Can the CIA Teach You How to Manifest?

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As a longtime seeker and sometimes finder, over the years, I’ve met with all matter of energy healers, past-life readers, and mediums. If it exists beyond the 3D, take me there. One place I never expected to uncover the secrets of the universe: within the Courier-font pages of declassified CIA documents, circa 1983.

Buckle up—I’ll explain. In September 2003, the CIA released 20-year-old documents relating to the Gateway Process, a training technique that used sound frequencies to stimulate the brain to achieve higher levels of consciousness. The files, written by Lieutenant Colonel Wayne McDonnell, read like a master class in the esoteric: the universe as a holographic projection, alternate dimensions, traveling across space and time.

The Gateway Process that the CIA aimed to investigate and employ was the brainchild of former radio executive Bob Monroe, who, in the 1950s, discovered that varying sound frequencies could alter human consciousness. (You may have experienced a version of this phenomenon if you’ve ever been lulled to sleep by the acoustic vibrations in a car or plane.) Monroe’s self-experimentation led to several out-of-body experiences, and in 1971, he founded the Monroe Institute to further study how these frequencies could induce profound states of being. In the late stages of the Cold War, convinced that the Soviets were researching psychic abilities for espionage, the CIA tapped the Monroe Institute to explore these methods for themselves.

The Institute’s programs were always intended for applications purer than warfare. In another declassified file, they describe the goal of the program in their own words, explaining that their process aims to instruct individuals in “the art of becoming more conscious of one’s particular inner resources, inner abilities, and, most of all, one’s inner guidance.” The documents also outline the different levels of consciousness that their audio tapes induce, beginning with what they refer to as Focus 10: a meditative state conducive to healing, psychic abilities, and remote viewing (the ability to “see” objects in real time from a distance). In the deeper Focus 12 state, participants report meeting their higher selves; in Focus 15, they can manipulate time and channel a “strong and guiding” God-like figure.

But what are the mechanics behind meeting God? The foundation of Monroe’s process involves synchronizing the brain’s left and right hemispheres, referred to as the “hemi-sync” state. When specific varying tones—also referred to as binaural beats—are listened to through headphones, both brain hemispheres begin to equalize their level of frequency. A deep state of calm follows, and that’s when the portal opens, so to speak. In this state, the report tells us it’s possible to escape the restrictions of time and space, and tap into the intuitive knowledge of the universe.

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The documents had been declassified for decades—but a new, younger audience was introduced to the Gateway when TikTok caught on in 2021. That same year, Vice dissected the CIA’s report, leading to new curiosity about the process and the Monroe Institute.

I first heard about the program and the related documents while taking a manifestation course with Kathrin Zenkina in 2021. “Even the government knows how to manifest,” she said during a class. At that point in my spiritual journey, I was still seeking proof that the law of attraction and the power of thought wasn’t completely delusional. I read the files, somewhat stunned. Though manifestation, or the physical actualizing of our thoughts, is proven in concepts like the placebo effect, it’s still often ridiculed as magical thinking.

On page 22 of the CIA’s Gateway Analysis, there’s an advanced technique described as “Patterning,” explains that in the Focus 12 state, we can project our thoughts “into the universe with the intention that the desired objective is already a matter of established achievement which is destined to be realized.” Here, McDonnell is saying that imagining ourselves living our desired outcomes guarantees their actualization. Good news for vision-board makers: These claims are supported by science. Quantum physics tells us that subatomic particles behave differently depending on how they’re observed. Our perception (thoughts) has the power to influence particles (matter). The report continues: “Since our consciousness is the source of all reality, our thoughts have the power to influence the development of reality in time-space…if those thoughts can be projected with adequate intensity.” A lesson on manifestation, straight from the military.

I was surprised to discover that the Monroe Institute still exists, and that the organization continues to teach the Gateway Program. Curious to experience the methods myself, I spoke with Jenny Whedbee, the organization’s marketing director, who works at the Virginia campus. She tells me that the current goal of the Institute, a non-profit, is to inspire a “global awakening of human consciousness” within the next 10 years.

Before Whedbee joined the Institute eight years ago, she was a marketing professional seeking a job while grieving the recent suicide of her sister. She agreed to take the week-long Gateway Voyage program as part of her onboarding. When we spoke, she described the overwhelming experience of connecting to her deceased sister during the first session, which brought her an immense sense of peace. Throughout the program, Whedbee reported post-mortem visits from her dog, meeting her spirit guides, and having an out-of-body experience.

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Gateway student Malorie Mackey, 35, found the Monroe Institute in 2019 while researching for her travel show, Weird World Adventures, and loved their scientific approach to meditation. She now uses the techniques almost daily. Referring to the focus states, she said, “There’s no universal definition of the word ‘consciousness.’ It’s very subjective. So the fact that, decades ago, Bob Monroe was trying to define–or at least put guideposts to help people explore–was revolutionary in the field of meditation. I discover so much about myself in each exercise. I’ve done, at this point, many programs and exercises, and it never turns out the way I expect it to.”

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​​The Gateway Program is one of many courses that the Monroe Institute offers. Also on their menu: Exploring Past Lives, Introduction to Lucid Dreaming, and Mental Mediumship. Whedbee suggested a starter course for me: Introduction to Beyond Meditation. The four-session digital class costs $79. You can also access some of the introductory Gateway tapes on Spotify. (On the highest end of their offerings, a five-day, six-night Remote Viewing residential program is offered at $2,495.) One residential program, Starlines II, promises access to Focus Level 49—the Institute’s highest tier of consciousness. The course description reads: “Strengthen the energetic pathway between earth core and the galactic core; explore various forms of dimensional shifting.” The program requires a prerequisite course.

I was anxious to get started. What would I find out? Where would I go? Who–or what–might I encounter? To begin the program, I watched a series of videos led by an instructor who gave me a heads-up on what to prepare for. There were many reminders to use the restroom before entering the focus states. “When you relax completely, everything relaxes completely,” my teacher, Luigi, warned. I was also encouraged to take notes immediately upon returning to my regular consciousness.

Bob Monroe still leads the meditations from beyond the grave (he died in 1995). Listening on my headphones, I was comforted by his old-timey, granddad voice. The preparatory processes for entering the focus states are still the same as outlined in the CIA documents. After listening to calming surf sounds, Bob’s voice instructed me to envision an “energy conversion box.” In it, I’m to place anything that’s worrying or distracting me, lock it shut, and then turn, and walk away.

a large quartz crystal on the lawn of the monroe institute in faber va quartz is considered by some to have energy properties

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The Monroe Institute.

Next, I’m introduced to low, slightly disconcerting sounds similar to Gregorian chants, which I’ve been directed to vocalize along to. The purpose of this step is to begin to resonate sound throughout my body. Then, I repeat an affirmation that starts with, “I am more than my physical body.” In the first session, Bob counted me down from one to 10 as I became progressively more relaxed. When we reached 10, I was in Focus Level 10, or F-10, described as “mind awake, body asleep.” All I had to do next was enjoy and explore Focus 10, calmed by the low, varying tones that continued until Bob’s voice returned to bring me back to normal consciousness. I felt deeply relaxed, floating through a dreamy, cloud-like state for what seemed like hours, though the actual time in F-10 was less than 30 minutes.

In a following session, I was introduced to Focus 12, a state of expanded awareness beyond the five senses. After the preparatory exercise, my body dissolved to a sleepy state, but I began to get restless before the session was over. I reassured myself that it was safe to explore my expanded consciousness, but part of me was nervous about the unfamiliarity of what I might find. The document from the Monroe Institute warned of participants encountering a “fear barrier”–a sort of self-protection that kicks in to keep our consciousness where it’s familiar. I felt myself knocking up against it, and nothing revelatory seemed to occur. The final meditation also took place in Focus 12, and I didn’t feel ready to come back to consciousness when the session ended—time had seemed to speed up.

Accessing a deeper reality, whether it’s through psychedelics, meditation, or the hemi-sync method, requires setting aside the normal flow of thought, Roger Cavnaugh, a California-based licensed psychologist who specializes in the study of consciousness and works with trauma patients, tells me. “All of these methods are about quieting the mind and allowing our true nature to come forward,” he says.

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Of the profound experiences reported by Gateway participants, he posits: “That’s the big question: Is this something people hope for, or is it the actual quality of existence?” You might be wondering too—how real is this? Our human brains might never be able to comprehend the full truth. As Cavnaugh puts it, “The mind is only a small fragment of what reality is.”

Whether I traveled far or stayed behind my eyelids, I’m not exactly sure. In the meditations, I achieved a deep state of relaxation quickly—unusual for me—and the process did seem to reveal a part of my mind that I hadn’t explored before. During the sessions, time bent and stretched and ceased to exist, just like the documents said would happen. It felt as if I walked to the edge of my consciousness and poked it, a bit timid to discover what lies beyond. But I’m intrigued enough to keep going.

I’m not alone in my curiosity. There’s a growing interest in and adoption of alternative therapies like ketamine and psilocybin for healing and expanding consciousness. The Gateway methods require only sound, no substances, and offers those who are wary of or don’t have access to those therapies another option on their path to awakening.

If you’ve ever dabbled in the mystical, you’ve likely encountered doubt and cynicism— from yourself and others. So maybe, like me, you feel validated knowing that our government has been exploring realms beyond the 3D for decades. The declassified files bring attention to the vast intelligence that (you might already intuitively know) is available beyond our present awareness. The report also echoes and affirms ancient wisdom: McDonnell, the author, acknowledges that the science and concepts he uses to explain the nature of consciousness and the universe are also reflected in religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Hebrew mystical philosophy.

Our world can be a dense, intense place to exist. These files remind us that we each have limitless potential, and the pursuit of enlightenment is a worthy one. And who knows what future documents might be revealed in our lifetimes? As Mackey said, “I feel like everything that’s considered magic now is just some kind of science we’ve yet to define.”

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