Altered States of Consciousness

An account of what happened when our correspondent attempted to achieve altered states of consciousness at the Monroe Institute.

| March/April 1983

  • altered states of consciousness - Pat Stone in CHEC chamber
    Correspondent Pat Stone in a CHEC unit.
  • altered states of consciousness - Bob Monroe at his recording console
    Bob Monroe at his composing switch board, where he records the tapes that help clients achieve altered states of consciousness.
    Photo by MOTHER EARTH NEWS Staff
  • altered states of consciousness - Monroe Center instructor Melissa Jager
    Chief instructor Melisa Jager.
  • altered states of consciousness - Monroe Institute campus
    The Monroe Institute campus.

  • altered states of consciousness - Pat Stone in CHEC chamber
  • altered states of consciousness - Bob Monroe at his recording console
  • altered states of consciousness - Monroe Center instructor Melissa Jager
  • altered states of consciousness - Monroe Institute campus

The following article doesn't necessarily represent the official opinion of the staff or management of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Instead, it's made up of subjective impressions of what I, associate editor Pat Stone, experienced during the week-long Gateway Program at the Monroe Institute of Applied Sciences. I was sent there by this magazine when we learned that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, renowned expert on death and dying, claimed to have made a life-changing exploration of altered states of consciousness while at the institute.

However, although the tale of my own experience at the rural Virginia center pales beside hers (and when compared with many related to me by my co-participants in the program), it may still strike some readers as pretty far-fetched. If so, that's perfectly understandable. Just remember that I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything. I'm attempting to honestly relate some (I couldn't tell you all in twice this space!) of what I believe I observed and experienced.

"Have a good trip!" Those were the last words I heard before Melissa Jager, the remarkable woman who's the chief training instructor at the Monroe Institute of Applied Sciences, turned on the first experiential stereo tape that I — and the other participants in the institute's Gateway Program — would hear during our week-long stay. I was lying in my own CHEC unit (it stands for Controlled Holistic Environmental Chamber), an isolation cube complete with a comfortable air mattress, a black curtain (to exclude distracting light), speakers, and an excellent set of stereo headphones. I lay still with my eyes closed, eager and anxious to experience ... to experience ... well, I wasn't sure just what might happen!

Of course, while I couldn't guess exactly what was in store for me, I had gathered some background knowledge about the institute before signing up. It was started by Robert Monroe, a former radio show production executive who claims to have begun, in 1958, to spontaneously undergo bizarre personal events that he didn't understand. In essence, Monroe's adventure — now commonly called out-of-body experiences, or OBE's — were typified by a sensation that his conscious mental self had lifted from his resting physical form and (with an ethereal "body" of its own) traveled by the power of thought to places near, far, and otherworldly.

Bob's full story is detailed in his well-known book, Journeys Out of the Body. I'd read the volume a decade earlier and over the years had talked with several people who claimed to have had out-of-body experiences themselves. (For instance, a close college friend had told me that he once watched his own body from the ceiling of his apartment, while his roommate frantically worked to rescue the sleeping form from a fire!) In fact, as soon as it became known around the office that I was supposed to go to "Out of Body U.", an occasional cohort would pull me aside and — often in a secretive voice — admit his or her own experience with "astral travel."

At any rate, I believed—particularly after hearing such accounts—that OBE's, as well as many other experiences related to altered states of consciousness, were possible,  but about the only encounter I’d had with any so-called higher energies consisted merely of feeling an electricity-like energy (called prana by yogis) moving up my spine and into my skull during a year of hatha yoga classes. So while my attitude toward the adventure I was about to undergo was open and receptive, I was, in effect, a "New Age novice."

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