I will explain some of the major points of achieving an out of body experience, suggest some sources for investigation, and then provide an anecdote about my own experimentation.
The terms Astral Projection and Out of Body Experience are the terms used to describe extracorporeal travel. The former conjures images of magicians and practicioners of the black arts, while the latter is the high tech version that many people shorten to the acronym OOBE. While the term OOBE is less emotionally charged, it describes the same effect. One should be well aware that renaming a phenomenon that can be classified without question as a segment of the occult does not make it less so. These effects are well known through human history, and through all cultures. The negative effects are also well known and easily avoidable, but do require suspension of metaphysical disbelief.
Standard disclaimer: your mileage will vary. The disclaimer applies to everything I will say. Everytime you come across something you feel may not apply to you, remember that you are right.
Technique and exercises for achieving conscious astral projection are available in numerous books. The new age section in your local bookstore is lousy with them. An internet search will bring them out like a spotlight at a cockroach convention.
Having read most of them (that were available up to 1999) my favorites are:
"Adventures Beyond the Body", by William Buhlman.
"Journeys Out of the Body", by Robert A. Monroe, founder of the Monroe Institute.
"Mind Trek",1by Joseph McMoneagle.
"The Ultimate Time Machine",1 by Joseph McMoneagle.
Books like "Have an Out of Body Experience in 30 Days" are amusing and some of the exercises they suggest are valuable. I feel the concept that particular book espouses suffers from two problems. First, it sounds too much like, "Thinner Thighs in 30 Days" and sounding like something less profound makes it difficult to concentrate which destroys the effect. Second, short of intramuscular doses of N,N-dimethyltryptamine2 (DMT) or coming close to death, nobody can guarantee you an OOBE in a specific time frame. So I didn't find this sort of "manual" particularly useful. What was most useful for me was to read or listen to the stories of people who have had OOBEs, and then to use my imagination to conceive of one myself.
A book that's worthy of mention is, "Astral Dynamics", by Robert Bruce. This is a big thick manual with exercises for training yourself to pool energy for OOBEs and other things. The book is reasonably dry and instructive. Not entirely bed time reading. I have on occasion tried Bruce's techniques and did succeed in blowing the sneakers off my feet (in Las Vegas). But I never achieved a conscious OOBE, which was for me the aim of reading the book. Not wanting to trash any more clothing while on vacation, I gave up the exercises.
Numerous organizations offer classes/seminars on the art of Astral Projection. The Monroe Institute is perhaps the best known for its concentration on achieving OOBEs. The Institute for Noetic Sciences, and the Esalen Institute also offer programs on OOBEs and other interesting topics. In general, whenever you see an organization suggesting they promote study into "human potential", understand that OOBEs are a part of that.
Having read the books, gone to many seminars at the Monroe Institute, and shared experiences with friends I will try to distill the major points of the practice. This is not an attempt to encapsulate/summarize all the information available in the body of public literature on the subject. That would require development of an encyclopedia. Rather, I will concentrate on those items the books do not tell you (for unfathomable reasons) and the extremely simple truths that will enable you to process your own OOBEs.
Be sure you want to do it. You can never go back. Once you open the pandora's box of astral projection, it's with you to stay.
Ask yourself why you would want to do it. Examinination of your own motivation is helpful to the process. Are you an explorer? Are you looking for entertainment and your girlfriend took the last hit of MDMA? Are you a voyeur? Are you trying to gain more control of your life? Knowing why you want to do it helps you. You don't need to explain yourself to anyone, but do go into the process understanding your motivation or your results can be unexpected.
Understand that your value judgements do not affect the phenomenon. It isn't "harder" to do if all you want is to spy on the bathroom habits of the girl/boy across the hall. It isn't "easier" to do if you want to find out what it was like for a French soldier at Waterloo or to talk to your guardian animal spirit. I have witnessed people using these techniques to modify rolling dice on craps tables in Las Vegas. Yes they won money. I have witnessed people using these techniques to heal wounds and to send cancer into remission. (I have also witnessed these techniques NOT working, but when they do, it's reasonably unmistakable and profound.) The phenomenon does not appear to operate under a system of "moral judgement", but rather, seems a projection of human ability in the same way walking is an ability that in of itself is neither moral nor amoral.
Understand that astral projection is possible. As with anything involving psychic phenomena, what you expect influences what you get. One (in)famous out of body explorer, Robert A. Monroe, claimed he intended for people to change their beliefs into "knowns". That's when a person is at her most powerful. So while you may believe it's possible for someone to have an out of body experience, direct experience turns it into something certain. The more certain you are you can, the more likely you are to be able to project. People do this. They have forever.
Know that most OOBEs are indistinguishable from dreams. Some feel as real as waking consciousness. But all of them are altered states of consciousness and so once you come out of an OOBE the contrast will be obvious. However while it's happening, it's often difficult to identify that you're having an OOBE.
Know that OOBEs are often metaphorical, just like your dreams. Feeling awake and standing in front of a 30-foot tall feathered elephant does not mean you have discovered a new species. Unfortunately, the messages you receive while in the OOBE state are meaningful only to you, so you're not going to get help from your friends in interpreting your experiences. Only you can determine why you'd need to stand in the presence of a big fluffy elephant. In exactly the same way dying is something you will do alone, your OOBEs belong to you and you alone.
OOBEs are not temporal. There are two aspects to this. First, the time line of your OOBE will not map to that of waking consciousness. One second of OOBE life does not equal one second of conscious life. You may feel like you've had a 2-hour OOBE when only 2 minutes have passed on your alarm clock. The converse is also true.
Second, your OOBEs are not limited to your flitting around through your neighborhood at 3AM or whatever time it is where your body is. You are in spacetime. You can just as easily travel forward to the heat death of the universe as backward to your own childhood. None of the usual science fiction time-travel conundrums seem to apply, and my guess would be that it's because you're only "witnessing" events rather than affecting them.
Understand that while it is possible to have the "flying" sort of OOBE, where you float up through your ceiling, see your house and neighborhood exactly as they are, and then flit off to far away lands--this is rare. Some experts claim these experiences are the misinterpretation of metaphor and that in fact, one NEVER sees a version of the world that is identical to what you see in waking consciousness. However, my own experiences suggest it is possible to move through walls and visit contemporary friends, see them sleeping at 3AM, and invite them to come out and play sans corpus, but the details of the experience are unverifiable. That is I might see the large features of a particular bedroom, its layout, where the bed is in relation to the door, but I may see a brass canopy bed where the actual bed frame is wood.
Understand that you have already had out of body experiences and you thought they were dreams. Your experience may or may not have seemed to be under your control. Quite likely, you thought it was a nightmare. You climbed stairs, punched elevator buttons, ran through darkened hallways followed by ominous, often invisible presences. You may have floated through walls. You may have seen castles or found yourself in the middle of a battlefield covered in blood, a broadsword in your hand.
The classic example is this: you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. You get out of bed, saunter to the toilet and do the work biology dictates. Three seconds later you still have to go to the bathroom. Repeat. Over and over. Sooner or later you realize you've been "dreaming" about going to the bathroom rather than actually doing it. Then you "really" go to the bathroom. But, shoot, even that was a dream.
That's an OOBE. Any other one you have will feel exactly the same way (without having to pee).
A similar effect to OOBEs is that of lucid dreaming. In fact, lucid dreaming can be a precursor to a full-out OOBE. A lucid dream is one in which you know you are dreaming while you're doing it, but don't do much about it. Things still happen to you. You're mostly reacting.
A lucid dream becomes an OOBE when you assemble enough personal "energy" to take control of the situation. Then you decide where to go, who to spy on naked, and which evil critters to zap with your lightening bolts.
Yes, you might have to zap something. It's a good news/bad news sort of thing. The bad news is that once you start futzing with this stuff you're going to meet things that aren't part of your usual world and they might not be pleasant. If you're not careful, you can bring them back to your regular life with you, and that can be unsettling. Not harmful as nothing "out there" has the ability to hurt you--unless you scare easily--but it can be nerve racking. The good news is that you're alive in physical reality and they're not. Physical creatures have a lot of stored "energy". We are dense. E=MC2 and so are quite rich in whatever the hell it is matter is made of. Thus you can will away these little nasties quite easily. (I usually zap them. Remember, it's a metaphor. Nothing is actually being "zapped", but it makes me happy thinking of it that way.)
There are people who can willfully induce OOBEs. They sit down, and just do it. This requires more focus and energy than most of us will ever be able to muster. It's self-hypnosis, plain and simple. The analogy would be that you would be able to sit down on an amusement park roller coaster and put yourself to sleep, remain unconscious and oblivious to the G-forces during the ride, and then voluntarily arise when the ride was over.
If you're one of the people that can't do something like that you have to settle for having an OOBE while you're meditating. More than likely you will have your first confirmed OOBE while you're asleep.
There are a lot of techniques to induce a so-called conscious OOBE, but I have never succeeded in doing anything other than wrecking an expensive pair of New Balance sneakers. So, I'm not going to try to tell you how to do it because I've never done it myself. Read the books I've suggested and others. Try it yourself. It might work for you. Don't worry if it doesn't. As I have said, in general, everything involving psychic phenomena tends to occur in phases that benefit the person making the effort. It will happen when and if it's the right time for you.
Let's then focus on generating spontaneous OOBEs, the ones that just happen to you when you're not entirely expecting them.
The key to having an OOBE is to be able to fall asleep while keeping your brain active. When you're sleeping and having a dream, you typically do not know you're dreaming. The dream is your reality until you wake up and have consciousness to use as contrast.
To have an OOBE you need to find a way to "wake up" inside your dreams so that the contrast between consciousness and the altered OOBE state of consciousness is clear to you while it's happening. That means you have to wake up while you're sleeping, but not all the way. All of the books you can read on inducing OOBEs focus on techniques for doing this. But when you think about it, you've been doing it your whole life (see the bathroom phenomenon above).
The best time for most to have a spontaneous OOBE is just as they're waking up in the morning. If you've ever waken up on a Saturday morning and then gone back to sleep because you don't have to go to work, you may not fall into as deep a sleep as you had before you woke up. This semi-sleep condition is ideal for OOBEs. Because you will be prepared to have an OOBE next time you get to go back to sleep on a Saturday morning, you're going to be likely to have one. Here's how to prepare.
Meditate often: putting yourself into a semi-conscious state with any degree of frequency will train your mind to slip into and out of these states with ease. The more comfortable you are with passing between altered states of consciousness, the easier it will be for you to recognize when you're in one and "wake up" inside your dreams. Frequent meditation is the single most useful thing you can do to induce an OOBE. Exercises like the ones found in Robert Bruce's book are also very helpful in this respect. Using CDs and tapes like the Hemi-Sync series from the Monroe Institute are also helpful in that they can artifically create hypnotic states--and then you can remember the "feeling" of these states and induce them at will. But they are not necessary.
Do thought exercises: At various points in your normal day ask yourself, "Am I dreaming?" After all, when you are dreaming you don't know it. You think you're in standard reality. By habituating yourself to ask that question while awake, you may find yourself asking it in a dream. The mere suggestion will allow you to wake up inside the dream.
If you can't remember or are too annoyed to ask yourself if you're dreaming all the time, you can try doing this right before you go to sleep. As soon as you close your eyes for sleep at night say: "I am not inside my body now." Of course, when you're saying it to yourself you are inside your body, but if you habituate yourself to the statement, it will eventually come out in one of your dream states. Conjuring a statement of will during a dream is enough to make it happen.
Carlos Casteneda's technique of finding your hands works well, too. As soon as you find yourself in a lucid dreaming state, ask yourself where your hands are. Look for your hands. Finding your hands in a lucid dream will enable you to "reassemble" yourself and thus take control, putting yourself into an OOBE state.
Announce your intent: Before you go to sleep at night tell yourself mentally that you intend to have an OOBE that night. Explain to yourself why you're going to do it without judgement. Anything you announce with the force of your desire will tend to occur. (see: prayer).
Remember the feeling: All of us have experienced altered states of consciousness, if only in that we have had dreams. Others have had more interesting trips. The bottom line is that if you can remember how you felt during a particular altered state and try to recapture that exact feeling in your mind, the reoccurrance of the feeling IS the altered state. For myself, I use the example of staring out the classroom window on the first day of spring. The teacher opens the window and the first spring breeze pushes away all the stale winter air. And I wind up staring at the school lawn and the birds and trees beyond, ignoring the class as if everything that is me has been captured through my eyes.
That feeling is an altered state (the Monroe Institute people call it focus 10). Remembering that feeling is a form of meditation and training yourself to do it can help induce an OOBE.
Recognize when you've had one: A lot of OOBEs are indistinguishable from dreams. If you pass them off as nonsense, they won't happen any more. (And then why would you bother trying to have them, anyway?) If you realize that you "woke up" inside one of your dreams and were able to fly to Europa to meet some talking seaweed, then do not fail to congratulate yourself. The more seriously you take your dreams and extracorporeal experiences, the more meaningful they will become and the more you can learn from them. (They will also help you control your environment: topic for an advanced node.)
People who log their dreams eventually begin seeing patterns in the dreams. Some of these patterns provide useful guidance. Logging your OOBEs provides the same phenomenon.
Maximizing your weirdness-OOBEs with friends:
While the bulk of an OOBE experience is entirely personal and metaphorical, it is possible to share the experience with friends. And I do mean to suggest that two or more people can have OOBEs and experience each other during the altered state. When they wake up, they will recognize having "seen" each other and may even be able to cross-correlate places and events they witnessed.
At the Monroe Institute I fell in with a crowd who enjoyed each other's company. After a couple of days, we realized we were having the same "dreams" during our meditation sessions. Even stranger, we could see each other in our dreams/OOBEs and when we woke up we would all agree on what we had seen of each other. The reports differed in detail, but if one of us felt we had seen the other sitting in a snack bar at Charles DeGaulle airport in Roissey, then the person who had been seen would agree she had gone to an airport in an OOBE--though possibly not Roissey.
This phenomenon continues to this day. There doesn't seem to be a way to induce it, nor does there seem to be a way to shut it off. And I know of many such spontaneously collected group of people who frequently dream of each other and can validate while awake that they have seen each other.
The phenomenon appears to have no "use" other than to call into question notions of causality, the nature of thought, and the essence of the human soul. While it sounds ultracool, it's serious business as well. For what does a physicist or a physician or a psychologist do who has dedicated a lifetime to examining verifiable phenomena only to find the privacy of the mind may be as much of an illusion as quantum physics? It causes an eruption of emotion that originates in the gut. While wise men are cognizant of how little they know, the truly wise people are those who remain in control when the little they think they do know is challenged.
The objection to claims of shared dreams is so strong as to be ridiculous. Many learned people would not consider the subject to question, much less provide an opinion. The reason is fear. The reality of OOBEs and common dreams appears to challenge the foundation of human knowledge. Facing the collapse of what is "known" most engineers and scientists will retreat to numbers and facts and dismiss the effect as illogical or hallucinatory and thus unreal.
My own reaction to the first OOBE I could recognize was exactly that: it scared the shit out of me. Take note: it wasn't the actual OOBE that scared me. That was fun. What terrified me was the idea that if my OOBE was somehow "true", then the very basis of the way I constructed my thoughts day-to-day was in question. It shook fundamental presumptions I used to explain my world to myself. People's thoughts are electrical impulses traveling down the axons in the neurons of their brains. If you could process enough data you could count all the electrical impulses in a brain and figure out what someone was thinking--or so I thought. I seriously expected that some day we'd have machines with enough power to enable us to know what someone was thinking by analyzing the neuronal activity in their gray matter.
I discounted the influence of extracorporeal stimulation other than what could be explained as input to the five senses. Issues such as intuition and psi effects were simply the manifestation of physical effects we had yet to quantify.
And then this happened to me:
It was my first course at TMI. Third day. Absolutely nothing of interest had been happening to me while laying in my CHEC (Controlled Holistic Environmental Chamber) unit. (A CHEC unit is a sleeper bunk like you'd have in a train, built into the wall with a curtain for privacy and a jack for headphones). I had been listening to TMI's patented humming sounds and all I was doing was sleeping. I was getting fed up with the entire process, and became very disappointed in myself for considering to go to such a place. I was a logical, scientific person. While I found my classmates very interesting people, I did not share their enthusiasm for the occult and dogma disguised as new age thinking.
During one of the meditation sessions I woke up disgusted. I was fed up and bored with the whole scenario of laying around all day, doing nothing. I got out of my bed, packed my clothes, got my coat, and went down the hall with the aim to go out to the parking lot in front of the TMI building to find my car. I was fiddling in my pants pocket, searching for my car keys while I passed one of the rooms. They weren't there.
Jeremy was standing in the doorway to his room. As I passed he asked me what I was doing. I told him how fed-up I'd become and that I was going to get in my car and drive home. If I could only remember where I'd put my damned car keys I'd be gone right then.
He followed me out to the parking lot trying to talk me out of leaving. Suddenly the best reason for not leaving occurred to me, and that was that I did not have my car keys because I hadn't driven to TMI. I'd taken an airplane from California and then a shuttle to their grounds. My car was not in their parking lot. It was at home in California.
I looked at Jeremy and said something like, "What the hell..." and then I suddenly "woke up" inside my CHEC unit on my bed as if someone had tossed a gallon of ice water on me.
And I was certain I'd fallen asleep and had a dream. It was an intense dream, for sure. I didn't know I was dreaming while it was happening. It seemed perfectly real. I could feel the weight of my suitcase in my hand, and I could hear my footsteps on the ground as I walked down the hall. The sound of my footsteps changed when I went from the building to the gravel parking lot. Once outside I could smell the change in the air and feel the sun on my face.
It was the most real, intense dream I could remember.
I sat on the rug in the debriefing room scratching my head. Well, no OOBE for me, but one damn strong dream. I was still disgusted, but maybe things would start to get good.
Then Jeremy opened his door and came out of his room and down to the debriefing area and sat against the wall opposite me. He looked at me, grinning like a cat with bird's foot hanging from his teeth and said, "Did you ever find your car keys?"
It took me several months to get past feeling like the ground had stopped holding me up and that I was falling toward my certain demise. The door to another world had been opened--blown off it's hinges. And I could never go back to my old life again.
1Those who are purists would suggest these are about Remote Viewing (RV), not OOBEs. However, many practitioners would agree with my assessment that for the purposes of this article RV is simply another form of out of body experience (OOBE).
2A book I enjoyed on the subject of DMT phenomena and experimentation is, "DMT The Spirit Molecule", by Rick Strassman, M.D.