Tag Archives: Near Death Experience

Afterlife: Is it Too Weird to Talk About?

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

Gone where?

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

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

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

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

That was twenty years ago.

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

That was ten years ago.

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

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

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

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

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

I believe we’re Life/Love doing something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choose Life; Choose Joy

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

Then Paul took a breath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Full Time God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moody 70s&15

Dr. Raymond Moody, 1975 & 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continuous prayer is really the only sane state of mind.

 

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* See Quora explanation

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

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Doing What We Don’t Want

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

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

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

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

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

Reluctant PeeWeeHerman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guess what’s happened?

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

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

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

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What Alcohol Did; What god Does

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

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

Shitty Committee

click to enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NUGGETS

Kiwi addict

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

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

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Spiritual Experience

Sometimes I wish I could loan my faith to others.  At least I felt that way the other night at my homegroup when the topic was “your spiritual experience.”  In share after share, people balanced guarded reservation with the undeniable fact that, once they sincerely asked a higher power for help, their addiction was lifted and a new way of living began for them.  A few also shared that certain inexplicable synchronicities or phenomena had strengthened their faith.

I really hoped to get called on.  If you could raise your hand in AA, I’d have been bouncing in my chair – “Ooo!  Pick me, pick me!”  My faith is HUGE and strong, and I wanted to share it!  I don’t believe – I know ( just like Carl Jung! – this is an awesome, quick clip!).

sky angelsMy addiction memoir recounts the tale of my slow (and ongoing) spiritual awakening.  It tells how there came a definite turning point in 2003 when I finally dropped the walls I’d been holding up against god.  Before that, I’d locked my Near Death Experience (NDE) and subsequent paranormal experiences away in a “not relevant to regular living” vault.  When I was “feeling spiritual,” I’d turn to god; otherwise it was was business as usual.  Weird Thing #9 led up to the transformative acknowledgement that god really is omnipresent in all that lives, beyond anything my brain can conceptualize or imagine.

On that day, I turned away from loyalty to society’s consensual reality in much the same way I’d turned from loyalty to alcohol and drugs some 8 years previously.   In both cases, I’ve never looked back.

My god is not religion’s God.  It’s the life force, the collaborative, animating energy of Love and the collective intelligence of all life it has ever generated. Nothing is lost.  Energy can’t vanish, even as a result of mass extinctions.  The sun keeps pouring energy into our life system, and the system keeps growing.  You’re a part of it.  Your trillions of separate cells collaborate toward the larger purpose of you, which/who in turn is meant to serve the greater purpose of we.

After Weird Thing #9 in 2003, it still took me 8 years to Google Near Death Studies, and still another year before I went to an IANDS meeting.  As with my first AA meeting, I was leery of a bunch of kooks.  And, as with my first AA meeting, hearing my inmost experiences described by strangers blew me away.  I soon realized I had, again, found “my people.”

In fact, only about 10% of our Seattle IANDS group at any given meeting has actually died.  But almost everyone there (usually about 60 people)  has experienced some kind of overtly paranormal event that caused them, too, to break from the physical-only view of the world that society condones.

Just as it’s “safe” at an AA meeting to share our ups and downs of sober living, so it’s “safe” in an IANDS meeting to speak of guardian angels, the overwhelming Love of the Light, and encounters with dead loved ones, or – if they’re in your story – demons.

Here’s a brief excerpt from one of our members’ stories.  A severe allergic reaction, combined perhaps with asthma, had caused him to collapse, aspirate, and die one night on a California beach.

When I’d been flipped over, I had sand and vomit all over my face and… she thought it was gross and didn’t want to do [CPR].  I still was [above them] saying, ‘I’m fine, I’m okay!… I don’t want to bother you!  I’d much rather you be happy!’…  But she did it.  I could see her bending down and getting ready to press her lips to mine.  And almost as soon as that happened, it felt like a car crash or something.  I was immediately back through my own perspective, I was definitely in my body… it was like being slammed back into me.  …I don’t know how to describe it.

I remember seeing her over me… At this point people are all around me and I’m just laying there on my back.  And I know that they’re asking me, what’s your name, what year is it, who’s the president.  I… I didn’t care.  All I could focus on were two things.  I could see their lips moving – I couldn’t actually, for some reason, hear their voices.  The only thing I could hear were the waves from the ocean, and the only thing I could look at were the people that were helping me – but they were… people that were helping the people that were helping me.

Um… for lack of a better term – I don’t like to use certain terms, but – for lack of a better term, I would call these ‘angels.’  I don’t feel they were there connected specifically to me, but that maybe they were there connected to those people – that we were all part of a collective effort, that everyone had the same – goal? – in mind.  It wasn’t that the goal was to bring me back, but that we were all taking part [in something bigger].

How wonderful to be free to know in an IANDS meeting that god is real!  Those rooms glow with vestiges of the Light.  By aligning what’s happened to me with what others have seen and described, I’ve come to believe that the loving presence I knew on the other side was my guardian angel, and that this same entity is what often answers not just my prayers but my private thoughts – not necessarily when I’d like or with what I’d like, but somehow.

 

orb close close orb2
Just before these pictures were taken in 2013, as many sober friends who knew I had cancer sang Happy Birthday to me, my embarrassment was interrupted by a different thought-voice: “Louisa, this is as good as it gets!  Don’t resist.  Just let them love you.”  If orbs are nothing but dust motes on a lens, why would photos from two different cameras, from two angles, at two different moments show the same orb in the same place?  That’s my angel.

 

So… back to my homegroup: “What’s your spiritual experience?”  I wasn’t called on, so I’d resolved to share once the meeting opened for volunteers.  As soon as it did, though, before I could open my mouth, came the thought: Don’t.  Only listen and love.

I countered, “I only want to help people!”

Bullshit, came the next thought/voice.  You think you know more just because you know different?  Let be.

Boy, was it hard to abide by this!  I had to sit on my hands, especially through the long silences.  Puppies don’t always pee on the newspaper, and I don’t always listen to guidance – but this time, I did.  When the secretary finally called time, I sighed: Phew!  Made it!

I got home.  I went to bed.  And in the morning I remembered clearly that AA works only because we all keep our gods to ourselves – since we do “not need to consider another’s conception of God.”  To go off about my IANDS group and NDE would be no different from someone going off about how Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior.

Because spiritual experience is, like sobriety, an inside job.  Each person grows their own experience.  Much as I’d like to, I can’t whomp my big fat weird tree down in front of anyone – each person has to germinate their own inner seed and nurture it over the days and years of their life.

What do you call that, when you’re great guns to do something and another thought/voice tells you not to – or vice versa?  How, exactly, do Steps 6 & 7 work in your beliefs?  “Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you” (p. 47).  You can call it superego if you prefer, but, as long as it’s a calling toward love, I call it direction from whatever it is that’s helping me.

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Filed under AA, Afterlife, Faith, God, Near Death Experience, Recovery, Spirituality

Spiritual Essence: Sobriety, Growth, and Who You’ll Be on the Other Side

Because in AA and Al-Anon meetings we emphasize similarities rather than differences, I usually refrain from talking about my Near Death Experience. I don’t want some share of mine about going to the Light to discourage a newcomer from identifying as alcoholic or convince them AA is full of loonies. But my blog’s a different matter. It’s a place to share my whole experience, loony or not.

When we get sober, we hear a lot of talk about ego as something in close cahoots with our addiction. In order to grow in sobriety, we strive to become conscious of those times (always?) when  it takes over our thinking. But what, exactly, is that entity trying to become conscious? That is, who/what are we without our egos? When we get down to the very heart of our being, our consciousness, what do we find?

chakrasEckhart Tolle, in my experience, writes most masterfully on this topic. In A New Earth, he makes a number of distinctions among the images appearing on the screen of the mind or various voices in our heads. In addition to ego (which is essentially the voice of fear – a destructive agent) and thought (which continuously occupies the brain much as digestion occupies the stomach, but without necessarily holding insight), he identifies emotions (the body’s reaction to thoughts) and the pain-body (an energy field within the body that feeds on negative emotions). Together, these components of our minds conspire to create the Unhappy Story of our lives.

In contrast to this, Tolle posits Presence. Presence is that which witnesses all aspects of our experience – the font of consciousness itself. I remember when I was reading Tolle on a beautiful beach in Costa Rica, the phenomenon of Presence kept eluding me.  I’d try repeatedly to disengage from my thoughts and emotions enough to zoom in on who was witnessing them, only to be sucked in by another thought or emotion, such as judging the extent of my success.

Today I understand why I couldn’t do it: my core, my soul, my essence was submerged beneath a layer of lies (thoughts) and denial (fear) manufactured by my ego to maintain my love addiction: I lay on that beautiful beach with a boyfriend who I knew in my core was concealing late-stage alcoholism, simply not drinking or acting out around me. I did not want to know this, mind you. I wanted not want to be fully conscious, because if I dropped my stories of him as an ethically strong and genuine man, I’d need to uproot my entire emotional life by breaking from him.  Addiction – with its urgent needs and false realities to fill them – obstructed my access to Presence, exactly as it had back in the days when I was drinking.

I do, however, have a memory of being pure presence.  If you’ve read my addiction memoir, you know that in 1982 I snorted a half-gram of lidocaine sold to me as cocaine, which shut down my cardio-pulmonary impulses and caused me to die on the dance floor of a Manhattan nightclub.  In those three minutes without pulse or breathing, I rocketed out of my body and into a vast blue sky above the open ocean, embarking on my journey to god.  There’s no room to tell the whole story here. What I want to concentrate on is the “I” in those sentences. What was “I” outside my body?

Pure awareness. Pure interest. Pure embrace of each phenomenon I encountered. That is, whatever I experienced, I loved.  I saw and knew with an ongoing, unqualified excitement that made not loving impossible. How to describe this? When you were a kid, maybe on your birthday or Christmas, you might have encountered a big stack of presents. You didn’t know what was in them.  You didn’t need to.  You anticipated finding out without worry that some might be duds.  All you felt was, “Oh, boy!”  That’s how you’ll feel about everything after you leave your body – everything, that is, except the prospect of returning to it.

Fear became null. When I was diving hundreds of feet toward tspiritenergyhe ocean’s surface, I wondered whether its surface tension might impact me like concrete, and there was certainly an extra spurt of “Oh, boy!” when it didn’t – but no adrenaline tinge of dread.  Same with the realization that I was about to burst into the sun – I only wondered what would happen.  That’s it.  Fear, sadness, anger: these are functions of the BODY.  We don’t need them once staying biologically operational is no longer of consequence.

Short of dying, how can you experience your own essence – that core consciousness you’ll become on the other side?  The best way I know today is to get quiet, close your eyes, and mentally speak your own name adding the suffix “–ness.” Do this several times.  Each time you repeat it, go further toward your child self.  Seek the thinker, not the thoughts.  Not only that, let go of trying – to be someone, to please, to do well before anyone but god – and let yourself fall toward humility. You’re just you.

In my “Louisa-ness,” there’s a subtle hint of…  I can’t find a word besides “dumbness.” But it’s a dumbness I thoroughly love! Maybe it’s just the void left by ego’s absence, the submission to being limited. It’s sort of like the curve of a ball, the spherical nature of myself coming back to me. It cups me. It hums “Louisa-ness.”

The more sober I am, the closer I move toward living from my essence.  THAT is my spiritual journey.  As Meister Eckhart put it (not related to Tolle), “God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction.”

Part of the reason I love to climb mountains is that the physical demands pare away my thoughts and emotions until the simplicity of one goal – I will simply continue – eclipses all the various yammerings of ego.  Ego may initiate my climbs, but spirit finishes them.  “One Step at a Time” – the name of my sober mountaineering group – offers the ultimate metaphor for spiritual growth.  Day before yesterday, standing at 12,200 feet on the summit of Mount Adams, I did indeed feel close to my god.

I’m alive.  I’m grateful.  Nothing else matters.  For me, until the times comes to shed the “dumbness” of this body, that’s as true as it gets.

Me at 12,200 feet

Sunday afternoon, Mount Adams summit at 12,200 feet, a distant Rainier on the horizon.

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Filed under AA, Afterlife, Codependency, God, living sober, Near Death Experience, Recovery, Spirituality