By E. W. Kellogg III, Ph.D. ©2014 © 2014
Given the theme of this issue of LDE, “Lucid Dreams or OBEs,” I’d like to share some of my comparative observations, based on my own experiences. I’ve had well over a thousand fully lucid dreams, and around a hundred OBEs, many of them intentionally.
Some controversy has arisen on the nature of lucid dreams (LDs) as compared to Out-of-the-Body (physical) Experiences (OBEs). I do not consider OBEs as simply a kind of lucid dream. Of course differentiating OBEs and lucid dreams depends very much on how one defines them in the first place. I differentiate them based on my own experiences, and reasonably careful personal observations. For the most part, in discussing OBEs and lucid dreams with other people who’ve experienced them both, I‘ve found good agreement with the phenomenology I’ll describe.
So how do OBEs differ from lucid dreams?
For one, most people who’ve had OBEs vehemently deny not only that they had a dream, but also claim to have actually left their physical bodies. By this criterion alone OBEs fail to meet the most basic definition of lucid dreaming, that individuals realize that they dream while they dream. Do OBErs really leave their physical bodies?
From a phenomenological point of view (see Note 1), the question of “what really happens” in a hypothetical “objective reality” seems beside the point. Do Out-of-Body Experiences exist? Of course, and so do In-the-Body Experiences (IBEs)! But do OBEs constitute a category of experience distinct from lucid dreaming or not? In my experience, OBEs differ from lucid dreams in other important ways.
Let’s take a look at a few.
First, in my experience environmental stability in Out-of-Body Reality (OBR) seems much more like waking physical reality (WPR) than lucid dream reality (LDR). When I take a second and even a third look at objects in OBR, the objects stay very much the same. I generally find myself in a close counterpart to my physical body, but sort of a semitransparent white color, that can feel very light, or very dense, depending upon my “vibrational rate.” I feel a very strong and defined sense of embodiment, directly comparable to that felt in my “physical” body. Unlike in LDR, “magic” does not work very well in OBR.
My body shape seems relatively immutable, and although I can fly (and go through walls) if I speed up my vibrational rate sufficiently, I’ve had very poor success with psychokinesis, transformations, materializations, etc., tasks which I can usually perform with ease in lucid dreams. In OBEs I generally go about naked and have had little success in generating clothes, which appear automatically in LDR.
Although my state of consciousness during an OBE feels very similar to that in a fully lucid dream, my memory of the experience after the fact has an exceptionally vivid and enduring quality. This stands in marked contrast to my memory of even fully lucid dreams, which tend to fade unless I make a strong intentional effort to remember them after waking up.
Furthermore, I actually don’t experience “waking up” as such after an OBE, just a return of my consciousness to my physical body. The lack of the transitional sensation of “waking up”, and the clear and unforgettable aspect of my memory of an experience acts as a kind of litmus test for me, verifying that I’ve had an OBE and not a dream.
First, in between the physical reality waking state and the OBE state, in what I call the pre-OBE state, a kind of experience occurs that seems relatively common – usually described under the heading “sleep paralysis.” During such experiences, although I feel fully awake, I cannot move – I feel physically paralyzed.
In my early experiences of OBEs, I often felt waves of energy rushing up and down my body, and heard a buzzing vibration sound. My consciousness felt dissociated from my physical body and associated with a second non-physical body, but this second body still seemed attached to the physical. I can see and hear, but although it seems like I do this physically, I often see and hear things not physically present.
And although I can see, my physical eyelids remain shut. I see a room that looks like my physical bedroom, but I may also see other entities in it – from “ghosts” to “angels” to “aliens”. Many others have reported experiences like this during sleep paralysis – most find these experiences quite unsettling.
If I intentionally speed up the vibration/wave moving up the body, I experience this second non-physical body becoming “unstuck,” and I can move away from my physical body, which remains in place. During all of this I feel fully awake in a similar way that I do when physically awake.
Sometimes I become incompletely unstuck, and have a sort of “partial OBE,” where for example, only my non-physical legs have detached, and they float above my physical legs. I can sense both pairs of legs, but can only intentionally move the non-physical pair. I find these experiences amusing rather than harmful.
Again, if by speeding up my vibrations I can usually unstick the rest of this second body, roll out, and have a full blown out-of-the-body (physical) experience. I’ve probably had this experience dozens of times. I’ve also talked with other people who have reported similar experiences in the pre-OBE state.
On rare occasions I’ve experienced myself in three phenomenologically different bodies in sequence. For example, I start in a dream, lucid and aware of myself flying in my dream body. I then “wake up,” to find myself not in my physical body, but in a non-physical body, floating above my physical body in my bedroom.
And finally, I get pulled back into my physical body, lying in bed. To my embodied consciousness, from the inside-out, each of these three bodies feels different, the dream body the most subtle and changeable, the physical body as the most dense and stable, and the OBE body as somewhere in between.
Finally OBEs – but not dreams – often absolutely convince the experiencer, as they did in my case, that they can exist without a physical body. They often lose their fear of death. Those who’ve had OBEs quite often find that they enjoy life much more, with a different core attitude towards it – an effect that will last a lifetime. An even more pronounced effect happens after an NDE, which usually include an OBE as well.
So, if OBEs and lucid dreams have such distinct characteristics, how does it come about that people – even research scientists – somehow conflate the two?
Well first off, although I’ve focused in this short article on differences, LDs and OBEs obviously also have a number of strong similarities. Second, once someone has had enough OBEs, they may begin to have dreams of OBEs, just as they have dreams that can convincingly counterfeit WPR experiences.
Often times I find that paranormal researchers (especially those who have little or no personal experience of OBEs themselves) include ‘dreams of OBEs’ in their data pool, which often leads them to the mistaken conclusion that OBEs just seem a kind of dream.
As for me, until I gained a greater understanding of the phenomenology, I initially only considered an OBE genuine if I maintained a continuity of consciousness from lying down in bed to experiencing myself leaving my physical body, while maintaining full conscious awareness throughout the process.
Whatever “really” happens in OBEs, for me they belong to a distinct category of experience easily differentiated from lucid dreams. Neither “fish nor fowl” OBR has similarities to both WPR and LDR, while having characteristics different from both. If you’ve had lucid dreams and out-of-body experiences yourself, I invite you to do your own phenomenological research, and to let us know what you find!
Note 1 For more information about the phenomenological method, and what this involves with respect to dreamwork, see my paper “Mapping Territories: A Phenomenology of Lucid Dream Reality,” Lucidity Letter, 8(2), 81-97 (1989), available online at academia.edu.