Navigating in Nonphysical Reality (Part 1 of 2)
By Matthew Joyce
Navigating in nonphysical reality is similar to navigating in physical reality. Navigating simply means making your way to a destination or controlling the course of your journey.
To better understand how to navigate in nonphysical reality it helps to understand how humans learned to navigate in physical reality. So let’s start with what you know about getting around in the physical world and draw some parallels to navigating through nonphysical reality.
You use basic navigational skills all the time. You navigate your way from your bedside to the bathroom to take a shower. You navigate from your home to the grocery store or to your place of business. You know how to reach these places because you’ve visited them before. But initially you had to find them without the benefit of previous experience. To do that you undoubtedly paid attention to your surroundings and made your way around obstacles, possibly even changing directions several times before you reached your desired destination. You’d do the same thing if you were hiking in the wilderness or sailing on the ocean.
These days navigation in physical reality is made easier with tools like hand-held global positioning systems or OnStar navigation devices mounted in the dashboard of your car. Before these modern inventions people used maps, compasses, sextants, and time pieces. But most importantly, they used their own powers of observation to determine where they were by looking at landmarks, the sun, and the stars.
Early humans explored the only way they could. They walked. They tramped over hills and through canyons and across rivers. Their curiosity and their drive to survive pushed them to find out what was around the corner or over the horizon. In the days of prehistory there were no maps for reference. Hunters and travelers simply looked at the landscape and followed the course of streams or the paths of animals. If they paid attention as they traveled they learned their way based on landmarks. This made it possible to return to the same destination more than once.
This is exactly the same way that humans began to explore nonphysical reality. Their curiosity about the spirit world prompted them to explore it. But instead of hiking over the hills, they devised various ways to alter their consciousness-through plants, drumming, dreaming, etc.-and set out to determine what might exist beyond the horizons of physical reality. And like they did in their explorations of the physical world, they paid attention to the means they used to access those states and to the landmarks or events they experienced along the way.
Like they did in their explorations of the physical world, early humans paid attention to what they used to access nonphysical reality, and to the things they experienced along the way.
This type of individual spiritual exploration was sometimes hit-and-miss, just as it was for their hunting expeditions. Yet with enough spiritual journeys behind them, shaman and other tribal members eventually began to learn their way around, and in time they developed a common language for describing their experiences. Unfortunately, the ways they described their experiences were based on their own specific vocabularies and their own cultural contexts. This made it difficult for outsiders to understand where they had been and how they had gotten there.
Of course, any language and cultural barrier makes it difficult to explain to others how to get from one place to another. Imagine for a moment that you really need to find a restroom when you don’t speak the language of the country you are visiting. Without a dictionary or phrasebook, you’d likely resort to hand gestures. In similar fashion, when early humans wanted to tell others how to find a distant location they might have used sign language and pointing to suggest physical landmarks like mountains and rivers, or directions like north or south. Such efforts might have been clumsy at times but, like finding that restroom, the likelihood of successfully reaching a desired destination was far greater after being pointed in the right direction. Unfortunately, explanations about how to visit invisible realms were decidedly more difficult to convey.
Early navigation relied on the skills of the traveler. The ease of a physical journey often depended upon the traveler’s ability to read the landscape, the weather, the sun and the stars. These skills were even more important when humans began voyaging on the seas.
During their first forays onto the oceans humans likely stayed within sight of land. But curiosity eventually pushed us onward across the horizons. Some peoples, like the Polynesians and the Vikings, were exceptionally good sailors. The Polynesians navigated by the stars and by their understanding of natural elements. Some ancient traditions tell how some Polynesian sailors were so attuned to the sea that they could sense the vibrations of waves crashing against the shore from miles out to see. The Vikings relied on other tricks, such as releasing birds into the air from their boats. If the birds flew in circles they had no idea where land was. If they flew purposely in a particular direction the Vikings followed on the presumption that the birds were headed toward land.
And so it was with next stage of explorations of nonphysical reality. Shaman, oracles, and ancient priests developed techniques for accessing altered states of consciousness. Their methods became ritualized and the information they received became dependable, if inscrutable to outsiders. Shaman used particular techniques to cure illnesses. Oracles foretold the future with reasonable accuracy. And ancient priests placated the forces of the spirit world on behalf of their congregants. To be sure these methods of accessing nonphysical reality are considered questionable today, but in their eras such mystics were sufficiently accurate that they gained the respect and trust of those within their societies. Can we ask for more than that today?
Early Maps and Other Navigational Aids
Maps are marvelous things. They help those who have never visited a destination to envision it ahead of time, making the journey easier. Maps help others who may never undertake the journey to understand places far different from the ones they know. Maps also document the conceptual ideas of the map maker, which in turn depicts the predominant thinking about the world at the time the map was created.
The oldest known maps are on clay tablets from ancient Sumeria (modern day Iraq) made in approximately 2300 BCE. Until the invention of woodblock printing around 1500 CE, maps were hand-drawn, expensive, and rare. In fact, they were often considered private or state secrets since they could be used for military and economic advantage. But gradually that began to change as people started to share information.
In many ways this was also true of maps of nonphysical reality. The livelihood and powerbase of the priests, oracles, and shaman depended in no small part of their abilities to navigate these realms and the sharing of this information was often done only with fellow initiates into their often secretive societies. Only gradually did this information make its way to the general populations, and often then it was shrouded in mystery.
In 1520 when explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s ships traversed the Southern Pacific Ocean, which covers one fifth of the Earth’s surface, his maps showed only blank spaces and open seas. Despite this handicap his ship circumnavigated the world (but not Magellan himself, who died in the Philippines). For more than 200 years European sailors crisscrossed the world’s oceans in search of lands for trade and colonization.
When Magellan and the sailors who followed him crossed the Pacific they used navigational tools called the cross-staff and the astrolabe, forerunners of the sextant, to help them measure the distance from the horizon to the sun or the stars. This helped them determine their latitude north or south relative to the equator. But they had no way of knowing their precise longitude east or west.
At first the best they could do was to use dead reckoning, which was essentially making an educated guess about their present location based upon their presumed speed and distance that they thought they had traveled from their last known location. Later they developed a marginally improved system for measuring their speed by knotting a rope at regular intervals and tossing it overboard from the stern. By counting the knots let out over a period of time the captain could measure the speed of the ship. But since speed was a function of changing winds and currents actual distances covered were still an educated guess.
Because sailors knew their latitude but not longitude they had a difficult time finding islands in the Pacific Ocean more than once. This is understandable since they only knew one of the two coordinates of the islands’ locations. The sailors called these difficult to find islands “wandering islands,” but obviously the islands stayed put. It was the ships that were wandering. This same problem applied to explorations of nonphysical reality.
For millennia sages, prophets, yogis, saints, and scores of other intrepid explorers have contributed firsthand reports of their explorations of nonphysical reality. These personal accounts have contributed greatly to our understanding of our mental, spiritual and psychic abilities. More specifically, they’ve helped to create maps of the realms beyond death, various areas of the spirit world, multiple states of expanded human consciousness, and access points to a far greater universal consciousness.
Unfortunately, like the wandering islands of the Pacific sailors, mystic explorers arrived in a particular location within nonphysical reality without knowing how to chart its location. The best they could do was to describe the more prominent landmarks and chronicle what they experienced on their voyages. And as previously discussed, these reports were created in the language and cultural context of their times, making them difficult for modern spiritual seekers to follow in their wake. Moreover, because such spiritual chronicles have been reported, collected, lost, and rediscovered over thousands of years, key portions of various accounts have been lost, mistranslated, or deliberately altered, making them even more confusing and contradictory.
For millennia, sages, prophets, yogis, saints, and scores of other intrepid explorers have contributed firsthand reports of their explorations of nonphysical reality. Unfortunately, they arrived in a particular location within nonphysical reality without knowing how to chart its location.
Take the notion of the afterlife for instance. Cultures across the world and across time have maintained beliefs about what happens after we die. The ancient Greeks described the afterlife as an underworld location known as Hades, which was reached by crossing the river Styx. Ancient Egyptians believed if the corpse was properly mummified and entombed it would reawaken and be judged by Osiris, god of the afterlife. If found worthy the Egyptian dead went on to life comparable to that on Earth. If unworthy they were cast to the demons. The beliefs of Christians, Jews and Muslims, developed after the ancient Egyptians, also hold that after death the soul goes on an eternal place of heaven or hell. Hindus, Buddhists and others believe in the concept of reincarnation. The result of these and countless other theories and explanations of the afterlife is much like the story of the three blind men who alternately describe an elephant as being like a tree (the leg), a rope (the tail), or a thick hose (the trunk). Each describes a piece of the picture but none captures the greater whole.
Navigational Errors and Mistaken Identities
For 86 years after Magellan’s ship circumnavigated the globe, numerous expeditions searched the Pacific Ocean for Terra Australis Incognita, the fabled continent said to exist by ancient Greek philosophers, who believed a southern land mass was needed to balance the northern continents. Finally in 1606 Dutchman Willem Janszoon made the first European discovery of Australia when he charted a portion of Australia’s east coast and added the island-continent to European navigational maps.
In 1642 fellow Dutchman Abel Tasman chanced upon what he thought was Terra Australis too. In fact, he’d landed more than 1000 miles away in New Zealand. Tasman’s discovery spread the notion of a very large southern continent. It wasn’t until 1769 that British explorer James Cook systematically charted the Pacific with new tools that could pinpoint both latitude and longitude that maps we’d recognize today began to be created.
Like Janszoon and Tasman, the early explorers to nonphysical reality mapped their discoveries as best they could. As a result, different cultures developed dozens of different schools of thought concerning esoteric cosmology. These include Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Tantra, Kashmir Shaivism, Kabbalah, Sufism, Theosophy, and others, including current New Age teachings.
It wasn’t until 1769 that British explorer James Cook systematically charted the Pacific with new tools that could pinpoint both latitude and longitude that maps we’d recognize today began to be created. It’d take more than 200 years to make a similar advance in the charting of nonphysical reality.
Many of these schools divide the physical and spiritual worlds into a series of planes and subplanes. The resulting maps can be quite complicated to read and even more difficult to follow. [If you’re interested in learning more, you might want to look at the Kheper website in general (www.kheper.net) and the page on planes of existence in particular (at www.kheper.net/integral/planes.html), which does a nice job of explaining scientific and esoteric evolutionary paradigms.]
The resulting confusion is partially due to the fact that these cosmological maps are as much the products of intellectual conceptualization as they are actual exploration. The confusion is also partially due to the fact that reports of individual experiences in the same general place may have been classified by cosmological cartographers as being in separate locations when in fact they may have been specific locations within the same general area of reality.
To a certain extent this can be explained by analogy. Pretend for a moment that you are an ancient Egyptian who time travels to modern day New York City on five separate occasions. On the first visit you go to Times Square. On the second Central Park. On the third Grand Central Station. On the fourth the Statue of Liberty. On the fifth the top of the Empire State Building.
As a modern day human you understand that these are all discreet locations within New York City, but as a time-traveling ancient Egyptian you might consider them entirely separate locations. Seeing Time Square you might marvel at the tall buildings, the traffic, and the crowds of people. Seeing Central Park you might conclude that it was a lush tree-filled oasis compared to the desert that you lived in back in Egypt. To your Egyptian eyes Grand Central Station might appear like a temple with its soaring ceiling and underground passages. The Statue of Liberty could appear to be a monument to a great queen or a goddess. It is only from the vantage point at the top of the Empire State Building that you might put it together that all of the previous places you’d visited were part of the same location. And even then you’d probably miss noticing that Grand Central Station is in New York City because you saw it from indoors on your first visit and from on high during your second visit.
This is exactly the problem faced by travelers in nonphysical reality.
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