The Theosophical Society in America

Viewpoint: Seeing versus Seeing

Printed in the Winter 2015 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Boyd, Tim."Viewpoint: Seeing versus Seeing" Quest 103.1 (Winter 2015): pg. 2-9.

By Tim Boyd

Tim BoydWhen I was twenty years old I unexpectedly found myself in contact with a number of psychically sensitive people. I had not sought them out. Before making their acquaintance I had not known anything about them or what they did. I was in college at the time and had never given much thought to the whole subject of psychic perception.

A year earlier, while on spring break from school, I had traveled from New York to Chicago. While there I was introduced to an intriguing man. My cousin, whom I was visiting, regarded him as quite wise and had brought me to meet him. If you had asked me at the time, I would have said that I did not want to take time away from my vacation to meet this man. In my nineteen-year-old mind I had better things to do than listen to someone talk about “spirituality”—a subject that was not uppermost in my conscious thought.

I went to see him, not once, but twice. Over the course of those two visits a chain of events was set in motion that profoundly altered my thinking and my direction in life.

It turned out that this man was deeply  involved in working with young people. His name was Bill Lawrence, but the young people around him called him the â€œOld Man.” He was a member of the Theosophical Society and also a highly developed clairvoyant. Although my first meeting with him did not make a deep impression on me, the second was quite different. At that meeting I sat in rapt attention for several hours listening to him talk about the truths of the Ageless Wisdom. He talked in a way that made these ideas that seemed so new, but also strangely familiar to me; instead of high-sounding abstractions, they were powerful tools I could apply in my own life. Over the course of that evening he seasoned his talk with several quite specific details of my personal life which I thought only I could have known. That visit made a very deep impression on  me. I left his house early in the morning and returned home to New York.

Back in New York I found myself thinking about the things he had said. I took time alone on long walks in the park trying to remember and understand what he had shared. It was on one of those walks that I had an experience that irrevocably shifted my way of seeing the world. Literally in an instant everything changed. At the time I did not have the background of study to describe what had happened. I still don’t, but from my immersion in Theosophy and the Ageless Wisdom teachings it is clear that the best way to describe what happened is to say that it was a mystical experience—a sudden movement from a conventional way of seeing the world to a greatly expanded view that revealed
levels of meaning and purpose, powers and energies, patterns and gradations of consciousness that, though always present, were previously invisible to me. This experience and the profound effect it had on my sense of priorities were the reasons why one year later I found myself back in Chicago and suddenly surrounded by all of these psychics.

One by-product of my experience was the realization that even though it had been profound and life-altering, with a little distance from its initial impact it seemed to raise many unanswered questions. What was the nature of this expanded consciousness that had suddenly opened to me? What was the mechanism that made it possible? Was this condition of seeing repeatable? How? I needed answers, and the only place I knew that I could find them was in Chicago with the Old Man. Responding to my pressing need to know more, I did what seemed the logical thing. I took a term off from school; wrote to the Old Man; and on his invitation traveled to Chicago for a series of “classes” that
he said he would be giving for some of his students. 

When I arrived I found that there were a number of young people around my age “studying” with him. Most of them had a strong fascination with psychic phenomena. As time went on I discovered that some were themselves quite sensitive to the psychic world, but unclear about how to integrate these sensitivities into a spiritual life. Astral projection, clairvoyance, clairaudience, and “readings” were new terms that I quickly became familiar with in conversations with my new fellow students.

Because of my background, I arrived at the Old Man’s house with certain preconceptions about the terms “study” and “classes.” At the university these words had clear meanings that implied a formal structure of learning with which I was familiar. In my case, the Old Man initially prescribed a course of reading across a range of Theosophical literature. I greedily devoured the books. He could not give them to me fast enough. He began by giving me one book at a time, then discussing it with me after I had read it. When he found that I was finishing one or two a day, he just pushed a stack of books across to me. In my mind this was study. I soon noticed that none of the other “students” were engaged in such intense reading. While I was in my room reading I would hear them downstairs laughing and talking with the Old Man. I began to feel that his
approach to study might be different from my ideas.

The day arrived for the first of the classes I had been anticipating. It was not like anything I had expected. The Old Man had invited a number of interested friends to come over. He had also invited four or five psychics that he knew. Even though the Old Man never gave readings, or promoted an awareness of his abilities, he was known and highly respected within the circle of sensitives. Then there were six or eight of us—his students. His only advice to us was to watch and listen.

The evening began with normal socializing. Everyone there was new to me, so the Old Man took time to introduce me as his most recent student. In conversation he would have the psychics share their personal stories with me. The dynamic between him and them was fascinating. They all seemed to recognize that he functioned on a different level, a higher level, and they clearly held him in high regard. Later in the evening everyone gathered in the living room. It was time for some of the psychics to take center stage. Two of them took turns working with the group. Each seemed to operate in a different way. One man apparently was being told “messages” to pass on to specific people in the group by people who had passed on who, he said, were on “the other side.” This man was a well-known spiritualist minister. As each message was received, he would say, “Thank you, kindly spirit.” His messages were detailed, and different people would recognize the information as specific to them and to people they knew. A number of times he said the name of the person who was communicating with him, or described their appearance and details of their previous life.

Another woman was a psychometrist. She would ask for a person who wanted a reading to give her some object that they frequently had on their person—a ring, a key, or a watch: some object that she said “carried their vibration.” She would hold the object in her hand, then start telling the person what she saw. At one point a woman who had given her a ring turned quite pale when the reader described an incident in some detail, but refused to say more in front of others because, as she said, “You know what I am talking about, don’t you?” The woman quickly took back her ring.

On another occasion the Old Man had a class that  focused on healers. The setup was the same—friends who were interested in or in need of healing were invited, a few healers, and us. Not all, but most of the healers also seemed to be quite psychically sensitive. They not only applied their nonphysical healing methods, but they also diagnosed the various illnesses without doing any sort of physical examination. One of the healers was exceptional. Her name was Evelyn. She was a simple woman, uneducated, and deeply religious. During the course of the evening she worked on a number of people. Her method was that she would stand in front of the person, then start talking about how she saw their malady. Then she would command the illness, or the “spirit” causing the illness, to release its hold “in the name of Jesus.”

Even though this was forty years ago, I have a vivid memory of two of the people she worked on that night. One was my older brother. He had spent a part of the summer visiting with me in Chicago. He was in that phase of life where he had graduated from college, but was deeply uncertain about what to do next. Until she addressed my brother, all of the people Evelyn had worked on had some physical symptoms. When she came to him she immediately said, “This one needs a mind healing.” Although I could not see it at the time, a few months later he would experience a profound mental crisis.

The second memorable incident occurred with a woman who did not attend the meeting. She was a nurse who did not know about this type of healing. While Evelyn was doing her work, unexpectedly the Old Man got up and walked outside. Later he said that he had gone outside to meet someone—although at that moment he did not know who. While standing on the front porch he saw a neighbor, Mrs. Jones, coming home from work. They greeted each other. Then he walked over to her and asked, “Are you well?” She  responded, “I am so sick. Tomorrow I am going into the hospital for surgery.” He asked her if she would allow Evelyn to see her. Mrs. Jones came into the house and stepped in front of Evelyn. Immediately Evelyn said, â€œI see that you have a hole in your stomach, and it’s bleeding.” Next she put her hand on Mrs. Jones’s belly and started to command the hole to close. She worked on her for several minutes. When she was through, she said that the hole had closed.

For years after that night, on numerous occasions I would hear Mrs. Jones recount the story—how she went into the hospital the next day; how she insisted on being tested again before the operation; how the surgeon came to her perplexed that there was no sign of the bleeding ulcer that had been the reason for the surgery; and how it never returned.

As fascinating as the meetings were, the aftermath was more so. When everyone had gone, late into the night the Old Man would talk to us about what had happened. He would expand on what the psychics had seen, on what had happened with the healings. He would describe in greater detail what the psychics were looking at. He spoke in terms of planes and subplanes of consciousness. He talked about the psychics and their level of seeing, about the things they left out, or couldn’t see, or unintentionally altered because they could not help it. Everything they saw was necessarily colored by the filter of their own personalities and development.

Most of the readers and psychics felt that they had been given their “gift” by God. Many even believed that it was God “Himself” who was showing them the things they saw. Many of them were ministers with their own small churches, but when you looked closely at the way they conducted their daily lives, it was clear that their psychic sensitivity had little effect on their morality, stability, or clarity. Some few were exceptional in their religious fervor and devotional temperament. Others were manipulative, petty, and self-centered. As Annie Besant said, “While it is not true that the great psychic is necessarily a spiritual person, it is true that the great spiritual person is inevitably a psychic.”

As captivating and exciting as these demonstrations were, I came away with the clear realization that psychic does not equal spiritual; that psychic powers or awareness of other planes are no more or less connected to the Divine, or to the deeper powers of compassion, kindness, happiness, wisdom, and stillness, than the normal five senses that everybody uses.

The Old Man felt it was important for us to see these things up close. He organized the classes so that we could be exposed in a safe way. Particularly for those students with varying degrees of psychic sensitivity, it was important to see and experience in the most immediate way possible some of the scope and limitations of the astral world—what it is and what it isn’t. The main advice he gave was to aim higher: absorption in psychic matters was just like being absorbed in diet, or body building, or any other personal concern. It would certainly yield results, but would do little to enhance the more potent qualities of spirit. He liked to say that all of the psychic abilities would necessarily blossom in a stable way, as a result of a genuine and extended focus on the spiritual life—a focus that is substantially different and more demanding than the development
of a more limited way of seeing. The distinction Annie Besant made was that “the spiritual life goes inwards: all psychic powers go outwards.”

There are two tendencies that need to be recognized and avoided: glamorizing and fearing psychic experience. Because conscious perception of the astral world seems unusual or abnormal, inexperienced people easily elevate the experience, or the person seeing it, to unwarranted heights. The equal but opposite approach is to belittle or even demonize the person or experience based on valid but only partially understood teachings.

In The Voice of the Silence, speaking of the tendency to idealize astral experience, H.P. Blavatsky wrote, â€œHaving learnt thine own Agnyana [ignorance], flee from the Hall of Learning [the astral realm]. This Hall is dangerous in its perfidious beauty, is needed but for thy probation. Beware . . . lest dazzled by illusive radiance thy Soul should linger and be caught in its deceptive light.”

Whether we are speaking of the astral, the physical, or the world of mind, the world is not the problem. Our relationship with the world is the problem. Until we realize that it is possible to touch without grasping or pushing away, to taste without devouring, we will continually find ourselves caught in the “deceptive light” of whatever realm in which we invest our attention.

It is possible for us to see without any of the senses, to feel beyond reaching or touch, to know without reference to “my” mind. Spirituality is the realization of Oneness, and it exalts every sense that turns in its direction. Let us try to remember, and choose accordingly.

All of the Annie Besant quotes have been taken from her London Lectures of 1907.