A wave of psycho-chic New Age seminars has surged around the planet in recent years — each promising its own version of improved spiritual vigor, inner peace and transcendence. There’s a program tailored to meet each and every ego and wallet size — which is not to suggest the benefits aren’t real. They are. You just have to be able to afford enlightenment these days.

If you detect cynicism, so be it. Being a little light in the cash box lately, I’ve had to discriminate where to sow any surplus green. Money is like manure: it’s only useful if you spread it around and smells bad piled up in the corner.

Recently I decided to investigate one of the lesser-known (at least in this area) awareness programs, Silva Mind Control, having been offered a free breeze through the 40-hour training session in exchange for this article. The technique was invented by a self-taught Mexican-American, Jose Silva, who spent decades of independent research to arrive at the conclusion that the potential of the brain is limitless, although usually underutilized.

During the week-long seminar we were taught that man uses only about ten per cent of his mind and lets the rest lie idle because he’s been conditioned by Western society to ignore it. The key to tapping the brain’s hidden resources lies in restoring the active visualization abilities we all had as children but somehow allowed to be squelched over the years. Our instructor suggested this predicament might be due to watching too much television or listening to authorities tell us over and over again that daydreaming is a total waste of time. Mind Control suggests nothing could be farther from the truth.

The training consisted, in part, of regular sessions of carefully guided fantasy, imagining that you are projecting your consciousness into various metals, plants, between walls, and even human bodies in order to detect any structural weaknesses or abnormalities.

Projection exercises were always preceded by “dropping into level,” a relaxed, centered state of mind reportedly corresponding to an alpha brainwave frequency of 7 to 14 cycles per second, associated with meditation, daydreaming and hypnosis. “Level” was achieved sitting upright with eyes closed, visualizing the numerals three, two and one each three times while consciously responding to the instructor’s suggestion that you are “going deeper.” With a little practice, going to level became effortless, automatic.

Perhaps the most interesting technique involved creating your own “mental laboratory” complete with two brilliant counselors (mine were Maria Schneider and Merlin) who assist in solving the most difficult problems you may encounter. Once, for example, I was attempting to diagnose the illness of an elderly subject when Maria nudged my arm and murmured, “Can’t you see? He’s blind!” The lab is equipped with various instruments including a perpetual calendar, alarm clock, elaborate filing system and mental screen designed to flash the image of any person’s body you care to examine before sending healing energy.

Incidentally, you can try this for yourself without enrolling in the course. I guided an artist friend to level where he successfully read another friend’s aura on his mental screen — with only about five minutes of preparation.

Another beneficial aspect of going to level, our instructor said, is that anything one imagines in alpha with special attention to detail is more likely to manifest itself on the physical plane we call everyday reality. Thus, if you’d like a new automobile, he told us, visualize it in minute detail, being careful to see yourself behind the wheel. One poor fellow apparently spent weeks visualizing a new Porsche only to have it pop up in his neighbors’ driveway.

It was difficult to take Jose’s suggestions seriously at first. Imagine yourself seated in front of the fireplace at your parents’ house, explaining, “You see, Dad, the way I think the Universe works is that we can get anything we want just by picturing it in our minds!” and he’s sitting there, thinking, “Omigod, I send the kid to college, mortgage the place to finance it, and what do I get? A blooming young moron!”

Despite my doubts, strange things began to happen. Most of my early visualizations were not the suggested healing and centering techniques but were playfully outrageous propositions designed to test the “magick.” Please be careful if you try this out yourself. For some reason I thought if nothing happened within 48 hours, then a “higher programming” had vetoed the request. I’m still sorting out the overkill.

The first night of the course, our instructor, Lew Lucke, stood before a group of about fifty prospective students and outlined the basic “make a wish” format. “Aha,” I thought, “If this really works, who needs a dumb course to learn the method? I’ll try it out on my own.”

Just then I noticed a beautiful woman with an engaging smile and flashing, mystical eyes who was seated halfway down the aisle. “Well, well, well,” I hummed to myself, making a note to program a rendezvous where she would ask me for my phone number. Let’s make this one really difficult, I thought, a bit worried about submitting Mind Control to the whim of desire.

I had forgotten her the next day until, walking from a Dey Hall classroom lost in conversation with a friend, I suddenly bumped into her, nearly knocking her down. After an awkward silence, she asked, “Weren’t you at that meeting last night?” and went on to share her feelings about the course.

We talked awhile in the hallway until I suggested she might need to make her class. She walked to the doorway, then spun around, obviously startled. “This isn’t my class,” she exclaimed. “What time is it?” After learning it was two in the afternoon she appeared confused. “Two? How in the world? I was sure it was only noon!”

Before we parted, I discovered she lived with an old friend who’d dropped out of sight a few years ago. Then she asked for my phone number so he might get in touch — not exactly what I’d planned, but a pleasant surprise, and besides, I’d only programmed talking to her . . .

The following weeks were even more intense. Each day became a virtual shower of coincidences, great and small, tending to induce a dream-like, eerie frame of mind where most things seemed to happen twice — once in daydream, then in reality. I spent much time trying to figure it all out, even though there was little negativity and the days tended to run smoothly otherwise. I realized some success channeling healing energies, but nothing so clearcut as to jolt my doubts into solid faith.

I thought a great deal about the karmic implications of programming for material gain. I felt uneasy with Lew’s suggestion that we visualize a new Maserati, but this reluctance did not sway me from attempting to influence a local music shop’s contest offering a steel-string guitar.

The much coveted six-stringed instrument was perfect in every way: beautifully mellow tones and pearly lustrous finish. I hastily scrawled out an entry blank and crammed it down the cracker barrel — all the while picturing myself just like Bob Dylan, plunking that axe down where the river flows.

Outside the shop, however, remorse settled in like an unwelcome guest. I felt guilty for prostituting my lofty ideals just to win some contest. Placing three fingers together on each hand to center myself — a technique not unlike clicking together ruby red slippers — I whispered, “Cancel! Cancel! Go away, guitar!” which I hoped would undo the programming and release me from my greedy karma.

My resolve faltered as the week wore on, so the spell was on again, off again, depending upon my mood. Finally the big day arrived with the issue left in limbo; I was dining with some friends, wondering who finally had won, when the hostess interrupted my musings. “Could you tune an old guitar?” she asked, fetching a battered Yamaha from the closet. While I fiddled with the instrument, she asked about my old gut-string, then suggested a temporary trade “since these steel wires hurt my fingertips so much. . . .”

Despite such daily coincidences, I remained reluctant to attribute the events to visualization and began programming for proof in the form of larger miracles. Some folks have a very hard head.

One November evening as I prepared for bed I thought about my best friend from college — an adventurous clown who’d been hitchhiking through Europe and Africa for the past year and a half. I’d last heard from Robert when he sent a postcard from Yugoslavia last February. I suspected he’d gone to India and decided to program to find him in my dreams. Before retiring, I visualized myself circling in a holding pattern high above the Mediterranean.

Wednesday night I dreamed I flew to Paris aboard a silver-white jetliner where I noticed Brigitte Bardot lounging in the first-class section, unfortunately inaccessible. After landing at Orly airport, I spent a leisurely afternoon strolling along the Champs-Elysee, occasionally inspecting the numerous little shops and bakeries along mysterious back avenues. Every now and then I’d go to a pay telephone, dial some unfamiliar code, and sigh each time my friend did not answer. “I suppose he’s vacationing in the countryside this weekend,” I told myself. The dream was vivid and easy to remember.

Friday afternoon the phone rang in my kitchen. It was Robert. “Hello!” he shouted. “You’ll never guess where I’m calling from.” Assured that I had no idea, he replied, “Paris!”

Robert is not the kind of fellow to chat overseas when it is costing him the toll, so I asked if he’d reversed the charges. He explained he’d found a phone booth that mysteriously bypasses the operator, allowing free telephone service anywhere in the world. We talked for over an hour.

By the way, a friend from Morocco informs me such a connection actually does exist. “The Moroccan students living in Paris use it to call home all the time,” he said. “It’s well-known.”

Although the subtle power of positive thought and visualization has been known (and marketed) for decades, it wasn’t until I read the ideas set forth by various mystics such as Jane Roberts (who channels information from a personality named Seth), spiritual seekers like Ram Dass, and an American Indian medicine man called Rolling Thunder that I began to find a hint as to why the whole thing works.

Ram Dass says, for example, that the universe is merely a projection of our desires and that what we experience as reality originates in the mind. Actually, it might be more precise to state the universe is the mind, although we’ve been led through words and descriptions to feel a need to make distinctions between what we think is going on “Out There” and what’s happening “In Here.” Thus it makes no difference if one seeks understanding by going inward through meditation or reaching out into the flow of events like the shaman.

Rolling Thunder puts it this way: “First you identify the principle, then you practice it. Gradually you understand the principle, that is, you become one with it. When you become one with your principle, it responds to your will.” That’s the point I’ve reached with Mind Control. I can’t explain it verbally, but it seems to work. As Lao-tze says, “The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.”

If your own visualization prowess has grown sluggish over the years, don’t despair, it’s still there and merely asleep. One housewife in our class claimed for a long time she couldn’t see anything at all during the exercises; patience carried her through.

Should you need a booster shot of confidence, try Silva Mind Control. It’s rather expensive at $100 for students and $175 for others, but well worth it if you need help sliding your imagination into third gear. Remember, there’s no limit on what direction you can go within your mind. That’s entirely up to you. And as Pete Seeger says, “Take it easy, but take it.”