The Theosophical Society in America

Parallel Planes

Printed in the Fall 2013 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Gardner, Amy. "Parallel Planes" Quest  101. 4 (Fall 2013): pg. 145-147.

By Amy Gardner

Amy GardnerBeing a new member of the Theosophical Society, I decide to take an introductory crash course in the astral dimension by studying C.W. Leadbeater's1906 lecture "The Reality of the Astral Plane" while waiting for a flight out of Dallas. Conveniently, someone on the Web provides the written transcript of the Leadbeater lecture online, and the Dallas—Fort Worth airport is an ideal field for exploring esoteric concepts..

Sitting in the boarding area for American flight 1507 to Albuquerque, eager to learn more about this real but impermanent dimension, I open my computer to start reading. Certain sentences catch my attention:

You all know from ancient teaching that there is an unseen world—that there is very much existing about us and acting about us all the time.

Committed to keeping my scientific laboratory immediate, I look around the terminal carefully. A woman next to the glass window is on her cell phone, frantically gesticulating. Beyond our glass enclosure distant workmen dig with their great earthmoving equipment to expand this tremendous airline travel port like some dock on an ocean of asphalt. A man practices a speech quietly to himself. I squint my eyes to block out the detail and scan this place for the unseen world. "Certainly each person here is in his or her own world," I think to myself.

Returning to my reading, I feel as though Leadbeater is imploring me to look more carefully:

The astral world is simply nothing but the continuation of the physical world in finer matter.

Along rows of leather and steel chairs, people gather around, most with fast food purchases made in kiosks in the terminal—McDonald's, Uno's Pizza, and Starbucks. An effervescent party is returning home from a weekend wedding in New York. Businesspeople are tapping away on their iPhones. Matter is everywhere, yet I do not see its metaphysical mystery.

While they may be there, no colorful orbs or energy emanations are visible to me. My eyes are blind to energetic distortions or pulsing light patterns. I decide to stretch my legs a bit and walk around to find some insight. The woman selling newspapers and candy in a brightly lit cubby looks tired. The shoe shine man laughs with a buddy about something meant for guys. The janitor leans heavily on his broom, polishing the long hall. Certainly these employees are in a different head space than I am with my research. But we look the same.

I notice how many people sleep here in DFW. Curled on a row of three chairs is a college student. She is probably traveling in the very place I am trying to understand, for Leadbeater tells me: 

Although we are living in the midst of the astral world at this moment, to most of us it is unreal because it is imperceptible. A few hours later we shall fall asleep, and . . . it will be from astral objects alone that we shall be able to receive vibrations.

The woman on the three chairs seems impervious to the metal edges on her imperfect bed, probably because she is flying around someplace remarkable. Maybe this traveler to dreamland will remember the astral plane, and maybe she will convey the experience upon waking. Maybe I should just take a nap and be more aware of my surroundings, for I sense that the nature of the place matters. I secretly wish for a teacher, a spirit of the astral dimension, a Master of Wisdom who can guide me.

As I roll my bag down this hall of learning, billboards and advertisements call out to me. I notice my hunger and thirst for consumables as well as an unnatural interest in leather cowboy chaps and fine jewelry. Having made my living in marketing, I recognize these tricks. Savvy marketers, governments, and corporations make millions by yoking human needs and archetypal longings to products and services. Today's magicians move us to buy false satisfiers to sooth our most profound yearnings. Certainly the desires of humans for love, sex, learning, community, autonomy, contribution, and more are vibrations that advertisers tune into.

Investigation shows us that among these higher vibrations are those caused by the desires and emotions of man, and such of his thoughts as are mingled with personal craving or feeling. It is found that such thoughts or emotions are outpourings of energy just as definite as electricity or steam.

Human needs, when harnessed, are an awesome power that can be directed toward selfish or altruistic aims. Consumer culture could be an illusion that comes from corporate manipulation of the astral plane for personal gain. Maybe this is my lesson in the dark side of the astral plane.

Returning to the gate, I intend to search the lecture again for some gem when my flight is announced. Loading my gear in the steerage section, I sit down and close off the outside world. Crammed into a space engineered for maximum profitability, I am not in the mood to chat with the man pressing upon my arm, so rather than use my mind, I decide to meditate—clear and let the insight come to me.

The captain informs us after the doors close that there is a maintenance problem. Only twenty minutes to wait, says the captain. After twenty minutes, the captain announces that the repair will require another twenty minutes. The tired passengers heave a collective outcry of despair. With closed eyes, I remember Leadbeater's teachings on emotional vibrations:

This astral world affects us because its vibrations have the same qualities as all other kinds of vibrations—they radiate in all directions, and they tend to reproduce themselves.

I feel some responsibility in meditation to practice centering. It cannot hurt anything to radiate a calming presence now.

If by emotion or passion you set up a vibration in astral matter, it acts in precisely the same way; and necessarily in its radiation it impinges upon the astral bodies of all those about you. If there be among them one which is in tune with that vibration, it will at once be excited to respond to it; that is to say, your emotion will be reproduced in that other man.

The passengers seem to calm down, and I get a sense that some sort of entrainment process has occurred with the energy in the cabin. There will be no mutiny tonight.

After a fifty-minute delay, about the limit of my meditative endurance, our plane is ready to depart. I open my eyes, and the man next to me asks gruffly, "Are you a Buddhist? My ex-wife was a Buddhist." The plane shifts and takes off.

My row mate has a long white beard and a fedora.  He has the faint smell of trunk-stored clothing.

"No," I respond quizzically. "I really haven't felt the need to pick a tradition—I kind of like to study them all. How about you?"

The old man replies, "I'm a SCIENTIST, a devout ATHEIST. I'm a WICCAN."

"Wow!" I gasp. Could this be the secret teacher I was wishing for earlier—an incarnation of Leadbeater or Olcott or one of the other bearded guys from Theosophy long ago? I was hoping for a teacher who would help me learn about the astral dimension. Suddenly this strange man appears, and I know (perhaps more than he) that my seatmate is a spirit from the astral plane. How fortuitous is this meeting! "A Wiccan," I repeat. "Do you know anything about the astral plane?"

"Oh, it's just a lot of nonsense about the spirit dimension," he says while I grin.

Coalman proceeds to tell me that he taught astronomy at the University of New Mexico until he found that he could no longer bear the barrage of student interest in astrology. He is now a self-confessed curmudgeon and official grouch. His main reason for disgust with the human race is that despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that global warming is happening, people will not face the gravity of the situation. We talk about new technologies and how people will respond when the crisis becomes personal.

"The crisis affects all of us and we are running out of time!" he vents.

"Yes sir," I agree.

"Humans are irrational!" he mutters grumpily.

"We would rather annihilate the planet than change our thinking," I chime in, sadly mourning the loss of green as the earth warms up.

"We are going the way of Venus," he declares.

"What happened to Venus?" I ask, zipping on over to the dusty orange planet in my imagination.

"Planetary warming!" Coalman bellows. "The planet was very similar to earth, then something happened. It heated up and the water evaporated."

"Where did the water go?" I ask, erroneously thinking 1that our blue planet is a closed system.

"It went into space—vast endless space. Those water atoms are out there in space."`

Suddenly my whole view of the universe changes. ``There in outer space, proven by science, is an entire ocean looking for a place to land. If little drops of blue water live in the endless black void, certainly green forests and colorful extinct species, not to mention all manner of ancestors and astral variants, are there too. Sure, they're hiding in nothingness, but the potential for manifestation is everywhere!

Coalman continues, "We have to deal with the global warming problem."

"Hmm, I have to agree, but haven't we had these floods before? Don't things function in cycles? Won't the ecosystem find a way to balance itself?" Then I talk about Nature's ability to wipe us out and start again: pandemics, antibiotic resistance, and the global food crisis. "And isn't there some intelligence to this universe? I mean, when I sit outside and a cat approaches a covey of quail, they all flush at once, scaring the predator away. Individually they have no ability to survive, but as a group they are intelligent."

"Oh, that's just evolution for survival," explains my sage.

"Well, what about the web of intelligence in an aspen forest, where each tree is really part of one underground root? And the web of intelligence in mushrooms—mycelium webs that cover entire states? And the web of intelligence in oceans, where whales communicate over miles? Certainly this intelligence extends beyond these few examples and into the capability of the planet to raise her temperature like a fever to deal with a global infection." I gasp for breath.

"Yes, James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis," he muses. "I could believe in that God. But that God has no regard for humanity specifically."

"Probably not," I agree, reflecting on the mysterious universal life creating Reality.

Coalman and I sit back quietly in our seats for some time. Eventually he speaks.

"Changes are happening so fast now. I wish I could live to see what's next."

"How old are you, Coalman?" I ask.

"I'm eighty-three," he says.

The number hangs in the air while the captain tells us to prepare to land. I think about homeostasis, mushroom mats, the lost oceans of Venus, Coalman's unlikely attraction to Wicca and the web of intelligence that has somehow gotten all of us from Dallas to Albuquerque safely. But mostly I think about humans in a state of constant longing—the astral plane that beckons us to connect with the world and, if only temporarily, satisfy desires of the mind, body, and spirit. I watch the wedding party leave, heads bow over cell phones, and bags descend from overhead compartments.

And when Coalman prepares to leave I reach out to shake his hand goodnight. "Keep going," I say.

"You too," he says, holding my hand in a curious way.

While awaiting my bag to make its round on the carousel, I read the last of Leadbeater's essay, which does not have much to do with the astral plane but calms my mind. 

For those of us who are beginning to realize the existence and nature of the great divine scheme of evolution, the privilege of trying in our small way to help it forward is the one purpose of our existence.


Amy Gardner has a passion for exploring world religions, mythologies, and symbols. When she is not building, sculpting, and gardening, Amy makes her living as a writer. She lives with her partner in Corrales, New Mexico.