It began as a small spot emerging from ink-black nothingness, miles in the distance. The walls and floor had just dissolved, releasing me into the void, allowing the light to find my brain. Rushing forward, the brilliance crashed straight into me, exploding everything into a blinding, consuming white. I gasped and turned to see where the ghost train had rocketed off to, but found nothing. There was nothing except warm water cascading down from the shower head, soothing my face and skin.
Enlightenment had just run through me in a heart pounding instant while I showered in the basement of my suburban home.
The moment prior, I had said, aloud, ‘Oh God, I cannot live this way anymore.’ I had been grasping to find balance in my life, only to find misery. Life was exhaustively out of control. Now that I uttered those words, words uttered more sincerely than I had ever spoken aloud before, the bottom fell out and the light pierced my brain.
Contrary to prevalent speculation about near death experiences, my ‘enlightening’ was not a spiritual visitation or mental disassociation from reality. It was in fact an automatic brain reaction designed by evolution to help me survive my crisis. An evolutionary reflex available to all of us.
When I surrendered my will to fate, my brain concluded that I was in immediate peril of death. My brain equated the surrender of will with the physical surrender of life itself. In response to the pending catastrophe, my brain shut off all sensory input. There was no sight, sound, touch, or anything. The survival advantage would be the avoidance of pain and avoidance of the distraction that pain would cause. The outcome would be a clear-headed ability to react to an unfolding emergency. The light and the noise were transitional pain masking devices.
How does the brain create white light and noise? I speculate that something physically interrupts the sensory signals. Do optic signals intersect with other sensory channels somewhere in the brain? At a place where a chemical blocker or a pathway interrupter can be applied?
The light was just the first element of the near death experience.
Suddenly, there was no voice in my head, no stress. Just a lightness of being.
No more perceptual self, just an immediate oneness with life. I found my balance, giggled at the feelings, and headed to a mirror to see if I was still among the living. To my surprise, my face looked back, just as before.
Colors were intensely vibrant. I found myself in an intimate perceptual relationship with everything.
I had become a void at the center of my universe. The center of a network of spatial relationships. The experience was complemented by an out-of-body, third person perspective from ten feet above my head. The third person perspective was in addition to my eye level perspective and lasted about three days. The color intensity, the knowledge where everything was, the intense focus on the here-and-now persisted for months.
I had instantly become hyper-attentive to physical reality, maybe just as animals always are. Did my brain shift the use of brain neurons and neural pathways normally dedicated to ‘higher’ functions? Did it take away from their usual tasks and apply them to spatial awareness and body control to boost my survival skills?
Is this what ancient ‘rites of passage’ were designed to accomplish?
Certainly, my sense of time had slowed way down and I was able to attend to the ‘grain’ of events with enhanced precision.
When you are no longer a ‘self’, you no longer suffer. There is nothing to suffer over. When there is no voice in your head, there is no self to suffer about. Pain exists but it is just a detached element of reality that is impermanent, as everything else is.
Fully focused action can now be immediately taken in response to unfolding events. Where did the voice go? Maybe the brain structures normally dedicated to self reflection were co-opted for other more urgent tasks as well?
What was different in my brain, compared to before? I suspect my brain-use-pattern had been instantly shifted to a primitive use-pattern molded eons ago for survival in a dangerous world. A pattern buried in our brains by evolution but still available for emergency use. If a ‘self’ is to survive an unfolding catastrophe, having a voice in your head, filtering the response, might result in hesitation and death.
So my brain shifted to a brain-use-pattern designed for survival, and it did so at the expense of its ‘social’ or evolved self. I had become action sans ego.
Modern men and women use knowledge and education to solve today’s problems, and rightly so. This has been the foundation of civilization since the time of Adam and Eve. For these reasons, people rarely encounter their primitive selves, except when dying or threatened with survival. It is in fact, the lament central to the story of Adam and Eve. In my case, I encountered the primitive state of enlightenment when I inadvertently fooled my brain into thinking I was in danger of dying – a standard Zen trick, I was later to discover.
Can modern society gain value from the study of near death experiences?
Can we harness these automatic survival reactions? If we were able to shift between states of awareness at will, applying a larger number of brain resources to the tasks we encounter every day - than we normally do, how much more talented might we all be?
Studying near death experiences might teach us how to boost our serenity and boost our ability to concentrate at the same time. Might more of us become situational savants at golf, math, or music, and still be able to revert to our usual selves when the task at hand is done? The potential exists in all of us, if we can learn to tap into the God given, brain-state altering abilities demonstrated by near death experiences.