As I finished writing my previous post on Agelessness and the words of Master Sivananda still resounded in my mind reminding me that I am the immortal Self and that in the ultimate sense there is no death, I came across the story of Jayne Smith, told in Patricia Pearson’s book Opening Heaven’s Door. Jayne, a retired teacher from Pennsylvania, had a NDE (near death experience) in 1952. For 25 years she kept it to herself to avoid being told she had had an hallucination. In any event, the NDE took place during the birth of her second child after an overdose of anesthetic which provoked a cardiac arrest. Even 50 years later, when Pearson met her, Jayne’s voice took on a musical sense of wonder as she recalled the moment:
“I felt myself rising up out of my body. I thought, this is not right, I should be unconscious but I am still awake. I know what it is, I’ve died. And I was overcome with joy because I had not been annihilated. I thought, I am still here, and I felt so grateful.”
What is striking about NDEs is that there is coherence and consciousness in what ought to be a blackout. According to Pearson, about 2% of patients hallucinate briefly before surfacing from general anesthetic, but the content of their hallucinations is disjointed and random. Unconsciousness during anesthesia, as measured by EEG, is associated with an immense quieting of brain activity.
Far from feeling disconnected, Jayne’s response was a rapturous experience of love, so intense that she worried she would shatter. An intense light displayed colours she had never seen before and on what appeared like a ridge in a luminous landscape she saw some figures that wordlessly communicated. “There was a block of knowledge”, she continued, touching again on an element that seems to feature in deeper NDEs, “or what I later suspected was a field of some kind, and I suddenly knew that I was eternal, that I was indestructible, that I always existed and I always would exist. There was no end. There was no end.“
Jayne recovered and delivered her baby and today she participates in conferences as a NDE “experiencer” or perhaps we should call her an accidental mystic. She is not alone and since there are more and more survivors of cardiac arrest due to advanced techniques of ressucitation, doctors and nurses are the first ones to hear more often such stories from their patients. Some doctors report them and most don’t as this is a nebulous area where not many scientifically educated people want to go into.
This is why reports of NDEs experienced by doctors themselves are very interesting. Of course, we have Carl Yung’s own account and many others reported in Pearson’s book but more recently, last Winter in fact, at the Yoga Retreat in the Bahamas, I had the opportunity to introduce a series of talks by Eben Alexander, a very busy neurosurgeon in Virginia who, in 2008, came down with a rare bacterial meningitis so extreme that he went into a seven-day coma. He had a 3% chance of surviving, much less emerging without brain damage. But he did survive completely intact, not before being thunderstruck by a spiritual experience. His number one bestseller Proof of Heaven tells his story in detail. His message is again one of immortality and love. In his case this knowledge came from a young feminine figure that stayed with him. He had never seen that being before but some time after he recovered he happened to locate a member of his biological family as Alexander had been adopted as a baby and had been looking for his family for many years. That’s when he was shown pictures of a biological sister who had died as a teenager and that Alexander recognized as his guiding angel.
In all cases of NDE, integration into everyday life is not easy. “In the four years since my DNE”, said Alexander, “I have been trying to come up with a world view that makes sense. We need to take down the artificial boundaries between religions, and between religion and science”. He also adds, “No one will ever have scientific proof of that realm, so the title of my book is misleading. That realm is beyond our understanding. God is a tiny little human word. There’s no way that a creation can ever fully understand the creator.”
For more information on dying and the knowledge we can draw from DNEs I highly recommend Pearson’s book. Her exhaustive scientific research is not only informative but the numerous recent accounts of NDEs she has collected are extremely comforting.