07 Feb Exploring the Akashic Experience: My Personal Journey (Part 5)
Over time, I have sought to understand the nature of psi and other Akashic experiences outside the laboratory. Obtaining a Ph.D. in anthropology, I felt that qualitative methods may reveal details that are left on the cutting room floor in our lab-based studies. I have been interested in how exceptional experiences impact people’s lives in ways that are transformative. This has led me to engage in a decade of research on what stimulates transformation, what sustains it, and what results from experiences that open us to a larger set of possibilities.
In a recent book, Living Deeply: The Art and Science of Transformation in Everyday Life my colleagues and I use the term “transformative experience” to refer to those events that lead to lasting changes in people’s lives and worldviews. We contrasted these transformative events with other extreme, extraordinary, or spiritual experiences that don’t result in long-term changes in consciousness. Many people report Akashic experiences, but not all have ultimately led to deep changes in who they are and what they are capable of becoming. As transpersonal psychologist Frances Vaughn told us during an interview in 2002:
Transformation really means a change in the way you see the world—and a shift in how you see yourself. It’s not simply a change in your point of view, but rather a whole different perception of what’s possible. It’s the capacity to expand your worldview so that you can appreciate different perspectives, so that you can hold multiple perspectives simultaneously. You’re not just moving around from one point of view to another, you’re really expanding your awareness to encompass more possibilities.
We began the study by collecting people’s stories about consciousness transformation. A pattern across hundreds of narratives was that true transformation is often held as a major turning point, much like the kind of hero’s journey reported by Joseph Campbell. We convened teachers who specialize in transformation and asked them questions that helped us to develop a language around the transformation process. We were privileged to conduct lengthy interviews with sixty masters from different transformative traditions, looking both at the differences across them, but also at the patterns that connect.
Our participants represented major world religions (Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism), Earth-based traditions, and people who have created new forms that reflect a modern interpretation of transformation technologies. This field-study led our team to craft an ecologically valid survey that has allowed us to collect data from nearly 2,000 self-selected people. The work continues today through a blend of field- and laboratory-based studies, including an experiment to see if transformational training leads to greater interconnectedness as measured in a formal DMILS study.
Through this work, my colleagues and I have found that consciousness transformations are most commonly triggered by experiences of pain and suffering. Life events, including illness, divorce and loss of jobs, can serve to disrupt the steady state in a person’s life—giving them an opportunity, if they can see it as such, to alter their path and to live with an expanded, meaning-filled worldview. Painful and frightening experiences have the capacity to loosen our control and dissolve our identities in ways that broaden our understanding of what is possible. As physician and teacher, Rachel Remen noted:
Crisis, suffering, loss, the unexpected encounter with the unknown—all of this has the potential to initiate a shift in perspective. A way of seeing the familiar with new eyes, a way of seeing the self in a completely new way. It shuffles a person’s values like a deck of cards. A value that’s been on the bottom of the deck for many years turns out to be the top card. There’s a moment when the individual steps away from the former life and the former identity and is completely out of control and completely surrenders—and then is reborn with a larger, expanded identity.
Of course, not all catalysts of transformation are filled with pain. Many people report sensations of deep beauty, awe, wonder, and a profound connection to something greater than themselves. These Akashic experiences can often encompass what William James called mystical experiences and what Abraham Maslow later referred to as peak experiences, and also what Carl Jung considered to be encounters with the numinous. These perceptions move us beyond our narrow definition of the self. They can take the form of a deeply rooted, embodied sense of unity, an awareness of great love, and a fundamental sense of interconnection.
In our research we have seen that transformative experiences are often sudden and profound. These sudden personal metamorphoses, called “quantum changes” by Miller and C’de Baca, can include psi experiences that are completely unexpected, as well as epiphanies, “big dreams,” and senses of revelation. They can include various experiences that suggest an extended reach of our human consciousness, including near-death experiences, spontaneous healing, or various other abilities and phenomena that arise in non-ordinary states of consciousness. Transpersonal scholar and archivist Rhea White found that, even though the phenomenology of such experiences may differ (such as seeing an apparition, sensing mystical oneness with the whole of existence, or having precognitive dreams), all these experiences can serve as a portal to a new worldview.
My own worldview has been shaped by these scholars and by my experiences in and out of the laboratory. They have given me a language and a lineage line for my explorations of consciousness. For example, more than a century ago, William James wrote about the transformative potential of what he defined as noetic experiences. He described them as “states of insight unplumbed by the discursive intellect.”
These noetic forms of the Akashic experience have several essential qualities: They need to be directly experienced, for it’s often the case that they aren’t easily communicated to others. Second is what James called a noetic quality that makes them actual forms of knowledge. As the famed scholar noted in 1902: “They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule they carry with them a curious sense of authority.” They are also, according to James, states that are transient and cannot be controlled.
Now, more than a hundred years after James gave this description, my colleagues and I conduct research on the very phenomena he mapped out for us. We have found, for example, that more than 61 percent of the people we surveyed said their transformative experiences were due to circumstances “out of anyone’s control.” This fact reveals yet again the complexities of bringing such experiences under the gaze of a science grounded in classical assumptions of cause and effect.