I’m excited to be part of a new (and entirely free) book on out-of-body experiences: Consciousness Beyond the Body, edited by Alex De Foe. A group of well-known authors and experts have each written a chapter sharing their ideas on the topic, so it’s packed with fascinating insights. The book is a project in collaboration with Nélson Abreu, Preston Dennett, Ryan Hurd, Ed Kellogg, Luis Minero, Graham Nicholls, Bob Peterson, Robert Waggoner, Jurgen Ziewe, and myself.
The book is open-access so you can download it here for free as a PDF, or it’s available on Amazon and through other retailers as a free e-book.
Below is the start of my chapter (#9), and the PDF links are at the end of this excerpt. Enjoy!
Surfing the Rainbow:
Fearless and Creative Out-of-Body Experiences
Clare R Johnson
I hover up, vibrating, and fly again. I’m in whitish space, endless neutral light. I try flying as fast as I can and it’s so quick it’s impossible to describe – I could go around the circumference of the world in a second at this speed.
There’s enough room in this white space for absolutely anything and I’m alight with exhilaration. It strikes me that in experiences like this there can be no doubt that we are more than just a physical body. We are physics itself; gravitational pull and light particles and the energy-force that pulls everything together … There’s something so harmonious and natural about flying so fast, as if I become the energy of the air itself. There’s no resistance and with wonder I think to myself: “This is soul-flying”. – My personal account
Imagine consciousness as a rainbow-coloured expanse of silk. Why take up scissors and slice the different colours into separate ribbons? “This deep red is a dream. Snip, snip. This orange is a waking vision. Snip. This sunny yellow is an out-of-body experience (OBE)”. The stuff of consciousness is woven together from the same fabric: if we get too fixated on separating it, we risk no longer seeing the big picture.
States of consciousness bleed into each other like coloured dye: a non-lucid dream becomes a lucid dream, which can transmute into an OBE, which in turn might transition into a state of sleep paralysis and then waking consciousness. Within a single lucid dream (in which the dreamer is aware that he or she is dreaming), lucidity fluctuates from effortless clarity to confusion as we get sucked into the dream scene and begin to forget we’re dreaming. Similarly, in the waking state we drift from daydreaming to sharp mental alertness and back again. We drive to our child’s school rather than to the doctor because we go into the curious state of alert non-attention known as ‘automatic pilot mode’; we have a beer in the evening and get a buzz off that; later in bed we lapse into sleepiness and might spontaneously find ourselves having an OBE.
Consciousness occurs on a continuum, and when we turn our attention to conscious experience, we quickly notice the experiential overlap between different states and are able to recognise moments of transition as they arise. Of course, definitions of different states are extremely useful for clarity, and I’m as keen as the next researcher to tease the strands apart and name them so that we can discover more about consciousness. However, it’s important to remember that at the end of the day we’re all talking about the same intrinsically connected phenomenon: the rainbow of conscious experience.
With that in mind, for the purposes of this chapter I propose the following definition of an OBE:
The OBE is a state in which self-perception (perceived sensory input, self-location and self-identification) seems external to and independent from the physical body; a state which may be entered spontaneously, involuntarily and abruptly from diverse waking and sleeping states of consciousness. In terms of onset, the OBE differs from lucid dreams in that an OBE might arise from the waking state, trauma, meditation, fainting, or in the midst of great physical danger. However, the OBE can also arise from sleep states such as hypnagogia, sleep paralysis, non-lucid dreaming, and lucid dreaming.
The numerous entries into the OBE state seem non-exclusive in terms of reported onset phenomena: a lucid dreamer may either experience earthquake-like shaking at the onset of a lucid dream-induced OBE, or a gentle transition. A meditator may suddenly find herself floating above her body, or she may experience diverse kinaesthetic and auditory sensations such as vibrations and buzzing before the experience of being ‘out of body’ seems complete.
Apart from trauma and physical danger-induced OBEs, I have personally experienced each of the above OBE entry points many times, and can testify that the defining features of OBE entries seem closely linked to the attitude and adeptness of the experiencer. In particular, a sleep paralysis-induced OBE entry is likely to involve an unpleasant struggle for someone resisting it, while an experienced practitioner can relax and enjoy the transition. The following are examples of just a few of the ways in which a typical OBE may start:
A sleepy trance while lying in bed (Nicholls, 2012, p. 14): A jolt of energy shot through my body, something akin to a large electrical shock. It wasn’t painful, but it was very close to that level of intensity. As I regained awareness of my surroundings, I realised I was hovering or floating around a meter above my physical body.
Dream-induced: “Suddenly, with no observable transition, I’m floating cross-legged about a foot above the ground, next to my bed” (my personal account).
Lucid dream-induced (Buhlman, 1996, p. 183): I said aloud, “I must be dreaming.” Immediately I felt a strange tingling sensation in my body and realised that I’d entered the vibrational state while dreaming… I focused my complete attention on the idea of floating up and out of my physical body. Within seconds I could feel myself lift from my physical body and move toward the living room.
Faint-induced (my personal account): As the nurse injects me I see black spots in my vision and there’s a roaring in my ears. I know I’m about to faint. For a moment it feels horrible, then I’m drawn up into the corner of the room where I float calmly and observe the scene. From what seems a great distance I hear the nurse shouting my name….
Wake-induced: “As I walk across the university library, a buzzing grows in my head and I feel myself involuntarily beginning to rise up out of my body” (my personal account).
This chapter examines the way that the OBE can dissolve fear and release deep creativity. The standard definition of creativity is ‘novelty’: the act of bringing new ideas, art and discoveries into existence through the expression of original thoughts, images and insights (Shavinina, 2003). But creativity is more than this. In my essay, ‘Magic, Meditation and the Void: Creative Dimensions of Lucid Dreaming’ (2014, p. 46), I note:
Creativity is also imaginative freedom, a stretching of the psychological, philosophical, and cultural boundaries to which our minds usually adhere. People talk of “thinking outside the box” and “leaps of creative genius”. Creativity in its purest sense means going beyond what has come before, shrugging off preconceptions and leaping bravely into the unknown.
To this definition I add the element of ‘reality creation’: lucid states of consciousness such as the OBE often trigger an understanding that we can shape our waking reality creatively just as in a guided OBE or in lucid dreams (Johnson, 2006). I further add the element of healing as a fundamentally creative act. This completes my definition of creativity as novelty, imagination, manifestation, and healing. Fearless OBEs can enrich these four branches of creativity.
How can a sensation of being out of body lead to or encourage creativity? Before this question can be properly addressed, it’s important to consider what hinders creativity. Fear is a major hindrance, as can be seen when the roots of artistic blocks are dug up, when a trapeze artist seizes up and falls, or when businesses fail due to fear-provoked decision making. When we have a tool for dissolving fear, creativity is not far away. If the OBE is embraced and befriended, it can be a powerful tool for dissolving fear; yet, paradoxically fear can stop people wanting to have an OBE at all. Let’s look at three different types of fear and how having an OBE can help to dissolve them: 1) fear of the OBE itself, 2) fear of a waking life situation, and 3) fear of death and dying.
Click on the image to read the rest of Clare’s chapter “Surfing the Rainbow: Fearless and Creative Out-of-Body Experiences,” as a PDF