Robert Monroe describes it as “an altered state of consciousness in which the subject feels that his mind or self-awareness is separated from his physical body and this self-awareness has a vivid and real sense about it, quite different from a dream.”
You may see your physical body lying on the bed or you may just rise straight up through the ceiling. You may have a ghostly, astral body which can fly around or you may be a point of pure consciousness which can travel instantaneously to wherever you think about.
-Stanislav Grof & Joan Halifax, “Human Encounter with Death” (154)
“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.” –Robert Monroe, “Far Journeys” (3-4)
They all typically begin while in an altered state of consciousness your awareness shifts to a point outside your physical body. The physical body is usually seen dormant on the bed (or wherever you left it) while a second, astral body is seen attached to your new space of awareness. This light, ghostly body can pass through walls or solid objects, float/fly around, and is sometimes even seen by other people.
“In the OOBE, the individual is near-totally conscious … Most if not all of your physical sensory perception is replicated. You can ‘see,’ ‘hear,’ and ‘touch’ - the weakest seem to be smell and taste. Your perspective is from a position outside your physical body, near or distant. In a near state, it is usually from a location impossible for you to ‘be’ with your physical body, such as floating against the ceiling. In a far location, it could be in Paris when you know you are in New York physically. You can observe events taking place, but you cannot change or significantly affect them. You can verify the authenticity of such events subsequently if you so desire.” –Robert Monroe, “Far Journeys” (265)
OBE’s have been reported throughout history by people of all ages and cultures. The soul-body or astral-body was known as the “ka” to ancient Egyptians, the “siddhi” to Indians, and the “bardo-body” to Tibetans. OBEs are the main subject matter, described in detail in the Egyptian and Tibetan Books of the Dead. St. Paul seems to describe an OBE in second Corinthians chapter twelve. Ernst Hemmingway wrote about witnessing his soul leave his physical body and float around after being hit by shrapnel in 1918.
“Aldous Huxley, Goethe, D. H. Lawrence, August Strindberg, and Jack London all reported having OBEs. They were known to the Egyptians, the North American Indians, the Chinese, the Greek philosophers, the medieval alchemists, the Oceanic peoples, the Hindus, the Hebrews, and the Moslems. In a cross-cultural study of 44 non-Western societies, Dean Shiels found that only three did not hold a belief in OBEs. Erika Bourguignon looked at 488 world societies – or roughly 57 percent of all known societies – and found that 437 of them, or 89 percent, had at least some tradition regarding OBEs … Dr. Robert Crookall, a geologist at the University of Aberdeen and an amateur parapsychologist, investigated enough cases to fill nine books on the subject.” -Michael Talbot, “The Holographic Universe” (230)
“It is quite well known, for example, that many cultures attribute to shamans the capacity to fly out of the body. In fact, a shaman cannot be anointed as such unless he has that capacity. According to Eliade, such flights express ‘intelligent understanding of secret things, metaphysical truths, symbolic meaning, transcendence, and freedom.’” –Robert Monroe, “Far Journeys” (278)
Many surveys have also been conducted in recent years testing the prevalence of the OBE phenomenon. In 1954 Dr. Hornell Hart of Duke University surveyed 115 of his students and found that 27 of them had experienced an OBE at least once. A 1966 study by Celia Green showed that 19% of students asked at Southampton University had had one. A 1968 Green15 survey reported that 34% of 380 Oxford undergraduates had experienced an OBE. Palmer and Dennis’ 1975 study randomly selected a group of 1,000 students and townspeople in a small Virginia town resulting in 25% of the students, and 14% of the townspeople answering affirmatively. Erlendur Haraldsson’s random survey of 902 adults found 8% had been out of their bodies at least once. And a 1980 survey by Dr. Harvey Irwin at the University of New England in Australia found 20% of his 177 had experienced out-of-body travel. All results pooled together, it seems an average of about 1 in 7 people experiences an OBE at least once during their lives.
“First, OOBEs are a universal human experience, not in the sense that they happen to large numbers of people, but in that they have happened all through recorded history, and there are marked similarities in the experience among people who are otherwise extremely different in terms of cultural background. One can find reports of OOBEs by housewives in Kansas which closely resemble accounts of OOBEs from ancient Egyptian or oriental sources. Second, the OOBE is generally a once-in-a-lifetime experience, seemingly experienced by ‘accident.’ Illnesses sometimes bring it about, especially illnesses which are almost fatal. Great emotional stress sometimes brings it about. In many cases, it simply happens during sleep without our having any idea of what might have caused it. In very rare instances it seems to have been brought about by a deliberate attempt. Third, the experience of an OOBE is usually one of the most profound experiences of a person's life, and radically alters his beliefs. This is usually expressed as, ‘I no longer [merely] believe in survival of death or an immortal soul, I know that I will survive death.’ The person feels that he has directly experienced being alive and conscious without his physical body, and therefore knows that he possesses some kind of soul that will survive bodily death.” –Robert Monroe, “Journeys Out of the Body” (7)
In Robert Monroe’s book “Far Journeys” he shares many recorded accounts of OBEs including the following: “When I was approximately ten years old I was living together with my older brother at my uncle's house, a major in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. 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 saying to myself many questions such as what was I doing there and who was I. All of a sudden I get up from the bed and start walking toward 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 bed when to my big surprise I saw myself reclined on the bed. This surprising experience at that very small age gave me the kind of a jerk which, so to say, shook me back to my body.” (276-7)
When talking about these subjects at work I found that one of my colleagues, while under anesthesia for an operation, found himself out-of-body hovering against the ceiling in the corner of the Operating Room where he watched his body and the surgeons perform the entire procedure. It turns out this is actually a fairly common occurrence. Dr. Michael Rawlings recorded the account of one patient who remembered what the doctor was wearing and what he did during an emergency procedure, which was seemingly impossible because the patient was in a coma at the time.
“Out-of-body experience also eventually became a relatively common subject, as more and more surgical patients reported that they witnessed their entire operations and heard everything that was said in the operating room.” -David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D., “Power Vs. Force” (258)
“Experiencing an OBE during cardiac arrest is relatively common, so common that Michael B. Sabom, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at Emory University and a staff physician at the Atlanta Veterans’ Administration Medical Center, got tired of hearing his patients recount such ‘fantasies’ and decided to settle the matter once and for all.” -Michael Talbot, “The Holographic Universe” (232)
Dr. Sabom interviewed 32 chronic cardiac patients who reported having an OBE during their heart attack and the results forever changed his mind about this phenomenon. He asked them to describe exactly what they remembered happening during the procedure while they were out-of-body:
“26 gave correct but general descriptions, 6 gave highly detailed and accurate descriptions of their own resuscitation, and 1 gave a blow-by-blow accounting so accurate that Sabom was stunned. The results inspired him to delve even deeper into the phenomenon … he has now become an ardent believer and lectures widely on the subject.” -Michael Talbot, “The Holographic Universe” (232)
In conclusion to his research, Dr. Sabom stated: “[There appears] to be no plausible explanation for the accuracy of these observations involving the usual physical senses. The out-of-body hypothesis simply seems to fit best with the data at hand.”
“There are many people who have reported OBEs in which they saw things that really did happen. The most common of these are the descriptions by patients undergoing surgery, who claim to have witnessed the whole procedure from outside their body. Some have reported details of the procedure that they could not have possibly known, such as where the doctors put gall stones that were removed. Some patients have accurately repeated conversations that went on during the surgery. Skeptics may dismiss such cases by theorizing that some subconscious part of the patient still had cognitive abilities during the operation, and assuming that somehow the patient accessed this subconscious memory when they awoke. This theory cannot explain the less common cases where OBE subjects have reported what was happening in a different room. These seem to suggest that the subject could actually see some part of physical reality.” –Robert Peterson, “Out of Body Experiences” (86)
My fiancé Petchara has also experienced OBEs many times periodically throughout her life. Always during sleep, having drifted off into the subconscious realms, there comes a self-reflexive moment where she finds herself floating in her room with a light-body while fully aware that her physical body is asleep on the bed. From there she usually leaves through the closed window by her bed and floats over the roofs/houses/roads in her village. On many occasions she has astrally projected to the houses of classmates, houses she had never visited before, and remembered specific details which were later confirmed true by her shocked classmates. During one OBE she found herself at her friend Tan’s house and saw orange stairs, a street sign, a van parking lot on one side and a small wooded area on the other, all subsequently confirmed true by Tan. Another time she found herself apparently outside her friend Oil’s new condo, face to face with a “do not enter” sign on the door and a large swimming pool on the left, both later confirmed to be true. Not long after meeting me, she astrally traveled to my old house in America where my parents still live and accurately reported the outline, white color, gray tin roof, garage, shelving and flower beds.
“I had a spontaneous OBE as a teenager, and after recovering from the shock of finding myself floating over my body and staring down at myself asleep in bed, I had an indescribably exhilarating time flying through walls and soaring over the treetops. During the course of my bodiless journey I even stumbled across a library book a neighbor had lost and was able to tell her where the book was located the next day.” -Michael Talbot, “The Holographic Universe” (231)
In Dr. Stanislav Grof’s book “The Holotropic Mind” he shares the account of one Cuban woman who, during cardiac arrest in a Miami hospital, found herself out-of-body back at her old home in Cuba. She recovered from the heart attack, but came back to her body very agitated about what she had seen while astrally in Cuba. The people now living in her old home had moved everything around, changed furniture, and painted the fence a shade of green which she hated; all of which were subsequently verified and documented by her curious attending physician.
In Michael Talbot’s “The Holographic Universe” he shares the story of Kimberly Clark, a Seattle hospital social worker who never took OBEs seriously until an incident with a coronary patient named Maria. One day Maria went into cardiac arrest and found herself hovering against the ceiling watching the doctors and nurses tending to her body. She watched for a while and then found herself distracted by something over the emergency room driveway. As soon as she thought about this, she was instantly there hovering outside the hospital:
“As soon as she ‘thought herself’ there, she was there. Next Maria ‘thought her way’ up to the third floor of the building and found herself ‘eyeball to shoelace’ with a tennis shoe. It was an old shoe and she noticed that the little toe had worn a hole through the fabric. She also noticed several other details, such as the fact that the lace was stuck under the heel. After Maria finished her account she begged Clark to please go to the ledge and see if there was a shoe there so that she could confirm whether her experience was real or not. Skeptical but intrigued … she went up to the third floor and … found a room where she pressed her face against the glass and looked down and saw the tennis shoe. Still, from her vantage point she could not tell if the little toe had worn a place in the shoe or if any of the other details Maria had described were correct. It wasn’t until she retrieved the shoe that she confirmed Maria’s various observations. ‘The only way she would have had such a perspective was if she had been floating right outside and at very close range to the tennis shoe,’ states Clark, who has since become a believer in OBEs. ‘It was very concrete evidence for me.’” -Michael Talbot, “The Holographic Universe” (231-232)
“In some instances of OOBEs the description of what was happening at a distant place is correct and more accurate than we would expect by coincidence. Not the majority, by any means, but some. To explain these we must postulate either that the ‘hallucinatory’ experience of the OOBE was combined with the operation of ESP, or that in some sense the person really was ‘there.’ The OOBE then becomes very real indeed. The fact that most of our knowledge about OOBEs comes from reports of once-in-a-lifetime experiences puts us at two serious disadvantages. The first of these is that most people cannot produce an OOBE at will, so this precludes the possibility of studying them under precise laboratory conditions. The second disadvantage is that when a person is suddenly thrust for a brief period of time into a very novel environment he may not be a very good observer.” –Robert Monroe, “Journeys Out of the Body” (8)
OBEs are generally sporadic or once-in-a-lifetime phenomena so scientifically verifying their authenticity is an elusive task. However, with the help of many skilled astral projectors, OBEs have indeed been scientifically documented in the lab. For instance, in one experiment, parapsychologist Charles Tart wrote a five-digit number on a pad of paper then kept it in a locked room. In another room an experienced astral traveler laid down, shifted consciousness to her astral body, floated through the wall and accurately reported the number. In another series of experiments, psychologists Janet Lee Mitchell and Karlis Osis set up a special room for OBE trials at the American Society for Psychical Research in New York. They placed certain images, objects, and colored geometric patterns in various places around the room, locked it, and then had skilled astral projectors from many places across the country project in and record what they saw. Many of the participants were able to correctly identify everything in the room. In another series of experiments, Dr. Robert Morris, director of research at the Psychical Research Foundation in North Carolina, used pets to detect the astral presence of their owners. For example, during one experiment, a kitten belonging to seasoned astral traveler Keith Harary would always stop meowing and start purring whenever Keith astrally projected into the room.
“Some people have mastered the ability well enough to leave their body at will. One of the most famous of these individuals is a former radio and television executive named Robert Monroe … Monroe began keeping a written journal of his experiences, carefully documenting everything he learned about the out-of-body state. He discovered he could pass through solid objects and travel great distances in the twinkling of an eye simply by ‘thinking’ himself there. He found that other people were seldom aware of his presence, although the friends whom he traveled to see while in this ‘second state’ quickly became believers when he accurately described their dress and activity at the time of his out-of-body visit. He also discovered that he was not alone in his pursuit and occasionally bumped into other disembodied travelers.” -Michael Talbot, “The Holographic Universe” (233)
“As an example of a real-time projection experience, I think of my nephew Matt's two-week visit back in 1991. During this time, apart from many other activities, I coached Matt on projection. A few days before he was due to leave, while meditating late at night, I clearly saw Matt's projected real-time double float through the wall and come into the room I was sitting in. He waved cheerfully at me and I slowly waved back at him, without breaking my entranced state - no mean feat in itself - immensely pleased that Matt had finally managed to get out of his body. Matt floated about the room, seemingly having some difficulty with movement and directional control, but apparently thoroughly enjoying himself. He soon floated out of my sight and that was the last I saw of him that night. The next morning Matt was very excited about his first conscious-exit projection. He vividly remembered using my technique and feeling heavy vibrations, then leaving his body, moving through the wall and seeing me, and us waving at each other.” –Robert Bruce, “Astral Dynamics” (8)
I have also personally experienced a mild OBE. Once while meditating during a magic mushroom trip my center of awareness shot up to about 5 feet above my head. I could see and hear normally, but the vantage point was no longer from my physical eyes and ears; it was from a point well above them, making me feel like a sitting giant. It only lasted for a few moments, but that experience of clearly seeing/hearing from a point far above my physical eyes/ears was enough to shatter my already waning materialist worldview.
“Considered as a whole the evidence seems unequivocal. Although we are taught that we ‘think’ with our brains, this is not always true. Under the right circumstances our consciousness – the thinking, perceiving part of us – can detach from the physical body and exist just about anywhere it wants to. Our current scientific understanding cannot account for this phenomenon, but it becomes much more tractable in terms of the holographic idea. Remember that in a holographic universe, location is itself an illusion. Just as an image of an apple has no specific location on a piece of holographic film, in a universe that is organized holographically things and objects also possess no definite location; everything is ultimately nonlocal, including consciousness. Thus, although our consciousness appears to be localized in our heads, under certain conditions it can just as easily appear to be localized in the upper corner of the room, hovering over a grassy lawn, or floating eyeball-to-shoelace with a tennis shoe on the third-floor ledge of a building … If the idea of a nonlocal consciousness seems difficult to grasp, a useful analogy can once again be found in dreaming. Imagine that you are dreaming you are attending a crowded art exhibit. As you wander among the people and gaze at the artworks, your consciousness appears to be localized in the head of the person you are in the dream. But where is your consciousness really? A quick analysis will reveal that it is actually in everything in the dream, in the other people attending the exhibit, in the artworks, even in the very space of the dream. In a dream, location is also an illusion because everything – people, objects, space, consciousness, and so on – is unfolding out of the deeper and more fundamental reality of the dreamer.” -Michael Talbot, “The Holographic Universe” (234)