It was around 4pm on July 13 1968. I was 21 years old and had just started to study art as an addendum to my biology study in college. My friend Robert was 22 years old and had just graduated in New York. We were canoeing in Ontario, Canada on the upper reaches of the Gatineau River. We had portaged the gear around particularly violent rapids that we knew had been responsible for many deaths in the previous years, including the deaths of five canoeists in life jackets. To circumvent the rapids we had already carried all of our gear, including the life jackets, through the woods for about a mile. Upon returning for the canoe and paddles, we realized that the first hill was very steep, and that if we could just paddle around the first bend we would not have to climb the hill with the canoe on our heads. This proved to be a fatal miscalculation. The canoe tipped into the water as we were out in the river. Robert tried to swim directly to shore, but drowned as he was pulled down into an eddy. I saw that and realized I had to attempt to swim around the eddy to survive. This placed me closer to the violent part of the rapids, which drew and kept me in for over a mile with my clothing dragging me down.
There were many times when I was underwater for so long that I lost my air, which exploded out of my mouth, and as I took water in I tried to swallow it rather than breathe it in. I had no possibility of actually swimming, other than to protect my face from rocks and keep pushing up to get air. This went on for what seemed to be quite a long time. Finally, I felt frozen and was starting to lose my energy. I could no longer swim or push with my legs. I was probably becoming hypothermic and exhausted.
It was at this point that a white light struck me in the forehead. I felt a surge of energy go through my body from my head down to my feet, and then back up again. This happened twice. All of my past experiences and people in my life flowed through my consciousness, and at the same time I felt myself rising up out of the water, up into the sky above. I became enveloped in a white light that was calm and comforting. It was alluring, an envelope of peace and calm that allowed me to opt out of the horror of the fear of death.
I realized that I was able to see my body below me in the river (floating head down). As I looked up from that perspective, my line of sight scanned over the beautiful landscape of the river and surrounding woods. It was at this point I had a vision in real color (not infused by the white light). The vision was of a hillside with long grass blowing in the wind, I was looking from beneath the hill up to a small shack or roof made of wood shingles. It reminded me of a place in Vermont I had been to when I was 14 years old, when I was just starting to feel the joy of being an independent thinker and actor as a young person.
I wanted to just relax and let myself float into the softness of the white light. I thought about Robert. I knew that he had drowned and that he was dead. I fought the inclination to relax, realizing quite consciously that to live was difficult, hurtful and very insecure, whereas to die at that moment just meant to relax in the soft envelope of the white light. I thought about what a loss it was for Robert not to be in life anymore and what I might be able to do to make up for this loss. I decided that I would go back to my body, endure all of the harshness and insecurities of life and that I would do this partly to honor the life that Robert was no longer able to pursue. At that moment, I decided to be an artist. I would do something exemplary with my life, not to make money or have a grand vision of who I might become - something modest, giving. I decided that an excellent lifestyle might be a good way. I decided to study art, to work with clay, as it was a modest material with no chance for me to become famous or rich, or otherwise veer from the goal of an exemplary lifestyle.
At this junction, the white light started to diminish. My body floated back down to the river and I was once again in a drowning situation, in the middle of a swift current and in great danger. The violence of the river had now changed to a wider river, with a very swift current in the center. I would now have to swim to get out but had no energy. My legs were not functioning. I had strength in my arms only and I could just barely keep my lips above water to breathe. I floated like this for a while, but remembered that on the map I had looked at earlier in the day I had noticed a waterfall and would have to be careful not to go over it.
After a few minutes, I had garnered enough strength to raise my head out of the water to get my bearings. That was when I became convinced that I had indeed already died and was in some sort of afterlife. We had been canoeing for the better part of a day without any sight of debris or wood floating alongside of us. At the moment I raised my head out of the water I noticed a decent sized log floating parallel to me about 15 feet away - an unreachable chasm at this point with my reduced energy.
I had been a graduate of a High School of Science and was a biology major in college. I had an interest in basic physics and was certainly part of the generation just after Sputnik, concerned with the advances made in space, engineering and medicine. I knew how objects floating in a current were supposed to act. Without acceleration they cannot steer - this is a basic law of physics. I guess laws are made to be broken, for this log turned towards me and came barreling to me, cutting water in its wake. I knew this was impossible, and therefore surmised that I was indeed already dead and this was a vision in death. I draped myself over the log and gained strength as I rested.
There is quite a story about getting out of the river and finding help. However, this ends the part of the story that has to do with the out of body experience, other than to say that it is with me every day as I have continued in my commitment to live an exemplary lifestyle to honor the memory of Robert.
I have become a quite well-known artist. I am very experimental in my approach and outlook. I have pioneered many techniques and materials that are now commonly used in the field of studio ceramics (wood firing, colossal building of forms, paper and clay sculpture). When I reached the age of 50 I began a teaching career too and now run a program in studio ceramics for a major university. I have exhibited widely in the US, Asia and Europe. My work is in the collections of many major museums throughout the world. My life is filled with many friends, colleagues and young people, as well as children of my own. I honor Robert and his family and have celebrated his life each July 13 since 1968.
Date NDE Occurred: July 13, 1969
At the time of your experience, was there an associated life-threatening event? Yes Life threatening event, but not clinical death,
Drowning experience after witnessing my friends death (due to drowning) trying to swim out of a mile long rapids with clothes still on.
How do you consider the content of your experience? Both pleasant AND distressing
The experience included: Out of body experience
Did you feel separated from your body? Yes I saw the view of my body floating in the river together with the landscape, and I realized the beauty of the place I was in.
I saw a log barreling towards me and knew this was not possible given the physical characteristics of an object floating in a current. Water was breaking around the head of the log as it came to me. I knew this was impossible given the physics I had studied in school.
I clearly left my body and existed outside it
How did your highest level of consciousness and alertness during the experience compare to your normal everyday consciousness and alertness? More consciousness and alertness than normal I had to make many decisions in order to live, thousands of choices to stay alive and many more to not allow myself to 'relax' and die. I had already experienced the flow of my past life through the beginning stages of the out of body experience, and had to make some hard choices to come back to life.
At what time during the experience were you at your highest level of consciousness and alertness? When I made the decision to return to my body.
Were your thoughts speeded up? Incredibly fast
Did time seem to speed up or slow down? Time seemed to go faster or slower than usual
Time was slower but my thinking was faster.
Were your senses more vivid than usual? Incredibly more vivid
Please compare your vision during the experience to your everyday vision that you had immediately prior to the time of the experience. Intense acuity to the sights and sounds around me. Deep thoughts of morality and responsibility, which were almost religious in nature. Increased powers of observation and connecting thoughts having to do with the nature of my life, the environment and my senses. The inevitable conflict between reality and vision. The belief that not everything is explainable given my lack of knowledge and understanding of how the universe works. The feeling that light and color had meaning - white being soft and comforting and green being life.
Please compare your hearing during the experience to your everyday hearing that you had immediately prior to the time of the experience. My hearing became internalized. My thoughts and feelings were so amplified that even though I knew there were sounds outside they became less significant.
Did you seem to be aware of things going on elsewhere? No
Did you pass into or through a tunnel? Yes It was a spiral that I floated up through to the place above my body.
Did you see any beings in your experience? No
Did you encounter or become aware of any deceased (or alive) beings? No
The experience included: Unearthly light
Did you see, or feel surrounded by, a brilliant light? A light clearly of mystical or other-worldly origin
Did you see an unearthly light? Yes White light pulsing through my body.
Did you seem to enter some other, unearthly world? A clearly mystical or unearthly realm I was enveloped in a white light, peaceful and alluring in its attractive quality.
What emotions did you feel during the experience? A great sense of peace and moral responsibility.
Did you have a feeling of peace or pleasantness? Incredible peace or pleasantness
Did you have a feeling of joy? No
Did you feel a sense of harmony or unity with the universe? I felt united or one with the world
The experience included: Special knowledge or purpose
Did you suddenly seem to understand everything? Everything about the universe I understood that I was not capable of a full understanding of the physical nature of the world.
The experience included: Life review
Did scenes from your past come back to you? My past flashed before me, out of my control
Did scenes from the future come to you? No
Did you come to a border or point of no return? I came to a definite conscious decision to return to life Robert was dead and I felt an opportunity to honor his memory. I understood that I wanted to live a good, decent and moral life.
God, Spiritual and Religion:
What importance did you place on your religious/spiritual life prior to your experience? Not important to me
What was your religion prior to your experience? Unaffiliated- Agnostic
Have your religious practices changed since your experience? No
What importance do you place on your religious/spiritual life after your experience? Not important to me
What is your religion now? Unaffiliated- Agnostic
Did your experience include features consistent with your earthly beliefs? Content that was entirely not consistent with the beliefs you had at the time of your experience
Did you have a change in your values and beliefs because of your experience? Yes
Did you seem to encounter a mystical being or presence, or hear an unidentifiable voice? No
Did you see deceased or religious spirits? No
Did you encounter or become aware of any beings who previously lived on earth who are described by name in religions (for example: Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, etc.)? No
During your experience, did you gain information about premortal existence? Yes I realized that my knowledge of the world was inadequate to define its structure and there might be realities that my senses could not perceive or understand. I attributed that to our inadequate ability to know what is in nature and I thought of humans'
During your experience, did you gain information about universal connection or oneness? No
Did you believe in the existence of God prior to your experience? God does not exist
During your experience, did you gain information about the existence of God? No
Do you believe in the existence of God after your experience? God does not exist
Concerning our Earthly lives other than Religion:
During your experience, did you gain special knowledge or information about your purpose? Yes I felt the need to honor my friend who died.
Did you believe that our earthly lives are meaningful and significant prior to your experience? Are possibly meaningful and significant
During your experience, did you gain information about the meaning of life? Yes I started to formulate life's meaning to me. Not on a universal scale but on a personal one. I have a strong abhorrence to the simple construct of a "God" who creates and controls everything so I do not attribute what I experienced to some "God" idea but
Did you believe in an afterlife prior to your experience? An afterlife does not exist
Do you believe in an afterlife after your experience? I am uncertain if an afterlife exists Uncertain I realized that my knowledge of the world was inadequate to define its structure and there might be realities that my senses could not perceive or understand. I attributed that to our inadequate ability to know what is in nature and I thought of humans'
Did you fear death prior to your experience? I moderately feared death
Do you fear death after your experience? I slightly fear death
Were you fearful living your life prior to your experience? Not fearful in living my earthly life
Were you fearful living your life after your experience? Slightly fearful in living my earthly life
Did you believe that our earthly lives are meaningful and significant prior to your experience? Are possibly meaningful and significant
Did you believe that our earthly lives are meaningful and significant after your experience? Are probably meaningful and significant
Did you gain information about how to live our lives? Yes Yes, I realized that life can be difficult and that almost everything is a choice.
During your experience, did you gain information about life's difficulties, challenges and hardships? Yes I realized that living is much harder than dying.
Were you compassionate prior to your experience? Moderately compassionate toward others
During your experience, did you gain information about love? Yes In the sense of morality.
Were you compassionate after your experience? Greatly compassionate toward others
What life changes occurred in your life after your experience? Large changes in my life
Have your relationships changed specifically because of your experience? Yes Yes More long range view of events.
After the NDE:
Was the experience difficult to express in words? Yes
How accurately do you remember the experience in comparison to other life events that occurred around the time of the experience? I remember the experience more accurately than other life events that occurred around the time of the experience This is the most powerful experience of my life and helped to form the direction I would take more than any other life experience.
Do you have any psychic, non-ordinary or other special gifts after your experience that you did not have before the experience? Uncertain I feel that I have a better sense of "intuition" as a person and an artist.
Are there one or several parts of your experience that are especially meaningful or significant to you? When I saw the log coming to me, I realized that everything I thought I knew as fact before was now only possibility.
Have you ever shared this experience with others? Yes About eight years, and now very rarely.
Did you have any knowledge of near death experience (NDE) prior to your experience? No
What did you believe about the reality of your experience shortly (days to weeks) after it happened? Experience was definitely real
What do you believe about the reality of your experience now? Experience was definitely real
At any time in your life, has anything ever reproduced any part of the experience? No