Guest post by Kindred Spirits
Susan Blackmore — Out of Body Experience
Susan Blackmore had an out-of-body experience in 1970 that she thought was astral projection at the time. She later earned a PhD in Parapsychology. She’s now an atheist, practices Zen meditation on retreats but does not consider herself a Buddhist, and researches consciousness, out-of-body experiences, and memes, among other things. (Her website)
An account on her website of her out-of-body experience, which links to another web site with a more complete discussion of her out-of-body-experience, due to additional notes and comments made long after the original writing.
“Out-of-the-Body, Explained Away, But It Was So Real…..”, by Susan Blackmore:
“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.”
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.
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.
Reading her story, imagine if someone with a different starting set of assumptions had the same experience, what conclusions would they draw? E.g., would a Christian assume they had been drawn up to the seventh heaven, as Paul was, and therefore believe that all the Bible was true? (Also, would Paul have experienced galaxies, given that the cosmology of the time did not know they even existed?) Would a Hindu devotee of Krishna have assumed that therefore all of the Bhagavad Gita was therefore true? Ie, Does anything about the experience support any particular religious tradition over another? Does it require that all of that tradition is therefore true? That all of that tradition’s dogma and doctrine is true? Salvation by grace vs good works? The details of the trinity? Papal infallibility? Young earth vs Old earth creationism?
It was interesting that she had an insightful perception about the chimney’s early on, and yet it still took quite a while before concluding psi and astral projection were not real. And it can’t be blamed on childhood indoctrination. Also, it took many years of experimenting with drugs and other attempts to repeat the out-of-body experience, before she concluded she just wants clarity of insight into the real world, and meditation gets her that. In short, our own ability to fool ourselves is quite strong!
There are additional essays on her website that are interesting, although it’s been too long since I’ve read them to recommend any particular ones – just sample any topics you’re interested in.