In 1971 Robert A. Monroe published Journeys out of the Body, an influential account of his experiments in "astral traveling" or out-of-body experiences. The book remains in print in an updated edition.
I've been reading it recently. It's a very strange book, and somewhat disturbing, because the experiences that Monroe reports are often nightmarish and chaotic. The book does not provide much reassurance that we live in a rational or orderly world. Frequently, Monroe experienced frightening situations where he was beset by attackers or found himself trapped in another dimension. He also quite often describes experiences that sound more like a dream or hallucination than anything else.
Here are three examples. Material in parentheses is from the original text; material in square brackets is added by me.
And yet, at times, in visiting Locale II [Monroe's term for another dimension], a very unusual event periodically occurs. It makes no difference where in Locale II, the event is the same.
In the midst of normal activity, whatever it may be, there is a distant Signal, almost like heraldic trumpets. Everyone takes the Signal calmly, and with it, and everyone stops speaking or whatever he may be doing. It is the Signal that He (or They) is coming through His Kingdom.
There is no awestruck prostration or falling down on one's knees. Rather, the attitude is almost most matter-of-fact. It is an occurrence to which all are accustomed and to comply takes absolute present precedence over everything. There are no exceptions.
At the Signal, each living thing lies down -- my impression is on their backs, bodies arched to expose the abdomen (not the genitals), with head turned to one side so that one does not see Him as He passes by. The purpose seems to be to form a living road over which He can travel. I have gleaned the idea that occasionally He will select someone from this living bridge, and that person is never seen or heard from again. The purpose of the abdominal exposure is an expression of faith and complete submissiveness, the abdomen being the most vulnerable part of the body or the area that can suffer damage most easily....
After His passing, everyone gets up again and resumes their activities. [pp. 122-123, 1977 edition]
* * *
As I stood there waiting, what looked like a 16mm. film projector started, and I saw a white light frame on a wall or screen, much the same shape as a motion picture. In handwriting, black on the white, was this message:
For pure psychic results, take
six drops of a chemical in
a glass of water.
I became excited at this, and moved over to the projector to try and reverse it to read the message again so that I could be positive that I had read it correctly. I kept fumbling for the reverse switch, but was unable to find it. (The picture had gone by this time.) I then saw what looked like film unwinding on the floor, and I thought I had broken the mechanism by tampering with it. This made me nervous, and I headed back for my body to avoid trouble... [p. 130]
* * *
The second condition is the sign in the sky. I observed this on five or six occasions when escorted by the "Helpers." It is an incredible series of crude symbols strung in an arc directly across one section of Locale II....
The symbols, as best my "seeing" could determine, were crude, sticklike illustrations of a man, an older woman, a house, and what looked to be algebraic equations. It was from one of the "Helpers" that I learned the story of the sign. He told it with some humor, almost apologetically.
It seems that an almost measureless time ago, a very wealthy (by what standards is not known) and powerful woman wanted to ensure that her son would get into heaven. A church offered to guarantee this to her, provided she paid to the church a tremendous sum of money (sic). The woman paid the church but her son did not get into heaven. In anger and revenge, she used her entire remaining wealth and power to have the sign put up in the skies of heaven so that throughout all eternity, all who saw it would know of the dishonesty and rascality of that particular church.
It was a job well done. The names of the woman, her son, and the church are lost in antiquity. But the sign remains, impervious to the efforts of scientists through the ages to bring it down or destroy it....
That's the story as it was told to me. [pp. 84-85]
All three of these stories seem a lot like dreams or hallucinations to me, and many similar accounts could be cited.
On the other hand, some of Monroe's astral traveling yielded verifiable information about distant events (though we have to take his word for it). Monroe was sufficiently intrigued by his experiments that he eventually found in the Monroe Institute, devoted to studying out of body experiences. This institute is still in existence.
What are we to make of all this? My tentative hypothesis -- and I want to stress the words tentative and hypothesis, because I am by no means sure of it -- is as follows.
To induce his OBEs, Monroe would typically lie down and start to go to sleep. At some point he would have the sensation of leaving his body and then the adventure would begin. I suspect that he did not fall fully sleep but was instead in state of consciousness known as hypnagogic consciousness. Hypnagogic consciousness is a borderland state between waking and sleeping. It can resemble being in a trance.
From the ganzfeld experiments, we know that a trancelike or meditative state can be conducive to the activation of latent ESP abilities. From other research, we know that persons in a state of hypnagogic consciousness are prone to vivid imaginary experiences. One hypothesis about the currently trendy claim of alien abduction is that the "abductees" were in a state of hypnagogic or hypnopompic consciousness and underwent an elaborate hallucination.
As Wikipedia puts it,
During the hypnagogic state, an individual may appear to be fully awake, but has brain waves indicating that the individual is technically sleeping. Also, the individual may be completely aware of their state, which enables lucid dreamers to enter the dream state consciously directly from the waking state ... This conduciveness to anomalous phenomena can be correlated with the initial increase of alpha and the later increase of theta brainwaves.
Putting these ideas together, we might speculate that Monroe's special talent was the ability to maintain a state of hypnagogic consciousness for a longer period of time than most other people. In this state his ESP talents would be heightened, allowing for clairvoyance or so-called remote viewing -- which could explain the verifiable information he was sometimes (but only in a minority of cases) able to retrieve.
In this state, as well, he would be prone to confabulate -- to develop complicated narratives reflecting his mood or subconscious thoughts. Since, as is clear from his narrative, he often approached these out-of-body experiments with trepidation and even dread, it is not surprising that the resulting confabulated narratives were frequently scary. It is also not surprising that his travels in "other dimensions" so frequently took on a bizarre dreamlike quality. There's very little difference between dreaming and hypnagogic hallucination, except that hypnagogic hallucination can seem much more real.
As one Amazon reader-reviewer observes,
Monroe never seems to have heard of lucid dreams. While other authors, such as Oliver Fox, spend considerable effort to distinguish LD's from true projections, Monroe seems to consider all his nighttime adventures as OBE's.
Of course, it is also possible that the enhanced ESP abilities associated with a trancelike state may have allowed Monroe to actually visit other dimensions, spiritual realms, or whatever we might call them. But I suspect that even if this did happen, it accounts for only a small part of the experiences he reported. Unless the universe really is crazy, I very much doubt that there is any realm of existence in which people are periodically arching their bodies on the ground to provide a road for God to walk on.
At least I sure hope not. I've had enough people walking all over me in this life!