How did this happen?! How did a normal, smart, practical atheist like me end up believing all this crazy shit? If consensual reality – that is, the one our culture calls sane – was good enough for all those years, why have I dumped it in favor of this half-baked scheme of spirits and a spirit realm? When did I deviate?
Sometimes I still turn on myself in shock. The old, skeptical me rallies, rejecting everything I’ve accepted in the past few years, and tries to win me back.
It goes something like this:
SKEPTICAL ME: Louisa, you can’t be serious. Do you mean to say you actually believe in the other side? That there’s some kind of non-physical, energetic plane that we enter when we die?
ME: Yep. Cause I went there, and I remember.
SM: But wait. Louisa, please. Be rational, here. What about this energy of the spirit that you seem to think exists independently of the body. You say it’s somehow unique to each person but also connects us all? What makes you think that something exists if science can’t measure or substantiate it?
ME: Because I’ve accidentally read people’s thoughts many times, and it feels really weird. You wanna know how it feels? Like you’re going along with the Monkees’ ‘Daydream Believer’ stuck in your head, singing it to yourself mindlessly, and then all of a sudden, into your head pops Nirvana’s ‘Lithium.’ You’re like, ‘WTF? The Monkees sucked but I am so not in the mood for “Lithium!” Why did I just do that?’ Then your friend walks in, or gets out of an elevator or car or someplace. You say, ‘How’s it going?’ and they say, ‘Okay, but I’ve got “Lithium” stuck in my head!’ Okay? That’s just a hypothetical, though. That never really happened.
ME: Eventually, you begin to recognize subtle differences in thoughts that aren’t your own, even when no person shows up to claim them. Some soundless “voices” will steer you. They e tell you to love. To give and receive love. Even when you’re angry, or maybe embarrassed, so you’re not in the mood for loving kindness, yet your anger or embarrassment gets booted from you. Who’s doing that?
SM: I suppose you’re gonna say that’s your guardian angel
SM: And that we all have guardian angels, just like in It’s a Wonderful Life, only you can hear yours because you’re all special from having had an NDE.
ME: No, I’m a normal person who’s had an NDE. Millions of people have had them, and most come back more open to the energies outside them, because for a little while, they joined that energy. For most people, the openness gradually fades, but for some reason, I’m stilling picking up outside thoughts and voices.
SM: Stop it! Stop it! I hate when you talk like that – ‘open to the energies’ – ! Will you listen to yourself?! You sound like a New Age idiot! When did this happen to you? We were atheist! We were scientific! We were logical!
ME: See, skeptical bitch, the thing is, I still am logical. These phenomena happen to me – this knowing the future or dreaming the future or sensing warnings that have saved my life – I experience them. Or little things like the face of the AA speaker flashing into my mind a few seconds before she’s announced, or knowing a friend’s getting her kitchen floor replaced just before she calls to ask for my help with it. And they don’t stop. They keep happening until I cannot deny that they’re phenomena, actual occurrences for which I have no explanation within the bounds of science as I understand it. And so logic forces me to admit, there must be some explanation from science as I don’t understand it, as none of our scientific culture understands it.
SM: How about these? You’re just imaginative! You’re empathetic! You’re intuitive!
ME: Is it intuitive to be working with an ESL writing client on conditional tenses, waiting for her to type a sentence, and think, ‘Maybe she should try putting in a participial phrase – just to make her sentences a bit more complex!’ Then, seconds after you’ve dismissed that idea as a ridiculous one you’d never use, the client types a participial phrase, right there on the screen, smiles at you and says, ‘I thought I’d try putting in a participial phrase. You know, just to make my sentences a little more complex!'”
SM: I don’t know what that is. That’s really boring. Why would you even waste your time thinking about shit like that?
ME: The point is, it wasn’t my thought. I focus my lessons on one skill at a time to keep them clear for the client. That idea was totally foreign to me because it was hers. My brain was relaxed, zoning out on the cursor, waiting. My question is, what the fuck was it that passed from her….. to me? From her mind, into my mind? If ideas are no more than chemical patterns in the brain, that can’t happen.
SM: Okay, fine, fine. But here’s my point: just because you can’t explain weird shit does not mean you should go spinning off onto this whole energy connecting us that’s part of god trip! You were okay being stumped for years until you started going to those stupid IANDS* meetings. They’re what turned you wacko!
ME: You’re sort of right. I was afraid to dwell too much on what my weird shit might mean when I thought I was the only one. It seemed way too egotistical, like I was claiming to be gifted somehow with a divine something-or-other. When I went to IANDS, I found out I’m just an ordinary schmuck who died and left my body and crossed over–
SM: I told you to stop that!
ME: –as myself! Taking most of my Louisa-ness with me, but into a different realm. First a realm of symbols, where I moved toward a house that eventually opened to the sun that swallowed me up in the Light and the infinite love of an unseen parent. Even that, about the parent, I’ve heard in another share.
SM: Not listen-ning!!!
ME: I was still me – that’s the thing! They were doing CPR somewhere on a body that had nothing to do with me. I was my distilled self, except that my experience felt completely free, completely open to the wonder of everything. Without our bodies, we don’t have any fear. Sometimes I would wonder if I ought to be scared; I had thoughts like, is this gonna work out? But the fear itself, that gripping sourness, had dropped away from me. All that was left was clarity. I had no self-doubt. No self-criticism. No shoulds or if onlys. Nothing of that whole encasement I lug everywhere with my body like a clay set of coveralls, that I’m not enough and the world can’t be trusted. That exists to help keep us in our bodies. But without it, I knew the free innocence of a child. I was so interested! So glad about each thing I came across, with a feeling like, ‘Oh! I know this! This is wonderful! I love this!’ – about each thing I encountered. Not like a cocaine high, but like being three and seeing a marvelous toy in the sunlight, so that the feeling is pure love instead of the “I’m the shit!”of being high. And I think that’s what it’s like for all of us when we die.
SM: La, la, la! Jingle Bells! ABCD…
ME: When I went to IANDS, I learned it’s like that for everyone who’s gone to the Light. I listen to the stories of people who’ve had NDEs far more involved than mine, but just hearing their attempts to describe it, I catch some of the Light from them, some of the feeling from the other side. (Except in the case of famous NDEers who’ve spoken a million times. No Light comes from them.) From their truths, and my truths, I put together my wacko ideas of god as the immense, incomprehensibly complex and intelligent power of Love.
SM: You’re nuts.
ME: Actually, I did have one instant of fear after I was told, ‘You cannot stay, you’re not done yet,’ and the Light cut like a breaker had been hit. Everything went black, the parent was gone, and I seemed to be falling. But soon after I was back in my body – though it took me quite a while to realize it, and I was very bummed when I did. For some reason, the two people I’m closest to at IANDS both had hellish NDEs. Both had lived with a simmering, low-level anger at life, and they couldn’t shed that barrier. It trapped them. They say to be outside your body but cut off from the Light is the darkest, loneliest, coldest, most painful experience a spirit can undergo. But it’s they who do the blocking, not god.
SM: Maybe if you’d just quit hanging around with these people, you could turn normal again. Remember when life was just a matter of biology? Like you can jump start a car, and you can defibrillate a person? Same thing. Either it’s going or it’s not. Science tells us so. Nothing…. leaves. Nothing re-enters. Because there’s no such thing as spirit.
ME: You know what? I think you’re gonna hate this the most. I’ll never go back to thinking that way. Because the fact is, life makes more sense to me now. Even if I hadn’t had all the weird experiences, the scientific story of life in matter is missing too many pieces. There’s more. And every time I meet another NDE survivor, and every time we trade stories and relate and connect and, heck, rejoice in the recognition of what we both experienced, I know a little more – it’s true. It’s exactly like showing up at AA and learning you’re not the only one.
SM: I’m holding out. One of us has got to stay sane.
ME: Yeah, but you’re pretending to talk to yourself on some blog, so you’ve gotta be pretty far gone, too. You know all this rings true! You’re just scared, trying to stay someplace the teacher told us was safe. And that’s okay. Loving you, loving this experience of being human and trying to connect the few dots we have – it’s not easy. So you’re struggling to hang onto something. You’re trying to help me, and I love you for it, skeptical bitch.”
~ THE END ~
PLEASE NOTE: I do have an essay, God Evolved, that expands on these ideas in a semi-argumentative form.
*IANDS: International Association of Near Death Studies. Local chapter: Seattle IANDS.