Growing up, I devoured fiction. Quality fiction, perhaps not, but my imagination received stimulation none-the-lesser. If, within these novels, I found something that sparked my spirit I could then head to the computer to let my mind run, wild and deep, into the unknown. There was a webpage for everything one could dream of.

Zack Files cover

As a youth, I enjoyed the abstract. The more bizarre and uncommon the plot-line, the more I longed to sink my teeth into it. One of the many series of abstract fiction I consumed was titled: The Zack Files. Within these easy-to-digest books, Zack would explore themes inspired by strange meta-physical phenomenon. In the book 'I'm Out of My Body, Please Leave a Message', he dabbles in an obscure bit of esoterica known as Astral Projection.

Astral Projection is the belief that - with enough patience, magic, and focus - an individual is capable of separating their ethereal souls from their physical bodies. Once free from fleshy confines, the soul is then permitted to explore the vapourous vastness of the Astral Plane. Within this plane one may find bizarre locales and beings of unimaginable power, benevolence, or malice.

With an impish grin, reading about such concepts lit a strange-coloured fire somewhere in my heart; the lush, unspoiled, and well-populated imaginations of the young are of the most beautiful places. Creeping up to the computer I became intoxicated with wonder and possibility; into an archaic search engine, under the watchful eye of no agency or parental unit, I would type: How to Visit the Astral Plane.

In the 90s, Wikipedia did not yet exist to tell you how scientifically incorrect and silly your views were. The items that would populate the front-page were written and presented in lo-fidelity. Search engines did nothing to screen for "quality"; if it was relevant to your keywords and visited by people, it was presented higher.

I wonder, now, who created these obscure, mystical, and out-right mad digital codexes. In my youth however, with filter undeveloped, I was quick to click on the first link and gobble up every word written as though it were gospel. I recall one page vividly. It had cryptic and large Times New Roman on a twilight background, speckled with planets and galaxies. GIFs of flame and sparkle book-ended headers, within which contained the instruction I sought: "How to Visit the Astral Plane".

Underneath several paragraphs of thick, capitalized, obscure, and oddly coloured text, there was a strange picture. "Stare at it and breathe deeply", the words told me, "you will feel your soul begin to seep outside of your body."

I felt it! I was sure! Fuelled by the rush of discovery, I tore through the remaining instructions. My perceptions had been fooled; the eerie sensation I felt had legitimized my faith and breathed life into fiction. I was committed to practicing this most mysterious art. I was determined to leave my flesh behind for moonlit adventuring within the Astral Plane.

"LIE HORIZONTALLY", it said -- mmm-hmm.

"CLOSE YOUR EYES", it reminded -- 'course.

"BREATH DEEPLY AND REPEAT: I AM LEAVING MY BODY, I AM LEAVING MY BODY...", it droned -- mmm.

"DO NOT LINGER OR YOUR SOUL MAY BECOME LOST", it hinted -- ya-ya.

"BEWARE THE ASTRAL VAMPIRE", it warned -- right, got it.

Ready to slice my tether to reality asunder, I sprinted back into my bedroom, shut the door, lay flat, squeezed my eyes shut and began breathing deeply: I am leaving my body. Nothing yet. I will try again tomorrow, I promised myself.

Moons later, on one fateful evening whilst laying in my bed repeating my haunting mantra, I began to feel a tingle in my furthest appendages. My toes vibrated with an unseen energy... then my fingers... then the tip of my head.

"At last! It is working!"

My ankles, then my elbows; my legs, and then my arms. Eventually, my entire being became alive with a warm and buzzing sensation. The electricity pulsed through every fibre of my watery vessel. Suddenly, my stomach gave a lurch and I flashed my eyes open for fear of rolling out of my bed. Instead of toppling onto the floor, I stared back into my own face which was smiling, relaxed in peaceful sleep.

With ghostly appendages flailing in every direction, I had escaped. My spirit was free to drift among the radiant lights of unfathomable new dimensions. Here, there was no homework. Out in the Astral Plane, no one could boss you around or make you feel inadequate. My imagination burst open, imbuing the abstract night-world with a typhoon of eccentric characters and mystical locations. It was a spiritual paradise within my own mind.

I practiced this bizarre and imagined ritual until one day in my teenaged years all became forgotten. The allure of the Astral Realm weakened and the pull of the material became too great. With hormones aflame, I moved, lost friends, developed new interests, created relationships, bought things, and gave in to endless distraction.

My imagination dimmed and I lost touch with the desire to entertain the playful soul that existed within my flesh. No longer did I wish to explore the unknown mysteries of the cosmos. No longer did I travel the mesh of realities that intertwine with our own. Now, I wanted people to like me. I wanted to be strong. I wanted to be beautiful. I wanted to make a million dollars, and become a professional athlete.

It was during these years that something bad happened. A change came about me, gradually, as I bloomed into adulthood. I sunk into a deep depression that took until my mid-twenties to crawl out of. During my darkest moments I would wonder: Where did this curse come from? Why am I to live a joyless, loveless existence? Perhaps, I mused, I had spent too much time cruising the Astral Plane; somewhere out there a vampire of incomprehensible rot had commandeered my body, trapping my once-bright soul in a dark dimension unknown.

Fun thoughts, but I did not believe in that world anymore. I was intelligent. I was rational. I knew I had been laying in bed, somewhere in-between being awake and being in-dream. I knew my imagination catalyzed all of my make-believe adventures. I needed a scientific solution for my clinical depression.

I looked for answers in books. I scoured the Internet. I talked with friends and doctors. There was no truth to be found. "Take this pill": the best any medical professional could offer me. It took over a decade of meditation, personal growth, epiphanies, and a talented Peruvian Medicine-Man to expunge the darkness.

As years went by, the flame of spirit began to rekindle within my heart. Slowly, I stopped chasing things external to me and started looking within myself. My depressed musings began to ring true; I realized I had succeeded in separating my soul from my body. My soul had become lost, but not because it had spent too long in the Astral Plane or that it became a feast for an opportunistic Astral Vampire.

Instead of exploring the magical realms of faith and silly belief that live inside each of us, I became an empty, material vessel. I lost touch with myself. I stopped imagining. I abandoned introspection and I lusted after things and people, trying to fill a hole I had created in their pursuit. It was my physical being that decided it wanted no part of being whole, casting my soul adrift.

My spirit did not hold a grudge. To rescue my ethereal other-half from the solitary abyss, I only needed to open my heart, extend an invitation and welcome him back. And, of course, promise to let him out to venture from time to time. Now, darkness is unfamiliar to me; my imagination glows anew. My body and soul are together; I feel complete.