Descriptions of the “intermission” periods during incarnations (cases which Stevenson and Tucker refer to as CORT-I cases) resonate well with descriptions of near death experiences. In both cases individuals describe two realms: the familiar world we call physical and another, otherworldly realm. Both realms are also described by those who have exosomatic or “out of body” (OBE) experiences. Sometimes they are referred to as the gross or physical plane and the subtle or astral plane.
Religion has set up expectations of what the afterlife will be like based on the kind of person you are through the eyes of that religion. That explains the clear cultural influence and cross-cultural inconsistencies found among and between CORT-I, NDE and OBE cases — revealing them to be dreams. The lucidity that characterizes them and seems to set them apart from common dreams may be a natural result of a disembodied mind dreaming lucidly during an exosomatic state.
Whereas the embodied state of dreaming always anchors you to some degree to the gross world because of bodily sensations and processes, the “collapsing inward” of the disembodied mind, devoid of such requirements, may involve a far more complete state of absorption into the dream material. It may come on abruptly, making the transition from the disembodied state to the dream state seamless in some cases, which may be quite confusing as it would likely take on the form of a false awakening: it would, in other words, provide a dream environment modeled almost entirely by memories of the gross environment you just seamlessly phased out of.
Another possibility is that the transition from the waking disembodied state to the dreaming disembodied state may have a hallucinatory segue where you traverse from the “extra-sensorimotor” system to the “inner-sensorimotor” system in degrees spanning the spectrum. This is sleep paralysis without the paralysis to serve as a telltale sign. These may be the cases in which people find themselves up on the ceiling of their hospital rooms looking down on their dying body and suddenly see a portal or tunnel opening up in the nearby them. These transitions — tunnels, vortexes, doorways, bridges — are what lucid dreamers often use to ease from one dream environment to another.
These may very well be personal dreamscapes, but this need not necessarily be the case. Many cases of telepathic dreams (correspondence, mutual, synchronized) have been reported, as is the case, it would seem, in the dreams shared between the living and the dead (departure, arrival, visitation). There seems to be little reason there would not be such dreams between members of the deceased, and given their are tales of telepathic dreams shared by more than two people, the implications begin to get rather interesting.
To begin with, if the person believes this dream to be his unavoidable afterlife, it would confirm his religion to him and in so doing reinforce the illusions that seemingly confirmed it. This self-reinforcing feedback loop could ensnare a person. They may remain locked in a dream of this type for an untold amount of time.
When you factor in telepathy, the implications get broader and considerably weirder. The telepathic element in dreams of and between either or both the living and the dead suggest that such dreams may not only be dreams populated by one, but many. That kind of self-perpetuating, full-scale, collective delusion might have enslaved entire cultures, be it with a hellish realm or a more heavenly one (to stain my words with Christian influence). In the East, shared beliefs turned into a mutual telepathic dreamscape would serve not so much as an afterlife as it would an existential intermission, as they embrace a belief in reincarnation. Though it certainly shares the deceptive nature of the West, it seems far less threatening in its status as a realm one merely passes through on one’s way to the next fleshy receptacle.
While it seems to devalue the otherworldly aspects of these experiences in a way, it is only because we take dreaming to be something opposed to otherworldliness. Consider that the telepathic element of dreams and our capacity to utilize that ability in dreams regardless as to whether we or our partners are dead or alive seems to render the dreamscape indistinguishable from a parallel world or alternate reality.
Its association with notions of illusion are based upon both its strictly personal nature and its transience, as evidenced upon our awakening and ultimately at death revealed to be, like our consciousness, a mere epiphenomenon. Yet ample evidence (though by necessity anecdotal) suggests that the dreamscape is neither personal nor is it (or consciousness) such an epiphenomenon. Even it’s supposed transience upon awakening may be open to question, for even if a dream is reliant on a dreamer, mutual dreams suggest that you may not be the only one. So long as there is the consistent presence of at least one dreamer in the dream, the dream endures. If there is a great dream population, many could come and go at once and over time and the dreamworld would be as stable as the gross reality.
An element exists in both the personal and telepathic forms of these dreamworlds that makes them seem even less of an illusion. It stems from a notion I first came across when reading William Buhlman’s Adventures Out of Body, and it deals with regarding these environments being sensitive, responsive or reactive to both conscious and unconscious content, which makes it sound indistinguishable from a dream. In that way, it fits snug into what I have already written here, but it adds the important element of habit into the equation. He distinguished between different environments which he believed to be characterized by nothing more than their degree of sensitivity to consciousness. Some were empty voids, others came fully furnished with structures that were easily malleable given deliberate conscious intent, others seemed more resistant to consciousness and so on.
Upon the dreamscape, mind makes reality. With telepathy, minds share the realities they have made. Given reinforcement, these realities stabilize.
If the otherworldly aspects of the aforementioned categories of exosomatic experiences can be explained by personal or mutual disembodied dreams, then conscious lucid dreaming would be an invaluable art to master. Through repeated visualization procedures, one could create a customized afterlife — if serving as nothing more than a personal place to pass time away in the Big Sleep rather than be caged by conditioned cultural expectations. One could also execute more disciplined navigation through dreamscapes in general.