Experience of the subtle realms: Contents
book is an exploration of my personal belief that we live in two worlds at
once, the physical world and the other world. By the physical world I mean the
world of nature and human society. By
the other world I mean non-physical, non-subjective subtle realms of places,
powers and presences; realms that have their own distinctive spatial, temporal
and energetic properties; that are in some respects independent of the
physical world and in other respects in continuous interaction with it.
well as 'subtle realms' many terms can be used to refer to these domains:
the psi world, the matrix
world, the inner world, the tacit universe, the unseen universe, the occult
world, the beyond. The word 'psi'
has been extensively used in parapsychology to refer to extrasensory
faculties. Thus the psi world is a zone of being beyond the reach of the
physical senses. Then there are terms drawn from other cultures and
is the ka world - adapted from the ancient Egyptian concept of the ka
soul, set free from the human body at death to enter the future world.
I used the term 'ka' a great deal in the first edition of this book, as a
generic word for the other world and our experience of it.
It has simplicity, clarity and resonance, and echoes a
great esoteric tradition of the ancient world.
However, I have dropped the use of it in this second edition because
of its unfamiliarity, and have replaced it for the most part with the term
'subtle', which is more relevant and in accord with current usage (Grof, 1988:
Egyptian definitions of 'ka' - as an indwelling divine principle whose
presence saves the soul - had a strong influence on the development of the
doctrine of the Logos in Hellenistic and early Christian thought, and run deep
into the foundations of western culture.
Thus St. Justin (c.100-163 AD), the most important of the apologists of
the second century, propounded his theory of the 'seminal Logos': the
transcendent Word of God implants fragments of the truth in the minds of all
persons of good-will.
was written, in the ancient Egypt of 3000 BC, by a hieroglyph of uplifted
arms, and the letter K by the hieroglyph of a slightly cupped hand.
Among the Semites of 1500 BC, the letter K was 'kaph' - also the word
for the palm of the hand. Via the
Phoenicians, the letter passed into the Greek, then the Roman alphabets. And
it was originally written with its angled arms open to the left, not the
right. 'Ka', with is initial letter K, combines incisiveness of sound with
the symbolism of receptive gesture. This is relevant to the practice of bodily
alignment as a mode of access to the other world - which I describe in Chapter
7, section 5. It also relates to the notion of angles as powers - section 3 in
is the akashic realm - from the Samkhya system of ancient India in which akasha
is subtle matter, vibratory, radiant, full of energy and out of which gross
physical matter evolves. Then there is the chhi universe - from the
Neo-Confucian thinker Chu Hsi for
whom chhi is tenuous non-perceptible
matter or aethereal waves, out of which chi
or solid, perceptible physical matter is formed. Actually, Aikido people today simply use the word 'chi',
rather than 'chhi', to refer to subtle energy.
concept of the etheric world originates in Aristotle's notion of aether:
celestial matter, the fifth element, translucent, bright and incorruptible,
out of which is made the celesial spheres that carry the sun, moon, planets
and stars. The term 'etheric' has been a strong favourite to describe the
other world in nineteenth and twentieth century occult literature
and also in the story of spiritualism since 1848 (Conan Doyle, 1972),
now vigorously revived in the form of modern channelling (Klimo, 1987).
notion of the ether also played a dominant role in the development of modern
science, from the time of Descartes, Boyle, Gilbert and Newton onwards. It
was interred in Einstein's special theory of relativity in 1905. Its
replacement, in the new physics, is in the guise of the implicate order, the
tacit universe (Bohm, 1980, Weber, 1981).
are links, too, with the mana of the
kahunas of Polynesia, a potent supernatural fluid which can be charged into
objects and is an anchor or foothold for presences in the other world; with
the orenda of the Iroquois, manitou
of the Algonquins, wakanda of the
Sioux; with the original meaning of kami
in Japan; and with shamanism (Eliade, 1972).
I find important echoes of my experience in these traditions. But the
touchstone of what I write is felt upon my pulse, encountered by my being,
lived through today.
don't know that we live in two
worlds at once because my evidence is not sufficient to warrant a claim to
knowledge. But it is sufficient
to warrant a claim to belief. The evidence which I recount here is
personal experience, most of it mine, some of it recounted to me directly by
others with the ring of authenticity.
content of the experience is often ambiguous. It is suspended between what
merely seems to be the case, and what really is the case; between an illusory
and a veridical perception. It
is 'as if' I am in two worlds at once, but the other world component could
be something else - a sensation or misperception at the physical level, or a
bit of purely imaginary content.
it is my belief that this ambiguity occurs precisely because there are two
worlds interacting in my consciousness.
Several interrelated effects can occur. I can mistake
this world experiences for other
world experiences, and vice versa. In zones where the two kinds of perception overlap I may not be
clear which is which. I may ignore one kind totally in favour of the other.
What starts out as an ordinary state of consciousness of this world,
may end up as an altered state disclosing the other world.
And what starts out as an altered state may collapse into an ordinary
of all this, I hold to one cardinal principle: if you are aware of an
ambiguous experience in which it is as
if there are other world components,
then it is a good thing to foster and elaborate the ambiguity, rather than try
to reduce it and eliminate it sceptically. Apply first of all a principle
opposite to that of Occam's razor.
of Occam was an English philosopher who died about 1349. Occam's razor is the
principle that the fewest possible assumptions should be made in explaining
anything (Lacey, 1986). So if you have some ambiguous
experience, you should seek to explain it in terms of this world, and
not invoke the extra assumption of some other kind of world. This explanatory
principle often leads to reductionism: claims to extrasensory experience are
explained away in terms of, reduced to, ordinary sorts of experience.
opposite principle is that it is wise to encourage an ambiguous experience to
acquire luxurious growth in the direction of the complex and the occult,
rather than rigorously cut it down to an awareness of the simple and the
obvious. I will call this new
principle Heron's beard.
Heron's beard is not yet an
explanatory principle: it is a principle for the management of an ambiguous
experience. It commends you to
give such an experience the extrasensory benefit of the doubt - to go with it
as if some other worldly phenomena is afoot, to let it develop expansively and
imaginatively. Then notice what
happens to it. Does it collapse
into the obvious after all? Or
does it enhance its claim to be explained in terms of wider assumptions than
apply to ordinary states of mind.
beard is sometimes (but by no means always) paradoxical in its application.
Consider this case. I have an ambiguous experience in which the supposed
subtle world content really is nothing more than a bit of sensation, of
private imagination, or a misperception. There is nothing psi about it. Yet
if I apply Heron's beard to it, then it may actually develop from an ordinary
to an extraordinary, from a sensory to an extrasensory, state of
simple example of this is an ambiguous image before my closed eyes: is it
merely a retinal image, or is it the dawning of a clairvoyant perception of
the other world? Now even if,
when it first appears, it is in fact nothing other than a retinal image, if I
apply Heron's beard to it and imaginatively
foster its development in my consciousness, it may turn
into a clairvoyant window on the subtle world.
you are too committed to the use of Occam's razor, you will cut an ambiguous
experience short,and rush into a premature,usually reductionist,
explanation. Better to indulge
the experience a bit, nurture it and foster it with your attention.
Postpone explanation until the experience declares itself more fully. Go with what seems, let the immediate phenomena unfold.
Elaborate its content, and notice carefully what is going on before explaining
razor goes for a more rapid and sceptical reduction of the ambiguous to the
usual. Heron's beard goes for a more leisurely and imaginative elaboration of
the ambiguous to the unusual. Actually, the two principles are complementary
and need each other. For
sometimes the beard simply becomes a mass of illusory growth, and then you
need the razor to shave it off. But
the rule is: grow the beard before
you decide whether or not it is appropriate to use the razor.
Don't contract before you expand your awareness; and only contract it
if the expansion results in an obvious nonsense.
me systematize this a little bit further.
Suppose I have an ambiguous experience which has some apparent other
world content. Now this other
world content may be illusory (that is, really physical world content) or it
may be genuine. So we have the
Apply Heron's beard to what only seems to be other world content but
really isn't, and as a result it actually becomes
genuine other world content. This
is my example above: Heron's beard turns what at first was only a closed-eye
retinal image into an authentic clairvoyant window.
Apply Heron's beard to what only seems to be other world content but
really isn't, and as a result it becomes quite obvious that it is nothing but
an illusion. In which case apply Occam's razor and strip the illusion off the
physical world content. Thus the
attempt to develop some ambiguous image before your closed eyes into
clairvoyance, may show it up to be what it really is - an ordinary retinal
Apply Heron's beard to what only seems to be other world content but really
isn't, and as a result it becomes more and more illusory, but you don't notice
this. You are now systematically
deluded, desperately need Occam's razor but sadly don't know it. You are in
trouble. Thus you may
persistently imagine that what in fact is nothing but retinal light is a
Apply Heron's beard to what in fact really is other world content, and as a
result it becomes illusory. This is unfortunate, but it probably often
happens. So you get the first glimmerings of a real clairvoyant window on the
subtle world, and when you try to elaborate it you only succeed in losing
it. You then need to apply
Occam's razor quickly and realize you are now seeing
nothing but retinal lights: an altered state has collapsed into an
Apply Heron's beard to what in
fact really is other world content, and as a result it becomes more and more
authentic. Thus you have the first glimmerings of a real clairvoyant window
on the other world, and as you expand your awareness into it, the psi content
becomes much clearer, more detailed, specific and convincing.
You really are seeing another world, and you know it. Occam's razor
Apply Heron's beard to what in fact really is other world content, and
as a result it becomes more and more authentic, but you can't allow yourself
to believe the evidence of your psi capacity.
So you quite inappropriately slash away with Occam's razor and destroy
a real growth of seership. As
a clairvoyant window opens up into more systematic and detailed 'seeing',
you put a stop to it with compulsive scepticism and insist it is pure
the six possibilities given just above can occur and have occurred in my
experience of the Janus-brain state. Understanding
this sixfold repertoire provides a rudimentary canon of inquiry for getting at
the truth of the matter. Numbers
3 and 6 are the pathological parts of the repertoire to be avoided at all
costs in gross form, but are probably bound to occur from time to time to a
greater or lesser degree. Number 3 in gross form is the most pathological.
Number 4 is often due to lack of skill: practice can make it disappear.
Numbers 1, 2 and 5 keep the show on the road.
frequent ambiguity of content keeps me on my toes, exercising vigilance and
discrimination, balancing experience and explanation, expansion and
contraction of consciousness, elaboration and reduction of content, the
growth of Heron's beard with the use of Occam's razor.
Experience of the subtle realms: