An excerpt from the acclaimed book, Lucid Dreaming – Gateway to the Inner Self
by Robert Waggoner © 2017 All Rights Reserved
Adventurous lucid dream explorers are likely to encounter several phenomena along their path. Out-of-body experiences, for example, are quite common. In fact, a survey of lucid dreamers conducted by The Lucidity Institute shows a strong correlation between lucid dreaming and out-of-body experiences (OBEs). In the study, lucid dream experts Lynne Levitan and Stephen LaBerge report that “of the 452 people claiming to have lucid dreams, 39% also reported OBEs . . .”
In fact, many thoughtful, intelligent people have reported having OBEs. Author, professor and philosopher of consciousness, Thomas Metzinger, for example, wrote of experiencing an “out-of-body (OBE) state again” during an afternoon nap. Lecturer and writer Dr. Susan Blackmore, author of Consciousness, “had a dramatic out-of-body experience” that led to her deeper investigation into the nature of consciousness. I also recall a prominent sleep and dream researcher speaking at an IASD Conference at Tufts University who mentioned an apparent out-of-body type of experience while recovering from an illness.
My own experience with the out-of-body state occurred within six months of my first lucid dreams. As my seventeen-year-old self lay in bed and began to drift off to sleep, I felt an incredible energy and buzzing around me, particularly around my head. I was startled, but not sure whether I should be alarmed. The buzzing vibration sounded like a thousand invisible bees hovering around my head, or an Australian didgeridoo. I felt incredible energy all around me. Remembering don Juan’s advice, I told myself not to fear and just go along with it. Don Juan had told Castaneda that fear was the first barrier to overcome, since the ego used fear as a reason not to explore one’s totality and, instead, maintain the ego’s dominance of the waking self.
During one of these buzzing episodes, I noticed that I seemed suspended in space. I viewed the room from a perspective about five feet above my physical body, which, of course, was extremely odd! How was I getting a view like that, when I knew my body lay in bed with eyes closed?
That summer an even stranger incident occurred. I found myself flying around the sycamore trees in the front yard, doing loop de loops, really enjoying myself in the early morning dawn. It felt very real, not dream-like at all. Suddenly, I saw someone coming down the street on a bicycle. I felt the need to hide, so I flew to the roof of our house and hid behind the peak to watch. Moments later, the young person on the bike threw something at our house! I immediately woke up, alarmed at what I had just seen. It was around 6 a.m. and no one else was awake. I put on some shorts and rushed to the front door. I opened the door and, yes, someone had, indeed, thrown something at our house, and right where I expected—the morning newspaper! I was stunned. Could I have actually seen the newspaper boy ride his bike by our house and throw the newspaper? Could I have witnessed that from the roof of our house while my body lay in bed?
Imagination creates beautiful imagery, so I wondered if this was an interesting case of imagining a scene in a very real and vivid dream-like state that just “happened” to contain elements of a normal daily event? Could I, on some deep level, have heard the paper land in the grass on the opposite side of the house and simply concocted a dream about this sub-auditory event? I know the experience happened—yet how to explain it?
I decided to ask one of my brothers. He listened to my story, then said, matter-of-factly, “You’re having out-of-bodies.”
“I have them sometimes,” he said, “and normally I fly around the neighborhood. I like to fly around these sycamores, too.” I asked him how he knew they were out-of-bodies, and he mentioned a book by Robert Monroe, Journeys Out of the Body. He even gave me some advice on dealing with the buzzing and how to roll out of my body.
“Out of bodies”—holy smokes! I didn’t recall asking for them. Besides, all the buzzing and humming and energy felt weird sometimes. Comparatively, lucid dreams were fun and easy to understand, since my dreaming self played in the playground of my mind (or so I assumed). Even the term, “out-of-bodies” bothered me. It implies that the person’s awareness has left their body and now explores physical reality sans body. Yet, I definitely had a body image when experiencing this state—it just wasn’t a physical one. For this reason, I came to prefer the term “projection of consciousness,” as suggested by Jane Roberts.
As you can see, while the OBE experience itself may be somewhat commonplace, interpreting the experience is a challenge. If one’s awareness seems apart from the physical body, then does one experience a physical realm or an imagined realm, possibly a mental model of the physical realm? If it seems an imagined realm, then how do we explain the rare but occasional instances of apparently valid perceptions of the physical realm? And what does this say about the nature of awareness? Does awareness require a physical body, or does awareness reside sometimes within and sometimes without a physical body?
After reading about and talking with other lucid dreamers, I learned that many developed the ability to lucid dream before experiencing spontaneous, and less frequent, OBE-type experiences. One can not help but wonder if this coincidence of lucid dreaming and projections of consciousness result from an actual connection between the two experiences, or if it relates to the person’s interest and involvement in working with awareness. In other words, once we begin to lucid dream, do we then notice similar, subtle experiences of awareness?
On a number of occasions, in my college dorm room, I would take an afternoon nap with the intention of having an OBE. In one attempt, I recall looking very closely at a white, textured surface, just a fraction of an inch above my eye level. When I awoke, I realized that my awareness may have been about eight feet above myself, carefully inspecting the ceiling tile! To check it out, I precariously balanced a chair on my bed and stood on it to reach that same ceiling height. Now, if I could just stick the top half of my head into the ceiling, I could get my physical eyes in the same spot. The view seemed so close to what I had seen while apparently OBE. Just maybe, my awareness had actually moved.
For me, the OBE usually occurred in the local environment (that is, in the general area of where I had fallen asleep). Also I noticed that though I may fly around the neighborhood, I unintentionally “changed” things. For example, if I decided to fly through a house, I may find a window to fly through where no window exists in waking reality. Upon waking and recalling the situation, I would note that I had unknowingly made it easier for myself to fly into the house by mentally perceiving a window where none existed. Realizing this, I came to think of local OBEs as a “reality plus one” phenomenon. By that I meant that OBEs seemed to mimic a waking-reality model quite nicely, yet held “plus one” or added elements of apparent subconscious desire or intent interwoven into the imagery.
Differentiating Lucid Dreams from OBEs
Invariably, discussions with lucid dreamers yield clear differences between OBEs and lucid dreams. As I see it, there are six clear distinctions between the two phenomena.
First, most lucid dreams occur when one’s awareness comes to an understanding of the dream state while dreaming—one realizes one dreams within the dream. Most OBEs simply begin at the fuzzy juncture between waking and sleep, and then the person begins the OBE experience “aware.”
Second some OBE reports occur when instigated by physical trauma, illness, or medication, unlike most lucid dream experiences. In his groundbreaking book Lessons from the Light, near-death researcher Kenneth Ring, Ph.D., reports the story of a woman at Seattle’s Harborview Hospital who had a severe heart attack and then went out-of-body during cardiac arrest. Upon waking, she told the hospital social worker how she had floated up to the ceiling and watched as the doctors and nurses tried to save her, then she floated outside of the hospital and noticed a tennis shoe on the third floor ledge of the hospital’s north wing. She begged the social worker to see if a tennis shoe really existed on the ledge of the hospital’s north wing. To placate her, the social worker investigated the third floor ledge and was stunned to find a tennis shoe with the same wear marks and specific details the woman described from her OBE journey. Examples like this fuel the debate that some OBE experiences connect to remote perception in the physical world.
Third, OBEs often have reports of buzzing, energy, vibrations, and other phenomena preceding the experience, which lucid dream reports rarely mention. OBEs sometime mention “shooting out,” or “rolling out” of their physical bodies; comments normally never mentioned by lucid dreamers about lucid dreams.
Fourth, as Robert Monroe mentioned in comments to the Lucidity Letter, the “most common” difference between a lucid dream and an OBE involved the lucid dreamers’ ability to “change” the internally generated environment that they experienced; by contrast, those having an OBE do not report consciously changing their environment. Monroe suggests a difference in how the environment is experienced.
Fifth, as lucid dreamer Ed Kellogg has described, the memory of a long OBE experience seems crystal clear and easily recalled in a linear order, while memory of an equally long lucid dream seems less detailed and more difficult to recall precisely and in order. Many lucid dreamers, myself included, report this hampered memory with long lucid dreams, though my long OBE experiences seem comparatively clear, memorable, and detailed.
Sixth, OBErs usually report “returning” to their body, sometimes with a noticeable reconnection. Lucid dreamers, by contrast, at the end of the lucid dream report waking up, having a false awakening, or the dream imagery “going gray” (that is, losing normal visuals and seeing a diffused dark state).
In short, those experiencing OBEs normally recognize their state from the start; they often report unique vibratory and energy sensations preceding their experience; they seem to accept and not change their environment; they seem to recall easily the details of their experience; and, OBE reports contain more reference to “returning to the body.”
Lucid dreamers, by contrast, report that lucid dreams normally occur late at night and within a dream; lucid dreamers note a distinct change in awareness from non-lucid awareness to lucid awareness; they rarely report any unique sounds or sensations preceding their lucid dreams; they frequently change the environment; long lucid dreams seem relatively more difficult to recall in exact detail; and, finally, most lucid dreamers report that they decide to “wake up” or realize the dream has ended.
The difficulty in differentiating between lucid dreams and OBEs occurs when you have experiences like my flying around the trees, apparently seeing the newspaper boy. Was I OBE or lucid? On the one hand, I did not recall any humming or vibrating, but then again I do not recall leaving my body. I did not change anything, as lucid dreamers report, nor did I recall realizing, “This is a dream!” The experience occurred late at night, like a lucid dream, but I vividly recall every detail, like an OBE. I acted with a sense of awareness, but not like lucid awareness.
My example illustrates how easily one can become confused about two distinct types of inner experience. As co-editor of the online magazine, The Lucid Dream Exchange, I see this same confusion in a small subset of lucid dream submissions. The person does not indicate or recall how they became lucid, however they fly around the mental landscape much like in a lucid dream, yet fail to alter the environment, as lucid dreamers normally do.
Tomato, tomat-obe? Maybe so. But as we investigate the varieties of conscious experience and their possible meaning, we must take care to investigate the phenomena’s differences and similarities.
Bio: Author, Robert Waggoner, wrote the acclaimed book, Lucid Dreaming – Gateway to the Inner Self, (now in its tenth printing) and also co-authored the book, Lucid Dreaming Plain and Simple. Visit his website www.LucidAdvice.com
Lynne Levitan and Stephen LaBerge, In the Mind and Out-of-Body: OBEs and Lucid Dreams, Part 1,” NightLight 3, no 2 (Spring 1991): 9.
Thomas Metzinger, “Reply to Hobson: Can There be a First-Person Science of Consciousness,” Psyche 12, no. 4 (2006): p. 3.
Susan Blackmore, Consciousness: An Introduction (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 2.
Robert Monroe, Journeys Out of Body (New York: Doubleday, 1971; reprint, New York: Broadway Books, 1977).
Kenneth Ring and Evelyn Elsaesser, Lessons from the Light: What We Can Learn From the Near-Death Experience (New York: Insight Books, 1998; reprint, Needham, Massachusetts: Moment Point Press, 2006), pp. 65–66.
Robert A. Monroe, “Wanted: New Mapmakers of the Mind,” Lucidity Letter 4, no. 2 (December 1995): 49.
E.W. Kellogg III, “Mapping Territories: A Phenomenology of Lucid Dream Reality,” Lucidity Letter 8, no. 2 (December 1989).
Lucid Dreaming – Gateway to the Inner Self
Now in its tenth printing, this exciting book has become a ‘classic’ for those on the lucid dreaming path. Filled with insights, thoughtful concepts and challenging questions, Lucid Dreaming – Gateway to the Inner Self takes you on a transformational journey.