When Audio Is a Portal to Other Realms

As escaping the confines of reality sounds more and more appealing, audiobooks about lucid dreaming, astral projection, and other mystical states are proliferating.

Many genres might be described as “escapist”: romance, fantasy, historical fiction, espionage thriller, comedy. But some listening experiences claim to be actual vehicles of escape—from the physical body, from everyday consciousness, from this dimension—at least, if you’re able to attain the altered states they describe.

Audiobooks about lucid dreaming, transcendental meditation, and out-of-body experiences may stretch the contours of our beliefs (and credulity), but they’ve been around for decades, and they’re trending again as tutorials on astral projection and reality-shifting find new audiences on YouTube and TikTok.

As yet more snow fell on our endless pandemic winter, I wondered if it was possible—could we close our eyes, open our ears, and end up somewhere else? Here are six listens that invite the curious to explore further realms, with audio as the guide.

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The Art of Dreaming

Sleep is considered a key portal to other realities. The hypnagogic state, at the hazy border between sleep and wakefulness, is when phenomena like lucid dreaming (when the sleeper becomes aware of sleeping and may then even control their dreams), astral projection, heightened creativity, and visions are said to occur. The cult mystical writer Carlos Castaneda exuded hallucinogenic visions in his own work, like his tales of the possibly fictional Yaqui Indian sorcerer Don Juan. In this adventure, Don Juan reveals that dreams are key to the sorcerer’s power, and provides exercises and techniques to take control of your own.

Out of Body into Life

Astral projection is an out-of-body experience said to happen at the onset of a lucid dream—with lots of practice or perhaps by accident, your astral self can leave your body and go down the block, to other planets, or, presumably, Paris. I wanted to try it until I learned it comes with a significantly increased chance of sleep paralysis, a phenomenon I've experienced and dread. So I checked out this book as an interested observer, not a participant, and maybe hypnosis was involved because I could not stop listening. Part abstract academic course (the author is a PhD), part bonkers cosmic travel memoir, it kept me hooked with its thoughtful structure and the author’s elegant West African accent—though be warned, the recording quality is uneven. While listening, I did not transport to the astral plane, but I did feel like I was sitting in a cozy bar corner with an intelligent person recounting his journeys into the wild frontiers of cosmic consciousness. Which, considering how long it’s been since I sat in a bar with a fascinating stranger, wasn’t a bad deal at all.

Far Journeys

In Out of Body Into Life, Adapa acknowledges a major debt to the work of Robert Monroe, the consciousness pioneer whose book Journeys Out of the Body, originally published in 1971, is credited with popularizing the term “out-of-body experience,” or OBE. Monroe, who first experienced the phenomenon by accident, as many of those who report OBEs say they do, found himself leaving his physical body to travel via a “second body” to realms far removed from the physical and spiritual realities he had known. The sequel, Far Journeys, is less methodical and features more of Monroe's narrative flair, while still supplying plenty of how-to guidance and mindblowing anecdotes from the outer limits of consciousness.

Sleep with Silk: Binaural Beats

Robert Monroe was a former radio broadcaster, and sound was central to his techniques—notably “binaural” beats, which involve the transmission of ambient sounds through headphones, a slightly different frequency in each ear, to trick the brain into producing a new frequency called the binaural beat. The idea is that this can induce different states of consciousness, from meditation to sleep to trippy, psychedelic states. This calming podcast features hypnotic binaural tones to induce meditation, relaxation, and sleep. While there are no episodes devoted to OBEs, the episode I listened to, “Delta sleep orange 3.5,” did send me straight to dreamland—mercifully, of the sleep-paralysis-free variety.

Catching the Big Fish

Iconic filmmaker and Twin Peaks creator David Lynch famously practices Transcendental Meditation, or TM, in which meditators repeat assigned mantras and let their thoughts float until they “transcend” to a peaceful, alert state. Lynch’s book delves deeply into his experiences with TM, which he says uncovers the “ocean of pure consciousness” and involves a profound sense of stillness, receptiveness to new ideas, and deeper self-awareness. Catching the Big Fish may be a bit heavy on the ins and outs of TM for those only interested in Lynch’s cinematic work, but for the transcendental explorer, it makes for a fascinating guide, read by the creative genius himself.

Piranesi

Piranesi is a fantasy novel by the wildly talented writer Susanna Clarke. It is not a primer on how to alter your consciousness—it just does it, in my experience. The story, a Borgesian tale of a young man in an endless Gothic labyrinth, is so strange and pure, its heady occult imagery so ripe for symbolizing, that I naturally entered a meditative state as I sought to simply observe rather than analyze it. I walked around listening to this one in an alert trance, which was a drastic departure from my previous mindset of burnout and exhaustion—and almost certainly due to the spot-on casting choice of actor Chiwetel Ejiofor as narrator. To listen to Piranesi is to enter the labyrinth, with a spellbinding voice as your guide to realms unknown.

The Art of Dreaming

Sleep is considered a key portal to other realities. The hypnagogic state, at the hazy border between sleep and wakefulness, is when phenomena like lucid dreaming (when the sleeper becomes aware of sleeping and may then even control their dreams), astral projection, heightened creativity, and visions are said to occur. The cult mystical writer Carlos Castaneda exuded hallucinogenic visions in his own work, like his tales of the possibly fictional Yaqui Indian sorcerer Don Juan. In this adventure, Don Juan reveals that dreams are key to the sorcerer’s power, and provides exercises and techniques to take control of your own.

Out of Body into Life

Astral projection is an out-of-body experience said to happen at the onset of a lucid dream—with lots of practice or perhaps by accident, your astral self can leave your body and go down the block, to other planets, or, presumably, Paris. I wanted to try it until I learned it comes with a significantly increased chance of sleep paralysis, a phenomenon I've experienced and dread. So I checked out this book as an interested observer, not a participant, and maybe hypnosis was involved because I could not stop listening. Part abstract academic course (the author is a PhD), part bonkers cosmic travel memoir, it kept me hooked with its thoughtful structure and the author’s elegant West African accent—though be warned, the recording quality is uneven. While listening, I did not transport to the astral plane, but I did feel like I was sitting in a cozy bar corner with an intelligent person recounting his journeys into the wild frontiers of cosmic consciousness. Which, considering how long it’s been since I sat in a bar with a fascinating stranger, wasn’t a bad deal at all.

Far Journeys

In Out of Body Into Life, Adapa acknowledges a major debt to the work of Robert Monroe, the consciousness pioneer whose book Journeys Out of the Body, originally published in 1971, is credited with popularizing the term “out-of-body experience,” or OBE. Monroe, who first experienced the phenomenon by accident, as many of those who report OBEs say they do, found himself leaving his physical body to travel via a “second body” to realms far removed from the physical and spiritual realities he had known. The sequel, Far Journeys, is less methodical and features more of Monroe's narrative flair, while still supplying plenty of how-to guidance and mindblowing anecdotes from the outer limits of consciousness.

Sleep with Silk: Binaural Beats

Robert Monroe was a former radio broadcaster, and sound was central to his techniques—notably “binaural” beats, which involve the transmission of ambient sounds through headphones, a slightly different frequency in each ear, to trick the brain into producing a new frequency called the binaural beat. The idea is that this can induce different states of consciousness, from meditation to sleep to trippy, psychedelic states. This calming podcast features hypnotic binaural tones to induce meditation, relaxation, and sleep. While there are no episodes devoted to OBEs, the episode I listened to, “Delta sleep orange 3.5,” did send me straight to dreamland—mercifully, of the sleep-paralysis-free variety.

Catching the Big Fish

Iconic filmmaker and Twin Peaks creator David Lynch famously practices Transcendental Meditation, or TM, in which meditators repeat assigned mantras and let their thoughts float until they “transcend” to a peaceful, alert state. Lynch’s book delves deeply into his experiences with TM, which he says uncovers the “ocean of pure consciousness” and involves a profound sense of stillness, receptiveness to new ideas, and deeper self-awareness. Catching the Big Fish may be a bit heavy on the ins and outs of TM for those only interested in Lynch’s cinematic work, but for the transcendental explorer, it makes for a fascinating guide, read by the creative genius himself.

Piranesi

Piranesi is a fantasy novel by the wildly talented writer Susanna Clarke. It is not a primer on how to alter your consciousness—it just does it, in my experience. The story, a Borgesian tale of a young man in an endless Gothic labyrinth, is so strange and pure, its heady occult imagery so ripe for symbolizing, that I naturally entered a meditative state as I sought to simply observe rather than analyze it. I walked around listening to this one in an alert trance, which was a drastic departure from my previous mindset of burnout and exhaustion—and almost certainly due to the spot-on casting choice of actor Chiwetel Ejiofor as narrator. To listen to Piranesi is to enter the labyrinth, with a spellbinding voice as your guide to realms unknown.

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