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, is astral projection real?
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, in a completely different location to where I went to sleep. Other times I felt it was absolutely for real (even if it was difficult to see much) and I was aware of being in my own room.
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 and real as any "astral projection" experience I've ever heard about.
And so it started to make sense to me that all of 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. But I'm quite sure this is not a real body.
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. This is a true mark of sleep paralysis.
One you "separate" from your body in bed, you 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 and an external experience:
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 and personal experience.
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.
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.
These are all descriptions of "out-of-body" induced lucid dreams.
Is belief in astral projection, as a real, spiritual phenomenon, somehow detrimental or damaging? Why can't people just believe whatever they want to believe?
Of course, you can. But I have good evidence to show how such an erroneous belief can actually harm you and detract from your experience of lucid dreaming.
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 (both conscious and unconscious) 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:
Because of her spiritual belief system, Erin was convinced these visions were real. Sleep paralysis can be scary enough, even when you know it's all in your head. Imagine the intensity of the fear if you truly believed these were evil beings from a spirit world.
(Incidentally, if you do suffer these kinds of frightening experiences, I recommend Ryan Hurd's Sleep Paralysis: A Guide to Hypnagogic Visions and Visitors of The Night.)
In other words, I see no reason to plague ourselves with irrational beliefs that transform lucid dream opportunities into hellish nightmares.
To feel safe in your lucid dream explorations, I suggest you consciously recognize that any entities you perceive through sleep paralysis be accepted as dream figures.
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 with negative entities in what she describes as 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 supernatural demons?
In lucid dreams, there is no need to fear negative dream figures. In fact, you can very often embrace them emotionally and have a personal breakthrough. Given the choice, would you rather fight off a twisted spirit - or embrace it as part of your unconscious self and let the fear melt away forever?
If we're completely honest, lucid dreaming isn't really known for being the most social of interests. In fact, often it's a lone pursuit - just you, your dream journal and the landscape of your mind. But this technique called PAL (or Partner Assisted Lucidity) breaks down that wall and turns lucid dream exploration into a social event.
Members of our lucid dream forum have been asking how to create dream characters in lucid dreams. The most common problem is having characters who look nothing like they should. Or they seem disinterested in your company. Or they fail to show up on command altogether. So, how to combat this? It's a matter of finding creative solutions that bypass logical expectations.
To lucid dream, I recommend being able to remember at least one vivid dream per night. That will boost your self awareness in dreams (making lucidity more likely) and also means you can actually remember your lucid dreams. Which is nice. Here are four detailed tips on how to remember your dreams more frequently. And if you don't think you dream at all - trust me, you almost certainly do. It takes an extraordinarily rare sleep disorder to deprive someone of dream sleep.
It is estimated that these wise and wily Indians have been using mugwort in their healing and ritual practices for 13,000 years, where it is known as the ‘dream sage’. They use the herb to promote good dreams, which they consider an essential aspect of normal human functioning! But that’s not all...
Silene Capensis has been used for millennia by the Xhosa shaman of the river valleys in the eastern cape of South Africa, where it is known as Undela Ziimhlophe or 'white paths'. It's fragrant white flowers open only at night, when they emit a fragrant and almost hypnotising aroma. Also known as African Dream Herb or Ubulawu, Silene Capensis induces spectacularly vivid dreams - yet has never entered the mainstream and remains a fringe taste within western culture.
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?