Over some few years, as a group of friends, I had met with Vietnam veterans troubled by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). My contribution to these men was one of support. Listening, to their stories as they became available. Part of the relationship we held was one of helping them to develop story-telling skills, and to develop an environment of some spiritual dimensions within which to enable them to regain their individual sense of spirituality. I introduced them to Native American ceremony, to establish common spiritual grounds without specific denomination, as these men had varied backgrounds in faith-practices and denominations.
As a matter of common humanity, it was necessary to establish a denomination-free environment. It seemed to be a common factor in combat veterans (afflicted by PTSD) to have either rejected the faith practices in their background, or, more commonly, to have rejected/and felt rejected, by their faith(s) as a result of the causalities of armed combat.
As the others in our group who met with these good men and women -- the veterans -- we each offered friendship, empathy, and affection to them. My own practice was that of fasting on the Saturdays we did meet. This helped me to prepare myself to literally 'walk in blood' with these wonderful people.
On Saturday, November.. 14, 1992, we would meet as scheduled, with a small group that we had been meeting with for some five years. For some reason, the veterans called in and variously excused themselves for that day. A good friend, Virgil C., the owner of the place where we met and held our Saturday sweats, decided to continue on with the ceremony, for ourselves and our own needs.
Some forty-five minutes into the sweat ceremony, I had a feeling of heaviness and some discomfort within the left side of the chest, as if heat was accumulating there. Also, leaning on the colder ground seemed to relieve some of this pressure. I did have a mildly upset stomach, but I could attribute this to being on a fast. However, I asked to step outside and regain some breath, I felt some need to relieve the heat in my left side.
Once outside, with a beautiful view of San Pablo Bay, in the silence of the night, I just wanted to relax, to let loose. The bay waters seemed filled with bubbles of light that danced and moved, sometimes against the currents, in a kind of dance. I was very attracted to the unusual spectacle, but did not seek for any meaning or significance to it -- it was just beautiful and, as I told my friend of this, he just agreed (only later would he tell me that he never saw anything).
We returned to the sweat lodge, to complete the ceremony. The only out of place event that gave me some pause, was that each time I would close my eyes to relax, I had the feeling of being somewhere else, on a journey across some field. But, again, I dismissed it to tiredness and fasting.
At the end of a third round of the sweat, the tightness in my chest begged me to end. I asked my friend for his opinion, and he agreed. We completed the ceremony according to tradition -- a matter of respect. And left for his house, where we would enjoy a light dinner. By now, my stomach was really upset, but as I was fasting, I just did not attend to it. I took a piece of candy, and as I ate it, my stomach settled down. I thought this confirmed that my discomfort was due to a long fast, which I was just breaking. I felt a little light-headed, but nothing of concern. As we sat down to dinner -- salami sandwiches and coffee -- I suddenly got dizzy, my chest did not hurt, I felt as if I was being strangled, but I could breathe far more air than before. It felt as if my breastbone was being separated and torn apart. Now, I did feel concern.
My friend asked me if I was having a heart attack, and no, to speak truth, I felt no numbness of the arm or jaw, and those symptoms commonly listed. Of course, what he saw and what I felt must have been very different things. But I did find myself very concerned and asked him to take me to the local emergency services at Kaiser-Permanente's hospital in Richmond -- some twenty minutes away. He did, and I am grateful that he did so.
As we left the house, I tried speaking to him, using some humor, he looked so very worried, and I did not want to impose upon him, the discomforts of what I still thought were the results of my fasting throughout that day. Then, I became aware of exiting the car through the window, and watching my friend and a carcass, fast fading down the street. The empty body beside my friend seemed to be me -- I just thought it odd, as other events were beginning to take place -- these I must reserve to myself until I can make good sense of them.
After moving through the surrounding landscape, I found myself in the same place that had been in my thoughts during the ceremony. Open, broken, hilly grounds, with a path that led upward, to the side of a nearby mountain. The path became a cobble-stoned path that, at the entrance of a tunnel, forked into the tunnel, and also veered right, toward a place of dirty lights, where much noise was made. Two steps later, or so it seemed, I had covered a few hundred yards, to the edge of a canyon that caused me great fear, just a disagreeable, incomprehensibly ugly place, full of ashes, barbed wire and burning torches, that burnt with the yellow-green color of sulfur. Something inside of me held me back, and I found myself within the tunnel, where I could see, through the walls, a field full of stone people. An inner voice quietly said that these are they who wait for the reality of intellect, eyes lost in the distance, waiting for-life-as-idea to become reality, as life went before them, free to be what it is...
At the end of the tunnel, or the top of the stairs, there was a sliver of light. And there is where I went. I think, I had an inkling of my own death at that moment, but I knew that I could not cross a threshold I could not see. As I turned to climb down the stairs, I fell backward, and found myself on the other side of a gate that was not there, there was no way out. The place was an endless field, full of grass and flowers of all colors, and trees that sang quiet songs, and they were all welcoming me. Me? Who the hell Am I that they would do this, I thought, why do they welcome me?
I took a path that continued toward a place where bright lights shone, some kind of a structure, full of people, by the thousands. And they all cheered and welcomed me -- I knew that I am not any kind of a hero or person of importance, but they were rejoicing in that I had come. Then, out of the bright lights came members of my family, many dear people that we had lost over time, my grandfather, aunts, uncles, cousins, and even those whom I only knew in pictures. And my childhood friends and their relatives. And they all came to greet and welcome me. I could not make sense of what was going on, but I did suspect (I think) that I knew I was dying.
Then, there were some beings whose muscles were not flesh but flame. Fire contained within the shape of legs, arms, and so on, and full of light. They greeted me, and after they all left, only two remained. One that looked at me, someone I knew or am bound to know, someone of extreme importance to my life -- but it left, climbed above the trees, and waited there. The other being, was behind me. I turned to my family, but they had become quiet. The whole world had become very silent.
Then, I became aware of a kind of light. Shining with the brightness that is more than all the Suns in the Universe. White, bright, and crystalline, and very much alive, it stood before me. Somehow, I knew that I could not come into that light, so I turned back, then up, then down, and there was no hiding from the light that took me into itself. I now knew that I was dead, and that whatever else were to be, it would so be now. This most Holy Being and Spirit, the one whom no word can name or describe, took me into His arms, and bid me welcome. Then, He asked, 'Are you done?' I instantly knew I was dead, and now was called to account for my small and unimportant life, and I could not lie...
In an instant that will last forever, I saw my life, from conception-to-death, as one single and whole event, not as separate parts of a jig-saw puzzle, but as a complete and inseparable whole. And I knew that my life was complete, I was done. The light, This Most Holy Spirit, took me into itself, in an embrace that will haunt me to the end of my days and beyond. For an endless instant, I knew Love. And I knew myself loved beyond words and descriptions. Just infinitely loved -- and I saw through the eyes of Spirit, what Spirit sees -- there is no mind to understand that vision, it just is.
Then, the voice asked, 'Is there anything you would like to do?' I did say that I would like a few minutes to set my family at ease, to leave no remorse nor regret for them, just for a few minutes to say one final I love you, always have, always will -- no matter what, our struggles, stupid fights, angry little moments -- nothing ever kept us from being loving to each other. The One who is above all names released me from his embrace and said, 'Go.' I said, 'No.' And I was terrified, I had said no to what I hold most sacred. I knew that there is no life I could want anymore without Him. My desire for Him was much greater than my petty little fear. The Light said, 'Go.' And I said, 'No.'
The Light said, 'Go.' And I began to feel a separation, a distancing. But as gift, there was that which the Light gave me to 'see.' Perhaps what lies within my own heart and soul as to what the faith I embrace promises -- and I also saw that there is a point, or a place, beyond which one may not cross, for to do so, it makes everything else final.
Some of these things of vision and feeling, I have kept to myself. I know that I cannot explain them, nor give them meaning. And I cannot look for answers from others, because their explanations eventually become empty speculation -- and this is very painful. I think to understand that to be human is to be more, much more, than we have allowed ourselves to be, and that there is so much possibility we deny ourselves as we become locked into being rational. Into being limited by rational proof. This NDE thing is at once a blessing and a curse.
As a minister, although minor clergy, I have had to reconcile as much as possible with tradition and teaching, as my denomination expresses. And the truth is that there is almost no one whom one may query to seek out the terms through which to approach an answer. For ten years, I left the ministry, embracing the quest for an answer. 'Unfortunately' is not just 'an' answer, and there is no answer to be really had. I have lived in a Native American reservation, sought 'saints' and holy people of other ways, and found mostly emptiness and speculation, in the name of faith.
I found myself embracing solitude rather than wasting time retelling a story; NDE is not a mandate, not a commissioning to holiness. I can, as any other human being, make a claim to holiness, without ever being touched by the Sacred. And the mindless repeating of story, a story that cannot ever be fully told, is loath to me. I am a simple, uninteresting, semi-rational, ordinary, human being (my wife sometimes doubts that). And I am constantly making mistakes, laughing about them or apologizing. And still in search of an answer." "As far as I know, I was conscious of where I was, who I was with, and what we were doing -- the Inipi (Sweat) ceremony, does keep you very much aware of that.
Date NDE Occurred: November 14th, 1992
At the time of your experience, was there an associated life-threatening event? No Heart attack Good health in general.
How do you consider the content of your experience? Positive
The experience included: Out of body experience
Did you feel separated from your body? Yes
At what time during the experience were you at your highest level of consciousness and alertness?
Did time seem to speed up or slow down? Everything seemed to be happening at once; or time stopped or lost all meaning Was minutes, days or hours -- although it only happened in a fraction of less than twenty minutes between the onset of the NDE and waking up in an emergency room.
Did your hearing differ in any way from normal? Music, and a choir. Voices (not as voices but as an awareness of 'voice/sound' perceived without physical senses.
Did you pass into or through a tunnel? Yes See above.
The experience included: Presence of deceased persons
Did you encounter or become aware of any deceased (or alive) beings? Yes They were 'there.' In all the places of this journey. I had the feeling I knew them all or, rather, that they all knew me, whether I remembered or not. And as to communication, I was struck by the fact that nothing happens by voice or sense perception, yet there is an answer to whatever question is desired. Questions and answers are both universally posed and given -- instantly -- one does not know, then everyone and everything knows. It is only proper to call it communication, yet, ordinary senses function as one.
The experience included: Light
Did you see an unearthly light? Yes See above.
The experience included: A landscape or city
Did you seem to enter some other, unearthly world? A clearly mystical or unearthly realm Fields full of flowers of every kind, color and texture. Grasses and trees of brilliant green hues, earth the color of gold. An amphitheater and the very sacred precinct of that which is most holy, and the great barrier which the living cannot cross.
The experience included: Strong emotional tone
The experience included: Special Knowledge
Did you suddenly seem to understand everything? Everything about the universe At this time, I would decline a description. I am grieved by what I have yet immense need to reason and understand within the poverty of my intellect.
The experience included: Life review
Did scenes from your past come back to you? My past flashed before me, out of my control I learned that, given the opportunity, I would not choose to live any differently from what I have experienced as life. I would just choose better words to treat others with, not to remake the past, but to leave nothing hurtful or incomplete behind. And there is a future for mankind, worth working for -- but I should keep this in silence (my choice, as I am trying to understand some of this, myself -- and I am definitely not a gifted intellect.)
Did scenes from the future come to you? Scenes from the world's future
The experience included: Boundary
Did you reach a boundary or limiting physical structure? Yes No. This boundary may not be crossed if one is to return to life. This I was given to know, although I was allowed to see what lies beyond it, and expressly requested to not go beyond the place of 'wholeness.' The description of the place contains certain elements that, I believe, are reflected in sacred scripture, and as such may well be very subjective. But, to the one that goes beyond this mark, or milestone, life in the world is no longer possible.
Did you come to a border or point of no return? I came to a barrier that I was not permitted to cross; or was sent back against my will I refused to return, refused whom I hold most dear and sacred and who had granted my temporary return to my family. I felt fear and great sadness for I was refusing to leave life. But I was told go, one final time, and I began to 'fall' or descend into a bright, shiny mist.
God, Spiritual and Religion:
What was your religion prior to your experience? Moderate Catholic
What is your religion now? Moderate Catholic
Did you have a change in your values and beliefs because of your experience? Yes I left my ministry because what I believed in and what I came to know seemed somewhat contrary to each other. I could no longer teach, claim, nor proclaim certain tenets of faith, in the light of what NDE allowed me to experience.
The experience included: Presence of unearthly beings
After the NDE:
Was the experience difficult to express in words? Yes Certain elements of the experience appear unavailable to the restrictions caused by language as they do not yield to 'dissection'. Events have an unmistakable sense of wholeness, which the elucidation of parts is seemingly not possible.
Are there one or several parts of your experience that are especially meaningful or significant to you? Knowing everything, and not knowing anything. In remaining an ordinary, off-the-shelf human being now full of curiosity and seeking answers.
Have you ever shared this experience with others? Yes With my immediate family (lightly), and with my friend Virgil C. (who took me to the hospital), and with two or three other people because I thought I could learn something from them. Then, it is very difficult for people in general to respond to any conversation that has this kind of substance, it sometimes frightens them, and for some, it is very difficult matter. However, without referencing NDE as a source, grief counseling, speaking with the dying and as a minister to others, it is always possible to enter into deeply intimate conversation that results in more profound peace and understanding for those I have the privilege to serve.
At any time in your life, has anything ever reproduced any part of the experience? Yes Preaching, healing prayer, guided imagination, meditative healing practices, evoke certain memories of NDE, in a useful, contained way, without diminishing the power of the human spirit -- a good beginning to ministry to others.
Is there anything else that you would like to add about your experience? Yes, there is the question of integrating the whole of human experience, as it has been my lot to live. Imagination, old dreams remembered, superstitions, all of those things of developing a spiritual life. Is there somehow a connection to what and how one has lived and resolved/not resolved the lessons in life -- how one has individually and intimately sought to seek meaning to life -- that may predispose one to such a thing as an NDE? Why? Why me?
Are there any other questions that we could ask to help you communicate your experience? I just found that some of the questions help to better describe the experience, and perhaps the narrative section, above, could be done away with, as there is some redundancy in the process. The questions are very good, they allow one to focus on the experience and seem to reduce the very subjective aspects of narration -- although NDE is tremendously subjective, real as it is.
Thank you, I think I was a little more ready to say something about this, and perhaps this will help me learn a little bit more.