Of Lucid Dreams and Astral Projections.

Around April of 1995, I began having experiences that I initially could not stretch my mind to fathom — quite an accomplishment for that period, too, as my life had become replete with other flavors of weirdness. Though I had achieved these experiences through effort and experiment, my intention had been to induce an out-of-body experience (OOBE or OBE) in which I could exit my corporeal form by means of the coexisting subtle body, a nonphysical vehicle through which it was said I could explore the physical universe without ever leaving the comfort of the bedroom. I listened to a tape that claimed to teach me this ability, with one side blatantly offering instructions on how to do so while the other offered those same instructions, only subliminally, over the liminal sound of waves crashing upon a beach.

The result was not what I expected. Rather than waking up outside of my body, I awoke in a seemingly endless series of alternate versions of my bedroom: nested false awakenings, I later learned them to be called. And when I ceased listening to the tape I began having what at least experientially constituted OBEs, only I found myself not disembodied in the familiar, physical landscape but alternate versions of familiar physical environments. It seemed to be a different reality entirely, and I later discovered it fit the descriptions many attributed to what they called the astral plane, which essentially fits the description of what others refer to as a parallel universe.

As I came to understand it shortly after these experiences began, the astral plane was the name some people gave to a supposed parallel universe that both echoes and extends beyond the physical universe with which we are familiar. It contains alternate versions or different renditions of familiar, physical environments as well as realms that are unique to that reality. In this place intention was the vehicle; while you could navigate in the environment much as you do in the corporeal form, you could also focus on an aspect of the environment, or even focus on a distant environment, and you would immediately be catapulted there. The objects on this plane were also described as being self-luminous, requiring no external light source. All of this seemed to describe my experiences, most of all those initial experiences, damn near perfectly.

Later I came to suspect that they might instead be what are known as lucid dreams (and more rarely, waking dreams), which are dreams in which the dreamer becomes awake within the dream environment, though there are at least three reasons why lucid dreams did not seem to be a suitable explanation.

First is the fact that during my “astral projections” experiential time often seemed compressed. In his lectures, Stephen LaBerge speaks of the well-known sleep studies, where the rapid eye movements (REM) of subjects were monitored in their sleep. He cites a case in which one subject was recorded to have very regular left-right eye movements in their sleep, and upon being awakened and asked what they had been dreaming about, they reported that they had been watching a ping-pong ball go back and forth across a table. Evidently, at least in some cases, the REM of a sleeping subject was not random but rather followed the movements being made by the subject within the dream. From this LaBerge got the ingenious idea to have subjects consciously commit a series of agreed-upon eye movements when they successfully entered into a lucid dream state during these studies. As a result of this, lucid dreaming was suddenly scientifically respectable; they could also determine at what stage of sleep lucid dreaming occurs. What this also suggests to me is that dream-time, at least when one is lucid, is perfectly aligned with real-time, which puts the lucid dreaming experience at odds with my “astral projections.” An experience in the other realm can last a seeming hour and I awaken to find perhaps fifteen minutes had passed — which shouldn’t even be long enough for me to fall asleep, let alone achieve my first REM cycle.

Second is the fact that in nearly all the cases I’ve read about the issue with lucid dreaming is staying within the dream, whereas my issue has always been waking myself up and out of it. This was particularly true during my initial experiences, though the issue may have continued unabated and the only difference now is that I have come to enjoy the experience and don’t seek to exit as soon as I can. In those initial experiences, however, I was frantically trying to wake up, but the best I could do was exit the otherworldly landscape and enter my paralyzed, corporeal body or a dark, endless void before falling back into another strange environment.

Both of these qualities don’t necessarily disqualify lucid dreaming as an explanation, though it seems as though other factors may be present. It could mean, for instance, that these experiences of mine may be generated by some dissociative disorder or seizure that left my mind awake as it thrust my body into a state of sleep paralysis and total sensory deprivation, inspiring my mind to compensate for the sensory lack with spontaneous, unconsciously-generated material of its own. Maybe the rapidity of my mental processes during these episodes (which might make more sense if it was indeed a seizure of some sort) squeezes a large amount of dream-time experience into a comparatively small amount of real-time. My inability to wake up from this sort of special-case lucid dream could be due to the fact that the seizure or dissociative episode had yet to run its course.

A third though entirely subjective and so less convincing reason I felt resistant to the notion that these experiences may merely be lucid dreams were their astounding sense of hyperreality. Though I ultimately came to explain the experience as constituting a “different kind of real,” I originally and perhaps more honestly described it as hyperreal, as more real than the reality I experienced in my mundane, waking existence. Not only was the environment far more vivid than waking experience, but I felt far more awake, alive or aware in these circumstances than I did during so-called waking life. It continues to be difficult to articulate the distinction, but it remains nonetheless. This other world clearly operated in accordance with a distinct set of laws that distinguished it from mundane existence, but the quality of perception and awareness were heightened. This became a dilemma for me. Was I to judge the mundane world as real and the other world as fantasy or dream simply due to the difference in their guiding laws despite the fact that things seemed more real and I felt more aware in the other world? This perspective seemed flawed, which is perhaps why I came to settle on that other world as being merely a different kind of reality than the mundane one.

A former objection of mine that arose when considering whether these were lucid dreams used to be that I was unable to control the environment, merely my position within the dream (much as in waking life). During my first or second experience, during a break period in my fighting and fleeing from the entity that would go on to plague me during these episodes for years, I wondered if I was in a lucid dream and attempted to test the idea by willing something into manifestation. Though with considerable effort I was capable of manifesting a mute, translucent, animated image of a barking dog, it only held as long as my concentration could and I was never able of even getting that far ever again. I have since learned that there are various levels of lucidity and one is not always granted absolute power once one awakens; despite this, I find it suspicious that despite my painful awareness during those initial experiences and my deliberate attempt, this was as far as I was able to get.

Another former objection was that while I am wide awake during these experiences, at least for a time, I wasn’t necessarily certain that I was dreaming, just that I wasn’t awake in the mundane reality, and the act of being awake within a dream while knowing that you are dreaming is, well, the working definition of lucid dreaming. I have since accepted that this just might be a semantic argument, however.

I suppose the real question becomes how one could ever hope to distinguish whether an experience is taking place on the astral plane or in a lucid dream. The only difference in definition seems to be that the astral plane is considered a parallel universe, an objective reality much like our physical world, which is to say a neighboring space composed of a different set of dimensions, and the lucid dream is merely a mind-generated environment. One could add that an additional distinguishing feature is that the astral plane is a single universe accessible to all of us in just the same way the physical universe is, and so it should be possible for two people to independently travel there, share experiences, come back to their physical bodies, document their experiences and then confirm them to one another, thereby providing evidence that such a plane actually exists. This ignores stories where people claim to share the same dream, presumably telepathically, and sometimes in tandem with one or both of them being lucid within the mutual dream in question.

One might also add the argument that the astral plane depends upon dualism in the philosophy of the mind, on the notion that our physical bodies are but one of perhaps numerous transient vessels for our consciousness, and that the living and deceased can mingle on this plane, but this would be ignoring cases of visitation dreams, when the living has a dream of the deceased which provides information that seems to validate it was actually a mutual dream between the living and dead. It would also require ignoring what Dr. Ian Stevenson, in his research into reincarnation, called departure dreams, where the recently deceased visit the living to inform them where they will be incarnating next, and arrival dreams, where the deceased visit the living members of the family into which they will be subsequently incarnating. If the living can share dreams with one another and death is truly not the end of consciousness but merely a period of transition, it is not a leap to assume that the dead and disembodied can dream, and even share dreams as well.

It seems frustratingly unsatisfactory to conclude that there are no potential means of distinguishing between astral projections and lucid dreams, that it is all a matter of interpretation, but this seems to be the case — at least to my eyes, at least so far.

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The Plague of Devia Mara.

1/4/99

Effectively divorced from my skin and all sensory stimuli, I felt myself descend as if into the proverbial rabbit hole, leading me towards what either constituted a lucid dream or another plane of existence. The debate is still raging. In either case, I was awake and knew this was not mundane reality I was literally falling into, and so I feared the entity that had attacked me so often when this sort of thing happened might lunge at me, so in response I resorted to a technique I had picked up in my Occult readings and refashioned to my own satisfaction. Chanting the made-up word only I know three times, I summoned my protective shield. Evidently, the conditioning I had subjected myself during my ordinary, waking life paid off, as it occurred without effort in precisely the way I always imagined it to function. Starting in my chest area, a white, glowing ball of energy swiftly grew to encompass my entire form, cocooning me in a protective bubble of energy.

To my relief and amazement, the vicious entity without certain form never showed. Though I could be mistaken, I do believe that this was the first time that I had found myself awake within an otherworldly space and not ultimately been subjected to his relentless violence. As I continued to fall down this nonphysical well I saw floating Gray alien heads strewn all about as if I was underwater, which did not seem to be the case, until I ultimately came to rest in an alternate version of my bedroom. There, my lucidity depleted significantly.

What followed, at least in the notes that, judging from my handwriting, occurred immediately afterward, constituted various non-lucid but certainly vivid dreams. I cannot be certain of their chronology, the degrees to which I succeeded in remembering them or whether they were separate dreams or part of a single, enduring narrative, but they were of an uncommon clarity and an eerie, dark overcast. Two scenes have direct relevance here.

Inside what I know to be a long building with a large parking lot that in retrospect I surmised must have been a bar or restaurant, I am sitting at the bar, a friend to my left and a girl sitting to my right. She dragged off a cigarette held between long, frog-like lips positioned beneath buggy eyes, and I got the overwhelming feeling that she was depressed. For some reason, I also felt that she looked like a Jennifer.

In the next relevant scene, I am introduced to what I explained in my notes as a sex-crazed girl in a dark room. I saw her as if from below, sitting on her sofa chair as if it were a throne. Leaning back, sprawled on the chair quite comfortably, she had her right leg bent at the knee and leisurely aiming to my right, with that foot resting on the chair, the other leg casually hanging off the edge. She was clad in a black shirt and pants, her shoulder-length black hair the only discernible feature when I focus on her head, which is entirely draped in darkness.

Though I would much prefer to think that I walked, given the position from which I initially viewed her I would have to say that I was on my hands and knees and crawled toward her, eventually atop her, though her position did not significantly change as I did so. Looking down, I spied her belly, as concave as my own at the time, and her comparatively loose black jeans, void of any belt. So inverted was her tummy that I could not only discern that she wasn’t wearing any underwear but clearly see her finely-shaven vagina. I then asked her a question, I think whether or not she would be my girlfriend.

“No,” she replied. “No Sex.”

In the dream notes, I mentioned that she for some reason looked as if her name would be Devia, though I have never, up to the time of this writing, known any girl by that name.

***

Sometime after having this dream, when I again decided to try my hand at fiction, I wrote a short story inspired by the dream, which I entitled The Hole in the Universe. It dealt with a group of guys who hung out at a bar based partially on the one in my dream, which was run by the girl I had called Jennifer. Their typical, end-of-the-workday routine was interrupted one evening when a biker entered the doors, offering cautionary tales to the group regarding a girl he was attempting to hunt down called Devia Mara. He claimed that though he had never met her himself she had taken home some of the guys at the biker bar down the street and brainwashed them, drained them of all will, and those that returned to the bar after nights with her came back changed, not at all themselves. After ascertaining they had not seen or heard of such a woman before, he told them to be careful and departed.

As the story progressed, his dire warnings proved to have merit, as she had evidently moved her territory from his biker bar to their own and started plucking them away one by one — though in this case, none of his friends ever returned to the bar or were seen again. The last member of the group and the one qualifying as the protagonist of the story feared she was seducing and then killing them and, despite the fact that he had still never laid eyes on her, soon became obsessed with hunting her down himself.

Ultimately he encountered her on the stairs at a bar, where she bit his lip and he passed out, only to find himself bound in duct tape to the passenger seat of a car upon awakening, with her in the driver seat. They engaged in a rather aggressive conversation, during which she insisted she had not killed his friends but only helped them to accept their true, individual natures and open up to life, leaving their group and the bar behind them in the wake. Though she eventually releases him and they walk together along a bridge, he stubbornly refuses to trust in and be swayed by her as they allegedly had.

Up to this point I feel my story was okay — not great by any measure, but all right — though in retrospect I certainly feel as though there was far more I could’ve done with it. I am, on the other hand, entirely unsatisfied with the ending, where she revealed herself to be something akin to a psychic vampire or parasite of the soul and left him alone on the bridge, paralyzed, slowly disintegrating into dust, falling into the water below. It seemed dreadfully inconsistent not only with respect to the promise I felt she had in the context of the dream that inspired the story but in the story previous to that point. For her to reveal herself as some simple personification of evil after teasing true depth and complex motives through their conversation seemed cheap, and the ending rather predictable, at least in essence.

To make matters worse, there are suggestions that this was my intent from the very moment I began writing the story, though I can neither recall any specific intentions nor have I managed to uncover any suggestive notes.

For instance, I do know that there was a good reason I chose the last name Mara for her. By the point I had written the story I am sure I knew that a mare or mara was said to be an evil spirit essentially synonymous with mythical creatures such as the succubus, Incubus and the old hag in that they were said to straddle the chests of people as they slept and suffocate them, giving rise to bad dreams or “night-mares.” It should come as no surprise that they are currently thought to be hallucinations caused by sleep paralysis. I knew all this as I had one such experience myself in March of 1995 and had subsequently engaged in obsessive research — and in an era that was BG (Before Google), no less. The sense I got from my research was that such entities were essentially psychic parasites, which is clearly reflected in the ending of the story.

Though I am fairly certain that I had no knowledge of it at the time, I have also discovered that Mara was the name of the demon that tempted Siddhārtha Gautama on his path towards enlightenment, which is to say to the trajectory that terminated upon him earning the title of Buddha. Mara is therefore considered in the eyes of at least some present-day Buddhist sects to be the personification of all that seeks to keep one bound to the wheel of death and rebirth.

In essence, my intention seemed to ultimately present her as a seductive entity that enslaved others and drained them of their power.

***

Though her face remained concealed within the dream, once I introduced her in the realm of my writing I gave her definite features. I was rather taken aback when I read it again, as it seems to describe Hypnotic Haylee, who I only stumbled upon far later, rather accurately:

“Her green eyes dug into me like a knife,” I wrote. “Her forehead was tilted further outward than her chin, and locks of her black hair fell across her face, reminding me so much of a predator fixating on her prey.”

While I never delved into how it was Devia changed those who became entangled in her web, hypnosis would fit nicely, and had I known enough about it at the time I feel certain I would have included it in the story as the means by which she “brainwashed” the guys at the biker bar. In any case, I’ve come to suspect that this is why I ultimately gravitated towards Haylee so many years later. She fit the profile of Devia in the dream to a startling degree and at least physically in the story that it inspired, suggesting that I have been psychologically projecting Devia onto her.

Of Dreams and Alternate Realities.

What I lacked was conscious understanding, any semblance of a context, mental map or model of the out-of-body experience. 
 
There is, however, a relevant childhood encounter I had with my “teacher,” for whom I later would adopt the name Nimi. Though I must have remembered the encounter by the hypnosis session of April 27, 1995, it was not until some time afterward that I would begin to catch hints of the significance inherent in what she was conveying to me.
 
I confessed to her that I had always felt as if I had a foot, and perhaps half of me, in another world. As I told her this, I imagined my body wedged between a paper-thin membrane separating two worlds. In essence, I was, albeit involuntarily, painting a mental picture for her to go along with my telepathic voice-over just as she so often did with me. 
 
She responded with a soft, “in a way, that is true,” which made me immediately suspicious. I feared from her mental tone that perhaps it was just an adult’s way of humoring a child. It was not, as she did what adults never proceeded to do after casting out those words: she actually explained to me just in what way that was true.
 
With her inner voice, she told me that there were what she called “planes of existence” and that some people can function on these other planes better than others. Atop her telepathic voice I received the subjective image of perhaps four flat, rectangular sheets hovering a few inches above one another in a bluish-black void.
 
Though I have no recollection of it, she must have indicated that these planes separately or collectively constituted “the world,” as this produced immediate confusion in me. My understanding, I told her, was that the world was round, not flat. Her response seemed to clear things up for me, though that is all I could recall regarding the remainder of the conversation.
 
Like many of the things she had told me, however, it would have relevance to experience later in life, in this case with reference to the “astral projections” that began occurring outside my control around May of 1995.
 
The projections happened on several occasions with that remarkable intensity I experienced in the initial one, and continue to this day in a calmer way. I could never consciously will them to happen – they always happened of their own accord, be it by chance, accident, or the design of some outside force. 
 
While I believe there is sufficient evidence of disembodied consciousness, having an out of body “experience” is not necessarily synonymous with an exosomatic actuality. In some cases, it undoubtedly is, judging from the mass of accounts, but I can unfortunately not say the same, with any confidence, of my own.
 
In my own experiences there has never been any instance I recall in which I was roaming in a disembodied state through the familiar, physical landscape; a disappointment, I might add, as that was my original intention in pursuing the out of body state and in fact the only form I understood. Instead, I appear to only have access to what many others have referred to as other worlds, alternate realities, parallel universes, other dimensions or planes of existence. Is that truly what they constitute? 
 
After long bouts of contemplation in which I considered these experiences to perhaps be “nothing more” than what are known as lucid or waking dreams, I realized that the characteristics did not at all match. Despite being more aware than I could ever recall being in corporeal reality, I was unable to will the scenery to change. All that was within my capacity to do was exit the realm by turning inward, or imploding, and one of three things would happen.
 
Sometimes I would wake up in my body, finding it in a state of paralysis. Occasionally, I would be pulled down yet again into the “astral plane,” though always into a different environment than before.
 
Often enough I would experience, or recall experiencing, a place I have come to call limbo, however. Usually this place was a seemingly infinite black void, though sometimes one of a gold-tan color instead, and in some cases tunnels or wells of black or white color.
 
In limbo, sensations are always difficult to describe. On the whole, in seems to be an “electric” space. Here, the visual sense is at best peripheral in awareness and sometimes absent entirely, with the sensory field dominated with subtle energy sensations. This is the cheesy terminology I have adopted to designate what could otherwise only be described, perhaps, as a hybridization of the typical sensations known as touch, taste and movement. 
 
The curious thing about limbo is that it seems to serve as a multidimensional antechamber that leads, essentially, everywhere. I could somehow successfully execute a kind of bilocation, existing in my immobilized physical body and in the void I somehow sensed was “below” me at once, and so hover in-between the worlds. Being in my vacant, immobilized body did not involve use of my senses in most cases, but when I did occasionally hear something, like the radio or the hum of my computer, it sounded as one would expect it to if they were listening to it from underwater. By focusing on the muffled sound, however, I could use my attention as an anchor to the physical world as well as a rope by which I could pull myself back. 
 
The limbo could also lead me to other worlds, however, and I could linger in-between those other worlds and the limbo as well.
 
The quality of these alternate realities vary, or so it seems. It may be that some of these other worlds are dreamlike, others so rich they could almost be mistaken for the physical world, and still others hyperreal, experienced as being even “more real” than the physical world. Alternatively, it could be that the quality of the environment does not change, but only the quality of my means of sensing it and “being present” there.  
 
Even in my initial experiences in May of 1995 it was clear that the rich and intensely vivid quality of my surroundings was entirely relative to the degree of emotional intensity behind my attention. Objects and the environment as a whole seem to have their own self-luminescence, no evident external light source required — only the investment of one’s attention. This goes not only for the visual sense, either, but tactile as well, and presumably all the rest.
 
Indeed, my very existence there seemed somehow dependent on my attention on it. I could never decide whether or not this was due to its nature as a lucid or waking dream or due to the necessity of heightened awareness to activate the senses of that thought-responsive subtle body. It certainly felt that I drifted farther away when my attention slacked, that there was distance between me and that other body and that I was brought closer to the world with corresponding clarity of the senses when my attention sufficiently increased.
 
As with the first experience, spawned by the vision of a woman’s bare breast, acute attention seemed to “turn the lights on” behind this peculiar reality. If awareness spawned the realm’s full-sensory quality, did this not imply that it was indeed a product of my own mind? 
 
It later struck me, however, that this could indeed be a reality and my senses in the corresponding body on that plane of existence may have merely atrophied from lack of use, which may explain the initial blurriness I experienced. It was much like being tired or being under the influence of a downer drug and then being blasted into acute wakefulness. Perhaps my sudden and intense attention spawned my otherworldly senses into acute attention rather than the reality itself. 
 
Yet there were still other qualities that seemed to distinguish these experiences from the lucid dreams so many have reported. As an example, there was my mode of movement or travel within the context of the environment. Especially during the first experience, from the moment I became aware I seemed to be in a constant state of high-speed motion driven by where I focused my attention. The problem seemed to be that my attention was too intense and easily distracted, which led me to zipping about the surreal environment. 
 
Though I did not often see myself, during these experiences I felt as if I shifted between three distinct forms. In one, I was merely a ball, a center of condensed awareness. Occasionally I felt like smoke, a cloud, or amorphous mass. There were also occasions in which I felt as if I had what is more recognizable as a body, but this body seemed to be made out of something I can only relate to electricity. I later came to note that these three forms were more than slightly similar to the three forms apparitions are often described as manifesting as. Was it somehow the same body?
 
Though these alternate realities seem distinct from the dream, they are undoubtedly connected with them. The ultimate nature of the distinction has root, as William Buhlman has suggested, in their degree of sensitivity and responsiveness to consciousness.
 
Though our dreams constitute environments or spaces that are highly sensitive and responsive to conscious will and the unconscious mind of the dreaming individual, the alternate realities appear to have considerable resistance to such manipulation, though to some degree, at least, experience has shown it to be possible. 
 
This does not seem to be a repository of just my memories and imagination, however. It led me to wonder if each of us, outside of our personal mind, shared a greater mind, and so I was dreaming, even lucid dreaming, only it was of a higher order than personal. It was sort of a collective database for sensory perception and simulation.
 
Perhaps what I’m visiting are places which have been remembered or imagined by groups of people — perhaps these places serve as manifestations of the memory and imagination of the species. That so many have so often perceived the environments in our waking world would have the effect of ingraining their memories there complete with all their misperceptions, poor spatial intelligence, false memories and imagined environments as well. 
 
Memory would be built up, maintained, evolved through group reinforcement of experience and imagination through repeated and/or intensely emotionally-fueled exposure and/or execution. Such  “weight” of memory could not be changed without repeated or intense focus that culminates in a match to its power. Old habits die hard. Environments would resist fundamental manipulation by consciousness with the strength of its own memory.
 
Additionally, this collective mind may have qualities and processes similar to the individual minds that feed and draw from it, such as the disjunctive cognitions and interobjects of dreams — both constituting a mutation of association that either thrives or dies out in the ecosystem of the mind. If so, perhaps these alternate realities are mutations of the moments we have experienced; schemas we call cultural memory which we can experience as if through the ordinary senses as prototypes procured from collective “attractors”.
 
Though it took me some time to realize it, the strange atmosphere I felt when I awoke into those alternate bedrooms spawned from this sense that the world was on pause. 
 
Everything was silent, as if this was a freeze-framed still image — a free-floating, three-dimensional alternative version of my bedroom unhinged by temporal constraints. It was as if they were defective time-slices; moments rejected because they lack flow with the causality or chronology of reality. The probability wave never crashed in their favor, and so now each of these moments have been condemned to land of existential continuity errors, in which I have so often become lost.
 
Rather than absorptive focus on my physical body, which would once again ensnare me, lock in key, to biological, spatiotemporal constraints, I instead traverse the associations between the alternate frames by seeking instead the right environment, sometimes flipping through reality-channels like mad.
 
Though we experience 4-dimensional spacetime in a seemingly seamless sequence of 3-dimensional cross-sections which appear to be woven together by causality, then, could it be that reality as we experience it is really akin to a film in which various freeze-framed stills we could call “moments” are spliced together sequentially due to their degrees of similarity and difference to one another, which in turn produces the illusion of causality when experienced through the embedded material medium of the corporeal body?
 
Outside of that body, consciousness would traverse the frames by means of association through absorptive focus, able to explore mutant and literally timeless moments that never made it and even poke around in alternate sequences that do not jive well at all with the sequence of events we identify as home. Some of these frames might be single frames that carry only slight discrepancy with your home reality, others might be entirely off in left field and bear little to no correspondence with familiar experience