The OOB [Out of Body] Experience–What Does it Mean?

A recent article I read in the New York Times which has also been published in the BBC on-line website reports studies from neuroscientists from Zurich Switzerland and Stockholm Sweden regarding the out of body experience.   It involves an elaborate set of experiments which purport to explain how individuals who have had had these experiences can perceive their own bodies at a distance.

I would advise the reader to link up and read the article carefully [sorry can’t find a link at the moment]. The experiments involve quite an elaborate set-up with virtual reality goggles and a series of rather complex manipulations. It should be noted that none of this takes place, of course, during spontaneous OOB.

I am the first to welcome any insight into how the amazing brain and the nature of perception works. But I strongly suspect that there is a hidden metaphysical agenda in the promotion of this type of study.  I have read the literature on the OOB experience as a part of the NDE [near-death experience].  There is also an extensive amount of writing on spontaneous OOB experiences, also known as astral projection.

What is most impressive about these spontaneous [as opposed to experimental] experiences is not merely the description of an out of body perspective on one’s own body, but the reporting back of events, conversations and information that could not possibly have been perceived by an individual which is, at best, comatose if not near death.

The rather elaborate series of experiments outlined in these recent articles can simulate the perception of being ‘outside of one’s eyes’ but fail to express the deeper more profound aspects of a spontaneous OOB and NDE.
These real ‘life’ examples occur spontaneously, without special goggles to simulate virtual reality and often take place when a patient has suffered an extreme breakdown in normal cardiovascular and circulatory function.

I would refer the reader to the works of Raymond Moody, Kenneth Ring and Peter Fenwick [and a host of other] researchers.   Ring has documented the ‘visual’ reports of congenitally blind individuals [never saw anything] who have had extraordinary ‘visual’ perceptions for the first time during a NDE with OOB features.

Reports that I have heard from patients and nurses defy rational explanation.  I have included several in my upcoming book. In particular Peter Fenwick PhD has a particularly strong challenge to those who claim that the NDE is a result of hypoxia [lack of oxygen] to the brain which I cannot explore in this blog.

An finally, but most significantly, many of those who have had a full-blown NDE and OOB deeply believe that they have had a profound spiritual experience. They often report contact with deceased relatives, and being in the presence of spiritually enlightened souls. They return to their lives metaphysically transformed: with less interest in their former pursuits  of acquiring material possessions or prestige.  They are less obsessed over former goals and aspirations.  They uniformly report that they are no longer afraid of death.

These changes cannot be easily dismissed as a ‘game of the brain’.  These experiences are never regarded by those who have had them as any type of hallucination or dream. As a matter of fact, they regard it as the more ‘real’ experience they have ever had.

We should continue to encourage scientific exploration of each and every aspect of the study of human consciousness. But let’s not be so quick to dismiss these personal experiences as physiological anomalies. And let us remain aware that everyone has an ‘agenda’ that they are promoting when it involves the world of metaphysics.

Become Comfortable with Mystery–The Donut Universe

Just read some preliminary findings of astronomers who have been blown away by their new observations–a massive hole in the universe. The report I’ve read on the internet seem quite fragmentary yet if they’re impressed, so should we by the magnitude and mystery of their findings.

What struck me immediately about this observation is that is seems to be following a trend in science, and in particular astronomy–the discovery that the universe is far more mysterious than we had dared to imagine.

It seems to be following on the heels of the exploration of dark matter and dark energy, those mysterious, poorly understood constituents of the universe [together nearly 94% of everything that is known to exist].  It leaves us, the planets, galaxies, and every atom of matter and energy we traditionally believe to be everything, only 6%.

Scientists are probably both thrilled and discomforted by these findings. They, by their very nature, seek to understand the nature of reality. They are, by my definition, metaphysicians.  But I also believe that what they are finding is particularly surprising to them.

For the past four hundred years, from Copernicus, Newton, Galileo, Bacon,, and a myriad of other brilliant scientists and philosophers, the great mystery of existence was being systematically dismantled by the wonders of scientific discoveries and reasoning. The traditional human appeal to religion and the supernatural to explain reality was fading. The gaps in scientific knowledge were dissolving and with them, the need to postulate a spiritual dimension to reality.

The twentieth century saw a reversal of that trend. Relativity theory and quantum theory are still mind-bending approaches to scientific reality. The fact that they have still not been integrated into a ‘theory of everything’ is a disturbing mystery as well.

So scientists, so used to wrapping their minds around their subject matter have been forced to live with the mystery of the universe. Of course they continually seek to reduce that mystery.  But the trend has been in the opposite direction.

What does this mystery tell the rest of us metaphysicians? Does it open the gates to a spiritual explanation for reality?  Not necessarily. But it certainly does not rule it our either.

Best Deal on META-PHYSICIAN ON CALL FOR BETTER HEALTH

Know any other author who is shopping around to get his reader’s the lowest price for his book?  In truth, as I have noted in a previous blog, I had no control over the publisher’s decision to list it for nearly $45.

At any rate it seems that Barnes & Nobles is offering it for about a 20% discount.  Try  www.bn.com   then click on search. A several blanks will appear. Type in my name Steven E. Hodes  and it will link up.

Good luck.

The Fear Factor–Enemy of Happiness

I have quite obviously been pondering the meaning of happiness [ie contentment, sense of serenity, well-being] and what it entails. As recently noted, I do not believe that it is a state of being but rather a process of becoming.

It seems to me, however, that the great enemy of this process is fear. When we examine all those feelings that deprive us of happiness, we lead ultimately to a sense of dread and fear. Consider worry, negativity, pessimism, distress, hostility, chaos, lack of control, sadness, grief, depression…..etc.   All of which quite clearly are examples of dis-ease and therefore the source of disease of the body/mind continuum.

Fear seems to be at the root of all these negative affective [emotional] states.  We fear loss of love, of our reputation, of our possessions, of our sense of security. We  fear the loss of our own health and  ultimately our own life.  As has been said before, fear drives us to become even more fearful.  It has the quality of a growing, self-sustaining storm, like a hurricane or tornado.  ‘Fear itself’ becomes the source of more fear and unhappiness.

The ability of banish fear would  clearly be worthwhile and lead to greater contentment and  joy.  Is this at all possible or even  worthy of consideration?  Once more, the source of all our attitudes and feelings –the mind–is clearly the source of our fear.

Consider how we can create scenarios in our mind about how are loved-ones are ill or lost or doomed. These thoughts immediately trigger biologic responses which produce fear and cascade of emotions mentioned above. Nothing changed at all regarding the circumstances of our loved-ones or even of ourselves–our thoughts and feelings [the two are inseparable] created our fear and unhappiness.  Now realize that they are fine and doing well. Notice the immediate change in your own sense of well-being and happiness. The only change occurred within your own mind, your thoughts and feelngs.

Of course it is absurd to disregard real events in our lives and tragedy often strikes without regard for metaphysical preparation or attitude. But again, the Buddhists have something to say about fear and happiness.

By facing our worst fears, our most bizarre scenarios, we can come to understand how we can, to some extent, survive them. The practice of young monks being exposed to a room of decaying corpses may seem bizarre and repulsive–but the purpose is to demonstrate the reality of death and and to come to terms with its inevitability.

By facing down the worst case scenario, these young initiates are then set forth to embrace life with its inevitable difficulties. Having faced and survived their worst fears, they can survive whatever else comes their way. By facing down their fears, they can move towards some sense of peace and happiness.

Perhaps we can somehow derive some release from our own fears if we have some understanding of the nature of reality.  If we also have come to understand that there is a spiritual dimension to the universe as well, the task becomes somewhat easier.

Happiness as a State of Becoming Rather Than Being

We are all seeking the good life, one filled with peace, love, security and freedom from fear. That goal is clearly a worthy one, yet the achievement of such an ideal state of being would not produce happiness.

Does that sound rather ridiculous or even contradictory to rational thinking? Not at all. The state of being ‘happy’ would by definition lead us to boredom and complacency. Having all our wishes and desires fulfilled would bring the journey to an end.  And it is this very journey and traversing the bumps along the way, I believe, which is the source of real happiness.

It is the process of overcoming adversity, difficulties, sadness and disappointment, of collecting and channeling our strongest virtues and talents and actually seeing progress…..that is what provides us with the greatest satisfaction.

If your greatest goal was suddenly handed to you, if you did not have to struggle to achieve what you want, you would rapidly tire of what you have, even feel unfilfilled. If you were born into an extremely wealthy family and did not have to worry at all about financial independence, it would most assuredly take the edge off of any achievement of financial stability.

This fits completely with the metaphysical understanding that life is a process of challenge and overcoming. The achievement of a goal, after much frustration and even rejection, makes it that much more satisfying.

Being at a place of contentment and peace without anywhere else to go would quickly bring boredom and discontent. To me the concept of retirement is such an example.

Now, there are many who look forward to this state of being and claim to completely enjoy it. I, for one, would not. As I have noted in past postings, I do enjoy golf on many levels. But to center my day/life around it would be rather depressing. It serves as a great counterpoint to my work and writing but as a end in and of itself, no thanks.

Psychologists speak of the adaptation that occurs when individuals achieve some material status or object that greatly desired. The thrill seems to wear off and a disappointment inevitably sets in.

The antidote to such a reaction is simple–see life as a journey, a continuous process of overcoming and growing, of learning and becoming a ‘better’ human being. This is truly the journey of healing and happiness we all seek.

The Metaphysics of Sleep

‘Just sleep on it’.

Ever find yourself so physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted that you just had to lay down and collapse into a deep sleep? Many times, on awakening, your problems seemed less insurmountable. Not gone, of course, but somehow less overwhelming. Yet despite these occasional glimpses into the deeper function of sleep, scientists and philosophers still debate its true function and significance.

Certainly, we have inherited this necessity from our fellow living beings. All living creatures follow some sort of circadian rhythms and so we must as well. Whatever its ultimate meaning, science has demonstrated that insuffienct sleep results in poor cognitive function, altered immune responses, anxiety and depression, diminished carbohydrate metabolism suggestive of diabetes and, in severe cases, hallucinations. Diminished life expectancy correlates with poor sleeping habits.

I am one of those individuals who are fortunate to be able to take ‘power naps’.  Lasting from 10 to 20 minutes, I find that when I am physically and emotionally fatigued, I am able to slip into a deep but short-lived state of sleep. I awake spontaneously, refreshed mentally and spiritually.

Sleep and its resultant dream states which occur during REM sleep are also hotly debated topics. Dreams may reflect nonsensical images,  cognitive problem solving which did not occur during wakefulness and perhaps even spiritual encounters.

Several of the most powerful experiences which I have heard are dream images. I have made note of them in my upcoming book Meta-Physician On Call for Better Health [available through Amazon.com]. These are tremendously compelling bits of personal encounters with another level of existence.  Some include death announcements and information from deceased relatives, premonitions of disasters, even contact with the soul of an unborn child.

That aside, I choose to regard sleep as a time of ‘escape’ and reflection, even on a subconscious level.  It is a ‘time out’ from the chaos of daily existence which often tends to accelerate our anxieties and sense of unhappiness. It tells us that the universe is not a continuous process, but occurs in quantum segments.

This correlates with quantum theories notion of Planck time, infinitesimal blocks of time measurement.  It tells us metaphorically that what we perceive as continuous flow is more like the illusion that we get when we watch a film.  It, too, is composed of individual, discrete frames.

By separating light from dark, day from night, sleep forces us to step outside of time, to awaken to a new day and a new perspective on reality. It puts our difficulties in a greater context. The tasks we have allowed to burden us fall into a different perspective, a different hierarchy of necessity. They become less important that we previously believed. We awaken to an understanding that our being is more important than our doing.

It is an opportunity to be grateful for being alive. It is a tremendous gift of renewal, an opportunity to change our lives, or at least our attitudes about our lives. It is truly a powerful tool for healing. So look forward to sleep and the awakening to a new day that will follow it.

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Six-Pack Soul–Meditation as a Work-Out

We seem by all outward signs to be a society obsessed with physical perfection. That is a rather obvious observation–any magazine, TV show, movie proclaims the latest and easiest way to lose weight, obtain that special look through make-up, clothes and, of course, plastic surgery. There are many who spend hours a day ‘working out’, spending enormous time and energy to perfect their bodies–to obtain those mystical ‘six pack abs’, a clear demonstration to one and all how disciplined and magnificent we are.

In my opinion, there is nothing particularly wrong with anyone seeking to make themselves more attractive physically. Our body is the ‘temple’ of our soul, a gift that we should appreciate and maintain to the best of our ability. 

What is lacking in our culture is the same appreciation of our minds and souls. Meditation is the work-out for the soul.  It requires effort and discipline but it is an attempt to train the mind to be less ‘reactive’ to the stresses and strains of daily living. Like the physical work-out the results of meditation are not quickly observed.

Repetition and practice are key elements in obtaining a transformation of consciousness. But just as our  bodies are ‘healthier’ and more responsive to the physical demands of life, our minds are as well.   A sense of well-being, of peace, even of happiness may be the consequence of developing a meditation practice.

The results may not be the same as exposing our bodies at the beach for all to admire–yet being with someone who has developed a deep spiritual practice will often reveal what may not be apparent at first glance–a mind and soul that is ‘fit’ for the task of living.                                                                                                                                         e

Experimenting with Meditation

Why not experiement with meditation?  Give yourself permission to ponder the enormity of existence and to create thoughts and feelings that will allow you to access your inner peace. Think of the process as if you were given an opportunity to write a religious text or prayer. Understand that some other human being, living centuries before, seized the opportunity to put their meditation onto paper. It became the prayer that may have inspired you in the present. Your meditation is your own personal prayer.

So meditation should be that open and flexible. Whether it is the repetition of words or phrases, or the practice of witnessing your thoughts and feelings, find what resonates with your inner being. Understand that meditation is nothing more than being with yourself. Controlling the incessant mind talk which bombards your consciousness.  That is the goal of meditation. How that is accomplished is as varied as each individual.

There is no right or wrong way to meditate, merely suggestions of styles and forms. It is, afterall, the subjective experience of being in an aware state of consciousness which is the goal. 

But it is not the same as a peak experience, an alternative experience, an involuntary spiritual/mystical enounter with the unknown.  It is the product of your intention and requires a purposeful setting aside of time and place.  It is about creating a window in time when the chaos of thought and feeling is observed to be separate from one’s own being. It is said that a full vessel cannot accept anything more. By emptying oneself of conscious thought and feeling, inspiration can enter.

It is a time when the body responds to the mind. When aware relaxation is experienced. It is a time when the stress hormones, adrenaline, cortisol and the hypothalamic peptides are subdued. BIood pressure and pulse drop, muscle tension diminshes. Our minds find themselves in an internal state of peace and happiness and these correlate with PET scan findings of the brain. It is a time when healing occurs, when our immune system regains its composure, when invading pathogens and newly minted malignant cells can be identified and destroyed.

So meditate when you can find the time, and when you can’t.  Ironically the times when you can’t are the times when you should.

The Mayo Clinic on Integrative Medicine

There was an interesting article offered by Edzard Ernst, MD, PhD from the prestigioius Mayo Clinic Proceedings regarding the concept of ‘integrative medicine.   In it he attempts to differentiate two aspects of this concept–the  label of ‘holistic’ versus the actual therapies that are utilized .

He forwards the same points that I have noted:  holism, the integration of mind,body and spirit in dealing with patients should be the goal of all medicine.  He admits, however, that traditional [allopathic] medicine has failed to provide this approach.  Again, I must agree.His additional point, of which I also concur, is that holistic medicine and good science are not incompatible at all.

He then goes on to criticize the use of some complementary and alternative therapies [CAM] which have not been ‘proven’ to work. He seems to decry the ‘patient choice’ approach to healthcare because he does not believe that patients are truly aware consumers.  He is correct about this point. There is so much ‘imis-nformation’ available to patients that it is impossible to distinguish good info from self-promoting advertising and nonsense.

I agree, as well, that no one is in a position to deny anyone the right to choose any type of health care they want to purchase.  But evidence must be sought for any such choice.  In my mind, this applies to conventional therapy as well as complementary.

Differences of opinion, however, will arise over what constitutes ‘evidence’.  There are several types of medical studies and they are not perfect in producing ultimate ‘truth’.  They should be explored, however, with the awareness that scientific truth remains ‘conditional’.  It can be changed by newer and better science as well as by the repetition of experiments and confirmation of results by several other research centers.

If we, the consumers of health-care info would leap to embrace the conclusions of every single study, we would be bouncing around like a ping pong ball. The list of studies whose results could never be duplicated is astounding, yet some individuals will latch on to the one study which seemed to confirm their prior beliefs and go with it.

The evidence-based approach to health care applies to traditional/conventional medicine as well as the alternative approaches such as homeopathy, naturopathy, energy healing modalities etc. None of them should be rejected because we don’t ‘understand’ how they work.  That attitude kept acupuncture away from Americans for decades.  We may not undrstand the ‘pathophysiology’ of its effectivenss, but that doesn’t matter.  Excellent randomized controlled studies have shown that it does work!  That is the bottom-line criteria.

It also passes the risk/benefit ratio analysis.  The benefit of performing the treatments greatly outweighs the risks of complications. This analysis allows many to ‘experiment’ with alternative therapies which pose little risk.  But a caveat again is to be noted–the judicious use of small amounts of any therapy is wise because toxicities can be unpredictable, highly specific for the patient, and often dangerous.

Recently the time-honored approach to treating diverticulitis and preventing attacks with avoidance of nuts/seeds/corn has been called into question.  It seems that actual scientific studies fail to provide evidence that they do what they claim, to prevent attacks.

Traditional medicine is on the defensive, and rightfully so.  Because of an ingrained sense of arrogance, many in my profession have never developed their empathic skills.  They may or may not have been trained to regard the patient as a whole being. But they may not have the attitudes and personal warmth to do what needs to be done.  But such skills can be taught only when they are acknowledged as important. Traditional medicine has been losing patients to the alternative world for precisely this reason.  They should be embarrased and ashamed by this truth.

I choose to remain hopeful that in the 21st century we all will be concerned with viewing the patient as a whole person and seeking evidence for any type of therapy instituted.

The Feeding Tube

I had a personally gratifying encounter with a new patient in my office yesterday that I thought would be worth sharing.  A petite 70 year old woman, she was sitting in my examination room for a consultation regarding a routing colonoscopy. [Yes, I do practice traditional gastroenterology with a holistic metaphysical bent]. She looked at me and asked if I remembered her.  Often new patients will look familiar to me, but frequently they merely remind me of someone else.  Having been wrong as many times as I have been right, I do not always inquire if we had met before.

She proceeded to describe an event that had occurred at least five years before.  I had been called in consultation by her primary doctor with the intention of having a PEG [percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy] tube inserted for feeding in her 95 year old mother with cancer.  Now these are politically sticky situations for me since my practice depends upon referrals from primary doctors. Also, the practical aspects of the practice of medicine involves compensation for doing procedures, not for refusing to do them.

However, even then I ‘knew’ that this procedure made no sense whatsoever. I spoke with this same woman, the daughter, over the phone, I believe, and expressed my opinion that this procedure seemed inappropriate.  Now believe me, I am extremely sensitive as to how  I address these issues with families. I am deeply aware of how difficult these end-of-life issues can be.  Emotions are severely strained and families are often frightened and confused. Their personal beliefs may be such that they would not forgive themselves if their loved-one died without such a tube.

In this case, however, the daughter actually agreed that her Mother should be allowed to die in peace, without the feeding tube.  Her primary doctor, however, was insistent that it be done.  He yelled at her, questioning why she would allow her Mother to starve to death.  This was terribly upsetting to the woman who deeply loved her Mother.

Apparently, after speaking with me, she regained the ‘courage’ to tell the doctor to mind his own business–a feeding tube would not be inserted!

I vaguely remembered that encounter, but it was tremendously gratifying to have her there in my office, thanking me for my support. It is something that I feel strongly about and acted in a similar manner when my own mother stopped eating. She did not die with a feeding tube.

Once again, I would like to call for a national discussion/debate on the end-of-life issues.  They do not go away by pretending they don’t exist.  As the population ages and technology becomes more proficient at keeping all of us ‘alive’ and as financial resources for health care continue to diminish, the debate is no longer about private decisions–it must be exposed, discussed and dealt with.

We must address our own metaphysical beliefs before the time comes to act upon them.  They must form the platform for our morals and ethics as well. They should be examined before tragedy and personal difficulties arise so that we can all make the best decisions for ourselves and our loved-ones.