Not-So-Near-Death

About 8,000,000 Americans have had a Near-death experience (NDE). This Gallup Poll number is certainly low since many people won’t publicly admit to something still considered paranormal.

In her book, Fingerprints of God, Barbara Hagerty reports that “In the past three decades, scientists have conducted more than forty studies of nearly 3,400 near-death experiences.” The impact of an NDE is profound and permanent:

A brief brush with death is the Hail Mary of altered consciousness: it’s risky, but if it works out, you score big, Visions, peace, and serenity, light and love, unity with all things, dramatic, personal transformation: everything that psychedelics or temporal-lobe epilepsy, medication or spontaneous mystical experiences offers, you can find in one near-death experience.

The change is more than emotional and spiritual; it actually alters the chemistry, blood-flow and wiring of the brain. MRIs and other sophisticated tests have documented this, and neuroscientist Mario Beauregard of the University of Montreal told Hagerty, “It’s like a shift in their brain, and this shift allows these people to stay in touch with the spiritual world more easily, on a daily basis.”

Hagerty goes on to note that,

a near-death experience unfolds in the brain in much the same way as a meditative union with God. It lights up the same areas and travels along the same neural pathways. … Beauregard noticed that for both those who nearly died and for those who meditated, the part of the brain usually associated with “the subjective experience of contacting a spiritual reality” showed a spike in activity: … (they) felt they had contacted the “Light.” Another part of the brain associated with overwhelmingly positive emotions lit up. The same occurred in an area of the brain that involves unconditional love …

An illustration comes to mind: the movie Avatar. In its 3D format there’s a “version” of the film running in sync with the main film. The combination gives a breathtaking view to the audience—if they’re wearing the right glasses.

An NDE is more like lasik surgery than glasses in that it permanently changes a person’s spiritual vision, as a result of which he or she has a deeper, richer perspective on this life and the next.

The question I’m pondering is whether a Not-So-Near-Death Experience such as an extended illness and its treatment can have a similar impact.

Radical Change

Personal experience and empirical science agree that a near-death experience (NDE) radically changes people.

NDE subjects have increased activity in the left temporal lobe. NDEs are also associated with changes in personality and outlook on life. Kenneth Ring has identified a consistent set of value and belief changes associated with people who have had a near-death experience. Among these changes one finds a greater appreciation for life, higher self-esteem, greater compassion for others, a heightened sense of purpose and self-understanding, desire to learn, elevated spirituality, greater ecological sensitivity and planetary concern, and a feeling of being more intuitive.

The traumatic event often includes:

  • An out-of-body experience, which can include a perception of one’s body from an outside position.
  • A “tunnel” experience.
  • A rapid movement toward and/or sudden immersion in a powerful light.
  • Encountering Beings of Light, beings dressed in white or other spiritual beings.
  • Being given a life review.

But the perpetual after-effects cataloged above are less visceral and more transcendental:

  • greater appreciation for life
  • higher self-esteem
  • greater compassion for others
  • heightened sense of purpose and self-understanding
  • desire to learn
  • elevated spirituality
  • greater ecological sensitivity
  • a feeling of being more intuitive

Besieged But Blessed

Can a Not-So-Near-Death Experience (NSNDE) such as an extended illness and its treatment have the same life-changing impact as an abrupt near-death experience?

I think so.

I’m having one.

I’ve experienced none of the first bulleted list and all of the second (except greater ecological sensitivity). It’s not the radiation, which Dr. Hazuka assures me has no impact on the brain or its neuro-chemicals. Nor is it the chemo or anti-nausea meds, which actually suppress bodily systems and dull the mind. Besides, I’ve undergone all of it before; got the T-shirt but not the transformation.

Chemo every Monday and radiation five days a week has been physically challenging: fatigue, queasiness, mouth sores, scorched taste buds and weight-loss. But the treatment has been accompanied by a heightened spiritual awareness.

I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for everything around me. I savor the fellowship of family and friends. I relish talking and listening and sharing life with close friends and total strangers. I’m humbled by the mere fact of still being here and strive to make the most of each day. I look forward to what comes next and don’t fear the transition.

I am besieged but blessed!

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