When I was in my twenties I was in a single-car accident and suddenly found myself at the top of a telephone pole next to a street light, looking down at my lifeless body hanging out of a wrecked car. I spent almost an entire day in good company, transported somewhere other than here.
In my thirties, as a result of an altogether inappropriate lifestyle, I again ended up on the ground with the life draining out of me. I was enveloped in a bright white cloud, and caringly shown pivotal scenes from my life to that point.
During both of these experiences I felt completely free, at ease, weightless, and utterly comfortable and serene...and I was me, only I don't remember having a body.
Then, when I was forty, a skinhead mistakenly unleashed his homophobic rage at me on a city street. I fought back, but was knocked unconscious from behind and stomped and kicked "to death" by his gang of fellow neo-nazis. Ouch. That time I went to a dark place, but struggled to stay there, wanting to find that peace and light again, only to be forced back into this life against my will – the sense was that I hadn't gotten it right yet. I think it was in order to tell you what I learned from these three "NDEs" so maybe you won't have to find out in the (painful) way I did...because you don't want to try this at home.
My will didn't account for much beyond this life. Will is a function of being human – the sense that we need something to happen a certain way; that we can make it happen for us; that we can control the outcome of things. Sometimes we can. We can set our goals and work towards them, and manifest our wishes for ourselves; but regardless of the intentions and outcome, I learned that everything we experience in this life is part of an unfathomable, largely imperceivable system that we may never quite know from this angle. I learned that I am a spiritual being having this physical experience in order to learn to transcend the limitations of this sensory world in order to evolve. I learned that this body really is an "avatara." We precipitate as these forms, into this field of energy, shaped by genes, thoughts, feelings, and actions...and unknowable karma.
Simply put, this life of physical materiality is our medium of spiritual evolution. We step in and out of these bodies as seamlessly and purposefully as walking through the rooms of a great mansion we've been invited to explore. It's "the nature of the beast" that we don't always know that purpose, and more literally that nature that pre-vents us from experiencing the true medium of our greater being, which is Love – except for in the little bits that blow us away.
Being human is our only way to discover it – to discover anything – but it's also our greatest obstacle because of all the contrariness and misinterpretation this human form insists on imposing on our spirits, and on this beautiful, living planet. It's the obstacle the Hindu call maya.
You probably couldn't help but notice by now that it isn't easy being human. The attractions of our sensory state can be so fun (thrills) and compelling (sex), and seductive (intellect); and our afflictions can seem so painful and unfair, and relentless in the course of what feels like such a long life – but then tomorrow little of any of it may scarcely register in our recollections. (We've likely just forgotten being born and dying before – that may be how really limited our body/mind vehicles are.) Then even those attractions that can lead us to such fantastic fulfillment and accomplishments can also lead straight to utter despair and willful, idiotic destruction. Just imagine having to drive a car that likes to crash, and often insists on it. Pretty crazy, right? This life can be like that.
Being sensory beings leads easily to a philosophy of life chiefly defined by the form we're in – a kind of spiritual "Catch-22" that is, pleasure as a philosophy to live by. Gratification of the will, of the body, of the ego. The chief drawbacks, aside from the previously mentioned destruction and despair created by unconsciously pursuing these gratifications, is that they just don't last very long; and that our means of recognizing what's actually happening (and what does last) is once again limited to another function of our form – our intellect, our thinking mind.
Unless a person has a spiritual experience brought about by the practice and exercise of wisdom, or, as in my case, they've had their sense of "reality" sufficiently smashed to pieces well enough to reveal the eternal intelligence that underlies and energizes everything around us, the tendency is to slip back into what our limited powers of observation and calculation will permit. And we'll be right about it.
You'll see lots of really smart people who simply can't realize the essential nature of this life, because they haven't had such an experience. Unless it's convincingly adapted to the true nature of it's purpose, the vessel will never really be able to carry any real, spiritual water (but it can come close). A big example is that scientific observation keeps insisting on "what it knows is fact," until spiritual evolution empowers a new level of observation. Then it will start insisting on that as "fact," through force of will. However, the truth is always a function of the spiritual – not the intellectual, so the intellect can never really know the truth. It's that human thing again.
"Blessed are those who have undergone ordeals. They have entered into Life."
The Gospel of Thomas, 58
Somethings are obviously very "wrong" with this form we're in (or I should say with this form I'm in). It's the way we're hemmed-in by our interpretations of sensory experience as being the only "real" thing, our intellects acceptance of ignorance, and our inability to perceive the mind-blowing evidence all around us. But then our senses are also our doors to The Divine, and allow us our opportunities to grow, to change for the better, and to realize the obvious intent for life on Earth, and of the magic around and within us.
I was plainly (and painfully) given these unusual peeks "behind the curtain," so to speak, and here's how they've informed my point of view: You can rarely change anyone – each of us is on a unique (and naturally similar) path of spiritual evolution, towards the same place. The only way to actually change things is to change yourself; to choose to (occasionally) detach from the limitations of the form and embrace the spiritual moment, and to go where it takes you as much as you can. That is what's is changing the world right now.
Thinking is just a focusable tool. It wasn't the same thing, in "the great beyond" – not as incessantly demanding. Not as linear. Much more comfortable, like good meditation, or the full and empty space at the end of a good laugh. The moment is plenty alive without it.
Death is just a part of life that comes quickly or slowly. It's quite nice and comfortable itself, but often a bummer to get to. Love is the true underlying medium of life, and our job is to remove the obstacles that separate us (and our planet) from that amazingly powerful constant. I know my job now is to try to overwhelm ignorance with Love (which is also tolerance, compassion, and service to others).
Just be careful of skinheads, crocodiles (yeesh), or thinking that you're right.
Read about concepts like these and much more in: How to Get to Heaven (Without Really Dying), Wisdom From a Near-Death Survivor from Llewellyn Worldwide available direct on this page, or online. The first book: How to Survive Life (and Death), A Guide To Happiness In This World and Beyond is available the same ways – but ask for it at your local bookstore!