William B Stoecker
Lessons from the other side
December 21, 2019 | 5 comments
Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 erpete
On the night of 6/12/2018 my wife and I were in our living room watching TV when, to her shock and horror, she noticed that I was dead. I was sitting upright, eyes slightly open, unable to hear or respond to her. She checked my pulse and there was none, so she called 911 and began CPR. The first responders continued attempts to resuscitate me, as did the Kaiser Permanente (on Morse Avenue in Sacramento, CA) emergency room doctors. At some point, after being flat-lined for at least five or ten minutes, possibly longer, they revived me, but I "coded" again at least once, before they got my heart more or less steadily beating. I had suffered a sudden heart attack due to a plaque-filled coronary artery. I did not regain consciousness, and they put me in a medically induced coma for over a day. Coming out of the coma I was weak, in pain from the CPR damaging my sternum, and completely out of my head until the coma-inducing drugs wore off. I kept trying to escape the hospital and had to be tied down by security. Eventually, the good doctors performed a procedure to clear my artery with a kind of roto-rooter apparatus and then inserted stints. Basically, I endured the kind of medical ordeal that is all too common for elderly people; many of my friends have suffered far more than I did. Before I was released from the hospital, my cardiologist informed me that I was incurably, terminally ill with congestive heart failure. But we are all terminally ill... our bodies are mortal. Some 18 months later I am working out and feeling better than at any time since my heart attack.
One instant you can be alive and seemingly well, and an instant later you have no idea what has happened or where you are. Well, Toto, you're not in Kansas anymore.
I remember very little of what happened when my body was clinically dead. I do not remember ascending to a beautiful Heaven or being cast into a fiery pit. I remember no tunnel with a light at the end, and I was not greeted by God or by my many loved ones who passed on before me. But I remember floating in space and feeling that I had no body... no legs or arms, no pain or physical pleasure. I seemed to be pure consciousness, and I saw before me what seemed at first glance a portal into a colorful garden, which I hoped was Heaven. I knew at that point that my body had died and I feared going to Hell. I started to move toward the portal, but realized that the colors were all wrong, so I stayed where I was. Note that I could see more or less normally, in color, and I was absolutely certain that I had full freedom of movement, unhindered by gravity. I sensed that I could move in any direction at any speed. Aside from fearing what might happen next and feeling lonely, I was in no distress whatever. This part of my experience seemed to last a few seconds, but time is very, very subjective, especially if you have no body and are not tied to the entropy clock.
Later, restored to life in a body, I realized that the "portal" I saw was a computer screen, a patient monitor. The color patterns matched perfectly. I cannot prove that this vision didn't happen after my heart was beating again and I had regained consciousness. But why did I feel that I had no physical body, and why did I know that the body I used to inhabit had died? All I can say is that I am absolutely certain that I had abandoned that body. In addition to this one clear memory, I also have a vague memory of something like a valley, and I know now that the old gospel song that tells us we must one day walk "that lonesome valley" is true. After leaving the hospital I watched a video on TV, taken from the ISS, and the sight of the beautiful blue Earth from space gave me a flashback. I felt the way I had felt in the hospital. I have no idea if this means anything... maybe I had floated up into space and maybe not. Most people who have clinically died and been revived report having a kind of pseudo-body or "astral" body. I have no reason to doubt them, and British researcher and author Rupert Sheldrake has argued for something he calls a "biomorphic field" in all living organisms, including people, that tells the right kind of cells to develop in various parts of the body. In fact, the development of embryos is almost impossible to explain without such a field, although conventional biologists would deny this. This field might at least temporarily survive bodily death... it would become the "astral body." I have no idea why my experience was different, but, given my apparent invulnerability to pain or injury, my clear vision, and my apparent freedom of movement, I cannot say that I missed having a body.
Since leaving the hospital I have gradually had seeming revelations of important truths. I cannot prove that these are anything but my own flawed, subjective opinions, but, to me at least, they all make perfect sense. I feel that I experienced much more than I consciously remember, and I suspect that I was given some form of instruction. Traditional societies in the past often had tribal shamans, people who had journeyed to the spirit world (usually by less drastic means than physical death) and returned with knowledge and understanding and often with strange powers, such as the ability to heal people. Regrettably, I have no such powers; I seem to be only a minor or junior shaman. But I think the knowledge I have now is real and could be of value to others.
To begin with, my experience seems to confirm a view I have held for over twenty years and have written about previously. Most people, whether they realize it or not, are philosophical materialists, possibly because our ruling elites have literally programmed us for this. They believe that the primary reality is matter, or, in the parlance of modern physics, mass/energy/space/time... the measurable physical universe. Of course, no one can ultimately define matter; at best we can rather imperfectly describe it. Materialists believe that mind/spirit/consciousness is a mere secondary manifestation of matter, with the brain being a kind of electrochemical computer. If pressed, a materialist may do something like pounding on a table and claiming that it is solid and real because he can see and touch it.
Aside from the fact that quantum mechanics assures us that matter is not really solid in any conventional sense, how does the materialist really know with absolute certainty that the table is real, independent of his mind? How does he know that he can see and touch it? The answer is that he only thinks that it is real. But thought is what a mind does; in fact, a mind is composed of thoughts. In other words, the only thing any of us can be absolutely certain of is that we think, that consciousness exists. Yet materialists, imagining that they are being tough minded, scientific, and coldly rational, insist that matter, whose independent existence cannot be proven, is the prime reality, and consciousness or spirit (I use these terms interchangeably) is scarcely real at all. On the face of it, isn't this backward reasoning?
We philosophical idealists believe that mind (spirit), which, ultimately, we cannot define, is the prime reality, and that consciousness creates and sustains the physical universe by thinking it. This means that we are spirits dreaming that we have bodies, not physical beings vainly imagining that we have souls. But "dreaming," with its implications, is an inadequate term; we have no proper words to describe reality. If the idealist view is correct, for most of us to perceive (more or less) the same reality our individual minds must be connected in some way. Inevitably this means that all the consciousness in the universe is one thing, with all the individual spirits collectively forming a universal mind or cosmic consciousness. This universal mind is, indeed a mind, a divine person, and not some vague force. Personally, I am comfortable calling this being God and referring to God as "He." This is just a convenient convention, for God is not male or female, nor anything in between. The Supreme Being transcends sex. If radical feminists are offended by my use of the male gender... I don't care. If Christians accuse me of pantheism, all I can say is that I do not advocate worshipping "Gaia" or the "goddess," and I don't believe that I or any other individual is God. Furthermore, I believe that God is much more than just the sum total of every human mind.
But if there is a Supreme Being, why does evil exist, especially radical, spiritual evil? It's all very well for someone to say that evil only seems wrong due to our limited perspective, or that it's all a necessary part of some great plan. This works fine until you or a loved one is paralyzed from the neck down or dying a slow, agonizing death from cancer. And what kind of "plan" would include the mass butcheries carried out by Nazis and communists? I'm afraid evil is all too real; either God is partly evil or the evil is separate from God, orchestrated by demonic beings who hate and oppose everything. I suspect that this is the case, and that there is some kind of Devil. It has been said that the Devil is lord of this world; this would explain why it often seems as if God does not answer our prayers. If the Devil is almost as powerful as God this world will always be a battleground, a flawed and imperfect realm. I suspect that God does answer prayers in the afterlife... perhaps I would have been reassured and united with my loved ones who had passed before me, if I had only asked... but I was in a state of shock and very confused.
Why did I feel that I had unlimited freedom of movement? Certainly, if I was a bodiless spirit I would not be hindered by gravity. But how could I move at all? The answer is that space exists at the physical level of reality, and spirit, or consciousness, transcends space. Imagine that you work in security at a large Vegas hotel/casino, and sit in a room with TV monitors enabling you to switch instantly from viewing the gaming tables to the pool area, the elevators, stairwells, etc. You never move, but you can instantly "be" anywhere. Or picture yourself sitting on a hill with powerful binoculars, watching the valley below. You can switch from one section to another, or scan the binoculars across your field of vision so that it seems that you are on the valley floor, moving at any speed you desire. Being a spirit with no body is like that, but in a sense you really are wherever you direct your consciousness.
But why do we (or, rather, our physical bodies) die at all? I believe that I now understand this. We begin with what I now call Phase One, living in the womb before birth, with very limited perception. We advance our consciousness as far as possible in this state, and then we are born, and the transition, both in the birth canal and once we emerge into cold, light, strange sounds, and vast spaces, is frightening and traumatic. No wonder newborns cry. We then develop our consciousness further (or fail to) living outside the womb but confined to a physical body(Phase Two), hopefully learning the basic lessons of kindergarten... be kind to your fellow creatures, tell the truth... moral lessons. We are also supposed to learn intellectual lessons, ranging from math and science to practical life skills. And then, ready or not, we must begin Phase Three when our physical bodies die, to (hopefully) continue to advance spiritually. The transition on this side may be slow and painful, and, on the other side, shocking, confusing, and somewhat frightening, even if you are about to experience a happy afterlife. You have abruptly been torn away from everything and everyone familiar. We all know that the living grieve for the departed, but I now know that the "dead" also grieve for the living.
But what of Heaven and Hell? Some fundamentalist Christians believe that a vengeful and ruthless God condemns even virtuous unbelievers to endless physical torment, or brings His faithful followers into Heaven, where they spend eternity singing His praises. Aside from the fact that God is not some cosmic version of a Babylonian king with a bloated ego in need of constant feeding, what really happens in the afterlife, Phase Three, is a bit more complicated. Again, let's use an analogy. Imagine a man who smokes four packs of cigarettes daily, drinks an entire bottle of whiskey, eats like a pig, and never exercises. He will soon turn his physical body into a physical wreck, and will suffer terrible consequences. In like manner, if you do not take care of your spiritual self, you will suffer. If you make yourself into a cruel, ruthless, arrogant person you (as a spirit) will be a sick, weak, and ugly thing, and Phase Three will be like a horrible nightmare. You can only wake up from that nightmare if you truly repent and change... and change is difficult. Perhaps for some sadistic sociopaths it is just about impossible... but it is still their choice. For someone who is basically a decent person but who is hedonistic and materialistic, with no spiritual or intellectual aspirations, Phase Three will be disappointing, at least in the beginning. A good-hearted individual will be quite happy in the afterlife, even if the transition is difficult. The type of person you are just before your body dies (and not some last minute blasphemy or last minute insincere repentance) determines the type of person you will be right after physical death, and, hence, your state of being. But that is subject to change if you choose to continue to advance spiritually. For many Phase Three will get better and better until, ultimately, they reach the highest state of enlightenment.
Many believe in reincarnation, and I suspect there may be something to it, but I don't really know. I do know that the most seemingly credible accounts of memories of a past bodily life tend to come from children and/or from people who believe that their past life was cut short by an early death. They may not have had a chance to learn important lessons in Phase Two, and, therefore, repeat it, rather like having to repeat a grade in school.
Now that all this has seemingly been revealed to me, it seems so just, so fair, so simple, and so logical that I am ashamed of not having figured it all out on my own. My final advice to anyone is pray and be as brave as you can. One day you will have to face what I faced, and it is not the end, but a new beginning.