Robert Monroe

by Susan Blackmore

Robert Monroe is no mystic or magician, but an American businessman with a wife and children living in Virginia. Working in the field of communications, he had been experimenting with learning during sleep. One Sunday afternoon he was lying down while the family had gone to church. Suddenly a beam of light seemed to come out of the sky to the north, at about 30 to the horizontal. His body began to vibrate and he seemed powerless to move, as though held in a vice. These sensations lasted only a moment and stopped when he forced himself to move, but over the following six weeks the same thing happened altogether nine times. He always felt the shaking but could not see any actual movement, and it always stopped when he moved.

Very worried, he went to his doctor, but was told there was nothing wrong. Soon he decided to face up to the sensations instead of fighting them and found that he could stay calm and come to no harm. Then one night, when he had lain down to sleep they started again, but this time it happened that his arm was out of the bed, his fingers brushing the rug on the floor. As he began idly moving his fingers he found that they seemed to pass through the rug. Then they passed the floor and Monroe felt the rough surface of the ceiling below, with a triangular chip of wood, a bent nail, and some sawdust. Through the ceiling his arm emerged and then touched water. Only as he splashed his finger in it did he become aware of what was happening. He yanked his arm back and the vibrations faded away.

Another time when the vibrations returned Monroe was thinking about going gliding when he found himself brushing against what seemed to be a familiar but strangely blank wall. With shock he realized he was bouncing against the ceiling, and there was 'he', down below in bed with his wife. Thinking he had died he dived back into his body and opened his eyes. Mostly the experience was frightening, but with encouragement to try it again from a psychologist friend Monroe eventually plucked up courage, and began his long adventure in OBEs.

As Monroe progressed he learned how to induce the experience at will and how to move when out of his body. On several occasions, he claimed, he succeeded in visiting friends and was able to describe what they were doing, the place they were in, and even their clothes. He learned to differentiate among three different 'locales' to which he travelled. The first of these, Locale 1, corresponds more or less to the normal physical world. In it are people and places that correspond to people and places in the physical. It is in this locale that all the veridical information was gained. For instance on one occasion he attempted to visit a friend, Dr Bradshaw, and his wife. He knew that Bradshaw was ill in bed and intended to visit him in his bedroom, a room he had not seen before. He managed to get out of his body and set off over trees and up a hill. This uphill travel was hard until it seemed that someone lifted him under each arm and helped him on his way. Then he came upon Dr and Mrs Bradshaw, but was puzzled to find them outside their house. He floated around them and tried in vain to get their attention, and succeeded only to the extent that the husband said something to him. Later on that evening he rang the Bradshaws and learned that his friend had decided that a little fresh air might help and so had gone outside, at about the correct time, with his wife who was going out to the post office. He had also described their clothes fairly well, but most important was that the experience was not what Monroe had expected. This experience was important in proving to Monroe, if not to anyone else, that there was more than just hallucination in what was happening to him.

Of course not everything he saw on his trips was correct. In this particular incident Dr. Bradshaw had not in fact spoken the words Monroe heard him say. On other occasions too he got details wrong, although he got many right. As with so many other OBEs, the details seen tended to be a mixture of right and wrong; enough right to make one feel that more than chance is involved, and enough wrong to be sure that the OBEer is not seeing a complete duplicate of the physical world at that time. An excellent example of this kind of mixture is provided by Charles Tart in his introduction to Monroe's book. After completing a series of laboratory experiments with Monroe, Tart moved to California, and decided he would try an informal experiment. He telephoned Monroe one afternoon and told him that he and his wife would try to help him to have an OBE and come to their home, which he had never seen, some time that night. They gave him no further details. That evening Tart randomly selected a time which he thought would be well after Monroe had gone to sleep. This turned out to be 11.0 p.m. California time or 2.0 a.m. where Monroe lived. At 11.0 p.m. Tart and his wife began concentrating. They continued for half an hour, ignoring the phone which rang at 11.05 p.m. Next day Tart rang Monroe and asked for his independent account of what had happened.

One detail was an excellent match. It was Monroe who had rung at 11.05 p.m. He had taken an OB trip, assisted by someone who took him by the wrist and guided him. He then drifted down into a room and on returning he rang Tart to tell him. The time match had been good but Tart adds, 'on the other hand, his continuing description of what our home looked like and what my wife and I were doing was not good at all: he "perceived" too many people in the room, he "perceived" me doing things I didn't do, and his description of the room itself was quite vague.'

This is a clear example of something we shall meet again and again: the frustrating mixture of right and wrong information. It is always tempting to feel that everything must either be right or not; that the person must either be 'out of his body' and therefore seeing things correctly, or not 'out' and seeing them wrongly. It is also tempting to think that if the details are correct this 'proves' he was 'out'. If fact, of course, there are many other reasons why the information might be correct without the person being 'out of the body'. These include chance, rational inference, and knowledge acquired both normally and paranormally. So producing the right information is no proof that the person was 'out'. On the other hand it is clear from the evidence so far that information gained in an OBE is rarely all correct. So what sort of theory of the OBE is needed. This is the sort of evidence we need to collect before we can start on the job of theorizing.

Monroe's next 'area' is Locale 2, another step away from ordinary reality. Here are heaven and hell, and all sorts of strange entities. Monroe explains that in Locale 2 '"thoughts is the well-spring of existence".... As you think, so you are'. His explanation that movement in this state is brought about by thought, not by any sort of physical effort, begins to sound familiar. Also familiar is the dictum 'like attracts like'. This, according to Monroe, accounts for much about the nature of the travel in Locale 2. Your destination there depends on your innermost desires, not your conscious plans.

Locale 2 is supposed to be a world of thought, and quite separate from the physical, but it has many of the features of the physical. Entities living there, who were once in the physical world, recreate some of their familiar environment, or create for themselves things they liked before. In addition, Monroe speculates, higher entities may create a more familiar environment for the benefit of 'new-comers' arriving after death. He describes some areas as 'closer' to the physical and unpleasant to pass through, while the 'further' places are better. In traditional occult lore these would be referred to as the lower and higher astral planes. By long experimentation Monroe learned how to navigate them, and on the way he fought hostile creatures, willingly and unwillingly indulged in sexual adventures, and was guided by the 'Helpers'. It is to this Locale that Monroe believes all people may go sometimes during sleep.

Locale 3 Monroe discovered when he once turned over 180 (not physically of course) and found himself looking into a hole in an apparently limitless wall. In successive experiences he finally got through the hole and found a world in many respects like the normal physical world, but with strange differences. There were trees and houses, people and cities, but everything was a little different. There was no electricity, and although cars and machines existed they were quite different from any seen on earth. Monroe found that people there were unaware of him until he merged with another self living in that world. This swap seemed to be less that fair to the other 'him' for he disrupted his life on several crucial occasions by suddenly taking 'him' over, as it were, without warning.

Monroe gives a detailed description of the 'second body'. It has weight, is visible under certain conditions, produces a sensation of touch just like the physical touch, and yet it is very plastic and may adopt any form required of it. Possibly, suggests Monroe, the second body is a reversal of the physical. He even relates this to his ideas that it may consist of antimatter, although what he means is obscure. As for a cord, he tried feeling it on some of his excursions, but it was not an important part of his experience. Finally he suggests that the second body is related in some important way to electricity and magnetism. In experiments in a Faraday cage he found that he could not pass through the walls when a current was passed through them, but when it was turned off he could (though sufficient details are not given to assess the explanation fairly). He suggests a 'third force' to add to electricity and magnetism which is used by the second body and fundamental to thought.

What can we make of Monroe's descriptions? As always it is hard to disentangle what he has discovered about locations others might visit, from the product of his own bias or preoccupations. Some of his descriptions sound familiar, but many seem only odd. In Locale 2 he describes how everyone lies down, abdomen arched upwards as some great being passes by, and there are strange vehicles running on principles unlike those on earth. Are these details part of an objective 'other world' or all a result of Monroe's own thought?



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