Out-of-Body Experiences: Far Beyond the Body
Part 2: How an OBE became a mystical experience.
Posted Jun 20, 2019
Leaving my body had been easy, or so it seemed when I had a completely unexpected out-of-body experience (OBE) as a 19-year-old student.
In my previous post. I described the first hour or so of this extraordinary experience, up to the point when I tried to return to my body for the second time. It was on this attempt that everything changed again.
I found the room I wanted quite easily, and I could still see my friends Vicki and Kevin, but when I looked at my own body I was shocked. It was strangely colored, with a jagged edge around the neck where the head had been. Intrigued, I found myself landing on the edge like a fly, before slipping inside, exploring what seemed to be an empty shell, zooming up and down the legs and into the feet.
I was so noisy in my excitement that Vicki told me to shut up, whereupon I told her to take ‘that body’ away. I’d lost any sense that this weird body was really mine.
Even so, I wanted to get back to normal. So I tried to get bigger, to fill up that empty shell and regain control. But this attempt spectacularly failed. Instead of growing to the right size I grew and grew, and kept on growing. I expanded out through the room and my friends, through the building and the streets, through the underground places of Oxford, all of England, and ultimately the earth.
Afterward, I wrote that I “had the wonderful experience of being able to look at the earth from being all round it”, an ability I can only vaguely imagine now. Then I kept on expanding until there was nowhere further to go—expanding ever faster but going nowhere. I was all, and nothing else existed.
As so many mystics say, describing such experiences is hard; they are ‘ineffable’. But I can try, knowing that I cannot do my memories full justice. Being everything was more like being everywhere and nowhere as an unknowable spaciousness in which everything happens, but nothing happens.
If that sounds odd, I can say that neither time nor space had their ordinary meanings anymore. It was as though everything were just as it should be and complete, and yet still ever changing. I had the sense of knowing things or being taught things which I cannot recount. I had a sense of rightness and peace: nothing to be done; nowhere to go.
By now Kevin was worried and started asking questions. What was I doing? Could I see anything else? What came next? They seemed silly questions. After all, this was ‘it’. Yet somehow, they changed everything.
As I struggled to find any kind of answer, it seemed as though I was swimming up through white mist or cloud to gain the slightest glimpse of another world. Through this veil, there seemed to be a great wide open plain and from all around the sense of some kind of infinite awareness. And that was that.
I was exhausted. All I could do was to try, weakly, to get back to my body again. At first, it seemed easy, but when I opened my eyes I seemed to shoot out to where I was looking. Then I had to try again, fail, and try again. I kept telling myself, ‘Wherever you go you have to take the body with you.’ Or, ‘You can only be in one place at a time’. Then gradually, after about three-quarters of an hour, I was almost back and carefully stood up.
The room, my friends, and my own body still looked strange. I could still see the whitish stuff I had been made of, now more or less coincident with my body but not keeping quite still. Round my friends was a similar pale glow, like a living, body-shaped aura. And further out I could feel, but not see, yet another body. Was this the occultists’ aura that psychics could see, and ordinary people could not? Had my third eye been opened?
When I finally got back to my own room, Kevin said it was too dangerous to go to sleep in case my astral body went flying again and couldn’t return. So he kept me awake all night. Eventually I did sleep, and as far as I know, my astral body did nothing of the kind. But I felt very weird indeed. As I cycled around Oxford, I seemed to be watching myself from one side and almost fell off my bike. For a few days, I could still see the ‘auras’, but these soon disappeared.
So what had happened? Like the OBE that had preceded it, this experience echoes classic descriptions. Mystics and meditators throughout the ages have described these same strange features—becoming nothing but a point of awareness, becoming tiny or vast, being wrapped in light, losing any ordinary senses of time or space, and, above all, merging with everything and losing self.
William James, often called the father of psychology, explored many such experiences in his classic 1902 book The Varieties of Religious Experience. A year earlier, Maurice Bucke had described being wrapped around by a flame-coloured cloud and entering joyful and wonderful states that he termed ‘Cosmic Consciousness’.
In my new book, Seeing Myself, I describe this in more detail and in the next few posts I will delve into some of the theories I considered and where they led me—from astral projection and the etheric aura, to drugs, hallucinations, and the potential of the human brain.
Bucke, R.M. (1901) Cosmic consciousness. Philadephia: Innes & Sons and New York: Penguin (1991).
Fontana, D. (2007) Mystical experience. In The Blackwell companion to consciousness, ed. M. Velmans and S. Schneider, 163–172. Oxford: Blackwell.
James, W. 1902 The Varieties of Religious Experience: A study in human nature, London, Longman
Stace, W.T. (1960) The teachings of the mystics. New York: The New American Library.
Underhill, E. (1920) The essentials of mysticism. London: Dent & Sons.