Words by NAOMI HADISUMARTO
Illustrations by YASHA LAI
Have you ever read that book? Yes, that book, or watched that movie, or played that game – the one you find yourself diving into until your hot tea turns cold. Drifting within a new reality where perhaps the sky is still blue and the grass still green, with everything else feeling different yet somewhat comfortable. When it’s done it makes you ask, “Where am I again?” and “Can I go back?” as if experiencing a withdrawal. What if you could actually live in that reality?
Experiencing another reality is the phenomenon of Reality Shifting, the latest trend in mental activity that peaked in 2021. “Shifters” can “shift” into their desired reality through specific scripts and meditative techniques, which vary between individuals. Many shifters claim that it is different from lucid dreaming, as shifting feels more real, such as hearing sounds, tasting food, and sensing smell just as in reality. This phenomenon seems to have been made popular by the post-millennial generation and popularized through social media platforms such as TikTok.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have been forced to stay home and possibly in a restricted environment, which can be frustrating, leaving us yearning for an escape. In the 2021 issue of Current Psychology, Professor Emeritus Eli Somer, a clinical psychologist at the University of Haifa in Israel who studies maladaptive daydreaming, together with other experts in the field, wrote an article where they note that the search volume of the term “reality shifting” surged worldwide on search engines following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Some individuals shift to escape their current – usually unpleasant – reality in order to enjoy the relatively better feeling made possible in their desired reality. Desired realities can be anything from a slight variation from one’s current reality to an entirely fictional reality, with the example of Hogwarts from the world of Harry Potter as a popular destination.
Currently, scientific research concerning Reality Shifting is still limited. In an interview with i-D, a bimonthly publication by VICE Media, British therapist Grace Warwick, who specialises in anomalous experiences, said that Reality Shifting is not lucid dreaming, but is instead called 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 explained. Meanwhile, in their article, Professor Somer and his team compare Reality Shifting with other known phenomena. According to their analysis, Reality Shifting shares many characteristics with tulpamancy (creation of “tulpas” or animated, responsive beings), hypnosis, and lucid dreaming. However, it seems to be distinct from phenomena like immersive and maladaptive daydreaming, absorption, dissociation, and fantasy proneness.
Professor Somer’s team also proposes that successful shifting is dependent on individual traits and self-training regimes. Such self-training is hypothesized to be influenced by cultural factors (e.g. influencers endorsing Reality Shifting) and the shifter’s motivation and dedication to shifting itself. They also suggest that the shifter’s motivation and dedication towards shifting could also be a product of cultural factors (e.g. Harry Potter movies) and/or personal factors: either negative, like a wish to escape an adverse experience, or positive, like the need for a creative experience.
There are several methods to induce shifting. Since shifting has individual differences and it is not yet fully researched, its preparation steps are a blend of mediation and having a script already at hand. The script is usually specific, but the details may vary among individuals. Suggestions of scripting include a safe word to come back quickly to the current reality, affirmations to be safe from being traumatized, or a declaration to not get too attached to one’s desired reality. Based on various online reports, shifting also feels different for each person. Some report lightness in the mind, while others feel muscle tensions upon shifting. Others may even take weeks or months before successfully shifting, if even at all.
While sipping tea with Hermoine to kill time until a date with Draco Malfoy may sound attractive, shifting comes with its risks. There are no formal reports yet, but some shifters have shared their testimonies online. Some claim that it gets difficult for them to take a break from shifting as it itches at the back of their mind. Others caution against getting too attached to their desired reality, since this may lead to a desire to “respawn”, which is permanently severing ties with their current reality to ascend to their desired reality. The Somer article adds that shifting might have similar risks to lucid dreaming by causing a blur between waking and dreaming consciousness; moreover, it may run similar risks to maladaptive daydreaming, which is addictive and may result in a situation out of shifter’s control.
It has been a difficult period for everyone since the spread of COVID-19, but with a silver lining of the rise of new hobbies, be it cooking, knitting, or this practice of Reality Shifting. The shifting community is not new, but more people have become aware of it because of the pandemic. With the rising interest, it may open up an opportunity for new bounds of research, given this larger body of experience to draw on.
Naomi Hadisumarto is a Ph.D. student in the Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
THE KOMABA TIMES ISSUE 11, APRIL 2022