Sean Sessel — Seven Layers of Reality or Seven Planes of Existence

The Nishant Garg Show

I’ve known Sean for about 6 months and I’m impressed by his vast amount of knowledge in multiple dimensions. We both are part of a collective where we get to hang out with really amazing people to discuss all the facets of life. This collective is led by Dr. Mickra Hamilton and I’m grateful to interview her on the podcast. Listen to the interview.

While at a weekend retreat sitting on the couch, he was explaining “Seven layers of reality” to a mutual friend Sidney. I was sitting next to Sean and I said – wait, and asked him “how about you write a blog post on this fascinating subject” and I’ll share it with a wide audience. As you know, I only place content on this platform that I enjoy and learn from. This piece from Sean is remarkable and it might take you several reads to understand it. If you’ve questions, I will get those answered as well. I’m still learning this model and I couldn’t wait to publish it.

Before we do a deep dive, let’s see who Sean is:

Sean Sessel is the head of The Oculus Institute and a voracious learner with a fervent belief in the ability of the individual to better himself or herself. Through the Awaken program (which shows people how to escape burnout jobs and craft careers that truly inspire them), Sean has found a means of enduring impact. Many thousands have been inspired by the introductory presentation, and Sean has personally worked with over a thousand different people on solving the problems discussed therein, including entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 executives, and professional athletes. His career advice has also been cited in numerous media outlets, including Business Insider and AskMen. 

Before The Oculus Institute, Sean was Director of Quantitative Research and Co-Portfolio Manager at Tectonic Advisors, a Registered Investment Adviser with over $1 billion in assets under advisement. Prior to that, he worked as an Associate at Boston Consulting Group, where he specialized in consumer survey analysis and organizational structures. Sean received his B.S. in Bioengineering from Rice University. Throughout this time, he has also been involved as a founder, equity hire, or board member in 12 different startups and 2 different nonprofit organizations.

His hobbies include traveling, games of calculation (including chess, backgammon, various card games, etc.), CrossFit, mixology, and Muay Thai.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: LSD and Psychedelics are illegal in many countries, and even possession can carry severe criminal penalties. None of this post constitutes medical advice or should be construed as a recommendation to use psychedelics. There are serious legal, psychological, and physical risks. Psychedelics are not for everyone—they can exacerbate certain emotional problems, and there have been, in very rare cases, fatalities.


The world can definitely be a complicated place, especially when it comes to the arena of spiritual development. One of the most powerful models I’ve found to help make sense of that journey is a model that I like to call “7 Layers of Reality” or “7 Planes of Existence.” I found it on a website that I sadly cannot remember, and it was claimed to be from old Sanskrit writings. Regardless of the source, however, I’ve found it to be very accurate, very useful, and very predictive.

After getting thrown 41 feet by a van, I used this method as a means to categorize methods that allowed me to fully heal, which doctors told me would never happen even with surgery (no surgery ended up being required). I’ve used it to translate between people who were talking past each other on esoteric spiritual topics for which language precision is very much a challenge. I’ve used it to explain future potential areas of growth to someone who had achieved high levels of consciousness in certain areas but had neglected to integrate others.

One important concept to note upfront is the old Hermetic principle of “as above, so below.” What happens at the higher levels will manifest on the lower levels, and what is manifest on lower levels will correspond to phenomena at higher levels. As such, even someone who denies the existence of any nonphysical existence will get benefit from this model by operationalizing these concepts as theoretical constructs, although that worldview will significantly restrain the usefulness of the model.

While at a retreat recently, multiple friends asked me to do a write-up on this, at which point Nishant generously agreed to post that write-up as a blog post. Fair warning before we start… I’m going to use a wide variety of terms from a wide array of different subjects, so be prepared to look stuff up if needed. Now let’s begin by diving into each of the 7 layers in ascending order:

  1. Physical – The first layer is the physical, and this is the one that everyone is familiar with. In fact, most people would say that this is the only layer of reality that exists. All the laws of science apply rigorously. That said, there are possibilities of nondeterministic influence that are fully compatible with physical laws as long as certain assumptions are questioned. For example, if you’ve studied statistical thermodynamics, the Laws of Diffusion are based on the assumption of randomness of Brownian motion. Many others are based in the assumption of quantum randomness, where individual particles flit in and out of existence based on factors we can’t explain. In fact, it’s been proven in quantum physics that consciousness affects reality (look up Wheeler’s delayed choice experiment). Quantum physics has also demonstrated retrocausality (the future affecting the past) and the simultaneous existence of opposite states in a single particle. Another probable interface point is electromagnetic fields, especially in the realm of consciousness (for which I’d recommend reading The Electromagnetic Brain: EM Field Theories on the Nature of Consciousness by Dr. Shelley Joye). In fact, one of the most interesting theories I’ve seen regarding the brain is that is serves as a transducer of consciousness in addition to or instead of serving as a mere generator of consciousness as an epiphenomenon of physical processes.
  2. Aetheric – The aetheric level is heavily intertwined with sexual energy as well as several phenomena that have been observed but not yet explained. There are actually two bodies at the aetheric level: the bio-aetheric body and the psycho-aetheric body. The bio-aetheric body is what is the primary subject of much of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Daoist neidan, or reiki. The bio-aetheric body is where you will find chi (as well as the related energies of jing and shen), meridians, and other such phenomena. Without the bio-aetheric body, the physical body rapidly falls into decay, as can be seen almost immediately after death. The psycho-aetheric body (what Robert Bruce calls the realtime double) is what separates from the physical body in cases of out-of-body experiences or most cases of astral projection.
  3. Emotional – The emotional level contains standard human emotions such as anger, guilt, fear, grief, most forms of love (though not the spiritual love of agape), contentment, enthusiasm, etc. I like to discuss these in terms of emotional charge. At the physical level it manifests via neuromodulators such as dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin, and endorphins. As such, it tends to move at the speed of diffusion and biochemical transport. It is also where people go during more advanced cases of astral projection that move beyond the aetheric copy of our world (in which case the so-called astral realm is far wider and weirder than the aetheric base of the physical world). The emotional layer is also where the chakras reside (although each one corresponds to different layers, as will be discussed later). Emotions diffuse among people unless someone consciously prevents them from doing so.
  4. Cognitive – The cognitive layer is where thoughts reside. These are very different from emotional feelings, although the latter can steer the former and vice versa. In the physical world, thoughts manifest as neuroelectric activity, and as such the cognitive realm tends to move faster than the emotional realm once it gets started (it often takes some time to boot up). One fun observation is to take a significant amount of LSD (at least half what it would take to cause ego death) and watch the thoughts post peak. Due to the effects of the psychedelic, the thoughts will be significantly slowed down, which gives you the opportunity to observe the proto-thoughts emerging from the sea of cognitive chaos and forming into thoughts and eventually trains of thought. Thoughts are also transferable between people, in the style of Napoleon Hill’s Master Mind concept. One example of evidence for this is the exceedingly frequent synchronicity of development of certain concepts and inventions simultaneously across the world by people who did not have contact with each other’s ideas in physical form.
  5. Spiritual – The spiritual layer is where the individual observing Awareness (aka soul) resides. One analogy I like to use is that the body (physical and aetheric) is the metal of a robot, the mind (emotional and cognitive) is the software of the robot, and the soul is the real you, the programmer behind that software. The observing awareness perceives and operates instantaneously, unconstrained by time (including some cases into past and future). All four lower layers operate in a deterministic fashion – there is no free will there, but there is here (though as we ascend to higher layers, the concept of free will loses meaning). The esoteric process of deconditioning is the act of the spiritual layer observing and adjusting the emotional and cognitive layers, primarily by removing programs that are not serving the individual (or others around them) well. This spiritual intervention in the lower layers is what allows for free will. One interesting facet of this layer is something that I call essence – the flavor of the pure spiritual substance of an individual. With conscious intention, this can be sampled and blended into oneself. In particular, I like to do this for each separate chakra (more on each below) with different people to incorporate preferred qualities from many people. In extreme cases, extended and deep blending of the spiritual layer can result in something that two (married) mentors of mine call sacred union, where the boundaries between the two souls start to fade.
  6. Cosmic – The cosmic layer contains only three entities: the primordial force of Infinite Creation, the primordial force of Infinite Void, and the Consciousness of the Universe (or Multiverse) on the boundary of the two. There is no differentiation of any kind in Infinite Light nor in Infinite Emptiness, but the illusion of such separation can occur on the boundary, where the underlying Universal Spirit plays. How does that Universal Spirit relate to the spiritual (fifth) layer? One analogy I like to use is that of a tide pool. Each separate spiritual “self” is like a tide pool, and the Universal Spirit is the ocean. The tide pools may seem like separate micro-ecosystems, but they are intimately connected to and part of the ocean. Should the separation between the tide pools become full, life there dies and the tide pool dries up, with the water evaporating and falling back to the ocean. This tide pool analogy explains why a small number of people can tap into capabilities far beyond their separate human limits (although the vast, vast majority of people who claim such things are charlatans). This ocean is the boundary between the two infinities of the Creator and Death, Order and Chaos, Pure Light and Pure Void. This triad of Destruction, Creation, and Existence can be seen throughout various mythologies: the Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu of Hinduism; Nuit, the Hadit, and Ra-Hoor-Kuit of Crowley’s writings; the yin, the yang, and the boundary between them in the Daoist symbol; Binah, Chokmah, and the lower sephira of Kabbalah. With this in mind, it is interesting to note that there are two situations in the physical universe where time ceases to exist: when an object is moving at the speed of light, and when an object is experiencing a gravitational singularity (aka a black hole).
  7. Nirvanic – This is the layer of total nonduality, where all three aspects of the sixth layer are seen to be facets of the same One. Hermetics call it The All, Kabbalah calls it Kether, in the yin yang symbol, it is the yin, the yang, the boundary, and the perimeter – just the entire circle as a single unified whole. Time and space have no meaning here.  

A few principles reveal themselves when using this model. One is that, time and space become more flexible and fluid as one moves up, ultimately ceasing to exist entirely at the seventh layer. Another is that energy or consciousness starts at the seventh layer and then flows down to the first via each respective intermediary. This has interesting implications. One is that if one layer is blocked, it affects the ability of the lower layers to be nourished. For example, if the emotional layer is blocked, then the etheric and physical layers will be undernourished. If the spiritual layer is undeveloped (which is true of most people), then the physical, aetheric, emotional, and cognitive layers will suffer (and how many of us have seen a spiritually unconscious person struggle with weight, sex drive, emotional volatility, and trouble with memory/focus)?

In order to promote the healthy flow of vital energy from the nirvanic layer, maintain and maximize the health of your physical body to build the first layer, cultivate your aetheric energy (prana or chi or other variations thereof) to build the second layer, ensure that stressful emotions are adequately processed while fostering love and other energizing emotions to build the third layer, absorb information with an open mind and build cognitive models to build the fourth layer, practice awareness of the lower layers to develop spiritual vigilance and thus build the fifth layer, and pursue mystic experiences such as unity consciousness to connect to the sixth layer. It’s also important to note that each layer cannot simply be built separately; it’s critical to nourish the energy flows between them by directing intention to each bridge: this work is called integration.

One last point of interest for those familiar with the chakra system: this 7-layer model maps almost one-to-one with the chakras. The root chakra corresponds to the physical layer. The sacral chakra corresponds to the aetheric layer. The solar plexus chakra corresponds to the part of the emotional layer that relates to the self. The heart chakra corresponds to the part of the emotional layer that relates to others. The throat chakra corresponds to the cognitive layer. The third eye chakra corresponds to the spiritual layer. Finally, the crown chakra corresponds to the cosmic layer. Using this information, one can do a simple exercise called an attunement that will benefit even those who are disinclined to put faith in the nonphysical. For each chakra above, think of one or more people who embody the qualities of that layer you wish to incorporate into your being:

  1. For the root chakra, think of someone whose health and fitness you admire.
  2. In this exercise, the sacral chakra can be thought of as a yin yang symbol, and you should select someone who embodies the Divine Masculine and someone who embodies the Divine Feminine (not just in physical form but otherwise as well).
  3. For the solar plexus chakra, think of someone who embodies sovereign confidence (a term I got from Stuart Savotsky that encapsulates self-trust, freedom from external emotional influence, and confidence to let others have the same).
  4. For the heart chakra, think of someone who radiates the love of humanity.
  5. For the throat chakra, think of someone with vast information, strong thinking processes, and an open mind.
  6. The third eye chakra can again be thought of as a yin yang, with the yin representing intuition and the yang representing wisdom. Think of one or more people for each of those two qualities.
  7. For the crown chakra, think of someone who has incorporated mystical experiences (especially unity consciousness and loss of sense of self) into their life on a routine basis.

Simply setting these intentions will start to incorporate bits of their essence into your being and thus enhance these qualities. And for those who are not inclined to believe in such things, your subconscious will start to steer you to be more like them in those respects. After all… as above, so below.

The Nishant Garg Show:

This show is about extracting information on Mindfulness, Personal Development, Spirituality. I am on a mission to spread Mindfulness and I’d love for you to join me in this movement. For any questions, please contact me. If you have enjoyed listening to my podcasts, please subscribe to the new podcast updates on Itunes please provide your reviews on Itunes which will really help me.

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