Category Archives: Near Death Experience

NDEs, God, and Recovery

“The god part” is, without question, the biggest hurdle of the AA program for countless sick and dying alcoholics and addicts.  For me it certainly was, because when I read that word “God” coupled with “He” in the 12 steps, I immediately thought of religion, of versions of God as a humanoid king or judge.  And that image made me barf. It seemed extremely inconvenient that the only thing AA could offer to save my life was something so hokey as a higher power.

At the time when I was hitting bottom and, thanks to countless contingencies I now see as guidance, finding myself in my first AA meeting, I was an atheist.  An avid, even rabid one. However, I was also trying to bracket some extremely weird shit that had been happening to me — inexplicable experiences  our culture would label delusional or make-believe.

What sort of weird shit do I mean?

During an early morning rain storm, I saw an old man on an ocean beach in Gloucester, MA, dressed in what appeared to be antique rain gear and walking from the dunes on my left toward the waves on my right, perpendicular to my solo progress.  I made up my mind to ask, as soon as I got close enough to communicate over the strong wind and thundering waves, where he’d found such authentic-looking yellow Mackintosh garb. But as I got closer I saw he was staring toward the horizon as if in some intense emotional pain. I tried to look for what he might be seeing, but the clouds hung so low over the water, there was nothing to see.  So, when he crossed directly in front of me, close enough that I saw the fine wrinkles and red capillaries on his face, I said only “How’s it going?” He did not reply, and when I had walked a ways further, I looked back, angered by his rudeness, only to see — no one.  An empty beach.  I tried to figure out where the old guy could have got to so fast. But when I went back to look for his tracks, I could find none but my own.  This happened five years after my Near-Death Experience.

A few years later, I knew my unborn nephew was destined to die, and that my brother was going to plunge into profound sea of grief at his loss.  Then exactly that happened.

Weeks before I hit bottom, I’d driven home absolutely hammered, speeding along winding woodland roads, threading the needle amid a blur of reflectors on a narrow bridge. When I reached my house and stood congratulating myself, hanging onto the door for support, a voice shot through me like a bolt of knowing: This is the last time I can help you.

A few weeks later when my dog got hit by a truck and foiled my plans to attend a “vodka-slamming party” and just not drink, that same voice addressed me again: Look!  My eyes at the moment were on the blood trickling over the asphalt from under my dog’s body, and the message was that my future would involve something similar if I didn’t cut the shit.

So that’s some weird shit, right?

Then I walked into an AA meeting (actually, the dog incident happened after my first half-assed prayer when I was 2 weeks sober) and I read “Came to believe in a Power greater than ourselves that could restore us to sanity.”  I made absolutely no connection between those words and the voice that had, so to speak, hacked my consciousness.

Why not?

If you’re an alcoholic or any type of addict in recovery, then you know firsthand the isolating effect of relying on ego to navigate life. Ego tells us we are different. It sometimes tells us we’re special and better than others, but it can also tell us we’re worse than others, and that our various struggles are unique. In fact, living in ego’s lonely “I” rather than the heart’s “we” is what generates the pain we drink to escape.

But of course I did not know that.

I classified all my paranormal experiences as something I should keep to myself just as I did my obsessive infatuations or harshly manipulative thoughts of using mildly cool people to connect with their hella cool friends. The inner workings of my mind were a source of shame, and so these woo-woos, I felt, were shameful.  They might point to a fried brain or neurosis, but certainly not to an active spirit world that could free me from addiction.

My own journey to arrive at working model of god has been long.  Weird woo-woos continued to befall me until I broke down in about 2004 and accepted the spirit world as real.  That acknowledgement eventually led me to seek out fellow NDErs in the Seattle chapter of the International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS).

What goes on in an NDE is that the spirit leaves the body; consciousness exits the brain.  I recently heard a fascinating interview with Dr. Bruce Greyson*,a psychologist who’s been researching NDEs for about 40 years.  Greyson theorizes that the brain acts as not only an interpreter of sensory input but also a filter against cosmic and spiritual input.  Its primary function, he reasons, is our physical survival, so anything extraneous to that gets filtered out. We see and hear only those ranges of light and sound that are useful for filling our terrestrial needs. Input from an alternate plane of reality, Greyson theorizes, would distract us from those needs and thus detract from our chances of survival, so we evolved means to exclude it. The brain’s filtering capacity can, however, be suppressed by psychedelic drugs or even damaged by NDEs so that it ceases to work effectively, thus allowing spiritual energies to enter.

Greyson’s theory both differs from and aligns with my own.  I believe that conscious beings are encapsulated in what I call a “god-phobic energetic membrane” analogous to the hydrophobic fatty membranes that encapsulate living cells. In other words, to function individually as a water-based mechanism in a water-based environment, each cell requires a membrane that repels water.  Similarly, as we are bits of god swimming in god-energy, we need a god-repelling membrane in order to function independently.  If we leave the body during an NDE, we somehow rupture the membrane, which closes faultily after our return so that other spirit energies can seep in.  A medium is basically someone with a leaky energetic membrane.

My first IANDS meetings in 2012 felt very much like my first AA meetings. Just as in AA I marveled every time a fellow alcoholic articulated experiences I’d assumed to be mine alone, so at every IANDS meeting, I heard bits of “my story” told by others and came to realize I’m just a garden variety NDEr.  Many, many NDErs had experienced a “voice” like the one I “hear” — which by that time had saved my life on multiple occasions — and referred to it simply as their guardian angel.  One NDEr, upon reviving from death, had been able for a short while to see beings behind the people helping him —  beings who were “helping them help me.” For lack of a better word, he said, he calls them angels.

Once I started to think of the voice randomly hacking my thoughts as my guardian angel rather than god itself, a lot of stuff began to make sense.  I began to see that my angel greeted me on the other side, sent me back to Earth to accomplish something, and stays with me constantly. Sometimes my mind seems to hit the right “frequency” to pick up messages my angel conveys — often a variant of  c’mon, you can be more honest! Rarely does my angel bust through apropos of no request, unless I’m in mortal danger or he has a life lesson to tell me in the moment.

I wish I could pass on to fellow alcoholics and others my certainty that the spirit world is real — but I can’t.  Each life must ask directly, I’ve been told.  Seek a god of your understanding. What weird things have happened to you?  What synchronicities, what surprisingly accurate intuitions?  Do not let the cultural construct of religion “deter you from honestly asking yourself what [spiritual terms] mean to you.” [p. 47]. You wouldn’t have read this far if you did not sense, at some level, leaks in your own filter or membrane allowing in wisps of the spirit world.

 

 

*Dr. Bruce Greyson starts at 23:10 in THIS VIDEO

Resources:  NDE video channels:

Tricia Barker’s Healed by the Light: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyIstVbBhilo1gdUmazkReQ/videos

Peter Panagore’s Facebook NDE video page:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/NearDeathExperienceVideo/

 

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To Other or not to Other

Virtually every Near-Death Experience I’ve ever heard or read underscores the primacy of love.  Many who visit the other side are told directly that love is all that matters, that love powers the universe, and that we are all one.  Yet as we live day to day encapsulated in our own bodies, which are protected by defensive egos, we often lose track of this fundamental truth.

The clinic building

I was shown my own forgetfulness by something I witnessed yesterday. Outside a veterinarian clinic for birds and exotic animals, my son and I were waiting in the car for news about Katie, one of our pet chickens who had taken sick a few days before. In these times of social distancing, a vet tech comes out to the parking lot to take your pet, then the vet calls you to discuss symptoms and treatment.

A car pulled up a few empty spaces from us, and having nothing else to do, I noticed two passengers, a couple in perhaps their late forties. Through our slightly tinted glass, I watched the wife, who had been driving, make a brief call. She got out of the car and walked past the front entrance along the side of the building, perhaps to a back door.  A petite Asian woman in jeans, she stood there alone clasping an elbow and waiting for the man.

Suddenly, a flood of weeping overtook her.  She let loose a torrent of tears, her eyes anguished, her mouth agape, pacing blindly. When her husband came around the building’s corner, he walked close without hesitation and hugged her, her shoulders shaking with sobs.  A door opened adjacent to them, and they went in.

A few minutes later, the wife came out again, her face stricken but now composed, carrying a small cardboard box that, in different circumstances, might have held perhaps  four donuts.  At first I imagined it contained her pet’s ashes, though later I realized her grief was too raw for that.  She got in the car’s driver seat, holding the box near to her heart so I could still see it through the glass.

A minute or so later her husband emerged from the back door carrying a bright yellow canvas animal transport case.  There was nothing inside it.

Just before he rounded the corner where his wife would be able see him, he stopped.  He stood staring at the pavement immediately in front of him, holding that empty case, his expression laden with heaviness, a private darkness.  Then he raised his face toward the open sky with a look that spoke of prayers or messages to the dead.  Seconds passed. Finally, his body caving slightly with surrender, he stepped into his wife’s view and climbed briskly into the car.  She handed him the box, but the car didn’t move. Rather, they appeared to be staring at something on the center console, and I wondered momentarily whether they’d perhaps opened the box.  But no.  I next saw his head dip in such a way that I knew he was kissing her hand, and I realized it was their two hands, joined in grief, at which they’d been staring for those moments.

Only after she’d driven off did I notice a sign indicating that this vet treated neither cats or dogs.  It had been a bird.  The couple’s bird had died — a parrot, a cockatiel, a perhaps just a budgie — one they’d lived with perhaps for many years and both loved as if it were a child.

Loving/Judging Strangers
I love this couple now because I was randomly granted a glimpse into their hearts.  I got to witness the power of their love — deeply private love for  a small creature that had somehow, when it lived, embodied their love for one another.  I can see them talking to the bird in the morning sunlight of their bright, plant-filled kitchen, and the bird responding with that crisp, chipper regard my budgie always showed me. Birds do bond more than most people realize.

But these two also taught me a lesson about myself and how coldly I “other” my fellow humans.  As much as I like to think my default state is loving kindness for all, it’s actually competition, judgement, and stereotyping.

When they first drove up, I was bummed because their animal might take priority over my chicken, such that my son and I would have to wait even longer in the lot. I also noticed their car was newer and nicer than mine and wrote them off as materialistic eastsiders (some suburbs to the east of Lake Washington, where Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos reside, are wealthy).  “I don’t care about your fancy car!” I thought with automatic disdain.

Worse still, when I saw their ethnicity, I felt surprised that the woman was doing the driving and phoning.  I’m most ashamed of this: having no clue how many generations behind them were straight-up American, I assumed they’d  take on roles dictated by the patriarchy of many Asian cultures — which I generalize as less open to gender equality.

Once I saw the woman’s grief, I dropped all assumptions and became free to love her.  I saw not an “other” but another version of me, a fellow consciousness, a pilot navigating as best she could through life’s opposing winds of love and fear.

But I still judged the man.  Only when I saw his moments alone did I realize his “being strong” for her was a choice made from love, not because he’d loved their pet any less.

I’ll Try Harder
Maintaining an attitude of loving kindness is no easy feat, particularly in contemporary culture.  Our media is sheer poison. It’s an industry that capitalizes on stirring up fear and posits itself as a wellspring of defensive wisdom against a hostile, deceptive, and cruel world.  Friends and acquaintances shaped by this constant flow of negativity view the world as a grim and corrupt place.  They view other people as flat characters motivated by purely selfish and simplistic impulses, while only they themselves are deeply complex and sensitive beings. Clearly I, too, am often blinded by similar assumptions.

Thank you, grieving couple, for reminding me that every heart is individual, that every life is a tremendous mosaic of experiences from childhood until today, and that in essence we are all one. Your little bird, and all the love you gave it, is with god.

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Filed under Near Death Experience, Spirituality

Surrender and the Big Picture

As I write this, the world is in a bit of a panic about COVID-19 — and understandably so.  Much is unknown.  Many will die.

Fear is huge right now because much of the world is a stranger to this degree of powerlessness. Nobody likes sudden, involuntary changes: being told to work or school their kids from home, to avoid contact with others. It’s tough. Disruptive. Confusing. 

In times like these, it really sucks to have no higher power or faith in an afterlife.  If we lack faith, we fight out of an amorphous, unrelenting fear.  If we possess a working faith, we attend with care to each precaution, surrender what’s beyond our control, and trust that, though perhaps in ways beyond our understanding, all will be well.

For that matter, all may be better.  Considered from a broad enough perspective, COVID-19 can be seen as a gift.  This pandemic is teaching humanity, more vividly than anything heretofore, the crucial, overdue, and catastrophically-denied lesson that all of us share one planet.  Humanity is, in fact, one big global community.  National boundaries mean no more to this virus than they do to impacts of climate change.  Both are everyone’s problem.

Surrender is simply saying, “What is, is.  I have no power to change X, but I do have power to perform Y.” For instance, in the case of alcoholism, X is that we have it — a fact that won’t ever change. Y is our program of action: going to AA meetings, doing stepwork, and being of service to others.

A continuing counter-intuitive surrender for me is the fact that I’m a spiritually leaky bucket: No matter how many meetings I’ve gone to, how deeply I know the steps, or how much service I’ve offered in the past, my spiritual bucket gets empty again if I don’t continue filling it.  My mind tells me, “Oh, I’m so smart now!  See how my Big Book is read to tatters? I can stay sober on my own!” I certainly want to believe that. I certainly don’t want it to be my ticket to misery and an early death. But it would be. I need to believe what I want not to believe.

Surrender to the afterlife and spirit world has, weirdly enough, posed an even harder, more counter-intuitive challenge.  I’ve had to say, “What is, is.” In this case, I mean both the reality of the spirit world and society’s disdain for it. I’ve experienced so many paranormal phenomena that I can no longer subscribe to the culturally dominant model of reality as exclusively material.  That model stands in blatant contradiction to my Weird Things — direct experiences of seeing a ghost, prescience, clairvoyance, and communications/interventions from the dead and from my guardian angel.  

I never wanted a Near Death Experience (NDE) any more than I wanted alcoholism. Following my NDE, I denied it as doggedly as I did alcoholism, clinging to my familiar materialism as much as I did to familiar drinking.  I kept right on refusing to change when I saw a ghost, knew my nephew would die, and began to hear a voice that advised the opposite of what I, myself, had decided.  Materialist science would lump all these together as delusions — my mind playing tricks on me.  For decades, I simply shut away whatever materialism could not explain.

But there came a point when I could no longer hold out. I had to say, “What is, is!  I have no power to change X — that I know the spirit world firsthand and that society dubs me a moron for saying so.  I do, however, have power to perform Y — find others who share my truth.”  Finding the sanctuary of IANDS, where everyone’s materialist schema has been pried from their equally reluctant intellectual grasp, has solidified my outlook.

What does all this have to do with COVID-19?  Today, I volunteer for Seattle IANDS by interviewing NDErs and writing up their stories for our bi-monthly newsletter (print only, at this point).  During the time they were dead, several interview subjects were shown, each through their own visual metaphor, that the spirit world is constantly working to guide humanity forward toward the light of universal love. Here are two interview excerpts:

 

“The largest light table was behind those two, a huge one with many saints around it. I couldn’t hear, but I knew they were talking about the planet – how to help it. More than any of the others, these saints had to allow. They were so serious because of all they were letting unfold.”

 

“I saw a city of diamond brightness. I knew the city contained highly advanced beings – angels and great souls [who] were building the future of humanity. I was given the revelation that… sometimes the intended purpose doesn’t unfold.”

 

Each seeks words to describe a hybrid of guidance and letting be.  Both chose the word “unfold.” I’m reminded of the way we teach small children: we present them with a toy or a problem to solve that we think offers them an opportunity to learn; then we let them have at it. 

God, according to countless NDErs, wants us to learn.  Many were offered a choice to return and complete their learning in this life, or proceed unfinished to the next — but lose all they’d learned. “I viewed it much the same as having to repeat a grade in school,” says one who drowned river rafting.

CO2over China before & after COVID-19 lockdown

When I put this whole picture together, I see a benevolent god calling some souls home while giving humanity at large a nudge to wake the fuck up.  In the single month since COVID-19 went international, the entire world has radically changed its ways of daily life, ceasing to commute, flying less, and producing less stuff — with the cumulative global effect of slashing our CO output beyond anything ever dreamed possible. 

Learn, god is urging us, that all is one! — humans, animals, plants, Gaia, and god.

 

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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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Agnostic? Think: Good Orderly Direction

My addiction memoir tells how I went from a bright, healthy teen (okay, with a teeny hypersexual disorder) to a lonely, depressed, obsessive, codependent, underachieving, and increasingly reckless drunk who disdained Alcoholics Anonymous as a doom just short of suicide. Why so reluctant?  The God thing.  The book’s second half describes my ungraceful but dogged ascent from that pit of misery toward the healthy, friend-filled sober life I get to live today.

Much as I’ve love for everyone to read the book, I can give you a major spoiler here: I didn’t do it.

The words that opened the door to faith in something that might help me were shared by a woman in large pastel stretch pants sitting against the wall at my third or so AA meeting: “If you can’t deal with the word ‘God,’ that’s fine!  Just think ‘Good Orderly Direction.'”

I perked up. Certainly I could not deal with the word, “God.” That religion-based concept seemed to me a preposterous character created by humans to explain what rudimentary science couldn’t. Such a deity was not going to advise me on whether I should stuff the tip jar at work or continue stalking the guy I was obsessed with.

But Good Orderly Direction — that was something to be sensed in my inmost heart. That I could look for, because I remembered going against it when I was busy screwing up my life. For me, Step 3 was essentially a resolution to start listening for it and going with it. Who knew the source of G.O.D. would turn out to be my higher power? And who knew that following its guidance would migrate me from the self-generated heartless world that had defeated me toward the sweet experience that’s now my normal?

Goodness as True North
As an active alcoholic, the only compass I ever consulted was ego. I was a popularity materialist — never enough! — as are many in our “individualistic” culture (thanks to marketing).  I longed to be seen as cool (see also Coolness) and liked by designated cool people. I was convinced that the more I could make that happen, the better I’d feel about myself. And even though this model had failed to bring me anything but discontent for 34 years, I kept thinking the problem lay in my performance, not the model itself.

Good Orderly Direction, however, does not hinge on what others think. It’s a compass deep within, with Goodness as its true north.  The first half is sensing it — what is the good and right thing to do here?  The second is acting on it without hesitation.

I remember a conversation I had a few years back with my relapsed alcoholic boyfriend. As a rationale for getting drunk, he asked me, “Don’tcha sometimes just wanna say ‘fuck it’?” As it turned out, he had indeed been saying “fuck it” for some while, carrying on a second relationship behind my back. Sober, he’d been a man with integrity and compassion.

By contrast, my father drank alcoholically while retaining integrity and compassion — toward everyone but himself. Alcoholism wheedled him into deferring day after day the ultimate reckoning: “Why do I drink so much every night?” He resisted looking inward to all the clamors he muted with booze, saying, in his own academic way, “fuck it.”

But Good Orderly Direction is more than the antithesis of fuck it; it’s the antithesis of ego. It is a form of caring, of knowing that your choices matter and seeking those that will feel right in the long run. You may have trouble at first distinguishing Goodness from ego’s “best for me”; you may also mistake it for what other people tell you to do, whether they’re in your family or your AA group. But gradually, as you become more attuned to seeking, the voice gets louder, so you gain a clearer sense of whether you’re tuned into it.

As the choices people make based on the north star of Good Orderly Direction begin to alter the course of their lives, as even cynical or bottomed-out addicts begin to heal and build self-esteem by doing esteemable acts, a lot of us begin to realize — “Hey, this isn’t coming from me!”

God Ain’t Religion
As people who follow this blog know, I got to cheat. The spirit world operates all around us all the time, but we’re as deaf to it as the barriers we maintain against love are thick. For me, having had a Near Death Experience followed by paranormal after-effects even as I fought to maintain my atheism, the presence that had spoken to me on the other side began interceding in my thoughts as soon as I started seeking Good, until I had no choice but to fold and acknowledge, not religion’s God, but my god.

Religion is a bit like agriculture, while the spirit world is nature itself. Religion quantifies something omnipresent yet inexplicable — the power of the life force — by reducing it to the equivalent of rows and crops and acreage.  To be atheist because we reject religion is like saying because there is no Great Farmer, nothing grows — all the while discounting the fact that we and all living things around us are exquisite expression of nature, of the life force.

No one can give you god-awareness. You have to develop your own, based on your own experiences both inner and external. The most direct route to get there is by seeking Good Orderly Direction. Eventually, seeking will become part of you, as it has for me: No one at Fred Meyer saw me miss self-checking a bag of avocados yesterday, but when I discovered them in my reusable shopping bag, I handed them to the attendant on my way out simply because I had not paid for them — end of story. I know not only that Karma is a real phenomenon, but that guilt is a real feeling, even when we pretend not to feel it. Both carry a price tag that far exceeds four avocados.

Ask for guidance.  Look deeper.  Listen harder.  Within you, something magnificent will sprout.

 

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Kindness is The Shit

If you were to accomplish nothing more in life than treating everyone (including yourself) with GENUINE KINDNESS, you’d have fulfilled your ultimate purpose on earth — at least as far as god is concerned.

June

As a teen and a young alcoholic, I poo-pooed kindness as a prissy bow that conformists like June Cleaver pinned on their words. In the atheist home where I grew up, I got the idea that achievement was all that mattered — getting to the top, impressing the right people.

But I was never smart enough. Never fast enough, never funny enough, never liked enough. I felt empty and alone. So I needed to tap-dance harder, always harder. And I needed that warm haven alcohol granted me to shut down the show every night.

Emma

“Thank you, it’s good to see you, I’m so sorry for your pain, is there something I can do to help?”  — fluffy phrases like those, they were useless. James Dean and Emma Peel sure AF didn’t waste time on shit like that, and I wasn’t going to, either. I was going for badassery, not nice girl.

Flash forward through hitting bottom, getting sober, and staying sober 23 years; toss in a Near Death Experience (NDE) and 15 paranormal after-effects that have happily married to my every thought an awareness of the afterlife and omnipresent spirit world, and you have a grateful woman who views life quite differently.

Kindness is everything.  It’s why we’re here.

Writing for the Seattle IANDS newsletter this past year, I’ve interviewed six people who, like me, have died and come back with memories from the other side.  All bring back the same message of kindness; so did all the NDE speakers I heard at the IANDS conference this past summer.

These people, who told me their stories over Skype, had died in various ways: in car accidents, from severe illness, drug overdose, hyponatremia and other causes.

Life after Life: Artwork by Cory Habbas

After recognizing their own lifeless bodies below them, several encountered spirits who showed them “life reviews” — more or less movies covering their lives from birth to the present, except that now they could feel the experience of everyone their actions touched.

For every person who has reviewed their life with loving spirit guides, the focus has centered on one issue only: did they help or harm?  Were they loving or selfish?  In most life reviews, NDErs were shown how the kindness or cruelty they passed to others, even in the most casual interactions, rippled out throughout the world to endless effect.

For example, Howard Storm, an atheist prior to his NDE, an ordained pastor since, told me this:

“They showed me episodes starting when I was born. Watching each scene, I could feel not just my feelings but the other people’s…. Events I thought of as the entire goal and purpose of my life got passed right over — first art exhibit, big promotion, zzzip!

“They’d say, ‘Let’s get to something really important!’ and show me interacting with my kid or talking with a student. There I’d be sitting in my office with a student coming to me with a personal problem, and I’d be looking compassionate, but on the inside bored out of my head, you know, checking the ole’ watch under the desk and thinking, ‘I don’t have time to listen to this drivel all day!’  I could feel that my lack of compassion and kindliness for others caused [my guardian angels] great sadness. They never said ‘That’s good, that’s bad,’ but I could feel it – almost as if I were gut-punching them.”

True kindness is the flower of love.  Love is what animates our bodies and, in fact, what powers the totality of the universe. Notice that Howard faked caring toward the student who opened his heart to him. The student couldn’t read Howard’s selfishly impatient mind, but god and the guardian angels could! What gut-punched them was Howard’s indifference — his missed opportunity to share the flowers of Love.

Another NDEr, Barbara Ireland, told me this:

“I said, ‘If I choose go with you, what happens to all my half-done screenplays, to all the music I want to put out?’ And the voice answered, ‘Oh, Barbara, those things don’t really matter!’ And I was like, ‘—Really?!’  It said, ‘What matters are relationships. If your work opens someone’s heart or connects you to them, then, yes, it’s valuable. But the main thing is what you leave behind you in everyday life, like the wake of a boat on the water. Do you leave behind happiness, do you lift people up? Or do you judge them, bring them down, compete, compare yourself with them?”

Recovering alcoholics, life reviews should ring a bell with you.  Of what could this possibly remind us, this looking back at one’s life to see where we’ve shown up in a spirit of compassion, kindness, and usefulness to others, versus where we acted with selfish indifference?  Hmm…

Could it be Steps 4 & 5 — seeing how our self-centeredness, our resentments, our fears kept us from offering love and tolerance? When we read a thorough Step 5 with a wise sponsor, we’re getting the benefit of a Life Review without having to die.

For me, working Steps 4 through 9 brought amazing freedom. Recognizing the fear-driven blinders my ego kept putting on me, then extending human decency to those I had harmed — these actions sprang me out of the guilt and shame of knowing I’d left a trail of garbage behind me. They cleared away burden I’d been drinking to ease time and time again.

Kindness brings self worth. When we grant every person who crosses our path dignity and respect, whether we silently wish them well, offer a smile, or go so far as seeking to be of service, we’re becoming that “channel of thy peace” that opens the Saint Francis prayer.  As god flows through us, the light we convey to others heals us as well.  AA’s “one alcoholic helping another” is founded on this very freebie.

Sometimes others aren’t ready to receive the goodwill we offer.  Oh well.  Flowers emanate beautiful scents and colors regardless of whether any bees are around.  It’s just what they’re here to do.

 

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Listening for god

In my drinking days, before I was tight with god, I imagined god’s voice as an echoey Morgan Freeman cadence conveying various profundities. Today I believe more that god is all over the place, not only animating every living organism but also circulating among us in spirit forms, and it speaks to us constantly — although we’re largely deaf.

If I were to say, “God has spoken to me, and His word is blah-de-blah!” I’d have my head up my ass, no doubt.  But I have received something.  My conception of what that is comes mainly from my own NDE* and ensuing paranormal experiences, with gaps filled in by what I’ve heard from fellow NDErs.

By paranormal, I mean stuff like this: In 1999 or so, I was spacing out at the end of a freeway offramp in downtown Seattle late at night, waiting for the light to turn green.  It did so.  At the same instant, a “voice” spoke in my mind with a strong message, Don’t go.

Our brains are amazingly quick.  In a millisecond, I thought, “That’s dumb!  I’ll ignore it.” But in the next millisecond, the message came again, underscored, sort of like, DON’T GO; IT’S IMPORTANT.   So… I, well…  checked my rearview mirror.  No car was behind me. What harm could it do to just sit there?  So I just sat there… at the green light… which looked exceedingly green and all about GO.  Quite shortly, I felt foolish.  I asked the voice, “How long don’t go?”

Like this but older and faster!

WHOOSH!!!   Like a bullet fired from behind a building that blocked my view shot an off-white sedan going at least 100 mph. It streaked through the intersection exactly where I’d have been. I remember, first, being amazed that a car could fly by so fast with so little sound, and second, realizing that my life had just been saved.

I thought, “Thank you!”  Still I didn’t go.  I couldn’t.  I was too scared some car in pursuit might be next, or who knows what!  Then I began to hear sirens, first one then several, a ways off.  Shaken, I drove toward home.

Experiences like this aren’t so unusual for NDErs. According to an NDERF survey, 45% of us return with “psychic” aftereffects,** which amounts to many thousands of people. Leaving and reentering the body alters in some way the energy barrier surrounding each of us, so it’s more easily penetrated.  At least, that’s my best guess.

“How can I tell the difference between god’s will and  my will?”  That’s a question we hear in countless AA meetings. I’m gonna offer some pointers.

Each of us has the ability to sense god’s guidance and, as we continue to work our program, increasingly distinguish it from our ego’s.  The most important prereq is that we want to.  We have to be listening for god and willing to hear what we often don’t care to.  Another is that we have to cherish the goodness within ourselves and be awake to its resonance as a compass.  Beyond this, in my experience, what comes from god bears a few telling hallmarks:

  • It’s the opposite of what I was thinking.  If I’m cruising down some avenue of thought that feels awesome in a self-righteous kind of way, and something intercedes and proposes the opposite with a striking ring of truth, it’s probably god. Far and away the most common input I get from god is “Bullshit, honey: you can go deeper.” By deeper, it means thinking more from my heart.  Sigh!  It’s always true!
  • It’s about love, kindness, and service.  The short explanation here is that god is love, as the ultimate power of the universe.  And we are here to god.  (Yep, that’s a verb!) Whenever we feel compassion and act on it, we are growing god. Recently, I found myself exiting a non-AA meeting near a fellow alcoholic with whom I’d just strongly and publicly disagreed on a policy. I so much wanted to jet, clean and easy! But as I looked at his back, something said, “Talk to him; make peace.”  I told him the conflict was nothing personal, that I knew his intentions were good, as were mine.  He looked relieved, I accidentally cried, and we hugged, disagreeing.
  • While you’re actually doing it, it feels right, almost like déjà- vu.  Sometimes when you make an important choice that aligns with god, it feels — and this is hard to describe — like everything has somehow clicked into place.  There’s a “yes” in every second.  When I heard that my former sponsee was pissed at me for never visiting now that she lived far away, I called and headed down there for dinner. So intensely during that drive, I sensed that I was fulfilling something significant.  We shared dinner on Saturday.  Thursday morning, she was struck dead at her construction job.  Our last words had been, “I love you.”
  • Serendipities reinforce it.  These are the “coincidences” we hear about so often in meetings.  “I decided to kill myself, and three guys from the meeting walked in and sat down at my diner booth.” “On my way to relapse, my car quit on me, and the guy that pulls over is my sponsor.”  I, too have many such stories of statistically infinitesimal likelihood.  Chances are, if you’ve been working the program a while, you’ve had a few of your own.
  • It’s constructive.  God is not big on wallowing.  God is growth and unfolding, so for a recovering wallow-holic like myself, it’s been a tad disappointing that god won’t cosign my misery.  Once, hiking alone in major emotional pain, I noticed a lone yellow wildflower on which a large branch had fallen. Smooshed but not broken, the flower had grown around the wood and bloomed anyway.  God as good as told me, “Child, you’re smooshed but not broken: Bloom!”

One final note.  For the reason listed directly above, god mourns the waste of life that is addiction.  Yet god is never into shame or martyrdom. “Oh, I’m such a piece of shit!” or “Gee, I’m such a saint!” both stem from ego, from preoccupation with self.  God wants us only to do our best, share our gifts, love freely.  Beating ourselves up or codependently pouring energy into toxic people to wheedle self-worth — these ain’t about blooming.

I honestly try to live by this stuff.  For instance, I’m aware that posting this exposes me to ridicule from both atheists (especially in my family) and religious folks. But the AA saying nails the truth: What you think of me (or my writing) is none of my business.  My job is simply to click “publish” and then, as a bird lets the air keep its song or a wolf sends its howl to the moon, move on to whatever’s next.

Thanks for reading, open-minded alcoholics!

 

 

*NDE: Near Death Experience.  This refers to a vivid experience that takes place while a person is clinically dead or close to death.  IANDS definition here.

** See Jeffrey Long, Evidence of the Afterlife, p. 189.

 

PS:  I’ll be presenting at the IANDS conference this summer.  I’ll post details when I get them.

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Filed under AA, Addiction, Alcoholism, God, NDE, Near Death Experience, Recovery, Spirituality

Like me, like me (!): Neediness vs. god

Leaving an event recently, in the parking I saw the most charismatic (gay) guy from the group chatting with a woman who wasn’t me, and I became filled with jealousy.  Not romantic jealousy; like-me jealousy.  I thought: “He thinks she’s special! He thinks I’m boring!  Dammit!!  How can I make him like me?!  What if I…”

Then — because for 22 frickin’ years I’ve been working a program — I flagged my own attention, informed myself I was temporarily insane, got in my frickin-ass car and drove off.

Really, ego?!” I thought, driving.  “Will you never stop this shit?  It’s older than high school, older than one of Mary Ann’s banana cream pies in the face–but you keep on!”  I resolved to not care.

But it was hard.  I still felt mad at the woman for “winning,” mad to be denied the fix I wanted — that big fat hit of dopamine from feeling liked and appreciated by someone who “counts” (because, as we all know, that shit is DOPE) — but at the same time, mad at my ego for leading me back into this dumb game of hungering parasitically for worth.

Okay, I’m human, a social primate.  I have instincts around “belonging” deeply linked to survival.  That’s normal.  We all need to have friends, feel loved, etc..

But as a recovering alcoholic/ love addict, I still have needy ego that can wreak havoc with instincts and gratification. When I used to guzzle alcohol and whip up huge love-addiction crushes, I’d  take frickin’ baths in the imagined admiration of whomever I’d idolized.

When the magic one liked me, my brain would release these motherload hits of dopamine and endorphins — which I experienced as a thrilling glow of self-worth and delicious excitement — from what I imagined that magical person thought about me. The “good stuff” seemed to come from that person, though in reality it came from my brain’s model of their favorable impressions of me.  In other words, it was my brain triggering my brain to flood itself with feel-good neurotransmitters — meaning I gave myself permission to get internally high as a kite.

People, that’s not love.  That’s not even admiration.  If we want to be nice, we can call it codependent self-worth; and if we want to be harsh, we can call it projected narcissism.

Either way, this is a totally ass-backward way of living.  It’s
parasitic and delusional.  The trouble is, because I grew up in an alcoholic home, that’s how my brain is wired!  Because the supply of affection waxed and waned depending on whether my parents were drunk or hungover, and because I assumed the variable was, not the presence of absence of a drug, but me, I developed a core, bone-deep belief that I had to perform to win love — which does not serve me now that I’m a sober adult.

Here are the steps not to take:

Step 1: Elevate someone.  Decide they’re “cool.”  Make them larger than life, overflowing with charisma.  Now (sweet!) you have a stash to chase: their “good stuff.”

Step 2: Chase the “good stuff.”  If the attraction is sexual, try like hell to seduce them.  If it’s social, show off how fuckin’ exciting and funny you are.  If it’s business, find ways to impress them with your amazing knack for getting shit done.

Outcome: You’ve whored out your worth.  Even when you seem to win, you’ve lost.  Regardless of whether you’ve come off as hoped, someone else holds the keys to your human value.  Your dignity is in the goddam toilet.

What’s the alternative?  Here I go again!  It’s god.

When I say god, I mean not only a connection to the energy of life, but all the shifts in ways of living and thinking that connection brings about — if it’s real.  The whole purpose of the 12 Steps is to help us achieve a psychic change (p. xxix) that will reverse the direction of our “flow.” We go from being black holes of neediness, trying to suck okayness out of people, places, & things, to becoming more and more a channel or outlet of the warmth and energy loaned to us by our higher power: unconditional love.

The 12 steps to this change are in our Big Book, but here’s a quick-check version:

Step 1: Seek humility.  Give up the fuck up chasing anyone or anything.  Let be.  Hurt if you’re hurting. Mourn if you’re lost.  But acknowledge that you are powerless over people, places, & things.  Only one source can you count on: your higher power’s Love for your simple, confused, inherent goodness.

Step 2: Love with intention.  Forgive.  Practice gratitude (loving your life and nurturing your little inner garden).  Embrace yourself with all your flaws and look for ways this admittedly flawed self can do good, help others, and “pack [more] into the stream of life.”

Outcome: A worthiness built from the ground up.  You and god know your worth.  No one else needs to.  You slowly grow self esteem from doing estimable acts.

I just can’t say enough about the freedom of humility.  Dude.  Whenever I hike in the wilderness for a week or so, the inner gem I polish is humility — to understand I am just a critter.  I need to drink & eat and pee & shit.  I need to stay warm in my little nest for the night.  I get to laugh with my friend and witness god in a wealth of meadows, forests, and towering peaks.  I GET TO live!  That is wisdom.

When I come back to city life, hanging on to that same humility gets tricky, but I can still try.  I talk & listen and think stuff’s important & screw up.  I can glimpse god in the vulnerable humanness of friends and strangers, all of us trying to feel okay.  I GET TO love!  That is spirituality.

Near Death Experiencers (people revived from death who bring back memories) frequently report having been shown a representation of the spiritual connections uniting all living beings.  They perceived countless “golden threads” or “beams of light” interconnecting our hearts.  The bottom line, they’re told, is that we’re each a unique expression of the same god/life energy, like countless leaves on a huge tree, or countless cells in a single leaf.

No one is higher.  No one is lower.  All depend on each other, on the whole, which is god.  I’ll never forget how my first sponsor wrapped up my first major 4th step 20 years ago.  Alongside my character defects, she drew a No-Stepladder symbol.  As she put it, “Whenever you want to rank people, think of the night sky.  You may gravitate toward one constellation more than another — sure.  But you can’t rank the stars.”

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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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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