Out of Body Experiences
Updated June 1, 2003
Ted Andrews still remembered the incident with extraordinary vividness. He had been ten years old at the time, living with his older brother in his uncle’s house. His recollection of the event forty years ago was simple and to the point.
“One day, I was reclined on my bed, quite awake, and was looking at the ceiling beams of the old Spanish building where the living quarters were located. I was asking myself questions, such as what was I doing there and who was I. All of sudden, I got up from the bed and started walking towards the next room. At that moment, I felt a strange sensation in me: it was a sensation of weightlessness and a strange mix of a sense of a feeling of joy. I turned back in my steps in order to go back to the bed when to my big surprise, I saw myself reclining there. This surprising experience at a very young age, gave me the kind of a jerk which, so to speak, shook me back to my body.”
The idea of someone getting out of bed and inadvertently leaving their body in the bed may perhaps be a bit disconcerting to the average person (not to mention Ted, or even the un-average person). Actually it may be more than disconcerting. Let’s face it the story has all the qualifications of the ramblings of someone who is nuts. Or crazy. Your basic loony tunes. The only question appears to be: Was this fellow actually out-of-his-body, or just out of his mind?
A decade ago, we could have dismissed this story as the ramblings of a prematurely senile fifty year-old man, but the mass of data on near-death experiences and the like should now give us pause. If we can leave our bodies at the time of death or near-death, why not at other times? Is there any reason why we could not achieve an out-of-body state without first having to suffer some sort of illness, accident, or other trauma, or even attempt suicide?
The Astral Body
One of the oldest and most universal concepts of man’s ideas about himself is the concept of the “astral body.” This envelope of the soul is mentioned in ancient Egyptian, Indian, and Greek texts, as well as the Christian Bible. During the Middle Ages, the concept was virtually a literary staple. It continues to be a powerful belief in many religious and cultural groups today, including most students of reincarnation and related phenomena.
The astral body is believed to be a perfect replica of the physical body in which it is housed. However, the astral body is composed of luminous, translucent materials. These far lighter materials makes it ideally suited for out-of-body traveling. The astral body’s function, supposedly, is to transport the soul at the moment of death into the white light. It is the astral body that allows for the travel of the soul in near-death experiences, pre-birth excursions in and out of the fetus, and during the time in the bardo state.
However, there appears to be no reason to limit out-of-body travels to those associated with death and eventual rebirth. For those claiming to have experienced being out-of-body on numerous occasions, the state is considered no more unusual than dreaming. Sylvan Muldoon and Hereward Carrington, writing in their book, The Projection of the Astral Body, claimed to have been habitual astral travelers themselves and that astral projection (a voluntary out-of-body experience) was within anyone’s capability if they wanted it badly enough. In their words:
“The astral body, then, coincides with the physical body during the hours of full, waking consciousness, but in sleep the astral body withdraws to a greater or lesser degree, usually hovering just above it, neither conscious nor controlled. In trance, syncope, while fainting, when under the influence of an anesthetic, etc., the astral body similarly withdraws from the physical. Such cases of withdrawal constitute instances of automatic or involuntary projection.
“As opposed to such cases we place those of conscious or voluntary projection, in which the subject ‘wills’ to leave his physical body. He is then fully alert and conscious in his astral body; he can look upon his own physical mechanism, and travel about at will, perhaps viewing scenes and visiting places he has never seen before.
“The astral and physical bodies are connected by means of a cord, along which vital currents pass. Should this cord be severed, death instantly results. This cord -- the ‘Silver Cord’ spoken of in Ecclesiastes -- is elastic and capable of great extension. It constitutes the essential link between the two bodies.”
Belief in the concept of out-of-body experiences (commonly referred to as OBE, or ecsomatic state—whichever you prefer), appears in about 95% of non-Western cultures. In their book, With the Eyes of the Mind, An Empirical Analysis of Out-of-Body States, Gabbard and Twenlow note three separate surveys by independent researchers (covering a period from 1954 to 1983) which found 23 to 27 percent of college students having had at least one OBE. Furthermore the descriptions of the experience from both the college students and a wide diversified sampling of other people show remarkable similarity. In essence, something of the self leaves the body, often when the physical body is either asleep or unconscious, and is usually spontaneous. The occurrence is easily distinguishable from dreams.
Richard Bach, in his novel The Bridge Across Forever, tells of the first time his hero discovers himself in an out-of-body state:
“The books had been right. Think about moving, and I moved, sliding on the air like a sled on ice. I didn’t exactly have a body, but neither was I without one. I had a sense of a body -- hazy, foggy, a ghost’s body. After all our determined practice, how could this be so easy? Extreme consciousness. Compared to this humming, knowing, razor-life, daily consciousness is sleepwalking.
“I turned in the air and looked back. The faintest thread of glowing light led from me to my sleeping form. That’s the cord we read about, the silver cord, that links a living ghost to its body. Sever that cord, they say, and off you go.
“Near-death experiences, they’re the same as out-of-body experiences. Dying is nothing more than an out-of-body, from which we don’t return? And out-of bodies, they can be learned!”
The editors of Reader’s Digest’s book, Into the Unknown, describe the OBE in less dramatic terms:
“During an OBE the “I” consciousness seems to be aware that it is in another vehicle, which may or may not be visible to an onlooker. Some subjects feel the second body to be an exact, if transparent, replica of the physical body; others liken it to a mist, a vapor, a white cloud, an eye, a glowing ball, or something like a magnetic or electric field. Not uncommonly, the out-of-body form is thought to give off its own light, and some subjects report seeing a luminous cord connecting the ecsomatic self with the physical body. Movement out of the physical body is often accompanied by a clicking sound, an apparent blackout or a journey down a long tunnel, and may seem to be assisted by some other disembodied entity.
“The pattern also suggests that the projected form is immune to gravity and may walk, glide, float or fly. It may hover lazily in the vicinity of the physical body, or it may seem to travel great distances beyond the limits of time and space. It may also be able to pass through matter with ease but is very seldom capable of touching or moving objects. The subject usually feels he is traveling in the world of everyday life but sometimes enters regions of other worldly beauty or depression, and may see other apparitions during his experience. The out-of-body self may even seem to demonstrate some form of extrasensory perception.
“Skeptics, who are numerous, explain out-of-body accounts in terms of dreams, hallucinations, wishful self-delusions, ESP, gross misperception of natural events, psychotic episodes or deliberate hoax. No doubt each one of these factors might operate in a given instance, yet the mass of OBE cases is not so easily dealt with. For the sheer volume of anecdotal data does at least suggest that the OBE is a genuine phenomena; it suggests, indeed, that the consciousness apparently leaving the body may be the real self, one capable of functioning independently of the physical body’s mass of bone, tissue and brain cells.”
Ram Dass, a Harvard educated guru with a decidedly Western background, has given a very simple description of the out-of-body state by describing the body as a spacesuit, with the eyes the window of the spacesuit. Ram Dass goes on to note that you are NOT your spacesuit, and that an OBE is just leaving the spacesuit temporarily.
This viewpoint has the added benefit of implying that when you leave your spacesuit for good, you can be comforted by the fact that this spacesuit is biodegradable.
Robert Monroe is considered one of today’s foremost authorities on out-of-body experiences. In his book, Far Journeys, he describes the OBE as a condition where:
“...you find yourself outside of your physical body, fully conscious and able to perceive and act as if you were functioning physically—with several exceptions. You can move through space (and time?) slowly or apparently somewhere beyond the speed of light. You can observe, participate in events, make willful decisions based upon what you perceive and do. You can move through physical matter such as walls, steel plates, concrete, earth, oceans, air, even atomic radiation without effort or effect.
“You can go into an adjoining room without bothering to open the door. You can visit a friend three thousand miles away. You can explore the moon, the solar system, and the galaxy if these interest you. Or... you can enter other reality systems only dimly perceived and theorized by our time/space consciousness.”
Obviously, you could also skip the expense and inconvenience of traveling on airlines and other common carriers.
One might assume the majority of OBEs reported derive from times of pain, stress, or other intolerable circumstances. It would be, in effect, an escape, and would probably be quite effective. Just as in near-death experiences, when the soul likewise leaves the body, the astral body would find itself totally free of pain and earthly worries, and capable of doing by merely thinking the thought.
However near-death experiences account for only about 10% of out-of-body experiences! Respondents to numerous surveys have indicated that in 79% of OBEs, the subject was mentally calm and physically relaxed. “Flying or falling” dreams may include up to 33%, while 27% of OBE subjects reported they were meditating at the time of the experience. Cases of emotional stress or unusual fatigue only accounted for 23 and 15%, respectively. An OBE occasioned by drugs, general anesthesia, experiencing cardiac arrest, severe pain, experiencing childbirth, drinking alcohol, and experiencing high fever each represented less than 10% each.
There is evidence to suggest OBEs occur on a regular basis while sleeping, but like dreams, these events are seldom remembered after waking. Some proponents suggest that the “jerk” people often feel, while sleeping, and which often awakens them, is the astral body returning abruptly to the physical body. If this is the case, the number of OBEs being experienced by many people is much larger than what might have been expected, or has ever been reported by surveys.
Another class of OBEs include cases where a soul goes to the aid of a friend or relative. Sandra Johnson, a homemaker in North Carolina, while watching TV with her husband, suddenly found herself in a hospital emergency room looking down at her seriously injured father-in-law. After speaking with him for just a few moments, she abruptly found herself back in her own living room. Concerned, she then telephoned her in-laws, only to learn that her father-in-law had just been injured in a car accident. He died before Sandra could get to the hospital, but not before the dying man had told a nurse and his wife that he had been comforted by Sandra’s presence in his room.
In a similar case an Indiana farmer went to the aid of his father in an out-of-body form. Even though concerned for his father’s health, the farmer also sensed the presence of some sort of guide accompanying him to his father’s bed. Interestingly the father remembered his son’s presence at the same time that his son had written down upon his return.
Equally dramatic is the case of Doris Sumner, who witnessed her husband, Paul’s, apparent OBE. When she turned to him in bed she saw what looked like a person lying in a casket. A filmy, white substance surrounding his body was being drawn from the top of his head and the soles of his feet toward the solar plexus. When it came together in the middle, a small embryo figure that resembled a tiny albino man was formed. She couldn’t see the eyes or guess the sex, but somehow she knew this figure, no more than two inches long, was Paul. Suddenly the tiny thing did a counter-clockwise motion, turned, and shot up at a 45-degree angle until there was nothing left except for a filmy, white cord still connected to his body. There was the smell of phosphorus, like someone striking a match, and everything disappeared. While shocking to Doris, Paul later readily admitted that he was out-of-body and in fact did it nightly.
Right! And he probably has to work late often as well!
Paul’s claim to routinely leave his body is supported by numerous other accounts, however. While many believe anyone can OBE on a regular basis, Robert Monroe has developed workshops that claim to teach the methods of accomplishing OBEs at will. Along with other experts, he suggests that people should not attempt to voluntarily leave their body without adequate instruction. While spontaneous cases of OBE seem to pose no problem (naturally occurring experiences seem to allow the people to instinctively return), conscious, willed out-of-body experiences without prior instruction are definitely not recommended by Monroe.
Nature of the Experience
Gabbard and Twenlow have utilized questionnaires to develop a prototype OBE. They have noted that physical relaxation or mental calmness precede a typical experience (i.e. stress is usually absent). The subject typically senses a state of peace and quiet, something which seems quiet pleasant, if not joyful. Unpleasant affects or a sense of going crazy is uncommon. The subject often finds themselves in a position spatially separate from the physical body (usually from a vantage point above the now inert body), but within the same environment. The experience is quite vivid (clearly more real than a dream state), and is usually sufficient to have a profound influence on the person’s subsequent life. Views about life after death may be changed, as the subject sees the event as a spiritual experience, which they may even want to try again. Some even view it as one of the greatest events of their lives.
According to Gabbard and Twemlow, 94% of OBEers describe the experience as more real than a dream. The form of the out-of-body figure was reported to be similar to the physical body by 76% of the subjects, while 62% considered the OB figure to be in the same environment as the physical body. 50% felt their OB figure could pass through objects, while 18% felt able to touch objects. 14% felt that people not out-of-body were aware of his or her presence. 33% experienced a change in time sense.
37% heard noises in the early stages of the experience, 30% saw a brilliant white light, and 26% experienced being in a dark tunnel with a white light at the end of it. 37% of the subjects were aware of the presence of non-physical beings (In 19% the beings were people close to the subject, but whom had already died.) 26% felt the presence of guides or helpers.
The American Society of Psychical Research located in New York has conducted numerous experiments in order to verify the reality of OBEs. In one case a subject was able to describe “targets” with sufficient accuracy, that researchers calculated the odds against such success in identifications to be 40,000 to 1 against. Another subject made 114 hits out of 197 trials, during 20 different sessions.
Gabbard and Twemlow conducted observations of Robert Monroe during a voluntary OBE. The psychiatrists concluded that while neuro-physiological changes might be accompanying the out-of-body experience, there was no indication of a stable, external state existing. From their viewpoint, it was not even clear if the states were the cause or the effect of the out-of-body experience.
One aspect of the research has suggested that there is a measurable change in the physical body’s weight during an OBE. In effect the astral body does possess some minute mass or weight and its departure can register a slight loss in the physical body’s weight. This weight loss has been estimated to range from ½ or ¾ of an ounce to as much as 13 ounces. But for the desperately diet-conscious, the possibility of shedding a pound very quickly is probably not worth the loss of one’s soul. Try to keep that in mind.
Scoffers continue to suggest an OBE is nothing more than a psychological mechanism to cope with the fear of dying. Given the existence of such fear, are OBEs still plausible? It would appear so. The fact remains that people who have undergone the experience of an OBE (either voluntary or involuntary, near-death, sleeping, or by any other means), invariably cease to be concerned with death. If OBEs are purely a construct of the mind to deal with a fear of dying, it is an amazingly effective method. The skeptics should try it. [Not necessarily dying, but only a near-death or willed OBE.]
Isolation research is the study of the effects on the mind and the body when an individual is isolated. This isolation can be in the form of removing all social contact with other humans (lone polar explorers, solitary shipwreck survivors, solitary confinement, etc.) or can involve sensory deprivation techniques. The latter techniques include the well publicized cases of people being suspended in a water tank and being isolated from stimuli to any of the person’s normal sensory channels.
Under these conditions, subjects have reported experiencing unusual psychological phenomena not unlike NDEs and OBEs. Dr. John Lilly, known for his isolation research, has reported in his book, The Center of the Cyclone, that he considers the experiences under isolation to be real and not delusional. The implication is isolation may well be another method of entering the new realms of consciousness that the OBEs and NDEs appear to be.
The Mind/Body Problem
While Gabbard and Twemlow have done considerable research into OBEs, and have shown that most common explanations of the phenomena are inadequate, they have not concluded that separation of the “astral body” and the physical body actually occurs. In fact they do not even agree separation is the logical object of research. In their view, they believe any attempt to prove an actual or artificial separation of the mind and body misses the point, and instead the OBE should be viewed simply as a function of psychology. Being psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, this is the limit of their interest.
Gabbard and Twemlow go on to point out “substantial philosophical and semantic problems” with the “separationist” approach. Harold Widdison, in his article “Near-Death Experiences and the Unscientific Scientist,” uses aspects of Kirlian research to dispute Gabbard and Twemlow’s position. Dr. Widdison notes the “phantom leaf effect”, which occurs in Kirlian or corona discharge photography using high voltage currents. The effect derives from the action of cutting from 2 to 10 percent of the leaf away, and then photographing it using the Kirlian technique. Upon developing the film, the image of the entire leaf is sometimes seen. In effect the Kirlian photograph of the cut leaf shows the complete leaf, even though the cut portion has been removed before the photographing!
In effect, the phantom leaf effect suggests that living organisms may be composed of a non-biological component as well as a biological one. The question that arises is whether or not these two separate components can exist separately as well as coexist. Thus the life after death question can be rephrased as the ability of the non-biological aspect of the leaf to exist without the physical, biological leaf itself.
More importantly, if the non-biological aspect can exist, as in another dimension, is it possible for an individual approaching death to be able to glimpse that other dimension?
Gabbard and Twenlow, avoiding the issue of a separation between the mind and body, argue for a split between the soul-ego and the physical-ego. The split is purely psychological in their view. But why should a self-generated ego-split result in the dramatic changes in one’s view of life and death? What about the consistency of reports?
One has to wonder about the motivation of researchers who strive so earnestly to propose an alternative explanation. Why not assume the simpler hypothesis? Why not believe the hundreds of individuals who have reported the same vivid experiences? Alternative theories can certainly be useful, if only to make us continue to question, but any alternative theory must be pretty good to overcome the simplicity of just believing the voluminous reports of people who have experienced OBEs and NDEs.
Why would anyone want to voluntarily undergo an OBE? There seems little doubt that it would be a learning experience. There is no reason to suppose two or more people could not take a trip together, and find other unique things to share. As a means to achieve guidance, to grasp the really incredible complexity and beauty of the universe, and to just take a first-class trip to parts unknown, an OBE would be unsurpassed. It might also be useful for military surveillance.
The latter idea is probably not that pleasant a thought, but there is reason to believe that both the Russians and the United States have conducted research on OBE for just such purposes. It may seem this is a rather dismal state of affairs, but there is also the suggestion the research has not been all that successful. Whether or not this is due to our guides or other entities keeping us honest, or whether the clarity of the results has not warranted its implementation, is not clear.
Previous research has indicated that in most cases OBers have not seen things clearly enough for definite identification. The implication is the other-than-physical eyes may have a less-than-physical perception, and we may very well be limited in some manner in our perceptions in the OBE state. From a military standpoint, an OBer might be able to tell you there is someone on the other side of the hill, but would be unable to identify the person as friend or foe -- clearly a potentially serious limitation. On the other hand, locating a submarine with some reasonable precision might be all that would be required. Who knows?
An interesting aspect, however, is how do you “control” an accomplished OBer? Death may not scare him, imprisonment may be a totally pointless effort (you’ve just taught him the ultimate escape technique), and he may be experiencing other things during his OBE which suggest to him spying is hardly worth his time. The bad guys might have given the OBer religion (so to speak), and in the process lost their ability to direct their “agent” to do their bidding.
(Isn’t it amazing how much trouble we will go to in order to feel good about something?)
A question that needs to be asked is, “Why?” Why are OBEs even possible? Is there an important distinction between an OBE which is voluntary and one which is involuntary?
Given the assumption that the soul departs a dying body and journeys to another plane of existence, it follows that an astral body does in fact exist in some form. OBEs occasioned by pain or intense discomfort, either in near-death experiences or otherwise would also seem to be useful mechanisms for a bodies attempting to secure relief. Clearly, if the separation of astral body and physical body occurs at death, the same effect at near-death or while under duress is not that hard to imagine.
Voluntary astral projection is less obviously beneficial. However, nature is notorious for allowing good and bad uses for virtually all of its benefits. This is not to imply that voluntary OBEs are bad, but there appears to be no logical or rational reason why astral projection would be limited to purely involuntary causes.
Certain belief structures may prefer to disallow the awesome possibilities, but invariably the universe provides ways around anything that man might construct. The first century philos0pher, Seneca, perhaps phrased it best: “Our universe is a sorry little affair unless it has in it something for every age to investigate. Nature does not reveal her mysteries once and for all.” In other words, the finite is fixed; the infinite is forever changing.
Questions and Answers
Out-of-Body Experiences may be a two edged sword, but this in no way should be construed as justification for discounting them. Consider, for example, the possibilities generated by Robert Monroe’s answers to several questions related to OBEs (as discussed in his book, Far Journeys.)
1. Can anyone go out of body? 25% have already reported an OBE, and Robert Monroe claims that with the appropriate psychological and/or philosophic preparation, anyone can consciously move into an out-of-body state.
2. Can you get back into the wrong physical body? Robert Monroe claims he has in fact entered the wrong body before. He now suggests using a part of your physical body—such as your big toe—as a homing device by attempting to wiggle it before reentering.
3. Can someone get into your body? Robert Monroe believes there is no more possibility of this taking place than there would be during normal sleep. Furthermore, he notes that in 15 years of research there have been no incidents which could be remotely thought of as possession or anything destructive or uncontrollable. However, there is other evidence which suggests the occurrence may be surprisingly common (see Chapter X), but definitely not a good idea!! (Mr. Monroe is also contradicting himself between questions 2 and 3.)
4. Can you meet animals in the OBE state? Again Monroe has reported encountering domestic cats, including three cats which were favorites of his and which had died during the past three years.
5. Can you go anywhere? Apparently yes, as long as you have a specific address or identification.
6. Can you go to a particular person? This is supposedly easier than a place, particularly if you are close to that person emotionally.
7. Can you go forward and backward in time? According to Monroe, the answer is yes, because of the lack of time-space constraints while in the out-of-body state. However, Monroe warns that it is necessary to have a strong identification of your return location, which of course, must include a specific time. Monroe suggests you avoid “long” excursions until you have practiced near-time runs. Still others might suggest you first have your head examined.
8. What is the relation of OBEs to reincarnation and karma? OBEs can be thought of as an extension of NDEs. As such there is nothing in OBEs to dispute reincarnation and/or karma. On the other hand, evidence for OBEs can be considered as contributing to the validity of NDEs and thus indirectly supports the theory of reincarnation. There is apparently no OBE evidence to support karma.
9. Can one ascend? Excuse me. I’ll ask the question again. If one does not relish the possibility of sufferings the pangs of death, could an out-of-body excursion, followed by a severing of the “silver cord”, allow the human soul to ascend to heaven directly and unimpeded by the unpleasant death of the physical body? Oh, that question! As for the answer... Why not?
One other intriguing thought: Robert Monroe, in his book, Journeys Out of the Body, tells of one of his own experiences where he found himself out-of-body in a gray, non-descript place. While there he was accosted by an angry, sarcastic dead man, who demanded to know if Monroe was now ready to learn the secrets of the universe. It seemed as if the man was angry because no one had taken the trouble to tell him, when he was still incarnated.
Maybe it’s time to learn to solo.
Chapter Eight: Activities on the Other Side
Chapter Ten: Earthbound Entities
2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved [Feedback]