Just a phase he's going through

The Skeptic, 10.1

I HEARD RECENTLY that Robert Monroe had died. Monroe was an idiosyncratic pioneer of out-of-the-body experience (OOBE) research, and a major catalyst of my interest in the paranormal. If it were not for Monroe, I doubt I would today be co-editing The Skeptic. I may even have turned out to be a New Ager, although - I would hope - a relatively sober one. Nevertheless, I shudder at the thought, and owe Monroe a debt. I was 13 years old when I spent my week's pocket money in W H Smiths in Birkenhead, on Monroe's paperback Journeys Out of the Body. I still have the book. It's just about in one piece, but the pages now are smelly and brown. Until I heard of Monroe's death I hadn't looked at it for years. To read it today, I find it an interesting psychological study. But in my impressionable youth, it was much more.

Having devoured books on the paranormal ever since seeing - at age 9 - a 'UFO' over Bidston Moss (which with my 30-something wisdom now seems to have been a helicopter or marsh-gas) I spent many hours after school lying down following Monroe's instructions for achieving an OOBE of my own. To my eternal regret I never did go out of the body, but I did experience a whole lot of mental and physical states he didn't describe in his book. On reflection, perhaps adolescent hormones were to blame. At least there weren't any poltergeists.

But I was disappointed, if only because Monroe was so precise in his description of the methods for accessing the astral world. He gave a set of mechanical procedures for body and mind, as if you were learning to do something rather mundane, like assuming the Lotus Position or erecting a tent of unfamiliar design.

Also convincing was the fact that Monroe described the astral world in great detail, dividing it into three regions with quite different properties, calling them 'Locale I', 'Locale II' and 'Locale III' respectively.

Locale I, according to Monroe, is our ordinary world. The astral body leaves the physical body behind, and floats around the world, seeing the usual objects, visiting the homes of friends or loved ones, and so on. Experimentally testable, and not too far-out.

In Locale II, things begin to get a bit scary. This is the region of demons. As Monroe left his body he would be hassled by nightmarish beings grasping at his astral self, impeding his progress and generally making things quite unpleasant. He stated, however, that Locale II was the 'natural environment of the Second Body', where thought translates directly to 'bodily' motion.

Locale III is perhaps the strangest of all, described by Monroe as a kind of pseudo-Earth which 'proved to be a physical-matter world almost identical to our own'. But things were just a bit different: 'There are no electrical devices whatsoever'. The transport there includes a steam-driven locomotive that sounds like a cross between an American motor-home and a High-Speed Train, which hauls wooden cars; and automobiles twice as wide as their Earthly equivalents, which drive along huge roads at a puzzlingly sluggish 15-20 mph.

After several visits to Locale III, Monroe discovers an inhabitant who is his doppelganger. Monroe involuntarily takes over his double's body, and embarrassment and confusion ensue, often involving 'Lea', the Locale III woman with whom the 'other-Monroe' becomes romantically attached. Even at age 13 I was now beginning to get a bit suspicious . . .

At this point the skeptical reader may have one of two alternative viewpoints in mind: (1) Monroe is indeed exploring the stranger parts of our universe in his astral body; or (2) He's been reading too much Sci-Fi and not getting out enough. For me, the kid handing over all his pocket money in Smith's, explanation (1) was the hot ticket. I was amazed, excited, and frightened. I followed Monroe's instructions to the letter, desperate to replicate his experiments, and leave my body, floating upwards to Locales I, II, III - and perhaps beyond. As I lay in bed practising the exercises of Chapter 16, I visualised the vibrations I was supposed to feel, and tried to pull them into my head as Monroe suggested. Nothing.

I tried hard, for what must have been three or four months. No-one knew of my late-night experiments, and no-one knew of their failure, and my frustration.

Thinking back, and re-reading sketchy diaries from the time, I see that my attitude changed rapidly, and skepticism began to look like a more attractive proposition. I had followed Monroe's detailed instructions to the letter, but I had failed to replicate even one of his results. That Locales I, II and III had any existence beyond Monroe's sleeping and waking dreams, began to look increasingly implausible.

The months passed, and I soon forgot about Monroe, instead concentrating my teenage energies on trying to play the guitar parts from Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon. As with Monroe's OOBEs, I didn't succeed, but at least I was damned sure that it was actually possible.


©Toby Howard 1996

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