This anonymous scientist has a Ph.D. in physics from a major university, has published 15 papers in international physics journals, and is currently a postdoctoral fellow in a prominent national government research center.
His experience occurred in 1994 at his home on in South America. His discussion of the role of experience in the practice of science is thought-provoking.
Ed. note – This experience is interestingly different from the usual out-of-body experience (OBE), involving more change of identity than the usual one, where the experient’s state of consciousness feels very much like normal waking, but they find themselves experientially located at a different location than where their physical body is. A review of OBEs can be found in my “Six studies of….” paper on my www.paradigm-sys.com/cttart/ site.]
An Unusual Experience of Leaving the Body
This experience resulted from a strong curiosity about the so-called out-of-the-body experiences (OBEs). I had previously worked on exercises for light breathing and deep relaxation but never experienced something that could be described as a separation between the physical body and the consciousness. I decided that I would like to try having this kind of experience and contacted an institution that has as its basic purpose helping people to have their own OBEs. After following some short courses, at the end of one of the classes, the instructor proposed that everybody in the class should wake up at 2 a.m., do some relaxation exercises and come back, out of the body, to the classroom. The possibility of confirmation of the experience by comparison with reports from other participants made me very excited about the proposal. Although it didn’t work like it was planned, the occasion gave birth to my first remarkable experience with altered states of consciousness.
One of the suggestions given during the classes I had followed was to leave the body after recovering consciousness in a dream. In that way, the necessary state of relaxation of the physical body could be “naturally” achieved during the sleep. I was very determined to achieve whichever altered state of consciousness I could without any lapse of awareness, so I decided to do my relaxation exercises and stay completely immovable until I could leave my body consciously, without sleeping.
At 2 a.m. I woke up, washed my face, lay down again, and did some relaxation exercises. Although I achieved a quite relaxed physical state, light breathing, and experienced some minor sporadic changes in my state of awareness, I couldn’t feel anything like a separation between body and consciousness. After more or less half an hour in the same position, I began to feel pain in several parts of my body. Since I was determined to achieve a new altered state of consciousness that night, I kept the same position, making no movement at all. Even feeling extreme discomfort in some parts of my body, I was still able to keep a sense of general relaxation. During the next one and a half hours, I went through alternating stages of relative relaxation mixed with pains, relief from those pains, and deep relaxation.
I soon fell asleep and began to dream of being close to my bedroom. The images of the dream were related to my girlfriend’s dog passing by and a friend also trying to get out of his body. In the dream, I was laid down but I was also an observer. Suddenly a man approached. My level of awareness was the usual one for dreams. The man made a broad movement with his arm and showed me his index finger. He was successful in catching my attention and I experienced a moderate enhancement in the level of awareness. It was a change similar to the one experienced when people call our names in the ordinary state of consciousness. After that, he started to move again his arm and pointed his finger to a bright luminous spot on a wall. The spot was of the order of 1 inch in diameter and was located at about 1 foot in height from the floor. When I followed his movement with my attention and looked at the spot I experienced an amazing enhancement on my awareness level. I, with no lapse of consciousness, recovered all my capacity to concentrate and perceive what was happening in the surroundings.
I starred at the bright spot and thought: “Oh my God, I am leaving my body now!” The spot on the wall started to grow very fast. Simultaneously I realized that it was part of me and that I was quickly inflating. It was like a smooth and powerful explosion without sound. A sensation that later reminded me of the image of a nuclear explosion, but without the characteristic mushroom. An explosion with spherical symmetry, and the limits of my awareness were expanding with the wave front of what was exploding.
I felt myself to be occupying a volume several times larger than my body, with no sensation of weight. I felt like this for a few seconds. I remember feeling very happy and also a strong relief for having accomplished something that I had to do in my life, something definitive, that nobody could ever take away from me.
Then I thought: “Am I out of my body or what?” I was having clear perception of my bedroom and I realized that there was no lapse of consciousness between the dreaming phase and the ongoing one. Then I shrank to my body again and started to hear some kind of noise. Curiously, this sensation was the most difficult one to remember after the experience. Even just a few minutes after the end of the experience I could not describe what was the sound. Not even just to myself and “without words”. There was not enough in my memory to make any description. Maybe it was not even exactly a sound.
After that “sound” I started to feel some of my teeth popping. The sensation was slightly painful and real enough to make me worry if my teeth were really bursting or falling. During that phase I heard my father walking nearby, outside the bedroom. While my teeth popped I felt more and more back to my body.
When I finally felt a hundred percent back to my body, I brought my hand to my mouth and verified that my teeth were OK. More than that, I was feeling my body in exceptionally good shape, like as if I could run a marathon.
The effort to have the experience and keep my body immobile for two hours caused immense discomfort and fatigue just before I fell asleep. In contrast, after a few minutes of sleep and the reported experience, I felt more wholesome than ever. I sat down for hours, staring at the rain and thinking about what had just happened to me. I started to question myself about what to do from that day on, how to face the world, and especially if there could possibly be an intersection between what I experienced and my scientific activities.
Contributor’s Comments on the Experience
After the experience reported here, I had several other ones, mainly during the two subsequent years. Most of them started when I, during sleep, realized myself to be dreaming and deliberately recovered the level of awareness characteristic of the usual state of consciousness. Sometimes this level of awareness surpassed the usual one, being experienced as “more real” than what we usually call reality. This is quite difficult to put in words, but it is more or less like being in a state of awareness where you feel the potential to process more information, more external stimuli, and more emotional responses than in any moment of our ordinary lives.
Some of my new “sensorial events” reported above were repeated in subsequent experiences, like the sensation of the teeth popping, which was actually a quite recurrent one. On the other hand, I never heard the strange “sound” again. Other remarkable sensorial impressions came in new experiences, like the one of first having the usual sense of touch when touching a wall and after that, by an act of will, making my hand go through the wall. All this happened together with the sensation of being out of the body.
I met several people that had similar experiences. The large majority of these people, perhaps all but a few with strong scientific background, have no doubt to classify their experiences as having some kind of objective reality. I noticed that this usually contributed to increase the number and frequency of events experienced by them. On the other hand, the activity of judging the reality of their own transcendent experiences tends to be more time-and-energy consuming for scientists than for non-scientists. Especially for a scientist, a necessity to question the reality of their own experiences may work as a source of negative feedback for those experiences.
My personal experience is that for several transcendental experiences, although no positive proof of its objective reality could be found, no definitive proof of its non-reality could be found either. This is a heavy load for a scientist who is using his own experiences as an object of study. Bypassing the question of objective reality is tempting, but may also be a stressful task for a scientist. It is not a matter of deciding how high or low the discrimination level should be set to select real experiences. A commitment to doubt on our perceptions, not just because they seem to deceive us but by a matter of principle, seems to play an important role in my experiences. I still ask myself if this strong form of doubting is essential for a scientific approach of transcendental experiences, and I deal constantly with the effects of asking this question upon my own experiences.