LIVING LIFE AFTER LIFE
NDEs and rebuking the skeptics
By: J. Marlando
1: Why we have our doubts
I doubt if there has ever been a human being who hasn’t questioned the aspects of his or her own mortality. After all, death is the one certainty that we know of. And the very word—death—is frightening because it is so existential in its concepts of finality; of its metaphorical symbolism of being and nothingness. I begin this article to convince you that “death” is the wrong term for what happens to us at the end of life and that the term “change” is far more descriptive of the process.
Only a virtue handful of people doubted eternity prior to Charles Darwin (1809-1892) and his theory of evolution which inspired Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) to make his famous declaration that told us, “God is dead.” There have always been skeptics in the so-called civilized world of course especially since Isaac Newton (1642-1727) created the classical view of a clockwork world. As a result of Newton, modernism began its entrance into the present with most of science becoming a population of reductionists and materialists; believers, if you will, in the dead-world theory. This widespread population of reductionists/materialists along with a great many scholars and other intellectuals agreed that there was no such thing as spirit or, for that matter, even consciousness. As a result, today there are those who subscribe to the idea that we are mere gene machines who can be likened to robot-like-creatures merely believing we are conscious and so aware and alive. They tell us that when we die, we are no difference than Robert Burn’s snowflake on the river—a moment white then gone forever.
World religions try to contradict this view with concepts of “a promised land.” Some go as far as to describe the hereafter with streets and buildings of gold…some promise the rule of planets while others promise virgins and other physical rewards. This is surely why so many people have become agnostic if not atheistic; all these promises are simply too farfetched and far too connected to materialism for the thinking (modern) mind. Indeed, a major reason why a great many people reject the idea of life after life is not because they cannot grasp eternity but because they cannot accept the concepts and dogmas of organized religion. Organized religion after all has historically never been the house of brotherly love that it claims to be.
My purpose in writing the above paragraph is not to belittle religious folks but merely to point out that religion and especially religiosity has failed to provide rational answers to questions about eternal life, the very thing that it professes to offer. Then of course leaders of the earliest city/states some 10,000 plus years ago, began basing religious devotion on obedience being rewarded in the heaven and hell aspects of crime and punishment. These are the very aspects that have caused a lot of descending from the church and its teachings. Consequently, the collective mind has forsaken the idea that life is either purposeful or meaningful. There is, in fact, a large population of college professors, scientists and intellectuals that not only support but teach this negative view.
Most certainly if the materialists are right there can be no meaning or purpose for or in this life. Indeed, what we call life would unfold as nothing more than a cosmic accident that ends with an accident we have aptly called…death.
I believe it is safe to say that, while there may be exceptions, most people have become Doubting Thomas’ in the wake of all these kinds of influences and observations.
2: Positive speculations
We discover a great deal of hope from monistic idealism in that it offers that everything in Nature has consciousness to one level or another. And, in fact, that all things are grounded in consciousness. Consciousness is given many names by different people including “Universal Mind” and “God.” In regard to this and as a quick aside the 16th century sage, Wang Shihuai tells us that the universe is all mind and all phenomena. *This view is held by many of today’s most profound thinkers including a number of world renowned physicists.
In view of the above Jesus is known to have said that he and the father were one. The Jewish Kabbalah tells us that we are in oneness with God…and so all else! Nearly all Eastern spiritual thought teaches universal oneness but…so do many of today’s most modern physicists. Jesus is called the Light of the world…God has been named both Light and Love. In this, it has been said that God is…light. What I find most interesting is that *most recently it has been discovered that all living things…that is, all living cells emit light. Certainly ancient minds could have had no knowledge of this but in the far reaches of this we can now safely say that life is light.
All cells belonging to living things send out light. The light that it transmits is called, bioluminescence. In a sense we humans are “aglow,” sparkling, if you will, much like the stars but much subtler of course. It was starlight that intrigued **Gary E. Schwartz when he was contemplating life after “death.” What interested him was the fact that long after stars die their energy in the form of starlight continues to exist. If I understand the results of his thinking it is most basically that our consciousness travels on after our own demise much as starlight does after the “death” of the star. There is obviously a lot of assuming done by Doctor Schwartz for this appraisal and he leaves the door very wide open for criticism. Nevertheless, I mention it because I am convinced that, if you will, life is light and this interestingly takes us to the wave, particle duality: Quantum mechanics tell us that electrons can be observed as either particle or waves depending on the observer and that all matter has this duality at quantum levels.
There are many great books to read about this duality for the reader who is interested and I will list a couple at the end of this article but what interests me is explained by ***the physicist, Paul Davies who states:
*SOURCE: Jeremy W. Hayward * Letters to Vanessa * Shambhala * 1997
**SOURCE: Gary E. Schwartz with William L Simon * The Afterlife Experiments * Pocket Books * 2002
***SOURCE: Paul Davies * God & The New Physics * Simon & Schuster * 1983
Wave-particle duality is another software-hardware dichotomy. The
particle aspect is the hardware face of atoms—little balls rattling about.
The wave aspect corresponds to software, or mind, or information.
It is my thought that what “changes” at death is that the particle aspect of our material-ness simply loses it light (call it “mind” or “consciousness”) and that it is “our” “light” that travels on as form, energy and information. I will explain why I am so convinced of this in the next section.
What I need to make clear here, however, is that I am not saying that we walk around as “particle” until one day we pass on to simply transform into wave. This would be an easy view for our uneducated imaginations to take. Nevertheless, *the physicist David Bohm reminds us that under certain conditions matter behaves more like a wave or more like a particle but, “in certain ways, like both together so this phenomenon is not mystical, merely mysterious. On the other hand, what I am suggesting is that the cohesive factor that makes ALL living things eternal is Mind or Consciousness which gives us (and everything else) essence. And it is that “essence” that transcends the body moving into another dimension of being when we, as said, simply “pass on” or, what is also termed “crossing over.”
When we take this hypothsis to its fullest the statement: nothing that lives can die begins to reveal a rational view of life after life; of a transition that is “change,” as opposed to death as being life’s endgame as we typically project death as being.
There are of course those who would call what I’m saying “pure bunk” because, at bottom line, they assume that consciousness or mind somehow evolves from organized matter. Some of the biggest skeptics today are biologists for this very reason. But then they are confronted with what has come to be called near death experiences. We will talk about that next.
*Source: David Bohm * Wholeness and the Implicate Order * Routledge * 1980
3: A Near Death Experience
The story that I know is about a younger man in his mid-twenties who was around 20 feet below the surface in Washington State’s Lake Chelan some years ago. He was caught (or trapped) in a situation wherein water funneled into his mouth and down his throat soon enough causing him to pass out.
After passing out he “awoke” in his mind where he watched a movie-like sequence of especially when he was a child. He noted that the “pictures” that he was looking at were crystal clear. He could even see the folds in the shirt he had worn as a little boy at play. After this experience, he fell into unconsciousness again.
He awoke in that “tunnel” that so many people who have had near death experiences report being. He sully realized that he was out of his body and became quickly curious why there was no water where he was at. He also noticed that the walls of the tunnel were spinning passed him in a kaleidoscope of colors. This particular young man had always had an analytical mind and so he actually observed the motion and the colors with much interest. He then realized that he was seeing without eyes, experiencing curiosity and amazement without a brain to transmit his “feelings” or responses. He was exactly what he was in his body…except he was not in his body. Realizing this, he began moving his fingers and toes—he felt them moving just as they had always felt when moving except they were, for lack of a better term, invisible.
He thought about his cousin Ken who had lost an arm but who talked about having phantom limb experiences. He had always thought that those experiences had been the result of nerve-damage or some other phenomenon that could be attributed to some physiological cause but, in the instant, his own out-of-body form gave him to think, that Ken’s arm still belonged to him, it was merely missing its physical form. He didn’t know why these thoughts of his cousin had popped into his mind but they did. He then had the realization that he had a “mind” to think with, without have a brain to do the thinking. By this time five or six minutes had gone by.
Looking toward the end of the tunnel he saw a blockage and he wondered what was beyond it. It was then (and only then) he realized that he was in the process of dying. He was a lover of life and did not want to leave it. He had an impulse and called out, “No way.”
In the next instant he regained his consciousness and was back in his body. Being an experienced diver he began looking around to find sunlight reflecting on the surface so he would know which way to swim out of his dilemma. The real miracle was that after having so much water gush down his throat, after seeing a movie-like history of his own childhood and after having his out-of-body experience…there was NO water in his lungs and he was feeling absolutely refreshed. (There is nothing in medical science that can explain this condition of normalcy after enduring those experiences described).
The clock kept ticking away—he had by then been underwater for over seven minutes.
Finally seeing sunlight, he began swimming toward it. He recalls that he felt as healthy as ever except that, as if in a dream, he felt that he was swimming in extreme slow motion. He finally reached the dock to the relief of his friends and other spectators. He needed NO medical assistance what-so-ever, he simply walked away as if nothing important or unusual had happened to him at all. He felt fine and…was!
Can this story be true? I can tell you that it is because I was that swimmer.
I have nearly died five times in my life but that was the only near death experience I have had. The question is was the NDE merely a hallucination, the mind playing tricks or…was it actually experiencing the process of transcendence from the material world?
4: Science versus the Spiritual
Near death experiences have occurred in every culture and certainly every culture both indigenous and so-called civilized have rituals about and for the dead. Going back to ancient Egypt we know that death was seen as a natural continuation of life. The Tibetan book of the dead gives us a number of what are called bardo states which, as I understand it, are projections of our own mental states (or consciousness) during the process of being reborn but, as already said, every culture has their select concepts of the afterlife. These concepts are considered mere superstitions and wishful thinking by a great number of modern scientists, scholars and intellectuals. But how do they overrule near death experiences as being valid since so many individuals have experienced them?
Probably the most common “medical” view of NDEs is that (1) at the moment of death there is what amounts to a final explosion or endorphins that create the “image” of seeing a bright light and that imagination spews over with visuals that only seem real to the person doing the experiencing or (2) that the NDE is merely hallucination.
Remember I mentioned that I have been close to death a few times. I had a reason to mention this since, once while in the hospital and in great pain I was kept on extremely strong pain medicine that was injected into me for a couple of months. Thoughtlessly my physician took me off the pain medicine cold turkey instead of gradually. The result was devastating—I was cast into hallucinations that lasted for days.
As it ended up this was a learning experience since I could clearly see the difference between my NDE and my having hallucinations. (Before I explain the difference I will clarify that the very vast majority of doctors, scientists, scholars and intellectuals who are most apt to deny and even scoff at near death experiences have never had an NDE themselves and never experienced clinical hallucinations. Thus they are only stating opinionin the guise of knowing).
The difference between a hallucination and a NDE experience is this: When hallucinate we are observing ourselves as happens in the dreaming state. That is, we are not constantly aware of being an observer but we do have flashes that we are here and the hallucination is over there. In addition, all hallucinations are local. That is, let’s say that I am hallucinating being in a room and I have been tied up by someone and although I am thirsty I cannot reach the stream that is somehow flowing through the room.
In a hallucination, all reality is confined to one location or reality. There is NO awareness of anything existing outside the focus of the circumstances occurring. This is absolutely NOT so during an NDE.
First of all, as in waking life we are not seeing ourselves as observers, we are experiencing the moments as they occur. And also, in normal waking life we are constantly aware of the non-local. That is, if we are in a room, we have awareness of others rooms and of such information that the yard is outside, and there is traffic on the street and there are hills in the distance and beyond the hills is an ocean and beyond the ocean…in other words, we are not condemned to one location and one reality as we are when hallucinating. While the hallucination can “feel” extremely real to us we have NO awareness of anything exiting outside the hallucination itself.
During a DNA we are first of all fully aware that it is the “I” of us that is doing the thinking and we realize that there are realities outside our location just as we do in ordinary life. Indeed, while I was in the tunnel, I was aware that outside the tunnel was the lake; that there were trees and mountains, houses and people also beyond my sight. While you may not be thinking of these things at the moment, you remain aware that you are experiencing one environment among countless environments. If you hear a car horn honk…you realize that the car is on the street beyond your vision but you know that it is there. You have this same cognizance during an NDE!
But during a hallucination that honk may be symbolized into the roar of a monster or something else but you will never recognize it as a normal car honking on the street outside of the hallucination that you are experiencing.
People who have NDEs are experiencing their experience just as they do in ordinary life; they are in the now and aware of the nonlocal. This is not the case for people who are enduring hallucination no matter how “real” their experiences seem. And, during a hallucination as in a dream we sometimes have the awareness that it is “I” who is doing the observing of the experience. In an NDE we remain aware that it is “I” who is doing the thinking as well as the experiencing. There is a vast difference between the two states of mind; these two states of being.
As I think about what I have written here and toss it about in my mind, there are three points that strike me as most important.
Even though I have had a near death experienced, I cannot be sure if it was an experiencing of what we call death or simply part of the process of dying. In either case, I remain convinced that whatever lives cannot die but only change when the matter it is housed in stops functioning for one reason or another.
What I grasped from the experience is that the moment we leave out bodies, we also leave our ego-selves; we are no longer the Jack or Jill who we identified with as being who we were with all his or her attachments and desires but rather we become fully and wholly a self, free from all encumbrances like Emerson’s rose.
That what we call life is a mere metaphor for existence. We are that we are and our concepts of birth and death are processes, not to be confused with beginnings and endings. Certainly there are elements in our bodies that are “dying and being reborn, so to speak, all the time. We are extensions of those elements and that system.
As for meaning and purpose—I conclude that there is meaning in everything and I am convinced that our purpose is in finding it.
For those interested you can read about the particle and wave phenomenon in:
The Self-Aware Universe by Amit Goswami with Richard E. Reed and Maggie Goswami, published by Tarcher/Putman.
Wholeness and the Implicate Order by David Bohn published by Routledge
God and the New Physics by Paul Davies Touchstone publications.
[NOTE: I am creating an entire written theory on life and the process we generally refer to as death. If you know of any near death experiences or have had one yourself, please share your story with me; I’m also interested in anything spiritual or metaphysical].