"Far Journeys"

In the late 1980s I developed an unusual fascination with aircraft, and particularly with aircraft communication and navigation--anything that had to do with "frequencies." I had no idea why this seemed important, but I began reading books on the subject and I also started hanging out at local airports, learning about different types of planes and talking with pilots. My multiband radio was usually set to aircraft channels.

As always, I was still very interested in all sorts of psychic and metaphysical phenomena, but at the time I certainly didn't see any connection between these two seemingly diverse interests.

One day when I was at the library, I saw a book that caught my attention. Quickly flipping through it, "Far Journeys" was the autobiographical account of a man named Robert Monroe who had pioneered research into out-of-body experiences. Being familiar with what had formerly been known as "astral projection," and knowing some people who had experienced OOBEs (as they're called), I checked out the book and began reading it on a Sunday night.

I'd always been very aware of episodes of "coincidence" in my life, and over the years I'd come to view them as "cosmic mile markers," or indicators that I was on the right "course." As I began reading Monroe's book, I was surprised by the synchronicity. For starters, I learned that the author lived within just a couple of miles of my family's ancestral land in Nelson County, Virginia, and that Monroe had brought the first cable television franchise to my part of the state. It's always interesting to learn that an internationally famous person lives in one's area, and I felt a "connection" to the author, just due to the proximity.

As I read a little further--still in Chapter 1--I felt goosebumps rise as Monroe told the story of one of his own "coincidences" that involved his trying to locate a radio marker beacon--a device that is used in aircraft navigation.... My attention was now firmly hooked, and I read further.

Still in Chapter 1, I read Monroe's story of a weekly poker game, and how he just "knew" all the cards that were being dealt one night. His matter-of-fact style of reporting this event--saying that he didn't understand it, but was simply telling what had happened--seemed to increase his credibility, and I got the distinct impression that this book was an "important" one for me to be reading, even though I didn't know why.

My parents came over for dinner that night, and I'd left the book on the coffee table in the family room. When my dad saw it, he commented that "Mark" (not his real name), one of our long-time family friends and one of my father's former co-workers, used to play poker with Monroe each week. My jaw dropped and I said that I'd just read about the poker games and how Monroe knew all of the cards one night. My dad said that "Mark" (who is as down to earth and sensible as you can get) had mentioned something about it, but that he didn't think that he was aware of or interested in Monroe's other experiences. The "coincidence level" was rising rapidly, as was my curiosity....

After my parents left, I looked through the Sunday paper that they'd brought over. In it was a small article about the crash of a single-engine Ryan Navion--a type of aircraft that I'd never heard of. I clipped out the article and placed it on the arm of the sofa, feeling that this was somehow "important," too, and I decided to see if I could learn more about this type of plane the next time I went to the airport. Then, after getting my young sons to bed, I continued to read Monroe's book.

To say that reading it required some opening of the mind is a bit of an understatement. Rather than necessarily being a "weird" book with lots of "New Age" overtones, I found that Monroe was taking the out-of-body phenomenon out of the realm of the "occult" and putting it into the research lab where every aspect of it was thoroughly examined and documented. Additionally, volunteer researchers from fields such as psychology, engineering, and physics were experimenting with certain tonal frequencies that essentially created a "frequency following response" (another aircraft navigation term!) in the brain, and which caused the two hemispheres to work cooperatively. "Hemi-Sync," I read, had been used in all sorts of practical arenas, as the tones were found to promote relaxation, reduce pain, increase learning, and more. A whole range of research was being conducted at the Monroe Institute of Applied Sciences, including the study of OOBEs, which sometimes occurred while subjects listened to the Hemi-Sync tapes.

Of course things did get "weird" as Monroe began talking about his experiences, and I read these with an open, but somewhat skeptical, mind. He then wrote about his communications with the "beings" that he met while in the out-of-body state, and while my skepticism kicked in even more, I was also fascinated--if nothing else, it read like good fiction!

Turning to Chapter 8, I was stopped cold when my eyes locked on the words, "I am flying a single-engine Navion...." With a rush of adrenaline, I shifted my eyes to the newspaper article that was still lying on the arm of the sofa. This was getting a little too weird, as it seemed that the "coincidence level" had just jumped off the charts....

I read the rest of the book carefully, and with a balanced mix of acceptance and resistance. It was a lot to absorb. At the same time, the interest in navigation and communication became more intense, and it suddenly seemed "important" to get aircraft navigational charts. Of course I had no idea why--and I didn't see any connection between the charts and Monroe's book--but the thought persisted.

I went to the local airport a week or so later--not the big public one where commercial jets landed, but the smaller section at the end of the runway where corporate jets and private planes came in. I felt incredibly stupid when I walked up to the counter and said that I needed charts, and even more stupid when the woman asked me what kind.

I didn't know what to tell her, didn't know what to ask for, and didn't have a clue as to why I was there. When a pilot walked by, the woman behind the counter quickly handed me off to him, saying that he would probably be able to figure out what type of charts I needed.

The pilot, a "perky" sort of guy named Bill, seemed delighted to answer my questions, even though I was still very awkward about the whole thing and didn't know what to ask. I think I just said that I was really curious about everything, and that I wanted to learn how aircraft navigation and communication worked.

Grabbing several things that just looked like big maps, he led me to a meeting room and spread the charts out all over the table. Pointing out the radio beacons, he tried to explain how they communicated with the equipment on the aircraft, and then, with a smile, he grabbed my arm and said to come with him to the hangar. The next thing I knew, I found myself sitting in the pilot's seat in the cockpit of a medivac airplane....

Once there, Bill showed me the onboard computer and told me that information was relayed--via certain frequencies--between the beacons on the ground and the computer on the plane. It was all pretty interesting, but suddenly--with no warning--I felt the blood drain from my face, and a crushing wave of fear and nausea swept over me.

I'd been plagued by sporadic panic attacks since the late 70s. Of course this was before the days that panic attacks were recognized as often being caused by chemical imbalances in the brain related to problems with seretonin uptake, and before the advent of medications such as Paxil which help to restore the proper balance of neurochemicals. While I'd been able to function reasonably normally in my work and in my daily life without any type of medication, there had been stretches over the years when I developed full-blown phobic symptoms that caused me to avoid situations from which I couldn't easily "escape."

At best, a panic attack would cause me to have a pounding heart and rapid breathing, but I'd had them escalate to nausea, vomiting, and feelings of "impending doom," too. And to this day, I don't think there's any way to convey--to someone who's not experienced them--the sheer, immobilizing terror that is felt during a panic attack. As I sat there in the airplane, I could tell that this was going to be a bad one....

Bill merrily chatted away, oblivious to what was happening to me, and I felt the panic rise even further. It was the ultimate in "self consciousness"--I was aware of every rapid and irregular beat of my heart, aware of my uneven breathing, and everything took on an "unreal" and distorted quality.

And then it happened--as the feelings of terror and nausea and the need to escape became overwhelming, I suddenly realized that I was looking at the back of my head, from a slightly elevated position, at a distance of about eighteen inches!

As terrifying as this was--and I knew that I was dying in that moment--I somehow managed to work in a rational thought: while I'd sometimes gotten myself "out" of a panic attack by physically being sick, I knew that throwing up was NOT an option (would I short something out and could I be sued if I damaged the airplane?), and I also knew that it would be impossible to quickly bolt out of the plane, given the tight quarters. Around the edges of this rationality, I also was aware of how it would surprise (understatement...) the pilot--who was still talking, while programming an imaginary flight to Los Angeles...

I forced myself--or "myselves!"--to focus on what he was saying, and while I don't remember the "re-entry," I was suddenly back inside of my body, and the panic was gone as quickly as it had come. The whole episode probably lasted no more than one minute.

Bill stopped for a second, asked if I understood what he was saying (oh yeah, right, certainly caught all of that), then he launched into another part of the "lesson," and I was able to ask reasonably intelligent questions. Within a few minutes, I was completely back to "normal," laughing and talking and taking advantage of this opportunity to learn about a subject that had intrigued me for quite a while.

When we left the hangar, we walked around outside and looked at the different airplanes. I asked Bill about single-engine Navions, and there was one sitting on the tarmac. I didn't see anything particularly remarkable about it, however, nothing "coincidental" happened, and, oddly, it just no longer seemed "important."

We finally walked back to the main building where I thanked Bill for his help, purchased a couple of navigational charts that showed radio beacon transponders in my area, and came home.

Over the next few days I looked at the charts and tried to figure out what was so "important" about them. Nothing seemed significant, and I wondered why I'd felt that I needed them in the first place--especially since I'd had to go through a truly awful and bizarre panic attack in order to acquire them!

And then, in a flash, I suddenly understood everything that had happened--and why. I thought back to the sensations of the panic attack--of the new and terrifying experience of being outside of my body--and I realized that I'd had at least a partial out-of-body experience....

More insights flooded in, and I remembered reading in "Far Journeys" that some psychologists and psychiatrists were using the Hemi-Sync tapes to promote relaxation in their patients. As I made these connections, I wrote a letter to the Institute detailing my "theory."

In the letter, I said that the feelings of unreality associated with some severe panic attacks might be caused by partial out-of-body experiences. If the Hemi-Sync tapes sometimes caused people to have spontaneous OOBEs, it might be possible to use the tapes with severely phobic people as a form of biofeedback--bringing them to the brink of an OOBE, reducing their fear about the feelings, and then helping them learn how to (literally!) keep themselves together.

A couple of weeks went by, I was busy with the "here and now," and I basically forgot about the letter and about my experiences in the airplane. But then one day I received a letter in the mail from a psychiatrist in Pennsylvania. An affiliate with the Monroe Institute, he said that while he hadn't been able to prove that the phobic feelings of "unreality" were necessarily spontaneous partial out-of-body experiences, he said it was a possibility. He went on to write that he had been using the Hemi-Sync tapes with his some of his patients who experienced panic attacks, and that he was seeing excellent results.

Perhaps the most comforting part of the letter to me was its tone. At a time when some people probably would have deemed me certifiably nuts (i.e. panic attacks, weird interests, obsessions with "frequencies," etc.), it was very reassuring to be addressed as a "colleague," of sorts, rather than as a potential patient!

While I'll admit that I've had occasional moments of "anxiety" in the last ten or twelve years, what I experienced in the cockpit of the medivac airplane--and the connections that I made afterwards--seemed to mark the end of a decade of sporadic and severe panic attacks; I've not had one since....

In the years since 1988, I've read Monroe's other books, and I still regard them with a mixture of skepticism and acceptance. None, however, have had the same personal impact as "Far Journeys."

Ultimately, any "truth" is filtered through the human personality and conscious mind, and I'm not sure that I agree with all of Monroe's interpretations of his experiences. "Coincidentally," through entirely "normal" means, I've since met a couple of people who are connected to the Monroe Institute of Applied Sciences, including one who went through the Institute's "Gateway" program a couple of years ago. I enjoyed talking with him about his experiences, and as I mentioned earlier, I know other people who have had out-of-body--as well as near-death--experiences.

Perhaps the most important thing that I learned from reading Monroe's books and from experiencing the severe panic attack in the airplane is that who we really are is quite separate from the body in which we live. Through this experience, I feel that I was able to touch yet another part of the "elephant," and gain more "knowings" about the God-force.

© SBK 2000
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