Nanci Trivellato was a 7-year old when her uncle and aunt took a trip to São Paulo, a city that she had only ever heard about until then. A couple of nights after they had left, Nanci was asleep when she felt herself floating upwards. The next thing she knew was that she was in a room in São Paulo, where she saw her uncle lying on a bed. There were tubes inserted in his nostrils while some liquid was being injected into his arm. What stood out for her was a thin clear tube that was inserted in her uncle’s abdomen and connected to a glass jar placed on the floor, which was filled with a slightly reddish fluid that was coming out of him.
Upon waking up, Nanci was perplexed by what she had experienced. She lived in a very small Brazilian town of Jacutinga, in the 1960’s, where access to television was limited, there was no bookstores or libraries, and in a time when the internet was still an invention of the future.
When her aunt and uncle returned from their trip, Nanci broached the subject of what she had seen during her experience. Her aunt was shocked, and proceeded to change the subject. Later that day, she overheard a conversation where her aunt said to her mother, “How on earth could Nanci have known that when neither you, nor anyone, else knew he was going for bladder surgery? We didn’t want anyone to be worried.”
In his book Beyond the Quantum, Michael Talbot describes an OBE from his adolescence where he first became aware of looking at himself sleeping on his bed, and then ‘floated’ out down through the house. At one point he was on a collision course with a large picture window, but floated through it to hover outside over a neighbour’s back yard, on which there was a book of short stories by Guy de Maupassant.
Although Michael had heard of the author, he did not know of this particular book and had never seen it before. After this, he lost awareness of the event and fell into a deep sleep. The next day he was walking to school when he was joined by a girl he knew, who told him she had lost her library book – a collection of stories by Guy de Maupassant. A stunned Michael told her of his experience the night before and they went and checked the neighbour’s lawn. There was the book by Guy de Maupassant – exactly where he had seen it during his ‘excursion’, yet not visible from his house or from the street.
Closer to home, my maternal uncle would live to tell the tale of his own OBE during a near death experience (NDE). He was diagnosed with cancer after he collapsed at Heathrow airport upon his return from India. As the detection happened at a time when his cancer had spread to a few of his organs, the doctors informed the family that there was a very slim chance of him living beyond a couple of months at most. Due to complications from the disease, he was hospitalised soon after. One afternoon, as his vitals dropped, my uncle saw his own listless body lying on a hospital bed as he floated near the ceiling of the hospital room. He saw the doctors trying to resuscitate him while his wife and children wept. He could hear every word that was spoken and see every expression, before being pushed back into his body by what he described as a huge ball of white light.
He would live for another five years, much to the surprise of his doctors, before succumbing to a recurrence of the disease.
An OBE, or Out-of-Body Experience, also known as ‘extra-corporeal experience’ (ECE), is a phenomenon where the consciousness detaches and moves away from the human body, thus being able to experience a reality that is far subtler than this ordinary one. This phenomenon is also known as astral projection, astral travel, and soul travel.
Researcher Robert Crookall compiled thousands of out-of-body experience accounts to see if he could find common elements in the unique experiences that were shared with him. His conclusions were that OBEs are not a result of belief systems of any kind and are independent of cultural upbringing. However, the interpretations of the experience may be coloured by and seen through the prism of our beliefs.
Members of the scientific community, along with parapsychologists, have conducted several experiments to study OBEs. While the results may not be considered conclusive enough, they do provide insights that could help people better understand these experiences.
The seven most common elements preceding an OBE are:
- sleep paralysis
- an increased heart rate
- heat sensations
- vibrations or tingling in the body
- a buzzing sound
- pressure (mild to severe) on the head
- a feeling of sinking or floating, or of a sudden descent
The Silver Cord
Many near-death and out-of-body experiencers have described seeing an umbilical-like cord connecting their spirit body to their physical body. Many religious traditions describe this spirit-body-connecting cord, which is commonly known as the ‘silver cord.’
The silver cord has been described as being smooth, very long, very bright, like an elastic cable made of light, about an inch wide and attached to one of several possible locations on the physical body. Many experiencers have felt the pull of the silver cord when it is stretched near its limit. They often describe the experience as being instantly retracted to their physical body – like stretching a rubber band close to its limit and then releasing one end of it.
OBEs are classified in to two categories – spontaneous and induced.
Spontaneous OBEs include experiences that happen during or near sleep. In many cases, people who claim to have had an OBE report being on the verge of sleep, or being already asleep shortly before the experience. In most of these cases subjects perceive themselves as being awake; about half of them note a feeling of sleep paralysis.
Another form of spontaneous OBE is the near-death experience (NDE). Some subjects report having had an OBE at times of severe physical trauma, such during an accident, major surgery or from complications due to near-fatal illness. Near-death experiences may include impressions of being outside the physical body. Some people report seeing visions of deceased relatives, spiritual guides or religious figures. Typically the experience includes feeling an incredible lightness of being, painlessness, hearing non-physical sounds, a tunnel experience, encountering ‘beings of light’ and perhaps most importantly, a sense of oneness.
Along the same lines as an NDE, extreme physical effort during activities such as high-altitude climbing and marathon running can induce OBEs. A sense of bilocation may be experienced, with both ground and air-based perspectives being experienced simultaneously.
Many people have reported OBEs during deep meditation. Such OBEs often include travel to different astral realms and meeting spiritual guides and mentors.
OBEs can be induced by chemical hallucinogens, particularly dissociatives.
There are also several mental induction techniques like meditation, deep trance as well as visualizations like climbing a rope to “pull out” of one’s body, floating out of one’s body, getting shot out of a cannon, and other similar approaches.
Falling asleep physically without losing awareness — known as the ‘mind awake, body asleep’ state — is a widely suggested technique for inducing OBEs. Thomas Alva Edison used this state to tackle problems he encountered while working on his inventions. He would rest a silver dollar on his head while sitting with a metal bucket in a chair. As he drifted off, the coin would noisily fall into the bucket, restoring some of his alertness. Salvador Dalí was said to use a similar ‘paranoiac-critical’ method to gain odd visions which inspired his paintings. Deliberately teetering between awake and asleep states is known to cause spontaneous trance episodes at the onset of sleep, which are ultimately very helpful when attempting to induce an OBE. By moving deeper and deeper into relaxation, one eventually encounters a ‘slipping’ feeling if the mind is still alert. This slipping is reported to feel like leaving the physical body. Some consider progressive relaxation a passive form of sensory deprivation.
Another technique is mechanical induction. This includes brainwave synchronisation, magnetic stimulation of the brain, direct stimulation of the vestibular cortex, electrical stimulation of the brain (particularly the temporoparietal junction), sensory deprivation and sensory overload.
The Scientific Perspective
Charles Richet held that OBEs are created by the subject’s memory and imagination processes and are no different from dreams, akin to the mind playing tricks.
Many scientists opine that inner ear problems could be the triggers for these kind of experiences. The study analyzed 210 patients who had visited their doctors with so-called vestibular disorders. The vestibular system, which is made up of several structures in the inner ear, provides the body with a sense of balance and spatial orientation. Problems with this system can cause dizziness or a floating sensation, among other symptoms.
While driving and accelerating in his car, one of the subjects of the study had a bizarre sensation. He felt like he was outside his car, looking in at his physical self, which was still at the wheel. Christophe Lopez, lead author of the study and a neuroscientist at Aix-Marseille Université in France, said the example of the patient who felt like he was outside his body while accelerating in his car makes sense. The scientist explained that since the vestibular system would be responsible for orienting the driver and giving him the sensation of moving forward as he accelerated in a car, a faulty vestibular system could send crossed signals to the brain during the motion.
Out-of-body experiences have been documented for centuries – at least since the late 1800s. One case, recorded by French otologist Pierre Bonnier in 1905, describes a patient who felt “divided into two persons, one who had not changed posture and another new person on his right, looking somewhat outwardly. Then, the two somatic individuals approached each other, merged, and the vertigo disappeared.”
In 2002, Olaf Blanke, a neuroscientist at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, showed that he could induce out-of-body sensations in a patient by electrically stimulating the brain area that integrates vestibular and visual input.
Canadian scientists have been studying the brain activity of a woman who claims she can drift outside her own body at will. The woman in question says that during these experiences she can see herself floating and rotating horizontally in the air above her body and can sometimes even watch herself from above. By using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) device the researchers were able to identify the areas of the brain involved when these experiences occurred and noted that while the areas in the left-hand side of the brain associated with kinaesthetic imagery were activated, the visual cortex was deactivated.
Many spiritual masters are able to induce out-of-body experiences at will in order to achieve their spiritual goals.
Dreamsutra – Perceiving Hidden Realms chronicles the experiences of a spiritual giant who would leave his body to meet his spiritual goals. He would often take his disciples with him on these spiritual travels.
Spiritual travel is sometimes called transcendent or ecstatic experience because it deals with the ‘inner’ senses rather than the physical senses. It also deals with states of being seemingly independent of the physical world. Spiritual travel is a tool for the spiritual seeker. An individual can engage in a spiritual practice designed to induce spiritual travel experiences. It is possible for the advanced spiritual traveller to control the contents of a spiritual travel experience.
Life Changing Benefits of OBEs
According to William Bulham of the Monroe Institute:
“I have found that the purpose of life is to explore and discover the truth of our existence or risk being a mental slave to unconfirmed ideas and falsehoods. For many, the time has come to recognize our true potential and to explore beyond the physical façade and the prevailing beliefs of our culture. The time has come for us to experience the truth for ourselves.“
He says that many people who have experienced OBEs describe the experience as transformative, spiritual and life-changing.
People report an inner awakening of their spiritual identity, and a complete transformation of their concept of self. They see themselves as more aware and alive — as being one with the universe. Many claim to no longer fear death. A significant number report a dramatic expansion of their perception capabilities extending far beyond their physical limits. Precognition, telepathy, premonitions, prophecy, the ability to see auras and many other psychic abilities are often reported to be enhanced by out-of-body experiences. The reason for this is currently unknown but many believe it’s simply a natural result of us becoming more open and in tune with our internal energy systems.
There are numerous reports of individuals healing themselves and others when out-of-body. Often this healing is initiated by a focused thought directed to a specific area of the body. In her book Dying to be Me, Anita Moorjani chronicles her own NDE, where she returned to her body cured of a cancer that had devoured her physical being for four years.
Our limited scientific understanding of human consciousness and the limitless capabilities of the soul is the reason we still classify experiences such as OBEs as paranormal, even though more and more evidence points to a great percentage of humanity having a out of body experience at least once in their lifetime.
Nanci Trivellato, whose OBE is chronicled in the beginning of this blog, is now an Instructor and senior researcher with the International Academy of Consciousness (IAC). She says:
“This is what I feel I learned from my OBEs. Having realizations such as the above ones often bring us a sense of tranquility and peace of mind, while, at the same time, can also produce in us the desire to take some steps in our lives in order to make them more meaningful. Steps that, at the end of our lives, will give us a sense of justified fulfillment. Steps towards a meaningful purpose that leads us to feel we have accomplished the greater goal we had planned.
Having personal experiences that point to the fact that we continue to exist after death tends to make us wiser and more determined. This was my experience, but is also what research on OBEs and near-death experiences (NDE) reveals.
The implications of understanding life and death — two great mysteries we witness and experience regularly but have always struggled to fully grasp — would be far reaching for all of humankind.”
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