Out of Body Experience (OBE)

Definition: the sensation of one's consciousness or spirit separating from one's physical body.

About 95% of the world's cultures include a belief in the out of body experience1. In nearly all cultures, folklore contains heroic stories of individuals who have returned from death's door with wisdom and lessons for the living. Eyewitness accounts of OBEs are also prevalent throughout world history and literature2.

OBE Categories

Astral Projection—although sometimes used synonymously with OBE, astral projection is more the intentional projection of the spirit (or consciousness) from the physical body, accomplished through proactive inducement of a dream or meditative state or by using psychotropic drugs. In the book, The Projection of the Astral Body, Sylvan Muldoon describes a method of inducing a dream state that he claims has been successful in accomplishing astral projection3.

Involuntary Out of Body Experiences (Involuntary-OBE or IOBE)—the unintentional separation of the spirit from the physical body, such as those incidences recounted by victims of accidents and illnesses. However, deep relaxation or meditation can also be the catalyst for IOBEs. For instance, psychologist D. Scott Rogo recounted a 1965 experience when, while lying down he "saw himself" walking around his bedroom. However, in many other accounts, it is the spirit that observes the body4.

Near Death Experiences (NDE)—used to refer to IOBEs that occur due to resuscitation from declared clinical death or close brushes with death. Raymond Moody, a leading authority on NDE, coined the term Near Death Experience in his 1975 book, Life After Life.

In an effort to explain OBEs, both paranormal researchers and those from the traditional scientific community have put forth an abundance of different theories as to the origination of the out of body experience, among them:

Forms of Out of Body Experiences

  1. Lucid dreams, i.e. the conscious awareness, during a dream, that one is experiencing a dream. Although not all lucid dreams end in OBEs, some authorities believe an OBE can begin with a lucid dream and others believe that all dreams may well be a type of out of body experience5, 7. In the dream-state, our consciousness does experience events and sensations in different locations and time frames than the sleeping physical self. However, most of those who have experienced OBEs maintain that they are more "real" than dreams5.
  2. The sensation of the spirit's separation from the physical body, hovering over it, and observing the physical form. Those that have near-death experiences and involuntary OBEs often report this type of OBE. Ernest Hemingway claimed to have seen his soul leave his body and float around after being hit with shrapnel in 19183.
  3. Consciousness traveling beyond the limits of the body's physical environment to other locations in the known physical world. For instance, in 1863, a man named Wilmot reported that his wife had "visited" his stateroom in one of his dreams. When he returned from his trip, his wife asked Wilmot if he recalled her visit. She admitted that she had been worried about her husband and, as Wilmot reported, "went out to seek me". Although his wife had never seen the steamship or her husband's stateroom, her description of it was correct in "all particulars"1.
  4. The spirit traveling to various astral or spiritual planes1 with the ability to interact with the "new" environment. This type of OBE is reported by those who induce OBE through Astral Projection as well as those who report NDEs. The Christian Apostle Paul alludes to "a man...caught up into the third heaven" in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, where he heard "things that cannot be told".

About one person in ten claims to have undergone an out of body experience3. Some are recounted after resuscitation from declared clinical death, some after a near brush with death, some due to severe illness, some occurring at the time of an accident, and others through meditation or while an individual is at rest. The sheer variety of these reports shows that an OBE can occur at any time and under any circumstances.

1. Jeffrey Mishlove. Astral Projection and Out of Body Experiences. The Roots of Consciousness. Random House, 1975. 11 Jul 2008 <http://www.williamjames.com/Folklore/ASTRAL.htm>
2. Carol Zaleski. Otherworld Journeys. Oxford University Press, 1987. 11 Jul 2008 <http://books.google.com/books?id=_6tVwVF6w10C&pg=PA26&dq=near+death&source=gbs_toc_s&cad=1&sig=ACfU3U0v7qI1X2MF4zMynFj1TtpF2nYcnw#PPA2,M1>.
3. Anthony North. “OUT OF BODY EXPERIENCE .” BEYOND THE BLOG 30 Dec 2007. 11 Jul 2008 <http://beyondtheblog.wordpress.com/2007/12/30/out-of-body-experience/>.
4. Susan J. Blackmore. Beyond the Body: an investigation of the Out of Body Experience. Academy Chicago Publishers. 1992. 11 July 2008
5. Lynned Levitan & Stephen Laberge, Ph.D. “Out-Of-Body Experiences and Lucid Dreams.” Nightlight 1991. 11 Jul 2008 <http://www.lucidity.com/NL32.OBEandLD.html>.
6. Robert Todd Carroll. “near-death experiences (NDEs).” The Skeptic's Dictionary 10 Mar 2008. 11 Jul 2008 <http://skepdic.com/nde.html>.
7. Sylvan Muldoon & Hereward Carrington, The Projection of the Astral Body. London: Rider & Co. 1929. 11 July 2008.