OBEs - Out of the Body Experiences
The ways to activate the experiences of leaving the physical body
The condition for an experience to be classified as OBE (Out of the Body Experience) is to consciously experience an effective separation (from the physical body) of something that is felt as a second body, distinct from the physical but equally well perceivable. As van Eeden had already observed in his article A Study of Dreams, it is sometimes possible to have the contemporary perception of both bodies, whose limbs are in different positions and perform different actions. An OBE can also start from the state of sleep, through an awakening in which one realizes that his/her second body (which I call virtual to distinguish it from the physical one) has come out or is about to leave the physical body. Not infrequently one reaches the OBE through a relaxation phase that does not involve the blackout of the waking state consciousness, but leads to the perception of an intense vibratory state in the area of the temporal cortex, during which the two bodies are able to separate: sometimes they do it automatically, while in other cases an intentional act is necessary on the part of the experiencing subject. In many cases the perception of the virtual body is the only element that distinguishes an OBE from a lucid conscious dream, however OBEs do not always occur when the physical body is in a state of sleep or drowsiness: sometimes they take place, almost instantaneously, even during the waking state. Actually, there are testimonies of OBEs that happened suddenly, while the physical body was engaged in ordinary activities: the conscious Ego, busy following the activity of the physical body, suddenly found itself tuned on the virtual body, and through it an experience occurs, usually of short duration and completely separate from the activity of the physical body. Eventually the latter is tuned again by consciousness. What happens in the meantime to the physical body? Apparently, it continues to carry on the activity in which was engaged, even without the assistance and direction of the conscious Ego.
A typical OBE involves a preparatory phase, of deep relaxation, during which the conscious Ego begins to have the sensation of being connected to a second body, but it is imprisoned (perhaps it would be more accurate to say it is magnetized) inside the physical body. As a rule an intentional command given to a limb of the virtual body, for example to a forearm, to perform a movement, is transferred to the same limb of the physical body, but at the end of the preparatory phase the feeling of dualism is strongly increased: unlike what happens in the ordinary waking state, when the separation takes place – usually coinciding with a phase in which intense cerebral vibrations are perceived, starting from the area of the temples, which then extend to the whole body – the conscious Ego is linked to the virtual body, and the physical body is perceived as an external object, inert, in a state of deep sleep. At that point the virtual body is able to move according to the intent of the experimenter. He can observe the environment, decide to go out, walk, fly, go through doors and walls, and so on. Almost always, however, OBEs occur spontaneously, and when people experience them for the first time, they are rather amazed.
Contemporary perception of the physical body and the virtual body
Sometimes the splitting phase, or the re-entry phase in the physical body, are not instantaneous, and the consciousness remains focused for sometime on both the physical and the virtual body. It is then possible to have a contemporary perception, from within, of both the bodies and the things they are doing. Once, for instance, I happened to get out of the physical body, unscrewing myself, as if I were one of those molluscs that at a certain point abandon their snail-shaped shell. I could feel the contortions of the virtual body, which repeatedly turned on itself, and at the same time the immobility of all the limbs of the physical body, which behaved exactly like a heavy, inanimate shell. In general, this phase of transition involves a progressive fading of the physical body's consciousness, in favor of the increased perception of the virtual body.
Reality perceived in OBE state and ordinary reality
To the question if what is perceived through the virtual body corresponds to the objective physical reality, my answer is negative, and I think it is so for almost all the OBE descriptions which I am aware of. It is true that when I see my physical body through the virtual body I am sure it is my physical body, and even when I look at its details I am certain that those details correspond to mine; as well, if I look at the room I am in, I recognize it for my actual room, and while within the OBE I rarely have doubts about the position of the windows, the wardrobe, or other details of my home. However, since I have a good memory (well trained in remembering dreams and, even more so, experiences like OBEs and lucid dreams), when I am back to the waking state and compare ordinary reality with what I had perceived as real during the experience, including my body, I always find discrepancies. To perceive something as perfectly real during an OBE, therefore, does not imply a correspondence with ordinary reality.
However, some cases have been described in which the perceptive faculties of the virtual body seemed to overcome the barrier of separation from the physical dimension. In one of the many laboratory experiments carried out by Charles Tart in the '70s, an expert female oneironaut succeeded, during an OBE, to read and memorize correctly a five-digit number hidden on a shelf, impossible to reach visually through her physical body. But it was the only success among many failures, and therefore could be statistically due to a fortuitous coincidence. Also some testimonies related to NDEs (Near Death Experiences) report the description, sometimes exact in details, of things and events of the physical world that could not be accessible to the subject's ordinary consciousness. NDEs can present certain peculiar features of OBEs, so much so that some researchers consider death as a definitive OBE: that is, without a return to the physical body.
Features of the experience
During an OBE one can do the most different things, and generally nothing that is done is trivial, because even the simplest actions seem to have profound implications. If an OBE happens while the physical body is sleeping, it is not practically distinguishable from a conscious lucid dream: perhaps the OBE is something more serious, I would say almost more real, not so much for the quality of consciousness, since conscious dreams can be as real as reality itself, but rather in the details and richness of the explored world and in the intense perception of the virtual body. During an OBE we perceive with our whole body something that is experienced as real, similar to what happens in reality. Not always the experience conforms to our desires: if once you manage to go with the virtual body through a closed door, you're not sure that you can do it next time. Sometimes you can fly easily, other times there is no way to do it. You can move at great distances very quickly, but in some cases you can not even get out of your bedroom, or you get lost in the observation of details, things and small objects from which you're attracted. An OBE starts with the exit from the physical body and ends with the return, sometimes hurried, in the same body. I am not an expert anyway: in all my life I have had no more than a dozen certain OBEs, while the number of my lucid and controlled dreams is much higher. I remember all my OBEs as characterized by precise movements of the virtual body in relation to an external environment of which I examined the details.
Robert Monroe's OBEs and other reports
A vast assortment of these experiences is found in two books by Robert Monroe (1915-1995), Journeys Out of the Body (1971) and Far Journeys (1985). Another interesting book, in Italian, is Esperienze fuori del corpo (Out of the Body Experiences) by Giorgio di Simone (1983). There are reported the OBEs experienced during a period of about three years by Renato Patelli, a gentleman from Turin who describes them to the author of the book in a series of letters. These are classic OBEs, which occur spontaneously (and therefore not at the will of the experimenter), but with significant frequency. It is also remarkable the unusual duration (up to over 90 minutes) of some of these experiences. The manifestation of the phenomenon is very regular: when the subject lies down to sleep, after a few minutes he enters the state of drowsiness between waking and sleep, and in this condition either falls asleep or perceives the onset of the vibratory state, more or less intense, which is followed by the separation from the physical body. I have no doubt about the truthfulness of Patelli's experiences, because the way they manifest themselves is analogous to my personal experiences and to the descriptions of other authors. During these excursions out of the body, Patelli's consciousness, always alert and very lucid, explores various environments and comes into contact with characters or entities, belonging to what we can define as a virtual dimension. Some of these environments and characters are related to the subject's ordinary reality (houses and squares of Turin, neighbors, etc.), while other entities declare themselves, or are interpreted, as passed away, and the environment in which they are found is perceived as otherworldly.
It was then arranged by the author of the book (di Simone), even on request of Patelli, a fairly complex experiment with an uncertain development, in which a recently dead priest named Zola, the control entity of a psychic lady living in Salerno, had to be contacted by Patelli in OBE, and had to tell him a password. Then this word or phrase should be communicated to the psychic by the same entity Zola. Both Patelli and the psychic had as their sole referent Professor di Simone, to whom they should communicate the password obtained. The readers will interpret the results of the experiment, reported in the book, according to their own judgment: we can highlight the great effort made by Patelli to be able to achieve results, considered by him as objective, in relation to survival after death. It seems to me that OBEs are not suitable for experiments of this kind, for the reason that Patelli himself points out. He, turning to di Simone, says (page 106): «because, believe me, when one is out of the physical body, the relief is such that new desires, new impulses, are born tout-court, so as to prevail over what one had proposed to do before: the astonishment and the wonder is too strong... to our truest, deepest Ego, as soon as he is able to free himself of the heaviest vehicle, that is, of the physical body, it does not matter anything, nothing at all, tests, objectives, demonstrations or other». I can't but agree with these words: they highlight the fact that an OBE is determined by variations of what I call psyche's tunings. Within the awareness of the ordinary waking state we can ask ourselves questions, harassing (and sometimes even distressing), about death, survival, the afterlife, the fate of the dead: questions determined by the particular psyche's tuning on which the mind works in relation to ordinary reality. Once you can move your mind to other tunings (and people like Patelli seem to be equipped with uncommon faculties in this regard), you enter into new dimensions, in which all these questions lose their importance.
However, OBEs are not always pleasant or wonderful. Some reports by Robert Monroe and other experimenters speak of definitely distressing situations and circumstances. In the OBEs I have experienced, wonderful experiences alternated with some unpleasant, even if still interesting. I think this is due to the fact that the experimenter is not able to control the shift of the tuning. It is as if someone randomly pressed a button on a TV remote control, and then had to watch the selected program, whether they like it or not.
Another interesting book about OBEs is Adventures Beyond the Body, published in 1996 by American author William Buhlman. The 25 years that separate Buhlman's book from that of Monroe (Journeys Out of the Body) make the difference: Monroe's testimony was cautious, prudent, almost worried about the possible negative interpretations that the culture of that time could attribute to his experiences, while Buhlman's writing is self-confident, incisive, daring in presenting without fear the reports of the explorations that, in his opinion, are produced on higher energy frequencies than the physical one. Surely Buhlman (as well as Monroe) has an extraordinary talent as a traveler in those etheric dimensions, but while Monroe was already over forty when in 1958 his extraordinary experiences suddenly began, Buhlman in 1972 was just over twenty, and in the reports of his explorations we can feel the enthusiasm and the energy of a man who discovers new boundless dimensions in front of him.
It should be noted that neither Monroe nor Buhlman believed in the authenticity of this kind of phenomena before experiencing them firsthand. Buhlman textually says that for him there was no evidence to prove the existence of dimensions other than that of the physical world or the survival to death: in his opinion, similar concepts were weak human attempts to create hope where it did not exist. In 1972 a neighbor told Buhlman of a strange experience that had occurred to him some time before, in which he had found himself floating above his physical body. Buhlman, rather intrigued, looked for some readings that dealt with the subject and, although he considered these reports as the fruit of an overly fertile fantasy, out of sheer curiosity he decided to try one of the recommended techniques before falling asleep, but without success. After a few weeks of attempts (an obvious sign that his deep interest had been hooked, despite the skepticism of the surface), when he was beginning to feel ridiculous, he suddenly found himself out of the body: he realized it because, after hearing a strange buzzing, stretching an arm to touch a wall he saw his hand penetrating into it. It was the beginning of a continuous series of experiences, several of which, distributed over a twenty-year period, are reported in the first part of his book.
Objective reality and consciousness attunements
In his book's second part Buhlman summarizes the knowledge of physics and astronomy spread at the beginning of the '90s, about which he proves to have a non-superficial information, retracing the steps that in his opinion led in the last century to a vision of the universe that does not correspond to what we can believe on the basis of our sensory experience. He does not hesitate then, with imaginative boldness, to extrapolate the knowledge acquired in the course of his several OBEs to present a theory of the universe (or it would be more accurate to say: of the universes), that according to him would mark the further evolution of scientific research in the near future. If the image we have of life, the world and the universe is the result of a certain tuning of our consciousness – Buhlman claims – the fact that reality seems objective and absolute to us derives from the consensus of a large number of individual consciousnesses fixed on the same tuning: the strength of this critical mass ensures that this attunement is transferred also to the awareness of the new members of the social group. The Ego is usually passive in the face of this fact, and does not even suspect that it could possibly shift its consciousness to a different tuning from that in which it is in the waking state. On the contrary, a deep, almost visceral fear is felt towards this eventuality, both because shifting the frequency of consciousness means challenging the rules and conventions of normality, putting our physical survival at risk, and also because navigating alone into the unknown always requires some courage. A very similar concept had already been exposed by Carlos Castaneda (1925-1998) in his series of books about an Indian shaman called Don Juan.
It should however be kept in mind that in the second half of the twentieth century this situation has somewhat changed: the collective force that fixes the attunement of consciousness has partly loosened its grip, and the testimonies of journeys on different tunings have become increasingly numerous and widespread (just think about the experiences with psychedelic drugs). Moreover every night, when we dream, our consciousness moves away, even if only slightly, from the frequencies on which it is tuned in the waking state. But even if, as Buhlman claims, to tune into a virtual body different from the physical one it would be necessary to reach a vibratory frequency different from the ordinary one, it should be remembered that in most cases OBEs occur spontaneously. The transition from one tuning to another is perceived by our consciousness as an energetic vibration that in all likelihood corresponds to the activity of particular areas of the temporal cortex. Only when the vibration reaches a certain frequency and intensity can the exit from the physical body occur.
Once I happened to have an experience in which I could intentionally adjust the frequency of the vibrations just as I would with a car engine: when I kept it to a minimum the vibration was regular and barely perceptible, but I could gradually increase the frequency until I reached the regime that allowed me to get out of my body, although in a very heavy way. In fact, the virtual body ended up on the floor and only with an intentional effort could I make it kneel, but I could not stand up. Back into the physical body again, I could bring the vibration back to a minimum, and then increase it up to a higher frequency than the previous one: this time I would quickly rise and float, making twirls, at a height from ten to about twenty feet with respect to my physical body.
Buhlman argues that there are – as in music – many successive octaves, that is, many energetic tunings of consciousness separated from each other by barriers which we must try to pass through: to each of these octaves of frequency corresponds a virtual body more and more subtle, made of superior vibratory energy, through which we can have access to dimensions gradually more distant from the physical one. It is very difficult, however, to be able to go beyond the first two levels (a statement shared also by other travelers in the etheric dimensions). I do not think that Buhlman's intuitions, as they are exposed in his book, can be confirmed, although he seems to be confident about it. I limit myself to observing that non-ordinary states of human consciousness are taking a leading role as vehicles of widespread alternative psyche's experiences, but always subjective. If even one person in a hundred, that is, one per cent of the world's population, were involved in the exploration of non-ordinary states of consciousness, this mass, with the media we now have, could exchange experiences and information on the methods and techniques for accessing such attunements of the psiche, sharing the testimonies and the reports of what was experienced: we could then verify the possibility of sharing certain experiences to see if, as Buhlman states, objectivity depends on sharing the same tunings experienced.
An infinite plane of subjective experiences perceived as real
To end this page, I would like to explain the reasons why I consider useless and misleading to define OBEs (as well as lucid dreams) astral travels or astral projections, as if there existed an objective astral plane that could be explored just like the physical dimension. In fact, astral projection refers to the exploration of a particular environment, the so-called astral plane (which could be accessed through the virtual body), which is considered to be real. From this point of view the astral projection would be nothing but an OBE during which we can access the astral plane. But, leaving aside the classifications proposed by theosophy, from which I think that the astral plane expression originates, in my opinion when the conscious Ego can perceive as real all the tunings that are commonly ascribed to the imaginary, it opens the floodgates to an inexhaustible flow of subjective experiences, of which we can certainly leave a trace and testimony, also because it is useful and interesting to examine the reports of other people's experiences.
At this point, however, attempts at classification become not only arbitrary, but pointless. How is it possible to classify infinity? Classifications make sense in a mainly objective context, such as the physical world, where the interpretative premises of the human mind and the historical and socio-cultural influences of our education create the conditions for the cooperation of our minds and our physical bodies according to certain collective goals. Hence the need for shared and shareable forms of knowledge, based on classifications to which an objective value can be attributed. But when the consciousness abandons this dimension to venture into the psyche's infinite tunings, the testimony retains its value, but loses any right to objectivity. If this fact gives us a feeling of insecurity, it is because we are still too attached to the comfort that collective consensus gives to our mental schemes, but when we are going to cross the boundaries of objectivity we must also show the courage to give up that comfort.