First post of this blog, originally published August 23, 2014
About six months ago, I picked up working on a novel I’d started writing about ten years ago. In it, the main character has spontaneous Out of Body Experiences (OBEs). In order to write about them in more depth and with greater understanding, I began to research the subject.
The notion of astral projection has long fascinated me. Imagine! Being able to leave your body at will and travel anywhere in the world you want to go! Screw you, American Airlines, with your $25 per bag handling fee!
Over my lifetime, I’ve had several extremely detailed dreams in which I visited places which seemed and felt entirely real. In a few cases, I later found myself in these places and recognized them from my dreams. Had they been spontaneous OBEs?
Back in junior high, I dreamed about a lake in the mountains. Overhead, was an impossibly clear, high, cerulean sky. Lavender-colored mountains, ringed with mossy green, spilled into the purest aqua water! The colors were so vivid, they were surreal; I’d even say emotional. When I awoke I felt compelled to sketch it out, in full color pastel chalks (which didn’t at all do it justice. No artist’s medium could have captured the intensity.) My drawing remained in my desk drawer for years as a “snapshot” of my trip. (It may even still be with my old papers.) I felt I had absolutely been there and seen it with my own eyes, even though I didn’t believe such a perfectly beautiful, beautifully perfect place could actually exist on this planet.
After college, I traveled for eight months around Europe and lived for a while with a man in Athens. When I got home, we remained in touch, sending letters back and forth across the Atlantic (this was long before email.) Initially, the letters were weekly, then dwindled in frequency to monthly, until finally, it had been nearly nine months since I’d heard from him.
One night, in a dream, I went to visit him in the tiny apartment in the Ano Ilisia section where we’d lived together. I was “informed by neighbors” he no longer lived there; that he’d moved to a different neighborhood – an area where several of his friends lived and which we’d visited together on a couple of occasions. I “flew” to the new neighb and tried to find him, without luck.
The very next day, I received a letter from him telling me he’d moved from Ano Ilisia to a new apartment, in the very area where I’d been looking for him in my dream!
In my mid-30’s, I traveled for a while in Tibet. Most of the roads there are carved into the sides of mountains, with a precipitous drop off the other side. One afternoon, the bus I was traveling on came to a stop behind a long line of traffic. Way ahead of us, a truck had fallen halfway off the mountain. Other drivers (who seemed used to this kind of thing) had attached thick ropes to it, and were attempting to pull it back onto the road before it tumbled into the abyss.
Clearly, this was going to take several hours, so I (and others) got out of the bus to stretch our legs and have a little walk-about. And there, just ahead, around a bend, was my lake, just as I’d pictured it! In the thin air of the high altitude, the colors shimmered with the same intense clarity they had in my dream! It was very literally, a mystical experience because of the dream, because of my own journey, because of where I was (in the Himalaya, for dog’s sake!!!) and because of the incredible intensity of the color. The intensity was made even more jarring and poignant, by my having just spent half a week bouncing across the bleak, colorless landscape of the Tibetan plain. This lake was like a miraculous view of heaven; as if I’d been blind and suddenly was able to see again!
I have always accepted these and other similar dreams as spontaneous OBEs but of course, I had no control over my itinerary.
At various times in my life, I’d made half-hearted attempts at astral projection without success, but finally, I felt I was spiritually mature enough to re-tackle my goal.
I read books and articles, visited websites, and I listened to recordings embedded with binaural tones at specific frequencies which were supposed to facilitate OBEs. I spent many hours, over the course of a couple of months, attempting to fling my consciousness out of my corporeal form and into the ether. I usually got as far as the pre-flight indicators — vibrations along my entire body; heart palpitations; a sense that my limbs were in different positions than they physically were — but I don’t believe I ever achieved lift off. Anything I saw or felt in that condition could easily have been explained as a fantasy or a dream or self-hypnosis.
On several occasions, while listening those recordings, it felt as if my conscious mind were separating from my body, but I could never get it to go anywhere. Every time I tried to turn around and look back at myself on the bed, I still felt my consciousness inside my own head. (No doubt I wasn’t separating at all but just in an hypnotic state.)
What I was expecting — what I wanted –– was for my mind to travel at will, with control. I wanted to visit a place far from home and witness things which could later be verified (as had happened during my spontaneous travels). Although I very much wanted to have a “real” OBE, my criterion for judging whether I’d actually had one was (and continues to be) very high. If my experience can be explained in a simple, logical, scientific or psychological way, I am always inclined to accept this versus some mystical justification. Still, I was always hoping for the mystical; hoping to have an experience which I could not explain in another way.
After a couple of months without lift-off, I gave up further attempts at OBE. I assumed that would be the end of it.
But then some strange things began to happen…
The last story, A Gentle Invisible Force, is the final post of the original series. The next post will begin the entire cycle again, with new stories and commentary interspersed, as before.
If you joined the party late, I think you will find the genesis of this project quite interesting.
Now that the book is finished and published*, hopefully I’ll find more time to channel some new narratives. Stay tuned!
Thanks, as always, for your continued support.
I first met her on my first day of school and she was there when I died, but I barely knew her. Our lives crisscrossed each other like strands of DNA. Though we rarely interacted in any deeply personal way, we applied a kind of subtle gravitation force upon each other.
In school, she was the pretty one. The smart one. The one who never let her emotions get the better of her, even when, as puberty hit, the rest of us were turning into mad witches. She remained always cool and aloof. Although popular with a select crowd, she was never mean or condescending to others. She was naturally intimidating but she was never unkind.
I, for one, did not think of her as an individual. To me, she was an icon. The epitome of all I wanted to be, and which I knew I would never become. I tried to emulate her style, her grace, but she always did it better, easier.
When we were about nine, I developed a very secret crush on a boy in our class and carried a torch for him all through school. I dared not share my feelings with anyone lest they laugh at me. It was obvious he would never feel the same about me. He barely noticed me. I was beneath him in every way.
When we were 12, they discovered each other and became inseparable. I wasn’t jealous. It made sense that the perfect girl would end up with the perfect boy. Rather than envy, I felt curiosity. What would it be like to be that confident? To be the kind of woman who could attract a fine man?
After graduation, we all went our separate ways and I didn’t think about her much, except still, perhaps as a standard by which to judge myself.
Many years later, coincidentally, our children went to school together. We would nod a polite hello to each other, or perhaps converse casually about upcoming events. I hated to admit it to myself, but I was still intimidated by her. I always felt bad about myself when I saw her. She reminded me, through no fault of her own, that I was “less than.” Still, I felt no animosity for her. It wasn’t her fault that I felt as I did. She wasn’t doing anything wrong. She was just living her life, being perfect.
Her house was nicer than ours. Her children, better behaved. Her husband, more successful. But she never noticed the envy of others. She did not act superior. She simply was, by any measure I could think of, superior.
I never sought her friendship nor she, mine.
Eventually, our children moved to different schools and once again, she was out of my life. Another decade passed, and then we met again, this time working for an organization. She had all the right social connections and so rose quickly to the top. I remained firmly in the middle. We ran into each other from time to time, and as always, chatted politely though never vapidly. Short, intelligent conversations about current events or organizational issues. I felt flattered that she took me as her equal.
After a few years, I moved on from that organization, while she remained and rose higher still. Meanwhile, I occupied myself with other things.
Many years later, we met again at the home of some old school friends. Her position in the organization had been terminated. Her husband had left her for a younger woman. She was forced to sell her beautiful home. She revealed these turns of event matter-of-factly, still hiding behind her impenetrable facade, emotionally aloof as always.
That night, when I went home, I looked at my life and I felt grateful. I was happy and I was loved, and those were the most important things. Why should I be jealous of her when I had everything I needed right here?
After that, I removed her from her high pedestal and placed her on a lower shelf. I no longer compared myself to her version of perfection. I realized I was perfect in my own way, and I was OK with that. We are all good at something. I didn’t have to be good at her thing. I only had to be the best I could be at my own. This was the beginning of my self-acceptance.
In and out, again and again, over the years, we would encounter each other in casual ways. Never friends but eventually friendly enough by virtue of our long history, to catch up on the essentials of our lives – for example, the deaths of our parents, the births of our grandchildren, her eventual happy remarriage.
I came to know her better, although never well. I began to understand that the woman I thought she was had existed only in my imagination. She wasn’t aloof. She was painfully shy. She cultivated her friends carefully and so didn’t have many. She curated her facade meticulously but she was far more fragile than she ever appeared. With these realizations, I stopped judging my perceived faults and the perceived faults of others, by a false standard of perfection. I began to notice what was right about people instead of what was wrong with them. These lessons informed my life and my relationships.
Many years passed without us crossing paths. I hadn’t given her more than a fleeting thought in years. But then, in our late years, we found ourselves in the same home for the aged, both widowed, both great-grandmothers. Only we, of all those others in that place, shared a history that went back to childhood. Only we, remembered all those places and people, long gone. And what we didn’t remember, the other often filled in. And so we talked. And talked. And talked. The separation that had always been between us fell away. We were too old to care about hiding our feelings, protecting our faces to each other.
One day, I told her how I’d envious I’d been of her in school, and for many years after; how I’d judged myself against her, and finally, eventually, I felt myself perfectly equal. Better in some ways, worse in others.
And what she confessed to me made me rethink my entire life.
She told me she’d always been envious of me! (Even in my dotage, I was shocked!) She was envious that I did not live in fear of the judgment of others. Even as children, she admired my ability to make friends easily. She felt compelled to always behave in a certain way – quiet, dignified. She admired my willingness to make a joke at my own expense. She felt constrained by having to pay attention to detail. She admired my ability to roll with the waves, make the best of whatever came along. She was painfully shy. She recognized that many took this for aloofness, but still, she could never overcome it. She admired my ability to easily engage others in conversation. She rarely felt as if people saw her as she was. She did not feel known. She wished she could be casual and easy with people, let down her guard, and not be afraid to let them see her. She thought I was brave, not caring about perfection.
Oh, the irony of that!
She sat at my bedside the day I died. I’d been unconscious for nearly a week, and she sat with me every afternoon for a few hours after lunch, in silence, just thinking about all the things that had happened to both of us over the years; how our lives had been so different. Yet here we were at the end, in the same place, in the same situation.
I understand now that there are people who remain on the periphery of our lives, but who nevertheless affect us deeply, and whom we affect in return, often unawares. They may meet us upon our journey as merely a pebble in the shoe or a jug of water when we are thirsty. They might be the shade of the trees overhead, which we barely consider until we walk must through a desert with the sun beating down upon our head. They may be a vulture in that desert. They may be an oasis. Or they may be the shepherd dog who nudges us back onto the path. They may be the fruit of wisdom, which we come upon at the moment of peak ripeness.
I was on a trajectory to a perfectly normal life. I was mostly good, though sometimes a bit naughty. There were times I was full of certainty and promise and other times I was crippled by misgivings and frozen by doubt. Sometimes, I felt myself to be invincible; other times, I felt vulnerable and bare. In other words, I was perfectly normal.
And then the scandal. I was only a peripheral player. There was no reason for me to have been brought into it at all, but the silver ball of fate landed in my number. I was in the right place at the wrong time.
Soon, everyone had an opinion about me, most of them bad. Any why? I’d done nothing so different that many others did before and after me. Except others don’t get caught in such a spectacular way.
After that, my life was never the same. The press hounded me. When that finally abated, many still whispered about me. My name was synonymous with my shame, and I would never be free of the taint.
I tried my best to rise above it; to develop a philosophical attitude. I managed a fair degree of success in no longer caring what the strangers thought or said about me, but I never was able to get over that initial punch in the solar plexus when I’d be recognized in a social setting and the murmur of whispers and surreptitious glances would begin afresh.
I went on with my life. What else could I do? I would not hide. Pourquoi? I was not a criminal! More than one person suggested I change my name. I refused, on principle. None of those who threw hypothetical stones at me were without plenty of sins of their own.
I lived a much smaller life than I had before. My friends and family closed ranks and kept me sheltered from the gossip and petty ill will of others.
Eventually, the public forgot. My transgression was too far in the past for anyone to care about it. There were far more intriguing sinners to star in the morality plays of the self-righteous.
And slowly, I started to live again. But those were decades I would never get back.
I won’t say those years were wasted but it took me a long time to appreciate all I learned from the derailing of my life. I am learning, still.
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(Although written over three years ago, the moral of this story is excruciatingly apt for what’s going on now.)
The writing was on the wall, plain enough to see for anyone who looked. I saw it, myself, but I could not believe what was written. All the signs were there. Danger increased every day. Mistrust festered. Hatred boiled just below the surface. You couldn’t help but feel it, but many of us were hoping it would burn itself out. We could not believe it would get worse. Surely people would come to their senses! After all, we were living in modern times, in a civilized place. So we thought. But then, doesn’t everyone believe they are living in a civilized place in modern times?
The lucky ones, the smart ones, they left while they still could. The earlier they heeded the signs, the more they were able to salvage of their lives. Others, like me, simply couldn’t believe it could get bad enough to warrant picking up our entire lives and fleeing; leaving behind everyone and everything we knew. Leaving behind our homes, our businesses, our jobs, our schools, our places of worship, our sense of belonging.
By the time things became desperate, there was no escaping. The slaughter had begun and there was no one and nothing to protect us. In that time of fear, what was most terrifying of all was seeing how quickly men become animals; how uncivilized they can be the defense of their civilization.
It’s natural to look at violence and war and cruelty that takes place far away or happened long before we were born, and think, “That was a different time; those were different people. It can’t happen here. We are better than that.”
I learned in the most cruel way, it is always dangerous to underestimate the brutality of humans.
Too many are of them are voids, easily raised to ire and led to violence by those who can fill their hearts with meaning.
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Even as a child, I could not bear the weight of my own emotions. I bore the brunt of everything with maximum intensity. It was both a gift and a curse. My attachments were obsessive. My pain, unbearable. But my soul went deep.
I’d be angry then sad then joyful then angry and sad again, sometimes in the course of an hour. I had no control, and nobody ever taught me how just be.
Over time, I developed my own coping skills. Not all of them proved successful in the long term.
For example, I discovered that if I hurt myself physically, I could temporarily relocate the pain outside my head to a place where I could attend to it. To me, that felt like control.
My feelings clanged against the bars of my internal prison. When I immersed myself in loud noise, when I filled my head with sound (sometimes it was my own screaming), it drowned the sound of my own noisy emotions.
By the time I became an adult, there were treatments. While they helped dull the clatter, they offered their own problems. My choice was: anguish and fear (which were feelings at least), or numbness.
Initially, the numbness was welcome. Imagine being pulled from a crazy, loud, verbally abusive family and dropped solo on a deserted island. Oh, to have peace and quiet in my own head for the first time! But it became quickly clear that this was a bargain with the devil. I missed my own mind, as damaged as it was. I felt isolated, even from myself. All my life, because of how I was, I’d interacted with the world in a certain way, and from that experience I’d learned all my lessons. And then I wasn’t that person anymore and none of my lessons applied. I had no idea how to be in the world, how to exist inside my own body.
And so I ran away from the treatments and the doctors and good-intentioned family members who wanted the best for me, but also for themselves. As myself, I disrupted all their lives. As not myself, I had no life.
I suffered, not because of the voices or the feelings, but because I didn’t know how to co-exist with them. I never learned to make peace with them. It took enormous energy, which I didn’t often have, not to let them dictate my mood. I would command them to stop, and sometimes, for a while, they would. Eventually however, I lost the strength and will to fight them.
I could have continued the treatments and lived what would have seemed, from the outside, a normal life but I believed that was the cowardly way. These were my demons to tame, and if I lost the fight, at least I stood up to them.
In the end, the demons did me in, but I fought nobly and remained in possession of my soul to the end.
Love is defined not only by the emotions we feel for others but by how others feel about us.
We each make our choices about who we want to be. Shall we be the kind of person whom others feel joy to keep close to their hearts, even after we long are out of their lives? Will we be entirely forgettable, leaving little impression on those whose lives we’ve crossed? Will we be the person who causes others anticipate the relief of no longer feeling anything for us? Do we uplift those around us or prop ourselves up at the expense of others?
And it is from these basic choices that our actions flow. And from these actions, grow our character.
As a child, I never had much use for school. Perhaps I lacked the interest or the attention span. Or maybe I just wasn’t smart enough. Or maybe a little of each. I dropped out of school before high school and felt like a big, important man because I worked and had spending money, while my friends still suffered in class.
When I was older, those same friends became more successful than I was because they had more resources, more knowledge, more information. But I had my own small business and earned a good living – enough to support my family in a comfortable way. To be sure, I did some things that weren’t one hundred percent legal in order to stay above water, but I was smart enough never to get caught.
I would never admit it to anyone – I couldn’t even acknowledge it to myself — but I was insecure about my lack of education. Rather than consider myself less than those who had degrees, I mocked them – to myself and to others. I took the position that highly educated people had no idea about real life; that all their knowledge was theoretical. Their so-called facts had no relation to my world. The academics in government made policy based on statistics and theory. I, however, had real-life experience. My opinions were at least as valuable as their facts and theories; maybe more so. I had no use for them.
I resisted change. My position was that the old way was good enough. It wasn’t so much that changes in the world did not benefit me (although they generally did not) but rather I did not have the ability, knowledge or flexibility to evolve with the times. I couldn’t keep up with technology. I didn’t have the intellectual capacity to read about or comprehend new concepts. I didn’t have the energy or focus to navigate cultural shifts. Society grows ever more complicated, and I preferred the comfortable familiarity of what I already knew. I simply wasn’t up to the challenge of constant change. I voted for people who thought as I did, even though they were as unqualified as I was to run the country.
The older I got, the more conservative I became in my thinking. I became bitter and angry that the world was moving forward without me, regardless of how much I kicked and screamed. By the time I died, I was so fed up with the world and how (I believed) it had changed for the worse, I wasn’t sorry to leave it behind.
Human culture is continuum of those who remain grounded in the past and those who are willing to leap off a cliff into the unknown. Sometimes a leap into unknown produces great advances forward. Sometimes, it brings disaster. Those who resist change function as an anchor. They assure that when those who jump off the cliffs leave a big stain, someone is left to run things. On the other hand, if nobody is willing to take the leap, there is no progress; humankind would stagnate and die. Those at the extremes balance each other, keeping the equilibrium.
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