How common are Out Of Body Experiences?
Two surveys have used properly balanced samples drawn from specified populations. The first was conducted by Palmer and Dennis [PD75, Pal79b]. They chose the inhabitants of Charlottesville, Virginia, a town of some 35,000 people and selected 1,000 of these as their sample. The question on out of body experiences was worded as follows: ‘Have you ever had an experience in which you felt that “you” were located “outside of” or “away from” your physical body; that is the feeling that your consciousness, mind, or center of awareness was at a different place than your physical body? (If in doubt, please answer “no”.)’ To this 25% of students and 14% of the townspeople said ‘yes.’ Further data from this survey reveals that no relationship between age and reported OBEs was found. Palmer found a significant positive relationship between drug use and OBEs and concluded that this could account for the higher prevalence of OBEs in students. This relationship receives confirmation from work by Tart [Tar71]. In a survey of 150 marijuana users he found that 44% claimed to have OBEs. It seems possible that the use of this drug facilitate OBEs. The second survey using a properly constructed sample was carried out by Erlendur Haraldsson, an Icelandic researcher, and his colleagues [HGRLJ76]. For the survey a questionnaire was sent to a random sample of 1157 persons between ages of 30 and 70 years. There were 53 questions on various psychic and psi-related experiences including a translation of Palmer’s question. To this, only 8% of the Icelanders replied yes.
Table: Surveys of the OBE [Bla82]
|Bierman & Blackmore||1980||Amsterdam|
of Association for Research and Enlightenment
Those vague statements about out of body experiences being ‘common’ are now backed up by a variety of figures. Blackmore gives a personal estimate of the incidence of OBEs, based on all the available evidence, putting it at around 10%. She thinks we can say with more conviction that the OBE is a fairly common experience.
The surveys show that if a person has had one OBE he or she is more likely to have another. All these figures are far higher than you would expect if OBEs were distributed at random in the population.
Green went on to compare different groups to see whether they had had different numbers of OBEs. Her only finding was that OBEers were more likely to report experiences which they thought could only be attributed to ESP.
Palmer and Kohr found that subjects who reported one type of ‘psychic’ or ‘psi-related’ experience also tended to report others. Palmer also, like Green, found that many simple variables were irrelevant. Sex, age, race, birth order, political views, religion, religiosity, education, occupation and income were all unrelated to OBEs.
Palmer found significant relationships between OBEs and practising meditation, mystical experiences and, as we have already seen, drug experiences. Palmer had over 100 people reporting one or more OBEs, and asked them various questions about the experience. They were asked whether they had seen their physical body from ‘outside’ and this was reported for 44% of the experiences and by nearly 60% of the OBEers. Fewer than 20% of experiences involved ‘traveling’ and fewer than 30% of OBEers reported it. Still fewer reported that they had acquired information by ESP while ‘out- of-the-body,’ about 14% of people and 5% of experiences, or had appeared as an apparition to someone else (less than 10% or OBEers). These results confirm the findings of the case collections: that few OBEs include all the features of a classical astral projection.
Overall the OBE seemed to have had a highly beneficial effect on its experiencers. Many claimed their fear of death was reduced, and their mental health and social relationships improved. Ninety-five per cent said they would like to have another OBE.
What are the prerequisites for inducing an Out Of Body Experience?
Many of the inducing methods use as a starting point techniques designed to improve the novice’s powers of relaxation, imagery, and concentration. The ideal state appears to be one of physical relaxation, or even catalepsy, combined with mental alertness.
One of the easiest ways to relax is to use progressive muscular relaxation. In outline this technique consists of starting with the muscles of the feet and ankles and alternately tensing and relaxing them, then going on up the muscles of the calves and thighs, the torso, arms, neck and face, until all the muscles have been contracted and relaxed. Done carefully this procedure leads to fairly deep relaxation within a few minutes, and with practice it becomes easier.
Relaxation usually leads to state of paralysis or catalepsy. When you go to sleep, your brain deactivates the mechanism by which you are able to use your limbs, so that you become incapable of physical activity corresponding to your dream images when you dream. Quite a few people have found themselves in this paralysis state as soon as they have gotten up after sleeping.
The first type of paralysis, known as ‘type A,’ is a condition encountered when approaching a deeper layer of consciousness from a light trance state. The second, type B paralysis, is the reverse of type A, in that it happens during the return home to physical reality.
The first type A ‘paralysis’ goes something like this:
“Mmmmmm…. I know I am awake; I can think ….. Mmmmmmm but my body is asleep …” (Robert Monroe labelled it Focus 10 consciousness)
“Wait a minute here, there is something going on here, I just can’t seem to….”
“Yes, I can’t seem to move my limbs; they seemed to be laden with lead, why can’t I move at all? Hey, what’s happening here! (Panic!)”
A typical type B ‘paralysis’ goes something like this:
“Mmmmm… I am feeling groggy, absolutely. What was that just now, oh, it must be some dream…”
“Mmmm…… hang on a minute, was that a noise I heard? It must have come from the door… I need to check it out, could be a burglar….. but I am so tired… and sleepy…”
“I need to wake up, it could be important…. Hey, I can’t seem to wake up, why are my legs not waking up, why can’t my hands respond?” “PANIC!!! I need to wake up!!! I don’t want to die… I need to exert more will on this… Hey, body, wake up, eyes open, … WAKE UP!”
“Gosh, NOW, I can move my limbs, I am awake now, body covered with perspiration, sitting at the edge of the bed, wondering why just now I simply couldn’t wake up…”
“Phew — Thank goodness, it is finally over. Am I glad to be back to the familiar physical environment.”
However, type A paralysis is the type that should not be resisted; if the person can allow himself to ‘go with the flow,’ then some kind of altered state of consciousness is bound to happen, which is what the person is hoping to achieve anyway.
Many astral travelers have stressed the importance of clear imagery or visualization for inducing OBEs and of course imagery training forms an important part of magical development. Progressive methods of imagery training are often described in magical and occult books, and helpful guidance can be found in Conway’s occult primer [Con72], and in Brennan’s ‘Astral doorways’ [Bre71]. Most involve starting with regular practice at visualizing simple geometrical shapes and then progressing to harder tasks such as imagining complex three-dimensional forms, whole rooms and open scenery.
Practice 1: Read the description slowly and then try to imagine each stage as you go along:
Imagine an orange. It is resting on a blue plate and you want to eat it. You dig your nail into the peel and tear some of it away. You keep pulling on the peel until all of it, and most of the pith, is lying in a heap on the plate. Now separate the orange into segments, lay them on the plate as well, and then eat one. If this task doesn’t make your mouth water, and if you cannot feel the juice which squirts from the orange, and smell its tang then you do not have vivid or trained imagery. Try it again, the colors should be bright and vivid and the shapes and forms clear and stable. With practice at this and similar tasks your imagery will improve until you may wonder how it could ever have been so poor.
Practice 2: This is a rather harder one:
Visualize a disc, half white and half black. Next imagine it spinning about its center, speeding up and then slowing down, and stopping. Next imagine the same disc in red, but as it spins it changes through orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. Finally you may care to try two discs side by side spinning in opposite directions and changing color in opposition too. Other useful skills are concentration and control. Not only do you need to be able to produce vivid imagery, but also to abolish all imagery from your mind, to hold images as long as you want and to change them as you want, both quickly and slowly.
Practice 3: Brennan suggests trying to count, and only to count. The instant another thought comes to mind you must stop and go back to the beginning. If you get to about four or five you are doing well, but you are almost certain to be stopped by such thoughts as ‘this is easy, I’ve got to three already,’ or ‘I wonder how long I have to go on.’ All these skills, relaxation, imagery and concentration, are suggested again and again as necessary for inducing an OBE at will. Other aids include posture. If you lie down you might fall asleep, although Muldoon [MC29] advocates this position. On the other hand discomfort will undoubtedly interfere with the attempt. Therefore an alert, but comfortable posture is best. Some have suggested that it is best not to eat for some hours before and to avoid any stress, irritation or negative emotions.
How to induce an Out Of Body Experience?
It is possible to use imagery alone but it requires considerable skill.
a) Lie on your back in a comfortable position and relax. Imagine that you are floating up off the bed. Hold that position, slightly lifted, for some time until you lose all sensation of touching the bed or floor. Once this state is achieved move slowly into an upright position and begin to travel away from your body and around the room. Pay attention to the objects and details of the room. Only when you have gained some proficiency should you try to turn round and look at your own body. Note that each stage may take months of practice and it can be too difficult for any but a practiced OBEer.
b) In any comfortable position close your eyes and imagine that there is a duplicate of yourself standing in front of you. You will find that it is very hard to imagine your own face, so it is easier to imagine this double with its back to you. You should try to observe all the details of its posture, dress (if any) and so on. As this imaginary double becomes more and more solid and realistic you may experience some uncertainty about your physical position. You can encourage this feeling by comtemplating the question ‘Where am I?’, or even other similar questions ‘Who am I?’ and so on. Once the double is clear and stable and you are relaxed, transfer your consciousness into it. You should then be able to ‘project’ in this phantom created by your own imagination. Again, each stage may take long practice.
Inducing a Special Motivation to Leave the Body
You can trick yourself into leaving your body according to Muldoon and Carrington [MC29]. They suggested that if the subconscious desires something strongly enough it will try to provoke the body into moving to get it, but if the physical body is immobilized, for example in sleep, then the astral body may move instead. Many motivations might be used but Muldoon advised against using the desire for sexual activity which is distracting, or the harmful wish for revenge or hurt to anyone. Instead he advocated using the simple and natural desire for water — thirst. This has the advantages this it is quick to induce, and it must be appeased.
In order to employ this technique, you must refrain from drinking for some hours before going to bed. During the day increase your thirst by every means you can. Have a glass of water by you and stare into it, imagining drinking, but not allowing yourself to do so. Then before you retire to bed eat ‘about an eighth of a teaspoonful’ of salt. Place the glass of water at some convenient place away from your bed and rehearse in your all the actions necessary to getting it, getting up, crossing the room, reaching out for it, and so on. You must then go to bed, still thinking about your thirst and the means of satisfying it. The body must become incapacitated and so you should relax, with slow breathing and heart rate and then try to sleep. With any luck the suggestions you have made to yourself will bring about the desired OBE. This is not one of the most pleasant or effective methods.
Ophiel’s ‘Little System’
Ophiel [Oph61] suggests that you pick a familiar route, perhaps between two rooms in your house, and memorize every detail of it. Choose at least six points along it and spend several minutes each day looking at each one and memorizing it. Symbols, scents and sounds associated with the points can reinforce the image. Once you have committed the route and all the points to memory you should lie down and relax while you attempt to ‘project’ to the first point. If the preliminary work has been done well you should be able to move from point to point and back again. Later you can start the imaginary journey from the chair or bed where your body is, and you can then either observe yourself doing the movements, or transfer your consciousness to the one that is doing the moving.
Ophiel describes further possibilities, but essentially if you have mastered the route fully in your imagination you will be able to project along it and with practice to extend the projection. Ophiel states that starting to move into OBE will produce strange sounds. He says that this is because the sense of hearing is not carried over onto the higher planes, and that means that your mind tries to recreate some input, and just gets subconscious static. He asserts that the noises can take any form, including voices, malevolent, eerie, and get worse and worse, more and more disturbing, until eventually they peak and then just fade to a constant background hiss while one has OBE. Apparently, his ‘final noise’ sounded like his water heater blowing up. He says, anyway, to ignore the noises, voice or otherwise, as they are only static or subconscious rambling, and do not represent any being in any way, not even the self really.
The Christos Technique
G. M. Glasking, an Australian journalist, popularized this technique in several books, starting with Windows of the Mind [Gla74]. Three people are needed: one as subject, and two to prepare him. The subject lies down comfortably on his back in a warm and darkened room. One helper massages the subject’s feet and ankles, quite firmly, even roughly, while the other take his head. Placing the soft part of his clenched fist on the subject’s forehead he rubs it vigorously for several minutes. This should make the subject’s head buzz and hum, and soon he should begin to feel slightly disorientated. His feet tingle and his body may feel light or floaty, or changing shape.
When this stage is reached, the imagery exercises begin. The subject is asked to imagine his feet stretching out and becoming longer by just an inch or so. When he says he can do this he has to let them go back to normal and do the same with his head, stretching it out beyond its normal position. Then, alternating all the time between head and feet, the distance is gradually increased until he can stretch both out to two feet or more. At this stage it should be possible for him to imagine stretching out both at once, making him very long indeed, and then to swell up, filling the room like a huge balloon. All this will, of course, be easier for some people than others. It should be taken at whatever pace is needed until each stage is successful. Some people complete this part in five minutes, some people take more than fifteen minutes.
Next he is asked to imagine he is outside his own front door. He should describe everything he can see in detail, with the colors, materials of the door and walls, the ground, and the surrounding scenery. He has then to rise above the house until he can see across the surrounding countryside or city. To show him that the scene is all under his control he should be asked to change it from day to night and back again, watching the sun set and rise, and the lights go on or off. Finally he is asked to fly off, and land wherever he wishes. For most subjects their imagery has become so vivid by this stage that they land somewhere totally convincing and are easily able to describe all that they see.
You may wonder how the experience comes to an end, but usually no prompting is required; the subject will suddenly announce ‘I’m here,’ or ‘Oh, I’m back,’ and he will usually retain quite a clear recollection of all he said and experienced. But it is a good idea to take a few minutes relaxing and getting back to normal. It is interesting that this technique seems to be very effective in disrupting the subject’s normal image of his body. It then guides and strengthens his own imagery while keeping his body calm and relaxed.
Authors Details: Jouni A. Smed
Email the Author