The Navajo and Comanche called them vision quests. Don Juan sent Carlos Castaneda out on one.

It works like this: you starve yourself for three days in desert heat. Nothing to drink. Starvation and dehydration brings you close to death. When you're nearly leaving this world, you see things that aren't in it. Your reality is altered to include elements you do not have in commonality with people who do not share your physical condition.

You may think you're hallucinating. But what is life, if not just a hallucination that provides the illusion of control? There are theories that the "assemblage" of waking reality is mediated by DMT produced naturally in the human body and alterable (as proven by experiment) by changing the concentration of DMT.

Reality is so easily alterable the triviality betrays its significance. Kids hyperventilate. Adults drink. People smoke, eat, snort, or otherwise ingest substances that provide a deeper, semi-permanent reprogramming of the way the mind assembles its world. It's escape rather than travel. Recreation rather than quest.

The potential for trivialization of altered states of consciousness is why shamen, yogis, and medicine men, eschew exploring the states outside a pious mindfulness. The reality of other worlds and dimensions is not in question for them. The idea their "tripping" is a hallucinatory experience with no reality beyond the uncontrollable firing of neurons is blasphemous to them. They don't believe--they know these are not hallucinations, but experiences as valid as any in conscious wakefulness.

Off-world realities are and have been routinely explored by the learned individuals of most cultures. As western man conquered the people of a hemisphere they realized the suppression of religion was key in keeping the populace subjugated. People inflamed by belief in eternal reward or life beyond common reality are more likely to throw themselves into pitched rebellion than a group of existentialists, or worse, a group of people who believe their leaders have exclusive access to god.

Thus, exploration of alternate realities was subjugated, trivialized, and demonized, and remains so today despite references to angelic figures and communion with extraterrestrial entities referenced throughout the world's holy books.

I remember having lunch with a close friend immediately upon my return from my last trip to psychic spying school. He lowered his eyes and said in a near whisper, "You gotta be careful with that stuff. It's probably witchcraft."

This from an engineer whom I've known for fifteen years, and with whom I never exchanged even one word on theology. The thought of extracorporeal excursions so frightened him, it took him several months to agree to come to lunch with me again. Everything is blasphemous to somebody, I suppose.

Truth is, I don't know why I decided to try to induce OBEs. Though once I did I realized I'd been having them spontaneously most of my life and had translated the experiences as vivid, heart stopping nightmares. (I have not had a single nightmare since realizing that's what they were.)

I did not approach the practice with piousness. To me, it was a secular experiment in altering my mind's perception of its universe. There were no drugs involved. Only a type of self-hypnosis that was infinitely resistable. There were no "bad trips". If it gets too boring, or too intense, you simply take your ball and bat and go home. The ultimate in control, which appealed to the engineer control freak in me.

So I listened to the CDs. Went to four weeks of classes over three years. Read. Kept in touch with other voyagers, as practitioners liked to call themselves.

One way to look at the results of this experimentation is that almost nothing happened. Nothing as vivid as what I'd experienced experimenting with a variety of hallucinogenic substances. Most of the time the feeling was something between being asleep and in a daydream, staring out the window of the classroom onto the first warm day of summer.

It's said the experience comes upon you when you're ready and not before. You can't rush it. It doesn't respond to your command to come, sit, and heel. Rather, it's somehow in touch with parts of your mind reasonably inaccessable. Pieces of you that surface as vague feelings of discomfort or joy. Intuition.

One evening while I slept soundly I was made alert by a loud, frightening sound. It was like a violin bow being drawn across a suspended metal plate. Steel squealing. It was not subtle, for I was certain the intensity of the sound would render me deaf. I had not been actively trying to have an OBE. In fact, I'd abandoned the pursuit for other more worldly activities (getting ready for Antarctica). But for once in my life I decided that things that occur in my dreams were less to be feared than to be examined--that much of my training I carried in my subconscious mind. And so I relaxed instead of sputtering awake.

I was propelled onto a stomach-wrenching roller-coaster. As I'm easily motion sick in my older age, I began to feel queasy but it ended suddenly as I rotated once. Then I found myself on my hands and knees on the floor beside my bed.

The noise stopped abruptly. The sense of motion ceased. My bedroom carpet was in front of my face.

I figured I'd accidently rolled out of bed in my sleep. The feeling was vivid and absolutely clear. I was not dreaming. I was wide awake. There was no sense of fatigue or things being vague. I felt I'd awakened from a dream, and now I would have to get back into bed and finish my night's sleep.

Then I examined the carpet, and I realized it was hideously clear. Not only could I see every fibre in the weave, but every particle of dirt. Every one. If I'd wanted, I could have ascertained the origin of each dust grain. I knew where the carpet fibre was manufactured. I knew it was assembled in South America. I could see the man who'd rolled that very slab of carpet. His skin was dark brown and his hands were calloused. I knew he worked wearing a straw hat.

The information pouring into me was immense and strange. I had to block it out to keep my thoughts straight.

When I stood up, I was as light as dust itself. Then I knew what was happening.

I told myself, "I'm out." I knew from what I'd been told I'd have to try to focus. I'd have to ask for things to brighten to see them clearly, so I did.

My bedroom was plunged into daylight and I could see everything--but the "sight" was not so much the effect of light impinging my retinas, but rather, the "idea" of sight. My armoire was in front of me and I could see it as the solid object that held my underwear and shirts. But I could simultaneously see inside it. Not only that, but I could see it before it was built--the trees that were sawn to make it. And I could see it broken and thrown away many years from now.

My thoughts were quick and difficult to control. I was not so much "me", as a representation of me. I was back to being two-years old. My sense of propriety and intellectualism was gone. I wanted to play in this new world. Though I knew I could go anywhere and do anything with the mere thought, the first thing that came to my mind was to see if the light really went off in the refrigerator when the door was closed.

Instantly, I descended through my bedroom floor into my kitchen. I could see the refrigerator, both inside and out. I knew the light was off inside. Another of life's great mysteries solved.

Next I needed to see myself in a mirror, and when I went into the bathroom I could see something that looked like a spider-web network of bright lights interconnected with glistening lines. And it was all blue.

What ran through my mind was not profound. I thought--"I'm the Gleem toothpaste man." But something came to me. Like an adult's admonishment I was "told" I was a point-source. I realized then my "sight" was spherical. I could "see" in all directions simultanously. What I concentrated on would fixate my mind, and so create the illusion of focus.

It was all perfectly natural. It was not an alien state, but rather, something even more familiar than incarnate existence.

What to do next? I thought that I should go see one of my friends with whom I'd been trying OBEs.

Instantly, without fanfare or any sense of motion, I was in a dark place and I could see something white and shiny in front of me. I thought I was seeing an astronaut doing a space walk. No matter how hard I tried I couldn't resolve the image into something comprehensible.

While I "floated" wondering what I was looking at, I found myself going through something like a ceiling. I wound up in a terribly messy room. A kid's bedroom. It was strewn with stuffed animals, cluttered with dirty clothing and all manner of kid paraphenalia. Four tiny strange dogs began to bark at me.

When I looked away I saw a double mirror on the wall and became fixated in uncontrollable narcissism on my own image again.

Then my dead father appeared. He smiled at me and I got the distinct impression he was happy to see me, but wasn't so happy with the way I was abusing my extracorporeal state. Perhaps I wasn't advanced enough to use the experience wisely. I was acting like a kid with a new toy.

He kissed me and sent me home.

I woke up--well, less woke then was propelled awake as if shot into reality from a cannon. I bolted from my bed, waking my wife. Every molecule of me was vibrating. Everything in me was excited. Elated. I'd never felt so happy, so energetic, so enthralled with how great life was.

I sat on the bathroom floor to keep myself from hopping around. I clamped my hand to my mouth to stifle the laughter coming from nowhere.

I looked in the mirror. I was me, but not me. I was some sort of immortal blue starry thing shoved inside a human body.

Sleep was impossible the rest of the night.

When I went to work that morning and had most people tell me I looked fantastic. What had I done? Did I get my hair cut? Was I working out?

Closer friends presumed I'd had a great night of sex.

I was vibrating. Happy. I knew with absolute certainty that I was immortal--that I would not only survive death, but that being without a body was perfectly natural and thrilling.

That day I called my friend Laura and told her about my experience. She said: "You know, this morning I had to get up very early to meet a client at 5AM. So I was up at 3AM ironing in the kitchen in my bathrobe. All of a sudden something materialized in my kitchen. You're not going to believe this--but it was ghost that looked like you. I nearly had a heart attack."

I told her what I had done. Then I described the bedroom above the kitchen, and she told me it was her daughter's, and that the pugs slept on the bed with the kid, and yes, they'd started barking when she saw the ghost of me appear.

"Next time you do that, will you say 'Hi,' or something? You scared the shit out of me."

I promised her I would, but I haven't had the urge to visit her since.

The feeling of elation and power passed after about a week. When it subsided I realized the essence of the training I'd attempted was always expressed in terms of energy conservation. It takes a certain amount of human "energy" to undertake such a journey. But it takes even more energy to bring more of your own mind with you.

The version of me in the out of body state didn't know all the things I knew. He had different memories, and different life experiences. We only overlapped in small ways. He was unsophisticated and childish, probably a reflection of my own id. Had I been more diligent in following my exercises, I might have retained more of my own mind in that state.

Several years have passed. The initial burst of energy and elation have long since faded, and I look back on my exploration with no regret. I am not certain of the value in the experience. Because if it's real--if it's true we're spirits incarnate, then logic suggests the purpose of this life is to be in this life, to have this life, to be in these bodies and do those things one does while human rather than focusing on what we were before we were born or where we will go when we die.

That may be the reason my OBEs have stopped. Maybe I learned what they had to teach me. Maybe I just needed a rest.

I wonder what else the wise men and women have to teach me. I'm sure there's a lot, but the lesson so far is about as much as I can stand.

Consider this a postcard: The food is good down here on earth. The company is pleasant. The music is sweet. We cry and laugh all the time.

Life is good. I'm very happy to be here. Thanks to whomever got me the tickets.

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