This post is generally related to world-building for authors, but with a twist. I’ve included a lot of background material on Lucid Dreams and Out-of-Body Experiences. I began studying these many years ago after an intensely personal experience that both frightened and puzzled me. As a trained scientist, I had no ready explanation. This led me to read all I could find on the subject.
Science continually discovers new things about the universe. If everything were settled and known, there would be no need for scientific inquiry. The experiences I’m going to describe are well documented by many people, and their accounts are consistent enough to allow us to draw some general conclusions. I think that if there’s no accepted scientific explanation, but there is enough anecdotal evidence, then a scientific explanation should be sought.
As part of my own exploration of these phenomena, I kept a journal by my bed for many years. I’ll provide some examples taken from it and then analyze them to help clarify the concepts.
After I’ve gone through the types of dreams and associated experiences, I will give an example of how I incorporated the idea into one of my Time-Equation Series books.
Have you ever had a dream of falling or flying? Many people have these types of dreams. How about a dream where you believe you’re awake, but you cannot move your body? These dreams are almost always indicative of an out-of-body experience or a lucid dream. Here’s an example from my journal:
About 4 a.m. I woke up, changed position, and then fell back asleep. I was walking down a sidewalk carrying a U-shaped piece of metal. There was a large pile of rocks located on the edge of a college campus. I went around them and entered a very small cave through a small opening. There was a bed inside. It had drawers under it, and I began looking into them but found nothing of interest, just some vague pieces of machinery.
Then I became aware that there was an old-fashioned kitchen range beside the bed. It had drawers, and I looked in them also. I’m not sure what I was looking for, but whatever it was, it wasn’t there. At this point, I saw a dark door at one end of the cave.
I went through, and suddenly the quality of the dream transitioned to a closer approximation of reality because I became aware that I was dreaming. As a result, I became “conscious” within the dream and had control of my actions.
I looked around at the room that was on the other side of the dark door. It looked like a large, dimly lit barn. There was another door to the right side of the room, and it was very dark. I looked inside the opening and made out the fact that it was a stall for horses, but there were no animals there. To the left, the room became lighter, and there was a large door that was open to the outside. I consciously bypassed that door since I felt that I would wake up if I went through it. After looking around the rest of the barn and deciding that I was satisfied and had seen everything, I decided to go outside. I jumped off a high step and landed right in front of a young man. Our eyes met, and we both smiled.
Was he another dreamer or a figment of my dream? I don’t know. I certainly didn’t expect to see him there. I walked past and turned to the left on the far end of the building. The dream faded, and I lost control and fell entirely out of consciousness and into sleep.
A brief analysis of this dream shows that it 1) started as a normal dream, perhaps clearer and more coherent than most, and then at a certain point, 2) I became aware that I was able to control my actions consciously. This is different than most dreams because we usually aren’t aware that we are dreaming, and we typically aren’t able to control what we do.
There is a slight difference here between my experience and most lucid dreams. In this dream, I didn’t exert any control over the elements in the dream. Usually, lucid dreamers are able to modify anything they encounter in their dreams. Many exercise a significant degree of control, forcing items to mutate or disappear and appear.
After I became conscious in this dream, I had a feeling of happiness and freedom. This was partly due to my sense of mastery of the environment.
I met someone in the dream who appeared to be self-directed. Was he another dreamer? This is an intriguing possibility.
Other people who have had lucid dreams report similar experiences. The critical aspect is that all of us can become conscious and then to control our actions within a dream.
Out of Body Experiences
There are different opinions as to what differentiates a lucid dream from an out-of-body experience (OBE). Lucid dreams can involve any dream environment, while OBEs often involve what I call the RTE, or Real-Time Environment. This is the local space near the dreamer’s body. It is usually the first space they encounter after exiting their body. Their physical body is often present and visible to them. In general, OBEs seem more real than Lucid Dreams and are usually experienced as an objective but different reality.
The first sign of an OBE is that it is often accompanied by an intense sensation of vibration. The second is that it may be accompanied by physical body paralysis. The third is that the dreamer may see their physical body, and the fourth is they find it easy to fly and to pass through physical barriers like walls. Also, OBEs are often accompanied by experienced sounds. Some people wake into these experiences, while others induce OBEs directly from a waking state.
These experiences require a Theta brain state. This is known as the hypnagogic state, the drowsing state before sleep when the brain waves are at a frequency between 4 and 8 cycles per second.
It’s difficult to maintain a hypnagogic state for very long after first going to bed. Most people go through several cycles of deeper sleep followed by lighter sleep or wakefulness in the course of a night. After two or three such sleep cycles it becomes easier to maintain a hypnagogic state. Consequentially you are more likely to have an OBE or lucid dream between 4 and 6 AM.
There is an experiential difference between the OBEs and Lucid Dreams. Despite the extreme freedom of movement enjoyed while experiencing an OBE, it is more like daily experience, since we can’t deliberately morph items into other items the way we can in a lucid dream.
Validating an OBE
Australian author Robert Bruce and psychic suggests that you select a playing card from a deck, making sure you don’t see the card’s face. Place the card on a high shelf somewhere in your house. The shelf should be high enough that you won’t accidentally see the card. When you find yourself in an OBE, remember to go and look at the card. You can then validate your experience when you wake up.
I tried this by placing two cards, one on each of two bookshelves on each side of our fireplace. I was drowsing before getting up.
I rolled over onto my left side and then started to go back to sleep. I suddenly became conscious that my face was bumping against the spines of a long row of books. I realized that I was having an OBE and was near the bookshelf. Then I remembered the cards, so looked and saw that the card was a black four. However, when I tried to see the suit, all I could see was a rectangle with a diagonal line crossing it, the international symbol for “No” that masks a picture of some banned action. After trying to see the suit again, I woke up.
When I checked, the card was the four of spades. The second card surprised me. It was the four of clubs.
The shelves were separated by about two meters, and the cards were on the top shelf above my head level. After thinking about the two fours for a bit, I realized that I couldn’t make out the suit because I’d somehow been trying to see both cards simultaneously and the only commonality was the black four.
This leads me to conclude that our perception is not restricted to natural bodily-imposed limitations.
Common Aspects of OBE
Somewhat more recently, I had another experience that illustrates four of the common symptoms of OBEs. Here’s a brief description:
I was drowsing in a recliner in the bedroom when I suddenly heard my name loudly called twice in a sort of nasal tone. I immediately decided to wake up and became conscious while still in a dream state. I couldn’t move my body or extremities. I know that to recover from this type of paralysis, concentrating on moving your big toe almost always works as a release. I was too panicked to remember this technique at the time. Then I saw that I was floating about 2 feet above my body. I kept trying to merge back into it with no effect.
Suddenly, there was a loud buzz that happened on the surface of my chest right over my heart. It was so startling that I popped back into my body and opened my eyes at the same time.
A brief analysis highlights the four common symptoms. First, I heard a sound–my name. Second, I experienced physical paralysis. Third, I was floating outside my body, and fourth, I experienced a strong buzz or vibration before re-entering my body.
I subsequently read that this type of vibration is attributable to the heart chakra becoming active and releasing enough energy to either start or stop the OBE.
Another experience highlights a few of the features of a typical flying OBE.
I was still sleeping after the sun had risen. Then I shot upwards to what seemed about a thousand feet above the roof of my house. I descended to tree level and proceeded to cruise down our drive and then up near the leaves of a tree. I moved closer to the leaves until I could concentrate on the details of a single leaf. I was elated over the sensation of absolute freedom of movement. Without consciously willing it, I started to become heavy and sank to the ground. Once on the ground, I couldn’t begin flying again. I woke up, regretful that the experience, which had been joyful, was so brief.
There are four aspects of this experience that are common. The first is that I was able to fly easily. The second is that I let my emotions run out of control. The third is that I focused my attention on intricate details and this close focus forced me out of the OBE. The fourth is the feeling of heaviness. Most people attribute this to the physical body recalling the astral body.
Dreaming, lucid dreaming, and OBE states can easily transition from one to the other. However, despite that mutability, the quality of experience is different, and the dreamer can easily sense this difference.
The dominant frequency in the EEG pattern is indicative of the current state of the brain. Meditation involves altering one’s brain frequency to a desired state on demand. It can take years to learn the techniques of meditation, but the same effect may be induced artificially since brain waves can be altered by listening to tone frequencies.
Listening to a click played at 4 Hz will cause brainwaves to slow down to the same frequency. This phenomenon is called entrainment or frequency following response. It can be done by playing a series of percussive sounds that gradually slow down to the theta wave level of 4 per second.
An alternate method is to play a pure low-frequency sound. The brain will adjust to match. This works for faster brainwaves but is ineffective for slower brain states because humans cannot hear extremely low frequencies. A special technique called binaural-beats is used to generate the required slow signals.
Parallel Universe Theory
The concept of parallel universes is supported to a certain extent by modern quantum physics. One interpretation states that the universe splits every time there is a choice made on a quantum level. If a photon has the alternative of going through one slit or a second slit in the classic double-slit experiment, it will go through one in one universe and through the other in a second universe. The two universes may then merge into a single universe or not.
Based on this idea, it seems to me, since our brains operate at least partially on a quantum level, that any binary decision we make would result in two universes.
If this is the case, it means that we don’t emerge from our body in the same universe in which our body resides. This removes some limitations and appears to allow our projected mind to move into various levels of the real-time environment as reported by many OBE experiencers.
Writing an OBE into a Story
In one of my novels, my male lead is a Clovis-culture hunter of about 13,000 years ago. While I was writing the book, I, purely by chance, had a rather amazing lucid dream. It was so vivid that I wrote it down and later when it became necessary to give Cadeyrin (my character) a motive for backtracking, I blended my experience into the story.
It took several rewrites to get it right, but after I finished, I had added an entire chapter in which Cadeyrin, previously trained as a Shaman, is able to determine the location of Kathleen Whitby, my modern female lead, who has accidentally translated through time to the Younger Dryas Period of the North American Pleistocene.
As an example, here’s a brief section (Copyright 2016) from chapter eight of Heart of Fire Time of Ice. I used italics to indicate where Cadeyrin entered an altered mental state.
Cadeyrin tentatively started off towards the flickering light along an old bison path worn in the prairie grass. After a few steps, he became aware that a friendly animal spirit was leading him.
Wolves suddenly howled in the near distance. The eerie sound led him to recognize his guide as his personal wolf spirit.
Together he and the spirit walked through the grass until they came to a rise, which they ascended. On the other side was the open space with his fire in the middle. It had burned down in his absence and was guttering, sending out flickers of flame as the wind ignited gasses rising from the coals. As he stepped into the open space, he sensed other spiritual entities around the area, but none intruded on his immediate consciousness.
The wolves came closer as he built up the fire, but he felt no threat from them. It was as if they were just curious about his presence and waiting to see what would happen.
The flames grew high, and his spirit guide took on a feeling of wildness mixed with joy. He followed it as it led him on a triple circuit around the fire. The flames shot out sparks, and a larger burst of flame ascended. At that moment, his companion shifted into a huge wolf-like figure. Together they raised their heads and howled upwards, and then he was following the spirit guide, traveling through the sky, far away from the fire circle.
His sense of being accompanied faded, and he ended up in a high location, as if on the peak of an immense mountain. As he looked down, he could see through both time and space. He could see his childhood: his father teaching him to hunt, one of the old women teaching him about medicinal plants, and the tribe’s path across the plains as they came from the east. He could see their excitement as they encountered herds of bison, and he felt the fullness and satiety after a successful hunt. He could see the attackers as they killed his people while he watched, hidden. He saw his path to this current place. He saw himself by his fire and then he could see his path winding into the future. He traveled towards a forest, then back, then a figure appeared, but it was unclear and hazy. He followed it, and it receded into the future. He paused, and it came back. He felt that somehow it gave him a sense of completeness and he yearned for more of that feeling.
I used many of the traditional aspects of the OBE experience in my description.
The scene is intriguing and compelling precisely because it is authentic, having been taken in large part from my own experience. That authenticity gives the reader a sense that Cadeyrin is real. He becomes a character to whom one can easily relate.
This relates to the old advice to “write what you know.” In my experience, this makes for good reading, but it also seems restrictive to may authors. After all, who has traveled in space, or met the spider aliens from Arcturus 5?
My best advice is to search for situations that you know and then use your imagination to morph them into your story. It’s your story, after all, and you’ve got the right to tell it how you want. Just remember, the more authentic it is, the more compelling it is to read.
I hope you found this discussion both interesting and useful.
Thanks for reading.