Editor’s Introduction

Janion Heywood (real name) is a physician in private practice. Her scientific training began with a B.Sc. in physiology with honors, and she has the British medical qualifications of MBBS (Batchelor of Medicine and Batchelor of Surgery), LRCP and MRCS (alternative qualifications of the Royal Colleges and stand for Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians and Member of the Royal College of Surgeons), DRCOG (Diploma of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) and Diplomate in Obstetrics.

This experience occurred when she was 40, attending a training retreat in Bolinas, California.

If You Are Out Of Your Body, Are You Out Of Your Mind?
Janion Heywood

It was 12 and a half years ago, it might have been yesterday. The memory is as clear as glass, no fading like an old photo. Crisp, certain, sure, no doubt, and still no words in our language to adequately describe it.

We had been chanting, a new experience for me though I had chanted psalms in the Anglican tradition for 7 years at my boarding school. This was Hindu chant, “Sri Ram, Jai Ram.” I was at a retreat in California, a self-help retreat for cancer patients, though I didn’t have cancer. It was an open retreat where nine of us experienced what cancer patients experienced when they attended. And so we were chanting, after a period of meditation, the nine of us, strangers initially, slowly coming to trust each other.

Then it started, an unexpected, unknown experience.

A cool breeze blew on the back of my neck, a clear opening appeared in the left side of the back of my skull, the left occipital region anatomically, about 15 cms diameter, circular, the breeze blowing through it. Dear God, what was happening to me?

I then left my body, the “I” being the bit of me I didn’t know existed as a separate entity. Not my physical me, my body remained as ever, feet firmly on the ground, but some other bit of me, spirit, consciousness, essence, I don’t know, but the real me, the honest to God genuine me was “out there”, a meter posterior to this clearly defined hole in my skull.

My body was behaving normally, walking, talking, responding, though perhaps quieter, perhaps not participating quite so much, but nothing very noticeable except my left arm was twitching slightly. I walked my body across to the house where we slept, I ate dinner, I listened to my colleagues talking and I stayed steadfastly observing myself from 3-4 feet out.

My Mother had had out of body experiences but always when asleep, or at least lying down and although I had read about them I had always thought your body lay still when you left it, until you returned. I had never realised you could be in one space, with your body functioning normally (well, was it normal if I wasn’t there?) somewhere else.

During the evening I was asked how something was for me, and at that point I had to say I wasn’t sure, I was too occupied at being out of my body and wondering what to do and how to get back, and “Help Please.”

A doctor familiar with the North American Indian shamanic tradition explained that was I was experiencing was perfectly normal, (not for me it wasn’t!), and showed me the rituals for getting back. They walked me outside barefoot and rubbed soil into my forehead to earth me and re-connect me. I found it very moving but stayed “out”, not deliberately resisting, just not budging; not pleasant or unpleasant; not angry or not angry, just out there. They took me to my room and I lay on my bed and as instructed imagined 4 threads, each one coming from the corner of the room to my umbilicus. “When you are ready, when the time is right,” he said, ” you can come back by slipping down one of the threads, OK?” And they left.

I couldn’t tell you when, but yes, I did go back. I couldn’t tell you which thread I slipped down, but it was breakfast as usual the next morning, all present and correct in one piece!

This happened in a group of nine people, including a professor of History, a psychiatrist, an author, a psychiatric nurse, a doctor, a experienced teacher of yoga, a sociologist, and a cancer nurse. I had to ask, did I seem neurotic, psychotic, or hypoxic, had they thought me to be hallucinating? The answer was no. The more experienced observers simply said the chanting had created and altered state of consciousness leading to an out of body experience, of being “present somewhere else,” nothing to write home about.

Well, that may be true, but it has taken me 12+ years to write it down and every moment of each of those years I have been changed. I’m not a better person, but I am a changed person, nothing can be quite the same again. There is more wonder, there are more miracles, there is less fear, and there is a profound remembrance of peace. I can only be the best I can be, given my faults and foibles, that is enough. It is a matter beyond words, but those I have written are the truth of it, inadequate though they might seem.

Contributor’s Comments on the Experience

My practice of medicine has been changed in ways that I cannot fully explain. I am aware that even the things I think I know may be less certain, and in all things there may be another dimension, element, energy, which is beyond my comprehension. I practice with a sense of great humility, and gratitude, and do the best I can, knowing it is not always all that brilliant, but that if the science is uncertain, the caring at least can be constant.