I just finished watching the Netflix six-episode series “Behind Her Eyes,” a supernatural psychological thriller based on a novel by Sarah Pinborough.
The series was entertaining enough, but it tried to pull off a genre-switch halfway through that strained credulity. You may or may not appreciate the big twist at the end.
What did capture my attention in the series was the astral projection elements. Astral projection assumes we have a soul called the astral body that is separate from our physical body. The astral body can travel throughout the universe, leaving the physical body behind.
Sounds fun, right? A great way to travel in the time of COVID.
The concept of the “astral body” is explored in the Qur’an and Hindi scriptures, along with other religious and spiritual texts, but not surprisingly, there is no scientific evidence to support the concept of astral projection.
Related to, but not as intense or far-fetched as astral projection, is lucid dreaming. When you engage in lucid dreaming, you use techniques to make you aware you are dreaming and possibly take control of the dream state and influence the narrative. I’ve experienced lucid dreaming situations, but the full out-of-body travel that’s astral projection? Not so much.
There was a time in my twenties when I was reading authors like Carlos Castaneda and was still open to such concepts. I remember reading a book about astral projection and attempting to do it. You had to finagle yourself into a deep meditative state and then “lift” out of your body. I tried many times, and on one occasion I experienced a feeling of rising up and “hovering and swirling” just above my body.
It could have been a dream, or an hallucination, or maybe I was stoned. Whatever it was, I never did get to visit my girlfriend who lived in a city on the other coast. My interest in astral projection—and most other pseudoscience—soon waned. I turned out to be more a gritty realist than a supernaturalist. A believer in biology and chemistry more than astrology or crystal healing.
But the astral thing stuck with me and appeared later in some of my writing.
In my novel, “Flight Risk,” when the main character, Robert, is on a plane that is about to crash, he has an out-of-body experience:
He is no longer buckled in his seat. He has risen above the aircraft and is separated from his body, suspended in the sky. He is totally at ease and peaceful, filled with a calm, cottony weightlessness, looking down at the plane, the silver fuselage and wings, the red painted tail fin. He can see the long stretch of runway that remains too far away, the grassy meridians on either side, and in the farther distance the airport control tower sticking up like a mushroom from the terminal. Warm—he is so warm and comfortable. He is wrapped in sunshine, cradled in comfort. It’s like being in a hot tub, jets on full, and lowering your head underwater and you hear the water rushing around you and through you, except instead of sinking he is soaring, all these sensations he can feel so distinctly and yet he has detached from his body and is floating above the imminent disaster below. He can see inside the cabin now, the fear, the terror, the sickness, the lips moving in prayer, the begging, the passengers braced and trembling, and he can see himself alone with his seat belt buckled, sitting up straight with his head turned to the side and staring out the window as if this were any other landing on a perfect summer morning under a cloudless sky, although he knows it won’t be any other landing, and that the plane is going to crash, and he is going to die. He’s accepting of that now. He’s reached that moment of preparation. He’s not going to plead his way out of this, make promises to better himself and the lives of those around him in exchange for survival. He’s done the best he could with what he had. His wife is working again, his daughter becoming an adult. They no longer depend on him as they once did. It’s okay if he leaves. They will be fine. He is ready to accept his fate. Except he’s not. No! I don’t want to die!I want more life! Which plants him back in his seat at the instant the plane smacks the runway.
Dreaming, too, remains an interest of mine. As a child I experienced night terrors and often had to be comforted by mommy, and to this day I tend to have dramatic and disturbing dreams. I’ve gone through periods of time trying to record and make sense of my dreams, as did Vincent, the artist narrator of my novel, “Still Life.” Our experiences may have been similar:
I know something about being stalked in your dreams. Once when I was short on cash I signed up for a dream study at a private research facility that paid me two hundred dollars to record my dreams for three weeks. There was an orientation meeting in which we learned dream recall techniques, such as keeping pen and notebook right next to your bed, promising yourself throughout the day and just before bed you'd remember your dreams that night, speaking into a tape recorder when you woke up, even setting your alarm for intervals throughout the night so you'd be jarred awake during dream sleep. They said you had to remember the dream immediately, there was a window of opportunity lasting only a few seconds after which the dream would be gone forever. Gone where, I wondered; there was nowhere to go but deeper inside the dark gray matter of your own brain. It was the hardest two hundred dollars I'd ever earned, perhaps the worst three weeks of my life. The recall techniques worked great, unfortunately. I'd wake up at night sweating in terror and aching with pain I'd never known. These dreams—many I've long forgotten now—they were nightmares. Every one of them. Some were about my father. He was the one drowning and I was too weak to row over to him. In another, I was digging a hole in the yard which was actually a grave for him; he stood over me and kept telling me to hurry and dig deeper. Or I'd dream of vicious men hunting me in dark, dead-end alleys. Of former lovers I was relieved to be rid of but whose loss filled me with unbearable regret; they'd make love with other men while I had to watch. Dreams of my hands being severed by table saws, so I'd have to paint with a brush between my teeth. Then this one: my father coming into my room one night shortly after Dr. Abrams drowned. He woke me up. “Vinny,” he said. “Could you have rowed faster? We might have saved him.” No, that one is a memory. I got back a fifteen-page typewritten analysis of my dreams from one of the conductors of the study. It was filled with a lot of psychological language about Jung and Freud and integration of the self, the kind of hooey you find in artist’s statements. I was told my dreams were fascinating to study and indicative of great inner turmoil and isolation. My Oedipus complex was big enough to get lost in. My shadow was a substantial force (More than the man himself?). It was suggested I seek out therapy, which I did not. A few weeks later I stopped remembering my dreams.