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..:: Spiritual Ascension ::..


Alan Schneider


              This is the first in a series of essays that will address the subject of Spiritual Ascension as a part of a larger paper that will be framed for presentation as a grant proposal to study – and hopefully experimentally achieve – individual, personal Ascension for groups of experimental participants.  

            Ascension is one of several terms that have been mentioned often in these essays, but perhaps not subjected to the clarification deserved. What is Ascension, how and why does it take place, and what is its implication for human affairs on the Physical Plane of expression?

            Ascension can be defined as the shift of normal waking awareness to and through a succession of altered states of consciousness of successively more abstract symbolic content, culminating in the absolute non-dual perception of all experience in one ecstatic state of being. Although Ascension experiences have and do occur in sleep states, these are significantly less organized in content. The sleeping consciousness is subject to a wide variety of motivated experience in the relative absence of the waking ego, including many types of dreams (e.g. Freudian wish-fulfillment dreams, incomplete waking experience dreams, Jungian “Big” dreams), lingering emotional drive states, latent physiological responses, and legitimate spiritual visions, all frequently mixed together in a chaotic mosaic of perception. Of the dream group, the Jungian dreams come closest to spiritual visions, having much of the same high-value psychic content, but the spiritual vision is in a category by itself, frequently leaving the individual wide awake after its appearance in conscious perception. This type of experience in sleep states is exceedingly rare – even Astral experience (e.g. Astral Travel, the Astral Chord, etc.) is not quite of the same valence, although Astral manifestations occurring in sleep can occasionally be the precursors of legitimate spiritual visions.

            The key to understanding the Ascension process is the production of the waking altered state of consciousness, because here we at least begin with the ego-integrated perception of the Physical Plane in a psychologically and spiritually more or less grounded condition. After the Ascension episode is concluded, we can hopefully return to the intact, if modified, physical perception of the Physical Plane as the ego reintegrates on a more intuitive level than before. This progressive building of the intuitive function is the integral goal of Ascension, as a bridge of consciousness is constructed through the Planes of Ascension. More will be said about these Planes later within this essay.  

            How are the waking altered states to be induced? There are many affective methods of approaching this question. This author personally prefers meditation as his gateway to the Planes of Ascension, but there are several others as well. Chanting of Mantras of many different varieties is an approach that works well for some people – in fact, Hindu Gurus routinely give dedicated personal Mantras to their students at full Initiation into a particular sect. This is done in great secrecy – the Initiate is admonished not to repeat the Mantra to anyone, nor say it out loud, and even the Guru carefully whispers it into the Initiate’s ear so that none present may know its content. The Mantra conveyed in this fashion becomes the Initiate’s personal Gateway to Ascension. Meditation focused on Yantra images is another path to Ascension. Certain geometric designs are known to have great influence on the human consciousness, and many Yantras incorporate these designs into their structure. Physical movement of certain specific types, including dancing in prescribed ways (e.g. certain Native American dancing rituals and the Rites of the Islamic Whirling Dervishes), many Yoga postures (e.g. the Solar Asana), Zen walking techniques,  and certain acrobatics, can all induce the initial altered state of perception needed for Ascension. Along with Mantra chanting, singing of spiritually significant themes (e.g. Hymns of many different faiths), is a path known to be functional – many Hindu men still sing the verses of the Sacred Texts such as the Upanishads to their sons as part of the Hindu spiritual Initiation process. 

            Prayer is yet another method of attaining the altered states that bridge into Ascension. Saint Theresa is said to have routinely prayed herself into a state of religious ecstasy that most certainly is/was an Ascended state of consciousness, and many Christian sects practice allied techniques such as Speaking in the Tongues, and Communing with the Angels to attain Ascended States wherein the individual is placed in close proximity to Higher Beings (e.g. Angels, Archangels, and God) and Higher Consciousness.  

            With regard to meditation techniques, this author has used several to great advantage in the pursuit of Spiritual Ascension, including the aforementioned Zen Walking Meditation, Mindfulness Breath Meditation, and Cabala Mantra Meditation on the Holy Words (and certain other content) of the Old Testament – most notably the Tetragrammeton, the so-called unpronounceable name of God – YHVH or YHWH. This latter is capable of producing a very powerful Ascension when combined with a series of other preparatory exercises, including the study of Cabala and Cabalistic concepts and theory, certain dietary restrictions, various specific austerities, and a variety of other spiritually focused techniques.  The simple practice of self-denial in the form of Austerity can be a powerful adjunct to the attainment of Ascension – vows of Poverty, Celibacy, Vegancy (vegetarian diet, and the avoidance of all animal products), Silence, Restriction (binding of limbs, distortion of limbs, movement in restrained methods), Abnegation  (resting or sleeping on beds of nails, sleeping upright, voluntarily submitting to various forms of torture), Inversion (hanging inverted for prolonged periods), and voluntary sensory deprivation can all support and/or produce Ascension experiences. All of the Austerities have the common thrust of turning consciousness away from the gratification motive present on the Physical Plane, thus supporting the search for meaning elsewhere in consciousness. The author has practiced, and continues to practice, numerous austerities as an adjunct to Ascended experience, in addition to Meditation as his primary technique.  Anything that draws attention away from material gratification and focuses it inward and upward is a step in the right direction from the perspective of Ascension, however forbidding it may appear to the ego on the Physical Plane!  

            There are preferably certain more or less clearly defined stages in the Ascension process that are frequently referred to in the Western Mysteries as the Planes of Ascension. I say preferably here because there are instances on record of spontaneous Ascensions that have occurred under curious, atypical circumstances, frequently those featuring hallucinogenic drug use taking place recreationally outside of a clear spiritual tradition. This type of activity is very dangerous – the mind must be progressively prepared for the experience of Ascension – to simply burst into the celestial realm of God and find oneself in the Divine Presence with the assistance of chemical substances almost always results in permanent psychological impairment. In no case has my personal Ascension involvement ever involved the use of artificial means of achievement. The reader must heed my advice in this matter, and avoid the chemical enhancement of consciousness as a means of seeking Ascension – rather, it is far better to follow the time-honored, if slow, techniques of known legitimate spiritual traditions.  

            This being said, the Planes of Ascension can generally be classified according to the level of alteration produced in consciousness. Again, in the Western Mystery tradition, the first Plane (or altered state) beyond the physical sensory perception of the Physical Plane is the Astral Plane, already mentioned in the previous paragraph on dreaming and dream states of consciousness. This Plane is generally thought of as being the final site of composition for the experience that is perceived in the senses on the Physical Plane and segregated by the ego – the often confusing and chaotic Astral impressions are literally sorted out by the ego (the pilot mechanism of consciousness) according to various social and cultural paradigms, and the result channeled into the conscious perception of a sensory “world”, or state of experience. I have often said that perception on the Physical Plane is a matter of what is not excluded by the ego, and this remains my conviction. On the Astral Plane, we make direct contact with “what is not excluded”, and some of it would seem to be subject to exclusion for good reason! In particular, the Lower Astral region is the one most immediately contiguous to physical perception, and it is populated by many negative archetypes of Astral expression, and the repressed contents of the personal unconscious – negative memory experiences from this incarnation, and (arguably) from past ones. With this dark influence present so close to the Physical Plane, it is no wonder that events here are so often unpleasant in character – if no precautions have been given to spiritual Initiates regarding the nature and influence of this region, they risk confusion and deception radiating from a most unpleasant proximal psychic layer! The Astral Plane in general is analogous to the unconscious mind of psychology, and tends to be a collective dumping ground for all that is rejected by the ego as “unfit for consumption” in awareness. The first stages of access to this region in meditation are frequently very intimidating for the aforementioned reasons.  

            The Middle and Upper Astral Planes are generally significantly less difficult to navigate once the Lower Astral turbulence has been assimilated. The term assimilated is very important here, because this lower region includes the personal unconscious mind, and the repressed memories noted in the previous paragraph.  Until these memory elements are reintegrated in conscious perception or “realized” (the Jungian term for Maslow’s “actualized”) they will plague the Initiate’s meditation experiences, or, in severe cases, prevent meditation entirely. For this reason, I strongly suggest a course of psychological therapy as an adjunct to Ascension involvement. Once this process has at least begun (and it can be conducted concurrently with spiritual practice and investigation), the Middle and Upper Astral regions, the site of manifestation of the Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious mind, can be further investigated. 

            The term “Astral Plane” is a remnant from ancient times, when human beings perceived the world as being created in large part from heavenly and stellar influences that were felt to have intelligent consciousness apart from, and much more potent than, ours here on Earth. Astrology was the “first science” of old, and many correlations were made of the movements of stellar and planetary bodies in the belief that these indicated the intentions of the extra-planetary, extra-personal influences determining events on Earth. In a way, this supposition is correct, because the Astral archetypes do heavily influence waking consciousness by patterning tendencies of perception, and these are qualitative influences of exactly the same range and type that the ancients attributed to the planets, comets, constellations, and stars! The old observation, “As above, so Below” sums up this interesting synchronicity very accurately. The human mind evolved into manifestation amid the background environment of the existing universe, and there is every reason to suppose that the human consciousness is a refection of that background condition couched in the symbolic parameters of the archetypes.  For this reason, the predictions of astrologers are never to be taken lightly – they reflect the Cosmic Mind of the universe. 

            The further belief in ancient times was that, under conditions of altered consciousness such as sleep, abnormal stress, narcolepsy, trance, etc, the mind of the observer could, and did, travel into the Astral environment – interplanetary and interstellar space – and experience the potencies there directly at first hand. This is also substantially accurate, with the proviso that we are actually “traveling” into and through the consciousness duplicate of the stellar environment, as opposed to the literal environment itself. In the Mystery Theories, inner space is outer space, and vise versa – they are perceptually the same condition. So it is that the Astral Plane is the great admixture of symbology and symbolic content all kinds, and from this first stage of Ascension we can continue to journey anywhere else we choose to.  Why? Because symbols are ultimately more real than their sensory correspondents – the impressions of the senses are transitory, while Archetypal symbols are eternal

            There are numerous correspondences in other traditions of thought between the Astral Plane and similar states of conscious expression – I will limit the discussion here to analogs from Cabala and Yoga. In Cabala, the Astral Plane is represented on the Tree of Life, (i.e. the Tree of Consciousness) – Cabala’s primary psychic model – as the three Sephora of Hod, Yesod, and Netzach, collectively referred to appropriately enough as the Astral Triangle, a reference to the occurrence of their triangular arrangement near the lower portion of the Tree. They are found directly above Malkuth, the Cabalistic representation of the Physical Plane of expression. In the system of the Chakras, frequently called the Lotus Tree – Yoga and Tantra’s primary psychic model – the Astral analog is the Chakra Svadhisthana, again lying immediately above Muladhara, the symbolic representation of the Physical Plane in on the Lotus Tree. Svadhisthana is concerned with pleasure, sexual expression, and procreation, while the Astral Triangle is concerned with Astral perception. There would not seem to be an immediate relationship between these two, but there is nonetheless a deeply hidden relationship, one that involves the essential life force that Freud called libido. Conscious does not simply happen – it must be driven into expression by an underlying force, and that force is libido. Tantra calls this force Kundalini, and equates it with all tendencies toward manifestation. Cabala calls this force the Three Pillars, or Paths of Ascension, on the Tree of Life – the Pillar of Severity, The Pillar of Mildness, and the Pillar of Mercy. Taken together, these represent three pathways to the higher conscious states that lie beyond, pathways that are deemed to be suitable to the three primary psychological types present in humanity – Jung referred to these as Extroverted, Integrated, and Introverted, respectively. These Pillars of Consciousness originate in the three Sephora of the Astral Triangle. And they amount to tendencies toward direct, balanced, and indirect sexual expression and conduct on the part of the Initiate – here is the hidden link with the Chakra Svadhisthana!  

            The Western world has always traditionally been significantly imbalanced regarding attitudes toward sexual expression, swinging from extreme extroversion to extreme introversion throughout history. The original Dravidian Hindu culture was not particularly sexually repressive, even following the so-called Aryan Incursion, until the Persian conquest of India. With the introduction of this notably Western culture into India, sexual repression was established as the norm by the notoriously violent and patriarchal Persian Empire. This nine-hundred year long occupation left its mark on Hindu civilization in many forms, including the Tantric division into Right and Left Hand Paths, with the Left Hand Path being equated with heterosexual activity (and generally frowned upon by Ascensionists), and the Right Hand Path of Yoga, abstinence, and austerity, as the expression preferred by Ascensionists. The Astral Triangle of Cabala is even more sublimated than Svadhisthana, which at least alludes to sexual conduct, and only can be understood as sexual and libidinal expression by mental health professionals customarily having several advanced academic degrees, and Mystery Students who have encountered and accepted the correct Jungian Cabalistic interpretations. Nonetheless, the correlations most definitely exist. It is the libido that drives Ascension in every tradition, although this force may be called by many different names.  

            When the libido is turned away from the direct external expression seen in sexual activity (e.g. Left Hand Tantra), it can become either a source of mental illness  (predominantly neurosis), or a driving force that can be used to power the Ascension process (e.g. Right Hand Tantra). The techniques of both Yoga and Cabala contain prescriptions and methodology needed to accomplish just this constructive conversion of sexual energy to serve Spiritual Ascension. It should be mentioned here that the practices of both Left and Right Hand Tantra can be carried on simultaneously in life as complimentary activities, but only with proper guidance and instruction.  

            This concludes our first essay on Spiritual Ascension. The next in this sequence of essays will continue the investigation and illumination of Astral and Mental Plane phenomena, concluding the Astral segment, and beginning the Mental. The Mental Plane is the Ascended State immediately following the Astral Plane in the sequence of Ascension experiences, and is focused around the concept of the thought form – a higher order archetypal manifestation that possesses volition and the capability to influence events on the Physical Plane in highly specific ways according to the wishes of the Initiate. Namaste...


                                                                              - With Love, Alan -

                                                                       (CR2008, Alan Schneider)


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