Category Archives: Afterlife

Struck Clean

Everyone had given up on David Morris. At 45, he lived only for cocaine, and nothing was going to change that.  His family once intervened and sent him to a 30-day treatment, all of them so happy and hopeful when he graduated! But then he used again, immediately hopeless as ever. When his brother opened his home to David and gave him a job with his business, David took him up on the offer and managed to stay clean for two months. Family and friends’ hopes were raised: surely this time David was on his feet! But then he used again was back to his old ways.

What ways? Living in his mom’s house and employed in a family business, David’s life had shrunk down to nothing but cocaine. “In those final months, I had to be high all the time. My only concern was to get cocaine, get back to my room, and just be high. I’d stay awake most of the night doing coke, sleep a couple hours, wake up and get high to go to work, and then buy more on my way home — over and over and over.”

This went on until David died — probably from a heart attack brought on by overdose.

“I’d brought home an 8-ball. Every time I got high, I got extremely paranoid.  That evening, after I’d done not quite half, I felt sure the police were hiding in my closet. I could see the walls around my second story windows begin to crack and bulge, the cracks spreading, and I knew they were going to bust in and take my drugs.

“So I did everything I had — another two grams, which was an extreme amount. I didn’t mean to die. I just didn’t want anyone else to get my drugs!  Then I felt myself fading, and I fell onto my bed.”

That should be the end of the story — but it’s not. Today David has 12 years clean and sober, lives a life filled with joy and  relationships, and knows to his core that he will never use or drink again — all thanks to his experience on the other side of death.

“My spirit, my essence, rose up out of my body, and I could see my body lying on the bed. From there I moved very fast downward into a deep, total darkness. I felt shocked, frightened, confused, until I came to a place with an enormous stone slab. And lying on that slab was my lifeless body. I went into a panic; I had no idea what was going on.  I, my essence, could move about, but that body was not going to move.

“I can tell you, if I had stayed there, this story would be very different.  But I made a choice — a choice that I did not want this, that I hadn’t lived as I wished to. And with that, I began to hear distant voices calling to me, trying to guide me. Later on, after the experience, I recognized them as the voices of loved ones who had passed. But at the time, I just knew I wanted to get closer to them.

“They guided me up from the darkness, until away in the distance, I could see the light coming toward me — or me toward it.  The light grew and grew until I was engulfed in its presence. Everything became perfect. The light, as so many have said, is beyond description, beyond words — that totality of bliss.

“In the presence of this cleansing of the light, everything happened in telepathy. And the biggest gift conveyed to me by that presence was the message to just love. That’s it!  The most divine intervention that could possibly have happened – for me and to me. That gift and so many others came to me in the light’s presence.

“But as beautiful and blissful as it was there, I knew I wanted to come back – and I very strongly asked to do so. I didn’t want to leave this life the way I was leaving it. And then I knew the light was going to allow me to come back.

“Meanwhile on this plane, my aunt, who lived downstairs with my mother, heard whatever commotion my body made upstairs – a seizure, I don’t know – and called 911. My first memory is of being put in an ambulance outside the house. I remember a moment or two in the ambulance, then waking up in the hospital.

“The E.R. doctors told my aunt they had no medical explanation for why I’d survived. My heart rate, blood pressure, other complications when I arrived should have killed me. But later that day, I was sent home. My sister, with whom I’d always been close, was visiting that weekend. She told me, ‘I’m done. I’ll pray for you.  Goodbye.’ And she left.

“I’ve never again had the urge to get high. For so many years, I’d struggled, unable to stay clean for even a day. When I first came back, I wasn’t sure what had happened, but I knew — I knew I wasn’t a drug addict anymore.

“I didn’t know anything about Near Death Experiences.  I was so eager to understand what had happened to me, I read tons of books, one after another.” The first of these was Lessons from the Light by Kenneth Ring. “These NDErs’ stories were so similar to mine, and the after-effects of ways I was seeing things – all in that book! So that started to bring some clarity.  Roughly two and a half months after my NDE, on a Sunday afternoon, I decided to give my sister call, not to ask forgiveness, but to let her know, however long it took for her to heal was okay. We cried together, and our healing process began. Our bond today is as strong as ever.

“Really, though, for the first five years, it was just me and God. Nothing could touch me, I was flying. I did go to Narcotics Anonymous, not to stay clean myself, because I was done, but to help other addicts. I made a lot of friends I still have today. Since then, I’ve ventured into other areas of spirituality. In my meditations, I’ve extended my own personal adventures with God, in my own ways, just sitting in my chair.”

David eventually Googled Near Death Experiences and found the International Association of Near Death Studies (IANDS), which is how I met him.  The two of us will sit on a panel about NDEs and addiction at the next IANDS conference in Philadelphia.  Our stories differ markedly in that I, at age 22 when I had my NDE, so strongly embraced atheism and was so far from hitting bottom that I chose to deny I’d crossed over. I needed a series of 14 paranormal events in conjunction with AA spirituality to finally open my heart fully to the reality of god, my guardian angel, and the other side.

Key to most NDErs is the distinction between the anthropomorphic God suggested by various religions and the pure, good, overwhelming energy of the light. The light is love, intelligence, and power beyond our capacity to understand — though it knows and loves us perfectly because we are extensions of it — light sparks embodied in matter.  The key to living that the light passed to David — just love — now orients his every thought and has transformed his life into something beautiful.

“Naturally, today I have no fear of death. All the physical and material things most people place so much importance on, finances, wealth – they don’t matter much to me. I really have no needs. I have no wants. I have nothing to achieve. I’ve become as light as a feather!”

David walks this talk every day.  As soon as he learned through a CC on an email to conference officials that I wanted to go to the four-day Philadelphia conference but couldn’t afford it, he called me. Knowing nothing about me, he offered space in the Air B&B he’d reserved for his family and said he’d be happy to drive me to and from the airport. So I’ve coughed up the airfare, and, thanks to David’s kindness, I’ll attend at the end of August.  I also interviewed him for the Seattle IANDS newsletter.

“I’m completely free with myself,” says David. “I’ll share anything other people want to know and I don’t really care what they think of me – good or bad. I love – really LOVE – being me! I share from my heart, and they can do with it what they want. I’ve become so much about the moment – I’m not about the past or future. The most profound learning of my NDE that has stayed strongest with me, the direction that will never leave my heart, is to just love.”

“One of the most beautiful suggestions I can offer someone who is struggling is to sit still. I don’t mean sit still for half an hour a day. I mean to sit still in life. I spent six months after [a romantic] relationship ended just going to work and suffering, because a big piece of my soul was missing – but sitting still in that suffering. It was a beautiful experience, and it gradually eased.” David feels it’s the flight from pain, not pain itself, that drives many to seek relief through alcohol and drugs.

“Those little 12-step clichés: Surrender – a single word that is so profound, so simple, but not easy. Let Go and Let God — if you could see the simplicity of those five words, you’d see how grand life is, and you’d be free to sit and watch life… caring for life.”

Perhaps the greatest takeaway from David’s story is that the god of our understanding will relieve not only our addictions but our pain, sense of helplessness or victimhood, and whatever else ails us if  we seek it earnestly. For those of us who’ve lived locked up in a prison of ego and fear for many years, learning how to just love as a way of consciousness may come slowly.  But if we practice it consciously in meditation and throughout our days, it will come.

I’m going to venture out on a limb here to give you the closest description I can offer of my own experience of living in just love.  When you were a child, maybe 3 to 5, you still carried a basic faith that the world was fundamentally good — which it is.  When I am living in just love, I see again through those eyes. You might think of the children’s book Goodnight Moon; I live in that sort of world, one where I extend a loving relationship even toward trees and inanimate objects.  I experience every person as if they, too, were a tender 3 to 5-year-old underneath their slick, thorny defenses, and I dare to love them for it.

Just love.  The light will flow through you, healing all that ails.

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.nderf.org/index.htm – Near Death Research Foundation

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1642931594 – Tricia Barker’s new NDE book

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyIstVbBhilo1gdUmazkReQ – Tricia Barker’s Youtube interviews w NDErs

Consciousness Continues – Documentary featuring me (Louisa) sharing a bit of my NDE – rent on Amazon for $1.99

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Filed under Addiction, Afterlife, God, NDE, Near Death Experience, Recovery

What’s it all for?

When I drank, my life was always dramatic — at least to me.  Everything was a big deal.  Drinking both fueled and helped defuse that.  If someone was mad at me, if I’d behaved inappropriately, if some asshole had robbed me of a goal or privilege rightly mine, my emotions would rollercoaster up and down huge swells of anger and careen around curves of righteousness before finally winding down to the self-pity platform to which all things led: poor me.

Booze, by Buddy Nicholson

But in those days, I had a best buddy, wine, along an array of other pals — beer, the gin & vodka twins, and all those whiskey relatives. We’d hang out and they’d fix everything.  Actually, they’d fix my brain; everything else stayed exactly as it had been. But by muting my amygdala so the fear subsided and by impairing my frontal lobe so that all thoughts simply led back to me, drunkenness let me feel brokenly triumphant.  Fuck them.  Fuck everything.

In those days, everything I had going for me was external — or so I believed.  What mattered was out there, so I was constantly keeping score: first it was grades and teachers, then published stories, then impressing my students, and eventually, as my life spiraled downward and I quit teaching to focus on drinking — I mean, writing! — it became impressing all the “cool” cats at the tiny espresso shop where I worked.

Mind you, everything that went on in that espresso shop was colossally big news!  Who was getting together with whom, new policies about whether you could eat behind the counter, hirings and firings.  In the end my main drama centered on the fact that my life partner had read my journal, caught me cheating emotionally, and promptly left, so now I couldn’t pay the mortgage with my joke of a job, even if my shifts hadn’t been cut for coming in stoned.

Drinking enough to make that no big deal nearly killed me.

When I got sober, my focus gradually shifted to who I was within and whatever linked that spirit to a higher power — to goodness in the world.  At first, of course, I had no idea the 12 steps were effecting that change.  I just went through them with a sponsor and discovered harmful patterns in my thinking and behaviors, asking my higher power to help me outgrow them.  And as I began to lay aside increasingly subtle versions of these once precious “coping skills” — deception, manipulation, knowing best (pride), envy, and my favorite, self-pity — the ride of living smoothed out.  A lot.

Today, I have no crises. I don’t wish I were somebody else.  Sobriety’s granted me huge gifts: I’m performing in two ballet recitals this spring and climbing three glaciated mountains this summer, so my life is full.  My home, health, work, son, and friendships are all good.

But smooth sailing can be frickin’ difficult for an alcoholic!!  Without that clamoring, overflowing bucket of piddly-shit drama to seize my attention day after day, my gaze drifts to the horizon and I wonder, what am I doing?  What’s my life for?

I’m getting older.  I haven’t made any big splash lately.  My son has grown up, my dog is old, I have no partner.  What stands out with increasing clarity is that I will disappear from this planet in a number of years.  How many is unknown, but every day I’m closer.  What will my life have meant?

Here’s where near-death experience comes in.  I am so blessed that the inexplicable paranormal phenomena stacking up in my life finally led me to the Seattle branch of the International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS), and that I hold a service position there of interviewing near-death experiencers and writing up their stories for our newsletter (snailmailed only at this point, sorry). Every other month, I get to Skype with someone who has, like me, died and come back with wisdom to share.

On the other side, when they are pure spirit, many know their life’s purpose. There’s a role we’re each here to play, and they’re shown theirs.  Yet when they come back, they remember knowing, but they can’t remember what!  This “forgetting” seems to be the price of embodiment.  Enclosed in bodies, we lose 99% of our conscious connection to the expanding web of creation that is god. With little to go on but our hearts and the gossamer strands of love that link us to other hearts, we’re something of a lost boat, a tiny shard trying to work out its place in a 13.8-billion-year unfolding.

When one NDEr was given the choice to stay in the spirit realm or return to her body, she asked what would become of all her half-done life’s work if she died. “None of that matters,” she was told. “What matters is connections. If your work helps someone to strengthen their relationships with others or even to know themselves better, it has value.  The important thing is the wake you leave behind you in the waters of life.  Do you leave a wake of love… or of indifference?”

That’s our job — to love others and love god by generating gratitude for this spectacular pageant of life on Earth. My life is not about what accolades go up on my mental mantlepiece.  It’s about the people (and other beings) I love and the ripple effect of loving them, which touches countless lives of people I will never meet.

     Olympic games site, then & now

Humility is also key.  In 1995, when I was about 100 days sober, I visited the site of the first Olympic Games — alone.  Wandering from the ruins, which date from 776 BC, I took a nap under a gnarled tree. And when I woke, looking out at the meadow where a sign indicated the Greek athletes’ housing had once stood (6), used centuries later as Roman soldiers’ quarters before god knows what in the Dark Ages, I had a sort of vision. I saw with time-elapse speed hundreds of trees germinating, growing large, and dying; buildings going up and falling to ruin; people slaughtering each other and making love — all in this very same meadow while its grass sprouted green and then dried to yellow over and over, 2,771 times.

The years, I saw, cycled through just like waves on a beach.  So did human lives.  I was no less transient than a blade of grass — but one with a plentitude of choices.

Ultimately, the purpose of my life has to be turned over to god every day as a part of Step Three. In my own version of the famous Merton prayer, I tell god, “I can’t see what I’m doing, but I love you.  Please lead me wherever I can do your will, and lend me the courage and grace to do my best there.”

Life is no more and no less that that.  And that is enough!

 

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Filed under Afterlife, living sober, NDE, Recovery, Twelve Steps

Afterlife: Is it Too Weird to Talk About?

Death visits frequently in my Seattle circle of sober fellowship. Two friends with years of sobriety died this past Tuesday from heroin relapse; one I knew faintly, the other well.  Jeremy leaves behind the 11-year-old daughter he so intensely adored along with a partner and countless friends who loved his playful yet self-deprecating energy, sarcastic wit, and unflinching, quirky, inspiring shares.  He’s gone.

Gone where?

As someone who’s undergone a Near Death Experience followed up by many paranormal aftereffects, I can tell you what I believe.  (Meanwhile, you believe whatever you believe 🙂 ).

In the minutes before my sister died, I was trying doze in the dark hospital room when into my mind flashed “the light” I had known on the other side: it was seeping in under a window, floating to my sister’s bed, and “pooling” above her, a million tiny points of light swirling, gearing up to receive her.  When I opened my eyes, there was nothing.  Eyes closed, I knew the lights were our extended family ancestors, who loved my sister immensely and were preparing, like a million loving midwives, to guide her “birth” to the afterlife.

As I recount in my book or this short film, I had not yet accepted this crazy stuff into my “normal” paradigm of reality, so I kept trying to dismiss it.  A thought-voice urged me to tell her (my sister) what I knew of the light to help her cross, because her fear (that cancer was god’s punishment) blocked her crossing. “She’s got two weeks!” I insisted, believing her doctors, but the voice simply would not quit.  Finally, I consented.  I knelt close by my unconscious sister, took her hand, and tried my best to describe the the light – she’d feel the warmth of god’s love all through her, it would feel so wonderful…  When the words were out, I sat back down.  Twenty minutes later, in a sudden, violent hemorrhage, she died.

Far from serene, I tore around the hospital floor with my brother screaming, “Help us!” An impassive doctor listened to my sister’s heart… but assured us it would stop soon.  One minute I truly wanted to rip that doctor’s head off; the next, my sister reached me.  Her energy was unmistakable, hovering in the room, loving and trying to calm me, loving my brother, loving the frickin’ doctor and nurse – the whole world!  Somehow she filled me with the light again, a euphoric flashback of the bliss I’d known while I got to be dead.

That was twenty years ago.

Just before my father’s death, I didn’t sense the light, but I knew when he was about to cross. I told the hospice worker to get my family, who were all chatting around the kitchen table with a visiting social worker.  In the minute I had alone with Dad, I remember telling him in thought, “You’re gonna do fine, Dad.  You’re gonna do great!”  I felt proud of him, excited for him.  That’s not how you’re supposed to feel, but it’s exactly the midwifey anticipation those million angels had for my sister – this time filling to me, too.

That was ten years ago.

Weird Things still pop into my life fairly regularly.  Last week, getting ready to leave for work, I resolved to pick up groceries on the way home.  Trader Joe’s or Safeway?  The thought flashed – Trader Joe’s: you’ll see someone you know.  I dismissed it, because  Safeway was right on the way home, so I’d– Trader Joe’s.  You’ll see Mindy.  Along came a faint flash of Mindy’s smiling face backed by the sauces shelf, though in 10 years’ shopping at TJ’s, I’d never once seen her there. Aware of other times I’d been advised in ways that saved my life, I consented: “Okay, fine!  TJ’s – I’ll go!” (I often use this exasperated tone with my guardian angel.)

Six hours later, I’m on the phone with Mom at TJ’s when Mindy sails by in the produce area.  I wave excitedly but can’t talk – I can’t tell her I knew.  I wrap up with Mom, shop a while, then decide I’m gonna track down Mindy.  I hunt through the store – did she leave?  Finally, I see her.  I greet her and explain.  She laughs – she’s a Wiccan – and admits she was thinking “very loudly” this morning that she had to go to TJ’s.  I love her immensely in a strange way – her classic Mindy-ness.  I love life.  It’s right then that I realize, behind her are… the sauces.

What the fuck is going on with this stuff, you guys?  I don’t know!  But I know something is.  I KNOW there is more to this world than the physical.

I believe many of us are steered by guardian angels, even if we can’t tell their input from our own thoughts.  Many NDE survivors can tell – often because the voice contradicts what we want.  One NDE friend of mine descending a staircase “heard” her angel warn, “If someone calls from above, don’t look around.”  A coworker called her name from the top of the stairs.  She tried at first not to look, but it seemed silly.  Turning her head, she mis-stepped, fell down the stairs, and broke her leg. She laughs telling the story.

I believe we’re collectively steered via billions of microdecisions – toward some purpose none of us can know.  I believe it’s thanks to billions of microdecisions that we have not (yet) eradicated life on Earth with our warheads.

I believe we’re Life/Love doing something.

Among adults, 10-15% who survive death bring back memories from the other side.  In young children, the percentage is far higher – more like 80% – perhaps because they’re relative newcomers here.  These figures hold across cultures.

Many NDEers encounter a love a thousand times more powerful than any we’ve felt on earth.  Some who get less far just feel a powerful sense of well-being.  NOBODY I’ve met in the NDE community wanted to get back inside their body.  Nobody!  But heaven, if you like, is not a “better place.”  It’s just a bodiless place – so not really a place.

Anger, fear, and pain are defense mechanisms built into our bodies.  We need them to stay incarnate.  So in a sense, the Puritans were onto something when they blamed “the flesh” for all our woes – for the “hundred forms of fear” and resentment that fuck up our existence with greed, insecurity, envy, etc.

And while it’s true we slough off all these bummers when we exit the body, the state of embodiment is nonetheless an absolutely amazing feat!  We are spirit invested in flesh, energy inhabiting matter – like photons, we’re both! What a crazy stunt that is.  Our emotions carry shadows that give them richness unique to earthly life.  So savor it  – all of it, the buoyancy of joy and the gravity of sadness.  As one childhood NDEer put it: “Life is for living; the light is for later.”

Life is for living, so from our perspective, it’s immensely tragic when one is cut short by addiction.  We’ll never again see Jeremy, never hear his raspy voice or belly laugh.  We all miss and mourn him deeply.  Yet Jeremy has transcended to pure Jeremy-ness.  His unmistakable, unique energy is now at large in the universe.  That I know.

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Filed under Addiction, Afterlife, Faith, God, NDE, Near Death Experience, Spirituality

Choose Life; Choose Joy

Paul Johnson was not an alcoholic, but he was extremely unhappy.  One night he drank a bunch of booze and took a bunch of pills then went up to his attic, where he hung himself.  Some time later his wife found him – quite dead.  She struggled to lift his body but failed; she had to go downstairs and get her son, the two of them panicking in their efforts to get the body down.  Though Paul’s face had turned black and he was without pulse or breathing, his wife gave him CPR for five minutes.

Then Paul took a breath.

Paul’s consciousness, far from ceasing to exist, had become exceptionally clear during the time his body was dead.  He found himself in darkness, approached from the right by four shadowy figures who showed him a review of his entire life.  “Thoughts were instantaneous. When you asked a question, you would instantly know the answers.” In a Scrooge-like transformation, Paul returned from the dead absolutely overjoyed to be alive:  “I had this vivid memory, extremely vivid, and it shouldn’t have been vivid at all for a guy that took a couple bottles of meds and drank two bottles of liquor. Yet it was so vivid and so real.  I was so happy to be alive, and to have a second chance to fulfill the things pointed out to me as being important.”

I’m in the process of editing a book of interviews with Near-Death Experiencers* – people (including me) who have died, experienced the other side, and returned with memories. Paul is one of fourteen of us interviewed by filmmaker Heather Dominguez, who has amassed the footage for a television series and is raising the money to produce it.

hooded-figureUnlike the rest of us, however, Paul did not go to the Light.  He went to blackness – a void where he existed without a body.  Far from feeling inundated with infinite love, he sensed that the four figures “wanted to take me to a darker, more horrible place.”  But as he watched the scenes of his life go by, Paul felt overwhelmed with loss.  “My biggest regrets were that I didn’t travel and see the world, and I didn’t do the things that made me happy. …It wasn’t that I missed this wedding or didn’t get this job… [It was] that I didn’t enjoy my life like I really wanted to…  As I realized that, I thought: ‘I wish I wasn’t dead!’  In that exact moment… [the experience] was over for me.”

Today, Paul lives in the Philippines with a new wife and her extended family – all of whom he loves.  He changed everything about himself and is now a man decidedly happy, joyous, and free.

Alcoholics who choose to live experience a shift analogous to Paul’s – if they commit to rigorous spiritual work to effect an internal change.  Paul’s moment of choice strongly reminds me of a favorite Big Book story in the 2nd & 3rd editions of Alcoholics Anonymous, “He Who Loses his Life.”  In it, an honors student and “boy wonder” in business named Bob has drunk his life into the ground despite plenty of intelligence and self-knowledge.  All his city friends alienated, following yet another binge he crashes in the country with a doctor he’s known since boyhood.

We worked in five below zero weather, fixing on an elm tree a wrought iron device which modestly proclaimed that he was indeed a country doctor.  I had no money – well, maybe a dime – and only the clothes I stood in.  “Bob,” he asked quietly, “do you want to live or die?”

He meant it.  I knew he did… I remembered the years I had thrown away.  I had just turned 46. Maybe it was time to die.  Hope had died, or so I thought.

But I said humbly, “I suppose I want to live.”  I meant it.  From that instant to this, nearly eight years later, I have not had the slightest urge to drink.

Bob threw himself into working the 12 steps in AA, which led him to great happiness.

Such lasting happiness can be found only by learning to love reality as it is.  To do this, we need to bring about major change in ourselves – something we can’t accomplish without help from the steps, from our fellows, and, most of all, from our god.

When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, drugs had just sprung lucy_in_the_sky_with_diamonds_by_alfredov90-d5tmlejinto mainstream popular culture.  As a kid listening to Beatles songs like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” or “Tomorrow Never Knows,” I imagined that drugs brought a higher awareness than just plain old consciousness – which was, for me, terribly uncomfortable. As I grew up, I embraced not just alcohol but “recreational drugs” – as if crippling my brain created anything.  I don’t know about you, but I dared to chase that vision, to venture far into the mysteries of the universe – so I sucked chemicals into my mouth and nose and lungs that essentially shoved my head up my ass, and from there I tried to marvel at the view.

It was dark.  It was lonely.  It was pointless.

I had to hit a bottom, to despair almost completely, before I could begin to see that in my search for “something cooler,” I had rejected life.  In my greediness to be loved, I had rejected loving.  And in my obsession with self, I had rejected a humble consciousness of my own soul and spirit – connection to god.

Deep down, every alcoholic knows they are committing a little bit of suicide with every drink.  We know we’re turning our backs on goodness and truth even as we laugh and whoop it up.  We vaguely sense that we’re completely full of shit, but we somehow can’t see a viable alternative.  It’s life.  Honing awareness in sobriety, I have found that plain old reality… is a trip.  It’s huge.  It’s rich.  It’s mind-blowing.

oak-treeTo love what is takes courage.  To love others without a parasitic agenda takes strength.  And to see clearly into ourselves takes humility.  I, of myself, have hardly any of the above.  But I borrow them (and more) from my god day after day, breath after breath.  I choose joy.

 

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*I’ll let you know when it comes out 🙂

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Filed under AA, Addiction, Afterlife, Happiness, Near Death Experience, Recovery, Sobriety, Spirituality

Full Time God

Holding onto my god-reality gets difficult. Consensus reality refers to what a given culture affirms as real and true. Everyone is socialized to adopt a similar model.  Where I live, in an urban, high-tech setting, most people dismiss the idea that god is an actual presence and power in everyday life.

Today it’s not crazy to believe every object around us is 99.999% empty space punctuated by vibrating atoms with orbiting electrons whose “wave function is spread out over a cubic Angstrom (10^-4 microns), which means that the electron ‘is’ everywhere in that volume. So [while] the electron has no volume, …it is spread out over a relatively big volume. ”*

Totally! Got it!  Physicists know their shit, right?

But it is crazy to believe the statements of thousands of perfectly sane people who claim to have left their bodies, entered a spiritual realm far more vivid, and there encountered a being of Light who beamed them love, compassion, and insight beyond anything comparable on earth.  (For examples, browse those posted on the NDERF site.)

Those guys are just trippin’!  Sure, they all think they left their bodies, but really it was just X… [insert hypoxia, DMT dump, etc.]

The problem? Religion has claimed authority over god and the afterlife for so long that we as a culture seem unable to divorce the two. Sometime in the mid 1800s, there began a cultural landslide that demoted the church to a social club and the bible to myth – BUT also took out with it the conviction that our spirits are of god and survive physical death.

the_last_judgement  stefan_lochner_-_last_judgement_-_circa_1435
The Last Judgment, a total bummer – versions by Jan Provoost, 1525 (above) and Stefan Lochner, 1435 – click to enlarge

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I’m feeling weird.  At long last I’ve read Life after Life, by Raymond Moody – the pioneering exploration of Near Death Experiences (NDEs) published in 1975.

I say “at long last” because, in spite of having undergone an NDE myself in 1982 (as described in my book – along with my alcoholic wreckage and recovery), I’ve strangely resisted reading Moody’s book for many years. If you’d forced me to read it the day before my NDE, I’d have scoffed at it as total crap. If the day after (though my slight brain damage made reading difficult), it would have blown my mind, upended my universe – to know that so many other people had experienced what I did.

Moody 70s&15

Dr. Raymond Moody, 1975 & 2015

At the time when Moody conducted these interviews with NDE survivors, the terms NDE, being of light, life review, tunnel, etc. had no place – zero, nada, nichts – in our culture. Moody coined them. In fact, the interviewees struggle to come up with the best words they can find for what they individually maintain exceeds the scope of both language and earthly experience. All had kept their stories to themselves to avoid being labeled kooks.

Just as I did – even to myself! And… here’s the reason I’m feeling weird: I realize I’m still doing that.  WTF?!  On a daily basis, I unknow my knowledge of the other side to align with the consensual reality around me.

I recently came across this video on Facebook showing the power of cultural conformity. In it, a woman is conditioned by study “actors” in a waiting room to rise from her seat every time she hears a beeping tone. The shocking part is that she continues the behavior after the planted group is gone; in fact, she “teaches” a new group of five non-study civilians to stand up every time they hear the tone – just because.non-conformity

And I am DOING THAT! Every time I set aside my knowledge that the spirit world really does exist, I’m allowing the beep – the consensus model of materialism – to control my internal behavior.

I know the being of light that beamed me full of love and bliss on the other side, while back here I’d become a corpse, was a piece of god – a god that knows us all because we’re of it.  And I know that same celestial being sent me back here.  It beamed, “You can’t stay; you’re not done.”  To me.  Which enraged me.  I remember that.  And yet MOST of the time, I go around with my god truth stuck away in a little mental compartment.

Reading Moody, when I really think about the fact that I came alive in a body that three minutes before had shut down from snorted lidocaine (sold to me as cocaine), I see that it simply makes no sense. A lethal dose of that drug was still in my system. How could CPR restart my heart?  I came back to my body in a vast puddle of sweat, dazed and child-like but fully functional – when three minutes before, extreme bradycardia had shut down my brain and triggered a grand mal seizure.

How could that happen?  It couldn’t.  Not by any natural means.  God did it.embarrassed1

But it’s SO UNCOMFORTABLE to know this when my culture categorizes such a claim as fantastical.  It’s SO HARD to own it when it sounds arrogant and self-important: “MMmm- god sent me back!”  I’m frickin’ embarrassed to say the same things so many people in Moody’s book were frickin’ embarrassed to say.

But it only seems arrogant because our culture squelches acknowledgment of miracles all around us – every goddamn day! Miracles in the lives of virtually every goddamn person! Why are miracles so hard for us to acknowledge?  GOD IS REAL.  Why, as a culture, do we have to explain the evidence away?  Some of us predict that the internet will change this denial.  For the first time in human history, NDEers can find one another.  We can become a group with a united voice – and power to challenge the consensus that insults us.

For example, I recently read a skeptic’s theory that the light is actually an optical migraine.  Dude – I’ve had optical migraines!  Lots of ’em.  They’re a big swath of shimmering light, sure, but they’re less like the Light than a firefly is to a bolt of lightning.  How stupid do you think I am?

But I’m promising myself, I’m promising my god, and I’m promising those of you who share my experience: I will fight to know what I know.

Continuous prayer is really the only sane state of mind.

 

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* See Quora explanation

Every year hundreds of NDEers and interested fellows fly in from all over the globe to attend the IANDS conference because, according to skeptics, they’re all, like formerly sane Dr. Eben Alexander, a bunch of self-deluded dummies who actually believe this other-worldly shit happened to them.  Related links on my Links and Stuff page.

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Doing What We Don’t Want

Almost none of us liked the self-searching, the leveling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings which the process requires for its successful consummation.”  (p. 25)

“To be doomed to an alcoholic death or to live on a spiritual basis are not always easy alternatives to face.”  (p. 44)

Nobody wants to come to AA, but our pain and lack of alternatives shunt us there.

Nobody reads over those 12 steps on the wall and thinks, “Oh, I see!  That’ll fix me!”  But they will.

At my first AA meeting, thoughts of irony, disbelief, criticism, and a simple desire to bolt filled my brain.  I saw nothing of value in those simplistic, god-mentioning steps.

Reluctant PeeWeeHerman

Why do we need to live on a spiritual basis?  First, because we’re inherently spiritual beings.  More specifically, because the alternative is to live by self-propulsion, which may work fine for normies but for alcoholics invariably leads to a “choice” to drink, because a disease has commandeered our decision-making process.

What’s so great about the steps?  When we first come in, we’re in a state of spiritual starvation because we’ve shrouded ourselves in a world of lies.  We don’t think so, of course.  But the fact is, we’ve made up stories – about who did what, why, and how – that simply do not square with reality.  The steps have two main purposes: to remove the layers of delusional resentment blocking us from god and to encourage us to grow in connection with that god (who, by the way, removes the drink problem).

Totally unrelated to AA is Seattle IANDS, which features speakers who, like me, have temporarily died and/or left their bodies and brought back memories from the other side.  One speaker I heard a few years ago encountered god as Jesus – as do most Christians (we see what we think of as god).  At that time she was a teen speeding through East LA in bad company.  In the split second before an impending car accident, time stopped.  After she refused a demon at her feet who urged her to come with him and get even with everyone who’d ever wronged her, she left her body.  A guardian angel all but pulled her skyward, where she encountered a swarthy, bearded figure in a robe “of rough cloth somebody had sewn by hand” – whom she knew to be Jesus.

Peel off maskHere’s the best part: Jesus went to embrace her, but just before the embrace made a face of subdued revulsion and turned away.  It was at that point she realized she was coated from head to toe in some utterly disgusting filth, something “like diarrhea.”  Jesus telepathically told her these were her accumulated resentments.  The next parts of her NDE involved ways of shedding them, of learning love as her purpose on earth.

In all the NDE stories I’ve heard, complex spiritual truths are condensed into vivid, resounding images that capture complexities at a glance.  This girl, angry and on the brink of joining gang life, was coated in shit.  Her resentments repelled god’s love.  Yes, her NDE permanently altered the trajectory of her life (today she’s a nurse), but we alcoholics  can learn the same lesson without dying – it’s right there in our Big Book:

“…[T]his business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And with us, to drink is to die” (p.66).

In my own NDE, which I experienced as an atheist, I plunged into the sun as the source of all life – i.e. the closest thing I knew to god’s embrace – and was surrounded by the Light, a love and bliss more potent than words can convey.  Lately, in going through difficult times, I’ve often found myself praying to feel just a little bit of that Light again.  Please.  Just a little. 

What I was not doing was working my steps.  I didn’t feel like it.  For about six months I’d been not writing a 4th step started on my ex-boyfriend, and more recently on former tenants.  If I was carrying any resentments at all, there was certainly no ire behind them, so why dwell on them with a full inventory?  Why waste the time?  I tend not to see what the steps have to do with the Light, heaven, etc.

Recently, however, my sponsor gently informed me the time had come for me finish that thing and read her my 5th step.  She set a date one week out.  BAM!  So, reluctantly, I dug into the work, listing everyone’s “offenses” and why they hurt me, but then tracing out how I, myself, helped to bring about each one.  I met my sponsor’s deadline for the same reason I still go to meetings: what I don’t want to do, I know deep down, is what I really need to grow in sobriety.

I read her my fifth step.  A wise woman, she pointed out my current character defects:

  • not seeing the truth because I fear loss and prefer my concocted stories
  • not speaking my truth out of fear of conflict or loss
  • not honoring Louisa – failure to act on my own boundaries

These were lesser forms of my same old defects of dishonesty, selfish manipulation, and victimhood from 5th steps past.  Lesser – but they’re still diarrhea!  Since then I’ve prayed, not to feel the Light, but for help releasing my defects and completely forgiving those I’d felt wronged me.  For two weeks, I’ve been repeating out loud, “I completely forgive you, [name], for anything I thought you did.”

Guess what’s happened?

Thinking of my mom the other day (who was not on the inventory), I suddenly appreciated her in a whole new light: I loved her more ever.  Same with my friends, my dog and chickens, and even my messy home.  It’s everywhere, this stuff to love!  Trees!  Chihuahuas!  Passersby!  Loving stuff, I sometimes feel swept into the frothy fringe of something… amazing.  It’s a glow, a tantalizing giddiness at getting to be here: a tiny taste of the Light.

I’ve shed one more layer of shit.  It works only if we do it, this 202 word pathway to a beautiful life!

“We have found much of heaven and we have been rocketed into a fourth dimension of existence of which we had not even dreamed.” (p.25)

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What Alcohol Did; What god Does

Pain happens, starting when we’re young. In our efforts to evade it, we suppress a whole array of feelings, turning away and denying them. But like an ignored roommate sharing the small apartment of our psyches, the pain lives on. It doesn’t grow up. It stays the age we were when the trauma happened. Countless negative beliefs systems sprout to position it – that we’re not good enough, that others will reject our true selves, so we need to strategize to please them.  We try.  Again we miss the mark and endure more pain, the rabble of negativity within us creating a ceaseless inner shitstorm.

It sucks – the shitstorm does.  Our psyches can become a hellhole.  In AA, we speak of the shitty committee.

Shitty Committee

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What Alcohol Did for Me
The first time I got wasted, alcohol shrank that entire tornado of pain and fear so small it could fit inside a harmless little bubble and float off somewhere in my mind’s periphery – totally irrelevant.  Hey!  I was fine, you were fine, and if someone didn’t like us, fuck ‘em. My psyche’s protective walls fell away so the world opened up as a land of plenty, beautiful and safe. Life was so damn easy!  Cocaine tripled that effect*, adding an intense interest and delight in all things.

I wanted that feeling again.  And again.  Addiction promises a shortcut, an escape from ourselves. It’s that hope, that sweet anticipation of GOOD STUFF that lures us every time to jump on it again. Something as simple as a red notification number on Facebook can trigger a spurt of anticipatory endorphins in our minds – this is gonna be good! This cheesecake, this big sale, this cocaine porn winning horse remodel facelift romance booze is gonna lift me right out of the bad stuff, set me on top, make being me so smooth!  Dopamine levels surge, causing us to “forget” all the pain in our lives.

“Thus addiction… arises in a brain system that governs the most powerful emotional dynamic in human existence: the attachment instinct.  Love.”  Gabor Maté is writing here of opiates, but the same principle applies to all drugs that impact our dopamine levels – including alcohol.

sunshine1That first perfect, blissful high is, in my opinion, reminiscent of heaven.  Literally.  Hear the story of anyone who’s had a Near Death Experience (NDE) in which they went to the Light, and they’ll tell you they were permeated by an ovewhelming Love, a brilliance so powerful it left no room for anything bad. The Light is the unfiltered energy of Love that is not incarnate, not trapped in a limiting body; it is whence we originate, what powers us here, and what we’ll return to. And it’s a memory of bliss for which we hunger desperately as we trudge through the difficulties of being human.

So what am I saying?  That consciousness from a brain artificially flooded with dopamine resembles consciousness in heaven?  Yep.  ‘Fraid so.  That’s why many addicts sacrifice their lives in pursuit of it.  Un/fortunately, our brains respond to such bombardment by curtailing both production of and receptors for dopamine, so life without using more becomes increasingly hellish – and that change persists for years.

What god Does for Me
…is not as fast or dramatic, but it works: god gives me the self-compassion to heal my own wounds.  The message of the Big Book is love.  In the rooms we’re surrounded with it as we dare to take that First Step, to admit openly, “You guys, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing!!”  From that humility, we tap an “an inner resource” – god as we understand it – which begins to edge out ego as our guide for living.  The more love we accept from god, the more we have to offer others, and vice versa.  For the first time, we can love imperfect people from the standpoint of our own imperfection.  In other words, as working the steps gradually teaches us compassion for others, we also develop it for ourselves.  We become conduits of the Light.

“You have to feel it to heal it,” my cousin and I like to say.  In scaredgirlmeditation I go in looking for that little 9-year-old Louisa who was so blighted by shame, and I ask her to tell me where it still hurts.  I feel it, too; I grieve with her; I comfort her.  You don’t have to do anything, I tell her. You can just be you, and I’ll love you.  I can promise her this because my god has promised it to me. At the core of Al-Anon, ACA, and SLAA, named either directly or indirectly, is the healing power of self-parenting. That’s the nexus of change.  We can play both roles, loving and healing our past selves.

Today my inner little girl is pretty happy.  She got banged up rather badly in my recent break-up, but she’s convalescing well.  We share an open world infused with goodness – because I perceive god in all I encounter.  At times I do experience bliss – basking in the beauty of the mountains, laughing myself loopy with sober friends, or witnessing the miracle of my sweet son. It’s not a cheap bliss, either: it’s the real McCoy, earned through hard spiritual work – that freedom I once faked temporarily with alcohol and drugs.  And like heaven, it’s all about love.

~

Watch This:
Here’s a simple animation that depicts volumes about addiction in a brief 4.5 minutes.  Strangely, watching it makes me cry.

I’m guessing Andreas Hykade, the film’s German creator, knew addiction well. It’s not by coincidence that our protagonist is a kiwi, a flightless bird.  We all feel like that – denied the soaring others pull off.  Neither is the grating step-by-step sound effect accidental. Real life is one step at a time and arduously incremental compared to the smooth bliss of intoxication. Even the images’ barren simplicity reflects the stark focus of addiction. An animation teacher at Harvard, Hykade chose a simple line drawing over every state-of-the-art visual effect at his disposal.

NUGGETS

Kiwi addict

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So many of us never escape that final darkness.  If you have, take a moment for gratitude.

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* Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, p.153

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