Astral projection (or astral travel) is a terminology used in esotericism to describe an intentional out-of-body experience (OBE) that considers the existence of a soul or consciousness called an “astral body” that is separate from the physical body and able of traveling outside it throughout the universe.
The concept of astral travel is ancient and occurs in multiple cultures. 19th-century Theosophists promoted the present terminology of ‘astral projection.’ It is sometimes reported in association with dreams, and forms of meditation. Some people have reported perceptions related to descriptions of astral projection that were induced through various hallucinogenic and hypnotic means (including self-hypnosis). There is no scientific evidence that there is a consciousness or soul separate from regular neural activity or that one can consciously leave the body and make observations. Astral projection has been defined as pseudoscience.
There are various ways we can view and interpret astral projection, but the most central point is that it is an experience, a particular kind of experience. No matter how you look at it, astral projection is a modified state of consciousness.
There is one altered state with which we are all very familiar, and that is the dreams we experience when we sleep at night. Dreaming itself is an altered state of consciousness. And, as we see as we progress, dreaming and astral projection are very carefully related states of consciousness.
Though this usage continues to be widespread, the term “etheric travel”, used by some later Theosophists, offers a useful distinction. Some experiments say they visit different times or places: “etheric”, then, is used to represent the sense of being “out of the body” in the physical world, whereas “astral” may connote some alteration in time-perception. Robert Monroe describes the former type of projection as “Locale I” or the “Here-Now”, involving people and places that exist: Robert Bruce calls it the “Real-Time Zone” (RTZ) and describes it as the non-physical dimension-level closest to the physical. This etheric body is usually, though not always, invisible but is often perceived by the experient as connected to the physical body during separation by a “silver cord”. Some link “falling” dreams with projection.
According to Max Heindel, the etheric “double” serves as a medium between the astral and physical realms. In his system, the ether, also called prana, is the “vital force” that empowers the physical forms to change. From his descriptions, it can be inferred that, to him, when one views the physical during an out-of-body experience, one is not technically “in” the astral realm.
Other experiments may describe a domain that has no parallel to any known physical setting. Environments may be populated or unpopulated, artificial, natural, or abstract, and the experience may be joyful, horrific, or neutral. A common Theosophical belief is that one may access a compendium of mystical knowledge called the Akashic records. In many accounts, the experiencer correlates the astral world with the world of dreams. Some even report seeing other dreamers enacting dream scenarios unaware of their more full environment.
The astral environment may also be divided into levels or sub-planes by theorists. Still, there are many different views in various traditions concerning the overall structure of the astral planes: they may include heavens and hells and other after-death spheres, transcendent environments, or other less-easily characterized states.
In the advancing stages leading to the beginning of the path, the aspirant becomes spiritually prepared for being entrusted with free use of the forces of the inner world of the astral bodies. He may then undertake astral journeys in his astral body, leaving the physical body in sleep or wakefulness. The astral trips taken unconsciously are much less important than those made with full consciousness and as a result of deliberate volition. It implies the conscious use of the astral body. Conscious separation of the astral body from the gross body’s outer vehicle has its value in making the soul feel its distinction from the total mass and in arriving at fuller control of the gross body. One can, at will, put on and take off the gross external body as if it were a cloak, and use the astral body for experiencing the inner world of the astral and for undertaking journeys through it, if and when necessary. The ability to make astral journeys, therefore, involves considerable expansion of one’s scope for experience. It brings opportunities for promoting one’s spiritual advancement, which begins with the involution of consciousness.
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