Into the In-Betweens

I remember my first sleep paralysis experience quite vividly. I was very young. It was probably sometime in 1994. “Sightings” had been on TV for a few years, and “The X-Files” had just premiered the year before. At the height of my hysterical fear that I would be abducted by aliens from my bedroom at night, I would typically go to bed and cover myself completely with my sheets, leaving only a small hole for myself to breathe through, convinced that if I hid myself and made myself small enough the Greys would leave me alone. I lived in nightly rapturous fear of seeing my bedroom door creak open slowly to reveal those huge black eyes peeking around the corner.

So, one of these dreadful nights I finally fell asleep, but was awoken by a feeling of indescribable terror. I was completely unable to move and it felt like my entire body was vibrating with electricity. A loud roar filled my room, and strange multi-colored lights were shining through my window and dancing across the walls. I tried to scream for my parents, but it came out a hoarse whisper, barely audible. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, that the whole universe was ending around me, collapsing in on itself. I managed to turn my eyes in their sockets enough to look at the large red numbers on my digital alarm clock to the left of my bed. It was 2:10 AM.

Then I saw my door was slightly ajar.

A small dark head peeked at me through the open door. I felt like my heart was going to launch itself into orbit. I continued to scream, but it was as if it were being absorbed by the atmosphere of my room, sucked into a vacuum from which no sound could escape. The figure stepped into full view. It was the size of a child, not much bigger than I was, and completely pitch black. This being seemed to be made of darkness itself, the blackness oozing and writhing around it in constant flux. I got the impression it was an living artifact of static, white noise slightly out of phase with everything around it, flickering and indistinct.

It moved towards me quickly, walking with a jangling gait that reminded me of an enormous marionette being guided by unseen hands. Finally it stood right next to my bed, to my right. I couldn’t turn my head to look at it, but I could still view it in my peripheral vision. I felt it lean in towards me as my panic peaked to levels I had never experienced in my short life. Not even the terror and anguish I had suffered at the hands of my physically abusive parents came close to this. I struggled to move, focusing every ounce of willpower I had into wiggling just a toe. “Just my toe,” I thought and I could get out of this.

And then, like a balloon filled to bursting, it popped. I had moved my toe. Everything was over. It wasn’t that I had woken up from a nightmare. I had had plenty of those and knew what those were like. This was something entirely new.

I looked at my digital alarm clock. It was 3:15 AM.

For years I lived with this experience and others like it. Every so often I would wake up, unable to move, screaming out whispers. Sometimes it would happen as I fell asleep, descending on me like a cloak of night. None were quite so visceral and eventful as that first encounter, but they were always terrifying. I would hear people talking in languages I didn’t speak, parties going on inside my house when everyone was asleep. Strange laughter, the opening and closing of doors, cabinets, glasses clinking. Women I couldn’t see with foreign accents asking me for help. Every occurrence became a race against time, I just had to move one little part of my body and it would be all over. My willpower was my salvation.

Occasionally the intruders would be back, but only in my extended senses. I never saw that shadow again, but I would feel during my attacks that something – or multiple things – were coming for me. Somehow I knew that dog-headed men were on their way, almost up the stairs now, ready to enter and annihilate me, eat me up or take me away to wherever they came from. I had dreams of barren plains where giant piles of trash fell from openings in the sky into enormous piles. They were all the things that people had lost or had gone missing. I found my old stuffed frog there amongst the pile. There were also people there. I felt I knew, deep down, this is where those things were coming from, this is where they would take me.

I got older and the attacks subsided a bit. Eventually friends and people I met through working at a summer camp introduced me formally to the occult and I began eagerly reading about what the books called “astral travel” in addition to all the regular material about demons, spirits, magic circles and rituals. But it was always the astral that drew me in. These books treated the astral travel experience as both dangerous and complicated, but included methods on how to achieve the state. At this point I still hadn’t made the connection between sleep paralysis and the out-of-body state, not having realized that I knew more about this than I thought I did.

A key experience helped me understand the link between the two, and how close to piercing the veil of my physical senses I was really getting. I was in high school by this point and had come home one afternoon, completely exhausted. My parents and little brother were still away so I was all alone. Feeling tired and wanting to catch a nap before everyone got home, I laid down on the couch and immediately started falling asleep. However, my body fell asleep faster than my mind, because I started feeling a paralysis attack coming on. The vibrations grew. Unable to break it, I became completely encapsulated in a humming envelope, prevented from moving an inch. I became intensely frightened that two men were coming up my driveway and were going to open the front door and kidnap me. Terrified, I tried “rocking” back and forth, in an attempt to roll to the floor and get away. The “rocking” worked, and I felt myself roll off the side of the couch and fall to the floor. But, my fall was odd: I was descending as slowly as a feather, drifting along through the few feet that separated the couch from the floor as if I were made of mist. I touched the floor and felt myself “bounce” off it gently.

Then I was back on the couch. I sat bolt upright, completely confused by what had just happened. Had I . . . fallen out of my body? I knew that I had felt myself roll off the couch, but then I obviously hadn’t. It wasn’t long after that experience that I realized the paralysis state was intimately connected with the exit from the body that I had been reading about. I kept studying, and resolved to completely leave my physical body with intent and direction.

Finally, after practicing for weeks at night, meditating in bed on my back, trying to feel a way to get out of my physical form, I found it. The books I had been reading offered a number of “exit strategies”. One that I had tried – to no avail – was to visualize myself climbing an imaginary rope out of my body and into the air. This never quite worked out, I just couldn’t get the feeling of it down. I remembered my earlier experience on the couch and the “rocking” motion that had eventually caused a spontaneous OBE. I imagined that I was falling through my bed, and then rising back up through myself into the air. I tried to feel this happening to me, as if I were on a roller coaster or some carnival ride. Eventually I was able to mentally get into it so effectively that it really did feel like my stomach was turning from the experience.

Then, on one of these “upswings” it felt like my hands were peeling off a large sticky counter top. I went with the feeling, completely freeing my arms from the glue and then lifting my body as well. I felt the whole universe shaking violently, as if I were coming apart. I tried to open my “eyes” and could see, but just barely. It was like opening them for the first time: Everything was fuzzy and gray and washed out. But I could see! I realized I was floating a few feet above my bed, but didn’t dare look at my body. Excitement raced through me as I realized what I had accomplished. I knew immediately what I wanted to do and moved, stumbling and feeling along the floor as if I were crawling on newborn legs, to my closed bedroom door. I had read about how you could simply pass through matter like a ghost in this state, and I wanted to experience this unique sensation.

But, when I tried to “phase” through the door, I hit it and stopped. “What?” I asked myself. I thought I was out-of-body? What’s the big deal here? I “touched” the door again with my misty pseudopodial “hands”. I could feel the wood, firm and hard. But, when I relaxed and just let myself “melt”, my pseudopods went right through it – along with the rest of me.

I use these terms in parentheses because there’s no easy way to translate this experience to our waking, material world. Much like in “The Matrix” when Morpheus points out to Neo that it’s not air he’s breathing, you have to come to terms with the fact that this liminal, non-physical form does not have analogues to your flesh. You don’t have hands, you don’t have feet, you don’t have eyes. None of these things translate anymore, and the sooner you let them go the better.

I found myself in my house’s hallway and floated through the open door of my parents’ bedroom. I saw my mother and father asleep in their bed, illuminated by the moonlight filtering in through the bedroom window. Everything seemed as real as if I were awake. My vision had cleared and I could see almost as clearly as I could in my waking body. Wanting to still prove to myself that this was happening, I “jumped” on my parents’ bed and started trying to wake my mother up. I don’t know how I thought I could accomplish this, but in my mind I was yelling for her to “wake up!” and “shaking” the bed.

Her eyes shot open.

She stared right into me and she looked terrified. I became intensely embarrassed and scared that I had done something awful. I felt myself snap back into my room as if I were a rubber band stretched out that had been let loose. I “woke” up and sat up in bed, listening carefully for any noise coming from my parents’ room, scared stiff that I had angered them. I didn’t hear anything and soon laid back down, closed my eyes and fell asleep, still brimming with excitement from these first, hesitant steps into the unknown. The next day I asked my mother about the night before, not giving details but inquiring if I had somehow woken her. She said no. To this day I’ll never know if she really woke up or not, but I was sure I had made a real breakthrough in my attempts to move outside my physical form.

The next time I accomplished the out-of-body state, I decided to explore outside. I floated up towards the ceiling of my room and relaxed, drifting right through the plaster and insulation and roof beams into the clear night sky. I kept drifting up and up, wanting to soar through the evening like a witch on her broomstick. The only issue was, I looked down.

It’s easy to think that you’re ready to fly outside of the confines and contexts of a plane or helicopter, but the first time you’re really up there all alone, you learn how you really feel about the situation. It’s disorienting to be just above the trees and like Wile E. Coyote not realizing he’s in the air until the Roadrunner points it out to him, once I noticed how high I was up I panicked and started descending. Not quickly, as if I were falling, but slowly and gently. It was as if I were a balloon that had begun to deflate. In a sense, I don’t think that’s an entirely metaphorical analogy for the situation. It was as if my confidence and intent were the forces keeping me aloft. I could fly because I believed I could fly. Once I lost that magic feather, Dumbo started plummeting. I lost control of the out-of-body state and snapped back into my body.

Another time I went out-of-body, everything felt so real that I wasn’t quite sure if I hadn’t just woken up and got out of bed. It had been early morning, and I had suffered a sleep paralysis attack upon awakening. I had since learned that I could transition those attacks into an out-of-body experience if I so pleased and had done just that. I floated down my hallway and into the kitchen. I was so confused by the clarity of the experience that I thought it was an aborted attempt. There was a noise from behind me and I watched my little brother walk into the kitchen, pour himself a glass of orange juice, drink it and return to his bedroom. Figuring this attempt a bust, but still sensing something was “off” about the world around me, I opened (as if I were in the flesh!) the backdoor and went into our backyard. I could feel the dew on the grass wetting my “feet”. Deciding to give it the old college try (and because no one was watching) I leapt into the air, attempting to take off like Superman. Either it would work, or it wouldn’t work and I would feel extremely silly.

I shot off into the sky like a rocket. I watched the trees in my backyard shrink to the size of toothpicks and could see for miles around me. Not having expected this, my stomach ate my heart and in this panicked moment I snapped right back to my body.

It took several years of experiences to really get the hang of moving in the out-of-body state. One particular experience I remember is that while staying the night at a friend’s house, I felt an attack coming on and transitioned it into an OBE, floating up to the ceiling and through the roof. By this time I had flown enough to get a feel for it and felt very comfortable gliding just a few feet off the ground, moving like a silent, ghostly manta ray through the humid night. Pretty soon I left what I call the “local” area – the area around your current environment – and had bled off into what I call the “in-betweens“: the dreamlands, the over-there, the other sky, or if you prefer: The astral. I found myself in what I interpreted as a park. It was very dark, but there were a few streetlamps here and there, dim but providing some light to see by. Through the park ran a blacktop road along which drifted a few antique cars, silently moving through the night without a driver I could see and with no headlamps on. As I explored this place, I noticed – to my surprise – a middle-aged looking man sitting on a bench. I froze, curious if he could see me or not. After a moment I started moving towards him.

He turned in my direction with a look of utter fear and panic on his face. I realized quickly: “He can see me!”

“Hey!” I shouted.

Then he did something I never expected: Without saying a word, he turned and launched into the night sky.

“He’s like me!” I realized. “I have to talk to him!”

I immediately gave chase. We flew through the night, me just barely keeping up with him. I kept grasping for his leg. He was right there. I wanted so badly just to grab him, stop him, tell him it’s okay and that I’m not going to hurt him and I just have a ton of questions. Sir! Please stop! I have so many questions!

But it was to no avail. I lost him, he was just faster than me. Utterly lost in the in-betweens, I let myself snap back to my body, feeling dejected.

These are just a handful of experiences I’ve had over the years. Working in the out-of-body state, exploring the in-betweens, trying to find out what’s real and what is fiction has taken up a large portion of my childhood, teen years and now adult life.

Everyone can have these experiences, you don’t need to be a sufferer of sleep paralysis or even believe in the occult. This is why I dislike the term “astral” and all the spiritual baggage that word brings with it. I tend to think most people have these experiences naturally – probably all the time – and either write them off as hallucinations or dreams. But I’m here to tell you: they’re real, they can be explored. Even today, I’m still trying to plumb the depths of the human mind, figure out protocols to make the OBE state more reliable to achieve, explore the dreamlands that we create and that have always existed, hidden yet within reach, somewhere in-between here and there.

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