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Rob Wood was born in 1948 at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, to a Jewish mother and Southern Baptist father who resolved the theological conflict by agreeing to never mention God or religion in the home. At the age of 10, Rob became a seeker on his own, setting the stage for a life-long quest to understand the nature of God, humanity, and his part in the Cosmic play.
While in search of a deeper grasp of universal truths, Rob read about the therapeutic use of LSD by Stanislav Grof, Timothy Leary and other researchers, and he decided to do some serious experimentation of his own. On Valentine’s Day in 1968, due to a miscalculation in the potency of the tablets Rob took, he accidentally ingested 70 times the standard dosage required for the experience, and abruptly left his body.
Rob’s account of the ensuing journey through this universe and beyond, his immersion in the “river of souls” he found there, and his reluctant return to Earth, is a unique look at the NDE/STE phenomenon.
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Rob Wood’s Journey to the Core
By Rob Wood
September 13, 2013
I died in February of 1968. That’s what I experienced. It wasn’t a “near death” experience, but rather, a “near permanent” departure from my body. Before I describe this journey, I need to say a few things about how I view death, just to give you a perspective on what follows.
First, I don’t actually believe in the concepts of birth or death, if by birth we mean the beginning of life, and by death we mean the common definition of the word, i.e., the end, or cessation of life. I believe physical birth and physical death are actually transformative events in which individual life forms move from one state of being to another. I believe individuals exercise free will to spring from a common pool of pure energy and collective consciousness, take on a deliberately unsophisticated and ignorant infantile body and brain, and then spend a finite amount of time inhabiting that physical form before completing the experience and transitioning back to the original source.
I don’t expect anyone to share my beliefs, although I know there are many who seem to hold to some variation of the theme, and I don’t expect anyone reading this to accept as fact any depiction I offer of the events that led to the formation of my beliefs. All that I hope is that people may read what I write and accept that I am sincere in wanting to be as truthful as I can in relating my story. And if the reader gains any insight into the human condition, and — miraculously — takes heart and courage from my story — then it will have been worth the telling.
I realize that it is virtually impossible to accurately relate journeys outside the normal confines of our physical realities, much less prove that any of the experiences or knowledge gleaned from them has any basis in science or empirically verifiable fact. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to try, and although I can’t explain why, after 46 years of keeping these thoughts to myself and shared with a very few others, I suddenly find myself struggling to memorialize what I experienced and the conclusions I’ve drawn as a result, and it feels right; and if there is one thing I’ve learned in 65 years of life on this planet, it’s to follow that sense of rightness, regardless of where it may lead.
The idea of death as a transitional step in the process of existence is nothing new, of course. As early as 3,500 B.C.E., the Sumerians wrote about life after death as a complex process by which human beings entered into a dismal sort of ghostly, subterranean half-life in Irkalla, similar to the Greek Hades and the Hebrew Sheol. Each succeeding civilization and culture developed its own version of these transitional forms of existence, and while it might be argued that all of these mythologies sprang from the same, purely understandable – and very human – desire to believe that life must be more than a brief cocktail of ecstasy and misery on Earth, there is also the distinct possibility that the mythologies are actually metaphors, and that the truth is that life on Earth is merely a way station for each separate being in an eternal cosmic dance.
On Valentine’s Day in 1968, I was 20, living in a commune in Washington, D.C. That night, I accidentally took a massive quantity of pure LSD. It came from a batch that had not been properly reduced to standard 50 µg doses. Instead, the estimate from later analysis suggested that each “barrel” actually contained roughly 500 µg of the drug — enough for 10 people to trip for 6 to 8 hours each. I took 7 of these — enough for 70 people to each experience a powerful LSD trip.
To keep this story in context, it’s important for those who were not part of the “counterculture” in those days to understand that the world was undergoing a spiritual, political, sexual and cultural renaissance that challenged every assumption our parents’ generation had taken for granted. One aspect of the renaissance was experimentation with alternative spiritual disciplines and paths, seeking universal truth through meditation, study, fasting, involvement with spiritual teachers and gurus, Native American spirit quests, natural psychotropic substances such as marijuana, hashish, peyote and Psilocybin mushrooms, and — for some — controlled internal journeys via the vehicle of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).
For serious seekers on a spiritual path of expanded consciousness, LSD, in pure form, was a powerful vehicle, if used properly. Before ingesting it, we prepared ourselves physically by getting plenty of sleep, exercising, fasting, and refraining from drinking alcohol or ingesting any other drugs; we prepared spiritually and emotionally by clearing our minds of worry and fear, resolving conflicts with others, and by meditating in a quiet room, with calming music in the background (Ravi Shankar’s sitar was a favorite). Finally, we prepared ourselves intellectually by deliberately setting our thoughts and wills to fully experience and embrace the entire experience, regardless of where the journey led, and without holding back.
Typically, I took LSD every 6 months. It took that long to prepare myself, and then to process the experience afterward. Today, having read many accounts of people who have experienced what have come to be classified as NDE’s (short for “near-death experiences”), I realized that an NDE, or more properly in this context, an STE (spiritually transformative experience) that sometimes accompanies a near death event, shares some common traits with the sort of transformative experience we sought with psychedelics. One of these is that the experience itself may be short-lived in terms of linear measurement of time, but have permanent, life-changing impact. At the same time, the exact nature of the experience is unique to the individual, and likely to produce a wide range of reactions, from fear, pain and isolation on one end of the spectrum, to absolute joy, love and a feeling of oneness with the entire universe on the other. I believe that the nature of the experience is strongly influenced by the state of mind and physical condition of the person undergoing the experience.
On that February night, I had an opportunity to take unusually pure LSD — something that had been in short supply in D.C. in recent months. I had taken LSD a couple of times in the previous six months, with little success, as the quality available on the street had begun to suffer from unscrupulous street dealers selling adulterated and impure substitutes for the real thing, or at best, weak dosages that were insufficient to produce the transformative experience I wanted. So, on that Valentine’s Day night, my friend arrived with a bottle full of tablets, but with no assessment of the dosage, other than a vague assurance of its purity. Since it was available, I decided to take multiple tablets, to guarantee the intensity of the experience. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending upon your point of view), one tablet would have been more than enough for the entire household. With very little trepidation, I swallowed seven tablets, and waited.
I was sitting on the floor in my room with my back against the wall, listening to the conversation of several friends who were visiting, when I suddenly found myself floating above my body. The sensation was strange, but not unpleasant, as I felt light, as though I had shed a burden. I “looked” up, and saw the ceiling. Then I looked down and saw that the eyes in my head had rolled up, with only the whites showing, and that my body had slumped down. I looked at my friends who continued to talk animatedly with one another, and realized I was in a position to make a major decision: either return to my body, or see where this experience might lead. My body looked dead, but I felt fully alive — maybe more alive than I had ever felt in my 20 years of living on Earth — and it dawned on me that I felt no fear at all. So, I chose to experiment.
I looked up again, and willed that I “rise” to the ceiling, and felt movement, as though I were flying. I decided to test whether I could penetrate the ceiling, simply by willing it. I passed through the ceiling and into the space between floors. I saw rafters, plumbing and electrical wires running between them. I directed my consciousness upward once again, and flew through the roof of the building. I found myself floating above the roof, looking out and around at the other buildings in my neighborhood, and still felt comfortable in this bodiless state, so I decided to rise higher. Everything looked, sounded and seemed perfectly normal and real, except that I felt completely weightless.
I decided to try rising higher, straight up above my home. I looked down as I rose, and saw my home begin to shrink in perspective, just as though I were in a helicopter. I saw more and more streets of the city as I rose, along with the lights in all of the windows, headlights and taillights of vehicles far below, and off in the distance, the Washington monument and dome of the capitol. I looked up, and saw clouds passing in front of the moon. Again, everything seemed perfectly ordinary, except I was suspended in mid air. I decided to continue my journey upwards, continuing to look down as I rose, and found myself in the clouds, where I was momentarily unable to see anything.
I rose above the clouds, mainly in order to see something other than diffused moonlight, until I popped through the top. The moonlight was bathing the clouds in a spectral and beautiful light, and I could still see the city far below, although partially obscured by the cloud formation. Above the clouds, I could see some stars, but the main feature was the full moon. It looked fantastic, and I suddenly realized that there was probably nothing stopping me from traveling to the moon. I got pretty excited at this idea! After all, who hasn’t dreamed of flying to the moon? I willed myself to the moon, and actually experienced flying there. Oddly, I simultaneously experienced a sensation of moving swiftly through the Earth’s atmosphere, into near-space, and then into outer space, finally arriving in the vicinity of the moon, and near-instantaneous transportation to that location, almost as though actual travel was not necessary, and merely willing myself from one location to another was sufficient. I decided to experiment with this idea, and willed myself to Mars.
I arrived at Mars instantaneously, and yet also “remembered” having “flown” there. In other words, I had the same experience as my trip to the moon, and only my focus changed. I don’t know if this is making any sense to the reader, but this experience of simultaneously traveling to a point in space, and instantaneously arriving there by sheer will, was a constant throughout the journey I’m relating here.
I then decided to fly to the farthest reaches of our solar system, and flew past Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, arriving finally at Pluto. At Pluto, I had a decision to make. I could still see the sun, although it had diminished markedly in size, and getting back to Washington was a matter of line of sight. The question was: would I be OK if I left the solar system behind, and no longer had any visual point of reference to use to return to Earth, should I desire it? After considering this momentarily, I realized that the opportunity to experience this incredible adventure was not likely to present itself again, and that I ought not to waste it. And so, I decided to continue on toward the stars.
I again turned my attention outward toward the Milky Way, and willed myself to the heart of it. Again I experienced traveling at a huge rate of speed, while simultaneously relocating there. I flew past the core of the galaxy, and continued on to the next, and the next, and the next, one right after another. At some point, I realized that what I most wanted to discover was whether I might come to the end of the physical universe, and if so, what the reality beyond it might consist of.
As I continued to “fly” outward from Earth, my speed began to accelerate. The galaxies began to pass by in a blur, one after another after another, and gradually, the space between the galaxies grew increasingly larger. Eventually, I found myself in almost empty space, with only an occasional lone star to break the blackness. Finally, there were no more stars at all, and all I saw before me was empty space. But I kept going. I felt that I had to see this voyage to the end.
After an indeterminate period of time had passed (It seemed like years.), I began to sense resistance to my forward momentum. It was almost as though I was beginning to force my way through an increasingly resilient membrane. It got thicker and more resistant, but I was determined, and kept fighting my way through it, until suddenly I broke through it into a different sort of void. It was not the blackness of space, but more akin to featurelessness — a lack of darkness or light. What I saw then completely overwhelmed me. As I turned my aspect back 180 degrees, I saw our universe as a globe. It was, in purely human terms, like a snow globe, perfectly round, and filled with the glow of the combined galaxies within it, surrounded by the blackness of space. The exterior of the globe was just as I had sensed, rather than saw: a sort of nearly transparent membrane.
As I gazed in awe at this globe, I realized there was another, similar globe next to it. The structure was the same, but the internal composition of galaxies was arranged differently, so that the colors and intensity of the light, balanced by patches of darkness, presented a unique pattern. I realized then that I was looking at a universe that existed in parallel to our own. Then I looked to the other side of our universe, and saw yet another parallel universe that was also uniquely unlike ours. And as I turned my attention to the left and to the right, I perceived a ring of universes, disappearing into the void. I couldn’t count them, but I sensed that there was a multitude of them, if not an infinite number. Each was unique. Some were full of light from huge masses of galaxies, some were sparsely populated with random stars, and some had no starlight shining in them that I could see, but instead, seemed to glow with suffused light throughout — more intense toward the center.
After I closely observed a few dozen of these universes, I decided to move on, to see what might lie beyond them. It was obvious that something existed beyond them, and I wanted to discover what it looked and felt like, so I rose above the ring of universes, traveling faster and faster, until the ring began to shrink behind me, smaller and smaller until it disappeared.
Again, it seemed as though I was traveling for many years, although I know it must have been only seconds, but the void remained featureless: no light, no darkness, no form.
At some point in this part of the journey, I began to have doubts that there was anything more to experience. It was as though I was no longer moving. I was on the verge of turning back when I saw a pinpoint of light ahead. I willed myself toward it, and as it began to grow, a yearning began to overcome me. The closest emotion I can liken it to is homesickness, but homesickness on a gargantuan scale — so intense that my heart felt as though it would burst. Then I began to hear music, but not a tune of any kind. It was almost as though all the voices that ever existed were raised in harmony, each one unique, yet all joined together, and all of these voices were calling to me, welcoming me.
The closer I got to the light, the more intense the sound became, and the more brilliant and almost blinding it became, until finally I arrived, and realized the light was actually a golden river. Flowing as currents in the river were individual personalities — beings who had once had physical form, but had dropped them and come home. The overwhelming feeling of homesickness could no longer be resisted, and I dove into the river, and became one with them all. Love washed over me, around me and through me, and the homesickness instantly vanished. I felt one with all of existence, and experienced the lives of all who had ever lived, all at once. I was able to pick out individual beings, and recognized them. I did see family and friends who had passed away, yes, but they did not appear in human form. And I saw and instantly knew other beings as well, human and non-human in origin. Each had played a part in the great physical cosmic play, and had returned to the river when their parts had ended, bringing back their unique stories and knowledge to be shared.
I felt, finally, fulfilled, loved, and free. I felt one with all beings, and yet also separate and unique. I have heard people object to the idea that when we drop our physical forms, we become merely a part of a collective mind, and lose our identities. That did not happen to me. It was more like I had returned to the home of my birth, and although I felt a strong sense of community and family, my personality and individuality remained intact, while at the same time I was able to tap into the collective consciousness that all beings together comprise. It was more like synergy than uniformity, if that makes any sense.
I decided to remain in the river. I had no desire to go back to Washington, D.C., and resume my life as a mortal. But as soon as I had voiced this desire, my “family” let me know, in a single voice, that I was not finished with my dance. I know this probably sounds like a cliché to people who have read numerous NDE accounts, but that’s exactly what happened. I resisted this, arguing that as a being of free will, I had the ultimate choice of remaining or returning. They all agreed. I asked why I should return to Earth, since that existence was so isolated and painful, and they asked me to leave the river and observe a phenomenon that would explain it all. Once I understood the situation, I would be free to choose to return to the river, or return to Earth, so I agreed. They directed me back to the ring of universes, and I flew back the way I had come.
When I returned to the ring of universes, I was compelled to look closely at our own. I had not seen this in my first visit, but there was a nearly transparent being that was burrowing its way through the membrane of our universe. It was not evil, and in fact, was mindless — more like a one-celled parasite than a sentient creature. Where it penetrated the membrane, matter was being created from energy. The physical aspects of our universe were, in fact, detritus from this invasion. It was then that I realized that the differences in the universes were the result of similar attacks, and that some had only just begun (at least in cosmic terms), and some had not been attacked yet (the ones that were glowing with a steady, suffused light). I began to be frightened, because it seemed unstoppable.
My collective family explained that they (we) had no defense against these parasites, because we had no basis of understanding them. Their origin was outside the river. It seemed to us that the only way to defeat it was to embrace and become submerged in its reality. And so it had been decided that we would divide into separate individuals and take on physical form, since the parasite seemed to have a unique relationship to matter. In other words, we had to become partly matter in order to understand it, since it and its kin were slowly consuming the universes, feeding off the pure energy emanating from their cores, and excreting matter in the process.
In order to do this, we had to learn to understand the nature of the parasite by learning to live in harmony with matter and spirit simultaneously; and the only way to accomplish this was to leave the river, take on mortal form, and be overwhelmed with the laws of the physical universe. We had to forget who we were, and where we came from, in order to understand the essence of matter and its interplay with energy, and we had to do this purely as unique individuals who start out ignorant and helpless, but ultimately must come together communally in order to successfully fight this parasite, and heal.
So I asked, “But what is my part in all of this? What am I supposed to do?”
“Live,” they answered. “Live, and find your own path, and never stop learning.”
“That doesn’t seem so hard,” I replied.
“Oh, it’s the hardest thing of all. Sometimes you will feel like giving up, but if you can dance until the end, you will increase our chances of becoming whole again. You will be allowed to remember this journey for the rest of your life. Treat it as a gift beyond price, and when you lose hope, turn inward and remember.”
I suddenly realized that even if I returned to the river, it was quite possible that we would be destroyed in the end, anyway, so there was really no choice for me: I had to go back. So, I said goodbye, and turned back to our universe. I penetrated the membrane, and found myself in space again. And for the first time, I experienced a moment of doubt that I would be able to find my way back to Earth. On my way out of the universe, I wasn’t looking for any particular place, and had no real destination. I was truly an adventurer. But now I had to find a particular galaxy, and a particular solar system within it, and I started to panic. But my family was still with me, and laid out a map for me. It was a star map, with Sol burning brightly in it, and I willed myself to begin the return journey.
I retraced the route, actually, and flew through the darkness, then in the sparsely inhabited star fields, then to the last galaxy I passed through on my outbound trip, then through the next, and the next, and the next, and experienced the entire journey in reverse. Galaxies loomed and faded behind me, and all the while, Sol was burning brightly, a beacon drawing me home.
And so it was that I left one home behind me, and returned to the home of my mortal birth. I saw the Milky Way, and felt a strong surge of confidence that I was doing the right thing, and that feeling grew as I flew toward Earth.
Suddenly, I passed Pluto, then Neptune, then Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars, and then saw a tiny point of blue light that I knew was Earth. Earth grew from a pinpoint to a disk, and finally to a three-dimensional pear, and nothing ever looked so beautiful. I passed the moon, and then recognized North America, and then identified the east coast, and followed I-66 to Washington, D.C., found my neighborhood landmarks, found my house, dropped down to the roof, passed through the roof, saw the same plumbing and wiring in the rafters, dropped through the ceiling, saw my body slumped against the wall, lifeless and blue, and also saw my friends panicking and on the phone with the operator (911 was not implemented yet), and dropped back into my body.
My body was cold and lifeless, but I reanimated it, sat up, smiled at my friends, and said, “Don’t worry. I’m OK.” Only as I spoke, my words flowed out from me as a golden light, very similar to the color of the river light. And my friends were overwhelmed by my return to life. I had to convince them to put the phone back on its cradle. To them, I had died, and then been resurrected. That seemed as good an explanation as any, and I have referred to this adventure in that way, for want of some better set of words.
[Just a quick aside about LSD, and my use of it. It’s important for you, the reader, to understand that I was an experienced user of LSD, always under controlled circumstances, when this event took place. None of my previous experiences bore any resemblance to this one — no out-of-body phenomenon, no “photo-realistic” clarity, and no sense of communing with any entity outside my own ego. I had used LSD for personal growth and expansion of my consciousness. In every case, I was always fully aware of who I was and where I was sitting, fully “in my head.”
After I returned to my body, and sat up to assure my friends that I still lived, all of the standard effects of LSD manifested — vibrating light and echoing sounds, undulating visuals, synaptic “switching” (hearing light, seeing sounds, etc.). The only explanation I can offer is that I actually died, and during the time I was dead, my experience was outside my brain, which was still under the influence of LSD. It’s the simplest explanation.
One last note: Although I attempted a few times in years to come to recreate this experience, I was never again able to go back to the river. The truth is that, even while attempting it, I already knew it was pointless. All of us who have been to the river want to stay there, or go back, but I had already accepted the challenge to go back to Earth. I finally gave up the foolishness, and stopped taking psychedelics.]
I realize that some of what I related may not make complete sense to you, or you may be tempted to discount my experience as a drug-fueled hallucination. Accepting it at face value may challenge your own ideas of the concept of God, the fundamental nature of the universe, or even your own understanding of what an NDE is, and if so, I simply ask you to take some time considering the possibility that everything I’ve recounted is true.
I am stuck with words and metaphors to describe a non-mortal, non-material cosmic adventure. I realize that the struggle in this universe and the river of life and light that I swam in may seem like two completely different states of existence, and that the physical universe that we live in, along with the bodily biological forms we inhabit, seems like yet a third state of being, or — as some philosophies describe it, an illusion, poor imitation of the real thing, something to be denied in order to attain a higher state, etc.
What I have learned in the ensuing years (nearly 46 of them, currently) is that there is no difference. We simultaneously exist in all of those states. In the physical life we lead on Earth, it’s hard to remember that we are on a mission, and that in the blink of a cosmic eye, will be back in the river again. What we take with us back to the river is up to us.
About the struggle against the parasite: I realize it may be hard for people to swallow, but I was there, and watched it and its brethren munching their way through not only our universe, but others. If we don’t figure it out, we will cease to exist. The songs will end, and the river will fade away.
What it means to each person is a completely unique story of its own. There is no death, at least as we commonly think of it. There is only transformation. There is no religion that matters, and no “isms” either. All of those attempts to define the human condition and explain why we are here fall short. Religion can bring relief to those who suffer, and hope to those who live in despair, but the promises they offer of salvation and joy are only temporary. I know some who read this will be offended by what I’m saying, but if my story is true, and my journey real (and after 46 years of testing, its lessons have never failed to sustain me, even when I’ve turned my back on them), then our mission on Earth has nothing at all to do with human-made philosophies, doctrines or religious rituals. The mission is unique for each living organism on the planet — not just the human variety — and no one can define another’s mission. It is already defined from birth, and fulfilling the mission is not dependent on cognitive awareness or intellectual analysis, much less upon priests, rabbis, preachers, gurus, or self-help “professionals.”
The parasite that I observed that is consuming our universe has its corollary in human societies, and even if you only accept my story as a metaphorical exercise, you would have to admit that it explains all of the strife and struggles in this world — all of the apparent evil, hatred, pain, suffering, abuse, murder, violence, religious suppression and oppression, and isolation human beings feel. For the past 46 years I’ve been testing the validity of my experience, seeing if it holds water in every situation, and I have to say that it has. The reality of the universe, or at least my metaphors for understanding it, explain everything. Every philosophical question is answered. Occam’s razor reigns supreme.
I don’t claim to know how people ought to be living their lives, and wouldn’t presume to define what path anyone else should tread, but I do know this: When we are walking the way we should, we know it. We’re born with this knowledge. Maybe the analogy I used about songs sung in multipart harmony is an apt one. It is my conviction it’s a song worth hearing — and singing — right here on Earth.
The ultimate question that each person who experiences an NDE or STE has to answer is this: What is my mission? The common refrain seems to be: Your work on Earth is not finished. It’s not your time. OK, so what is this work each of us is supposed to be doing? I have no way to answer this specifically for anyone else, but I do have one bit of advice for anyone who wants to live life to the fullest.
Spend some quality time studying David Sunfellow’s Formula.
If you use this as a general guide for your life, you will live a full and satisfying life, and you will be too busy to “sweat the small stuff,” as my brother-in-law and friend John Sell describes the lesson he learned after spending 10 days in an induced coma, successfully battling pancreatitis. Live life as though it is a gift, because it is, and be kind to one another. Live a life of service to others, and take care of your mind, spirit and body.