A Guide to Astral Turbulence in 2020

(Author’s Note: I wrote this guide as an attempt to share a framework I use to understand the world around me. It is a predominantly spiritual framework, from a modern Buddhist perspective, though it integrates my understanding of politics and anthropology as well. 

While current political events inspired me to write this guide, I have done so in a manner that tends to avoid reference to any specific real world politics. In particular, I have tried to avoid bringing the 2020 protests into it. I chose to do so for two reasons: I wanted to share a spiritual framework without using very heated examples that may engender bias in the reader, and I wanted to create something that would be helpful in the current political climate without amplifying the way that constant exposure to political flashpoints can leave us drained. I’ve made footnotes to address what, in the absence of explicitly discussing those topics, can feel like blind spots.

I hope you find this guide useful. Feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to discuss something in it. Much love to all, may all beings find happiness!

Vajra, June 2020)

So, the world seems like it’s ending. What to do?

Well, maybe what to do isn’t the right question to start with. Especially given that previously stable norms feel topsy-turvy and super uncertain, charging headlong into action isn’t guaranteed to provide a sense of stability, or even achieve a positive result.

Before What to do, then, let’s look at What is going on?

Wait, that question feels overwhelming too. There’s so many conflicting sources of news, many deliberately spreading disinformation and confusion. How can we discern what is true and false when we can’t even agree on who defines truth, and when every side calls the other a dirty liar?

Hmmm. Maybe, then, before we try to figure out what is happening, we need to figure out how we should look at it in the first place. If we know how to think about this chaos, we can figure out the reality of the situation, and then discern what, in fact, is the right thing to do.

In this vein, I want to share one of my favorite frameworks for understanding world events: as manifestations of humanity’s connection to the astral realm.

Wait, what? Isn’t the astral realm one of those nonsense New-Age terms, like crystals or whatever Gwyneth Paltrow is selling these days?

No, it’s not – and in fact, it’s one of the most useful ways of understanding the world I’ve ever discovered. It’s especially useful now, because the astral plane in 2020 is going fucking haywire.

Let me explain, in ten rules.

    1. The astral realm is a real place: In the modern world, we find ourselves awash in media of all kinds – images, videos, words, music, etc. From a spiritual perspective, all of these entities are creations from/manifestations of the astral realm: the sphere of archetypes, imagination, symbols, ritual, and so on. God does not live here, but the gods do.

      You know when you feel a slang term really hard, like YOLO in 2012? That’s because that term, or entity, had been charged up on the astral plane due to a concentration of human consciousness upon it. The weight of a collective entity in astral terms is almost always directly proportional to how much people are ‘making it real’ by thinking/saying/seeing that thing. That’s also why old slang terms feel dusty and nostalgic to say: you’re literally pulling something out of the astral past, like discovering a ruin in the desert.

      Indeed, the collective imagined reality is its own sphere of reality, no less immediate or experiential than anything physical. In fact, the leading theory of nationalism – arguably the greatest symbolic construct of modern history – was purported in a book called Imagined Communities, and it explicitly enumerates how the essential ingredient for nationalist movements is a shared symbolic, linguistic and mental space between participants of that movement.

      More on this, later on; for now, it’s enough to understand that this realm is its own space, its own aspect of sense reality. In fact, the astral realm is to the thought sense what the field of light is to vision or the ocean of silent space is to sound.
    2. The astral realm is the realm of possibility: Because this is the place where thoughts move through, it’s easy to understand that it’s where our dreams, fantasies, fears, and wishes live as well. The shining vision of a post-racial future you’re fighting for? That exists in the astral realm. The apocalyptic fascist police state you’re terrified of? It lives there too. A corollary of this is that the media/symbols/narratives you consume are directly linked to the possibilities for your life.This corollary is also true on a societal level – a country that doesn’t promote violent images is much less likely to wage war.
    3. In the 21st century, the astral realm has become super congested: What does this mean? It means that we currently swim through a world more saturated with astral constructs (narratives, symbols, videos, etc) than at any time in human history. Social media is really the big culprit, as it’s done two things: allowed for everyone to share their own narrative, and allowed for those narratives to aggregate and evolve with much less correlation to the material conditions than would be possible otherwise.

      In layman’s terms, this means that everyone can find their ‘tribe’ (‘sect’ might be a more appropriate word) and devote themselves to the exclusive construction of their particular narrative, a narrative that is likely more disconnected from their neighbor’s narrative than in a pre-Internet era.Do note that, traditionally, such reinforced narratives were how gods are created (1).This is already a widely understood phenomenon, and is the reason for the hyperpolarized, post-truth media landscape we live in (more on this later). The relevant thing to realize here is that the primary driver of this divided, confusing world is, in fact, the muddled and multitudinous constructs people have in their head (2).
    4. Uncertain times create waves in the astral realm: When the human mind doesn’t know what the future will hold, its natural tendency is to seek out some narrative to grasp on to, to make sense of, and identify with that narrative. Without meditative training, simply remaining in a blank, unknowable present is not how most of us cope with uncertainty.When understood in the context of a society (and, in general, all rules that apply to individuals apply to groups; as above, so below), this means that an uncertain material world (like, say, America in June 2020) creates even more uncertainty in our collective heads, and all members of that society feel a sense of change, and often of unease, like we know something is coming but aren’t sure what.

      This is what is meant by ‘something in the air;’ a collective consciousness comes to reflect this uncertainty, this sense of foreboding. It is like the calm before a storm.

      The important thing about this dynamic is that such environments are the ones that make revolutions possible. They allow people to attempt to create new possible worlds without being blocked by the astral inertia of an established mental sphere. This isn’t always a good thing, though…

    5. These waves can be positive, but trend negative: Humans tend to allow fear and anger to shape the way they respond to uncertainty. The loss of a knowable future feels like a loss of knowable survival, activating very deep parts of our brain that often choose exclusion, violence, and other negative outcomes.This has been an evolutionarily useful adaptation, but is now a hindrance to creating a successfully functioning society. We are creatures of change, these days, and our innate tendency to be afraid of change means we become afraid of parts of ourselves. When this happens, the astral realm becomes flooded with fear, and every symbol that isn’t one we know appears as scarier than it would otherwise.

      It is much more challenging – it is a much higher form of practice, both mentally and organizationally – to imbue uncertainty with hope, with the possibility of a better, more gentle future. While individuals can always remain optimistic and kind, maintaining a sense of optimism and kindness within a revolutionary movement is hard work, and can be destroyed easily if care is not taken. All it takes is one video, because…

    6. Certain images and symbols are much more powerful than others: One thing you may have noticed is that the astral realm is deeply connected to the human subconscious and unconscious. This has a number of very interesting conclusions for the spiritual roles of the sub/unconscious, but the one that matters here is this: symbols that play with the deeper parts of our being are much more powerful than those that don’t.On the negative side of symbols, we react more strongly to images of human corpses than we do to images of buildings burning (3). We react more strongly to violence against women than men, and against children than women. We evaluate things like violence on an instinctive and implicit moral scale, and the more ‘wrong’ it seems, the deeper an impact seeing such a thing will have on the psyche (4).

      There is also a positive corollary to this: certain symbols and archetypes fill us with hope, joy, and connection on a very fundamental level. A child laughing, a puppy jumping in leaves (5), an embrace – these things all create a feeling of goodness, of hopefulness. They make us feel like the world is worth fighting for, that it can be made right.

      This rule is why what we share, to who, and in what context is so important. It’s why Black activists ask that you not share police murder videos online: because the mere presence of such violence in the astral realm is already acutely burdensome, and to be physically exposed to it is exhausting and debilitating. This brings me to the next rule.

    7. Symbols do not belong to anyone: Nothing belongs to you. Not your body, not your thoughts, none of it. It’s all illusion, all Maya. Things appear and go, but they are never you or your own. This is a high truth (6) – it is not up for debate. Thoughts, words, images, ideas; they are empty, they belong to no one.Within the context of the astral plane, this means that any person can take any symbol and interpret it in any way they like, and nothing at all can stop them. Even words do not belong to those who speak them; they are merely vibrations moving through space.

      Stealing a symbol is like stealing a math equation: regardless of what happens between the mathematicians, the equation is still true.

      I find this rule to be incredibly important, because it dissolves the delusion that is any form of essentialism (7) whatsoever. There is no ‘claiming’ a slogan, a word, an image, because there is no claiming anything. Instead of trying to rigidly demarcate astral entities, we should intentionally allow their inner truths to manifest through the unfolding of spontaneous experience (8).

      What does this look like? Well, it’s fluid, but a few things are fundamental to it:

    8. We have to cultivate the right perspective on astral dynamics: So, we know that the symbols and media around us are representations/avatars of an astral realm of possibilities that is both completely impersonal and a collective sphere of existence. Because any attempt to truly claim or define something from this space is ultimately impossible, we should instead focus our efforts around re-imagining how we interact with these entities.We have to reframe questions of agency when symbolic interpretations are determined by societies writ large. We have to understand the importance of context when we know that certain triggers will close people to a world of possibilities just from seeing one video or receiving one comment. We need to understand astral developments within our individual and collective consciousnesses as a grand spiritual journey. We need to be more proud of our collective ability to feel, express, and live as astral beings. We need to recenter ancestor work and where our collective symbolism comes from, and not just on an intellectual or academic level. We need more art.

      More than anything else, though, we need to do one thing.

    9. We have to find common connections, more than ever: Remember in Rule One, when I mentioned nationalism as an astral construct and said I would come back to it? Here’s where that matters.The nation-state (which, if you didn’t know, is the single most successful form of polity in human history) was made possible through the creation of a shared national narrative, constructed primarily through educational systems, linguistic similarity, and a common media ecosystem (9). It has always been the pamphlet, the newspaper, the radio, and the television that have brought people together, that have given humans who know none of the same people and have lived in none of the same places something in common.

      However, the kind of shared astral space that people inhabited was directly linked to the type of media (and its mode of transmission). As long as media was top-down, and required significant resources to disseminate widely (like owning a news channel or printing tons of newspapers), the shared narratives were all within a relatively narrow spectrum, and so strangers within a nation would share the same narratives. When you understand the way that nationalism replaced a series of functions that were previously explicitly religious, this means that we were all worshiping the same (secular) gods.

      However, with the advent of the internet and smartphones, we no longer had to worship the same gods, or even agree on the pantheon. We found the messages that most resonated with our (inevitably damaged) inner self, and didn’t notice as that messaging was turned into a form of Pavlovian conditioning. Over the past 20 years, our society has addicted itself to divisive, scary, relentless media bombardment, the gist of which is that what we believe is good and right and that those who believe otherwise are evil and must be destroyed. This makes sense when you consider how capitalism treats things like slogans and symbols; all marketers already know Rule 6.

      We currently live in a world of completely contradicting narratives – worse, even, because the narratives are explicitly mutually exclusive. If you listen to what any two political sides are saying about their opponent, almost anywhere on the planet, you’ll notice a disturbing dynamic: complete acceptance of one ideology requires actively vilifying the opposing one. This dynamic shuts down dialogue before it can even begin (10).

      In the unprecedented times we live in, we have to stop doing this, immediately, on both personal and societal levels. We have to constantly fight to find our common ground, to understand the other point of view, to create a community of inclusion and safety and celebrate uniqueness within an atmosphere of fear and doubt. We have to trust in each other, in our shared desire for goodness.

      If we cannot practice connection in a given instance, if our trauma causes us to act in divisive and negative ways, that is okay. That is where we are. But we should never come to see our negativity, our violence, as anything but our brokenness playing out. We must understand this of those we call our enemies, as well.

      Without the monolithic astral stability of the 20th-century nation-state, we are invariably creating a new landscape, one that will be more multifaceted and diffuse. However, if we wish to avoid the violent astral space of explicit tribalism, we must learn to accept that others worship different deities, and strive to find the common divine spark between them.

      Sometimes, this is not possible. Sometimes, we must fight and reject. We must condemn and tear down symbols of cruelty, separation, oppression. They are irredeemable. Even when we do, though, we should know that destruction can only ever be part of the answer. Indeed, elevating any symbol or archetype or any other astral entity to the level of God or of apotheosis is always fundamentally flawed, for…

    10. The astral plane is a relative truth: At the end of the day, if you really want to understand who you are and why you’re here, the astral plane – indeed, everything in this material world – is not the place to look.Within Buddhism, we have something called the Two Truths doctrine. The product of thousands of years of philosophical and spiritual debate, it is at its heart a very simple framework. In essence, it says that the world we inhabit – the one where we have names and bodies and nations and all of it – is a provisional reality, and has provisional truths that apply to it.

      Above this, in a realm of timelessness, in a state of non-causality, one can find absolute Truth – your true nature. It is beyond good and bad, beyond birth and death – it is the beauty of space knowing itself, it is the light that lives in your heart. It is beyond words and concepts, and I shall not try to explain it more here. Read Tilopa’s Song of Mahamudra to Naropa if you are interested in a master’s description.

      However, when it comes to genuine liberation, it has to start inside, with the discovery and embodiment of this deeper state of being. Anything else is just more conditioning, more attachment, more loops and nonsense.

We all contain the Divine. We are all God’s children. We are all Buddhas. If we understand and realize this, then the swirling astral storm around us is a chance for collective healing and awakening. If we forget it, though, if we dehumanize and deny this spark in even a single other being, we invite loss and separation on ourselves and our species.



(1) In this light, try to imagine the current American ‘pantheon’ of deities. You have the Joker and Pepe next to Jon Stewart and Kim K. Shit is insane.
(2) Marx got this backwards, because he didn’t understand the relationship between consciousness and matter. He’s right, but he missed this part.
(3) The current tendency to laud the buildings over the bodies is an example of the ruling state’s unnatural ideologies. In general, when people are unreactive to viscerally human parts of themselves, it’s a sign of massive spiritual disconnection and pain
(4) Senses of ‘wrongness’ can be subjective as well, though; an instructive example is how the average Indian will be less traumatized by a video of a man being brutally beaten to death with sticks than an American will be by seeing a comparatively sanitized police murder. This actually tells you a lot about how even something as universal as death can mean different things in different places
(5) Indeed, the internet’s obsession with dogs and cats can be thought of as honest-to-god worship of the symbolic meaning within domesticated pets
(6) For a distinction of higher and lower truths, see Rule 10
(7) Here, I wish to say that it is very easy for anyone with a modicum of spiritual understanding to see through and call out the blatant essentialism of fascists and racists. It is much more complex to unpack the ways that leftist and progressive spaces continue to essentialize and restrict themselves. A full discussion of the spiritual implications of left-wing essentialization is beyond this humble footnote.
(8) A thought experiment here: If I say All Lives Matter as a statement about dependent origination at a Buddhist retreat, it is a high holy truth. If I say it online during a conversation about police brutality, I am being malicious and racist. Symbols are polyvalent; the gods have many faces.
(9) I am very aware of the violence and colonialism that is inherent in most nation-states, and do not wish to discount it, but it is less relevant for an understanding of the astral dynamics of nation states. Suffice to say that the supremacy of the nation-state itself represents an astral kind of violence and hegemony against other kinds of political archetypes.
(10) I am sure some of you will feel I am making a false equivalence here. I am not. One interesting thing about astral phenomena is that, because they are archetypical in nature, they are fundamentally separate from relative morality.  Relative morality occurs when the archetype encounters the world it is called into, but it is not inherent in the archetype. A conversation between a sword and a neck isn’t different if the sword is in the hands of a cop or a freedom fighter.

Future reading:


The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America

Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson

The Perennial Philosophy, Adelous Huxley

Tilopa’s Mahamudra Teaching to Naropa

Published by

Carter Ruff

"Meaning is entered into words as objects in the dark are revealed by a lamp."

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