Image by Stefan Keller
What’s the difference between dreams, visions and fully fledged Out-of-Body Experiences? Can we chalk it all up to imagination? Is there any empirical data that suggests we can actually “move” outside our bodies while fully conscious? If so, what actually “moves?”
If it is possible to move outside material reality, what will we perceive? Are the ancient stories and myths about spirit guides or helpers who live in unseen realms really true? Do such beings exist? And what else can we expect to find “out there?” These are the questions to which we now turn.
Dream: A series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurring during sleep.
Lucid Dream: A dream in which the sleeper is aware that he or she is dreaming and is sometimes able to control or influence the course of the dream.
Vision: Something seen in a dream, trance, or ecstasy; especially a supernatural appearance that conveys a revelation.
– Merriam-Webster Dictionary
The World of Dreams
Where does imagination stop and reality begin? How can you tell the difference between something that happens in your experience and something that happens in your mind, given the fact that anything that happens “outside” has to be eventually interpreted by our brains, which are most definitely “inside?”
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These are tough questions. Joseph Campbell, the college professor who, more than anyone else, brought the study of mythology into public consciousness after his conversations with Bill Moyers were broadcast on the PBS special, The Power of Myth, once said that dreams are a great source of the spirit.
There are cultures that take dreams much more seriously than contemporary western audiences. The Aborigines of Australia regularly “dream the fire” and consider what they call the Dream World to be more real than the outward world of illusion we call normal life. The traditional closing words each evening spoken by the innkeepers who were called the “Keepers of the Shrine” in Celtic folklore, were always the same: “May the Gods send you a dream.”
But what are dreams? The truth is, no one really knows. There are lots of ideas, of course. Henry David Thoreau once called dreams the “touchstones of our characters.” Robert Moss, in his book, Dreamgates, wrote:
“Our physical reality is surrounded and permeated by the vigorous, thrumming life of the realms of spirit and imagination to which we return, night after night, in dream. There is no distance between the Otherworld and its inhabitants and our familiar, sensory reality; there is only a difference in frequency.”
In this age of amazing and awe-inspiring scientific revelations about how the body works, in this age of discoveries concerning mitochondrial DNA and cell reproduction, in this age of Technicolor NASA flights and Mars Rovers, an amazing fact stands out above all else. At least it seems amazing to me. We have been sleeping and dreaming for millions of years, and no one knows why.
That’s right. No one. In spite of comprehensive research coming out of thousands of sleep clinics established coast to coast and around the world, the first and greatest commandment of sleep research is this: No one knows why we sleep. And the second is like unto it: No one knows why we dream, either.
The Study of Dreams
Sigmund Freud was the first modern psychiatrist to bring the study of dreams to the attention of the general public. His theory of dreams was that they were a representation of unconscious desires, motivations, and thoughts. He came to believe that we are driven by sexual and aggressive instincts that, due to social pressures, we repress from our conscious awareness. Because these thoughts are not consciously acknowledged, they find their way into our awareness through dreams. In his book, The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud wrote that dreams are “disguised fulfillments of repressed wishes.”
Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley suggested that dreams are a symbolic interpretation of signals generated by the brain during sleep. The symbols, if interpreted correctly by a trained analyst, can reveal clues which help us understand what is going on in our subjective unconscious.
A more contemporary idea emerged as computers caught on. When your home computer “sleeps” at night—in other words, when you’re not using it—some programs automatically kick in. They spend time cleaning up and organizing “clutter,” defragmenting and systematizing things so the computer will work more efficiently. This dream model speculates that your brain operates in the same way. When you “shut down” in sleep, your brain goes to work organizing all the thoughts and external stimuli you encountered during the day.
Yet another theory proposes that dreams operate as a kind of therapeutic psychotherapy session. Your brain tries to make sense out of things while you sleep in the safe environment of your bed, somewhat akin to a therapist’s couch. Things that happen to you are analyzed for meaning and projected on the wall of your conscious mind when you wake up and remember. Your emotions help make sense of the symbols.
We might very well discover that one or more of these models is correct. Perhaps the truth lies in combining parts of all of them. But for thousands of years shamans and mystics have taught that in dreams our normal waking consciousness is let out to play. It separates from its confines within the material body and brain and returns to its mystic union with the One. That is the purpose of sleep, they remind us. Without this daily renewal, life in the material world would simply be too hard to endure.
Modern sleep-deprivation and dream-deprivation studies seem to indicate that this is, indeed, the case. When we are tired and deprived of sleep, our creativity goes first. Then we start to forget things. Finally we go completely mad and die.
Dreaming: An Out-of-Body Experience?
In this day and age we may not fully understand what sleep and dreaming are all about, but we know that the material body ceases to function without them. Death is the result. That seems a pretty good indication that the ancients knew something about the importance of dreaming.
What this means is that dreams might well be considered another name for Out-of-Body Experiences, without which we would soon go mad and die.
Traditional shamans go even further. They claim that when released from the normal bounds of restraints of the waking, analytical hemisphere in our brains, our true nature, our consciousness, returns to the Source. They believe that with practice we can actually follow along while fully conscious. In dreams we perceive parallel dimensions in which we learn truths that guide our waking activities. The trick is to intentionally apply those truths to our waking experience.
The World of Visions
In many Indian tribes, a Native American youth was not considered an adult unless he had experienced a vision. After a solitary period of preparation he would seek guidance from a spirit helper, usually an animal envoy. Upon receiving his vision he would carry with him, for the rest of his life, a symbol of this new totem animal. It might be a feather or bit of fur, depending on the animal that had appeared to him. He would place it carefully in a medicine bag or pouch and it would never leave his side.
I’m rational and of scientific bent, not given to ecstatic experiences. But I am also an incurable romantic. For forty years I was a Protestant clergyman who lived most of his waking hours in the left side of his brain, meaning I am normally self-contained to a fault. Often, for me, religion was a matter of “knowing about” rather than “experiencing.”
But for almost five decades I was also a professional musician. I started playing in dance bands in 1960. I loved to watch people dance, but I couldn’t dance myself. It’s not that I didn’t have rhythm or couldn’t learn simple moves. It’s just that every time I tried to walk onto a dance floor a palpable, almost physical, force would say, “Stop!”
It bothered me for years. I even talked to a psychologist friend about it once, thinking that if I could learn to dance I could open up secret doors in my psyche that I didn’t even know were there.
His advice? “Loosen up!”
Hearing The Sounds Within
As the twentieth century drew to a close I spent time one summer at a cabin I had built in the woods of western New England, communing with nature while getting in touch with some issues that were on my mind. Five feet in front of the cabin’s porch was a rock, about four feet long, lying on its side. Obviously forces other than those found in nature had been employed to work the top smooth, and I had often wondered why it appeared to be almost face-like.
I spent afternoons for four days in this setting, meditating on whatever came to mind, trying to go deeper into myself than I normally do. By the second day I was conscious of sounds that I first thought were caused by cars on the highway, about a mile away. It was not until the fourth afternoon that I realized I was hearing the sounds in my right ear, which is completely deaf.
After a moment, it came to me that what I was hearing was not highway noise, but drums. Suddenly I was aware that I had snapped my eyes wide open and was experiencing a fully formed sentence ringing in my head. Even though my heart was racing, I didn’t hear a voice and I saw no apparition. I hadn’t been thinking about dancing at all, but the sentence that seemed to appear, almost floating before my eyes, was, “It’s not that you can’t dance. It’s that you won’t dance.”
As soon as I saw, heard, or somehow experienced that message I felt, rather than figured out, that the reason I could not dance was because, at one time, dance was so sacred, either to me or the people who danced on this spot of ground, that I could not sully it by reducing it to mere entertainment.
Surrendering to the Flow of Spirit
A few years ago, with our new house built and the scars of construction fading quickly from the recovering landscape, I meditated one afternoon and felt my Consciousness easily slip from my body. For once I was able to simply be rather than try to force a “happening.”
One of the biggest traps while practicing meditation is to try to repeat a past experience. So I simply surrendered to whatever would happen and went with the flow of the spirit.
I found myself moving out the door and standing in our gazebo, overlooking the Medicine Wheel. I stood with my arms raised, as though in prayer. Then I was at the Medicine Wheel itself, still standing with my arms raised to the Cosmos. Across the central stone stood an ancestor. Was she a spirit guide? I simply don’t know for sure. But I asked the ancestor to dance with me and held out my hands.
We whirled around the circle for a while, but something told me this wasn’t how you did it. So I asked her to teach me. Step by step, heel and toe, I learned what seemed to be an ancient dance. It was as if I was transported back to a time when tribes of ancestral Americans danced around a fire, perhaps on this very spot of ground.
But then things began to change. The only way I can try to describe it is that I began to grow on the inside. The Medicine Wheel was inside me, and then the whole property on which we were dancing, and then the whole world, and then the whole universe. It was all inside me. I contained the whole material universe. (Words here are simply insufficient.) Somehow I could see the dance of time, of the Cosmos itself, expressing itself in movement.
To be honest, I didn’t want it to end. But eventually I opened my eyes and found myself back in familiar surroundings. I went to tell my wife, Barb, about it, still feeling expanded and free. Then, remembering my very first vision beside the first standing stone way up in New England, a thousand miles away, she spoke aloud the words that had hung suspended before my eyes on that day long ago. Until that moment, I had forgotten them:
“It’s not that you can’t dance. It’s that you won’t dance.”
And now I was dancing! I had come full circle.
Had I finally begun to dance to the music of the spheres? Had the rhythms of earth energy begun to work their way into the very fiber of my being—the same rhythms our ancestors heard so many thousands of years ago?
I’ll never know, of course. At least I’ll never be able to prove it to a skeptic’s satisfaction. All I know is that I’ve had dreams while sleeping, and visions while fully awake. They are different, to be sure. But both seem exceptionally powerful and vivid.
Glimpses Through the Veil
Could such things really be possible? Can we sometimes glimpse through the veil to see snapshots of hidden realities?
It’s always possible, of course, to pull the wool over our own eyes. Sometimes we simply believe what we want to believe. But coincidence goes only so far. It seems to me that sometimes we employ the word to give us an excuse not to believe what our senses tell us is foreign to our normal experience. It’s a comfort to be able to say, “Oh, it’s just coincidence.”
But it doesn’t take much of a shift to consider plain facts that, as unbelievable as they might seem, might be pointing toward unseen realities.
©2019 by Jim Willis. All Rights Reserved.
Excerpted from the book: The Quantum Akashic Field.
Publisher: Findhorn Press, a divn. of Inner Traditions Intl.
The Quantum Akashic Field: A Guide to Out-of-Body Experiences for the Astral Traveler
by Jim Willis
Detailing a step-by-step process centered on safe, simple meditative techniques, Willis shows how to bypass the filters of your five senses while still fully awake and aware and engage in extrasensory, out-of-body travel. Sharing his journey to connect with universal consciousness and navigate the quantum landscape of the Akashic Field, he reveals how conscious OBEs allow you to penetrate beyond normal waking perception into the realm of quantum perception.
For more info, or to order this book, click here. (Also available as an Audiobook and a Kindle edition.)
About the Author
Jim Willis is the author of more than 10 books on religion and spirituality in the 21st century, including Supernatural Gods, along with many magazine articles on topics ranging from earth energies to ancient civilizations. He has been an ordained minister for over forty years while working part-time as a carpenter, musician, radio host, arts council director, and adjunct college professor in the fields of world religions and instrumental music. Visit his website at JimWillis.net/