Pinch myself and say I am awake once an hour.
Look at my hands, count my fingers.
Look at a clock (or a watch).
Look away, look back.
Stay calm and focused.
Think of a door.
This, according to the hugely popular Netflix series Behind Her Eyes, is how one might learn to astral project their Skittle-colored soul outside of their body and, if they’re feeling especially like Emma Watson in The Bling Ring that day, take up residence inside the vacated body of another astral projecting soul. Actually, let me rephrase that: It’s not just how one might learn to astral project in Behind Her Eyes, but how three out of four main characters learn to float their astral selves all over England while their physical bodies lie peacefully in bed. Thirty-six words of scribbled-down instruction to master a millennia-old spiritual phenomenon—this is the power of a binge-worthy Netflix thriller.
In the melodic trickle of Adele’s (Eve Hewson) voice, the directive to follow these six easy steps for curing night terrors is too intoxicating to resist. That allure is, in part, how our protagonist Louise (Simona Brown) gets tricked into evacuating her soul from her physical form, leaving her vulnerable to astral possession by the end of the series. At a kava bar in North Carolina, an expert I’ve gotten in touch with who calls himself the Water Magister will tell me that this is a highly improbable end to Louise’s mortal life due to something called “the silver cord” ... but we’re not quite there yet.
The astral projection and lucid dreaming in Behind Her Eyes is a little silly, a lot technicolored, and perfectly plotted. In the 2017 novel of the same name, Sarah Pinborough weaves subtle foreshadowing throughout the story to clue observant readers in to the fact that, though it may be hitting all the typical psychosexual beats, Behind Her Eyes is not your grandmother’s thriller. With the added benefit of visuals, the Netflix series serves up those hat tips toward the paranormal as early as the premiere, when a woman named Louise with a pathological inability to mind her own damn business begins having an affair with a man named David (Tom Bateman) at the exact same time she befriends his lonely wife, Adele. The story’s triple-twist ending plays out as follows (spoilers ahead, if you couldn’t already astrally deduce that): First, Adele always seems to know things she shouldn’t because she’s actually been astral projecting her spirit out of her body throughout her entire marriage to David; second, oops, Adele isn’t actually Adele, because years ago her body was inhabited by her best friend Rob (Robert Aramayo) after she taught him how to astral project, and he began coveting her picture-perfect life and fiancé; third, oops once more, because in the series’s very final moments, Rob-Adele deploys another dual-astral-projection sneak attack, this time taking over the body of Louise, who’s also been taught to astral travel, so that when David eventually marries Louise, he is actually once again just marrying Rob ...
It is a wild ride. And while it’s certainly not the first time lucid dreaming or astral projection has been used as a plot device, it is the first time it’s been deployed so casually. Behind Her Eyes wasn’t billed as a fantasy series or a science-fiction series; it doesn’t spend 162 minutes painstakingly laying out the infrastructure of how to build a triple-decker lucid dream like in Inception, or bring in a problematic Ancient One to explain astral projection’s limitless possibilities for good and evil like in Doctor Strange.
Behind Her Eyes is just a frothy thriller for which astral projection happens to be the driving force behind the plot, deployed as no more unusual a trait in its main character(s) than Amy Dunne’s narcissism or Villanelle’s natural prowess as an assassin. The final twist—and then the other final twist, and also the final final twist—suggest that we really should have suspected this homicidal Freaky Friday astral body swap all along. How else to explain all those POV shots from the ceiling moldings, or that blue light that shimmered around the edge of Louise’s apartment every time she and David took their tops off, or Adele’s heroin habit, or any number of other bits that just didn’t quite add up if astral projection wasn’t at play here.
So, the question isn’t whether Adele’s (and Rob’s, and Adele-Rob’s, and Louise’s, and Louise-Rob’s) astral projection makes sense within the world of Behind Her Eyes—it does, and I’m willing to stake my astral life on it—but whether the astral projection of Behind Her Eyes makes sense within our world. A world where astral travel is a commonly accepted spiritual practice, if not a scholarly accepted scientific one. Could lucid dreaming and astral projection really be as simple as counting your fingers before bedtime? Could pinching myself 16-ish times a day really rid me of this persistent nightmare where I can’t check out of an Airbnb on time? If I stay calm and focused, and think of a door in my dreams, could I really walk through it and figure out if my upstairs neighbors got a particularly rambunctious kitten, as I’m starting to suspect?
I intend to find out—no matter how many fingers I have to count, Marvel movies I have to watch, waking hours I have to spend lying down, teas I have to drink, experts I have to badger with emails, or astral planes I have to traverse. Because much like Louise, I’m bored, I dream about a lot of creepy houses, and I simply do not know any better. And, I guess, because the idea of exerting some control over my circumstances during a time when circumstances are so often out of my control sounds pretty damn appealing.
Both astral projection and lucid dreaming are ancient concepts that have points of credibility throughout history. Some of the effects of lucid dreaming are actually backed up by science; and even as stodgy an entity as the U.S. Army repeatedly deployed intelligence officers to study astral projection at the Monroe Institute throughout the 1980s, as revealed by declassified CIA documents.
Though the practices are often linked in theory, their differences—both in approach and application—are vast. Lucid dreaming means gaining an awareness that you’re dreaming while you’re dreaming, at which point you obtain the power to choreograph your own dream. In your dream consciousness, you could imagine healing an emotional trauma that’s plaguing your waking life, or ask the vast data recesses of your mind for its expert career advice. Or, as in every first-person account I’ve heard, you can immediately start having wild, prolific sex. And that’s fine! The dreamscape is not a place for judgment; it’s not a place for anything but you, and whatever the hell you want to do (or, y’know, do).
Astral projection, on the other hand, exists far beyond the confines of one’s sleeping mind. In fact, it is the practice of putting your body to bed while your mind stays awake. It fits snugly under the “out-of-body experience” umbrella: the intentional extraction of one’s astral form from one’s physical form during deep meditative or dream states. (You might notice I’m using the word “astral” a lot—the word simply refers to a nonphysical plane of existence.) Once outside of the human body, that astral form can travel wherever it wants to in the universe. Not the mind, not the world, the universe—and, if we’re really getting into it, the multiverse.
As far as I’m concerned, a successful lucid dream functioning as a gateway to successful astral projection à la Behind Her Eyes seems akin to learning how to waterski and then immediately transforming into a submarine. And yet, every expert I’ve spoken to, and every online course I’ve taken (and I have taken some), has confirmed that, as far as reputable astral projection practices go, the show has it about right. You do the reality checks, you count the fingers, you focus and stay calm while lucid dreaming, you think of a door, walk through it, and then boom: Your soul is free to travel anywhere you can imagine on the astral plane. Astral travel may not have the practical appeal of teleporting, the obvious health benefits of yoga, or the edge of witchcraft ... but as far as the mystical goes, it does have the appealing advantage of almost every adherent you encounter assuring you that you’ll probably be able to do it sooner or later if you want it badly enough.
And why would anyone want to astral travel so badly? The most righteous reason is because the spiritual community sees astral projection as a sort of radical self-care. In the astral realm, adherents say, you can heal grief through encounters with loved ones who have passed on, or embrace the physical manifestations of your past traumas, or gain insights into illnesses and relationships that you can then bring with you back into this reality. The slightly less righteous reason—the one that most on-screen depictions are banking on—is that astral travel is pure escape. You can do anything you want in the astral realm without the fear of getting arrested or making everybody mad at you. If you’re asking, “Like WHAT, Jodi?” just think of anything, and believe that you can do that in the astral realm. Fistfight with the Rock? You can do that there. Fly to Paris for a crepe, Costa Rica for a coffee, and Walgreens for some Tums? You can do that there. Look like Dermot Mulroney? You can do that there! Look like Dylan McDermott? You can also do that there! Ask two beings that look like Dylan McDermott and Dermot Mulroney to kiss??? You can do that there, but be cool about it—ethics still exist in the astral realm.
For my first step onto the astral plane, I turned to the universe’s other most mystifying realm: the internet. There, I stumbled across Jade Shaw, a stylish astral projection teacher with a slick website who must also have incredibly good SEO, because I soon learned that she was also the first astral projection teacher Netflix landed on when it came a-Googlin’. One day in the summer of 2019, a production Jade had never heard of called “Behind Her Eyes” slid into her inbox to ask whether she might teach the show’s cast about astral projection. Jade agreed, and had some success with a couple of the actors: Eve Hewson had a li’l out-of-body experience, and Robert Aramayo made it to the vibrational stage.
Eventually I attended a workshop with Jade and she shared with the new astral projectors among us why someone would choose to dedicate their life to teaching others astral projection. First, she cited a Leonardo da Vinci quote that Leonardo da Vinci never actually said, but is often attributed to him in Facebook posts and astral projection workshops anyway: “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
But here’s my thing: What if you haven’t tasted flight? What if flight, in general, isn’t all that appealing to you? What if you’re not a particularly spiritual person, and for you, meditation is watching Gilmore Girls for the 30th time, manifesting comes in the form of thinking about chicken tenders when you wake up and making sure you have said chicken tenders by no later than 8 p.m., and mysticism is wondering why people go on reality TV when they know they are in the process of committing federally prosecutable crimes? Instead of fake Leonardo da Vinci’s nonsense, it was Jade’s own pitch for astral projection that became the most compelling argument for the, ahem, hypothetical person described above. Chirped with the animated fervor of someone who truly believes in what she does, Jade hit us with the sell: “The no. 1 reason to astral travel is because, OH MY GOD, IT’S MIND-BLOWING, IT’S BEYOND THIS WORLD! How is this possible? You can FLY … in the SKY! Seemingly in this reality! So just the sheer extraordinariness of it is—you want to explore, you want to do it.”
And she’s right. I may have never looked to the sky and thought, how do I get all up in that, but I do remember a life in the not so distant past when I got to fly around to new places and have experiences I’d never had before. That time was 2019; it’s been over a year since exploring got whittled down to taking little walks around my little neighborhood, and travel became traversing the half-mile to the grocery store once a week; over a year since my world became a whole lot smaller. Which brings me to my own astral projection journey, and my second, far more elusive astral travel teacher ...
INT. My Office—The Morning After Bingeing Behind Her Eyes, Days 1-2
The First Attempt to Contact the Water Magister
I live in Asheville, North Carolina, a city where you can’t throw a rose quartz very far without hitting some sort of spiritual practice. So, when I Google “astral projection teacher,” I’m pleased but not particularly surprised to find that one of the only promising results is an instructor in my own city: David Rodriguez, a.k.a. the Water Magister, thus named because of his connection to the fundamental element and his passion for studying and teaching various spiritual practices.
I listen to the Water Magister on a podcast, I check out his Airbnb Experience reviews (on hiatus during COVID, but all five stars), and I fire off a message to his website …
And when that goes unanswered, I fire off an email to his Gmail address …
And when that goes unanswered, I request to follow him on Instagram …
And when that goes unaccepted, I send a slightly more desperate email, and start piecing together my own lucid dreaming and astral projection study plan while I wait …
INT. My Living Room—Late Morning, Day 3
Watching Inception on HBO Max
I start where any good journalist should when researching an ancient spiritual phenomenon: by sitting down with its most lucrative pop culture interpretation to date. For lucid dreaming, there’s only one film to turn to: Christopher Nolan’s almost-three-hour allegory for the filmmaking process wherein he cast Leonardo DiCaprio to cosplay himself in the shiniest of ties.
The plot of Inception is simple. Just kidding, the plot of Inception is nearly incomprehensible—either a work of unique artistic vision, or a hubris-fueled act of dorm-room philosophy, depending on whom you ask. If you ask me, it’s just a silly bit of fun, but don’t tell Christopher Nolan I said that.
No matter where you land on the quality of Inception’s plot, quantitatively, this is a movie about a bunch of bros lucid dreaming together. Though it’s been a few years, I remember the Mal and the folding cities and the totems of it all. But I had forgotten that Leo and Co. facilitate their lucid dreams via a sort of futuristic Bop-It! that helpfully pumps into them a brain-stimulating sedative so powerful that not even soaring off a bridge or the constant bong-bongs that register somewhere between brown note and Law & Order: SVU can rouse them from their slumber.
For my lucid dreaming practice, I have a sound machine that all the most brand-conscious babies use—the Dohm Classic in pink, set to level II, always—and the fool-proof method of a fictional teenager from a Netflix thriller.
INT. My Living Room—162 Minutes Later, Day 3
Watching Doctor Strange on Disney+
Through my first half-day of studying astral projection, my biggest takeaway is that learning about this phenomenon requires a surprising number of streaming platforms. After Inception I turn to Doctor Strange: Marvel’s most mystical and medical superhero film to date, wherein an egotistical surgeon stumbles upon the astral plane—and also an interdimensional threat to earthly existence—while seeking to heal his injured hands. While watching, I scribble down only one note that is not a reminder to research Mads Mikkelsen’s eyeshadow palette, and it is this: “Men will literally project their consciousness into the astral realm instead of going to therapy.”
Which makes me think that Doctor Strange might be the most accurate Hollywood depiction of astral phenomena. Stephen Strange is a seeker, after all—he wants more knowledge, more escape from reality—and when he stumbles into astral projection, it’s because he desperately wants to find some kind of loophole to healing his damaged hands. What he finds instead is an entirely new understanding of the world around him. From my limited experience with the astral travel community, that’s a pretty common narrative, minus the magic cape stuff.
Doctor Strange did have a magic cape to aid his mastery of astral projection, though, not to mention Tilda Swinton showing him the ropes, and a “sling ring” to propel him through the multiverse. I have … the power of my own mind, which is currently in a bit of a tailspin because the Water Magister still hasn’t emailed me back, and I’m really about to have to do this by myself.
INT. My Bedroom—Nighttime, Day 4
Astral Travel Attempt No. 1
It’s time to turn to yet another streaming platform: Spotify, where I find a plethora of guided astral travel mediations, the least annoying of which has been uploaded by an artist called “Exploration of Humanity” and has almost 105,000 listens (for clarity: at least 12 are from me).
I’m entering my astral projection practice with an open mind, and only one fear: getting body-snatched. As you’ll recall from 20 paragraphs ago, I came to this practice by way of Behind Her Eyes, where astral projection is used exclusively for stealing other people’s bodies. Of course, only two people know I’m trying to astral travel, and could therefore be in the position to steal my body: the Water Magister if he’s read his email in the past four days and my editor at The Ringer who green-lit this piece. Only one of those knows how to astral travel, unless my editor is lying and all of this is an elaborate body-snatching ploy.
It’s better astrally safe than astrally sorry, though, so my best friend and I establish a code word that I will say to her at some point each day to confirm I have not been astrally possessed. (Much like Leo protects the sanctity of his totem in Inception, I shan’t be telling you my code word here, but rest assured—it’s very silly.) Of course, upon reflection, I realize that Behind Her Eyes posits a world in which best friends are actually the most likely culprit to snatch your body while astral projecting, so this plan was terrible all along.
Luckily, the Spotify meditation makes up for what I lack! A man with a soft, steady voice guides me through the steps that I’ll come to learn are common in achieving astral projection via a meditative state, as opposed to the lucid dreaming method:
- “Mind awake, body asleep”: This is achieved by keeping your body completely still in a comfortable position, breathing deeply, and keeping all of your mental awareness focused on the space between your eyes.
- “Vibrational stage”: The vibrational stage can be reached in a number of ways once you successfully master Step 1, including imagining waves of energy rolling up and down your body, or visualizing yourself rocking faster and faster inside your body, until …
- “Out of body”: That’s right, it’s only a three-step process to being able to magically fly around the world, untethered by your gross corporeal form! If you haven’t gotten out after the two steps, you’re not getting out.
But whether or not you hit out of body in the 20-ish minutes this guided meditation guesses you will, that’s still 20 minutes remaining of binaural beats, whispered subliminal messages, and vibes to endure. Personally, I fell asleep halfway through the pod. Maybe next time …
INT. My Bedroom—Early Afternoon, Day 5
Astral Travel Attempt No. 2
This time, I take half a caffeine pill before my spiritual practice.
And it works. I mean, I don’t exactly astral project. Nothing really even gets to vibrating. But I do get into what I would describe as “mind awake, body asleep,” because once I finally manage to slow my mind down, and my limbs sort of start to feel like they’re floating, the spot between my eyes starts to produce visions: a bed of jewels transforms into a beach, transforms into a kitchen from my childhood, transforms into …
A door. I would never lie to you, it is a whole-ass door in my mind. And even though I’m not doing the lucid dreaming method of astral projection and doors really shouldn’t even be part of this, I know I’m supposed to start moving toward that door; I know there’s something on the other side of it that I want. The door is embedded in the side of a mountain, and there’s an Indiana Jones–style rope bridge I have to cross to get to it, but I’m not scared to cross it because I have tunnel vision for this door. I’m on the move, I’m getting closer and closer, and clo—
My phone rings. My phone rings louder than a Hans Zimmer score in these headphones I’m using to listen to this guided meditation. It’s a telemarketer from San Marcos, Texas, and if I ever meet that telemarketer on this or any other astral plane, I swear to you, it is absolutely on sight.
I can’t help but feel that if I had a qualified astral projection teacher, their first lesson would have been, “Turn on Do Not Disturb, dumbass.” I learned that lesson for myself the hard way.
INT. My Office—Late Morning, Day 6
Enter: The Water Magister, Taking My Cold Call
I find a phone number for the Water Magister on a now-defunct Water Magister Facebook page, and he picks up on the first ring. He hasn’t seen any of my emails, and he seems wary of a random number from Waco, Texas. It takes him about one minute to tell me he can’t be my teacher. Not because he detects a noticeable lack of spiritual proclivity in me, as I feared he somehow would, but because he’s currently recovering from a heartbreak, and he can’t spiritually guide others when he’s not feeling spiritually whole himself.
This is not the first time someone else’s integrity has proved an obstacle to my personal goals, and it won’t be the last. But, the Water Magister does agree to meet with me to answer any questions I have, and discuss what his guided astral projection sessions look like so that I can improve my own practice at home.
EXT. An Absolutely Bustling Kava Bar Patio—Late Afternoon, Day 7
Meeting the Magister
The Water Magister has the quintessential appearance of a wizard, if you’ve ever imagined a wizard to be young and hoodie-clad with incredible posture. His beard is as long as his knowledge of astral projection is deep, although he would want me to tell you he’s not an expert. Calling a person who’s been successfully practicing astral projection for 15 years an expert is kind of like calling a 25-year-old middle-aged, I guess: a little too soon.
After all, the Water Magister tells me about mystery schools where astral masters share ancient wisdom in the astral realm. He tells me about healing trauma and overcoming obstacles, and a time in his youth when he built an entire world in the astral realm with fellow travelers he met on the internet, only to have that world destroyed by lurking astral-projection-internet trolls.
I tell him that I’m just trying to make it past my bedside table.
The Water Magister was first introduced to astral projection by a man named Willy, studied the practice further under the works of famous explorer of human consciousness, Robert Monroe, and began teaching it after a voice told him he should. That same voice told him to start making his special blend of astral projection tea, which I will eventually buy from him in cash.
Mostly, the Water Magister lets me ask him my rudimentary astral projection questions for 90 minutes, offering me generous, straightforward answers in return. He thinks the Behind Her Eyes astral projection sounds pretty accurate, except for body snatching, which is “improbable,” and Adele’s claim that she can only travel places she’s familiar with, which is … kind of the opposite of the point of traveling the astral plane. The conversation makes me highly aware of how small I’ve kept my world on this one plane of reality that I’ve never tried to leave. Here is a list of things the Water Magister casually asks me whether I’ve experienced, studied, or understood while we’re chatting, to which I have to tell him no:
- Non-player characters in video games
- The idea that everyone creates their own reality
- Yoga nidra
- Kava (I actually have tried kava, but I didn’t want to disrespect the 15 nearby kava bar patrons happily drinking kava by explaining that I hate kava.)
- Masaru Emoto
- Eye gazing
Here’s a list of things that the Water Magister asks me whether I understand that I’m able to confirm, yes, I understand:
But even though I’d spent an hour registering how much foundation I lack to study astral travel, there was one moment waiting at the end of our conversation that would humble me like no other. I ask the Water Magister about something from Behind Her Eyes that I’ve been hung up on since I first watched it: There’s no way the transition from lucid dreaming to astral projection could really be as simple as just walking through a door you conjured up in your dream, right? In return, the Water Magister delicately asks me whether I hadn’t just moments ago told him that I had to use a guided meditation on Spotify because I can’t even relax without a third party telling me to do so? Therefore, couldn’t I imagine how much willpower it might take to intentionally create a door inside a lucid dream without the soft voice of a British man in my headphones telling me to do it? Couldn’t I understand that just because something is easy to conceptualize, doesn’t mean it’s easy to do?
I wondered whether the Water Magister felt in that moment like I hadn’t been listening to him at all; like I’d been trivializing all of the practices he’d been telling me about. Because setting intentions isn’t easy, creating a sense of safety for yourself isn’t easy; manifesting a door in your dreams isn’t easy. And perhaps I only see these things as simple because I’ve never successfully done them before ...
But there is one lingering thing I feel like astral projection practitioners are perhaps simplifying a little themselves. Half the reason I started this journey is because Behind Her Eyes offers this very limited view of astral projection as exclusively being used for bad, when I’ve mostly only heard of people seeking it out for healing and self-improvement. I ask the Water Magister about the often-negative depiction of astral travel in pop culture, and whether he personally feels like there’s a major capacity to use astral projection for “bad.” To which he says, of course: “You can use anything for good or bad, and just think of the implications—you can be a fly on the wall, listening to your archnemeses, or seeing what your enemies are planning.”
When I go back over my conversation with the Water Magister at home, I realize it’s those very implications that are still tinkering around in my subconscious. Isn’t the complete lack of evidence that astral projection has ever been used for evil the greatest argument against its credibility? Pop culture only depicts astral travel as being deployed for sneaky, sometimes murderous means because pop culture knows that anything that can be used for bad, will be used for bad. If someone could spy on their enemies from the astral realm, wouldn’t they? And after, say, a millennia or so, wouldn’t we hear some stories about it, in the same way that we hear stories about positive out-of-body experiences? Are only the most moral people in the world capable of masterful astral projection, or is astral projection not quite as viable as its masters claim?
As you can see, I have some questions—questions that I’d really rather not have. Not only because I genuinely believe the Water Magister and Jade Shaw and the many lovely people in the classes I’ve attended when they say they’ve astral projected—and especially when they say how much it’s positively impacted their lives—but also because questioning whether astral projection is real seems like a surefire way to never be able to do it successfully. Now if I’m never able to astral project, I’ll always have to wonder if it’s because it’s impossible, or if it’s because I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was impossible.
INT. My Home–Mostly Night, Days 8-15
Astral Travel Attempts Nos. 3-10
Even in astral projection, practice makes progress. The Water Magister told me that once I’ve entered into the “mind awake, body asleep” state, it’s important to visualize your consciousness leaving your body, and that each person will have a different key to doing this: a person who likes comic books might imagine throwing webs of their consciousness out like Spider-Man, or someone with a deceased relative might imagine that loved one pulling them into the astral realm. For me, the visual that came most readily in my half-asleep state was to yank my consciousness out of my head in quick, successive pulls like I was a human box of Kleenex. I do not know why I equate myself to bath tissue, and I do not want to talk about it!
Sometime around my seventh attempt, I put on my big girl pants and stopped using the guided meditation, choosing the power of binaural beats and my own willpower, instead. Twice using this meditative method, I feel a kind of rising, like my consciousness is being pulled out through the crown of my head, but both times I then start to physically tense my body, ceasing said rising. Once, I briefly drift asleep, and when I wake up, my eyes unconsciously pop open, I see the dresser in my bedroom, and then I slam them back shut, and am suddenly traveling. It feels like my mind is tunneling through the earth toward a searing white light, until I spook myself out of it.
But afterward, I wondered … maybe my eyes hadn’t physically opened; maybe I’d traveled out of my body and into my bedroom, and it was my astral form that had seen my dresser? But I don’t know. Because when nothing turns technicolored like you thought it was supposed to, and you’re a little bit asleep all the time, it’s just hard to know. Either way, my eyes did eventually open, definitely for real this time.
INT. My Home—Morning, Noon, And Night, Days 15-17
Astral Travel Attempts Nos. 11-16
I’m weeks into this process, and days away from the deadline on documenting this process, and I admit that I might be trying to squeeze something in under the wire that is not, necessarily, squeezable. I am attempting to astral travel morning, noon, and night. I’m changing my headphones and altering the amount of light in the room, and eating bananas because I read about it on Reddit (famous last words).
Technically, if I look back to where I started, at a Cumberbatch/DiCaprio double-header with absolutely no meditation experience, I’ve made definitive progress. I regularly enter the “vibrational stage” now, where it feels like light is shooting up and down my body, and while that used to freak me out a bit and I’d start seizing up, now I’m used to it, and can relax into the feeling. But that feeling doesn’t then take me outside my body or into another realm—it doesn’t take me anywhere.
In my desperation, everything is starting to feel like it means something. In the car, “Levitating” by Dua Lipa is playing, and I think I surely must have manifested it. But the Milky Way is not liberating, and I do not, sugarboo, levitate myself into another reality via the powerful instruction of Miss Lipa.
But finally, on my 16th astral travel attempt, I get into the vibrational state that I’m now somewhat used to, I visualize myself leaving my body, and the next thing I know, I’m seeing a clear, vibrant image of something that I know is real: the giant gold birthday balloons we got for my dad for his 70th birthday, the ones that my parents have kept inflated in their living room for months. That scene exists in my memory, sure, but I briefly feel like I’m really there in my parents’ house, hundreds of miles away from where my body currently lies, witnessing it live.
When I slip out of the state, I text my mom to be sure that what I saw was real, just like I’ve heard so many other people do the first time they astral traveled to a familiar place. “Random question …” I ask her:
Never in my life has an emoji mocked me like this.
INT. My Office–5:56 P.M., DAY 17
Enter: A Different Kind of Magister
It’s not time to give up, but it is time to move on. I’ve been focusing so much of my energy on trying to astral travel via a meditative state that I haven’t given lucid dreaming the attention it deserves. I watch a master class (but not a MasterClass) with Charlie Morley, a lucid dreaming teacher currently researching healing PTSD for veterans through dream states, who also happens to be the former husband, current best friend, and co-parent of a wiener dog named Waffles with Jade Shaw, the aforementioned astral projection consultant herself. Together, they are an aesthetically pleasing dynamic paranormal duo, and I look forward to watching their inevitable reality show on Netflix in a few years.
In his class, Charlie teaches that once you’ve gained access to your dreams, you can plant seeds in the unconscious mind to cultivate in the waking mind. Which, honestly, is just the kind of simplistic structure I’m looking for in my spiritual experience. Charlie describes the “4D” approach to lucid dreaming thusly:
- Dream recall: Set a strong intention to remember your dreams by reciting a phrase such as, “Tonight I remember my dreams, I have excellent dream recall,” while you fall asleep. Once you’re able to remember your dreams, you gain insight into your consciousness, and what your dreams are signaling to your waking mind.
- Dream diary: The best way to log this information is to … log it, by writing your dreams down as soon as you possibly can after waking up.
- Dream signs: Once you’re able to spot “lucidity triggers” in your dreams, you can start to reliably signal to yourself when you’re dreaming. For me, the most common signals that I’m dreaming include: celebrities; a threat to my ability to graduate high school or college even though I’ve already successfully graduated both; and this fun new one where I’m packing and packing but can never fully complete whatever I’m trying to pack up in the time that I need to do it. Yay!
- Dream planning: “The why is more important than the how,” Charlie says. Once you’re remembering dreams, and writing them down, and spotting lucidity triggers, take the time to consider what you want to do in your first lucid dream (and be honest about how much that thing is “having wild and prolific sex”).
In my very recent experience, this is really all it takes. I’ve been practicing Adele’s little pinching, finger-counting techniques for weeks, but the second I start writing down my dreams, and understanding that Topanga from Boy Meets World being my English teacher is a surefire sign that I’m dreaming, well, my dreams start getting a lot more interesting, and a little more lucid.
INT. My Bedroom–Nighttime, Day 19
I’m cleaning and cleaning my kitchen but I just cannot get it cleaned up. I somehow manage to break the faucet, and begin trying to scoop up the gushing water with a measuring cup that I suddenly realize I don’t own. I briefly wonder why someone would break into my house and leave things behind instead of taking them—and then I have the ringing, clear realization that this isn’t my kitchen. And this isn’t my measuring cup. But this is my dream.
It’s dream-flying time, baby!
Or, that’s what I assumed would happen. I haven’t quite made it to the “dream planning” portion of my lucid dreaming training, so I don’t have much of an agenda. I just take off running away from the kitchen, and into darkness. Maybe I call out for some celebrities to come make out with me, but I can’t be sure—if Jake Gyllenhaal appeared, I don’t remember it. What I do remember is that none of it felt particularly freeing, as I’d come to expect. The sprinting through my consciousness, the pressure that I needed to build something new, to make this time count, when all I really felt like I could do was keep my head above water … that all felt a little too familiar. This was not the fun, maybe even healing lucid dreaming experience I’d been promised. This was bringing my waking burdens into my previously restful sleep life, give or take some eternal folding of jeans. To which, I say: WHAT GIVES, CONSCIOUSNESS?!
INT. My Bedroom–Twilight, Day 21
I’m on vacation in New Orleans with the Biebers—Justin and Hailey—who I have not had one waking thought about since they got married but who I apparently hold space for in my dreaming mind.
Over the past three weeks, I’ve repeatedly been told that my dreaming mind is capable of curing my lower back pain, or manifesting an idea for a best-selling novel, if I can just learn how to use it right. But all my mind wants to give me is the Biebers, and this New Orleans Airbnb with a rapidly approaching check-out time that I’m about to miss because—you guessed it—my unimaginative ass is packing a never-ending pile of clothes while Hailey stares on. And after weeks of incessant dream-packing, my lucidity trigger finally clicks.
I’m dreaming—and I know it. Once again, Jake Gyllenhaal doesn’t appear, I don’t come up with a great book idea, and I definitely don’t start flying. I don’t start doing anything. I just … stop packing. Because I suddenly know that I have nothing to worry about; that I’m in control of my own story, that no looming check-out time should make me feel like this. I don’t remember anything after that, but the sense of understanding that everything will be OK if I just take a beat has lingered in my waking life. It wasn’t astral travel. It may not have even been lucid dreaming. But it was a nice feeling—and after the past year, I won’t say no to a nice new feeling.
Jodi Walker is a freelance pop culture writer with bylines in Entertainment Weekly, Vulture, and Texas Monthly. She writes about The Bachelor franchise at absurd length in her newsletter, These Are the Best Things.