This article was published in New Dawn Special Issue Vol 10 No 3 (October 2016)
Kurt Leland is one of today’s most intrepid explorers of the inner planes. A musician and author as well as a visionary, he has written books including Otherwhere: A Field Guide to Nonphysical Reality for the Out-of-Body Traveler and The Multidimensional Human. His latest work is Invisible Worlds: Annie Besant on Psychic and Spiritual Development (Quest Books, 2013). It is an anthology of writings by the Theosophist Annie Besant (1847–1933). Kurt’s website is www.KurtLeland.com.
I met Kurt during his visit to the Theosophical Society’s American headquarters in Wheaton, Illinois, in the fall of 2011. I was immediately impressed with the depth of his knowledge of, and experience in, the astral and mental realms, which are for most people little more than vaguely understood concepts. He is one of the most lucid and intelligent writers on the inner planes working today. The following conversation was conducted by e-mail in April 2016.
RICHARD SMOLEY (RS): A lot of people these days are interested in developing their psychic powers. What advice would you give them?
KURT LELAND (KL): The mind tends to conceptualise a term such as psychic powers, thinking of them as something other than normal, from an unknown realm or level of being – something to be afraid of or acquired by force of will or perpetual practice. Typically such powers come under headings such as telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance (seeing auras), second sight (perceiving ghosts), remote viewing, astral travel, even magical influence over people and events. Some people want to prove to themselves and others that such things are possible and they can do them, not once only (spontaneously or by accident) but regularly (at will or on demand).
However, I think of psychic powers as the natural concomitant of living within and evolving our subtle bodies:
An etheric body, having to do with life force and health and offering us the ability to perceive such things as nature spirits, fairies, the recently dead, even angels, as well as to sense events hours or days before they occur;
An astral body, having to do with desire and emotion, and allowing us to experience our dreams and visit the dead in the afterlife;
A mental body, having to do with our thoughts and beliefs and allowing us to perceive and travel within a world of ideas and sometimes to contact and learn from them; worldviews of famous dead people;
A causal or soul body, allowing us to know our past lives, meld minds with others, and perceive and alter the forces in play that create the events of our present life;
And other bodies whose abilities are less easy to describe.
My advice to people who want to develop so-called psychic powers is not to target specific name-brand abilities, but rather to develop the subtle bodies and see what shows up. The will- and proof-based approach often leads to frustration and feelings of failure. The approach of developing the special senses of subtle bodies can unfold naturally and organically and enrich our lives with a multitude of adventures in consciousness we may never have heard of before.
For example, one of my first psychic experiences was sensing the fear of a tree in a wooded area in my neighbourhood after I’d climbed it. At seventeen, I didn’t know trees could feel fear, and I didn’t know this was a psychic experience – until I went back to climb the tree a few days later and it was no longer there, having been bulldozed down to clear the land for a new house. That was an etheric-body experience, not one that could be easily sought after or named or conceptualised. It just showed up, indicating a possible avenue to explore, and gradually developed into a more or less constant, wonderfully enriching awareness of the beingness and inner life of trees.
RS: How did you develop your own abilities?
KL: My grandfather on my mother’s side introduced me to the writings of the famous American psychic Edgar Cayce when I was ten or eleven years old. My grandfather knew how to read palms and had some predictive ability, but renounced palm reading when he accurately predicted the age of onset of a serious illness in one of my aunts. Though he taught me the mechanics of palm reading, I can’t say I had any notable psychic experiences when I was a child – yet, after reading about Cayce, I desperately wished for such experiences.
It wasn’t until I met a woman in college who was a natural psychic from birth that I began regularly having experiences of my own. She had recurring dreams that came true, including dreams about meeting me before we both arrived on campus in the fall of 1976. She knew when people close to her had died, scolding her mother for withholding the information so as not to bother her at school. We developed a telepathic rapport that climaxed with my inventing a place in my imagination that she could see and describe back to me. Whenever I added anything to it, she could tell me what it was. Somehow in the process of hanging out with her, my own abilities began to develop. She had nothing to teach me, she knew nothing about how her abilities worked. Yet somehow my being near her opened up new possibilities for me. Now I understand she was awake and aware within, and could use the senses of a subtle body I had little or no access to – perhaps the etheric body – and that her being awake in that body somehow stimulated mine.
Otherwise, I’ve never had a formal teacher. I learned much from books, especially the Seth material channelled by the American medium Jane Roberts. When I began to experiment with the Ouija board and automatic writing in the fall of 1980, there was no evidence that I had any talent for such things. Yet I was persistent. It was as if I never stopped knocking on the door, and finally someone let me in. I met my inner teacher by means of these experiments about six months later.
It certainly seems that my college friend represented nature and I represented nurture. But using the Theosophical framework of subtle bodies, there may be another explanation that encompasses both the notion of being born psychic and that of developing psychic abilities. If we’ve developed any of our subtle bodies in a past life to the point of being able to use their inner senses for clairvoyant (seeing) or projective (travelling) abilities, then we can carry those capacities with us into a subsequent life. The real issue is how soon we recall and realise them – a process I call self-remembering. By this light, my friend self-remembered her use of the etheric body very early and therefore seemed to be a born psychic, whereas I self-remembered my use of this body much later and seemed to develop psychic abilities.
To extrapolate from this, any spontaneous psychic experience may indicate the possibility of self-remembering the use of a particular body, as in my case with the fearful tree. The challenge is not so much developing psychic powers as finding a way to recall the proper use of one or more of our subtle bodies. Even so, there may be a leading edge of our growth – a body we haven’t mastered yet, which challenges us to develop new inner-sense abilities and the powers of awareness and action within that body.
RS: Why would you say people today feel so distant from the unseen, subtle levels?
KL: They’re locked in their mental bodies, a result of family and social conditioning along the lines of scientific materialism, rationality, scepticism, and agnosticism. An overdeveloped mental body is like an overdeveloped physical body – it’s muscle-bound; the focus on increasing size and strength (mathematical, linguistic, and reasoning abilities) has reduced its flexibility or receptivity. The result is alienation from the physical and emotional bodies on one side and from the soul or causal body on the other. The mental body becomes like a fearful teenager hiding in his or her bedroom, with thoughts speeded up through overstimulation by social media, electronic devices, and computer games, and dominated by what one spiritual teacher calls “the tyranny of likes and dislikes.” This results in anxiety, indecisiveness, and black-and-white thinking. To the mental body isolated in this way, the physical body seems bent on betraying us, there’s no soul to guide us, and the whole purpose of life seems to be managing our anxiety.
The physical body needs quality sense experience – exercise, healthy food, beautiful surroundings, bare feet on the grass or beach, a tempered yet satisfying sex life. The emotional body needs authentic heart-to-heart connection with others. The mental body needs the experience of a community of others who share our beliefs and values. The causal body needs a sense of usefulness and purpose, usually along the line of service to humanity. When the subtle bodies are nurtured in these ways, the boundaries between them soften and we start using them for more than we normally do (acting, feeling, thinking, and serving). That’s when our spiritual powers begin to unfold. We start seeing with the eyes of each body, its inner senses, providing new ways of looking at the world we normally experience and glimpses of the invisible worlds beyond. Eventually we learn to travel in those worlds.
RS: One major issue with psychic powers is self-delusion. You see something uncanny, either visually or with the mind. It seems real. But sometimes it isn’t. How does a person develop discrimination with such things?
KL: There are many tests and challenges in developing accurate perception from the perspective of each subtle body. I’ve experienced them as a graded course set up by inner teachers and guides, unfolding in projections from the dream state over decades. One example would be learning to identify the same guide under different appearances. Another would be learning the difference in inner-sense impressions associated with a dream character, a deceased individual, a guide, a nonhuman entity, and so on.
In Invisible Worlds, my anthology of Annie Besant’s Theosophical writings on psychic and spiritual development, she says that the more excited you are about what you’ve perceived, the less likely it is to be real – for example, seeming to receive a mission from some high being. A real experience of receiving such a mission would come with a sobering sense of responsibility and self-examination about what might be required and how to achieve it, not an orgy of self-congratulation over one’s putative spiritual status.
RS: Another area of interest is astral travel – the ability to go out of the body in a trance state. Could you start by telling us a bit about this?
KL: I’m interested in your use of the phrase trance state. Some people may project in that way. My adventures along these lines generally begin from a dream.
In its simplest form, astral projection is an out-of-body experience in which the etheric body separates from the physical body in a twilight state between waking and sleeping, often accompanied by so-called sleep paralysis (indicating that one’s consciousness is no longer primarily focused in the physical body and so can’t control its movements), a loud vibration during separation, and the ability to view the physical body from a vantage point several inches or feet away. Such experiences are often spontaneous rather than intentionally produced, as a trance state would be.
Some people report that they can free up a higher body, such as the astral, mental, or causal body, through meditative states, and go travelling on the physical plane or some higher plane. I suppose an intentionally produced trance state, as by self-hypnosis, would be just as effective. But it seems to me that the actual mechanism of so-called astral travel is that we shift the focus of our consciousness from one layer of our energy field (aura) to another. Each layer is actually one of our subtle bodies. When such a shift is successful, we can perceive the plane associated with that body and perhaps travel on that plane. Thus the word astral in the term astral travel is used in a general way to describe any experience in a nonphysical body.
For most people, the hope or aim is to travel in the astral body on the physical plane to distant places or people. A related ability is remote viewing, which places you on location without the sense of travel. I suppose the only difference between projection and travel is that the first term emphasises the act of leaving the location of the physical body and the other only the experience away from the physical body. Not everyone recalls the actual exit from or return to the physical body. In the case of shifting the focus of consciousness to a different layer of the energy field, there may be no sense of exit or travel from one plane or location to another. You’re just there, wherever it is.
RS: Is it a good idea to learn to do astral travel?
KL: I believe astral travel to be an inevitable outcome of the process of developing our subtle bodies. First, we have what Besant calls a sheath. It allows us to act at the physical, feel in the emotional, think in the mental, and serve in the causal levels of being. Then we develop a body, which begins to perceive on the physical, astral, or mental planes. We all have a well-developed physical body in that sense. Our dreams indicate that we have an astral body capable of perceiving on the astral plane. Mental and causal body dreams are less common. Finally, we develop a vehicle of consciousness, capable not only of perceiving, but also of moving through every level of the physical, astral, mental, or some higher plane. Lucid dreamers and people who can project on the astral plane, knowing the difference between dream characters and locations and the actual scenes, dwellers, and phenomena of the astral plane, are developing the astral body as a vehicle of consciousness.
My first projections took place when I was fourteen. They terrified me and I avoided them for several years. Subsequently, I learned to develop my etheric, astral, and mental bodies under the guidance of teachers encountered in such projections. Forty-five years later, I think it safe to say that I have fully functional vehicles of consciousness on the physical, astral, and mental planes.
RS: Whom would you advise not to undergo psychic development?
KL: Anyone who is anxious, depressed, or prone to exaggerated states of enthusiasm or elation or to obsessive or addictive behaviour. These indicate strains in the relationship between the bodies and the occupying consciousness that we call ourselves. Such strains need to be overcome (along the lines recommended in connection with what our bodies need) before psychic development can be pursued safely.
The problem with anxieties and fears is that they attract what we’re afraid of, resulting in interactions with undesirable scenes, dwellers, and phenomena of the astral plane. Undesirable interactions may also occur with depression. The problem with enthusiasm or elation is that it makes everything we experience seem more glamorous than it really is, resulting in self-deception or deception by prankish or malevolent astral entities. Obsessive or addictive behaviour can result in our coming under the control of negative entities, as in possession.
In the end, each of these situations is nothing more than a challenge to be overcome in the development of the bodies. We need to learn how to maintain a balanced, clear-headed perspective as we investigate the possibilities of these bodies. The real shame is when we do so prematurely and frighten ourselves off from further exploration because some passing mood has distorted our perception or attracted unpleasant experiences or made us seem foolish to ourselves or others.
RS: Is there a connection between the astral level and the post-mortem state?
KL: I like to think of the astral plane as comprising a number of realms or zones. One such realm is the astral Dream Zone, where our dreams ordinarily take place. Another is the astral Afterdeath Zone, where the initial stages of our journey through the afterlife take place. I’ve explored both realms for many years in projections from the dream state. They’re similar in that their primary function is dealing with emotions and desires. Dreams frequently allow us to satisfy our unfulfilled desires and experience our unexpressed emotions, such as fear, lust or anger. We purge such things through our dreams so we don’t have to act them out on the physical plane. In the astral stage of the afterlife, we perform similar purges of a lifelong accumulation of unfulfilled desires and unexpressed emotions, thus rising from darker to lighter experiences of this realm, as in the Catholic notion of purgatory.
On the mental plane, there is also a Dream Zone and an Afterdeath Zone. These realms involve exploring our lives in terms of learning and growth – what we have or haven’t learned among the lessons our soul may have intended for us. They’re full of exciting opportunities for exposure to the world’s great minds and cultural achievements. For example, I once visited an area in which it was possible to experience any opera from the vantage point of each of its characters. In the mental Afterdeath Zone, we review our life on earth and fulfil the plans for learning and growth that we were blocked from implementing there, because of lack of courage or extenuating circumstances. This can be a joyful, even heavenly experience.
RS: Can you contact dead people through psychic means?
KL: I believe this is possible and I’ve experienced it, though not in the way most people expect. I don’t ordinarily perceive people who have passed on in the auras of others or as ghostly presences hanging about with a desire to give messages. Nor do I go into a trance state so that others can communicate through me with people who have died. When I channel, the being who works through me is almost exclusively the inner teacher I call Charles. I suppose he could be described as a dead person, since as far as I know he’s not currently embodied on the physical plane.
But I think you mean dead relatives and friends. My interactions with the latter take place in astral projections, usually from the dream state. I visit them in situ, wherever they may be in their progression through the afterlife, from the death of the current body to their preparation for reincarnation. Usually these are people I have a close association with.
For example, I tracked the afterlife progress of one of my uncles through several stages over a course of eight years – his orientation to the afterlife, the beginning and completion of his long and detailed life review, and his being informed of certain lessons to be learned in his next life just prior to rebirth. Though I observed my uncle without communicating with him, others among the dead have shared with me their thoughts and feelings about their earth life and post-mortem existence. One was a counselling client who died of a reaction between prescription and recreational drugs and was passing through a rehabilitation program on the Other Side because his death had been classified as an unpremeditated suicide.
I’ve rarely gone looking for people whom I’ve never met at someone else’s request – though Charles has sometimes commented on the progress of a client’s deceased loved one through the afterlife. This is not my favourite kind of work, since some elements of the afterlife can seem distressing to people who think only in terms of happiness in heaven
RS: Why is so much of society today dead set against believing in the existence of the psychic realms?
KL: Religious teachings in many cultures indicate that such things are at best distractions on the spiritual path and at worst the product of malevolent beings such as the Christian devil. Scientific materialism has persuaded us that psychic realms, spiritual paths, malevolent beings, and the devil are nothing but superstitions. Yet I believe such things are what the Buddha called views. The point isn’t to dismiss one view in favour of another, but to try each on for size, to meditate on it, and investigate and explore where it takes us, what it does for us.
The scientific view that the physical body is a machine that gradually wears out and needs to be ‘fixed’ by an ever-expanding medicine chest of only partially effective remedies isn’t terribly hopeful or inspiring, though it provides the opportunity to explore the function and dysfunction of body parts in relation to each other, time, and illness. The metaphysical view that the body is a conscious entity that needs care, that it could be our friend, that we might have ways of learning from and dialoguing with it, is unprovable in scientific terms, but can yield favourable results when explored as a provisional belief or object of meditation, to be lived as if it were true to see where it takes us. Notions of an etheric, astral, mental, or causal body could be treated in the same way.
RS: One of your books is called The Multidimensional Human. In what ways are we multidimensional?
KL: I believe reality consists in as many descriptions of it (views) as we have tolerance for. Each view opens up new possibilities for exploration – new dimensions – and none absolutely excludes another. I’ve gotten the best results in my personal exploration of psychic and spiritual development by adopting the Theosophical view of multiple bodies, each fitted to a particular plane of existence by a specialised set of inner senses that carry us from sheath to body to vehicle of consciousness. The planes themselves are ranged along a continuum of human potential from lowest physical to highest spiritual, and each body and its corresponding level of being is an adventuresome dimension to be explored as we develop our multidimensional humanity – our ability to respond appropriately to each other and to other realms and beings for the mutual benefit of all.
Kurt Leland’s Spiritual Orienteering website is www.KurtLeland.com, which lists his books and services.
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