Visualization is an ordinary human faculty. Yet there are those who can visualize in an extraordinary way, transforming themselves as well as their surroundings. Their ability is sometimes called paranormal power. The process of learning how to use this power has been described by sages throughout all times. It requires wisdom, understanding, and a great deal of discretion, which students develop through years of training under the guidance of a master. The emphasis is not on the use of power, but on the philosophical principles behind it.
Ironically, some of the same principles have been popularized into an "easy-to-learn" method advertised in modern culture. Ads tell us that learning this method will allow us to create anything we want in life, to succeed in everything we do, and to solve all of our problems. As incredible as this may sound, the principles being taught are based on ancient wisdom.
The way the method is described makes it seem like any of us could learn it. If our goal is personal transformation, we start by deciding exactly how we want to change. From this we form an elaborate mental image of our "new self," which we hold in our minds, visualizing it in increasing detail, getting more and more deeply involved. When we become completely absorbed in this vision, we no longer regard it as who we want to be — it is who we are. Our mind "sees" it as reality. This totally changes our attitude, our opinions, and the way we experience life. Such a radical inner transformation is powerful enough to affect us outwardly, changing our behavior and even our appearance. In this scenario, what started in the mind has now materialized in the flesh.
If our goal is the transformation of our surroundings, we begin in much the same way. We create a mental image of what we want to happen, investing it with all the realistic details we can imagine. To be effective, the image needs to come to life in our minds, to be inwardly regarded as real, without any doubt or hesitation. But since it has to affect what is going on around us, we also need to project our vision onto our surroundings. We have to see it outwardly. This kind of mental projection attracts astral energies, elemental forces that prefigure the formation of matter and are instrumental in producing physical phenomena. Since we are dealing with extremely subtle and unpredictable forms of energy, we have to trust that the elementals we are attracting will do what we want. In the easy-to-learn method, we are told that our trust will be rewarded. With enough faith and determination, what we project with our minds can actually manifest in the physical world.
Popular descriptions give the impression that we have easy access to this kind of power. All we need is confidence and a single-minded purpose. Examples are given of very successful people who seem thoroughly self-confident, who have a vision of what they want and make this the focus of their lives. Then we are told that we too can develop this same power, transform our nature, and produce phenomenal results. As attractive as all this sounds, we may yet have the sense that we are not being told the whole story. There is no mention of wisdom or understanding. What good is this power to change whatever we choose — if we cannot choose wisely? Suppose we learned how to use this faculty and found it very powerful. Consider the wide-ranging effects of a foolish course of action and how it would affect the balance of nature. Would we really understand the consequences? And imagine being so focused on something that it becomes an obsession that shatters our stability.
Addressing these concerns requires a comprehensive system of knowledge. Our paranormal powers have to be considered within the context of our entire being. The effect such powers have on our surroundings cannot be understood without a holistic view of life, and in the face of all these multifaceted, precarious relationships we need a way to find harmony within ourselves and with nature as a whole.
This is just the kind of understanding that students of the esoteric tradition learn to develop. One of the basic teachings is that the essential reality within every form of life is pure consciousness. It is the formless and unconditioned essence of all existence. Emanating from this Source, the energy of pure consciousness is stepped down through graduated levels of expression. In the process, the highest, most refined energies emanate forms that are less and less ethereal. And these become increasingly conditioned by the material world, which limits their awareness.
Take our own nature, for example. Our highest principle is our link with pure consciousness. Its awareness is stepped down to inform the higher levels of the mind, our intuition and spiritual understanding. Their awareness is stepped down to inform the intellect, which is reduced even further in the lower mind. This part of our mentality is preoccupied with the objects of desire which distract our attention and make us even less aware. When desires move us to act, the lower levels of being all work together — our vital, astral, and physical principles respond as a whole. But if this response is our only focus, we are no longer informed by understanding. We lose this higher faculty that gives us insight into causes and effects. And without it, we do not know what we're doing.
This also applies to our so-called paranormal powers. It is misleading to think of them as being above our normal faculties. They are actually part of our lower nature. They are generated by vital-astral-physical energy and concentrated by desire, and the concentration they require can easily make us oblivious to what is going on around us. How powerful would we be if we ended up weakening our understanding? Imagine having no concern for consequences — just focusing on power and success. Think how much suffering we could cause.
These issues lead directly to the way to free ourselves from suffering. The essential wisdom and understanding of our higher self endure from one life to the next. For these qualities to develop, they need to be expressed through our lower nature — in our thinking, aspirations, and actions. So all our faculties have to work together in balance to allow our higher principles to inform the lower ones. But a life spent in the pursuit of personal desire painfully upsets this balance because our lower self cannot choose wisely, and foolish choices cause suffering. It is especially unwise to be obsessed with power, for this is how the ego forms its strongest attachments — which are all impermanent. In fact, the stronger they are, the more we suffer the loss. So the path of power is actually a path of suffering.
Yet there is an aspect of ourselves that we cannot lose: the spiritual intelligence that informs our higher self. It is the only real power we have, for it alone can strengthen our true nature. All we have to do to develop this power is to follow the path of virtue. This is not a code of ethical rules devised by human thought. It is based on the oneness of life, how all living things and all levels of being are completely interdependent. When we support this unity, we are following the path of virtue. And we can do this simply by deeply caring for the welfare of the whole.
Here we discover our true power — in our concern for the well- being of others. By holding this goal in heart and mind, we develop the most awesome ability. It transforms our understanding with a vision of the whole. It turns our common desires into aspirations for humanity. It informs us with the wisdom to choose our words and actions wisely. It makes us mindful of the needs of those around us. And it allows us to concentrate on life as a total experience, to be completely absorbed in everything that happens. This is how we find harmony within ourselves: we deepen our concern for all of life. The deeper we care, the more we recognize this infinite power at the core of our being — it is the one essential reality within each of us.
(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 2006. Copyright © 2006 by Theosophical University Press)
Half the world is on the wrong scent in the pursuit of happiness. They think it consists in having and getting. On the contrary, it consists in giving, and in serving. — Henry Drummond