New Internationalist

Aiming Out Of Body

Issue 237

new internationalist
issue 237 - November 1992

Aiming out of body.

One of the problems with the paranormal is that the 'evidence' for it is inevitably subjective. But this magazine is built on the premise that you can investigate this area without falling into the trap of being a 'sheep' or a 'goat'. You can see the charlatans and self-deluders for what they are but also approach each experience openly and not just seek out material for a cynical demolition-job. All the same, there's nothing scientific or comprehensive about this investigation. It's a random wander through the territory - a magical mystery tour.

Let's start with the 'out-of-body experience', or OBE for short. This is fairly common: someone here at the NI believes, for example, that she once left her body as she lay on a hospital bed and spent minutes examining herself from up near the ceiling before deciding that she had to 'go back'.

So as part of my first efforts to get to grips with this topic, back in the summer of 1991, I tried to follow a course called Have an Out-of-Body Experience in 30 Days. The blurb for the book said that it would lead me 'into more and more advanced variations, from flying to distant realms and going back in time to communicating with loved ones far away and the exquisite pleasures of OBE sex'. Sounds pretty good, I thought. Even if it's all an illusion I wouldn't mind some of that.

DAY ONE
Okay, I first have to celebrate my relationship with my body. This is not an easy thing to do in the office - I have to stand naked in front of a full-length mirror. So I seize the opportunity on a rare occasion when I'm working at home on my own. I strip off and stand pondering how I feel about my body; it is hard to do much else but be conscious that it is bloody cold. I start deep breathing, alternately looking at the image of myself in the mirror and closing my eyes to compare the image in my mind. Blank. I can't conjure up any clear visual image of my body, just the most shadowy of outlines. This poverty of visual imagination may prove to be a drawback in the pursuit of an out-of-body experience...

The phone rings. It's one of my fellow editors wanting to know what I thought of the first draft of his Keynote. So I offer my suggestions as to how to improve it, omitting to mention that I'm sitting completely naked as I do so - I figure he might find this a tad disconcerting.

Now I lie down and with my eyes open try to see out from within my body, to shrink my consciousness down deep so that my skin feels like a baggy overcoat. 1 find this difficult, to say the least. I'm tempted to close my eyes. As soon as I do I fall asleep - my toddler children Kate and Misha have been waking up at 5.30 for days now and it's also my job to see to them in the nights.

DAY TWO
This stage actually takes four or five days. I have to master the technique of alert relaxation and find it hard. I am supposed to feel waves of warm mental energy coming up from my feet as the various parts of my body relax. I can't capture the waves but on the other hand I do usually end up feeling very relaxed.

I have trouble getting beyond this step because the next one involves going out to a public place and simply sitting for an hour or two to concentrate on my sense of hearing. When I'm supposed to fit this in I have no idea. I've got too much to do when I'm at work and when I'm not I have the kids. I took Kate and Misha down to the local shopping mall with a vague idea that I might focus on the sounds there. But all I hear is Kate jabbering away, pleased to be chatting to her Daddy, asking 'What that Daddy?' And I'm pleased to be chatting to her too.

DAY SIX
I'm trying to isolate and stimulate my sense of taste now. I put together a lunch of egg mayonnaise, raspberry jam, tomato, tortilla chips, chocolate, cole slaw, soya dessert, cucumber, marshmallow and peanuts. I eat a mouthful of something sweet, clear my palate with water, then taste something savoury and so on. I don't end up nauseous but it tastes, well, like egg mayonnaise, chocolate, marshmallow...

Illustration by JIM NEEDLE DAY SEVEN
Now I'm in the garden with my eyes closed for two hours. I should be on a beach or in a park with my partner guiding me around but again the children make me bend the rules. Still, I stick to the programme as closely as I can. Pat places things in my hands with a variety of different textures from a leaf through to something indeterminate but repugnantly slimy while I concentrate on the input of my non-visual senses. Every now and then Kate asks 'What Daddy doing?' or imitates her mother by putting something icky on me. This may account for why the flood of visual information which the book suggests will occur when I open my eyes is disappointing. More of a trickle really.

THE END
I swear I tried hard and would honestly have liked something to happen but it just seems like I'm getting nowhere. The things the course requires me to do are so removed from the normal patterns of my life that they are very hard to maintain. Over the last few days I haven't consciously decided to abandon it but I've lapsed anyway. I don't dismiss the course it seems entirely possible that you could train your mind in this way and have a very unusual experience, just as extraordinary things can result from very disciplined meditation. But I'm not sure this kind of 'psychic development' is really intended for parents of small children. Shame I never got to the 'Erotic Variations' of Day 21.

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