By Ken Korczak
It’s 4:30 a.m., dark in my bedroom, and my mind snaps awake, but my body does not.
I feel my consciousness — or something — sway from side to side like a helium balloon in a shifting breeze. I loll back and forth, pivoting on my physical body, and move farther away with each swing of the pendulum. Going with the momentum of the next thrilling swoop, I command myself to “roll” out and away from my body and to detach.
First I plummet — right through the floor! — then I recover and soar upward, butterflies exploding in my stomach. I can’t help but feel a deep satisfying laughter. I’m free!
Then comes the inevitable, breathless circus ride — a gasping, exhilarating roller coaster trip through what I have come to call the “starry tunnel,” although the whining, electric “bugs” that zip all around me inside this worm hole aren’t really stars, at least I don’t think so. I’m not sure what they are; perhaps the firings between the neurons inside my own brain.
The best thing about the starry tunnel ride is that I never know where it will end up. It’s a cosmic crap shoot that could deposit me in outer space, or on the shadowy carpet of some dense rain forest, heavily shrouded in foliage, shrieking with exotic birds, humming insects and the organ notes of reptiles.
But this particular time the tunnel exits into my own room, as the tunnels often do, where my sleeping body lies peaceful and breathing gently, evenly.
There I float a meter above myself — how? — in a dream body, looking down on a dream representation of my physical body? As an actual detached consciousness? A soul? A doppelganger?
If you ask sleep researcher, such as Dr. Stephen LaBerge of Stanford University, he would say that what floats above the physical body is a “detached body image,” which has not actually left my physical brain, but rather is a dislocation hallucination resulting from all sensation being cut off between body and brain by sleep induced paralysis.
If you would ask others, such as the researchers at the Monroe Institute in Faber, Virginia, they would argue that what floats above the physical body is true, objectively detached consciousness, free and functioning independently while the physical body waits in stasis, warm and safe for the “essence of you” to return.
In the meantime, there I am, floating with the weightlessness of an astronaut in a space station, wondering if LaBerge at Stanford is right, or if others are closer to the truth. Or maybe the ancient dream yogis or Sufi masters — and then I laugh at myself, a heavy, hearty laugh, because I’m there — a hovering sphere of star dust — but still very much myself, caught up in foolish intellectualizing about the fundamental nature of my existence.
They are the questions which never tire me: What am I? Who am I? Why am I?
Suddenly, the questions begin to fill my being like expanding spheres of light, and I’m abruptly swept away — right through the window! — without opening it! without breaking it!
Outside, about 200 feet in the air, I’m cruising smoothly, briskly through the silent, pre-dawn darkness. I’m heading north, looking down at the gentle silver sheen of the snow-covered plains.
There’s no moonlight this morning, but the starlight is somehow enhanced. The world is bathed everywhere in exquisite silver-white illumination. Every blade of withered prairie grass sticking above the snow stands out sharply, and I think: “So this is how owls see their nighttime world. Gorgeous!”
My speed increases. I have the feeling that someone, somehow is carrying me along or guiding me with unseen hands, a subtle presence just behind me.
I pass swiftly north from Minnesota over the vast plains of Manitoba, and soon find myself in the scintillating snow and ice landscape of the Arctic.
I peer down with my new owlsight and pick out the slippery movement of a white Arctic fox trotting across the snow. From above, it looks to me like a curious fish sliding through a crystal stream.
I feel powerful, even smug, in the fact that my floating, unprotected body is immune to the frigid cold that would turn my physical body numb within minutes.
This is freedom, I thought, as I took in the aching beauty of the crisp night. Freedom from gravity, freedom from painful environmental stimuli, freedom from subjective perceptions of time, freedom from endless artificial limitations.
I look up at the dome of the Arctic sky and see indescribably vivid colors swirling up there. Beaming stars and dancing rivers of aurora borealis, like a melted rainbow poured across sequined velvet.
I’m stunned. I feel a gasping sensation and I reel. I feel I will rip apart in an explosion of rapture and delight.
I float up and merge with it all, losing myself into everything.
To awaken back into my physical body is like emerging slowly from a deep well of mild electricity. The atoms of my body focus to become me. I open my eyes slowly. I feel peaceful and rested. I smile.
I can’t wait to go again.