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Out Of Body Experiences
Because out of body experiences occur while the person is apparently asleep, they can be considered as manifestations of sleep phenomena, but they do not have the same characteristics as a typical dream. Dreams are seldom verifiable observations of external events occurring at the same time as the dream. Out of body experiences (OBE’s) frequently display an accurate observation of external events, not available to the sleeping person except by extraordinary means. This suggests that human consciousness is not limited to the limited range of awareness the body senses give.
Example: ‘At about two or three in the morning my wife Brenda and I were suddenly awoken from sleep by a noise. As we lifted our heads to hear we identified it as the handle on our children’s bedroom door being turned. The house only had two bedrooms, and the children’s room was directly opposite ours. Both of us had the same thought – ‘Oh no, it’s the children again.’ Much to our annoyance they had been waking in the middle of the night claiming it was morning and time to play. We had tried to suppress it, but here it was again.
As these thoughts went through our minds we heard the sound of feet clomping down the stairs. This was strange as the children usually stayed in their room. Brenda got up determined to get whoever it was back into bed. I heard her switch the light on, go down the stairs, switch the sitting room light on, and I followed her via the sounds of her movement as she looked in the kitchen and even toilet – we didn’t have a bathroom. Then up she came again and opened the children’s door – strange because we had assumed it had been opened. When she came back into our room she looked puzzled and a little scared. ‘They’re all asleep and in bed’ she said.
We talked over the mystery for some time trying to understand just how we had heard the door handle rattle then footsteps going down the stairs, yet the door wasn’t open. Also, the door handles on our doors were too high for the children to reach without standing on a chair. There was a stool in the children’s bedroom they used for that, yet it wasn’t even near the door when Brenda opened it.
Having no answer to the puzzle we stopped talking and settled to wait for sleep again. Suddenly a noise came from the children’s bedroom. It sounded like the stool being dragged and then the door handle turning again but the door not opening. ‘You go this time’ Brenda said, obviously disturbed.
I opened our door quickly just in time to see the opposite door handle turn again. Still the door didn’t open. I reached across, turned the handle and slowly opened the door. It stopped as something was blocking it. Just then my daughter Helen’s small face peered around the door – high because she was standing on the stool. Puzzled by what had happened, I was careful what I said to her. ‘What do you want love?’ I asked.
Unperturbed she replied, ‘I want to go to the toilet.’ The toilet was downstairs, through the sitting room, and through the kitchen.
Now I had a clue so asked, ‘Did you go downstairs before?’
‘Yes’ she said, ‘but mummy sent me back to bed!’.’ Tony C.
This is an unusual example of an OBE. Mostly they are described from the point of view of the person projecting and are therefore difficult to corroborate. Here, three people experience the OBE in their own way. From Tony and Brenda’s point of view what happened caused sensory stimuli, but only auditory. Helen’s statement says that she was sure she had physically walked down the stairs and been sent back to bed by her mother. Tony and Brenda felt there was a direct connection between what they were thinking and feeling – ‘get the children back to bed’ – and what Helen experienced as an objective reality.
OBE’s have been reported thousands of times in every culture and in every period of history. A more general experience of OBE than the above might include a feeling of rushing along a tunnel or release from a tight place prior to the awareness of independence from the body. In this first stage some people experience a sense of physical paralysis which may be frightening. Their awareness then seems to become an observing point outside the body, as well as the sense of paralysis. There is usually an intense awareness of oneself and surroundings, unlike dreaming or even lucidity. Some projectors feel they are even more vitally aware and rational than during the waking state. Looking back on ones body may occur here. At this very first stage of complete independence some people experience intense fear. This is most likely due to fearing that one is dying. I believe there is an unconscious connection between the exteriorisation of ones awareness and death.
Example: Then I looked down on my sleeping body. Suddenly I was terrified. I didn’t at the time understand this terror, but the thought came to me in a flash that this what was I had read about – i.e. people leaving their body in projection. The fear immediately vanished to be replaced by uncontrollable laughter. Looking back I think the terror arose because I was certain I was dying. The laughter came at the realisation this was not so, and was a release of tension brought about by the terror.
Then I was travelling across the German countryside where I was living, curled up with my knees to my chest. I could clearly see the countryside below me, and I noticed what were like radiations coming form certain points below. I wondered at the time whether they were from people praying or sending thoughts. Then I was over the sea and could observe shipping, but suddenly I found myself standing in our sitting room at home in London. It was such an astonishing experience I stood in shock looking down at my body, feeling it and trying to understand.
There was no obvious sign that she had heard me, but two things did happen. One was that I saw or realised that she had an upstairs side of her and a downstairs side. Her upstairs (conscious) side had no awareness of me, but her downstairs side (unconscious) gave me a wonderful welcome and I had the awareness of us knowing each other in a formless love. Then at the same time my dog must have heard me shout because he woke and came rushing to me and was so full of love for me he rushed around where I stood barking and showing his joy. I later heard from my mother saying she had had been alone that night as my father was out, and she had seen the dog get up and bark and jump around for no apparent reason.
I learned enormous and important lessons from that. I saw that because I was present without a physical body my mother couldn’t hear me. She needed physical sound to know I was present, but yet another part of her knew and responded. So I saw that if she had thought of me and spoken to me in thought I would know, even though she might not be able to hear my reply – unless she was a medium or learned to listen to thoughts. The reason being that in the body most people cannot communicate via thoughts.
Once the awareness is independent of the body, the boundaries of time and space as they are known in the body do not exist. One can easily pass through walls, fly, travel to or immediately be in a far distant place, witnessing what may be, or appears to be, physically real there.
Sir Auckland Geddes, an eminent British Anatomist, describes his own OBE, which contains many of these features. See: second example in spiritual life in dreams.
Example: Becoming suddenly and violently ill with gastro-enteritis he quickly became unable to move or phone for help. As this was occurring he noticed he had an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ consciousness. The ‘A’ was his normal awareness, and the ‘B’ was external to his body watching. From the ‘B’ self he could see not only his body, but also the house, garden and surrounds. He need only think of a friend or place and immediately he was there and was later able to find confirmation for his observations. In looking at his body, he noticed that the brain was only an end organ, like a condensing plate, upon which memory and awareness played. The mind, he said, was not in the brain, the brain was in the mind, like a radio in the play of signals. He then observed his daughter come in and discover his condition, saw her telephone a doctor friend, and saw the doctor also at the same time.
As OBE’s often occur at times of stress, a near-death-experience, great pain, or in deep withdrawal, they may have a link with such human and animal situations. In other words, OBE’s may have developed as an evolutionary or survival method to deal with death, near death, pain or stress.
For instance, many cases of OBE occur in a near death situation, where a person has ‘died’ of a heart attack for instance, and is later revived. Because of this there are attempts to consider the possibility of survival of death through study of these cases. In fact many people after experiencing an OBE have a very different view of death than prior to their experience. From the opposite point of view, that of the external observer who is not asleep, many OBE’s have been witnessed by relatives of people actually dying through war or accident. During the two world wars, many cases were reported and later corroborated, of seeing the dying person appear, and of them telling of their death, or silently communicating it. I believe this points out the deep connection between an OBE and dying, pain and stress. I have felt that the OBE is in fact the remains of something that existed in primitive animals as a survival mechanism. It was a way of communicating the cause of death to those with genetic bonding. This awareness would help in avoiding the same death.
Early attempts to explain OBE’s suggested a subtle or astral body, which is a double of our physical and mental self, but able to pass through walls and transcend the physical limitations of distance. It was said to be connected to the physical body during an OBE by a silver cord – a life line which kept the physical body alive. This is similar to the concept that the people we dream about are not creations of our own psyche, but real in their own right. This theory has limitations as it can be observed that many people in this condition have no silver cord, and have no body at all, but are simply a bodiless observer, or are an animal, a geometrical shape, a colour or sound. Analysis of many OBE’s therefore suggests that the ‘body’ and many of the other aspects of the experience are as much a creation of ones psyche as are the objects and people in a dream. It is tempting to think that we are our body, and any attack on it in dreams is an attack on us. But this is not so. See: identity and the dreamer.
Example: Had a very unusual dream last night. I was in an outdoor environment. It seemed a bit dark, or maybe morbid is the right word. I was with other people but none of them stood out to remain in memory. There was a definite awareness though of being near to a place that was haunted, and that a man was in trouble in the haunted place.
I decided to go and see if I could sort out the problem. I walked down a slope to where the centre of the haunting existed. It was an open space with an old double-decker bus in it. The only person on the bus was a middle-aged man who was sitting on the top deck leaning out of a window on the right hand side of the bus. I stood beneath him and looked up. He was staring in a glazed way and didn’t see me. I could see and feel that he was being hit by fantasies or hallucinations by whatever was the source of the haunting. This invasion of his mind was grabbing his attention so fully that he wasn’t aware of his surrounding or of me. I was sure that if he went any deeper into this mind stuff he wouldn’t be able to pull out. I waved my hand in his line of vision and banged my hand on the bus to make a noise and get his attention. At first it didn’t seem as if I would bring him out of it, but after a while he looked at me.
I shouted at him to pull out. I said that he had a wife and some more years of his life to live, so why lose himself into this entrancement. This didn’t seem to grab him so I shouted again and said that he would eventually slip into this empty mind world anyway – at death – so why not live with his wife the remaining years of his life. I was sure that if he lost awareness he would let himself starve.
I was aware that what he desired was to slip away into the void, into the awareness of the one life in which he lost any awareness of self. But I banged and shouted and he became more ‘present’. I then felt I had to confront whatever was the source of the powerful ‘haunting’ that was pulling him into the inner mind. I turned away from the man and saw just to my right a short distance from the bus an animal that was the ‘haunter’. It was a mammal of no particular type – a bit like a mixture of dog, rat and guinea pig. It seemed very ordinary and tame, and stood looking at me. I walked toward it and stretched out my hand. It was a tan colour with short fur and gave a feeling of being okay to approach, so I touched it to stroke. This was okay and I was thinking there was no problem when the creature leapt at my throat in a flash of movement and ripped my throat out.
This sounds disturbing but I simply observed this and thought to myself that stroking and trying to be friendly was no way of dealing with this thing. It was as if I was in command of the imagery in that I simply formed another body. The creature ripped out my throat again and dived into my body to eat it. I woke at this point and went for a pee. When I went back to sleep I carried on with the dream. The only way that felt as if I might deal with the creature was to have the meditative state of not having any goals, and not feeling panic at it’s attacks. In fact apart from the gory imagery, there was nothing to be frightened of, as the creature was only attacking my dream image of myself. As I wasn’t identified with that, it couldn’t hurt me. That was the end of the dream.
This means the person’s own unconscious concepts of self seem to be the factor which shapes the form of the OBE. If, therefore, one feels sure one must travel to a distant point, then in the OBE one travels. If one believes one is immediately there by the power of thought, one is there. If one cannot conceive of existing without a body, then one has a body, and so on. The silver cord, from this point of view, exists simply because the ‘dreamer’ feels it is necessary. If the second example is read, it can be seen that Tony at one point travels, then suddenly the travelling through the air ends and he is immediately hundreds of miles away in London. Also, although his sleeping body was in pyjamas, his projected body is wearing outdoor clothes, showing he is not experiencing himself as an ‘astral double’ or copy of his sleeping self. He has no sign of any silver cord, and his own impression afterwards was that the experience was largely a creation of imagery to suit his own beliefs, except that in some way it interfaced with reality. Therefore any theory about OBE’s needs to explain the mixture of reality and subjective experience in such events. For example, in this instance, Tony’s dog had an awareness of him, verified by Tony’s mother, and yet Tony’s experiences were not a part of the ‘real’ world in the usual sense.
In a nutshell, the world of the OBE is created by the concepts of the ‘dreamer’. This world is experienced as physically real, in a similar way to the world of dreams. Yet it is neither a dream in the usual sense, nor is it a dream in which the person is highly lucid. There is a different quality about it than either dreaming or lucidity. The difference is that during an OBE the physical world can also be experienced and witnessed. So in trying to analyse events during an OBE, we must discover what aspects are created out of unconsciously held concepts, and what are witnessed physical world events or objects. Whatever the answer, this view of the OBE suggests there is no need for a person to travel to a site, or to have a silver cord, or in fact any sort of body at all. What emerges is that consciousness can at certain times completely go beyond the limitations of space, location and time we usually accept. For instance it is very real for us to accept that if we wish to personally experience the streets of Tokyo or New York we will have to transport our body to those locations. If we go to New York we cannot at the same time experience Tokyo. With an OBE these rules do not apply. Consciousness does not have to travel. In some way it is already a timeless blanket throughout space. The OBE appears to be a process in which the person focuses on a particular spot, or several spots at once, within that three dimensional blanket. To accomplish the focusing they may utilise personal forms of imagery such as travelling to the spot, or going down a tunnel to the site, or having a projected body. But this imagery, although deeply experienced, appears to be only an aid to focusing awareness away from ones usual physical senses onto the ‘timeless blanket’ of consciousness pervading all space. See Big Bang.
This approach explains many aspects of the OBE, but there is still not a clear concept of what the relationship with the physical world is. If there is survival of death, then the OBE may be an anticipatory form, or a preparatory condition leading to the new form.
Many people mistake various other sleep experiences for an OBE. In fact the concept of a soul or spirit distinct from the body arose in pre-history from the experience of a dreamer going to a distant place while they slept. The dream of the distant or strange place was assumed to mean the dreamer actually travelled to somewhere else. But of course, actual experiences of OBE also occurred as frequently to our forebears as they do to us today.
The mistaken OBE can take many forms, as already explained. One of the most convincing however, is that occurring during the feeling of paralysis during the dream state.
What happens is that during the lucid experience of sleep paralysis the body senses are shut off and the person feels that they have left their body. But that is a symptom of lucidly being aware of the sleep state. See bodiless- sleep yet awake; paralysis while asleep.