First published in Kindred Spirit magazine 2009
A full version of this article with images is available at:
Stretched out beneath me the city seemed alive as it sparkled in the semi-darkness, animated by the rich artificial colours of the neon signs and ordered rows of street lights. I silently floated above, watching the streams of people going about their business. My physical body, motionless at the other side of the city, somehow distant and out of mind. Descending to street level I watched as the people passed by, unaware of my presence, each engrossed in their own individual worlds. I felt the strange sensation as they passed directly through me, and sensed momentary glimpses of their joy and sorrow; hardship and inspiration. I looked at the old buildings that seemed to glow with the accumulated emotions of years of inhabitants; somehow sensing the qualities of the city, a mass of human energy and experience.
All around me seemed to be an avenue of exploration; whether it be the intimate lives of the people walking passed or the beauty of the stars above me. I lifted back into the air, wanting to experience the total freedom of traveling weightless and unseen. I moved faster and faster, feeling the exhilaration; until I was surrounded by partially moonlit cloud that appeared almost purple in the half-light. As I indulged in the sheer bliss of being beyond the limitations of my body, I considered the power this ability holds. The power to know, as Robert Monroe put it, “we are more than our physical bodies”. During hundreds out-of-body experiences (OBEs) over the last two decades I have often paused in awe of what I am witnessing. In those moments of reflection I have concluded that these experiences are amongst the most profound available to us. My fascination began as a twelve year old boy, when I started to have fleeting experiences of being out of my body. These initial experiences, though brief and hard to define, opened me to the possibility that awareness is unbound by physical limitations.
I remember reading the opening lines of the first book I ever bought on the subject, it began “This book is about an extraordinary, even a shocking possibility. It suggests that a person’s conscious awareness can detach itself from the person’s body, can travel to another place, can observe what is happening there, and sometimes can even produce a physical change at that distant place.” These words in the foreword by Gertrude Schmeidler had a profound impact on me. I already had some sense of the nature of this ability from the fleeting experiences before reading anything on the subject, but I had no idea how that book would help change my life. Six months after first reading those words I managed to intentionally induce an out-of-body experience, based on what I had read and my own earlier spontaneous experiences. Although my first induced experience only lasted a brief time, and I was barely able to move, I had broken through a threshold. I sensed that I would now begin to have out-of-body experiences more and more often.
In the months that followed I developed an insatiable appetite for books on the subject, it was like I had found a secret that really was as amazing as I had imagined. I remember reading the Projection of the Astral Body, first published in 1929, by Sylvan Muldoon and Hereward Carrington, in which they outline an understanding of a second body connected to the physical body by a silver cord. The idea of the silver cord is less prevalent today, but still often reported. Some claim that there is no such thing, while others state that it is the essential connection between the two bodies and without it we would die.
Muldoon described his experiences in very specific terms, they seemed to follow an exact pattern, starting with the way the double left the physical, right through to reentering the body. For several years this very clear-cut view seemed to make sense to me more than the other theories and descriptions I had come across at the time. It was not until I came across Robert Monroe, who took a more consciousness based perceptive on the out-of-body experience that my view began to change and expand.
Monroe had his first out-of-body experience while listening to a recording designed for learning during sleep. This lead him to develop Hemi-Sync® (short for hemispheric synchronisation). The Hemi-Sync® process involves two sound frequencies being played through headphones in order to cause an effect in the listener’s brain conducive to out-of-body experiences. The two frequencies are slightly distinct, which results in a differential that draws the person listening into a state akin to meditation or deep relaxation; a process that can take years to achieve via normal practices. What Monroe was doing was pioneering, he was opening up the possibilities of expanded consciousness for a new generation. While for me the Hemi-Sync® technology resulted in only a mild trance state, the idea of making the out-of-body experience available to many more people in this way was intriguing.
I was deeply inspired by the idea of a technology or a scientific understanding of consciousness that would offer others the chance to glimpse these new levels of perception. In a sense our earliest use of technology, craft and other creative forms was to help us connect spiritually. The ancient temples of the world were an attempt to bring us into contact with the sublime and transcendent; they used elaborate frescoes, music, rich scents and colourful vestments to create an environment in which our minds could venture beyond the stuff of the everyday. I began to envision ‘immersive’ environments that could have a similar impact for a secular modern world. An environment that could take someone into a deeper part of themselves without drugs or religious dogma.
In 1998 I designed and built my first version of an immersive environment. It was designed to allow for the possibility of an out-of-body experience, or at least an emotional and peaceful experience. I created a structure that lifted the person above the ground, allowing them to fully relax, and yet be aware of their slightly vulnerable situation. They would then listen to a hypnotic induction designed to help them achieve an out-of-body experience or deep trance. The work was called Epicene, as it represented a state in-between the conscious and unconscious mind. I have made several environments since that first attempt. The next was called LAM an environment using sound and light; and more recently in 2004 I collaborated on The Living Image, which was shown at the Science Museum in London; it was the largest and most complex work I have made. The Living Image used the latest virtual reality (VR) technology to create an immersive experience. Like all the works mentioned it was designed for one person at a time, but it was different as it used sound, video and computer generated graphics, all controllable by the person experiencing the installation. The result was extremely cathartic and allowed people to engage with parts of their psyche they might not normally explore.
These kinds of projects as well as the work of organisations like the Monroe Institute are creating a new vision of the out-of-body experience, a view integrated with our modern world, but still intuitive and open to spiritual transformation. The older concept of astral projection, the esoteric view that within us is another body made of a mysterious energy, is being replaced with a view of consciousness extending out far beyond our bodies and interpenetrating everything around us. In this understanding of the out-of-body experience we are a focal point on a kind of continuum of consciousness. In my own experience I would often feel like a point of perception that matches closely to this consciousness based understanding. In-fact according to some studies as much as 80% of those who have out-of-body experiences perceive their environment from a point of perception, and are only occasionally aware of a body.
Many scientists come close to the continuum of consciousness theory and advocate a concept of an extended mind, a kind of quantum consciousness; sometimes referred to as entangled or non-local perception. Nobel prize winning physicist Brian Josephson has even written a theory of psi or psychic perception based upon this idea of non-locality.
Whether psi is or is not somehow quantum in nature as Brain Josephson, Dean Radin and others propose, or whether the reality is something not yet even imagined, the idea of external reality and consciousness being linked is a very persistent one. Many of the Eastern philosophies agree, at least in part, with the idea that all is interconnected; in this view arising from many different sources, it seems clear that reality is more complex and gives rise to a whole array of startling possibilities. In the Quantum and Eastern model consciousness is able to pierce beyond space and even linear time.
Like most people I had always intuitively considered time to be an unfaltering progression, a linear process. Yet in 1999 I had one of the most intense experiences of my life and found myself out of my body watching the Soho nail bombing that took place in Old Compton Street in London that year. It was as if I was standing on the street. The extraordinary factor however was that the experience took place five days before the actual event. At the time of the experience I knew it was an event that was yet to happen, why I knew this I don’t know, but I had a powerful conviction. I remember relating the experience to the four others around me. I don’t think they took it that seriously, but when it happened only a few days later it was extremely hard to dismiss, especially due to the amount of detail involved.
I was to again experience this strange precognitive state in 2004 when I saw the East London attack that took place on July 7th 2005. My whole sense of reality was challenged by these experiences. The out-of-body experience had become a part of my life and I could see how we may in the future uncover a mechanism for these psychic perceptions, but precognition seemed quite another thing altogether. In my subsequent investigations into the scientific literature it became apparent that precognition had been demonstrated many times in the laboratory by Edwin May, Dean Radin and others. My doubt was being directly challenged, and as I learnt more about the quantum level it was becoming clear that time does not function in the way we learn to expect in our everyday view of reality. My experiences were taking me into the further reaches of our understanding of the universe and what is possible. If time, space and consciousness are somehow linked then what of us, where do we begin and end? is consciousness and the stuff of our lives dependent upon our physical existence?
On what seemed like an ordinary evening in the Autumn of 2007, I laid down to relax after a busy day and began to sense waves of energy moving through my body. I knew that this was an early sign of an out-of-body experience. Within moments, before I could even gather my thoughts, I found myself surrounded by sky and ocean. All around was the beautiful turquoise waters of the Caribbean, accompanied by piercing blue sky. Soon below me I could make out a large island with another smaller island off of its coast. I could see small buildings and what appeared to be fisheries dotted around. It was a sublime feeling as I moved in closer to the coast, the sun’s rays illuminating everything with pure light in a way we rarely see in the subdued climate of north-western Europe. I drifted in close to the smaller island, before being drawn back to my body and opening my eyes to the realisation I was back in my bedroom. With the image of the islands still vivid in my mind I went to a world map I had rolled up in the corner of the room, and soon recognised Cuba and Jamaica as the islands I had seen in the out-of-body experience.
It was not until I went to my diary to record the experience that the significance became apparent. I looked to the previous entry and saw that I had recorded the death of a close family friend. A family friend who had been a part of my life since childhood and whom I looked up to like a wise grandparent. She was born in Cuba and was of Jamaican decent. It was like I had somehow connected to her, or her to me. As I focused on her life, that experience became a symbol for me that in death we may become a part of an ocean of memories, emotions and thoughts; that the essence of our humanity may continue into new forms and possibilities.