Tag Archives: NDE

Thoughts on god (1)

Maybe the most life-saving aspect of AA and all the 12-step programs it has spawned is that we get to pick our own higher power. We don’t have to consider anyone else’s views of an HP — certainly not religion’s — as we generate an idea of the source in which we’ll place our trust.

I like to think of our conceptions of god as a sort of placeholder – something to represent the “you” we turn to – because it can be easier to reach out to “somebody” if we have some sense of who/what that is.

Reaching out to that power is the core of recovery as I know it.  If you’re dying from addiction, slowly or quickly, it is the solution.  The biggest stumbling block for most newcomers is that our culture still associates “God” with organized religion’s construct of a judgmental deity.

Prior to organized religion, human tribes had for many millennia held a sense of god(dess) that was multifaceted and unified with nature.  But in the shadow of the agrarian revolution, as societal power became increasingly stratified, monotheism arose.  In the case of the Judeo-Christian tradition, this “God” — the grouchy, punishing Dude in the Bible — became a political tool for those in power to cow the subjugated masses into compliance.

Modern goddess image

“Overseer’s Rod,” from Queen Mary’s Psalter, 1320

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Then, between 1600 and 1945, the Scientific Revolution gradually caused religion to crumble and fall — which was actually a good thing.  But, tragically, we have thrown out the baby with the bath water, god with religion, and the result is the spiritual turmoil now raging throughout the world.

We stand at an extremely perilous in-between era of human history, where billions who have turned away from the rubble of religion suffer anxiety and depression, and billions who still cling to its distorted structures justify judgment, exclusion, and cruelty via its tenets.

Humanity needs a new god — one indivisible from Gaia, the complex life system of which we are a part.  It is my belief that the evidence brought back consistently by Near Death Experiencers (NDEers) can offer humanity an evidence-based foundation for such a god.

I’ve decided to risk offering a series of posts on my own ideas of god, based on my NDE, the many NDE narratives I’ve heard at IANDS meetings over the past five years, and NDE narratives I have read.  If any of these ideas resonate with your ideas of god, take them.  If not, leave them.

Have you ever created a personal altar? It’s just a sort of sacred place in your home where photos of loved ones or meaningful objects remind you of what matters. It’s in a similar spirit that we can each assemble our concept of god(dess) – as a collection of ideas that call to us personally.  My aim here is just to offer some little crystals or shells you might add to yours.

Two excellent books on Near Death Experiences are Jeffrey Long’s Evidence of the Afterlife (2010) and God and the Afterlife (2017).  Both are based on thousands of NDEer’s responses to a survey accessible on the Near Death Research Foundation website.  Responses come from all over the world, and the average time elapsed between the NDE event and filling out the survey is 20 years. (Strangely, NDE memories do not fade with time.)

The upshot of Long’s research is that God loves us with a Love more powerful than words can describe.  Here are some excerpts:

“I knew that the being I met was comprised of a substance I can only call ‘love,’ and that substance was a force or power, like electricity.  Love is the only word I have, but it’s not the right word here” (God, p.53).

“I became aware of a presence vast and unimaginable, everywhere and everything, the beginning and the end, and he was Love.  I came to know that Love is a power to rival all powers — real and perceived — in the universe. (God, p. 174).

“All That Is can be perceived simultaneously as a force and as a consciousness that exists within each individual consciousness and yet is separate from each consciousness or being.  It might be called God, but the ideas of gods that we have are a pale and incomplete shadow of the All That Is that I perceived” (God, p. 175)

Further, many NDEers learn that we are here on this earthly adventure as part of the expanding evolution of Love – though sadly we “forget” what we came here to do.  The challenge of life on earth is to balance the self-preservation instincts we need to keep us housed in our bodies (fear/ego) with our mission of furthering Love by overcoming separation from other sentient beings (who only seem to be “other”).

“I was told that the earth is like a big school, a place where you can apply spiritual lessons you have learned and test yourself to see if you can “live” what you already know you should do” (p. 101).

Many survey respondents (but not I 😦 ) were shown life reviews.  These incredibly detailed yet compressed replays of their life’s events are witnessed by about 22% of NDEers (who in turn comprise about 15% of those who die and come back).

Almost exclusively, these replays focus on acts of kindness and cruelty, along with their effects rippling outward throughout the world.  Most watch them together with a loving spirit who urges learning but not self-rebuke.  Here’s an excerpt:

“I was in the eighth grade, and me and my friends were verbally abusing another one of our friends.  It was cruel behavior, and I was drenched in cruelty. … I experienced the humiliation and pain of the girl we were tormenting.  I didn’t just see her, I got to be her as she huddled next to the lockers, crying alone… My mind and heart were crying out, ‘I’m so sorry!  I’m so, so sorry!’ … I felt a presence with me [that]… expressed amusement over my despair and said, with heart and mind, something to the effect of ‘You were just a kid.  How bad could you have been?’  Then I was embraced by layer upon layer of compassion” (p.100).

Even when we fuck up, we are loved.  No one expects us to ace this.

In short, god is the energy of Love that created and sustains all that is. Addiction cuts us off from god as we bombard our brains with meaningless dopamine, sabotaging our mission.  But when we sincerely ask god for help, we open a channel that allows it to enter us, guiding and strengthening our hearts, healing us from the isolation of addiction.

It does so by slowly teaching us to love others as it loves — unconditionally.  That is the not only the purpose of life, but the cure for all that ails us.

More next time.  ❤

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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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Near Death and God Stuff

I am weird.  One night in 1982, when I was 22, I went out to a Manhattan night club, snorted quite a bit of coke, then bought and snorted what I thought was a gram more Nightclub(though it didn’t get me high). I developed increasingly narrow  tunnel vision from bradycardia (slowing heartbeat) and hypoxia (from respiratory depression), underwent a grand mal seizure, suffered a cardiac arrest, and died on the nightclub floor.  That is, I was without vital signs for three minutes.  I’d ingested enough lidocaine to shut down my central nervous system.

While a bartender worked at CPR and I began to look “all gray like a corpse, nothing like yourself…” according to my date, my consciousness shot off on a vivid journey.  With keen awareness I traveled from sky to sea to beach to ancestral house before getting sucked through a window and over the dazzle of sunlight on the sea’s surface to plunge right into the heart of the sun. There I was subsumed by a light of love beyond measure.  A strong presence was with me, beaming love through me, until abruptly it told me in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t done and couldn’t stay – after which cut the light to total blackness.  (If you want the whole story, you have to buy my goddamn addiction memoir, but only if you’re also psyched to read about alcoholism and romantic obsession, because that’s mostly what it’s about.)

Anyway!  As a result of whatever happened that night, the boundaries of my consciousness changed.  I knew nothing of it.  I was a smug atheist who’d never heard of Near Death Experiences or any of the related terms now commonplace in popular culture.  What had happened didn’t fit with my scientifically based definition of reality, so I put it behind me.  Over the next decade, however, two more distinctly impossible experiences forced themselves on me.  I didn’t want them!

LightI didn’t much associate my secret paranormals with whatever people called God.  To me, that concept involved a personification of divine power – God as a super-boss.  I rejected it and still do.  But once I got sober, once I opened to a higher power and began to pray, the rate of paranormal “knowings” increased dramatically.  Finally, in 2003 I had an astoundingly specific clairvoyant dream, and in 2004 was shown the break in my life the dream had foretold.  It was a such an undeniably personal, otherworldly message that, at 9 years sober, I broke down, sobbing with gratitude, and finally surrendered the last of my reservations: god, I finally knew beyond faith, was an energy infusing everything that lives. Spiritual energy is a force every bit as real as gravity or electromagnetism – forces nobody personifies or insists we capitalize!  That’s why I refer to it as “god.”

In 2010, after accidentally and embarassingly reading a friend’s mind regarding a romantic weekend with his wife, I went ahead and Googled “Near Death Experiences.” I eventually found a Seattle group that meets monthly to hear a speaker tell his/her Near Death story (Seattle IANDS).  A year later, in 2011, I finally got myself to attend one of those meetings.  And in January of 2012, I was the speaker.  I discovered, just as in AA, that many experiences I’d long believed unique to me were actually quite common among this group.  We speak brightly of our dying experiences: “I was thrown 20 feet from the car,” “I could see the surface but knew I’d never reach it.”  Some of us talk about foreknowing events or catching an afterglow in much the same way AAs talk about the phenomenon of craving.  Though I never saw my guardian angel, hearing descriptions from those who did (and a few who saw other angels, though they’re reluctant to use the term) has helped me understand who/what was with me in the light.

I can’t talk about any of this in an AA meeting.  The purpose of AA shares is to allow fellow alcoholics to identify, to hear their own problems and psychic pain described by others, so they’ll be attracted to the solution of the 12 steps.  No one imposes their beliefs on someone else – at least, not in theory.  And the fact is, most newcomers are already freaked out by the word “God” in the steps – as I was at first.  They’re worried about cultish, woo-woo weirdness.  To hear someone talking about having left their body or experiencing paranormal after-effects would send them screaming from the church basement!  It would help no one.  And though AA friends came to hear my IANDS story, most assume Near-Death meetings must entail morbid rehashings of the close scrapes we call death, mixed with woo-woo chicanery.

I can’t talk about alcoholism at IANDS meetings, either.  For NDE folks, the strangest part of my story is not that I left my body, journeyed, etc., but that I basically killed myself by snorting everything I could get my hands on whether it was working or not.  Why would such a clown drunknice person be so self-destructive?!  They assume AA meetings are penitent gatherings where we rehash old drinking stories and renew our determination.  They express sympathy.  The idea that we’re happily united in a daily immunity granted to us by a higher power, that we laugh at our own sick thinking, that we’re actually grateful for the program we live by – they just don’t get it.

Every person’s beliefs develop in the crucible of their family, social group, and culture, to be either confirmed or challenged by individual experience.  Our culture at large tends to present religion versus atheism as an exclusive dichotomy, and many of us internalize that idea.  My family and our academic community chose option B – atheism.  For some time, I straddled belief in a higher power at AA and dismissal of the “weird things” that had followed my NDE.  It took 30 years of personal encounters with physically inexplicable happenings to push me to the point where I could discard my old truth and seek out people who shared my otherworldly experience.  I’ve since spoken at the Seattle Theosophical Society, been interviewed on a radio show (podcast here, starts at 15:00) and appeared in a documentary film /future television show.  I am all in.  But to be honest, part of me still cringes to hear, for instance, my radio talk sponsored by “Hugz from Heaven” – really?  Have I gone that daft?

I often wish I could help others in AA who struggle with the god aspect to see the wide array of spiritual paths between religion and atheism, or even to discard the “God-boss” image in favor of the energy of love.  Though it can be frustrating, in meetings I say nothing of my NDE or its after-effects.  If it took me 30 years to accept my own experience, how the hell can I expect others to accept my words?  I leave them to their own ideas, and share mine outside the rooms.  Part of faith is accepting that those who want to hear – who, as I did, already share this truth deep within – will be listening.

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