Experience of the subtle realms: Contents page
Chapter 3. Visits to the other world
Among the most remarkable of two worlds phenomena are out of the body experiences (OOBEs), which have been widely reported in the literature on psychical research. A full-blown OOBE can scarcely be called ambiguous. It has too much the tang of action and intentionality about it to be properly classified as an as if experience. So I shall speak of it more directly.
Years ago I lived in a remote cottage alone in the Isle of Man, and through the use of dietary control, ritual and meditation, I obtained for a period a measure of command over the process of going out of the physical body in the subtle body. I will describe the experience in the present tense, as if it is happening now.
I lie in bed, it does not matter in what position as long as I am very deeply relaxed both mentally and physically. I then imagine all the energy in my body being drawn to a central point around the area of the solar plexus: I consciously ‘withdraw’ energy from all the extremities and focus it, condense it, in this one place – which is really, of course, a subtle space within the physical body.
I must hold this conscious focus of energy in the subtle region of the solar plexus, without any distraction of attention to, or any ‘leaking’ back of energy to, the extremities. The challenge is to sustain the focus for a sufficient time, in a state that combines intense alertness with deep relaxation. The activity of consciousness is contracted to a central point, without drifting back to the limbs – which remain totally inert, dispossessed. Then, after a certain period of charging up, the process of going out begins.
Going out is a dramatic experience. There is a very powerful and very rapid spiral thrust of energy, an intense vortex of motion in subtle space, that hurtles my consciousness from the solar plexus region up to and out through my head. It is like being carried off in a rushing whirlwind.
There is no way this process can be confused with phantasy or delusion or anything of the sort. It is a vertiginous encounter with the profound reality of inner space. The potent vortex of subtle energy ruthlessly detaches me from the safe moorings of my physical body, and I surge into the world beyond.
Once this vortex has begun to whirl me out, the only thing that stops it is fear. If I fear the loss of control; if I am afraid of where I may go; if I am afraid that dubious powers and presences may be lurking about; then the vortex stops dead, instantly. To give way to any kind of fear is like throwing a switch that cuts the current in a trice, and I drop back immediately into ordinary physical awareness. See also Monroe (1972: 205).
The whole phenomenon occurs in subtle space which in some sense is within, interpenetrates, physical space. The subtle body loosens from its normal very close identification with the physical body and is whirled off into its own domain. It is not as if it is happening. It most very definitely is happening. Hence the considerable challenge of trusting the process, acceding to the drama, of not giving way to fear.
However, it is only on a small number of occasions that going out of the physical body has been under my voluntary control. On the greater number of occasions, it has just happened to me, always in bed on the borderline of sleep, with no conscious effort on my part at all. Quite unbidden, the whirling vortex suddenly starts to go: a remarkable phenomenon in which my only choice is whether or not to dissociate from fear and surrender to the process. I do not understand what factors precipitate this involuntary subtle travel. But I always welcome it – for the exhilaration and liberation it bestows.
Once I have transcended fear and surrendered to the powerful energy of the process, I am out of the physical body and start to travel. My experience of travelling to subtle domains has always been that of moving at very high speed, in something like a rushing energy wind, with all my subtle senses occluded so that I have no awareness of what sort of spaces I am travelling through. I only feel the presence, but have no perception, of those who are conducting me on the journey. While there is undoubtedly a sense of very rapid movement in another space, it is at the same time an experience of a subtle shift in consciousness.
Again, while there is a sense of the seriality of time, that is, of the flow of time from the past through the present to the future, it is a somewhat specious and contracted seriality. It is the polar opposite to the specious present of ordinary life. In everyday experience, the present moment seems to expand a bit to include some of the immediate past and future. In out of the body travel it’s the opposite: the grand simultaneity of past, present and future seems to contract into an apparent bit of serial time – in order to accommodate the experience of travel. Well, that’s about as close as I can get to it with words.
Nor, when travelling, is there any real sense of having a subtle body or vehicle. It is almost as if, for a brief time, I am doubly disembodied – no physical body, not much of a subtle body. I am definitely conducted, borne, carried almost, by persons unknown, in travelling to other domains. But I do not know why it occurs when my extrasensory awareness is so occluded; nor do I know how or why my guides, whose presence is unmistakable, nevertheless remain so totally imperceptible and unidentified.
In all instances of travel, I have had no control at all over where I go to. I am conducted in a direction chosen for me by beings veiled from me. This is a passive hierarchy of the third kind: it takes place entirely in subtle domains.
The sense of arriving is that of reaching a certain level or grade of being. Extrasensory perception commences. My guides have entirely disappeared, and I have no idea where they have gone. I see an environment, and I am aware of my subtle body or vehicle. And I now become more cautious in my account.
It is as if my experience of the subtle domains is:
Perceptual. I see a whole range of things.
Perspectival. I have a viewpoint and see what I see from a certain position.
Spatial. What I see is distributed in space.
Temporal. Events in this space occur in temporal sequence.
Objective. What I see is out there in a world.
Identifiable. What I see are buildings, landscapes, vistas, persons.
Intentional. I can choose where I look and where I go – but only after I have arrived at the place to which I have been taken.
In all these respects, experience of a subtle domain is similar to experience of the physical world. But this list of similarities is a little misleading. For further exposure suggests that some of them, at any rate, are a contraction, a limiting case, of more expanded modes of encounter with the other world. In other words, you can choose to observe a subtle domain as you do this world, but that is not, as it were, the supernatural way to do it. For there are clearly critical respects in which the mode of apprehension is different:
Manifold domains. I have access to only one physical world set in just one constant band of energy frequencies, but I can access many different subtle domains, as if each has its own range of frequencies.
Altered state domains. Which subtle domain I enter is a function of my state of consciousness, so only when my awareness is altered to the energy frequency of a subtle domain can I enter it.
Levity. The subtle body appears to function more in the mode of levity, of lifting and lightness, than the physical body which functions in the mode of gravity, of sinking and heaviness; it is as if it is moved by expansive and centrifugal forces, rather than by contracting and centripetal forces.
Inherent illumination. It is as if phenomena perceived in a subtle domain are illuminated as much from within themselves, as if refracting internal light or as if compounded of light, as from without.
Participation. It is as if my consciousness participates much more fully with the energy that comprises a subtle domain than appears to be the case with my consciousness and the physical domain. I have liberating sense of my consciousness inhabiting, dwelling in, the subtle domain it perceives; or, to put it the other way, of the other world emerging out of and revealing the creativity of a consciousness of which I am part, but which is wider than the immediate focus of my awareness. So my consciousness participates with self-revealing exhilaration in the clarity, luminosity, various perceptual textures of what is perceived in a subtle domain.
It is as if I go where and when I think to go; as if thinking and intention as such can directly determine locomotion. Similarly, just concentrating and focusing my attention on something I see in the other world, will directly alter the structure and content of my perception of it – by bringing more of it and more perspectives of it into view.
More widely, it is as if my conceiving and imagining can directly influence, within limits that are not quite clear to me, the actual structure and content of my percepts. Subjective and objective, concepts and percepts, are much more overtly interwoven and interactive than is the case in physical perception, where the effect is largely limited to the perceptual constancies. In subtle domains, I see much more of what I think. I participate in a reality where there is an obvious dynamic interdependence of subjective and objective.
Heterogeneity. Perspectives on a subtle domain can become rapidly heterogeneous, with a quickly shifting, kaleidoscopic succession of different views, especially if the seer’s consciousness is undisciplined and untrained. If the will is inherently unstable, a subtle domain can tumble into awareness in a baffling array of variegated images.
In the undisciplined state, all sorts of different things appear. But the heterogeneity can manifest positively: when the will is disciplined and concentrating on one thing being perceived, then you may have a series of different perspectives of that same thing. It is as if the thing turns itself around for you, under the impact of your concentration; or as if your awareness is out there all around it, having simultaneous peripheral views that are somehow cooordinated into a composite image. I discuss this more technically in section 4, chapter 7.
Metamorphosis. As I look at something in a subtle domain, it may change its form and appearance becoming a different shape. This, I think, reflects the more overt interaction between subjective and objective components of perception. In turn this generates a sort of perceptual inconstancy: the imagination of the seer is continuously varying the percept. So to look at something in the subtle mode is to participate in the continuous recreation of its mode of appearing. This does not mean there is nothing objectively there, but only that there is no set constancy in its mode of appearing to any subject. However, there may be deeper and subtler invariants that underlie all the differing modes of appearing. As in projective geometry: a figure retains certain invariant properties whatever the variations of projection and section. In a chapters 7 and 10, I talk more about the geometry of inner space.
As with heterogeneity, there is both undisciplined and disciplined metamorphosis. If the seer’s consciousness is untrained, then the changing percept may incorporate a lot of subjective distortion of the object. If the seer’s consciousness is trained, then the seer’s imaginative transformations of the percept may reveal more of the reality of the object. But this reality is a reality inseparable from its dialogue with that particular subject.
Spatiotemporal extension. In subtle domains, it looks as if there is no necessary restriction, as there apparently is in the physical world, to this point in space and time. In ordinary life, our perceptual experience is confined to here and here only in space, and now and now only in time. In psi perception in subtle domains, it is as if you can access both here and there at pretty well the same time. This follows from the heterogeneity of other world perspectives, getting different views of the same thing from different positions, and all this in the continuous present within which the same act of perception occurs. You are not dashing around looking at the thing from different angles in different acts of perception, but receiving different perspectives in one act of encompassing perception – as if the third eye can coordinate several simultaneous views from various points around the object, yielding many-faceted awareness of it. You don’t have to psi-perceive in this way, because you can contract your vision into the single-perspective mode. But you can choose to do so. Also it can happen spontaneously and then be rather disorienting – if you are only familiar with physical unilateral perspectives.
I do not have enough experience to know whether in psi perception you can have access to all possible combinations of the basic spatiotemporal coordinates. For as well as being here now (the conventional physical coordinates), and being both here and there now, there is also: being here then (in the past or the future); being here now and here then; being here now and there then; being here then and there now; and so on and so on. The combinations are too numerous, and baffling, to list.
Philosophically, what seems clear enough is that our experience needs to be cast in spatiotemporal form for us to have a proper sense of encounter with subtle domains. What is not so clear is whether in principle there need be any restriction to only one or two coordinate sets for us to have a proper sense of this, that or any other world. Maybe one reason we don’t notice subtle domains is because we haven’t practised thinking of a world out there beyond the restricted here-now focus of physical perception. In section 8 of chapter 11, I suggest a model of transcendental or subtle time whose expansive structure is the polar complement to the serial restriction of physical time.
The points I am less clear about above are those to do with heterogeneity, metamorphosis and spatiotemporal extension. I am much more sure about the previous five points – manifold domains, altered states, levity, inherent illumination, participation. And certainly as a beginner on early visits to subtle domains, I encountered a relatively constant environment, perceived in a relatively conventional mode.
So I have found myself kneeling on what seemed like sand, running the sand between my fingers and marvelling at the way it had what I can only call the texture of consciousness.
I have found myself passing a long, large building, then appearing suddenly in one of its rooms, which was a child’s room, with unusually interesting sorts of toys on a table top. After a short period, a female figure in something like nurses’ clothes came in, with an expression of surprise and pleasure on seeing me.
I once had an enormous sense of elevation in the travel, and a related shift of consciousness toward great subtlety of being, and found myself in a high frequency domain that also seemed to be a long way physically from the earth. I looked out over a vastly spacious and exalted perspective of ‘water’, ‘sky’, ‘mountains’ – an immense spread of ‘landscape’ echoing with ineffability.
Interconnectedness. I have written above of ‘things’ and ‘objects’ in subtle domains as if they had the discrete, separate and physically alienated status of material objects in everyday life. But this is misleading. The whole notion of a thing as we understand it is not quite right for characterizing what is encountered in the other world. For there I am aware of the interconnectedness of phenomena: they are brilliant differentiations within a common field or ground of being and consciousness. And paradoxically, their distinctness and uniqueness of being is enhanced by their corporate resonance within the unifying field. Once again, this kind of account does not quite get to the heart of the matter, but it is as near as I can get.
Sometimes when I am out of the body it is as if I am in the subtle space ‘next’ to the physical world, looking at it with psi vision. But this clairvoyant view of the everyday world is never quite like the ordinary view of it. Either psi vision gives a different account of physical phenomena than physical vision; or looking from a more rarefied medium into a more dense medium causes some distortion to objects in the latter – analogous to the laws of refraction in simple physics; or I’m looking at the subtle matrix or double of the scene.
Thus once in the Isle of Man, I was out of the body up above the cottage where my physical body was sleeping. I recognized the cottage and the fields behind it and the stone walls, yet the whole configuration looked too psi, too other-worldly, as if it had been repainted or redesigned in a somewhat idealized form with much of the detail and the lay-out wrong.
So while there was nothing ambiguous about being out of the body, there was considerable ambiguity about the status of what I was looking at. Was it the physical world as such, even if distorted by my vision of it? Or was it a subtle double of the physical world? Or something else?
A year or two ago, I had a striking experience of this double ambiguity. My physical body was in bed in the early hours of the morning in London. It was as if I was out of the body in another kind of space but very like physical space. I was floating just above ground level, attending very precisely to the shifting perspective, noting on my right side how things nearer to me moved in relation to things further away from me as I went forward. I kept checking this, thinking at the time that the relative shifts were just like those which occur when moving in physical space, although I knew this wasn’t physical space as ordinarily experienced.
I was in a kind of forecourt which I recognised as the forecourt of Redhill railway station, a few miles south of London, which I had not visited for many years. Now this recognition was baffling, because the forecourt was certainly not identical with the forecourt I remembered from my last physical visit. But the recognition was a real remembrance of the Redhill I had previously known. It was more than just being strongly reminded of Redhill while still knowing the place to be somewhere different.
I was as if I was moving south toward the exit of the forecourt, looking intently at the buildings on my right as I moved. They were one or two storey bric-a-brac-like buildings, crowded together, with chimney pots and other small structures cluttering their roofs. It was the changing spatial relations of these pots (further away) and structures (nearer) that I was studying as I moved along. It was quietly exhilarating to feel my effortless movement combined with the sense of spatial coherence and lucidity.
Some way ahead of me on the horizon in the middle distance and slightly to my right I saw two tall buildings like elegant high-rise apartment blocks, each about twenty storeys high. I remember thinking that to my recollection Redhill had no such buildings in that sort of location. A short way ahead of me, slightly to my left and inside the forecourt, was a small group of three or four people standing and talking. I then became aware of a presence seemingly following me at a constant few paces behind and slightly to the left. This made me feel nervous and I wondered whether the presence was benign or not. The anxiety made me turn round to have a look.
I saw a male figure and really only noticed the face. It was long and thin and had a pointed jaw. I noted particularly that the jaw and lips, which were smiling, appeared to be made of rough-cast concrete filled with sand-coloured small pebbles. This alarmed me, I felt frightened, and immediately switched back into ordinary consciousness, awake in my bed.
Now what sort of explanation is to be given of this experience? I will consider a number of possibilities.
An ordinary dream. What differentiated the experience from an ordinary dream was the sense of clarity, control and intentionality in perceiving the given environment, in moving through it and taking spatial bearings within it. It was simply that I was functioning as a fully purposive and intelligent person in an unusually lucid setting – which was both objective and yet more intimate to consciousness than the physical world appears to be. I was awarely encountering a place, not dreaming of it.
Only the pebble-dash concrete face at the very end was more like the stuff of dreams: indeed, like the nightmare image of a bad dream. And this could well have been a projected image of my fear catching up with me. But for the most part the ordinary dream hypothesis I reject, for the reasons given.
A lucid dream. A lucid dream is a fully ambiguous experience: it hovers on the interface between an ordinary dream and an out of the body experience. The events, persons and story line have something of the bizarre quality of ordinary dreams – there is an improbability about what is going on. On the other hand, it is as if I the dreamer am conscious and purposive, as if my perceptions have the coherence and lucidity of an objective environment.
The dream-like improbability can stem from the fact that the unusual event going on in the dream – often to do with levitating, flying, floating in the air – seems to be going on in the physical world. So I am dreaming that my physical body is floating in a physical environment. Whereas in an out of the body experience, I am conscious of functioning purposefully in a non-physical vehicle, a subtle body, of some kind – and this was so in the Redhill out-of-the-body experience.
My own view of a lucid dream is that it is what it seems to be, a mix up between dreaming and being out of the body, as if the waking recollection of being out of the body gets distorted by dream material and recast as a phantastic in-the-body event. This did not apply to the Redhill experience.
A subtle domain. The out of the body experience was nothing to do with Redhill or any other physical town. I was visiting an independent subtle domain and town which simply reminded me of Redhill. This is certainly possible. But I still want to discount it, for the experience seemed more authentically one of recognition than of mistaken identity. And this sense of recognition persisted even when what I saw didn’t seem to match up properly with what I knew of Redhill – a baffling kind of recognition since it survived partial claims to mistaken identity.
You may say that this persistence of mine in seeing the town as Redhill was just a defence: a way of reducing my insecurity in the other world by assimilating a subtle town to a familiar physical town. But I have not noticed any such defensive tendency at work when I have clearly been in independent other world places. On the contrary, I am interested and fascinated rather than defensive. Also the way of looking, so clearly like the unilateral views of physical vision, suggests that my clairvoyance was contracting itself to the claims of a physical environment.
A subtle counterpart. I was visiting a subtle double of Redhill: Redhill as it is reflected in subtle form in the other world – not perhaps an identical reflection, but one with significant correlations of form and lay-out. And this subtle counterpart is somehow close to, overlays or interpenetrates, the physical town. Redhill is in physical space in physical form; and Redhill is manifest in subtle space, but in distinctively subtle form, which is in some respects similar to, and in other respects different from, the physical form.
This is plausible from the point of view of the actual out of the body experience. It explains the baffling kind of recognition; and at the same time, the feeling of being in subtle space and looking at another world environment with its special intimacy to consciousness. I am not sure it explains the contraction of my clairvoyance to the form of ordinary perception.
A subtle view of physical space. My final hypothesis is that I was in my subtle body in the subtle space interpenetrating the physical Redhill, but looking directly at or into the physical Redhill. And that this was like looking from a more refined medium at something in a more gross medium, with the result that the psi perception of the physical Redhill underwent certain characteristic distortions. In order to check on this, and compare exactly how my out of the body experience of Redhill fitted with the physical present-day Redhill, I took a train to Redhill the day after the experience.
I arrived at 2.15 pm. I hadn’t visited the place for many years. A lot had changed. The old buildings on the edge of the forecourt opposite the station exit had been demolished and a new road put there. On the other side of that road there was a large construction site with a new shopping centre or some such just starting to appear in the middle of the site. I walked to the north end of the forecourt and into the car park behind it, and then moved south toward the exit of the forecourt, in a line like the one I took in my out of the body visit.
My out of the body view was somewhat confirmed. As I moved south and looked to my right, there immediately on the other side of the new road were a crowded mixture of one or two storey site cabins of the construction company. Behind them in my line of vision were the roofs and chimney pots of buildings on Station Road.
So the site cabins could have been the bric-a-brac-like buildings whose structures moved relative to the chimney pots behind them, and relative to my forward movement, as in the out of the body view. Furthermore, on rising ground in the middle distance was a high-rise twelve storey apartment block in two vertical parts divided by a deep, shaded recess. This could have readily been misperceived in my out of the body view as two separate blocks. However, this double block was not ahead of me and only slightly to my right as I had seen it in my out of the body experience: rather it was fully to my right, due west instead of south-west.
There were other features of the physical body view that seemed to disconfirm the subtle view. Next to the site cabins, beside the new construction work, was the old five storey, rather bulky Surrey Mirror building. This very obvious large structure had not appeared at all in my subtle view, yet it was physically in a place where it certainly should have done so. And there were six very tall cranes on the construction site; and two of these at least should have been right in the middle of the subtle view.
Then there is the problem of illumination. To my out-of-the-body vision the scene had been clearly delineated as in full daylight. Yet my out of the body visit must have been during the night or at the very first hint of dawn. And the group of people in the subtle view were of the day rather than of the night.
The only way to save the hypothesis that in my out of the body visit I was getting clairvoyant perspectives of the physical Redhill – would be to suppose that when you take an out of the body look from subtle space into the physical world, certain systematic distortions of your clairvoyance can occur, as follows:
Idealization. Physical forms may appear to be rather more elegant and refined than they actually are when physically viewed: they undergo distortion in the direction of idealization and simplification.
Distortion of orientation. Physical distance and direction are distorted: to subtle view, things in the physical foreground may seem nearer than they actually are, and things in the physical background may seem further away; and the physical direction of something can be out by several degrees of arc in the subtle view.
Piecemeal perception. The subtle view of physical space can be patchy and selective: some things are seen and others not at all. There is no comprehensive panoramic sweep as in physical vision. The subtle view is more blinkered, more tunnel-like. You get a restricted perspective on what you focus your attention on. The perceptions are piecemeal. Some things you simply don’t notice.
Temporal shift. The subtle view of physical space my undergo a temporal shift: it may be displaced by several hours (or days or months?) from the clock time of ordinary physical life.
Such distortions could be a function of at least four things: difference of density between the subtle domain and the physical domain (similar to being in the air and looking at something submerged in water); difference of spatiotemporal gearing between the subtle domain and the physical domain; psychological interference from both emotional and cognitive material; lack of skill and practice in taking a subtle view of the physical.
And it also may be that when clairvoyance contracts into the single perspective mode typical of physical vision, in order to peer at physical environments from subtle space, it actually becomes less proficient than physical vision itself. I doubt that there is any real need for it to contract like this. And later on (section 13, chapter 7) I consider more expansive ways of taking a subtle view of the physical world.
I don’t really know how to choose between the hypotheses of the subtle view of a subtle Redhill, and a subtle view of the physical Redhill – except to say that I find the first a bit odd, and temperamentally prefer the second, even though it seems to be more complicated intellectually to make it stand up.
I have mentioned the lucid dream experience in the previous section. I will now give an example of its systematic ambiguity, of how it seems to be an out of the body experience in dream disguise. The supposition of this account of a lucid dream is that the dreamer has had a real out of the body experience in the subtle body, but recollects it as a dream of, say, levitating or flying in the physical body. So it is as if I was dreaming – but really I wasn’t, I was having an out of the body experience. A sort of reverse ambiguity.
The following lucid dream occurred about two years ago. I was, in the dream, with a waking life friend and colleague, William, in a men’s consciousness raising group, in a large stone built room. There was a break in the proceedings, during which we were all seated on the floor around the sides of the room, leaning our backs against the walls. I invited William to stand and I placed my right cheek against his right cheek. He reponded with warmth and we held each other in a light embrace. Then I started to move and we engaged in a slow, very elegant dance – to our own and everyone else’s delight.
As we danced, we slowly levitated together above the heads of the other people. It was a tall room and we moved magically, floating just below the ceiling. With my left hand I reached up and touched the ceiling lightly, propelling us across the room. The men in the room were stunned. Two or three of them, especially one tall man, became very agitated, saying that we should stop immediately, that what we were doing was dangerous, alarming. I pacified them and asked them just to accept and witness what was going on. They did so. My recollection of the dream fades with William and me still in the air, and the men looking on.
The criteria for this being a covert out of the body experience are: the clarity of awareness; the purposive and intentional nature of the action; the experience of levity and liberation in the movement. The criteria for this being a dream are: the experience was cast as if it all occurred in physical bodies in a physical setting; the bizarre and improbable ‘event’ of physical levitation; a certain wish-fulfilment flavour of the happenings.
Two questions remain. If it really was an out of the body experience, what was actually going on, what was the true event which was veiled by the disguise of the dream? Why does an out of the body experience get disguised as a dream ?
In relation to the first question, it could have been that William and I were actually meeting in our subtle bodies, engaging in some kind of work in the other world that reflected back on issues of men’s liberation in this world, and finding the co-operative endeavour very harmonious and agreeable. In relation to the second question, this sort of subtle work might have stirred up a certain amount of psychological material about men’s issues which wrapped itself as dream imagery around the out of the body recollection. But the possibility that real out of the body experiences can be veiled in this way suggests something more.
If a conscious and purposive out of the body experience can be partially occluded by dream imagery, there is the possibility that it can be totally obscured by a dream in which the latent out of the body content is simply not noticed by the person recollecting the dream. Or the possibility that such an out of the body experience is not represented in any form, explicit or implicit, to the waking mind.
In which case, a person could have a double identity, being conscious and purposive in the physical world during ordinary waking life; being conscious and purposive in the subtle world while the physical body is asleep; but the existence and identity of the suble self being quite occluded from the ordinary self, by some physiological and/or psyhological mechanism. This is a curious possibility, but it could be the case.
I have not had this experience since I have not been near death at any time in my life, but there is nowadays quite extensive literature and research on near death experinces (Moody, 1977; Noyes, 1980; Ring, 1984). People who have nearly died physically, but have revived or have been clinically resuscitated, have reported in detail on OOBEs. They find themselves in a subtle body in the other world.
There are certain common features of these experiences: the tunnel-like exit from the physical body and physical world; the review of life events; being received by some kind of mentor or counsellor; an assessment of learning from the life just lived; the feeling of levity and exhilaration in the new environment. People are more and more overcoming the cultural repression of owning and talking about experiences of the other world, and coming out into the open about such things.
After an out of the body experience, I undergo the experience of returning to the physical body. This is like a falling away, a dropping out of subtle space, a draining and drawing back of energy into the physical body. It is also like coming back down a rather narrow cone. There are two minor hazards about this return.
Occasionally there is a slight fear about getting back. This is a fear that the return energy route might be blocked by someone or something; or even permanently severed thus precipitating a disturbing kind of premature death. But I have found this to be only a minor fear, one that is just noticed in passing. It never has had the effect of actually inhibiting or interrupting the return, in the way that the fear of going out can pull one instantly back into the physical body.
The other and more noticeable hazard which has occurred to me several times is that I get back into the body and find it paralytic – I am unable to move it. When this happens it seems to take some seconds before I can reassert command and infiltrate my will into the muscles and nerves. Sometimes a flicker of fear accompanies this experience, but I usually brush it aside and get on with the business of taking charge of the motor cortex again.
It is interesting that the body goes so totally cataleptic when one is out of it. But after I return to it, get up from the bed and go about my daily business, it invariably feels subtly refreshed, sweetly attuned, its tissues somehow liberated – as if it carries within it the levity of the subtle body. It seems that going out of the body is good for you, regenerating and invigorating at the level of subtle energy.
At several points in this book I make a distinction between the subtle matrix and the subtle body (see especially section 6, chapter 7). It is clearly relevant to the mechanism of out of the body experiences. The subtle matrix, which is the generative and supportve field of the physical body, continues to sustain life while the subtle body is on its travels in the other world.
In order to practise going out of the body, the subtle body needs to become sufficiently developed to become an independent vehicle for consciousness, intention and perception. In the past I have done this by diet, ritual, meditation and by the use of those twin keys of the adept – imagination and will.
Once the subtle body is built up enough, then the practitioner needs to acquire the knack of creating a temporary separation of the subtle body from the subtle matrix – within which it is normally embedded. I described my simple but demanding technique in the opening section of this chapter. There are other techniques, and various manuals on the subject recount them.
Then I think you need some friends and helpers in the other world, who will generally supervise and facilitate the going out and the travel. It is a vast and multidimensional place out there, and competent presences who know the lay of the land are an invaluable resource.
Hegel called Descartes the father of modern philosophy. This is so, but he is rather more than that. He is the primary author of our ordinary everyday way of perceiving the world. He created the conceptual framework for the development of modern science by dividing the world into the independent substances of matter and mind. Matter only has the property of extension in space, and has no mind; and mind only has the property of thinking, and has no extension.
Within this framework, science could get on with quantifying an external reality conceived only as a self-contained mechanical system of matter in motion in space. By the time science had dominated the world with its achievements, Cartesian duality had permeated general culture so that it became part and parcel of everybody’s way of looking at things. While Cartesian philosophy has been long since abandoned as a philosophy, it stills lives powerfully today as a conceptual framework embedded in the very act of perceiving the world.
We see the world out there extended in a single universal space, a space which has nothing to do with mind or consciousness, and we as observers are private and limited centres of consciousness looking out on this space. Now let us turn this conceptual framework inside out and replace Cartesian duality with a non-Cartesian unity.
Let us suppose that instead of each of us being a limited consciousness in a non-mental universal space, each of us is a limited mental space in a universal spatial consciousness. So that, instead of there being one non-mental space and many different non-spatial consciousnesses, there are many mental spaces in one universal spatial consciousness. On this view, universal space is a form of universal consciousness, and each individual mind is a restricted spatial locus within it. The Cartesian duality between space and mind is overcome, and the individual mind is a spatial set within universal mind.
Individual experience is always spatial in form and as such is a local and limited aspect within the space of universal consciousness. And because there are several quite distinct modalities of human experience, a person is a set of interconnected classes of mental spaces of different sorts. There is the (1) class of sense perceptions, (2) the class of mental introspections, (3) the class of extrasensory perceptions, and (4) the class of dreams. These four classes of experience overlap, although not totally otherwise they would be identical. Each has a distinctive body or sheath, and each has a spatial form: the first has the form of physical space, the third the form of subtle space; the second and fourth are half-way houses, staging posts between the other two. I recount now an experience of moving between all these four spaces, and it includes a curious confusion at one stage between two of them.
I was lying bed after dawn, awake with my eyes closed and in introspective space within a background context of phsyical space. I was mentally intoning a mantra and kept it going for quite a long while. Then I fell asleep and was in dreaming space: I was in a house with a friend who was lying in bed waiting for me to serve a sweetmeat I was preparing in the kitchen. I realized the house belonged to someone else and we were borrowing it or renting it. I heard a neighbour come in with a child.
Next I suddenly found myself busy with extrasensory perception in subtle space. I was clearly out of the physical body in a subtle body and on a branch looking down onto an irregular pyramidal shaped mound or stone in an open stretch of sand in some subtle domain. I was about ten feet above the small mound which was only a few inches high and square, and willed myself to go onto the sand and examine the mound close up. I was then kneeling on the sand in front of the mound and I stretched out my arms to let my hands go through the sand and enjoy its subtle texture. I thought to myself that I would not look up because the extent of the horizon might alarm me and interrupt the experience.
Then I started to fear, in introspective space, that I was getting so absorbed in this subtle environment that I was getting totally dissociated from my physical body. Strangely – and this is the curious error – I thought of it lying in the borrowed house in the dream and feared that someone might disturb or damage it. I was also afraid I would get so thoroughly dissociated from my physical body that I would never be able to find my way back to it. So I started to will myself back with a faint nervous uncertainty about being able to do it, but I managed it quite quickly and found myself in my actual bed in physical space.
Note that I go from introspective space within physical space to dream space to subtle space then back to physical space; and that introspective space is also present within both dream space and subtle space. In dream space, introspective space does not know it is within dream space; and in subtle space introspection mistakes the recently vacated dream space for physical space, but is quite clear that subtle space is what it is, that is, neither physical nor dream nor introspective space.
Figure 3.1 shows a possible route somewhat similar to mine. It goes from being awake in physical space to the introspective space in bed before sleep, thence into dream space. Next it assumes there is some sort of passage from the introspective space that is within dream space out into subtle space. And from the introspective space within subtle space there is a direct route back into physical space, as when I became anxious and willed myself back. The subtle space here is equivalent to the four dimensional matrix shown in Figure 10.1 at the end of Chapter 10.
The rogue space is dream space, since you don’t know you are in it while you are in it, but only after you wake up in physical space. But ‘waking up’ in subtle space does not necessarily guarantee that you will realize that the dream space you have just come from was, in fact, dream space and not physical space. In section 5 above, I mentioned the reverse problem, in which you can’t recall that you have been in subtle space and translate the experience into a recollected dream.
There is some important learning in all this. It suggests that there is an art, a skill, in moving between these four mental spaces; that there are different routes and journeys you can take, with different techniques of passage from one to the other; and that it needs some practice to know what you are about and not get confused. Since dream space is perhaps a central locus of confusion, one basic preparatory technique may be to learn to dream consciously, so you know you are in dream space while you are in it. A variety of methods are available for acquiring this competence (LaBerge, 1985).
The class of introspections is of special interest. It is a movable class. It interpenetrates whatever body a person is conscious in: the physical body, the dream body, the subtle body. To say that it interpenetrates one of these bodies, is to say that it is in a local field within and around that body and transcending it in terms of energy and frequency. In itself it includes different energies and frequencies: thus the introspections that interpenetrate the physical body include after-images and idio-retinal lights, desires, emotions, thoughts, images and intuitions.
The introspective body, if we may call it that, is the most subtle sheath despite its sometimes gross mental occupants. These occupants can alter their frequencies in order to operate within and transcend whatever other body it is within. The introspective body pure and simple, unsullied by gross mental occupants, is the soul body. It talks naturally to its immanent divine source; and is open to indwell the many spatial forms of universal consciousness, each of which clothes the soul in an appropriate body or lens or viewpoint or knowing sheath. It then retains its distinctness of being while participating in the wider reaches of cosmic reality.
Figure 3.1 A journey through the four spatial forms of consciousness
Experience of the subtle realms: