Journeys Out Of The Body – Robert Monroe

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In our action-oriented society, when a man lies down to sleep, he is
effectively out of the picture. He will lie still for six to eight
hours, so he is not “behaving,” “thinking productively,” or doing
anything “significant.” We all know that people dream, but we raise our
children to regard dreams and other experiences occurring during sleep
as unimportant, as not red in the way that the events of the day are.
Thus most people are in the habit of forgetting their dreams, and, on
the occasions when they do remember them, they usually regard them as
mere oddities.
It is true that psychologists and psychiatrists regard the dreams of
patients as useful clues to the malfunctioning of their personalities;
but even in this application dreams and other nocturnal experiences are
generally not treated as red in any sense, but only as some sort of
internal data processing of the human computer.
There are some important exceptions to this general put-down of dreams,
but for the vast majority of people in our society today, dreams are not
things that serious people concern themselves with.
What are we to make of a person who takes exception to this general
belief, who claims to have had experiences during sleep or other forms
of unconsciousness that were not only impressive to him, but which he
feels were real?
Suppose this person claims that on the previous night he had an
experience of flying through the air over a large city which he soon
recognized as New York. Further, he tells us that not only was this
“dream” intensely vivid, but that he knew at the time that it was not a
dream, that he was really in the air over New York City. And this
conviction that he was redly there sticks with him for the rest of his
life, despite our reminding him that a sleeping man couldn’t really be
fiying by himself in the air over New York City.
Probably we will ignore a person who makes such a report, or we will
politely (or not so politely) inform him that he is becoming a little
weak in the head or crazy, and suggest that he see a psychotherapist. If
he is insistent about the reality of his experience, especially if he
has other strange experiences too, we may with the best of intentions
see about committing him to a mental hospital.
Our “traveler,” on the other hand, if he is smart, will quickly learn
not to talk about his experiences. The only problem with that, as I have
found from talking to many such people, is that he may worry about
whether he’s going crazy.
For the sake of argument, let’s make our “traveler” even more troubling.
Suppose in his account he goes on to say that after flying over New York
City for a while he flew down to your apartment. There he saw you and
two other people, unknown to him, conversing. He describes the two
people in detail, and mentions a few things about the topic of conversation
occurring in the minute or so he was there.
Let’s suppose he is correct. At the time he had his experience, you were
holding a conversation on the topic he mentions with two people who fit
our “traveler’s” descriptions. What do we make of things now?
The usual reaction to a hypothetical situation of this type is that it
is all very interesting, but as we know that it couldn’t possibly
happen, we needn’t seriously think about what it might mean. Or we might
comfort ourselves by invoking the word “coincidence.” A marvelous word,
“coincidence,” for relieving mental upsetsl
Unfortunately for our peace of mind, there are thousands of instances,
reported by normal people, of exactly this sort of occurrence. We are
not dealing with a purely hypothetical situation.
Such events have been termed traveling clairvoyance, astral projection,
or, a more scientific term, out-of-the-body experiences (OOBEs). We can
formally define an OOBE as an event in which the experiencer (i) seems to perceive some portion of some environment which could not possibly be
perceived from where his physical body is known to be at the time; and
(2) knows at the time that he is not dreaming or fantasizing. The
experiencer seems to possess his normal consciousness at the time, and
even though he may reason that this cannot be happening, he will feel
all his normal critical faculties to be present, and so knows he is not
dreaming. Further, he will not decide after awakening that this was a
dream. How, then, do we understand this strange phenomenon?
If we look to scientific sources for information about OOBEs we shall
find practically none at all. Scientists have, by and large, simply not
paid any attention to these phenomena. The situation is rather similar
to that of the scientific literature on extrasensory perception (ESP).
Phenomena such as telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and psychokinesis
are “impossible” in terms of the current physical world view.
Since they can’t happen, most scientists do not bother to read the
evidence indicating that they do happen; hence, not having read the
evidence, their belief in the impossibility of such phenomena is
reinforced. This kind of circular reasoning in support of one’s
comfortable belief systern is not unique to scientists by any means, but
it has resulted in very little scientific research on ESP or OOBEs.
In spite of the lack of “hard” scientific dfcta, there are still a
number of definite conclusions one can make from reading what material
there is.
First, OOBEs are a universal human experience, not in the sense that
they happen to large numbers of people, but in that they have happened
all through recorded history, and there are marked similarities in the
experience among people who are otherwise extremely different in terms
of cultural background. One can find reports of OOBEs by housewives in
Kansas which closely resemble accounts of OOBEs from ancient Egyptian or
oriental sources.
Second, the OOBE is generally a once-in-a-lifetime experience, seemingly
experienced by “accident.” Illnesses sometimes bring it about,
especially illnesses which are almost fatal. Great emotional stress
sometimes brings it about. In many cases, it simply happens during sleep
without our having any idea of what might have caused it. In very rare
instances it seems to have been brought about by a deliberate attempt.
Third, the experience of an OOBE is usually one of the most profound
experiences of a person’s life, and radically alters his beliefs. This
is usually expressed as, “I no longer believe in survival of death or an
immortal soul, I know that I will survive death.” The person feels that
he has directly experienced being alive and conscious without his
physical body, and therefore knows that he possesses some kind of soul
that will survive bodily death. This does not logically follow, for even
if the OOBE is more than just an interesting dream or hallucination, it
was still occurring while the physical body was alive and functioning
and therefore may depend on the physical body. This argument, however,
makes no impression on those who have actually had an OOBE. Thus
regardless of what position one wants to take on the “reality” of the
OOBE, it is clearly an experience deserving considerable psychological
study. I am certain that our ideas concerning the existence of souls
have resulted from early experiences of people having OOBEs. Considering
the importance of the idea of the soul to most of our religions, and the
importance of religion in people’s lives, it seems incredible that
science could have swept this problem under the rug so easily.
Fourth, the OOBE is generally extremely joyful to those who have it. I
would make a rough estimate that between 90 and 95 per cent of the
people who have this experience are very glad it occurred and find it
joyful, while 5 per cent are very frightened by it, for the only way
they can interpret it, while it is happening, is that they are dying.
Later reactions of the person as he attempts to interpret his OOBE can be rather negative, however. Almost every time I give a speech on this
subject, someone comes up to me afterward and thanks me for talking
about it They had had the experience some time before, but had no way of
explaining it, and worried that they were going “crazy.”
Fifth, in some instances of OOBEs the description of what was happening
at a distant place is correct and more accurate than we would expect by
coincidence. Not the majority, by any means, but some. To explain these
we must postulate either that the “hallucinatory” experience of the OOBE
was combined with the operation of ESP, or that in some sense the person
really was “there.” The OOBE then becomes very real indeed.
The fact that most of our knowledge about OOBEs comes from reports of
once-in-a-lifetime experiences puts us at two serious disadvantages. The
first of these is that most people cannot produce an OOBE at will, so
this precludes the possibility of studying them under precise laboratory
conditions. The second disadvantage is that when a person is suddenly
thrust for a brief period of time into a very novel environment he may
not be a very good observer. He is too excited and too busy trying to
cope with the strangeness of it. Thus our reports from the once-in-alifetime
people are very rough. It would be of great advantage in
studying OOBEs to have trained “travelers” available who could produce
the experience at will and who generally had the characteristics of a
good reporter.
The book you are about to read is very rare. It is a firsthand account
of hundreds of OOBEs by a person who is, I believe, a good reporter.
Nothing like it has been published in many years.
Robert A, Monroe is a successful businessman who began experiencing
OOBEs quite unexpectedly over a decade ago. Coming from an academic
family and having more than the average intellectual training, he
realized the unusualness of these experiences and began taking
systematic notes from the beginning. I shall not say more about his
experiences per se; his accounts in the rest of this book are too
fascinating and lucid to warrant further introduction here. Instead, I
shall note the qualities he possesses that make him a good reporter, and
which give me a good deal of confidence in his accounts.
When most people have a profound experience, especially one with
religious import, careful questioning will usually reveal that their
original account of it was not so much an account of what happened as of
what they thought it meant. As an example, let us suppose that what
really happens to a person is that he finds himself floating in the air
above his body, in the middle of the night; while still surprised at
this, he perceives a shadowy, dim figure at the end of the room, and
then a blue circle of light floats past the figure from left to right.
Then our experiencer loses consciousness and wakes up to find himself in
his body. A good reporter will describe essentially that scene. Many
people will say, in perfectly good faith, something like, “My immortal
soul was raised from the tomb of my body by the grace of God last night,
and an angel appeared. As a symbol of God’s favor, the angel showed me a
symbol of wholeness’
I have often seen distortions this great when I’ve been able to question
an individual about exactly what happened, but most of the published
accounts of OOBEs have not been subjected to this kind of questioning.
The statements that God’s will caused the OOBE, that the dim figure
turned into an angel, that the blue circle was a symbol of wholeness are
all things that are part of a person’s interpretation, not his
experience. Most people are not aware of the extent to which their mind
automatically interprets things. They think they are perceiving things
as they are.
Robert Monroe is unique among the small number of people who have
written about repeated OOBEs, in that he recognizes the extent to which
his mind tries to interpret his experiences, to force them into familiar patterns. Thus his accounts are particularly valuable, for he works very
hard to try to “tell it like it is.”
The initial series of laboratory studies we were able to do occurred
over a period of several months between September 1965 and August 1966,
while I was able to use the facilities of the Electroencephalographic
(brain wave) Laboratory of the University of Virginia Medical School.
On eight occasions Mr. Monroe was asked to try to produce an OOBE while
hooked up to various instruments for measuring physiological functions.
He was also asked to try to direct his movements during the OOBE into
the adjoining room, both to observe the activity of the technician monitoring
the recording equipment and to try to read a five-digit random
target number, which was placed on a shelf six feet above the floor.
Measurements were made of Mr. Monroe’s brain waves (the
electroencephalogram), eye movements, and heart rate (the
The laboratory was, unfortunately, not very comfortable for lying still
for prolonged periods; we had to bring an army cot into the recording
room, as there was no bed there. One of the connections for recording
brain waves, the ear electrode, was of a clip type that caused some
irritation to the ear, and this made relaxation somewhat difficult.
On the first seven nights during which he attempted to produce an OOBE,
Mr. Monroe was not successful. On his eighth night he was able to
produce two very brief OOBEs, and these are described in some detail in
his own words on pp. 60-72. The first brief OOBE involved witnessing
some unrecognized people talking at an unknown location, so there was no
way of checking whether it was “fantasy” or a real perception of events
happening at a distance. In the second brief OOBE, Mr. Monroe reported
he couldn’t control his movements very well, so he did not report on the
target number in the adjacent room. He did correctly describe that the
laboratory technician was out of the room, and that a man (later
identified as her husband) was with her in a corridor. As a
parapsychologist, I cannot say that this “proves” that Mr. Monroe really
knew what was happening at a distance: it is hard to assess the
improbability of such an event occurring after the fact. Nevertheless, I
found this result quite encouraging for one of the initial attempts to
bring such an unusual phenomenon into the laboratory’.
My next opportunity to work with Mr. Monroe in the laboratory came when
he visited me in California during the summer of 1968. We were able to
have a single laboratory session under much more comfortable
circumstances: a normal bed was available, rather than a cot, and we
used a different type of electrode for measuring brain waves which was
not physically uncomfortable. Under these conditions, Mr. Monroe was
able to produce two brief OOBEs,
He awoke almost immediately after the first OOBE had ended, and
estimated that it had lasted eight to ten seconds. The brain-wave record
just before he awoke again showed a Stage 1 pattern, with possibly a
single rapid eye movement occurring during that time. His blood pressure
showed a sudden drop, a steady low lasting eight seconds, and a sudden
resurgence to normal.
In terms of Mr. Monoe’s experience (see his description of this
technique on p. 70), he reported that he “rolled out” of his body, found
himself in the hallway separating his room from the recording room for a
few seconds, and then felt a need to get back into his body because of a
difficulty in breathing. An assistant, Joan Crawford, and I had been
watching him on a closed-circuit television set during this time and we
saw him move his arm slightly away from his throat just before he awoke
and reported.
Mr. Monroe tried again to produce another OOBE that would be evidential
in terms of ESP, coming over and seeing the recording room and reading a
target number on a shelf in that room. His brain-wave pattern showed
much light sleep, so after three quarters of an hour, I called out to
him over the intercom to remind him that we wanted him to try to produce
an OOBE. A while later, he reported having produced an OOBE, but being
unsure of his orientation, he followed a wire which he thought led to
the recording room, and instead found himself outside in a strange area
that he never recalled seeing before. He decided he was hopelessly
disoriented and came back to his body. His description of that area
matched an interior courtyard of the building that he would indeed have
found himself in during an OOBE if he had inadvertently gone in exactly
the opposite direction he should have. It is not absolutely certain that
he had never seen this courtyard while visiting my office earlier in the
day, so this experience is not in itself good evidence for a paranormal
component to the OOBE.
In terms of physiological changes, he again showed a Stage 1 dreaming
pattern, with only two rapid eye movements in the whole period and no
clear-cut blood pressure drop on this occasion.
Mr. Monroe’s experiences, those of many prominent mystics throughout the
ages, and all the data of ESP indicate that our current physical view of
the world is a very limited one, that the dimensions of reality are much
wider than our current concepts. My attempts and those of other investigators
to make these experiences behave in an acceptable fashion may not
work out as well as we would like. Let me give two examples of
“experiments” with Mr. Monroe which were impressive to me personally,
but which are very difficult to evaluate by our ordinary scientific
Shortly after completing the first series of laboratory experiments, I
moved from the east coast to California. A few months after moving, my
wife and I decided to set up an experiment. One evening we would
concentrate intensely for half an hour, in an attempt to help Mr. Monroe
have an OOBE and come to our home. If he were then able to describe our
home, this would produce good data on the para-psychological aspects of
his OOBEs. I telephoned Mr. Monroe that afternoon, and told him only
that we would try to direct him across the country to our home at some
unspecified time that night, without giving him any further details.
That evening I randomly selected a time which, I believed, would occur
well after Mr. Monroe would be asleep. My random selection came out 11
P.M. California time, or 2 A.M. east coast time. At 11 P.M. my wife and
I began our concentration. At 11:05 p.m. the telephone rang,
interrupting it. We did not answer the telephone, but tried to continue
our concentration until 11:30 P.M. The following morning I telephoned
Mr. Monroe and told him only that the results had been encouraging, and
that he should write down an independent account of what he had
experienced for later comparison against our independent accounts.
On the evening of the experiment, Mr. Monroe had the following
experience, which I quote from the notes he mailed me: “Evening passed
uneventfully, and I finally got into bed about 1:40 A.M., still wide
awake (north-south position). The cat was lying in bed with me. After a
long period of calming my mind, a sense of warmth swept over my body,
with no break in consciousness, no pre-sleep. Almost immediately, I felt
something (or someone) rocking my body from side to side, then tugging
at my feet! (I heard the cat let out a complaining yell.) I recognized
immediately that this had something to do with Charlie’s experiment, and
with full trust, did not feel my usual caution (about strangers). The
tugging at the legs continued, and I finally managed to separate one
Second Body arm, and held it up, feeling around in the dark. After a
moment, the tugging stopped, and a hand took my wrist, first gently,
then very, very firmly, and pulled me out of the physical easily. Still
trusting, and a little excited, I expressed willingness to go to
Charlie, if that was where he (it) wanted to lead me. The answer came
back affirmatively (although there was no sense of personality, very
businesslike). With the hand around my wrist very firmly, I could feel a
part of the arm belonging to the hand (slightly hairy, muscular male).
But I could not “see” who belonged to the arm. I also heard my name
called once.
“Then we started to move, with the familiar feeling of something like
air rushing around the body. After a short trip (seemed like five
seconds in duration), we stopped and the hand released my wrist. There
was complete silence and darkness. Then I drifted down into what seemed
to be a room. . . .”
I’ve stopped quoting from Mr. Monroe’s notes at this point, except to
add that when he finished this brief trip and got out of bed to
telephone me it was 2:05 A.M., his time. Thus the time match with my
wife and I beginning to concentrate was extremely good: he felt the tug
pulling him from his body within a minute or so of when we started to
concentrate. On the other hand, his continuing description of what our
home looked like and what my wife and I were doing was not good at all:
he “perceived” too many people in the room, he “perceived” me doing
things I didn’t do, and his description of the room itself was quite
What do I make of this? This is one of those frustrating events that
parapsychologists encounter when working with poorly controlled
phenomena. It is not evidential enough to say that it was unquestionably
a paranormal effect, yet it is difficult simply to say that nothing
happened. It is comfortable to stick with our common-sense assumptions
that the physical world is what it seems to be, and that a man (or his
sense organs) is either located at a certain place and able to observe
it or he is not. Some OOBEs reported in the literature seem to fit this
view, while others have a disturbing mixture of correct perceptions of
the physical situation with “perceptions” of things that weren’t there
or didn’t happen (to us ordinary observers). Mr. Monroe reports a number
of such mixed experiences in this book, especially his seeming to
“communicate” with people while he is having an OOBE, but their never
remembering it.
The second puzzling “experiment” occurred in the fall of 1970 when I
briefly visited Mr. Monroe in Virginia, en route to a conference in
Washington. Staying overnight, I requested that if he had an OOBE that
night, he should come to my bedroom and try to pull me out of my body so
I could have the experience too. I realized at the time that I made this
request with a certain amount of ambivalence: I wanted him to succeed,
yet another part of me did not. More on that later.
Sometime after dawn that morning (I had slept somewhat fitfully and the
light was occasionally waking me), I was dreaming when I began vaguely
remembering that Mr. Monroe was supposed to try to get me out of my
body. I became partially conscious, and felt a sense of “vibration” all
around me in the dream world, a “vibration” that had a certain amount of
indefinable menace connected with it. In spite of the fear this aroused,
I thought that I should try to have an OOBE, but at that point I lost my
thread of consciousness, and only remember waking up a while later,
feeling that the experiment was a failure. A week later I received a
letter from a colleague in New York, the well-known parapsychologist Dr.
Stanley Krippner, and I began to wonder if it really was a “failure.” He
was writing to me about an experience his stepdaughter, Carie, who I am
quite fond of, had the same morning I was having my “dream.” Carie had
spontaneously reported to her father that she had seen me in a
restaurant in New York City on her way to school that morning. This
would have been roughly about the time I was having the dream. Neither
she nor her father knew that I was on the east coast.
What do I make of this? This was the first time in years that I had
consciously attempted to have an OOBE (I have never, to my knowledge,
succeeded), and while I had no conscious memory of having one, a friend
reports seeing me in a restaurant in New York City. Even more puzzling,
I would have no desire in the world to go to a restaurant in New York
City, a place I dislike intensely, if I were having an OOBE, although
visiting Carie and her family is always very pleasant. Coincidence?
Again, something I would never present as scientific evidence of
anything, but something I can’t dismiss as meaningless.
This last incident illustrates an attitude toward OOBEs that I nave
observed in myself, although I do not like to admit it, which is that I
am somewhat afraid of them. Part of me is very interested in the
phenomenon scientifically, another part of me is excited at the prospect
of personally experiencing it. A third part of me knows that an OOBE is
something like dying, or opening up part of my mind to an unknown realm,
and this third part is not at all anxious to get on with it. If OOBEs
are “real,” if the things Mr. Monroe describes cannot be dismissed as an
interesting kind of fantasy or dream, our world view is going to change
radically. And uncomfortably.
One thing that psychologists are reasonably sure of about human nature
is that it resists change. We like the world to be the way we think it
is, even if we think it’s unpleasant. At least we can anticipate what
may happen. Change and uncertainty have possibilities of unsettling
things happening, especially when that change doesn’t take account of
our desires, our wills, our egos.
I have tried to talk mainly about straightforward scientific studies of
OOBEs in introducing this book, but now we get to what may be the most
important aspect of the subject. Mr. Monroe’s experiences are
frightening. He is talking about dying, and dying is not a polite topic
in our society. We leave it in the hands of priests and ministers to say
comforting words, we occasionally joke about it, and we have a lot of
aggressive fantasies about other people dying, but we don’t really think
about it. This book is going to make you think about death. You are not
going to like some of the things it says and some of the thoughts it
It will be very tempting to dismiss Robert Monroe as a madman. I would
suggest that you not do that. Neither would I suggest that you take
everything he says as absolute truth. He is a good reporter, a man I
have immense respect for, but he is one man, brought up in a particular
culture at a particular time, and therefore his powers of observation
are limited. If you bear this in mind, but pay serious attention to the
experiences he describes, you may be disturbed, but you may learn some
very important things. In spite of being afraid.
If you have had an OOBE yourself, this book may help you to be less
afraid, or to develop your potentials for this experience into a
valuable talent.
Read the book carefully and examine your reactions. If you really want
to experience it yourself, good luck!
Davis, California January 10,1971

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