Thursday, February 23, 2006

OUT OF BODY, OUT OF MIND

“I shut my eyes in order to see.”
Paul Gauguin



As an adolescent and I think this is true of a lot of kids, what I really wanted was to disappear, or step off the planet to return only when there was no one around to notice. Actually, the return trip wasn’t an issue. I would have been happy with a one-way ticket. Before I reached drinking age, fourteen in my case, books were my escape, and most anywhere I could be found I’d either be reading or would have a book within easy reach. Books have remained a constant, but after fourteen alcohol, and then drugs, became advanced means of escapism, but the problem with books, alcohol, and drugs were they kept you bound to earth, and I was aiming for something short of suicide, but a little more spacious than bedrooms, bars, or backseats. I wasn’t sure what, but I was ready for whatever presented itself.

Adolescent escapism is supposed to end with the end of adolescence, but my desire to shuffle off to some unreachable place lasted much, much longer.

The Stickman was an Army buddy of mine, and as a devotee of Paramahansa Yogananda was a card carrying member of the Self –Realization Fellowship and practiced Kriya Yoga. He kept the details a secret, but used to trance out in his top bunk. His trances were deep, and once, before I knew what he was up to I thought he had died. I panicked as I guess a friend would, shook him awake, and upset him to no end. I didn't realize that tranced-out people should be treated gently. Well, I didn't realize he was tranced-out. Like I said, I thought he was dead. The more mysterious the Stickman kept his practices; the more I bothered him about revealing them to me. One night, both of us drunk - a common occurrence - he decided he'd break the rules and teach me a meditation and chant.

We were sharing a home off base in Gelnhausen, Germany, so had no fear of anyone disturbing us. We sat on the bedroom floor. Stickman managed the Lotus; I just sat with my legs crossed. The breath technique was easy enough - in through the nose, hold, out through the mouth - and the chant, which I no longer remember, had something to do with the Goddess, or the Mother. I entered the practice quickly and completely. Whatever time passed I don't know, and I don't know if my eyes were open or closed, but I had the distinct picture of the room - myself seated on the floor, and myself in the opposite corner in a seated position, but hovering in the air near the ceiling in a perspective that was like looking through the wrong end of a telescope. A great energy seemed to flow between the two me’s, and though there was no movement except my breath it seemed as though we were hurtling through space - or space was hurtling past us. It was a highly charged experience - a "rush" in the language of the times. I don’t know how long I was gone, but at some point I heard Stickman calling my name. The sound was traveling through a lot of space in order to reach me, and though I couldn’t ignore it I did my best to disregard it. I was determined to stay out-there. Stickman eventually applied a cold towel to my neck, and forced my self back onto myself. I fell over, and Stickman patted my face and repeated my name over and over. I mumbled something like, "No, no, I don't want to come back," but come back I did, feeling remarkably sober, but drained. Stickman was quite frightened. After I'd finally snapped back from wherever I'd been he flipped and went on and on about how he should never have taught me the technique, and about how I could have left permanently and ended up in a mental hospital; and he made me promise I'd never try the techniques again.

Whatever the disassociation was, I liked it. The great feeling of energy passing from my seated form to my hovering self and the experience of "beyond-ness" was hugely exciting.

I never went back to the chant, I've never remembered it, but I did practice the breath for some little time after. The breath without the chant didn’t get me out-of-body, but did give me a tremendous erection. When I told Stickman about the priapic experiences he thought I was mocking him and took offense. I took great pains to assure him I wasn’t making fun, but he didn’t want to hear it. Stickman went back to his secretive modus operandi, and I went on to the dynamite grass I was getting through the mail from my friend in Vietnam, and the hash we were scoring in Frankfurt.

I have gotten out of body since, though, and without the assistance of drugs.

It’s not that I’d slip in and out on a regular basis, but there were a few occasions when I’d find myself walking down the street with – well, me. As soon as I’d notice I’d come back together again. It was odd, but not unpleasant. It’s like déjà vu, but instead of thinking you’ve been here before, you see yourself being here - now. There are suddenly two of you. I also used to hear my name being called. I’d look around and find no one there. Whatever was going on, my brain chemistry was functioning, or not functioning, in interesting ways.

There were a few other more profound experiences.

When I was at the Goodman Theater, and the Art Institute of Chicago I studied improvisational dance and performance art with a wonderful instructor – Tom Jaremba. Tom’s work moved around the fringes of mysticism, (I guess that would be the fringes of the fringe,) and he attached a great deal of importance to the spiritual aspects of dance. Addled as I was, I was sold on just about everything he had to say, and was willing to take things as far as they could go. Dancing into a trance – letting the spirit take you – seemed like just the thing. Get out far enough, and who knows where you’d end up. Dance was a great vehicle for transcending the physical, and the possibility of leaving the body and not necessarily ever coming back.

One year Tom took it into his mind to create a major work based on Christian Mythology. (When I told my uncle, a Catholic priest, about this he remarked that there were no myths in Christianity, myths were the province of other religions.) Tom’s intent was to get from Creation to Resurrection in an hour and a half through the media of music, dance, and projected visuals. Part of the creation sequence was an Adam and Eve/relationship section. I think we went from representations of energy into human form when paired off, and the improvisational task was for us to create/discover one-another. A lovely concept. I paired off with a woman, and we worked through our improvisation by placing hands on each other in very slow, concentrated time. Our bodies were as engaged as our minds and much like my event with Stickman, I slipped right out of myself. My “astral body” hovered above the two of us, and it was as if that entity were directing the dance. If there was a guiding spirit involved, it was Eros. The departure and return took seconds, but they were transcendent and profound. Then I was back, the dance continued without a pause, and I didn’t loose the thread of activity.

The thing about these experiences is you can’t have them and be the same person after. You can’t leave, come back, and remain unchanged. If nothing else, I had to wonder who else was scurrying around unseen. I’m also a little less skeptical about bi-location than I would be without these experiences. According to all reports, Jesus was able to pull it off, and there are tales galore about yogis traveling around without a lot of inconvenience.

One other event was born of another meditation practice, and included a shot of “white light.” Well, “meditation practice” is an exaggeration. More like a meditation one-night-stand.

The Chicago Reader was a local rag, and after the Village Voice, one of the first free weeklies on the streets of any city. Back in those days it was sort of a middle-class alternative paper. It didn’t have the edge of the underground press, or the fine mixture of reporting, arts, and sleaze of the Voice, but it did list activities the Sun Times, or Tribune wouldn’t touch. The activity that caught my eye was a weekly meditation session at an apartment in my neighborhood. I decided to check it out.

It was a walk-up, so I did. I knocked; someone let me in, and led me to a living room without furniture. The walls were lined with people sitting cross-legged. It was dark, not even a candle. The only light was leaking from the next room. I sat myself down, and after a few minutes the “moderator” asked for people to share a poem, prayer, or practice.

When my turn came around I offered a chant I’d learned the previous summer in Vermont.

“Om is the bow,
The arrow is my soul,
Brahmin is the arrow’s goal.”

The tune was simple, and easy to teach. The entire room got into it, and just before it ran its course there was an incredible explosion of white light that caused not a ripple, but must have done something to the aether as we all seemed to lift out of ourselves, and even the room seemed unmoored. My witness was from my seat, but in a way that my vision encompassed the entire room, so I was both witness and participant – the telescope affect again. Not strictly out of body, but not strictly earthbound either. I caught a look at the moderator and he was jaw-dropped and looking at me like something really special strange had just happened. I was amazed, myself, but nothing was mentioned.

When the moderator announced we were done for the evening there were no thank you’s, hand shakes, or see-you-later’s. People got up from the floor, milled around, or filtered out. I filtered out.

“White light” was a common phrase back in those druggie days, but I never heard anyone define it. The Velvet Underground had an LP out called, “White Light/White Heat.” The lyrics to the title tune seemed to describe a Kundalini Yoga rush:

“White light, White light moved in me through my brainWhite light, White light goin' makin' you go insaneWhite heat, Aww white heat it tickle me down to my toesWhite light, Aww white light I said now goodness knows”

Master Subramuniya, a “western master” of something, but I can’t quite figure out what, calls white light “Eftya,” and defines it as a “brilliant transparent clear white light as seen during deep contemplation.” He says it’s the “brink of the absolute,” an evocative phrase that implies the stepping off place to Nirvana, but doesn’t really mean anything at all – at least as far as I can tell.

I’ve never been back to that white light place, and getting “out-of-body,” got subtler and subtler as time went by. In Santa Fe I was able to sit at a height and picture myself sitting on a mountain across the valley, passing energy from one body to another, but those events were more visualizations than out-of-body experiences. I’ve also had the experience of time stopping – once I lost an entire half-hour performance. I remembered starting and ending, but nothing in between, but I think those are common to intense activity.

The last and most profound out of body experience occurred about ten years ago in the aftermath of a major automobile accident. I’ve written about it as item 8, here,

“Treacherous Angels”

I’ve found all these trips to be interesting and amusing, though according to various sources not that unusual. As part of the unfathomable mysteries of the universe they’ve made me feel like a citizen of eternity, and I’m pleased to say I’m no longer interested in stepping out. I’d prefer the next shuffle were the big one, and that it not happen for awhile.

“Why be nostalgic for eternity? You’re in eternity now.”
Allen Ginsberg

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have a look at www.gurudeva.org to find out what happened to one of our greatest mystics Sivaya Subramuniyaswami (Master Subramuniya).

4:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I met Master Subramuniya back in 1972. While in his presence, just the 2 of us in a room together, somehow I did experience the room dissolving into pure white light, while gazing into his eyes. Neiher of us were no longer visible as beings in bodies, nor was anythingelse there, but pure white light in all directions of perception. I'm not sure how long this experience lasted, perhaps only a second or two, but I felt immensely energized, and renewed in my purpose to continue to explore spiritual teachings. I never had another encounter directly with Master Subramuniya after this, but with numerous other teachers. I did continue to study his teachings on tape recordings & books for several years after this experience. I tend now to agree with Allen Ginsberg's statment, and appreciate the reminder. Now, I'm grateful every day to just be waking up alive, and know I am living in eternity now, "nothing special" required. Maybe, then as a young man I needed something dramatic to confirm my faith in the spiritual life, and Master Subramuniya provided it for me. Now, I can just be, and that is enough. Blessings on your journey, Jerry in Colorado

4:12 PM  

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