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Selflessness series:

Guidance :: Beyond Reason

Selflessness: Channeling

For him who has perception, a mere sign is enough.
For him who does not really heed,
a thousand explanations are not enough.

– Idries Shah

The late afternoon sun filtered through the woods and large windows in Carla’s office. She sat in front of me. I was in a light trance feeling both relaxed and energized. My only effort was to stay out of the way of the thoughts and feelings coming through. Carla was helping me channel. She had gotten me started. Then she had posed questions about my life. Now she said, “Do you have any guidance for me?”

In my mind's eye I saw a round swirl of blue-green. At the same time, the thought came to me, “She should have more confidence.” I debated, “Who am I to speak about her confidence? She is a healer of considerable talent. Is this just my ego glorifying itself? … ” I started to spin off and become agitated.

Years earlier psychics had taught me not to hold onto thoughts. Just say them and go on. So I blurted, “Blue green. Confidence.” The words meant nothing to me, but it was the best I could do.

Carla said, “Thank you,” as if she understood.

Later, after I came out of the state, she said, “A short while ago, I was told that I would be introduced to a new teacher. I was not to ask his name. I get hung up on names and they aren’t important. I was to think of this as the teacher of the blue light. I doubted the validity of this. So sub-vocally I asked the question, ‘Should I trust this?’ Out loud I said, ‘Do you have any guidance for me?’ Your response was a clear ‘Yes’.”

My words had answered a question that I, Doug, didn’t understand. Even as I spoke the answer, I didn’t know what they meant. Yet it was a precise response. It lent credibility to the proposition that the channeling was just what it seemed to be: some wise entity speaking through me. But it didn’t prove it.


Channeling has an ancient history from the Delphi Prophet to Saint Francis (“Lord, let me be an instrument of Thy Peace”) to New Age practices. The phenomenon raises questions about self and selflessness like: Who’s really speaking? Is it me? Is it a guiding spirit? What’s the difference? How do we distinguish between multidimensional perception and pure fantasy? Are guides merely projections of the unconscious or super-conscious? How could I answer Carla’s question without knowing what it was? Are we connected in mysterious yet practical ways? Are we one being? For that matter, how do we know anything is real? How do you know I’m not a figment of your imagination? Am I real? What difference does it make?

Questions about channeling are compounded by it often being badly misinterpreted. The very label “channeling” is a misleading interpretation more than a description. It’s like calling a thunderstorm “the gods’ anger.” The phenomena are rain and thunder. The interpretation is angry deities. Channeling as a phenomena can be valuable in cultivating selflessness and insight. But the interpretations of this experience can be silly or fanciful. Beyond a certain point, I’m not interested in whether the guiding spirits are really real. I just want to see if the practice is helpful.


This is the fourth talk in a series on the variety of experiences of selflessness. Because of all the flakiness associated with channeling, I’m tempted to ignore it. However, I’ve found channeling very helpful. So I can’t distance myself from it with integrity. And since it is an experience of selflessness, this series would be incomplete without trying to sift the kernel from the chaff.


I could introduce the topic with a long speculative discussion of what is literally true, what is metaphorical, and what is evocative in channeling. But I don’t have it sorted out myself.

So it might be more fun to invite you on a little ride. I’m going to jump into a description using language most common in channeling as if it were literally true. This may require some temporary willing suspension of disbelief. But I think it will lead to a richer experience.

And if you indulge me in this, I promise, before we’re done, we’ll invite doubt and skepticism back to the table.

 

Four Phases

The word channeling implies that we are a conduit through which energies and information flow. If we empty ourselves out, then impressions that arise inside are more likely to have just arrived from the outside.

There are four phases in channeling. First we go into a light and open state and empty ourselves out. Second, we meet what seems to be a disembodied entity and discern if they’re wise enough to be worthwhile communicating with. Third, if they are, we invite them into our psychophysical being so they can speak through our vessel. And fourth, we sort out what to do with impressions that arise.

Let’s look at each phase.

 

Emptying

The first phase is emptying and getting our selves out of the way. We might, for example, begin by relaxing deeply or going into a light trance. If you’ve worked with chakras (energy centers in the body) you can open these up.

Next, we could imagine a golden ball of light that we can see or feel. It’s wonderful. It slowly moves up through us starting at our feet. As it rises, it takes our sense of self into a safe loving container of light. It takes all we identify as ourselves into the comfortable, protected energy field. It rises up out the crown of the head and then moves over beside the body just a few feet away where it is comfortable and accessible but outside our body conduit.

Then we imagine our vessel rising into a realm that doesn’t feel as coarse as the earth environment – more refined and light filled. We imagine a gathering of wise and loving beings. We eventually feel or imagine ourselves before one wise and loving entity.

 

Encountering a Wise Being

This brings us into the second phase: We question them openly and directly, “Are you one of the wisest beings available to me now?”

Just because someone died doesn’t mean they’re smart. Just because an entity doesn’t have a body doesn’t mean they’re wise. Gary Larson drew a cartoon of a caveman standing on a rock jumping up and down and hooting as he scratched his sides. The caption read, “Just then Thag began to channel a three million year old gibbon named ‘Gus.’”

I have never channeled a gibbon. But in my three or four years of channeling practice I connected with some pretty dense beings. Most were well intentioned. But many were not very wise. They didn’t feel good.

Fortunately, these beings won’t lie to us. So it’s important to ask, “Are you the wisest available to me?”

If they indicate no, then we thank them and send them love and light and firmly ask them to leave. And they will.

Eventually, we find a being who is the highest available. After some preliminaries, we invite them to come into our psychophysical being. They flow in through the crown chakra and come down inside our vessel.

 

Speaking Through Us

This brings us into the third phase: allowing them to talk through us. This is not as weird as it may sound. All of us have lots of personas – lots of identity states. There is the person we are when we are in love. There is the person we are when we are at work. There is the person we are when we’re playing with a small child. The writer, Ouspenski, noted that the person who sets an alarm to get up early the next morning is not be the same person who hears the alarm in the morning, turns it off, and goes back to sleep. We shift through lots of personas during a normal day.

In channeling, we are aware of a wise persona that we may not identify with. Our self-identity stays quietly in the background barely observing as this other state speaks.

When we’re learning to channel, it is easiest to have someone else question us so we can do our best to stay out of the way.

When we’re done, we thank the being and invite it to leave through the crown chakra. (I often feel like a balloon deflating.) Then if we’ve used imagery to travel to lighter realms, we reverse course until we’ve returned to the room where we’re sitting. We take the ball of light safely holding our old sense of self and allow it to bring us back into our psychophysical being. We close the chakras so they’ll return to our familiar state. And finally, we wiggle fingers or move our body to make sure we’re fully back.

At first it may take 40 minute to an hour to do this whole process. After becoming comfortable with it, it’s possible to abbreviate steps considerably.

 

Skepticism

Now we come to the final phase: sorting out what to do with impression that came from a mysterious source.

Up to now I’ve encouraged you to keep your skepticism at bay. For this final phase, it’s fine to open the gates and let you doubts tumble back into the room. But use doubt wisely. Don’t let it dismiss impressions out of hand – that’s just prejudice. Use it to form focused, open minded questions like “What’s real? What’s really going on?”

Here’s my best answer:

There are times when I’m dense, stupid and clueless. There are times when I’m relatively clear, insightful, and wise. Mostly I’m somewhere in between.

When I’m channeling, most of what comes out of my mouth comes from the wise end of the spectrum.

Beyond this I’m less certain.

My hunch is that we are all more deeply embedded in the web of life than we realize. And these practices use our relational instincts to overcome our hyper-developed sense of self and tap into the wisdom and knowing that is the fabric of life itself. But I don’t know this for sure.

Perhaps there are literal disembodied teachers in the flux and flow of life. Perhaps they are metaphors. Perhaps the process sensitizes us to subliminal cues.* Empirically I don’t know how to sort these out. I do know that arguing about things that we can’t prove or disprove is a waste of energy at best and a path to holy wars at worst.

So I prefer to let our doubts be doubts and focus on the practical question of how we make wise use of impressions that come from mysterious sources.

 

Sorting It Out

When I first learned to channel I was so thrilled with the results that I asked my channeled teachers more and more questions: “What about this?” “What do I do in that situation?”

Then one day I sat down to channel and it felt like talking to a blank wall. There was nothing. My teachers were gone. There was just cold darkness.

I tried the next day. And the next. And the next. Nothing. After several months, I gave up my aspiration of being a great channel and went back to figuring out the issues in my life the old fashioned way: a mix of reason and feeling and common sense.

As soon as I did this, my teachers reappeared.

“Where have you been?” I asked.

“You were becoming too reliant on us,” they said. “You were asking us about things you already knew. It was not in your best interest to become so dependent on us. So we stayed away until you figured that out.”

I learned three things from this about wise use of prayer, guidance, and channeling.

Don’t ask what to do

First, ask for insight, not direction. Don’t ask channeled teachers, guides, or gods to tell you what to do. Wise teachers – whether embodied or disembodied – don’t want our dependence. So instead ask for wisdom and insight that can help you know what is best.

Ultimately we are responsible for what we say and do. We don’t get to blame mistakes on God, teachers, the devil, or well-meaning friends. We are responsible for our actions. We should use spiritual practices in ways that are harmonious with this reality.

So, if we are wondering if it is time to leave a job, don’t pray, “Tell me what to do?” Instead ask, “What might be the effect of staying on?” “What might be the effect of leaving?” “What is it that I’m not seeing clearly?” Ask questions that would help you gain insight and understanding not dependence.

If it’s not clear what to do, keep dialoging with your teachers-guides- sources until it becomes clear. Keep exploring until a course resonates inside you. Act on insight not because something told you to but because it resonates with you.

Know the Dark Side

Second, know the dark side of channeling – ways that it can go wrong either by creating dependence or by confusing channeling with repressed feelings.

All intuitive knowing is filtered through our unconscious – that part of the mind-heart where we store old hurts, pains we don’t want to face, and habits we don’t like to acknowledge. Prayer, guidance, and channeling work to the degree that we can temporarily step aside from them. We never do it completely. So the more self-knowledge we have of our own dark side, the less likely we’ll confuse our unwise tendencies with wise knowing.

I once met regularly with ten therapists in a peer support group. They decided they wanted to work with channeling. It was the most awkward and painful group I’ve ever been in. People who should have known better projected their unconscious fears and control needs onto each other. It wasn’t pretty.

As I said last time, if the guidance we receive would needlessly harm ourselves or others, if it would inflate or deflate our ego, if it’s coercive, dictatorial or autocratic in tone, or if it clashes with our highest values, then it is probably distorted by repressed feelings.

We should use our discernment to sort it out. We can also use channeling or guidance to help decide.

 

Harmoniously Using All Faculties

This leads to the third lesson I learned:

Never make a big life decision based on channeling, guidance, or prayer alone. We have multiple resources to draw upon including self-knowledge, experience, reason, emotional intelligence, and intuition. In making big decisions we want all these counselors at the table. We don’t want intellect stomping out feeling. We don’t want past fears shouting down intuition. We don’t want intuition blotting out reason. We want all of them constructively and compassionately engaged. None of them is as smart as all of them together. None of them is as wise as all working as a collective.

I am wiser than some people who are smarter than me because I draw on a wider range of resources than they do. And there are people a lot wiser than me simply because they’ve cultivated a wider range of faculties and know how to integrate them harmoniously.

So if you haven’t cultivated relational instincts through prayer, guidance or channeling, I encourage you to not shy away from them. Cultivate them as an experiment. See what you can discover. This may require temporary suspension of disbelief – but not permanent suspension.

Ultimately we want to use our relational instincts to enhance our intuitive abilities so we can invite them all to be full partners at the table. Not as ridiculed children, dictatorial tyrants, or spacey hippies. But as smart, heartful partners to be part of our collective as we become wiser members of the larger collective – the circle of all life and spirit and being which is all of us.


Guidance :: Beyond Reason

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* Malcolm Gladwell in Blink (Little Brown and Company, 2005) describes some of the research on subliminal processing of information.

© 2011 Doug Kraft. First delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento, on Sunday, October 23, 2011.