Robert Monroe’s Method
In his book Journeys out of the Body [Mon71] Monroe describes a complicated-sounding technique for inducing Out of body experiences. In part it is similar to other imagination methods, but it starts with induction of the ‘vibrational state.’ Many spontaneous OBEs start with a feeling of shaking or vibrating, and Monroe deliberately induces this state first. He suggests you do the following. First lie down in a darkened room in any comfortable position, but with your head pointing to magnetic north. Loosen clothing and remove any jewellery or metal objects, but be sure to stay warm. Ensure that you will not be disturbed and are not under any limitation of time. Begin by relaxing and then repeat to yourself five times, ‘I will consciously perceive and remember all that I encounter during this relaxation procedure. I will recall in detail when I am completely awake only those matters which will be beneficial to my physical and mental being.’ Then begin breathing through your half-open mouth.
The next step involves entering the state bordering sleep (the hypnagogic state). Monroe does not recommend any particular method of achieving this state. One method you might try is to hold your forearm up, while keeping your upper arm on the bed, or ground. As you start to fall asleep, your arm will fall, and you will awaken again. With practice you can learn to control the hypnagogic state without using your arm. Another method is to concentrate on an object. When other images start to enter your thoughts, you have entered the hypnagogic state. Passively watch these images. This will also help you maintain this state of near-sleep. Monroe calls this Condition A.
After first achieving this state Monroe recommends to deepen it. Begin to clear your mind and observe your field of vision through your closed eyes. Do nothing more for a while. Simply look through your closed eyelids at the blackness in front of you. After a while, you may notice light patterns. These are simply neural discharges and they have no specific effect. Ignore them. When they cease, one has entered what Monroe calls Condition B. From here, one must enter an even deeper state of relaxation which Monroe calls Condition C — a state of such relaxation that you lose all awareness of the body and sensory stimulation. You are almost in a void in which your only source of stimulation will be your own thoughts. The ideal state for leaving your body is Condition D. This is Condition C when it is voluntarily induced from a rested and refreshed condition and is not the effect of normal fatigue. To achieve Condition D, Monroe suggests that you practice entering it in the morning or after a short nap.
With eyes closed look into the blackness at a spot about a foot from your forehead, concentrating your consciousness on that point. Move it gradually to three feet away, then six, and then turn it 90 degrees upward, reaching above your head. Monroe orders you to reach for the vibrations at that spot and then mentally pull them into your head. He explains how to recognize them when they occur. ‘It is as if a surging, hissing, rhythmically pulsating wave of fiery sparks comes roaring into your head. From there it seems to sweep throughout your body, making it rigid and immobile.’ This method is easier than it sounds.
Once you have achieved the vibrational state you have to learn to control it, to smooth out the vibrations by ‘pulsing’ them. At this point, Monroe warns it is impossible to turn back. He suggests reaching out an arm to grasp some object which you know is out of normal reach. Feel the object and then let your hand pass through it, before bringing it back, stopping the vibrations and checking the details and location of the object. This exercise will prepare you for full separation.
To leave the body Monroe advocates the ‘lift-out’ method. To employ this method think of getting lighter and of how nice it would be to float upwards. An alternative is the ‘rotation’ technique in which you turn over in bed, twisting first the top of the body, head and shoulders until you turn right over and float upwards. Later you can explore further. With sufficient practice Monroe claims that a wide variety of experiences are yours for the taking.
Methods Most magical methods are also based on imagery or visualization and use concentration and relaxation. All these methods require good mental control and a sound knowledge of the system being used, with its tools and symbols. Charles Tart, in introducing the concept of ‘state specific sciences’ [Tar72b] also considered state specific technologies, that is, means of achieving, controlling and using altered states of consciousness. Many magical rituals are really just such technologies. In a typical exercise the magician will perform an opening ritual, a cleansing or purifying ritual and then one to pass from one state to another. Once in the state required he operates using the rules of that state and then returns, closes the door that was opened and ends the ritual.
This technology varies almost as much as the theory, for there are a multitude of ways of reaching the astral. One can use elemental doorways, treat the cards of the tarot as stepping stones, perform cabbalistic path- workings or use mantras. The techniques are very similar to all others we have been considering, so we can see the complexities of ritual magic as just another related way achieving the same ends.
Meditation and Chakra Meditation
Meditation has two basic functions — achieving relaxation and improving concentration. Therefore the ideal state for OBE is familiar to meditators and indeed OBEs have occasionally been reported during meditation and yoga. The two main types of meditation are concentration meditation (focusing) and insight meditation (mindfullness). Most kinds of meditation are the concentrative type. One simply focuses his attention upon a single physical object, such as a candle flame; upon a sensation, such as that felt while walking or breathing; upon an emotion, such as reverence or love; upon a mantra spoken aloud or even silently; or upon a visualization as in chakra meditation. Concentration meditation is, simply put, a form of self-hypnosis.
The other main type of meditation, insight meditation, is the analysis of thoughts and feelings in such a way as to cause realization of the subjectivity and illusion of experience. Such meditation is done in an effort to attain transcendental awareness.
Chakra meditation is a special type of concentrative meditation which is basically kundalini yoga — the practice of causing psychic energy (kundalini) to flow up sushumna, energizing the various chakras along the way. A chakra is ‘a sense organ of the ethereal body, visible only to a clairvoyant’ [Gay74]. As each chakra is energized by this practice, it is believed to add occult powers (sidhis), until at last the crown chakra is reached, and with it, full enlightenment is attained.
According to East Indian philosophy, man possesses seven major chakras or psychic centers on his body. In theosophical scheme there are ten chakras, which permit those trained in their use to gain knowledge of the astral world (three of the ten are used in black magic only). Each of the chakras forms a bridge, link, or energy transformer; changing pure (higher) energy into various forms, and connecting different bodies together. The chakras are located along the nadies (a network of psychic nerves or channels) and follow the autonomic nervous system along the spinal cord.
The first chakra, located at the base of the spine at the perineum is the root chakra, muladhara. The second chakra, known as the sacral center, svadhisthana, is located above and behind the genitals. Third of the chakras is the solar plexus, manipura, located at the navel and it is said to correspond with the emotions and also with psychic sight (clairvoyance). The heart chakra, anahata, is the fourth chakra, located over the heart and corresponding with the psychic touch. The fifth chakra is the throat chakra, vishuddha, located at the base of the throat (thyroid) and corresponding with psychic hearing (clairaudience).
The remaining two chakras are believed to relate mostly to elevated states of consciousness. The frontal chakra, (or ‘third eye’) ajna, the sixth chakra, is located between, and slightly above, the eyebrows. Ajna is the center of psychic powers and it is believed to be able to produce many psychic effects. Finally, the crown chakra, sahasrara, located atop the head, (pineal gland) is the seventh chakra. It is referred to as the thousand-petaled lotus and corresponds with astral projection and enlightenment.
To practice this chakra meditation, you simply concentrate on the chakras, beginning with the root chakra, and moving progressively up, as you visualize psychic energy from the root chakra traveling up shushumna and vivifying each higher chakra. As mentioned above the chakras have certain properties associated with them, so that this type of visualization may ‘raise consciousness,’ promote astral projection, and other things — once you have reached ajna and eventually the crown chakra.
In the early days of psychical research hypnosis was used a great deal more than now to bring about ‘traveling clairvoyance,’ but it can still be used. All that is required is skilled hypnotist with some understanding of the state into which he wants to put the subject, and a willing subject. The subject must be put into a fairly deep hypnotic state and then the hypnotist can suggest to him that he leaves his body. The subject can be asked to lift up out of his body, to create a double and step into it, to roll off his bed or chair, or leave through the top of his head. He can then be asked to travel to any place desired, but hypnotist must be sure to specify very clearly where he is to go, and to bring him safely back to his body when expedition is over. If this is not done the subject may have difficulty reorientating himself afterwards.
There are some drugs which can undoubtedly help initiate an OBE. Hallucinogens have long been used in various cultures to induce states like OBEs, and in our own culture OBEs are sometimes an accidental product of a drug experience. In absence of any further information we might already be able to guess which are the sorts of drugs likely to have this effect. They might be those which physically relax the subject while leaving his consciousness clear and alert. Drugs which distort sensory input and disrupt the subject’s sense of where and what shape his body is ought to help, and so may anything which induces a sense of shaking or vibration. Imagery must be intensified without control being lost and finally there must be some reason, or wish, for leaving the body.
Considering these points hallucinogens might be expected to be more effective than stimulants, tranquillizers or sedatives. The latter may aid relaxation but help with none of the other features just mentioned. Few other types of drug have any relevant effect. This fact fits with what is known about the effectiveness of drugs for inducing OBEs. Monroe states that barbiturates and alcohol are harmful to the ability, and this makes sense since they would tend to reduce control over imagery even though they are relaxing. Eastman [Eas62] states that barbiturates do not lead OBEs whereas morphine, ether, chloroform, major hallucinogens and hashish can.
Relatively little research has carried out in this area, partly because most of the relevant drugs are illegal in the countries where that research might be carried out. It seems that certain drugs can facilitate an OBE but what is not clear is why drug experience should take that form rather than any other. Part of the answer is that usually it does not. There is no specific OBE-creating drug, and OBEs are relatively rarely a part of a psychedelic drug experience. Drugs may help in inducing the OBE but they are not recommended as a route to the instant projection, they are no alternative to learning the skills of relaxation, concentration, and imagery control.
Many Out of body experiences start from dreams and since, by definition, one has to be conscious to have an OBE, they tend to start from lucid dreams. The dreamer may become aware that he is dreaming and then find himself in some place other than his bed and able to move about at will. He may have another body and may even attempt to see his physical body lying asleep. This topic is covered separately in the later section on lucid dreams.
Palmer’s Experimental Method For Out Of Body Experiences
In the search for a simple and effective method of inducing an OBE Palmer and his colleagues [PL75a, 75b, 76, PV74a, 74b] use relaxation and audio- visual stimulation. Subjects went through a progressive muscular relaxation session and the heard oscillating tones and watched a rotating spiral. One of the interesting findings was that many of the subjects claimed that they had been ‘literally out of’ their bodies, and there were indications that their experiences were very different in some ways from other those encountered in OBEs.