Like everyone else these days, I’d do anything for a change of scenery. I’m so hyper-aware of the four walls that surround me at all times that even in my dreams I can pinpoint the exact location of minor stains on my wallpaper.
Yet when expressing my frustration to a friend recently, he suggested that being confined to my apartment needn’t be an excuse not to visit different places — or, for that matter, different dimensions. Over the past few months, he’s been exploring bustling cities, viewing exotic wildlife and going “beyond the limits of the Earth” to visit other planets — all without leaving his bedroom. He says it’s the result of a controlled out-of-body experience known as astral projection.
As Motherboard’s Tamlin Magee reported last month, since the start of global lockdown, astral-projection groups on Reddit (e.g., r/AstralArmy) have seen a surge in membership, either documenting their out-of-body experiences or looking for people to teach them how to use AP to “access” military bases, factories in Wuhan, China, and (of course) Area 51.
These threads also detail the strategies, limitations and hurdles that astral projectors face. For example, many believe it’s impossible to project into the Pentagon because the U.S. government has “astral blockers” that are designed to cause physical pain to anyone trying to visit. “What you call astral projection, the CIA calls ‘remote viewing,’” redditor r/freedomisuponus wrote earlier this month. “If you’re priming your sessions with the intent of gathering classified information, don’t. You’re putting yourself, the Nation and the World at risk.”
Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, astral projection and “psychic spying” were seriously explored by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency as possible weapons against the Soviet Union, and de-classified records from the CIA contain accounts of individuals astral-projecting onto Mars. For the denizens of r/AstralArmy, as well as the dozens of astral-projecting groups on Facebook, the archive of this research serves as both a blueprint of the technique’s possibilities and confirmation that astral projection is a supernatural force that could very well make you a threat to national security.
The vast majority of astral projectors say that the process by which you can project yourself is pretty easy, and in Facebook groups like Astral Projection Community (28,000 members and counting), seasoned veterans often liken projections to the dreams you have when you enter a particularly deep sleep. The group Lucidity 4 ALL provides beginner’s guides to projecting, including guided meditations, breathing exercises and techniques that employ specific isochronic frequencies or binaural sounds, designed to facilitate the body’s disassociation from its consciousness so you can “travel” to a familiar place, like a store, school or park.
In an attempt to take a trip myself, I get in touch with Toronto-based Tommy Hickey, who, while in lockdown, has offered his services to newbies wanting to learn how to astral-project. Almost immediately, he tells me not to expect a transcendent experience. For most newcomers, the biggest hurdle is “fully letting go of everything in your body and your mind; it seems like the easiest thing in the world, but the body stores a ton of emotion and traumas that even we don’t know about,” he explains. He says he’s worked with people who, while wanting to project, are subconsciously “afraid of the unknown, so their bodies will hold onto that fear, which can be a hurdle to [attaining] a higher state of being.”
Hickey says he’s been astral projecting since his childhood, even though he wasn’t aware of what he was doing at the time. He discovered “the different ways my body was feeling and being able to control lucid dreams in out-of-body states by just lying in bed.” He started taking it more seriously in college, where he experimented with psychedelics like DMT while studying Buddhist spiritual traditions.
Since he’s invested more time into astral projection without the assistance of drugs, he says he’s been able to achieve extraordinary feats, including flying, moving through walls and meeting supernatural beings. “I was taught energy work by an astral being who wasn’t human but had familiar human features,” he explains. “They taught me how to create and destroy things with a third eye, and how to focus my energy and create a beautiful landscape.”
Still, he says, while these experiences can certainly feel surreal and fun, they miss what astral projection is really all about. “It’s about recognizing the energy we have and how it makes you feel,” he tells me. “The astral being I encountered was a powerful experience. I recognized a fatherly type of energy, one that was showing me the excess energy I had in my body that I didn’t realize was there. [It helped] me let that all go. There are people who experience the same kind of feeling when they project, but they don’t have to meet a supernatural being to do so. They can have completely different experiences.”
Which is why Hickey is cautious about the projection stories he reads about — especially since some wellness gurus have incorporated it into teachings that are far from free. In his own group, Hickey has had to boot out people who promise to teach new astral projectors tricks and shortcuts to access classified locations or alternate dimensions. “Obviously you can’t ‘fact-check’ them,” says Hickey. “But the thing with projecting is that it’s a highly personal experience, and it’s different for different people. There can be overlaps in experiences, and common things that occur. But that’s not the same thing as someone who says they can take you to a place on the astral plane, or that they can take you to a specific secret location if you pay them hundreds of dollars. That’s not how astral projection works!”
It’s time for my session. Hickey teaches me a series of basic breathing techniques, including the 5-5-5 method (five seconds of breathing in, five seconds of holding and five seconds of exhaling), common in most forms of yoga. A second technique — one that’s at the core of every astral-projection method — involves shutting my eyes and focusing on “the movement of energy” beneath my eyelids, shown “in the form of the “changing shapes and patterns of light.”
Being aware of this, Hickey tells me, is the first step in “being able to let go, and for your body to enter a deep state of relaxation” that would eventually be key to separating consciousness from the body — and, therefore, projection.
Afterward, Hickey leaves me with a final piece of advice: “Don’t be scared about letting go. And remember that the universe and all its energy is built on love, and that astral projection is about removing the emotional and physical blockages in order to embrace that love.”
With all this in mind, I shut off all my screens, turn out the lights and lie in my bed. I shut my eyes, and as I practice the breathing techniques Hickey taught me, focusing on the changing shapes of light with each exhale, I begin to feel myself become lighter. I’m reminded of Hickey’s advice to let my body naturally do its thing, trusting that the universe will protect me from harm. Though it feels like hours, only a few minutes pass, and then those spokes of light begin to construct an image that feels immediately warm, familiar and, most importantly, natural. It’s like I’ve been to this place a million times before.
I can feel my heart racing as the image becomes clearer: the rusted metal chairs, the luminous white menu board, the charred smoke wafting around all of it. It’s my regular lunchtime haunt: the Shalamar Kebab House in East London.
But just as I’m making out the finer details — the old industrial floorboards and well-worn steel grills — I feel a sudden, painful jerk forcing me awake. Hickey refers to this as “slingshotting,” where, after a short, intense projection, consciousness immediately returns and can have visible physical effects. Indeed, my breath is heavier, and small, cold droplets of sweat are dripping down the sides of my face.
I’m still skeptical of astral projection, but I admit that Hickey’s techniques did help to create an extremely vivid depiction of a place I genuinely miss, one that formed much of my social life before the pandemic. And on the off chance it was a genuine astral projection, and I did actually travel across the city for the first time in two months, I’m just glad to know that my favorite spot is still standing, eagerly awaiting my (physical) return.