TORONTO (RNS) — New Age spirituality is everywhere these days.
You can buy palo santo sticks and sage bundles in trendy stores like Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie or essential oils through any number of multilevel marketing companies.
Celebrities tout the power of crystals to do everything from warding off negative energy to contributing to Olympic medals. A number of subscription services will deliver the stones to your door each month.
All are part of the current wellness craze and Instagram-spiritual aesthetic, with crystals in particular described as “millennials’ new religion.”
But something is missing, said Cindy Acab of I AM Academy, which describes itself as Toronto’s space for spiritual studies and energy work.
She's glad people are looking at alternate forms of spirituality but fears they may be missing the meaning and intent behind those items.
“When it shifts to just the physical without an understanding of the energy behind it, well, then I think we're missing a piece.”
On a recent Saturday, Acab led a handful of participants through a workshop on astral travel at I AM Academy’s sunny studio in Toronto, which features a view of the city's CN Tower.
Astral travel, Acab explained, involves projecting one’s consciousness outside of the physical body. It can include travel to another physical place or to what she called “energetic dimensions that exist beyond the physical.”
It’s not just something that sounds like it came out of a “Star Wars” movie.
“The heart of astral travel is about shifting our consciousness beyond the physical,” she said.
Acab believes the practice can help people expand their awareness, gain new insights about themselves, interpret the world around them in different ways, maybe even make better decisions moving forward.
Astral travel is just one of the spiritual tools I AM Academy equips people to use, she said. The center also offers meditation, energy work like activations and healings, workshops on Modern Mystery School teachings and more from the realm of metaphysics.
And, yes, there are crystals — a few available for sale at the back of the studio and others that were positioned on a cloth-draped altar alongside burning incense and other items to support people's practice during the astral travel workshop.
Shiny silver hematite is particularly useful during astral travel because it’s very “grounding,” according to Acab.
Dark chocolate has the same effect, she said, pointing out the small bowl of organic, 70% dark chocolate on the snack table.
“Everything we do touches on spirituality. That's the core of what we do,” she said.
Acab did not grow up religious, but she became fascinated with different traditions while a student at the University of Toronto. She studied world religions, then Reiki, yoga and shamanism, she said. She worked at a Buddhist center, studying Zen Buddhist meditation.
For her, spirituality is about "these kinds of fundamental questions we ask ourselves about who we really are, like what's our true nature? Where do we come from? Why are we here? What's the nature of the universe?” she said.
Ultimately her search led her to study metaphysics, what she defined as “the study of what is beyond the physical,” and to the Modern Mystery School.
The Toronto-based organization offers what it calls “advanced spiritual training” to guide initiates on “a journey of deep self-discovery, delving into the layers of yourself, so that you may come into awareness of your divine nature and purpose here on earth,” according to its website.
The practice made Acab’s life richer, she said, and she wanted to share that with other people.
So she and her partner, Anthony Acab, started I AM Academy about five years ago, mostly sharing techniques from the Modern Mystery School.
Its website says the academy is “building a community of people who are looking to change themselves and change this world.”
I AM Academy’s workshops are intentionally small because, Acab said, “It's not just talking and learning; we're experiencing it.”
On Saturday, her explanation of astral travel was punctuated by questions from participants, all of whom had some familiarity with the practice and had attended other workshops or sessions at the studio. If meditation offers clarity, perhaps astral travel offers an experience, they hoped.
Could they travel to space? What about back in time?
Acab gently tried to point them back to their intentions and the purpose of astral travel.
It’s a tool for personal growth, she said. It’s not for spying on an ex — that’s what social media is for, she said, laughing.
Then it was time to practice.
Acab walked the group through a ritual to create a circle of energy to surround each person while he or she traveled, circling her hands out from her waist and stepping into the ring she had created.
Next, they would say a prayer of protection and set their intentions for their practice.
“To me, the point in practicing this, honing this skill, is to get a better understanding of who we really are and to get insight opened up with an understanding that we're so much more than just this,” she said.
One tool Acab said she still is learning is social media.
She tries to share “tidbits” people can use, like how to connect with their intuitive senses or find their center, particularly on Instagram, which many users scroll looking for inspiration. She hopes those posts may open them up to something else, she said.
Most of the people who come to the center found it online, she said. All are looking for "some sort of understanding or meaning" that can help them make sense of what’s going on in the world.
“It’s a little crazy out there," she said.