Blog Series: In & Out of Body Experiences Pt.3

Blog Series: In & Out of Body Experiences Pt.3

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Part Three: OOBE’s, Lucid Dreams and Sleep paralysis. What’s the Difference?

I hinted to all of you in Peaking In the Looking Glass, that transcendent experiences seem to have some common ground. They are not only transformative experiences, but they also seem to take place in what are referred to as altered states of consciousness.

The term “altered states of consciousness” is an understandable but somewhat curious term.  The term assumes that a “normal state of consciousness”, is waking consciousness. Altered states are therefore considered anomalies, which means they deviate from the normal. Various stages of sleep are therefore also considered consciousness anomalies and fall into the category of altered states. I never quite understood this notion as sleep is a very natural part of the human experience, but there you have it.

Two states in particular, the hypnagogic and hypnopompic states, are of primary interest when considering why people have OOBE’s or Lucid Dreams. Although there seems to be a correlation between each of these experiences, there are some differences that I think need to be addressed before we delve too deeply into the mysteries of these states. These categorizations have been helpful in clinically researching the mechanisms behind anomalous experiences and are therefore worthy of consideration when discussing the pathology of OBE and LDE. This information may or may not be common knowledge. So if you happen to already know the differences and the correlations, I ask that you simply be patient. This quantification will help those who aren’t so learned and may give you more food for thought as well.

Since Bob Monroe was partially responsible for bringing the term “Out of Body Experience” into western consciousness, let’s begin with his experiences and determine what the hallmarks of an OBE are:

1- They usually begin with the subject moving to an altered state, like stage n2 or n3 sleep. This state is referred to as the hypnagogic state.

2- At some point in the relaxation, there is a distinct physical feeling of vibration or pulsation felt within the physical body.

3- This pulsation experience is often accompanied by a loud sound which seems to be inside the head of the person having the experience.

4- There is often a sense of physical tension felt in the body. This tension is often the precursor to the experience of leaving the body.

5- There is also a sense of psychological vulnerability. This is probably due to the person having the experience feeling some what out of control and often becomes anxious as a result.

6- In many cases, the separation from the physical body comes through an act of will. Although many people report the sensation of feeling “pulled out”, most times the subject will consciously try to move their body and separate as a result. In other cases, separation comes about spontaneously. Such was the case of Bob Monroe when he initially found himself floating above his body. At first he believed himself to be dreaming, but that was not the case. Eventual he learned to roll out of his body and exerted a conscious control. He described this method as becoming like a log rolling in water. Through this act of will, he consciously separated from his body.

If you are having these experiences, the chances are good that you are having genuine out of body experiences and not succumbing to hallucinations, dreams or fantasy. If these are not your experiences, you might consider that you are having LDE’s about having an OBE and not actual OBE’s.

Continuing with our hallmarks, once the point of “separation” happens, what happens next is a wide gamut of potential experiences.

These include exploring various “locales” as Bob called them. The Locales range from experiencing the physical world in a new way to being in places that are strange and unusual. Some of these locales are often populated by people who are physically in the world, and mostly unaware of your presence in the room. Others tend to be explorations into “other worldly dimensions” which are populated but otherworldly beings. Bob eventually quantified all of these locales and correlated them to what he referred to as focus levels. I’ll explain more about those in time.

When Bob was being studied clinically by the academics and scientists who took his experiences as being valid and not the product of a neurological or psychological disorder, he was put to the test in Local one; i.e the physical plane. His mission was to first leave his body. He was then asked to do or observe something, which he could not possibly have physical access to; like a person in another room. He did this with much success and it’s all chronicled in his first book. I have also personally read through some of the writings of the clinicians who did the tests, including a psychological evaluation and believe the claims of these serious minded scientists. So, in keeping with the hallmarks of the OOBE, we need to add another one to the mix.

#7- The ability to observe something which is inaccessible to the subject, through physical sensory input. This is a very important feature when distinguishing an OBE from a Lucid Dream or fantasy projection.

While this ability might also be exhibited by qualified psychics such as Remote Viewers, I can say for certain that Bob Monroe did not fall into that category. Bob was not a psychic. He was simply a man who was struggling with some very strange experiences for which he had no answers.

#8. Unlike lucid dreams, people who have out of body experiences have little agency to affect their environment through thought alone. That is to say that unlike a dreamscape, you can’t change your environment no matter how lucid and aware you are in the strata you find yourself in. The reality you find yourself in during an OBE is not subject to your will power. This is a very real distinction from dreamscapes or imagination.

Sleep Paralysis and Lucid Dreaming

Now we that we have established what the hallmarks of the OBE are, we need to compare the correlations of other experiences to that of the OBE.

If you’ve taken my advice from the last installment of this series and read the link to the wikipedia article on sleep paralysis, you might have noticed that hallmarks 1-6 are essentially the same hallmarks to that of the OBE. This is why so many researchers are quick to jump to the conclusions that sleep paralysis is the reason anyone has an OBE or LDE.

To recap:

1-The subject falls asleep.

2- The subject feels vibrations in the physical body caused by various hormones which induce muscle paralysis during natural sleep.

3- The subjects loses awareness for a time and then becomes aware in the sleep state due to rapid brainwave activity which is somewhat close to REM. (Rapid Eye Movement which occurs during the dream stage of sleep)

4- The subject then becomes confused by being aware in this state and unable to move.

5- The subject becomes anxious and begins hallucinating horrifying images. This is believed to be brought on because the subject is still in the dream state and unable to move, although they are partially aware. This makes for a strange mixture of conscious awareness of subconscious imagery. The fact that they are unable to move triggers their fight/flight response.

6- The subject becomes desperate to release his / herself from this terror of immobility and willfully tries to move. This act of will is mingled in the dream experience which prompts the “hallucination” of having separated from the body.

This sounds like a perfectly rational explanation of an unusual phenomena, with two notable exceptions. Number #7: Those who have OOBE’s can move about and observe events or persons which are inaccessible to the subject, through physical sensory means. Notably, this hallmark also occurs for people who have Near Death Experiences, which is also considered a separation from the body. Then there is number #8 to consider. The reality the subject finds themselves in is not thought responsive. One can not will something to happen or change anything.

Sleep paralysis is also claimed to be the reason people have Lucid Dream experiences. This could be true, but from my personal experience and the experience of others, none of the hallmarks of OBE’s happen during a “valid” Lucid Dreaming experience.

LDE’s are the ability to become aware while in the dream state. The LDE and OBE are often correlated because all the above experiences take place in altered states of consciousness. In the case of the LDE, that altered state is called the “hypnopompic state”. Those who become aware in the hypnopompic state, have the ability to interact with their “subconsicous” dream imagery and they know that they are dreaming. Not only is this an unusual opportunity for interacting with the fantastic world of dream imagery, but one can also gain tremendous insight if they can properly maintain the state of awareness and analyze the experience. When one achieves an LDE, they have authority and agency in a thought responsive environment. This is just like active imagination and has immense therapeutic value in the right hands.

For more information on the differences between the hypnogogic and hypnopompic states, here is another wiki link for you.

So now we have a baseline to discern what the differences in the experiences are. We can also see that they all have one thing in common: Sleep. But wait! There is more to the story. A lot more!

In order to experience or control the OBE or LDE, one must learn to maintain awareness while sleeping. In addition, one must also learn to control their emotional response to the experience so as not to increase arousal levels. This control has much to do with the psychological principles mentioned in Pt.1. As I said, there is a lot to consider. I will delve more deeply into these in the next installment of this blog.

In closing, I hope you will take a few moments to consider the following questions. These questions apply to those who have had spontaneous OBE’s and would like to control the experience. These questions also apply to those who would like to have the OBE, but have been unsuccessful.

1- Are the experiences outlined above, my understandings of the hallmarks of the OBE and LDE?

2- Am I having these experiences, or is my experience somewhat different and confusing?

3- Am I afraid of these experiences? If the answer to this question is yes, it’s possible that you may find relief through visiting a sleep clinic. An over night session will help you ascertain whether or not you are suffering from a sleep disorder? No need for you to lose any more sleep or subject yourself to terrifying experiences.

4- Do I deeply desire to have these types of experiences?

This last question can be used in determining why those who wish to have these experiences, have been unsuccessful. There are a lot of factors for you to consider. Read on to Pt. 4 when we discuss the how to’s in greater depth.