It’s 2013 and you’ve breezed through your weekly dose of Harry Potter without a broken back. You then sneak into the family room to catch up on some PotterXMalfoy fanfiction on Wattpad—only to carry memories worth revisiting at the breakfast table the next morning. Eight years later, you’re still hung up on the characters, but instead of daydreaming you now have a 30-page script, a subliminal playlist on YouTube, proper hydration and a night-time routine. Introducing reality shifting, a meditative practice that literally slides you into the glass slippers of ‘your name’.
Reality shifting is a practice where you switch your consciousness in order to access a parallel timeline of your life. Think of it as the physical version of ‘daydreaming’. You enter an alternate dimension and experience life just as real as the one you currently reside in. The practice relies on the assumption that there are infinite realities in this world, ones you can choose to actually enter by channelling your awareness. Although reality shifting appears to be a combination of meditation, astral projection and lucid dreaming, ‘ShiftTok’ disagrees.
With close to 2 billion views on #shiftingrealities and 751 million on #realityshifting, the platform is undoubtedly obsessed with the practice. Users gathered on ShiftTok are seen role-playing their own experiences, busting myths, giving out tutorials on different shifting methods and venting about mental blocks hindering the process. Some of the most popular timelines, also known as Desired Reality (DR), among users include Harry Potter, The Vampire Diaries, Twilight and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Although there are various shifting communities on Amino and Reddit, TikTok seems to be the major hub dedicated to the practice. Shifting tutorials on the platform guarantees users a first person tour of Hogwarts with Draco Malfoy as the student guide. Oh, did that peak your interest? Here’s the typical process of reality shifting, brought to you by the bottomless abyss of ShiftTok:
First things first, it’s always suggested to shift during your sleep at night to avoid any disturbances. Before heading to bed, make sure to shower and have a decent night-time routine. You don’t want to show up on Thor’s doorstep smelling like a foot-long Italian BMT. Another advice ShiftTokers seem to stress on is hydration. Binge on your water bottle (generously) throughout the day you’re planning to shift. Both self-care and hydration are essential steps to wash away all the stress you’ve accumulated during the day. Remember, you need to rid yourself of all ‘mental blocks’ and relax for this to work. Once you’re all prepped, grab one of those many journals you’ve purchased just for the aesthetic and help it fulfil its purpose in life.
Before we get into scripting, let’s revise the definition of reality shifting. It’s a practice where you switch your subconsciousness to access alternate realities of your choosing. Meaning, you are ultimately in charge of your Desired Reality (DR). This level of autonomy fosters endless possibilities. You decide whether or not you want Hermoine to sport duck nails or speak Simlish in your timeline. You can also choose to give yourself incredible pain tolerance and opt not to bring back the trauma you might experience in your DR into your Current Reality (CR).
The best way to design your own DR is by scripting it. While some shifters write scripts that detail everything they want to happen in their alternate timeline, others prefer saying it out loud. Although there is no specific format, one side of ShiftTok is seen sharing templates for physical scripts. These templates require you to list the details of your personal appearance along with everything else around you. You can choose a different name, age, gender, skills and personality for yourself in your DR. On TikTok, some shifters admit to spending months perfecting their scripts before shifting. They also suggest scripting yourself as someone who won’t get pregnant or have periods unless you want to. Sky’s the limit in your DR.
After scripting your characters, it’s time to draft the scenarios you want to transport yourself into. Although most ShiftTokers admit to engaging in their deepest desires of “railing Draco Malfoy,” others have a specific scene from a TV show or movie that they want to live out in real life—be it fighting wolves with Thor or blood-edging Edward in that iconic biology class. You can alternatively conjure up your own scenarios. How about detention with Harry Potter himself?
Once you’ve perfected your script and scenario, make sure to read it thoroughly before shifting. This will help imprint the details onto your subconscious. You can also choose to paste relevant images into your scripting journal for visual reference.
Next up is choosing the right shifting technique to access your DR. Now, this step could take multiple trial and errors to perfect—majorly because there are tons of options to choose from. The most popular ones, however, are the ‘raven method’ and the ‘Alice in Wonderland method’.
The raven method involves laying on your back in a starfish position—making sure that your arms and legs don’t touch each other. Then begin a mental countdown to 100 and repeat a list of affirmations every 10 seconds. Once you finish counting, visualise your DR until you fall asleep. The raven method is a sleep method, meaning you wake up in your DR instead of your CR. The Alice in Wonderland method, on the other hand, requires the shifter to visualise themselves running after a person from their DR and jumping down a rabbit hole with them to access the desired timeline.
Other shifting techniques include the cloud, ballroom, Sunni, Estelle, Coraline and the in your arms method to name a few. All of these techniques essentially work by putting your body to sleep while remaining conscious.
Many shifters also listen to specific music called ‘subliminals’ to help with their shifting. According to folks over at r/shiftingrealities, subliminals are “videos or audios of a collection of affirmations either sped up or lowered past an audible level and layered over some other noise, usually music or ambience like rain.” They basically combine music with affirmations to help you shift. One handy tip exchanged among ShiftTokers is to check the comments section before putting on a random subliminal playlist. This helps ensure that there are no negative affirmations as well as providing you with case studies of those who have successfully shifted to the playlist.
Some of the ‘symptoms’ of shifting into your DR include bodily tingles. The key here is to not wake up too soon. Otherwise you might just be stuck in your CR instead of shifting. Once you’ve successfully shifted, however, you can choose to return using certain safe words. And if you are worried about forgetting your phrase, you can always script your character in a way that you never forget it!
So what’s the science behind reality shifting exactly? According to Grace Warwick, a therapist with expertise in anomalous experiences, reality shifting is a ‘transliminal experience.’ “Transliminal experiences occur when awake and are most common when the mind is in a soothed state—for example, upon waking and before falling asleep,” she said in an interview with i-D. “The ‘instructions’ [for shifting] that abound on social media include being half asleep as a start point. They then introduce repetitive music or counting backwards slowly. All these factors would induce a state conducive to a transliminal experience.”
Warwick also likened the role of a script to creating a guided meditation or working with an active imagination. However, she also pointed out how these experiences can be different for different individuals. “For the vast majority, the current trend is simply the next iteration of our relationship to altered states—enjoyable and seemingly magical—but I would urge a sense of caution,” she said. According to the therapist, key indicators to seek mental health support would be if the shifter experienced anything that created fear for them, or challenged their belief system regarding what we could refer to as ‘consensual reality’. “Also seek help if there is any ongoing drifting into altered states outside of intended shifting sessions,” she added.
Thankfully, Warwick pointed out that “the vast majority” of shifters have a good experience. She added how shifters can return to their current reality “[feeling] revived and energised by an experience that fitted with their belief system and experiential limits.”
From Hogwarts to New Orleans, reality shifting plays on the concept of escapism that has been triggered by the pandemic. It has also created a new kind of divide on the platform, with some stating how we might just be characters on someone else’s script. If that’s possible, I guess the person who scripted this DR forgot to specify the end date to a global pandemic.
“Would you like to share the same body with your BFF?” an Instagram post reads, piquing collective interests in a socially-distanced era. Is it a clickbait piece of tech news? Another one of those witchtok trends maybe? What if it addresses a meditative practice originating in Tibetan Buddhism instead? Introducing tulpamancy, an online community of imaginary friend hobbyists living all of our childhood dreams via mysticism.
Considered as a subset of plurality, tulpamancy is a practice that involves the creation of mental companions who live within their human host’s mind. These sentient beings are known as tulpas and are imagined into existence with meditative exercises. Although the practice originated in Tibetian Buddhism, it has been rediscovered by Westerners in the early twentieth century and again with the advent of the internet. Presently, a practitioner of tulpamancy is called a tulpamancer.
In traditional Tibetan Buddhism, monks would primarily create tulpas to overcome attachments like phobias and desires. For example, if a monk had a fear of spiders, a formless tulpa approached a spider fearlessly to demonstrate how pointless the fear was. In some cases, the entity was also visualised as a spider itself to overcome the phobia. Either ways, the monks would meditate on the experience and the tulpas would disappear once the attachment was fully resolved.
In the early twentieth century, the Theosophical Society started examining the practice in relation to consciousness. In 1929, the term ‘tulpa’ began circulating in the West following the publication of Magic and Mystery in Tibet—authored by the Belgian-French explorer Alexandra David-Néel. “Besides having had few opportunities of seeing [tulpas], my habitual incredulity led me to make experiments for myself,” she wrote. “My efforts were attended with some success.”
Tulpas remained an occult practice until 2009, when it emerged as a subject on /x/, 4chan’s paranormal discussion board. Some members began to take the concept seriously and succeeded in creating tulpas. Although the /x/ board eventually moved on from tulpas, the practice snowballed as a movement when adult fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic—popularly known as ‘bronies’—created /mlp/ on the platform and crafted tulpas based on their favourite characters from the show.
“The My Little Pony fandom was one of the first online communities to really grab hold of the tulpa phenomenon,” said Ele Cambria, a tulpamancer from Warrensburg, Missouri. In an interview with VICE, Cambria explained how bronies are “very accepting of weirdness” with a mindset of “Wow, that’s not normal, that’s cool.” “The characters evoke a simple goodness,” she added. “What fan wouldn’t want one for a friend?”
Tulpas are created by an act known as ‘forcing’. The act focuses on developing a tulpa’s presence or strength by devoting attention or interacting with them. There are two forms of forcing: active and passive. Active forcing involves dedicating all of one’s attention to the act of developing/strengthening their tulpas, commonly during meditation. Passive forcing, on the other hand, involves dedicating some but not all of one’s attention to the act. An example of passive forcing would be chatting to your tulpa on your morning coffee run.
The process starts with the creation of an imaginary environment called a ‘wonderland’ where hosts begin to interact with the sentient beings. “My wonderland is a little forest grove,” Cambria explained in the interview with VICE. “I’d imagine myself there hanging out with my tulpa and we’d talk or explore—basically the same stuff you’d do with a friend in real life.”
After meeting up with their tulpas in the wonderland, hosts begin to feel odd pressures in several parts of their head. This is the sign of the tulpa beginning to communicate. As the forcing process continues, the tulpa’s voice starts clearing out from incoherent mumbles. A tulpamancer can then ‘impose’ their tulpa on reality by creating a realistic hallucination of them. In an interview with VICE, one guide pegged a total of 200 to 500 hours to achieve this state.
While voice is the most common medium of communication, tulpamancers can also learn to “stroke their tulpa’s fur, feel their breath on their necks and even experience sexual contact.” Some tulpas might want to experience their life as a ‘meatperson’ out of curiosity about their host’s body. In this case, indulgent hosts use a practice called ‘switching’ which allows tulpas to possess their physical body while the host watches from the “ringside of consciousness.”
This is also what differentiates tulpas from the concept of imaginary friends. After months of forcing, a tulpa will act as an autonomous mental construct—harbouring their own will, thoughts and emotions. Their behaviour can neither be predicted nor controlled by the hosts. In this regard, hosts can engage in meaningful conversations with their tulpas because one can’t predict what they’re going to say. They’re not you. They’re a part of your mind and soul you’ve given birth to, trained and locked yourself out of. “They are a broker between hosts and the latent potential of their subconscious,” VICE summed up.
In a research by Samuel Paul Veissière, 37 per cent of tulpamancers reported that their tulpas felt “as real as a physical person,” while 50.6 per cent described their mental companions as “somewhat real but distinct from their own thoughts.” 4.6 per cent claimed the practice to be an “extremely real” phenomena, where tulpas were “indistinguishable from any other agent or person” with the rest 4.6 per cent admitted to hear and see their tulpas “outside” their heads.
“Hehe, daddy taught me this one,” wrote Storm, a tulpa hosted by Ryan Painter from Oregon, in an email to VICE. “Cogito Ergo Sum—I think therefore I am,” she continued. “I’m not totally independent, though. I have to use my host’s brainpower to think and we occasionally get jammed when we’re trying to think at once.” Tulpamancers have previously witnessed their creations recalling forgotten memories and making them laugh.
This is why tulpamancy has been equated to schizophrenia or Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). However, Tulpa.io, a popular resource centre dedicated to the practice, dispelled this misconception by highlighting how DID and Other Specified Dissociative Disorders (OSDD) are “clinical labels for disordered plurality and/or traumagenic plurality.” “Unless a tulpamancy system experiences clinically significant dysfunction, distress or danger as a direct result of their plurality, they cannot be diagnosed with either DID or OSDD,” the website wrote, adding how these are guidelines set by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) itself.
The website also explained how tulpamancers cannot be considered “mentally ill” for having tulpas, as the formal definition of the term requires that a person “experience significant distress, dysfunction, or danger as a direct product of a deviant behavior.” “It is generally quite rare for tulpamancy to result in disorder as most misunderstandings between hosts and tulpas arise out of lack of communication—and thus are solved easily through discussion without escalating to disordered behavior,” the resource centre concluded.
In his research paper, Veissière noted how tulpamancers are primarily urban, middle-class, Euro-American adolescents and young adults who cite loneliness and social anxiety as an incentive to begin the practice. They also report overwhelmingly positive changes in their individual and offline social lives, along with a “largely positive” sensory experience. One informant also reported being underdressed and cold as she was walking to class one morning. “She explains that upon sensing that her host was cold, the tulpa took off his coat to place it on her shoulders, producing a feeling of warmth and the distinct sensation that she was wearing another layer of clothing.” The paper concluded how such reports of “spontaneous help” from tulpas in social, environmental and professional situations seems to characterise the practice altogether.
The cognitive scientist thereby believes in tulpamancy’s potential for the treatment of schizophrenia and other malignant psychoses. “In the age of big pharma and the marketing of madness… ‘tulpa-therapy’ could offer a free alternative that doesn’t require institutionalisation and social isolation.” And with more than 37,000 members (and counting) on the subreddit dedicated to the practice, that future doesn’t seem like an illusion either.