CHAPTER TWENTY TWO
NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCES
In the last 20 years, one of the most important fields of research in terms of human behavior has been the exploration of Near Death Experiences (NDEs). This is where a person, through accident or ill health, through a fatal car crash or a heart attack, dies and then is resuscitated. This is a relatively new phenomenon because, with few exceptions, humans in the past died and stayed dead. Now, with the advances of modern medical technology, it is no longer a rare event to bring a person back to life. In some instances the person has been dead for over an hour and is brought back---these instances would be where they have fallen through the ice and died, but, the body was at such a low temperature that it was possible to bring them back to life without any significant brain damage.
In 1976, Raymond Moody published the book LIFE AFTER LIFE and began the first serious effort to understand what happens when a person has an NDE. Dr. Moody has a doctoral degree in philosophy and is a medical doctor as well. His studies are carefully made and the field that he has in effect created has over the past 20 years seen some other researchers basically validate and expand upon the work of Dr. Moody. We now have a pretty good idea of what happens to a person who has an NDE. What this phenomena means is still up to interpretation.
The following interview is with a person who has had a fairly typical NDE experience. It is important to note that no two NDE experiences are exactly alike. Human behavior is rarely identical from one person to another. However, what is most fascinating about NDEs, is that they have a lot of similarity no matter who is having one. Studies indicate that no matter what culture you have been raised in, no matter what your age is when you have an NDE, no matter what your religious or scientific background is, the type of NDE you have will be roughly similar to the one that our interviewee had.
Our interviewee is Tom Wilson. Tom is in his mid-40s, happily married, a college graduate, who holds a good paying mid-level management position with a major American corporation. He has two grown children who have recently completed their college educations. Tom drinks socially, smokes a modest amount, and exercises only by accident, never by design. He is well liked and respected by his colleagues and employers and enjoys his job, but admits to working harder at it than is good for him. His wife and family have all enjoyed the fruits of his hard work. They have a lovely home in suburbia, two new cars, and a cabin on the lake. That is a picture of what Tom Wilson's life was like before he had his NDE. Tom will now tell you about his NDE.
You see it on television or in the movies, but no matter how well they portray it, you are never ready for it when it happens to you. They talk about the pain, but, unless you have experienced it yourself, you don't know just how painful a heart attack can be. It doubled me over in pain. Thank God my wife was there when it happened. I crumpled over on the floor in pain. Marge is one smart cookie. She didn't miss a beat. She didn't ask me what was wrong. She didn't bother with me at all. Instead, she went immediately for the phone and called 911.
After it was all over, I asked her why she reacted so effectively. She explained that she just knew that it was something very very serious from the look on my face. She didn't need to ask me anything.
We are among the lucky ones. We have a hospital not far from our home, a first rate suburban hospital with a top notch emergency section. The ambulance had me there in nothing flat and they went to work on me. I died shortly after my arrival at the hospital. My wife was there and tells me that I died just as I was entering the room where the doctors and nurses were waiting for me. Marge turned me over to the doctors and got out of the way. They then went to work on me.
As they were working over me, trying to bring me back to life, and this is the absolutely miraculous part, I left my body and watched from up close to the ceiling. I had this nice vantage point where I could see everything that they were doing to try to bring me back. But, I didn't stay there for long. Just long enough to see a nurse rip open my shirt. Now this may seem like a small detail, but, it is a very important detail. You see, I was wearing one of my old shirts, the kind you wear on the weekend at home when you are going to do some chores. When she ripped open my shirt one of the old buttons flew off and landed right on my forehead. Remember now, I was dead when this happened. My eyes were closed. The me that was the person, the body on that gurney, didn't see any of this. It was the me that was like floating up there near the ceiling that saw this. A week later, after this was all over, that nurse and I met for the first time. No one had said anything to me about that button and I had not said anything to anyone. Fact is I had forgotten all about it. It was, after all, no big deal. Especially when compared to all the other things that happened to me that day. So, anyway, the nurse and I meet for the first time since that day and all of a sudden it pops into my memory about the button and how it had, in a funny sort of way, just flipped up and landed on my forehead. So, I say to the nurse, "Hi, do you remember me?" And when she said that she did, I then asked, "Hey, do you do that button trick every time you rip someone's shirt open?" We both laughed at my little joke and then she said, "No, that is the only time I have ever been able to get a button to land like that......" And, then there was this pause, you could see the light go on in her brain, she realized that somehow I knew about it. "Hey, who told you about it? You were dead at the time!" I paused for a moment, just for dramatic emphasis, and told her, "No one told me about it, I saw it for myself!" And then went on to tell her what happened to me on that day just as I am about to tell you. She had heard about these things happening, but, I was the first patient that had ever told her. She then went and talked to all the other people that were in the operating room on that day and discovered that none of them, not a single one of them, knew what she was talking about. In the rush of events, no one else had even noticed the button. Only the two of us, her and me...the dead guy up near the ceiling!
So, anyway, there I was watching myself, having this out-of-body experience. Part of me was mystified by it all, I mean, really, you don't know what to say or think. Part of me wanted to get involved with what was going on down there, with the effort to bring me back alive. However, before I could get involved, I left.
Now I am no longer in the operating room. Instead I am like having a life-review. I am meeting all the people who have been important in my life. Mind you, this is not happening in any rush, time is not the same as what you and I are normally use to...fact is nothing about this NDE stuff is like what we are use to. That makes it hard for me to really tell you what it is like. It really isn't like anything I can explain in words. It is what they call "ineffable"---it can't be expressed in words. But, still, it is happening and I am going to tell you the best I can what it was like. So, here I am, talking to all these people, but I am not really talking. I am communicating from one mind to another. It is a communication of feelings, of knowledge without words. And, like I said, this is all happening in milliseconds, sort of at the speed of light, but, at the same time it is not being rushed. I have plenty of time---I guess that when you are operating at the speed of light you can get a lot of things done very very quickly.
Now here is one of the most important parts of this experience. You see I am meeting all of these people once again. These are all people that have been an important part of my life, people that are dead, or who died before I died. My grandparents are there, my aunts and uncles, my cousin that died in an auto accident. These are all very pleasant encounters. These are people that have been important to me when I was alive. This all feels good. But, then, I start meeting some people that I have known in my life that, well...that I have not treated very nicely. These are people that I know I should have treated better. Mind you, when I was still alive, I would have vehemently denied that I had ever hurt any of these people. As far as I was concerned, they deserved just what they got. But, now when I meet them, I can, for the first time, FEEL the pain I caused them. I now know that I hurt them and that causes me great sorrow.
Remember now, this is all happening in milliseconds, it is happening at the speed of light. I am having this life review and then, you see, I am heading for the light. This very special light. It is bright, bright beyond belief, it is sort of like looking directly into the heart of the sun, not AT the sun, but INTO the very heart of the sun, it is so penetratingly bright, but, at the same time, this light does not in any way hurt my eyes. And, this light communicates with me, it doesn't talk, it just communicates directly into my brain. Not in words or anything, just pure communication, and I KNOW, and this is a KNOWING greater than any knowledge that I have had in the past, I know that this is God and that I have come to learn from this wondrous Spirit of Light, this being of total love and warmth and acceptance. For the first time in my life, I feel this deep, penetrating peace come over me. Never have I ever felt more whole in my life.
I am now standing before a body of water. I sort of know that I have to make a choice. I have to cross over the body of water or return to my body. I DON'T want to return. That is clear to me. I don't want to let go of what I have just now discovered, this peace in the presence of the Spirit. I don't want to lose that. But, at the same time, I also know that I must return to my body.
I know that I have to return because of what the Being of Light communicated to me. The Light helped me understand that life is all about love and knowledge. That I have not learned enough, that I have lessons that I must still learn in this life, that I have people that I must learn to love more fully, in THIS life. So, despite my reluctance, I also know that I don't really have a choice. That I must return.
And then suddenly, I am back in my body and the doctors are saying that I am alive again. It is sort of funny, they are the ones that think that they have saved my life. But, that isn't what has happened. Well, maybe they played a small and important role in the drama, but, the one that has saved my life, the one that has helped me see that I need to return to life, is that Being of Light.
While in the hospital, I told the nurse what happened. I have also shared this with my wife Marge. But, in general, I have kept it to myself. I have no urge to try to tell everyone about what happened to me. What is more important to me is that I use the knowledge, that since I have chosen to live in order to better love and gain more knowledge about how to love those that enter my life, that is what I should be doing. Instead of talking about what happened, I should be behaving consistent with what I now know is the meaning of life. That has not been easy.
Fact is, it has been damn hard to do.
The doctors told me that I should start exercising, give up smoking, and cut back on the drinking. I don't know if it is the heart attack and what the doctors said, or the fact that I know that the Being of Light would expect me to live a better life, but, whatever the motivation, I have done all three and am a damn sight healthier today than I was before the heart attack.
But, that is the small part of the change that has happened to me. Just ask Marge, or talk to my two kids. They will tell you that Tom Wilson is a different person today. Or, ask about me at work, they also will tell you that I am changed.
I had this experience, this opportunity to learn and to have a second chance at life, a second time around, and this time I KNOW what the meaning of life is! Fantastic!! To KNOW, without doubt, to KNOW that life is about love and knowledge, what a gift I have been given.
I don't want to mislead you. I am not all of a sudden a Mother Teresa or an Albert Schweitzer or a Gandhi. I am not about to win a nobel prize for being the most loving person or the wisest person on earth. Nothing like that...but, still I have changed in a very profound way and those that know me will testify to that fact. You see, besides knowing what life is all about, I now also know that time is infinite. That in a matter of milliseconds I reexperienced over 40 years of my life up to that moment...and, mind you, in those milliseconds of my 40 years I learned more of importance, I felt more significantly, I experienced life more deeply than I had during the first time that I had experienced those 40 years! So, I am not in such a big hurry anymore. I don't try to get as much done each day. Instead of endless piles of work and countless things that I MUST get done before I can go to bed, I am more relaxed about things. I know that it is not quantity that counts, that it is quality that counts. I have less of a feeling of being driven. I have less of a need to buy, buy, buy THINGS. I watch less television and read more good books. I have less of an urge to go on big expensive vacations from which I return exhausted and more of an urge to take a long walk in the woods near home and just watch nature and admire how exquisitely beautiful is the world that God has provided us.
And, I still have some of my old bad habits. Habits are not easy to get rid of even if you have had an NDE to help you change the way you see things. I still have a long ways to go, but, I know that I am on the right road and I KNOW that each day I will continue to work on making me a better person, a person who cares more about the well-being of others, a person who is constantly seeking knowledge about human behavior so that I can better understand myself and others.
I thank God that I died that day, I thank God for the heart attack, I thank God that I now know what He wants us to do with our lives. Oh, by the way, I almost forgot one of the most important things I learned about God, God is a fun person.
The Being of Light has a wonderful sense of humor. Each day I try to remember that, to laugh at myself, to never get too serious.
*** GOD, GIVE US GRACE TO ACCEPT WITH SERENITY THE THINGS THAT CANNOT BE CHANGED, COURAGE TO CHANGE THE THINGS WHICH SHOULD BE CHANGED AND THE WISDOM TO DISTINGUISH THE ONE FROM THE OTHER. ***
If you are a skeptic and doubt the story that Tom Wilson has just shared with you, then you are like I used to be. After talking with Tom I read Moody's book. Then I read Atwater's book BEYOND THE LIGHT, and then Brinkley and Perry's book SAVED BY THE LIGHT, and then Eadie's book EMBRACED BY THE LIGHT and Morse and Perry's book TRANSFORMED BY THE LIGHT. As you can readily see, the Light, the Being of Light is the thing that people can't forget.
Does this mean that we now have proof of life after death? Does this mean that we now have proof of the existence of God? Their are those scientific skeptics who would say that the research done to date does not prove anything. If your standard of proof is one that requires knowledge "beyond any doubt," then we don't have proof. But, then, we don't have proof of much in the world if you require absolute proof. Close to 100%---if not 100%---of the theories of human behavior don't meet the test of "beyond any doubt" and a lot of the theories in physics, astronomy, and other "scientific" areas really don't meet a criteria as rigid and demanding as "beyond any doubt" and few theories ever will meet such a high standard. We know with certainty that water is made up of two elements of Hydrogen and one element of Oxygen. If we get much beyond this level, then the element of doubt enters.
So, we shall never know much about life with absolute certainty.
But, if our standard that we impose on knowledge is that we accept as possible truth those things that: (1) have been tested time and again and found to explain some aspect of human existence AND (2) lead to the benefit of humankind, then we are in the ball game with NDEs. We are still examining this fascinating phenomena. We may learn more about it as time goes along. However, the following appear to be the lessons we have gained to date from our studies of NDEs:
1. No other explanation posed by anyone comes close to explaining this phenomena as being anything less than a spiritual one. (Remember the button!)
2. Assuming the NDE, as reported, is a relatively accurate description of a part of human existence, then humans are capable of experiences that are far beyond our current level of understanding of how the universe works and how human beings function. (Remember the button!)
3. Therefore, we should give more serious consideration to developing new models of human potentiality and question more vigorously the existing models that supposedly explain human behavior. (Remember the button!)
4. The basic message from NDEs is that love and knowledge are all important and that miracles do happen. This basic message is very consistent with all the great bodies of philosophy and theology and, therefore, lends support to those old and important messages. (Remember the button!)
Hopefully, those who look into the wondrous phenomena of Near Death Experiences will come away, as I did, with a deeper appreciation of the spiritual values in life and less of an attachment to material values. Hopefully, as with Tom Wilson, they will also come away with a rededication to eradicate those habits that are inconsistent with the message of NDEs and start developing habits more consistent with the message of NDEs---habits of learning and loving. Finally, and most importantly, they, like Tom, and like the Being of Light, will retain their sense of balance and sense of humor as they struggle to make those changes.
Sometimes it takes a heart attack to get your heart beating with love for yourself and others. Sometimes it takes a shock to the system to get it going again. But, it doesn't have to be this way. A novel read, a movie watched, a marriage, a birth of a child, a thousand less dramatic events in life can help you get going in the right direction. However, just as subtle and dramatic events can get you headed right, they can also get you headed wrong. If we are going to create a society in which we maximize the number of responsible citizens that we have roaming around amongst us, then we need to help people learn the best of lessons from among both the common and uncommon events that occur in life. I, for one, believe that NDEs provide us all with a definition of what is the best of lessons.
Even if you are the most skeptical of persons, even if you think that NDEs only represent some chemical and/or electric phenomena that happens to humans that die, then you have missed the most important point of all. Even if one day we do happen to be able to explain this in terms of chemistry, the message of love and knowledge remains intact. Humans, of all ages, throughout the world, know deep within themselves that the real values in life have to do with love and knowledge. So, no matter what you "think" about the phenomena of NDEs, you, and me, and just about everyone else, like it or not, deep within our mind and soul, KNOW that love and knowledge, not houses and cars and haircuts, just old love and knowledge are what life is all about!
*** NOTHING THAT IS WORTH DOING CAN BE ACHIEVED IN A LIFETIME; THEREFORE WE MUST BE SAVED BY HOPE.
NOTHING WHICH IS TRUE OR BEAUTIFUL OR GOOD MAKES COMPLETE SENSE IN ANY IMMEDIATE CONTEXT OF HISTORY; THEREFORE WE MUST BE SAVED BY FAITH.
NOTHING WE DO, HOWEVER VIRTUOUS, CAN BE ACCOMPLISHED ALONE; THEREFORE WE ARE SAVED BY LOVE. ***
Reinhold Niebuhr, THE IRONY OF AMERICAN HISTORY
From NDEs, we also know that we are going to be held responsible for our actions in life that have hurt others. We will feel their pain, experiencing what we did to them, knowing that we are responsible to make amends for our irresponsible past actions through becoming more responsible, more loving, more knowledgeable human beings.
I can't help but reflect on who I might be meeting up with that I have hurt. I like to think that I have not hurt anyone in this lifetime, but, is that a reasonable assumption? Part of the answer is determined by how you define "hurt"---what amounts to an injury to another that I might be held responsible for?
All evidence from NDEs and other sources indicates that the Being of Light, God or whatever you choose to call it, is a loving God, a God that is fair and just. So, I believe that I will be treated justly and that the definition of injury will be a fairly limited one. By that I mean that I will not be held accountable for what others FEEL or THINK that I have done to them. For example, an ex-wife of mine might feel that I hurt her through leaving her and obtaining a divorce. If the divorce caused her injury, then she has chosen to be so injured. I am not to blame for how others think or feel UNLESS I have behaved in some irresponsible way to have caused that injury. For example, if I failed to pay child support, if I had been physically abusive, if I had hidden family assets so that she failed to get her fair share---then I have injured her and deserve to be punished.
Since thinking about this interview and the meaning of NDEs, I have done a long life-review of what I have done to others and what I have done with my life. I honestly feel that I have done little to deliberately hurt or injure others in my lifetime. But, in the areas that I have done harm, then I am responsible for making amends. Some of those that I have injured I don't even know where they are or if they are even alive today. So, how do I make amends to them? I can't do it directly, so I am doing so indirectly. For those I have injured, I have to balance the scales by helping others without expecting a thank you or recompense. I am trying to balance out the bad I have done by doing as much good as I can now that I understand better what the meaning of life is, what God expects of us.
I participated in a group visualization recently. During the visualization we were told to go to an exquisitely beautiful place and be surrounded by loving people. I found myself surrounded by a number of very important people from out of my past, all of whom have long been dead. My father was there, two cousins were also present, one who died as a teenager in an auto accident, Eddie Willie, and another who died after a successful career as a general in the Army and as a millionaire businessman. My grandparents and an Aunt and Uncle rounded out the circle of loving people that all radiated concern, acceptance, and love toward me. It was a very warm and special experience. However, what was most important about this experience is that I had an NDE like experience with these relatives from out of my past. They all instantaneously communicated to me their mistakes. One had been too wild and out of control, another had been too controlled, and my father helped me see two very very important lessons from my observations of these lives. Lesson number one was that I should seek the road of moderation. Try not to be in control all the time, however, value a little wildness, a little gaiety and fun when others would expect you to be more serious. Seek to be a balanced person, and, hang in there while you are moving toward that balance. Don't give in to the temptations of easy answers, indulgent habits, or behavior that you know is hurtful to others. Don't be a flake, but, don't take yourself too seriously either. The second lesson flowed from the first and was of equal value. As long as you do behave responsibly, as long as you do your best not to hurt others and to reach out and love others and do random acts of kindness---if you can honestly look yourself in the mirror and proclaim that you are living consistent with the Golden Rule of doing to others what you would want them to do unto you---THEN, let go of the self-blame!
Take a deep breath, relax all the muscles, let out a long slow profound AHHHHHHHHHH...............AND LET GO OF THE SELF-BLAME!
*** TO LAUGH OFTEN AND MUCH; TO WIN THE RESPECT OF INTELLIGENT PEOPLE AND THE AFFECTION OF CHILDREN; TO EARN THE APPRECIATION OF HONEST CRITICS AND ENDURE THE BETRAYAL OF FALSE FRIENDS; TO APPRECIATE BEAUTY AND FIND THE BEST IN OTHERS; TO LEAVE THE WORLD A BIT BETTER WHETHER BY A HEALTHY CHILD, A GARDEN PATCH, OR A REDEEMED SOCIAL CONDITION; TO KNOW EVEN LIFE HAS BREATHED EASIER BECAUSE YOU HAVE LIVED. THIS IS TO HAVE SUCCEEDED. ***
Ralph Waldo Emerson