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Weekly Response Paper
Reflecting on Michelle’s Guest Lecture
After Michelle Gunther explained her NDE and how it’s affected her life, I became more certain of my existing hunches about the universe. There are many interesting ideas that she explained to the class, but it’s the way she phrased them that really caught my attention. Michelle described everything so beautifully, but she also presented her ideas with humor and sincerity. She wasn’t trying to prove anything—she was simply telling her story.
Although my “story” doesn’t contain a spectacular NDE, my beliefs and ideas intertwine very closely with Michelle’s, and several of her descriptions left me feeling awe-struck. I found it interesting that she wears a necklace with all the religious symbols—that she doesn’t have one religion, but all of them resonate with her in certain ways. This is similar to how I view religion. I see a lot of commonalities between the main religions and there are certain teachings in each of them that I find useful and interesting. Although I used to think that heaven and reincarnation were conflicting ideas, I have opened up to the possibility of their coexistence. After Michelle’s talk, I more strongly believe there isn’t a “right” religion, but religion provides a framework for understanding the abstract and confusing ideas of the universe. Because she has already experienced God’s presence, she doesn’t need a religious framework to try and understand him (or her/it)—she just does.
Although there are many other ideas I could write about, I loved how she described seeing the world in multiple “prisms” or perspectives—and that all realities are true. This idea is helping me not doubt any of my “surreal” experiences because they are a part of my reality and have affected my life profoundly. Furthermore, I’ve been trying to look at everything with a fresh eye so that I can squeeze new meanings out of the familiar.
If we were using the 1-4 scale (established at a few weeks ago), Michelle Gunther has helped me fully leap over the line from 3 to 4. Her deep understanding of my perspective and my connection to hers has opened up a new prism in seeing the world.
For this week I read up on near-death experiences in children as described by Melvin Morse in his book ‘Closer to the Light’. Specifically, the stories in this book are especially interesting when placed side by side with Michelle’s story of her near death experience when she was a child. Firstly, the reason for investigation of child near-death experiences lies in the assumptions that ‘Children don’t lie.’ in the sense that children are unlikely to fabricate stories about their experience or be exposed to prior influences that may have shaped their perceptions. In this sense, children can be considered a ‘pure’ population from whom we may glean insight to the afterlife experience, untainted.
Before it delved into anecdotal descriptions of child near-death experiences, this book first presents a novel experiment aimed at distinguishing these experiences from those that may have been generated from drug side-effects, considering that many of the children having these experiences warrant special, intense care and heavy medication due to their conditions, that may entail the experience of hallucinations due to the narcotics or stress. The results of the experiment claims that the child patients (121 patients) whom did not actually undergo the state of ‘near-death’ (cardiac arrest, deep comas) did not report any sort of experience resembling a NDE, even though they certainly describe having surreal, hypnotic, hallucinatory experiences. On the other hand, of the 12 survivors of ‘near-death’, 8 of them reported experiences of leaving their body and traveling to other realms, and other extensions of the NDE.
Certainly, this provides us with a thought-provoking insight regarding the metaphysical truth of NDE. However, there still remains room for skepticism on this matter considering the small sample size (though the results were statistically significant). If we are intending to fully engage this material from a scientific point of view, there definitely needs to be more research put into this area. Naturally though, as the author himself described, there is much resistance against doing research into this field from the medical community due to its status as pseudoscience and its ultimately objectively unverifiable claims.
February 5th, 2014
James’s Story of Reincarnation
This week, I decided to do a little research on reincarnation. As a born and raised Catholic, the focus of my faith has been on our reunion with God in Heaven, and I have never thought much about coming back to earthly life after death. In addition, I have never felt that I have had experience as something else before becoming who I am now. Maybe I just haven’t been in tune to it.
My curiosity led me to a video clip from a news program in 2013. In this segment, we meet a young boy named James. As a very young boy, James always had a fascination about WWII fighter planes and an innate knowledge about their functioning. When he was just a toddler, James began drawing pictures of war destruction, including planes being shot down and people parachuting from them. These pictures were followed by night terrors, where James woke up in a panic, describing in detail violent scenes of combat. He recalled himself feeling trapped in a plane and unable to get out. Of course, this drew the attention of James’s parents, who asked him more questions about his memory of the experience. James told his parents he was flying a Horse Air plane when he was shot down by the Japanese. He also knew from where he took off and the name of the boat he was on. These extraordinary details encouraged James’s father to investigate the validity of his story. As a non-believer of reincarnation, his father was hoping to disprove James’s story. However, he tracked down veterans of Natoma Bay, the unit James claimed to be a part of. One of the men he talked to confirmed the story of a James Houston, whose plane was over Chichijima, Japan. What is even more amazing, when James was taken to visit some of the veterans, before they introduced themselves he recognized them by name.
Next, James’s family brought him to James Houston’s sister, Ann. Amazingly, James knew details about this family that he would never have known as a stranger, including that he had another older sister named Ruth. He also recalled his favorite childhood possessions and a picture James Houston’s mother over painted of Annie, something only Annie, James, and Ruth knew about.
As word got out about James’s incredible story, a Japanese film crew flew the little boy out to Chichijima, Japan, the site of James Houston’s plane crash. Without any help, James knew exactly where the crash took place. The experience was incredibly emotional for James, but cathartic. After he got back home, the drawings of war scenes turned from violent and destructive, to peaceful.
This extraordinary story has really opened my eyes to the idea of reincarnation. Although I can never be completely sure of the truth behind this news story, I am inclined to trust James and his family. When the speaker came into class the other day, she said that energy cannot be destroyed; only recycled. Reincarnation may not happen with everyone, and most people may not even be aware if they have lived an earthy life before, but this story and countless others like it do offer important evidence that should be considered.
I read a near death experience that really stood out to me as different. A teenager named “Nobel” started dating a girl in 1989 that had previously been sexually abused in her past. She got in a car wreck and Nobel helped her battle insurance claims for 4 years. In 1991, their money problems got so bad Nobel had to file for bankruptcy. After battling medical problems and just having a rocky relationship from communication problems, his girlfriend cheated on him the week of their 5th anniversary. He had also sustained an ankle injury falling down a staircase that led to him losing his job. One day he crawled up a hill and took 60 Valium tabs. He remembers 15 minutes going by before passing out. He experienced very bright, flashing lights quickly moving over him, he was unable to hear or speak at the time. He was standing in a bright room but his eyes didn’t hurt. Then he heard voices talking about him. The voices were discussing if he should stay or go back, when suddenly a voice whispered to him, “you’ll be fine, don’t worry”, followed by the discussion ending with, “he must return, more to learn, more to do, more lives to effect… but he will need help”. Then he went back through the quickly moving flashes and woke up on the hill. What felt like 5 minutes for him was actually an hour. He tried to throw up the pills, but nothing came out. He crawled to a payphone and called a friend. He stayed the night there and somehow was un-phased by the 60 Valium tabs he had taken. He had a new appreciation for life and was able to communicate better with people. He was able to understand other people’s feelings and has psychic abilities from time to time. He retells times where he just felt like saying certain details about people his interacting on the phones and them actually being true. He blames his experience on the hill for his psychic abilities and says he is much happier now.
I don’t know how to react to this story. I find his experience more believable than his ability to survive taking 60 Valium tabs. However, with an open mind I will say that during the moments where he should have been experiencing death, his profound experience could have been communication with a higher power, letting him know that his time was not up, and that his trying to take his own life was premature from what he was destined to do, and that through other people he’ll be able to make new differences.
My skeptic side feels more at home with me on this story however. I correlate his experience with a mixture of stress and use of drugs. With him surviving the 60 tabs, I would have to say they were duds and he just had a vivid dream. However, the best part of these NDE’s whether I believe they are true or not, is that they change people’s lives for the better and there’s no problem in believing in something if it better’s you as a person.
Strait, New Material
Electrode Connections Produce Out-of-Body Experience
One of the sensations commonly reported by individuals who have had a near-death experience is the feeling of floating out of ones body and being able to look down upon it, as if they were a stranger. Often cited as proof of the independence of the mind and spirit, doctors in Switzerland have been able to reproduce this floating out-of-body experience through the use of electrodes. Neurologist Olaf Blanke, from Geneva University Hospital, was treating a woman for epilepsy when he decided to “electrically stimulate” the right angular gyrus of the brain (Blanke, Ortigue, Landis & Seeck, 2002). The right angular gyrus is responsible for integrating visual information, and using that information to create the mind’s representation of the individual’s own body. Information used includes sensations such as balance and “feedback from limbs about their position in space” (Blanke, Ortigue, Landis & Seeck, 2002).
According to one researcher involved with this new discovery, we all have “representation’s of our entire body that can be dissociated from our real body” (Blanke, Ortigue, Landis & Seeck, 2002). Thus it is possible that, although this has only been studied using this one woman, anyone exposed to the electrodes would be able to seemingly leave their body when this region is stimulated. In conjunction with reports by those who have experienced this out-of-body experience in a near-death situation, the woman involved in this discovery reports feeling as though she was floating above her body. When asked to look at her raised hand (she was awake and able to speak during this procedure) she reported that it seemed as though it was about to punch her (Blanke, Ortigue, Landis & Seeck, 2002). This report leads some to draw connections between this ‘alien-hand syndrome’ and the phantom limb syndrome many amputees experience, possibly linking both to out-of-body experiences.
The author made sure to cover the important points of the procedure, and what all persons involved got out of it. Yet to me they seem skeptical about the whole topic of near-death and out-of-body experiences, because they are sure to include details that let the reader know this is an individual case, and that many out-of-body experiences are possibly connected to the paranormal. I found this article interesting because it showed how there are still mysteries within our brains; I do not think we will ever know all the workings of this powerful organ. In the future if they are able to reproduce this stimulation on others and produce the same result, I believe it will cause a great stir in the world of near-death experiences and those who believe in them.
What I want to share with the class this week has to do with a practice I have recently learned of and a new idea of this word ‘enlightenment’ that has been made apparent to me. If you were to ask me about enlightenment before I learned of the philosophies and practices of TM, I would have said that it was simply a Buddhist belief that I could take or leave. It didn’t seem all that appealing to be honest. To be enlightened to me previously meant that the entire world appears as such quintessence of nothingness and so insignificant that the enlightened person is simply embodied in this earth while living in a higher, more connected reality. To me it was the idea of living inside this network of all knowing and unconditional love which sounds romantic, but whenever I thought of such existence I felt slightly uncomfortable because I love the world of ups and downs and not always knowing what will happen next.
As a guest speaker in my class with Ed Sarath began describing the TM hierarchy of consciousness I was right there with her through the first four levels. She drew a picture of waves at the top of a blackboard and used the image of deep sea diving as an analogy for each step. On the surface you have the day to day in and out consciousness of waking, sleeping dreaming. These are the undeniable three that every human goes through each and every day. They are the most consistent and yet the most vulnerable to constant change. The currents of the sea wash and push and toss and turn with these three levels of consciousness as we are moved by external forces in every day activity. The next level of consciousness is the essence of our class: Transcended consciousness. When one transcends they have, just momentarily, taken a dive deep down into the ocean. Near the bottom there may still be some small lingering effects of our external world for instance remembering your name, others names, relationships etc. The point is that at this depth you are no longer affected by the motion at the surface. You have reached (again momentarily) this deeply internal place of Self (the capital S implying a more connected Self free of ego) a place of calm and quiet, and in this stillness you learn about the insignificance of all the turbulence above. NDE’s are certainly moments of transcendence into this realm of all being. The next level is cosmic transcendence. These are the more profound experiences where you may have lost a sense of self all together. Think of ‘Proof of Heaven’ for instance where he has reached a place of such unconditioned being that there is no longer any distinction between anything but you see the world as a completely interconnect network maybe the way physicists see it as nothing more than different compositions of empty space, energy and consciousness. Godly transcendence and finally Eternal transcendence are the last two. These fully encompass the idea of enlightenment. By diving into the depths of being time and time again one begins to separate. Their cognitive function of lowercase self returning to the surface but the practice has opened a doorway that allows this person to live in this transcended world at all times. It can be described as laying on the ocean floor noticing the motion, maybe interacting with the motion far above but always living beneath. The self you see above is merely a reflection or vessel going about the motions above but not being subject to any external forces because they are not real to this person. They live in the network of interconnectedness far, far below but can still participate in the waking, sleeping, dreaming, waking, sleeping, dreaming with purpose and with knowing. This is a beautiful idea because the joy and pleasures of the world we live in are not lost. They are enjoyed, experienced and cherished but without ever forgetting that the effects and emotions mixed in the turbulence is superficial. You can take and appreciate the beauty without feeling the stress or anxiety that comes along. Your body and mind are simply a reference you have been given to experience this surface world while your soul has fully transcended this place and lives in constant and complete love. The unconditional and all encompassing love that is the essence of everything and every where.
February 5, 2014
Week 4 – The Skeptics
This week, I decided to focus a bit on the skeptics (materialists) and the ecosystem that the skeptics surround themselves in about the topic of NDEs. I read two articles from the website (skeptico.com), There is Nothing Paranormal About Near-Death Experiences, Dr. Jan Holden Disagrees, and, Dr.Caroline Watt Defends, There is Nothing Paranormal About Near-Death Experiences. These articles are in the form of an interview where the interviewer speaks to a guest. Reading these two articles gave me an insight as to how the materialist/skeptic community “fights” against research and studies being done in the area of NDEs.
In the first article, Dr. Jan Holden discusses her opinion on a paper that was published in a journal called TiCS: Trends in Cognitive Sciences. The title of the paper is “There is nothing paranormal about near-death experiences: how neuroscience can explain seeing bright lights, meeting the dead, or being convinced you are one of them”. It nit-picks various points and speculations that NDE researchers had made in the past, and basically talk about how those points can be explained in terms of neurological behaviors. It brings up how certain chemicals can reproduce some of the experiences of NDErs – for example, traveling through a tunnel, darkness turning into light, and a sense that one is communicating with god. Dr. Jan Holden then goes through and talks about how incomplete the paper is in terms of citing. For example, she points out how the paper talks about how Van Lommel’s article referred to the idea of a REM, but upon doing a search on the Van Lommel article, it turns out Van Lommel did not even mention REM. Dr. Jan Holden thinks the paper is merely something that appeals to the materialistic/reductionist point of view (not something comprehensive or even novel), and it is shameful that the peer-review system in academia failed to detect errors in the paper.
In the other interview, Dr.Calorine Watt, who is the author of the long-named paper, responds to some of the questions raised in the previous interview with Dr.Holden. Incidentally, Dr.Watt is a parapsychologist who is well versed in this area of study. She was approached by neuroscientist Dean Mobbs to co-write the paper together. Initially the title was way less provocative – it was “Can neuroscience explain NDEs?”. However, the journal wanted something that sounded controversial, so the two were asked to change the title to catch more attention. She believes it was a good title for that kind of context, where the audience was mostly neuroscientists. It was designed to provoke a debate. However, she later agrees that the paper was by no means meant to be comprehensive.
I thought it was interesting that there is this sort of battle between the “believers” and the “non-believers”, but I was actually somewhat disappointed by how the battle is based on nit-picking each other’s article about tiny details. Also, it is scary to think how the scientific community has a biased view provided by these papers that get published by journals, even when there could be obvious errors in the paper themselves.
New Material: Group NDE
In many of the groups I have been in for discussion during class, we have brought up the notion that we cannot experimentally test whether or not Near Death Experiences are true. I thought that a good alternative to experiments to test NDEs would be if multiple people had the same experience. Thus, I began to look for material depicting group NDEs; I found two main sources that spoke of the phenomenon of group NDEs. The first was a section of the website http://www.near-death.com. This website shared many stories of near-death experiences. On their group NDE page, http://www.near-death.com/group.html, the website explains what group NDEs are, and presents two examples. The website cites P.M.H. Atwater for their definition of a group NDE:
These are rare, but they do occur. With this kind, a whole group of people simultaneously seems to experience the same or similar episode. What makes these so spectacular and challenging is that all or most of the experiencers see each other actually leave their bodies as it happens, then dialogue with each other and share messages and observations while still experiencing the near-death state. Their separate reports afterward either match or nearly so. Reports like these emerge most often from events of a harrowing nature that involve a lot of people… Shared and group experiences imply that no matter how sure we are that near-death states mean this or that, and are the result of whatever, no single idea, theory, or pat answer can explain them. Even clues from the powerful patterning that researchers like myself have identified, fail to explain all aspects of the phenomenon.
Following this definition, two stories of group NDEs are presented. I further researched P.M.H. Atwater and came across a book of hers entitled The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Near-Death Experiences. This book provides great, simple to understand information about NDEs, and is available online through the Mirlyn catalogue.
New Material: Spirituality
Doctor Melvin Morse got his start in medicine, but has since become enthralled by near-death experiences, and has put a great deal of work into both understanding them, and sharing his findings with others. In a two-part lecture, available on YouTube, he begins to explain the connections he has drawn between NDE and Spirituality, and how society today may be impacting how we look at these events.
Morse begins his lecture by explaining in short how science can be used to support some of the findings of NDEs. He notes that there is an area of the brain that specifically addresses this phenomenon, and that that is partially what makes it possible. He quickly shifts gears, however, and notes that spirituality is far more integral to the possibility of an NDE, and that for those who have the experience, this is often the aspect that has the longest lasting impact. “The fact that science cannot grapple with life after death doesn’t bother me at all, ” he said. This affirms his belief, based on his research and those with whom he interacts, that though science has some involvement in NDEs, it is largely based in faith and spirituality—two things he believes we neglect in modern society.
The mother of a young boy who had an NDE brings this concept to life, when she speaks during Morse’s lecture. She tells the story of her young son who was gravely ill, so much so that he couldn’t speak. Upon recovering, he told is parents that he had died, and told them about his experiences traveling from dark to light, and entering a space where he was completely free of pain. He mentions that he was visited to a man, who spoke to him with his heart, explaining that he would return. The boy’s mother said that she was stunned by this, but had no doubt that it was true, because her son had been isolated for his entire life due to his illness. She was confident that society’s views of spirituality and the afterlife had not affected him, but that this is truly what happened to him. She also explained the heartbreaking reality of how her was bullied and teased by other children about his experience, because they could not relate to his stories.
Morse’s view of spirituality, and this young boy’s story, are a strong parallel to the story of Michelle, who spoke in class about her NDE. Many of her stories about her experience after returning from the other side involve reflection on spirituality. She, like Morse, feels that many people in today’s society are wrapped up in technology and other things and fail to see through them into the “other reality” that she experienced in her NDE. Additionally, like the young boy in Morse’s video, Michelle had her NDE as a young child, at an age where she wasn’t entirely able to digest what had happened, and vocalize it to those around her. This connection between children’s experiences and spirituality truly spoke to me. Given that children are often unaffected by society’s perception of certain spiritual happenings, I find it refreshing that they are able to walk away from these experiences having learned so much. Though they undergo many hardships while trying to express themselves, they appear to be better people, leading more fulfilled lives, which is an excellent outcome of such an overwhelming experience.
YouTube links to Morse’s lecture:
New material: Life review
I was intrigued by Parnia’s chapter 5, “What It’s Like to Die”– specifically, Steve’s story regarding the life review aspect of near death experiences. Different than many of the NDE experiences we have read about so far in class, this story is not all about positive feelings. Steve was an American man who died of an asthma attack. Instead of seeing the common light that many people describe, Steve was surrounded by a faded blue grey color. While Steve was not sure who was beside him and could not see anyone there, he felt a being next to him whose presence filled the area with power and reassurance.
Next, Steve describes his life review; that is, the key moments in his life. However, Steve was not simply watching them from above– he was re-experiencing the moments himself, through the eyes of the other people who helped make up the experiences and from a higher power, all at the same time. While experiencing his life review from different points of views, Steve felt the pain of those he hurt throughout his life. He was left feeling horrified and ashamed of himself for not realizing the consequences of his actions sooner. Just as this terrible feeling started to sink in, Steve claims he felt the powerful being next to him send him a message, reminding Steve that he is only human and that everyone makes mistakes. Still, Steve felt like a total failure and started to question who he really was. The journey back into his body was extremely painful.
Steve now describes his near death experience as a wake up call and a chance to redeem himself of his prior actions. Similar to the other near death experiences we have read about, Steve transformed into a better person because of his experience. He says he is motivated to make his life review more positive and pleasant to re-experience next time he is on the other side. I’m still grappling with these stories– floating between levels two and three. I appreciated this honest account of how maybe not every experience on the other side is perfect, adding another layer of complexity to these experiences.
February 3, 2014
I chose this week to write about the incredible near death experience of a teenager from Macomb County, Michigan. He was 17 years old and a junior in high school when he was shot and nearly killed by one of his “friends”. He has told his story on YouTube, which has since gone viral.
The following is his story, told from his point of view:
I was just a regular kid, a 17-year-old skater and junior in high school. I knew this kid, my “friend”, for 10 years prior. He kept asking me to take him to his cousin’s house on the east side of Detroit. I was like; no I’m not taking you to the east side. The east side of Detroit is like a third world country. When someone gets shot there, the cops don’t come. They wait until the shooting stops and come to collect the body. But my friend kept bugging me to take him. He kept asking and asking. He was like, c’mon man; I’ll even give you 30 bucks for gas. Finally after a few weeks of him asking me over and over again I said yes.
So the day finally comes, and after class we stop for gas. Sure enough he pays 30 bucks for it. We get to the east side and I just have this weird eerie feeling. It’s broad daylight out, we’re in a neighborhood, there’s people walking around and he’s telling me where to go but I still just have this weird feeling like something wasn’t right. Finally he says, “There’s the house” and tells me to drive around back. I see these “caution” signs and “do not enter signs” but there was a house, and a fence and grass, and I felt weird but just thought, I know this kid. So we get out of the car and a couple seconds later we hear two gunshots. I think “man, that was close” but then I look down and my arm is hangin’ off. I look down and I’m like, “that’s not real”. And then all of a sudden look down again and see blood and it all becomes real–the pain, everything. I turn around and look at the kid and go “did you just shoot me?” and then the kid shoots me again, right in the chest. I drop to my knees and feel a barrel on my head. I can’t see anything at this point but I smack it away. It was a shotgun, though, so it sprayed. It still hit me in the head good, but didn’t blow it up like a watermelon. Then I get a little sight and I’m like, okay, I’m still moving, but I don’t know what’s going on with my head. Then I look up at the kid, and he’s staring at me, and then he smashes my face with the butt of his gun, knocking all my teeth out.
At this point I can still see, but I don’t know how I could have because of the shots in my heart and head. I feel hands in my pocket, looking for my keys. I look up and see the kid flying away in my car. I think, okay well I can either stay, lay down in this spot and die, or I can try and get up. I take out my left arm, even with a gunshot bigger than a soup bowl in the middle of my chest, and start trying to push myself off the ground. I kept trying, kept trying, and then thought, “okay, one last try”. Then, I felt arms helping me up. I looked around, but I didn’t see anyone. I was just standing up still like a drunk zombie. Then I got like, a shove from behind to go forward. I went like, 7 or 8 feet then fell down and hit my stomach. Then I thought, “Okay, well, I went as far as I could. This shit’s hurting. I’m just gonna close my eyes and relax.” Sure enough, I start relaxing and close my eyes and all the pains starts going away. Then I’d snap back awake real fast and think, “That’s not right, I just got shot 30 seconds ago, how is the pain stopping?” Then I’d think, “Ah don’t worry about it, go back to sleep. It’s a good feeling when you’re sleeping.” I’d pass out again, like, I was dying. Then I’d wake myself up in the third person, “Hey man! Get up man, you’re dying!”
Then I heard, “Hey! Hey!” and heard a guy running over to me. It was a probation officer who had seen me fall out of the woods. He said, “Hey man you’re fine the ambulance is coming.” But I was like, “Man, I just wanna sleep.” But then I thought, “No, you don’t, cause if you fall asleep you’re sleepin’ forever.” Then I’m gettin’ on the stretcher in the ambulance. The paramedic has this stunned look on his face but at the same time keeps telling me how great and how beautiful I look. Then I black out. All of a sudden I’m outside the ambulance on my skateboard, like filming the whole thing through a telephoto lens. I see the doors to the ambulance open, see legs coming out, but once it gets to my head coming out, boom. Everything is black. I was pronounced dead on arrival.
I had heart surgery and was given 24 hours to see if I was still breathing on a ventilator. I woke up 3 days later. I remember waking up and it was still all white everywhere. I thought, “I’m dead. I’m seventeen and I’m dead. “But then I started to see some curtains, an oxygen tank, and then BOOM I had perfect vision again. It turns out the kid shot me because he had to choose a random person to kill so that he could be initiated into a gang. It took me a long time to stop feeling depressed and unlucky, but after maturing I have a whole new view on life. This experience makes me happy to be alive and I’m just so grateful for everything. I look at what I have, not everything I don’t have.
Here is a link to his amazing story–I highly recommend listening to him tell it; he is a great storyteller!
“A Nonbeliever’s Near Death Experience”
My search for this week was a story of an atheist whose near death experience was different from what we have been exposed to so far. I came upon a blog for secular parents who want to discuss religion with their children at some point. Wendy Thomas Russell, who began this blog, came upon a story of an 18-year old boy who went viral on YouTube when he shared his three near-death experiences and the happiness he found from them, similar to what we have seen in our readings and stories. She does believe that Breedlove saw bright lights and felt a deep sense of calmness but she does not believe that it is evidence of another realm. Rather, they are hallucinations and brain “malfunctions” from the drugs combined with the amazing human imagination. Wendy, a “nonbeliever,” had a near-death experience while she was in college due to a terrible allergic reaction to the peanuts in her cheesecake at a restaurant. She lost consciousness and ended up in full respiratory arrest and the paramedics had a hard time getting oxygen back to her lungs. In the ER, she was in a coma and the doctors were concerned she would come back with severe brain damage. In terms of her near-death experience, she cannot pin point when it happened but believes it was after she lost consciousness and before being stabilized in the hospital. Instead of seeing angels and bright lights guiding her to heaven, she saw the feet of people at her funeral as if she was sitting under a table watching, black dress shoes scurrying around on a wooden floor. While watching those people at her funeral, she did not feel depressed, scared, or sad, she felt peaceful acceptance just like other people have felt who have gone through an NDE. She also makes it clear that she is not undermining Breedlove’s experience but making the point NDEs are differentiated by people’s unique backgrounds, personalities, and values. They both got a glimpse into what comes after-death and it was different for both.
Reading Wendy’s experience really made me think about the possibility that what happens after death may be different for each individual person. Either possibility seems to leave the individual in a state of peace and acceptance of the end of that life they had just lived. I still am unsure where I stand on the spectrum of near-death experiences and I don’t think I will ever know. Sometimes, it is more exciting to imagine a whole other realm out there in the unknown just because we can. I do not have strong opinions against any individual’s story because I believe “the truth of life” is all relative to one’s beliefs. Each individual finds their own path with their own values to live their lives and I don’t think it is anyone’s right to disapprove or disrespect that. The one common theme I have found among all of these individuals is the appreciation and openness they have after they come back along with the fearlessness of what happens next, all feelings that seem essential for a happy life.
The Two Million-Year-Old Self by Anthony Stevens is a very interesting read to help understand the future of the unconscious. Stevens describes different archetypes of the collective unconscious and presents different interesting examples. Stevens explores the ways that the contemporary world both frustrates and fulfills the basic needs of the unconscious. The chapter that I chose to take a deeper look at covers Dreams. Stevens describes the importance of dreams and considers different aspects in the interpretation of dreams. Stevens gives a clear example of the way the archetypes could shape the meaning of a person’s dream. He also states, “The forces in the contemporary world which are hostile to nature are also hostile to our dreams, and that we will continue to maltreat our environment as long as we maltreat ourselves.” He does go on further to better illustrate this argument. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in reading more about the archetypes of collective unconscious and the interaction between the unconscious and the world.
This week I decided to look for video documentation of a near death experience. I was particularly inspired by the presentation we had in class on Monday. I have found that I am more perceptive to the possibility of NDE when I can see the individual telling the story. I sifted through many different videos and eventually settled on an interview between Betty Eadie and Oprah Winfrey. Betty Eadie wrote a book called “Embraced by the Light” in 1992. It was a New York Time’s Bestseller for many, many weeks. In her interview, she outlines her book that focuses on her near death experience that was caused by a hemorrhage during her hysterectomy in 1973. In her NDE, she was taken by three angelic beings and they visited different places on earth, checking in on her family members. She saw a white light and when she finally approached it, she found herself in the presence of Jesus Christ. She was then washed over by a feeling of great and immense joy. Next, she saw her life in review. This review focused both on the positive and the negative actions she had done to others. In this experience, she was an interactive part of the viewing, she could feel the pain and happiness that she had caused to someone else through every moment of her life. After enjoying her time with Jesus Chris, she was told that she was in the right place but at the wrong time. She protested her return to her body, but was eventually persuaded to go back to earth.
While the author’s tale is similar to many others, her vivid commentary about her insight on spirits was what captivated me. She talked about a recycling of souls/energies. There are different spirits with Jesus Christ (she called it Heaven) who are sent down into bodies to live on earth. She said that spirits tend to pick their own families and are incredibly excited to come down to the world. The stronger spirits are sent to more dysfunctional families. All of the spirits understand that regardless of which life they lead, it is most important that they learn, love, and grow while on earth.
The author interprets this story as an important life lesson. What she felt was most important from the experience was that it is important to learn and to love. The author also believes that since there was such an interest in her book, there is a natural curiosity that exists surrounding NDE. This curiosity can lead to spiritual growth, which is the whole mission.
Overall, I recognize that the story is very similar to other stories that we have heard from NDE. I felt that her story was believe due to her level of enthusiasm and sincerity while she explained her journey. I also found that her perspective and understanding of spirits to be interesting. Similar to the speaker on Monday, I believe in the idea of recycled energies. I find that Betty Eadie’s story makes the idea of spirits and their involvement in the mortal world a more understandable concept.
This week I chose to watch two different documentaries about near death experiences. The first one was a short documentary by Cavern Films that described the experiences of three different people who had had near death experiences. A common theme throughout all of these experiences was the love and comfort that they felt when they entered into this new realm of consciousness. One described it as feeling like a parent was holding them and they felt protected and safe. It was because of this feeling that they were content with what was happening and were not scared of what was going on even though this place was unknown to them. They all talked about an intense, brilliant light in which they moved towards. Even the atheist within the group described it as experiencing heaven or time with God when they were in this light. All of these elements parallel the stories that I have heard before watching this documentary and adds to the construct that I am starting to form for near death experiences.
In the other documentary I watched, Unexplained Mysteries: Dead and Back Again, a lot of the same features were a part of the stories that were told. Most described being guided by a light and one story in particular described a blue light. I thought that this was especially interesting because when we did the in-class activity with everyone describing their own near death experiences a couple of people described a blue light that was guiding them. In the documentary, the blue light was said to be alluding to the Jewish mystical version of heaven. I think it would be interesting to ask those classmates who described this experience with the blue light what religion they associate themselves with to see if it proves the Jewish theory presented in the documentary.
Another interesting feature of one of the near death experiences I had heard about was a woman’s description of energy transfer. She believed that she was able to survive a car crash because of the strength that was given to her from the energy extracted from her husband’s dead body that lay near her. This idea of energy transfer was brought up in a discussion we had in class and how some believe that energy from individuals never is eliminated when people die by instead transferred to something or someone else. I think this would be another topic to explore further and see if this viewpoint is more scientifically based versus the spiritual approach many have been taking when examining near death experiences.
Psych 401: Anything
Twenty or so years ago my step brother Tim, then twenty something, had knee surgery as a result of a major sport incident. The operation appeared to had gone as planned however soon after Tim realized that not all had gone as planned. During post-OP he quickly told the nurses that he was experiencing an ever increasing pain in this chest and body, and it was getting worse alarmingly fast. Doctors investigated and soon discovered that Tim has blood clot, most certainly a result from his knee surgery, spread to his lungs. This complication was life threatening and it was critical he be rushed back into surgery to correct the problem. However, as he was being rushed back into surgery Tim described entering different state of consciousness. He says he cannot be certain it was not a NDE but whether or not people believe it was or not never really concerned him. He just remembers at first the pain he was experiencing was unbelievably intense. So intense that one could not possibly think about anything else other than when this sort of pain will end. He said it was the worst pain he had and probably ever will feel. However, something remarkable happened. In what he described as in an instant, all the pain was gone and his consciousness was transported to a different place. In a snap, the excruciating pain vanished. He was outside himself, he was transported to what he described as a tunnel. In his words, everything you can see right now around you was suddenly put onto a screen, then pushed out in front of you twenty or so yards, and around it as it is pushed away is a vast void of complete darkness, of nothingness, a tunnel of sorts. He remembers knowing he could not touch it, the “TV”. Looking at this screen was like looking at the place, the operating room, he was just “in”, but he was outside of that now, looking at it from a completely new different perspective. The weirdest part he said was the calm. In the blink of an eye all pain was gone. In an instant he felt very calm, very peaceful, and was not scared, and on top that it was all very matter of fact. He said he was very conscious during it all. He remembers thinking vaguely for a moment, that sense of some change was coming, not death necessarily, but a very profound feeling he does not understand.
This week, I had the fortune of coming across near death experience references in a couple different media outlets. The first one was on a recent episode of a television show that is currently airing on ABC called Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. This show, which is about supernatural investigations imbedded behind the scenes in the world as we know it, explores many NDE philosophies because the premise of the show is based off of a mysterious NDE that occurred to the main character, Agent Coulson, in the popular Marvel film The Avengers. Although it is in the fantasy science fiction genre, the story obviously draws from common occurrences and references of NDE.
Prior to the episode, Agent Coulson knew that he had died for an unspecified amount of time (he assumed it was around 10 seconds), but the only memory after that was of him relaxing in Fiji on the beach with a masseuse and tropical drinks. He was repeatedly told that it was a magical place where he recovered. However, he always knew in the back of his mind that there was something mysterious and unexplained in his recollection. Also, the people around him that he trusted acted suspiciously. In this episode, Coulson finally is able to look into the true memory with the aid of an fMRI-type machine that replicated brain waves in order to sync with his own brain waves to relive the past experience. This experience can be likened to meditation, which isolates the surrounding environment to hone in on what’s deep down in one’s mind.
When reliving this experience, Coulson pops out of his body while he is dead and sees machines working on his brain, fixing it up and implanting fake memories of his recovery period. He recalls conversations doctors having saying that what they were doing was morally wrong, which are later confirmed by Coulson’s confrontation with those same doctors. Furthermore, Coulson vividly remembers screaming in his mind (but not audibly) that he just wanted to die. He desperately wanted to die because it was the right thing to do, or destined. Also, this experience is in line with our readings because the consciousness while dead is usually in a place of love, peace, and serenity. Lastly, we read about cases where the NDE individual was very distraught once coming back and angry that they had to leave the place they had gone to, which also resonates with Coulson’s experience in the show.
After watching this show and exploring the concept of duality following the presentation on Monday, I thought a lot about the common phrase “mind over matter.” I wonder about the origins of the phrase “mind over matter”. Did the creator of this phrase believe in dualism? One way to think of this phrase is to believe “mind” and “matter” are two completely separate things and preference lies to one side over the other because they are so distinguishable. I picture someone becoming more conscious of the distinctions between what is their mind and what is their body thus letting their mind take over instead of focusing on things such as physical pain.
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