from demons?
In lucid dreams, there is no need to fear dream figures. In fact, you can very often embrace them emotionally. Given the choice, would you rather fight off a twisted spirit - or embrace is as part of your unconscious self and let the fear melt away?
What do blind people dream about? Can they "see" in their dreams? Take a look at scientific studies into the dreams of the blind, colorblind, and black-and-white dreamers. In 1999, dream researchers at the University of Hartford analyzed 372 dreams of 15 blind people. They found that both the congenitally blind and those who went blind before five years old did not have any visual dreams at all. That's because our dreams are made up of real world experiences and our innermost thoughts, anxieties and desires. So for someone who has never perceived images or light (or can't remember any) their dreams simply can't manifest visually.
Not long ago, scientists at Frankfurt University discovered how to produce lucid dreams with electronic stimulation. It was a world first. And - astonishingly - it worked in non-lucid dreamers 77% of the time. Now you can buy the same technology for yourself. The foc.us V2 - which delivers the proven optimum 40 Hz transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) - was originally developed to increase working memory in video gamers and improve sleep.
As technology continues to move us towards more immersive dreamlike experiences, one can only wonder what digital wonders lay just beyond the horizon of tomorrow. We may also question just how the future of virtual reality will impact the study and practice of lucid dreaming. Are we, perhaps, the last generation to whom lucid dreaming will maintain an appeal?
Jeremiah Morelli is a whimsical fantasy artist and visual storyteller. He places conceptual fairytale creatures in vivid dreamscapes to capture the imagination. He's also a school teacher, and amazingly finds the time and motivation to create this huge gallery of artwork. Such light and dark fairytale paintings make beautiful places to visit in your lucid dreams.
Inspired and named for the notion of Flatland, artist and photographer Aydin Buyuktas has created a series of works where "a space of surprises creates a space that creates surprises." Based on photos of Istanbul, Buyuktas explains: "We live in places that most of the times don't draw our attention, places that transform our memories, places that the artist gives another dimension; where the perceptions that generally crosses our minds will be demolished and new ones will arise. These works aim to leave the viewer alone with a surprising visuality, ironic as well as a multidimensional romantic point of view."
Experts agree that everyone is capable of having lucid dreams. Dreaming itself is a normal function of the mind. We all dream every night, even if we don't remember. And we all achieve conscious awareness while awake every single day. So what does it mean to combine these states? Why, the amazing ability to have conscious - or lucid - dreams. Sounds simple, doesn't it? So why do I keep hearing from people who say they can't achieve their first lucid dream?