One of the most dedicated skeptical researchers of near-death experiences (NDEs) is Susan Blackmore, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of the West of England, a parapsychologist, and Zen Buddhist. She is the author of several books including: Dying to Live (1993), In Search of the Light (1996), The Meme Machine (2000), and her latest Consciousness: An Introduction (2011). Her theories concerning NDEs are very impressive and well worth understanding. She is a formidable skeptic, not only of the “afterlife theory” of the NDE, but on many other paranormal phenomena. A critique of her book, Dying to Live, can be found on this website. Susan is also one of the few researchers who actually had an out-of-body experience herself.
Table of Contents
- Introduction to Blackmore’s Out-of-Body Experience
- Out-of-the-Body, Explained Away, But It Was So Real
- Contributor’s Comments on the Experience
- The Context
- My Reaction at the Time
- The Effect of the Drug
- My Reaction at the Time
- The Effect on My Life
- Blackmore Recants Her Prior Conclusions
1. Introduction to Blackmore’s Out-of-Body Experience
During her first year at Oxford, Susan Blackmore had an out-of-body experience after several hours on the Ouija board while stoned on hashish. The experience also occurred during a period of her life when sleep deprivation was common for her. She describes herself as having been in “a fairly peculiar state of mind” when she had the OBE. She described traveling down a tunnel of trees toward a light, floating on the ceiling, and observing her body below, seeing a silver cord connecting her floating astral body, floating out of the building and then over England, and finally floating across the Atlantic to New York. After hovering around New York, Blackmore floated back to her room in Oxford where she became very small and entered her body’s toes. Then she grew very big, as big as a planet at first, and then she filled the solar system and finally she became as large as the universe. This expansion of consciousness which fills the universe can be found in many NDEs including that of Mellen-Thomas Benedict.
The following is the detailed account of Susan’s out-of-body journey as submitted to The Archives of Scientists’ Transcendent Experiences (TASTE) website project.
2. Out-of-the-Body, Explained Away, But It Was So Real
Reprinted from: TASTE
Sunday November 8th, 1970: Causes
I had been taking part in a seance, or rather a Ouija board group, and as a consequence was very tired. Three of us, Kevin, Vicki and myself, decided that we’d go up to her room two floors up and smoke some hash. This we did and at first it just seemed like normal. However after a few minutes, I began to get even more cut off from the others than usual and to experience very strange sensations. These I thought were still just part of the drug experience. The music appeared in some sense most akin to sight, but although having colours it was not a normal sight at all. I had my eyes closed. I moved from the chair I was sitting on to the floor and sat there cross-legged for the rest of the time.
(1) I began to move through tunnels in my mind, very brightly coloured and getting more and more real. There began to be places, which appeared very, very clearly. In more detail than if I had seen them real. This kind of thing went on for about half an hour – 12:00 to 12:30 – and then the transition came.
(2) I was thinking how high I was, in the sense that on looking down my feet seemed a very long way away. This I had experienced before but this time it was much more vivid. Also the feeling of there being a white wall behind me and through the centre of me was much more pronounced than usual. As I kept looking down, with my eyes shut most of the time but occasionally opening, I suddenly realized that I really was high up and looking down on my own body. I think had it not been for the drug, I would have been worried at this, however it didn’t worry me at all and I continued to look at myself with interest but still just enjoying the sensations.
I think at this point I was at about ceiling level and gently drifting about. My eyes were shut and remained shut for most of the time. If I had opened them the conflict would have been too great. I seem to remember that I did open them at times, but that nothing I saw made any sense, so I shut them again. I wanted to tell the others about what I was doing, but I was a little embarrassed about what they would think of me interrupting their conversation, which I could hear if I listened. So I kept silent, or more or less so. I kept looking around me and making slight exclamations and looking terribly excited. I could see only the room and then the outside and the roofs, but I preferred to stay inside the room.
(3) At this point Vicki went out to make some coffee and Kevin said to me “Where are you?” I still didn’t think it at all odd that I could be in one place and yet still in control of the body below and able to speak through it. It was almost like watching a cinema screen and relating the picture to someone who couldn’t see it. I told him where I was and from that time I kept on talking, almost continuously, for the next three hours. The fact that I was talking to Kevin and that I was not alone gave me much more confidence and I was able to go on from there and see more. At all times I was fully aware of what my body was doing, I was somehow quite able to conceive of being in the two places at once, or rather to be in one place but to still have the knowledge and perception of the body in another.
(4) Soon after I had begun talking I saw the cord. I looked down from where I was and saw, apparently coming from where my tummy should be, a cord. It was not really any colour, but closest to a slightly shiny grayish-white and it was bendy and slowly moving. I had great fun with it because I decided to try and move it. I reached out my hand but found two things. Firstly, if I wanted a hand I could have one, or as many as I liked. Secondly, it wasn’t necessary to have a hand, I could move the cord at will, and had great fun doing it too. I was quite consciously talking all this time but very fast, as I wanted to say so much and tell them every thing I was doing.
I looked harder at the cord and the body and saw that the cord entered my physical body at the neck and there appeared to be no head on the body. I seem to remember that it didn’t look very much like a normal body but then I wasn’t really interested in it so I didn’t look very carefully. I was more conscious of what I was actually like. At this time I was still more or less the shape of my body, or hadn’t yet discovered that I could be anything else. I was made of the same kind of whitish moving stuff that the cord was made of, but a little more dense than the cord and, at this stage, more solid and constant in shape.
(5) I then found that I was moving, not really conscious of whether I was in control or not. I moved up and out and saw below me all the roofs of Oxford. I think I knew even then that they weren’t the roofs that I should have seen were I really there, it seems now that they were merely a symbolic representation of how roofs in general should look, but to me they represented the roofs of St. Hilda’s. On looking down, I could, if I wanted, look through the roof and intervening floors to the room from which I had started, but as I gained confidence I became less reluctant to let go of that sight and move away.
(6) I became aware that I was moving away fairly fast but it wasn’t really clear where I was going, nor did I have any conscious control over it. I didn’t even take much notice of where I was going until I was suddenly aware that I was somewhere in the vicinity of the Mediterranean. I am not sure how I knew this but it seemed quite obvious at the time. I saw below me an island and I thought that it would be good to go and have a look at it. As a consequence of this thought, I found myself closing in on it. All this time I was aware of the music that my body could hear, and again it didn’t at all seem odd to me that I could listen to it, nor did it seem at all difficult to concentrate on so much at once. This could have been a result of the drug as it does seem to make it possible to see and hear so much more at one time than is usual.
As I approached the island I could see its shape, which was almost star shaped with very sharp points, but the shape seemed to be changing all the time and pulsating with the music. I became even more excited and tried to tell the others what I was seeing as I got closer and closer. It was at this point that I discovered what was to be of such importance later on – that I could change shape at will. So far I had been aware that I could produce hands at will, but now I was able to lose my bodily shape altogether and become any shape I wanted. I stretched out over the island and watched it changing shape. Then from being a flat thin shape, I thought my way down in among the trees. For the first time I got a little scared as I thought the cord might get tangled up and broken in the trees: however I soon found that it could pass among or through the trees with no difficulty whatever and that I wouldn’t have to worry about it at all. I was then again a little scared because it was all dark and, as I then described it, treacley, under the trees. Feelings of pleasure and displeasure were very exaggerated and the feeling of being in that thick darkness was intense. However as soon as I discovered that I could move up again at will, I lost the fear and was enjoying going into and out of trees. Another impression I had of the island was that it had one hundred trees. I was really excited by the funny idea of there being exactly that number and kept on talking about it.
(7) I made my first conscious decision to go somewhere else and left the island, but was still unable either to control where I was going or to even bother to try to go somewhere specific. Soon, I saw that I was traveling over Europe. Again I don’t really know how I could tell where it was, but I think in this case the outline from a long way up was very like a map. I thought I went over Italy, Switzerland and then France. There I saw all the people working very, very hard. I was too far up really to see them at all, but I had a very distinct impression of lots of people working and I felt terribly sorry for them. I kept saying “Don’t they realize they don’t have to work?” but at the same time realizing myself that I would have to too, and that I was only being permitted to see that it was possible to live and move by thought alone.
(8) I moved over the sea and immediately wanted to go down to it. I gradually got closer to the sea and to the land too. I tried to get right down to the water and had the rather pleasant experience of being flat again and floating above the water being lifted and buffeted by the waves. In this uncomfortable way I came into a beach and after some difficulty landed on to the sand and looked around. Again I got a little scared because I was down below very high cliffs and I couldn’t see how to get out. Of course as soon as I tried I found that I didn’t have to climb the rocky cliffs but could just be at the top, with apparently no motion, that is with instantaneous movement, there being no time required for it. I continuously kept trying to explain to Kevin and Vicki how I could do it and saying things like “I’m going to go up that cliff, oh, but I don’t have to get up it, I can just be there”, “I’m going to walk over there, oh, but I don’t even have to walk, I can go as fast as I like!” etc. There seemed to be two kinds of movement possible. If I wanted to move to somewhere quite close and of which I had a good mental image, I could be there instantaneously, or in short hops. For longer distances, especially those which I was not directing, I moved very high up but apparently normally, and the speed was more or less beyond my control.
(9) I was still very close to the ground and all the grass and plants were terribly clear, but I decided that I’d try and get back to Oxford. Whether this decision was prompted by fear, interest or a desire to get back into my body, I don’t know. However I was soon back over Oxford and managed to get into the vicinity of the room. My body’s eyes opened and Kevin said “Hello” and I replied “Hello.” “So you’re really here.” “Yes, I’m really here. Hello Vicki” and then “Goodbye.” I had found during this brief return to my body that although I could easily see with my own eyes, what I did see didn’t really make much sense. I had been able to get to a good position in which the two visual fields corresponded for only short periods of time and it required a lot of effort.
(10) So, having ascertained that my body was still accessible, I again left, and this time consciously decided that I’d like to go to somewhere that I had in fact been to with my body, to see if it looked the same. I chose New York for some reason, and very quickly found myself there. All my movements were becoming more deliberate and much faster, even the unintentional movements were now much faster than at the start. It was sunny in New York and I moved, as a large, almost ellipsoid shape over the buildings until I came to the top of 5th Avenue. The thought of what was below me made me shoot down to street level, becoming much smaller. After a short second looking at the cars and people, which I couldn’t see as clearly as I’d have expected, I got really scared. This was the first time I had been really afraid and it was some struggle before I was able to think my way up the buildings and emerge in space again. Between the tall buildings I could move quite easily up and down. If I looked down I would move up and vice-versa. Thus movement at will was a combination of thinking myself hard into the right place and also looking in the right direction. This was really only so for vertical movements. For horizontal movements, as far as I can remember, I had to look in the same direction I wanted to go in.
(11) After New York I had no clear idea of where I wanted to go and I found myself heading, ever faster, for South America. There I amused myself in the childish pastime of using the coastline as a giant slide. The curly bit at the southern tip of the continent was the end of it and from there I shot round the bend and off up into the Atlantic. This was tremendously exciting and I was laughing all the time and telling them all about it. I wanted to do it again and went back and did. Then I headed up towards England again, and got back to Oxford and the room my body was in.
(12) This time I could not get into the body at all, at least not in the usual sense, as I had almost done before. I was only able to hang over it and this time what I could see from this position was very much clearer. I think possibly the confidence I now had allowed me to see this strange scene without either becoming afraid, or not being able to comprehend it and so dropping back in. I could see Vicki and Kevin very clearly, and after looking at the room for some time I got around to looking at myself . What I saw was rather odd. The body was now very clear but not much like me really. It was brownish in colour, but I think I thought it was quite normal at the time. I could very distinctly see the cord, which was now very much thicker, and more solid, but not proportionately to the way it had been before. With interest I looked at my body and, with no apparent effort, this led to my going closer and closer to it. This was, however, a very different feeling to that of coming back into the body. This time I still was very detached from it even though I was so close, in distance, to it. I looked carefully at the jagged edges around the neck, from where the head had apparently been removed and seemed to be like a fly landing gently on the edge. From there it was no big step to move inside and soon I found myself in the curious position of being right inside my own body. It was all varying shades of brown, a little greenish in some places and shaded almost like a drawing. I slowly wandered around inside looking at the outside of the body, it appeared to have no contents whatever, to be just a hollow shell. I went down one of the legs, balanced on the knee joint and then, as if under the influence of gravity, whizzed down the leg into the foot, like going down a slide. I began to be terribly excited and made a lot of noise all this time. The most exciting thing of all was being inside the foot. There I could look into any one of the openings made by the toes and see light streaming in through the window-like toenails. From one foot I scrambled up the leg and slid all the way down to the middle and up the other leg and down to the foot, all in one swoop.
(13) I think it was at this time that I made so much noise that Vicki very loudly had to tell me to be quiet. Her urgent voice made the visual image of an elephant appear low down and to the left of my visual field. It disturbed me somewhat and I had a short struggle with myself. I don’t remember what I said or felt in detail, but soon I found myself again above my body a little above ceiling level I think, and talking to Vicki. I told her to “Take that body away.” I said “I know you don’t like that body, why don’t you send it away, take it down to its own room, I can’t move it, you take it away.” It was always that body and not “my body” or “me”. I could almost see the dislike going across from Vicki’s body to mine as a sort of visible repelling force. Needless to say she did not move it and I lost the will to stay there and try to persuade her to move it.
(14) I simply found myself getting bigger. This was rather a pleasant feeling and I actively helped it along at some stages, As I got bigger I obviously had to incorporate many things in to the area of my body (not physical body!) and the first things to go were Kevin and Vicki. They became a part of my body, still separate entities but within the space occupied by “me.” Then the whole of the room and the buildings and, as I got still bigger, I began to sink into the Earth. The part of me that was still above the Earth felt quite as before but below I felt slightly cold and a strange sensation that I suppose felt like being in the same place as Earth, that is being between closely packed particles but still a coherent entity.
I became larger than the whole Earth quite quickly and had the wonderful experience of being able to look at the Earth from being all round it. That is, I could see all sides of it at once in spite of its being spherical. This is obviously a little difficult to explain but it was just a question of my whole consciousness being around the Earth and so able to see all parts of it with that consciousness. I didn’t stop there, I got bigger and bigger and incorporated the moon. This was yet another strange experience, having the Earth at my centre was not too hard to understand, but having an object in a position inside me that was not symmetrical was a little harder to comprehend, at least I don’t suppose it was then, but it is harder to form a picture of now. From there I expanded through the planets of the whole solar system, I wasn’t particularly aware of where or which one they were. Then came our whole galaxy and, as I was moving and expanding faster and faster, I had soon enveloped many other galaxies. I cannot remember at all how many there were, or even what order of number, but there were very many. With distance out their density decreased and towards the outside of the universe, as I presumed it to be, there were very few with large distances between them and so I went on expanding.
Finally I reached what I took to be the limit of the universe, however silly that sounds now! It is rather hard to explain this edge. It was as if I was traveling at the speed of light and could travel no faster and so was static in the sense of not accelerating. But in spite of moving at that speed, I was getting no bigger, nor moving. It seemed that nothing could possibly get outside of where I was. If I reached out one of the “arms” that I had been able to create at will, it simply did not appear. It felt there all right, but just could not be outside of that boundary. The whole feeling of the situation was as if it were a sphere in four dimensions, time having somehow totally changed in concept. It seemed to me to be a very sensible picture of the state of the universe and I wasn’t at all worried about the implications of a universe expanding at the speed of light and yet not getting any bigger.
(15) Kevin had become a little worried by this time and was talking to me and asked me if I could see anything beyond this end. I tried to see if I could. Obviously there could be nothing actually outside that boundary in spatial terms but I found I could look into a whole new field of reference. I would like to call it another dimension, but it was more like a whole new set of dimensions, possibly being reached, as it were, by going along in one new dimension. What I can describe now is not really a picture in three dimensions, but that is the only way in which I can describe it. It was like two white and very shining cliffs above me with an opening between them which seemed to lead up to a kind of sky, but not the sort of sky that goes on forever, just sky. It was a real struggle to get up those cliffs, like fighting against something intangible, almost like swimming against a current, always achieving a little and then slipping back and only just hanging on. I got a very, very brief glimpse out of the top. What I “saw” was again indescribable in three dimensional terms, but was like either hundreds of eyes, or one huge eye, staring at me from every direction at once. Not that it seemed to take any notice of me, it was just a static seeing thing all around. Then I slipped back, Kevin was talking to me all this time, trying to make me come back again and he began to succeed. I genuinely wanted to come back and began trying.
(16) I had every confidence that I would in fact be able to come back to my body easily if I so desired, and indeed for a while it was quite easy, I had soon got back into normal orders of size and from there into the room, but there the struggle began. I tried very hard to get down into my body but couldn’t get any nearer to it than about five or six feet above it. The cord was there again. I don’t know what had happened to it before, but I presume that as my body was within me I had no need for any other form of attachment. Now, however, the cord was even in the way. Kevin tried to tell me to coil it up so that I could get nearer but I scorned this idea. I had to struggle to get some sense of time back. I had a sense of a progression of events, but not of time being a necessary part of continuous movement and consequently I found I could not move properly. I had to think my way down in very slow stages, thinking myself at each step into a new position with the cord just a little shorter each time and myself a little closer to the body. After some time I finally achieved the first stage, I was no longer joined by a cord and separate, but was more or less with my body. However all I had achieved was some sort of overlap with the body, I was not outside of it, but was still moving about, totally unstable and just maintaining contact by always overlapping at some point.
(17) I am not at all sure of the separate times taken by each stage, but this last part, of trying to get back, took about 3/4 hour until I could finally control my physical body again. I still had the desire to get back, I think I realized the necessity of it, although I am not really sure if I had any better reason for coming back, it certainly was lonely outside and possibly I wanted to come back to people again. I kept on trying and Kevin kept on encouraging me to come back in.
As I got nearer I was able to open my eyes and briefly saw what corresponded to what I was actually looking at, but that didn’t last because, of course, I followed my thoughts, and as I looked at the ceiling I shot off up to the ceiling again and as I looked down at the floor I found myself sinking into the floor. As the two images ceased to make sense together it was always the physical one which was forgone and only my real self saw. I was still trying very hard, and at times came close to being inside my body, but even though I was getting there sometimes I always went away again, quickly, and it was getting no better. Kevin took my hands and this did some good, until gradually I became a little more stable. It all took so long though that at last I began to give up. I had got terribly tired with all the effort and almost felt that I just wanted to float away again, but with Kevin talking to me and keeping my attention I managed to keep the desire to come back and went on struggling. I got to the state where I was fairly well inside and although I was moving about a lot still, I could more or less see with my eyes alone. I did still move a little towards where I looked but could control my position well enough to keep seeing with my eyes.
(18) For the first time since I began, one of the hardest things to do was to understand that I was only in one place. I told myself out loud, to try to realize that I was only in that one place and that Kevin and Vicki were separate. That if I wanted to move anywhere I would have to make some effort and take the body with me. To look at the corners was a great problem because I could not yet understand the three dimensions and a corner presented more problems to my mind than even trying to force myself to stay within a ceiling and a floor had done. However, it was accomplished, and I finally felt almost at ease with the three-dimensional world and the earthly concept of time.
(19) It was then that I could look at my own body with my own eyes. What I saw was a little different from usual. I could still see the substance of which I had been made before. It was more or less in the right place but did not fit my body at all well. On the other hand the same part of Kevin was exactly the same shape as his body and extended beyond it for about three inches all around. He tried to persuade me to let go of his hand and I tried. With our hands about an inch apart I could see the two etheric bodies joined and the greyish-white substance was flowing very rapidly between the two hands. I could still see it joined when they were about three or even four inches apart but I didn’t dare let go completely even then. When I did finally let go I felt fairly safe but still very afraid that I would move on again. As I moved away from Kevin and then back towards him I realized that I could feel, but not see another body. This was about 18 inches to 2 feet away from him and around Vicki it was about one foot away. I felt all around it with my hands, it seemed to me to feel very solid and it was a very strange sensation to put my hand through it, as I knew I could. Finally I practiced walking about, and although I found it scaring at first, I soon gained confidence and was rapidly back to some kind of normality. Kevin thought it might be dangerous for me to sleep and so he kept me awake for a few more hours. At about 7 a.m. I did sleep a little, but found that I couldn’t get into proper sleep at all.
(20) I had thought that I was back to normal by this time, but in fact it took another two days to do it. During that time I was able to walk around quite all right and to appear reasonably normal to most people, even to go to tutorials, but at any time I found myself drifting up out of myself and I had little power of concentration, and was therefore unable to do any work. I could also go inside Kevin’s body more or less at will. At first it was hollow as my own had been but as time went on it got more solid. First the heart appeared, then all internal organs and finally stringy muscles and I was no longer able to do it.
3. Contributor’s Comments on the Experience
This experience changed my life and I have never forgotten it. Reading my own account again, for the first time in many years, was strange. Somehow the words fail to convey how completely real it all seemed at the time. The description of the star-shaped island with one hundred trees sounds fanciful and hallucinatory. Of course I believe it was a hallucination, but the whole long experience had a quality of unforgettable hyper-reality. The visions and places were stable, clear, and vivid, and I could inspect them at leisure or move around them at will. Unlike most drug-induced hallucinations these were not unstable and fleeting; unlike dream images they did not dissolve rapidly into something else. They seemed as real and solid as any perceived world.
4. The Context
In October 1970 I went up to Oxford to read Physiology and Psychology. I joined many societies and, among them, the Oxford University Society for Psychical Research. As it turned out this society had only one surviving member, Kevin, who contacted me and asked me to run it with him – which I did for the next three years – possibly more because I liked him than because of any deep prior interest in the subject. In that first term we had frequent meetings, with lectures by psychics, training in reading Tarot cards, and long late-night ouija-board sessions – often in my college bedroom. It was after one of these, about a month later, that the experience happened. I wrote the account a few days afterwards while the memory was still fresh and clear.
Several people have asked whether I already knew about astral projection, and in particular about silver cords. The answer is that I did. By then I was becoming seriously interested in psychic phenomena and had begun some reading. I had heard of astral projection and of some Theosophical ideas, although I did not read most of the classics of astral projection until many years later (I keep a record of all the books I read). So it is possible that I saw the cord because I knew that it was expected. In a survey many years later I found that only a few percent of OBErs see such a cord. It is not known whether these people already knew about silver cords before their experience. When I came to write Beyond the Body in 1980-1981 I learned much more about the subject. I now believe that most features of the OBE are explicable in terms of changes in the model of self and perceptual viewpoint, but the silver cord remains unexplained.
5. My Reaction at the Time
As I recall, the experience was quite out of the ordinary. However, memory, especially over thirty years, can be unreliable. People have asked me whether I may have exaggerated the memory to fit with my later theories, or elaborated it over time to make it seem more impressive. From the account written afterwards I know that the details are reasonably accurate, but what about my own reaction and the emotional impact at the time?
From this point of view my diary is interesting. I have kept a diary every day since 1964 and have just now (December 2000) reread the 1970 diary for the first time for many years (probably since 1985 when I was writing The Adventures of a Parapsychologist and reread all my diaries). Most day’s entries mention the lectures I went to, whom I had lunch with, rehearsals, society meetings and worrying about work. November 8th begins “I have the most amazing thing to tell. Really the most fantastic thing that ever happened in my life. I went astral traveling. I was thousands of miles away – not in my body at all.” I described the intense seance during which “we had some very dubious contacts and got a little scared!”, how Kevin, Vicki and I then went up to Vicki’s room, and how helpful Kevin was. I commented that I wanted to write it all down properly as soon as I felt able (which indeed I did). There is no doubt that the experience affected me deeply at the time.
6. The Effect of the Drug
Many, many people have asked me whether the whole experience was a drug-induced hallucination. Some have dismissed it as “not a real OBE” because I was smoking cannabis at the time. I have two reactions to this, one academic and one personal.
Academically I can see no reason for dividing OBEs into ‘real’ and ‘drug-induced’. Many studies show overlap between naturally occurring and drug-induced experiences – whether mystical experiences, religious experiences, or OBEs and NDEs. There may be differences, but there is no clean dividing line. Also, if one were to reject all experiences during which people had taken drugs we would have to reject all the shamanic practices and ritual inductions of OBEs which are so important in the cultures that use them.
Personally I can say this. My diary says “We 3, Kevin, Vicki and I went up to her room to smoke. I don’t think I really got high at all. I started off seeing all these hallucinations. They thought maybe I was tripping I think and after I don’t know how long I realised and Kevin realised that I was Astral traveling. The white shining cord was there and I went all over the world, and out of the world.” (terrible punctuation is in the original)
This could be interpreted in many ways, but it is interesting that I said I did not get high – in other words this was not an ordinary cannabis-smoking experience. As far as I recall the starting point was like vivid hallucinations but then Kevin asked me “Where are you Sue?” and everything changed – becoming absolutely clear and vivid and stable, and not like any drug-induced experience I had ever had.
Finally, I have had much experience with various drugs. I must have smoked cannabis several thousand times in my life. I have never had such an experience before or since. I suspect that the drug helped me to relax and maybe prevented me from panicking and ending the experience. Beyond that I suspect it had little relevance – but of course we shall never know.
7. My Reaction at the Time
At the time I assumed that my astral body had left my physical body. I felt wonderfully blessed to have had the experience, and interpreted it as evidence that the mind, or soul, or astral body can leave the physical and travel in some other world. It also seemed to me to be evidence for the possibility of life after death. However, even at the time I had some sceptical doubts. I remember thinking that the star-shaped island with a hundred trees was more like an idea of an island than like a real island. This led me to develop various theories about the nature of the astral world (it was thought-created, consisted of ‘thought forms’ and so on) but not to go so far as to doubt the existence of the astral world altogether.
The next day I tried to check up on things I had seen and immediately discovered that some were wrong. For example, I had ‘seen’ old metal gutters on the roofs of the college when in the morning I realised that they were modern white plastic ones. I had seemed to travel through rooms above Vicki’s room which were not in fact there, and had seen chimneys which did not exist. This led me to all sorts of sceptical questioning, but more to elaborate my astral theories than to abandon them. For many years I continued to think of my experience as an astral excursion.
8. The Effect on my Life
I do not believe I would ever have become a parapsychologist had I not had this experience. Yes, I was interested in the paranormal before it happened, but parapsychology did not become an abiding passion until this night. Afterwards I knew that there were other non-ordinary states of consciousness – other ways of being – that seemed somehow more real, more right, more direct than ordinary life. This had two effects on me. One I wanted to repeat the experience, and two I wanted to understand it.
As far as understanding is concerned I assumed, initially, that I had to understand the nature of the astral world and astral travel. I knew that my lecturers at Oxford would not countenance such ideas and that science in general rejected them utterly. I assumed that only parapsychology could help and therefore conceived an overwhelming desire to become a parapsychologist and to prove them all wrong. The story of how I set about to do this, and how I ultimately changed my mind, is told in my autobiography In Search of the Light. In 1980 I was invited, by the Society for Psychical Research, to write a book about OBEs (Beyond the Body, Heineman 1982). I learned much more about the subject and developed my own naturalistic, rather than paranormal, theories about the OBE.
For many years after that I carried out further research, including surveys and experiments, on OBEs. By then the term ‘near-death experience’ had appeared in the literature and I worked on NDEs too, talking to many people who had experienced them. I became convinced that nothing leaves the body – realistic, important and life-changing as these experiences can be.
As far as repeating the experience is concerned, I worked very hard for many years to induce it again and never succeeded. Over the years I tried all of the main methods of OBE induction. Some did not work at all for me, such as the Christos Technique, while others gave me some success. Using Monroe’s method of inducing vibrations I was able to have brief OBEs but they were nothing like the experience reported here. Many years later I practised (and indeed still do) staying aware while falling asleep. This can lead to one remaining aware while entering the paralysis of REM sleep – a form of sleep paralysis. In this state it is possible to imagine moving or floating and thus have an OBE. Again my OBEs induced this way were very brief.
I have also taken many drugs. Once or twice I have had brief OBEs when taking LSD, but not with other hallucinogens, amphetamine derivatives (such as ecstasy) or ever again with cannabis. The most effective drug, which I have only had once, was ketamine. Ketamine is an anaesthetic, not often used for adults because of the unpleasant hallucinations it can cause, but sometimes used for particular reasons with children and animals. It is also used as a street drug but then is usually taken orally. I was lucky enough to have a large dose of absolutely pure ketamine, injected under very positive and supportive conditions, with a companion who was especially keen to find out whether it could induce an OBE, as has often been claimed.
Ketamine paralyses the muscles while leaving consciousness more or less intact. I had just the right dose to ensure that I was completely paralysed but still aware. This is not very pleasant. When I was sufficiently paralysed, so that I could not even move my eyes, I seemed to float off with no sense of where my body was. My companion held up various numbers of fingers out of my line of sight and asked me to say how many I saw. I did fairly well at this task but he did not record the results or ensure that I had absolutely no way of seeing them. I then decided to try to visit my home in England and seemed to travel there and saw people cooking in my kitchen. I recorded what I saw, but when I asked them later I learned that they had not been cooking there at the time. In any case the experience was nothing like the spontaneous OBE described here. In particular it did not have that amazing quality of realness and clarity.
Many years later I began to realise that it was the clarity of awareness that I wished to find again, not the out-of-body experience itself. I began learning meditation in about 1975, but only intermittently. In 1982 I went on my first Zen retreat, and in 1986 I began to practice mindfulness (being in the present moment in daily life) and took up regular daily meditation which I have continued to this day. I have described some of this in In Search of the Light and in various articles. Through this practice I have found that the confusion of ordinary awareness can be dropped, or let go, and clarity is simply there. It is not something to be sought or obtained. I no longer try to have more OBEs.
10. Susan Blackmore Recants Her Prior Conclusions
Susan Blackmore confessed that her prior conclusions about the probability of psi and metaphysical consciousness existing being close to none, were not as conclusive as she thought and that she was NOT justified in ruling out psi after all. Therefore, she has taken an honest “don’t know” stance and left the issue at that.