This article is the second in a series exploring a number of erroneous beliefs that can combine to mislead us about who we are and what is most important in our lives. I picture these illusions as existing in layers that mutually support and reinforce each other, with the superficial layers obscuring those beneath. In this article I will recount events in my life that radically reoriented my view of the world and started me on the path that has resulted in this blog and this series of articles. I include these events here as an introduction to several more of these misconceptions.
The story of the events that follow has been abstracted from my page called: Who I am and the purpose of this site (found in the header, above). If you have already read it, you may want to skip the next section (The Story) and proceed to The Implications.
It was 1992. I was driving north on Highway 19 from Albany, Georgia, headed to my job as a staff physician at a medical clinic in Leesburg. On impulse, I had turned on my car radio to a talk show, something completely out of character for me. A woman was being interviewed about a book she had just published. Just as I was about to turn the radio back off, she began recounting a tale of how she felt herself float up out of her body when she was bleeding to death, unattended, while hemorrhaging from a surgical wound in a recovery room.
I could not believe what I was hearing! The story hit me like a bolt of lightning out of the blue, as my mind flashed back to over twenty years earlier. I saw myself having coffee with a co-worker in the civil engineering office at Wright Patterson AFB, while the rest of our team was out in the field. I had joined the Air Force about two years earlier when I found out I was about to be drafted, to avoid being sent to fight in the jungles of Vietnam. At Wright Patterson, I was a lowly Airman First Class assigned to the civil engineering department as part of my training. Mary, the civilian co-worker I was sharing coffee with, was a sweet little white haired lady who was about to retire. She and I had easily become close friends within days of my arrival at Wright Patterson.
I had asked her why she had to use a cane and walked with such a limp. Mary pulled her chair close to mine and quietly began a story she said she would never tell anyone else, and added that she had no idea why she was feeling so compelled to tell me. She told me how during surgery to replace her left hip a few years earlier, while still under anesthesia, she suddenly found herself floating up and out of her body as she heard her surgeon screaming obscenities and she watched a nurse pounding on her chest. She told how she then floated away from this chaotic scene down a dark, warm, incredibly peaceful tunnel toward a bright light. A man, who she was sure was Jesus, took her by the hand as she emerged from the tunnel and asked if she would agree to go back to her body in the operating room. As soon as she said yes, she woke up in an intensive care unit where she later found out she had been transported after her surgery. Since this story conflicted so completely with my scientific training prior to joining the Air Force, it made no sense to me and I had just filed it away in back of my mind as a curious mystery.
In the two decades that had elapsed since my one conversation with Mary about her experiences during her operation in 1970, I had not heard or read about any other people leaving their bodies when their hearts had stopped. As I sat in my car after pulling off the road, I heard Betty Jean Eadie telling nearly the exact same story from her book Embraced by the Light . How could this be? What are the odds that both of these women, whom had absolutely no contact with each other’s story in any way, would have nearly identical hallucinations with such eerily similar details? And while they were both clinically dead, no less! This was so incredibly unlikely to be just a coincidence that it would be like I had grabbed a handful of Scrabble tiles, tossed them up in the air, and had them land in a nice, neat row spelling my own name.
Why did the similarity of these stories shock me? The answer to this question is important, but it will take some careful explanation. It is well worth digging into, though, since it leads directly into some of the false assumptions profoundly impacting the quality of our lives (the main point of the first article). I will begin my approach to it through a synopsis of some of my core beliefs about the world and how it all works that were shattered when I happened across the second NDE story while listening to my car radio in 1992.
My early education thoroughly grounded me in the scientific view of the world. I completely accepted the scientific vision of the universe as an enormously complex mega-machine. In this view, the complexity of everything that existed could be best understood by analyzing the behavior of the sub-atomic particles and forces that made it all up. Once you attained this understanding, you would know everything there is to know about it. This analytic approach to our world was not only very seductive in its precise logic, its power was confirmed by its successes in producing such modern marvels as our cell phones, personal computers, and interplanetary spacecraft, to name just a few.
Implicit in this scientific view of the world was the conviction that nothing beyond the physical plays any part in the events of our world. It sees our lives completely limited to a world that follows precise physical laws and composed of only that which we perceive with our five physical senses. For centuries, scientists have been more and more successful in producing marvelous technologies, while also finding less and less need to include any role for a spiritual influence. The consideration of anything beyond what could be physically measured was considered “unscientific” and many scientists believed such ideas were nothing more than unfounded speculation at best, or foolish superstition at worst.
Even though I was totally immersed in this scientific worldview, there were so many characteristics of the universe it left unaccounted for that I always found it to be inadequate as a complete explanation. Obviously, the large number of religions and other metaphysical beliefs of our modern societies showed that the majority of the world’s inhabitants agreed with this conviction, even if their teachings about the spiritual realm often conflict with each other. The way I have always seen things, the awesome beauty of the world’s landscapes, the incredible complexity of its flora and fauna, as well as the scientifically unexplained source of the unity and lawfulness of its components, absolutely demands that we recognize the existence of a guiding force that transcends it all. This, of course, is the realm of everything spiritual, the subject of religious doctrines and the region of any potential afterlife fate we might experience.
While most of us accept the existence of both of these images – the physical world and its spiritual source – the mental accommodations we must make to accept them both simultaneously are very subtle. We usually just take their compatibility for granted, but I will now put them under a microscope, so to speak, and ask how we can believe in a spiritual reality that is both invisible to us and which is believed to operate in completely different manner than the physical? I think the answer lies in an imaginative divide we place between the physical and the spiritual that I will call “the unbridgeable chasm.” The “chasm” is the almost complete divide between our awareness the material world on one hand, and our ability to understand an invisible, spiritual world on the other. In this understanding, the spiritual reality is something we expect to directly experience only after we die. We commonly accept that there are a few limited effects of the spiritual we can observe in our daily lives. There are the unpredictable “acts of God” in our weather, an occasional miracle, and the divinely inspired ancient teachers who wrote our sacred scriptures. For the most part, though, we understand that we directly experience only physical phenomena, and must take our ideas of the spiritual completely on faith.
In keeping with this imagined separation, we see death as a one way passage from the physical realm into a spiritual afterlife. Before our death, we completely identify with our body. After our death, most of us believe we become a “soul” that exists as a spiritual essence for eternity. This has important implications. Not only must we wait until after we die to be totally certain about what our after-death reality will hold for us, what really matters most about our present actions and behavior is how they might impact our after-death experience.
The reason the two NDE stories were such a shock to me directly involves how we imagine that this nearly impenetrable division exists between the physical and spiritual realms. The cause of this shock had two components. The first was how compelling the uncanny similarity of the messages were. I knew beyond any doubt that no physical mechanism could account for these two stories being almost identical. The second part was how this conclusion completely contradicted some of the most important assumptions that underpinned my view of the cosmos. I was shocked because I was witnessing evidence of a spiritual influence in the physical world that I never expected to see physically demonstrated in this life.
If the NDE stories contain reliable guidance, the meaning of death is very different than what most of us have always believed. During the NDE events, while the nervous system and brain have come to a complete stop, conscious awareness continues. In addition, when awareness returns to the physical body, memories gathered during this out of body experience are retained. If this is truly happening, the one way door from “life” to “after death” does not exist; our death is not an irreversible transformation from one state to another.
Who we are is also very different than we may have thought. Our conscious awareness or “soul” is actually the animating life force of our body and is only temporarily attached to it during this life we are living. Our essence is actually that of an eternal, spiritual being and what we are experiencing in our lives is an amalgam of both our spiritual essence and our mortal form. We exist as both simultaneously. And if I am a spiritual being, so is everyone else, and this implies that everyone we have loved and lost in this life are not truly gone, they are just out of contact with our current awareness.
Much hangs in the balance of whether these implications hold true or not. If these stories are reliable, we do not have to wait until after we die to know the truth about what is going on in this cosmos of ours. A more certain “knowing” should replace a more tentative faith in spiritual concepts. Past anxieties about our potential afterlife fate should give way to a more profound sense of peace, knowing that a benevolent spiritual influence is guiding it all. For most of us, our present self image of a weak, defective nature should be replaced by our awareness of the potential power of a spiritual essence that completely transcends the limits of the physical.
I do not expect you to be shocked just reading about what I experienced, since just hearing it from me won’t be compelling in the way it was for me. But the NDE stories point the way to an incredibly powerful method that anyone can use to validate and confirm their message. Can you see how the lack of a physical explanation behind the uncanny similarity of the two NDE stories provides a marker for the nonphysical connection that must be present? These stories require that an otherwise unobservable source must exist if we are to explain their similarity. This same formula has the potential for us to use to study many other aspects of nonphysical, spiritual phenomena, to not only confirm they are real, but to also investigate their nature.
The method for exploring invisible connections between physical events that I saw within these NDE stories suggested that these kinds of answers should already be available if we look in the right place with an open mind. When I began my search, I found answers I never would have expected in my wildest dreams. In addition, the confirmations I found are not based on philosophical analysis or logical arguments, they are supported by repeatable, objective observations. Ironically, the tools that make these potent insights available to us have been developed by the group that has been the most vocal in proclaiming that spiritual beliefs are nothing more than elaborate superstition – the scientific community.
These reliable answers are only now coming to the fore because it is relatively recently that the methods of science have been refined enough to make them available. They are answers to questions I never imagined could have been reliably answered in this life, and the answers paint a picture of a much more benevolent cosmos than I had ever dared to imagine. Instead of a nearly impenetrable wall between matter and spirit, we find that spirit is always intimately involved in every aspect of our world.
For the benefit of readers who lack a background in science, in the next article I will provide a brief overview of some of the methods used in the scientific research I will be reviewing. I will keep it simple, but that should be all that is needed to quite comfortably follow where we are headed.
Other, related articles that you may find interesting:
The first article in this series:
Is the world real or is it an illusion?
An article that addresses the limits of the scientific view of our world in more detail:
Five of the biggest mysteries facing modern science
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