My NDE occurred in 1973 during childbirth while I was living in Madras, India. After the experience, I wrote down everything I could remember, but it was years before I shared the account with anyone, and then it was only with a few family members. For many months preceding the birth, I had had a prolonged illness that was eventually diagnosed as a rare tropical parasite. I had dwindled to some 90 pounds and was quite weak when I went into labor. After many hours in labor, fatigue had begun to set in.
When the time came to deliver, the doctor told me to push, and I began the process with each contraction. This went on for a long time. I kept expecting the baby to come any minute. However, after extended efforts, it seemed I was not making progress and I began to lose my strength. I continued to push, but after endless rounds still yielding no results, I finally fell back in exhaustion. The doctor instructed me to keep going but my body, in its weakened state, refused to cooperate, and I began to feel panicky. It was clear that my prolonged efforts had failed to further any progress towards the birth. As my muscles went flaccid, I felt my entire body tremble violently. Realizing my battery had gone dead and I had no control over my body, I was overcome with fear and felt as if the last drop of blood had seeped out of me. I thought, “I’m going to die.” I could barely speak. Seeing that I had no strength left, the nurse turned to the doctor and said: “She cannot push anymore.” At that point, there was a sudden change in the room. The previous sense of alarm seemed to turn to crisis. Everything happened very fast. I had no idea what had gone wrong; only that it seemed to be an emergency. My last hold on myself started to go, and I could hear urgency in the doctor’s voice. This was followed by an acute wrenching sensation, as if I had been split in half, and then I went unconscious. The light went out and I slipped away.
There was a moment of darkness. Then part of me rose and floated up to the corner of the room. I hovered there briefly, observing the scene below. I saw my body lying on the delivery table, surrounded by people in white coats who seemed to be in great commotion. Slowly I floated upward, out of the room and building, above the trees, and up into a black, star-filled sky. In this studded darkness, I was carried gently into the distance like a petal drifting on the surface of a stream. Eventually I came to rest in a dense, velvet-black space that enveloped me in tranquility, and I had no fear. I became aware that there was no time. There was no yesterday or tomorrow. There were no boundaries. There was no pain. While I floated in the darkness, the Earth appeared far below me and gradually came into my vision. Suddenly I knew without a shadow of doubt that I had entered another existence that was neither a dream nor a hallucination. I knew it was real: as true, as palpable, and as certain as had been my life on Earth. I then became aware that although I had left my body behind, whatever constituted who “I” was still alive and remained unchanged. I sensed that this other form in which I existed was like a transparent encasing for my soul, or the consciousness that was the essence of myself. In this body-less state, I was suddenly struck by the realization that I had been here before my life on Earth. I was remembering something I had forgotten; something that had been erased from memory when I was born. This was where I had originally come from. I had come home. Some invisible, silent source of infinite knowledge seemed to surround me, with answers to things like “where do we go when we die?","how was life and the world created?”, and so on. It was never clear to me why I became separated from this source and its infinite knowledge at birth. Looking down, the Earth came clearly into my vision as if I had telescopic sight. I saw a dark vision of suffering and entrapment that was like a distillation of the human condition over millennia. It seemed this condition led history to repeat itself in an endless cycle of war, bloodshed, torture, deprivation, insanity, illness, and alienation. It seemed as if all the pain mankind had suffered through the ages had been distilled to its essence and funneled into one collective cry to be released from this prison. From the chaos of destructiveness, faces advanced into the darkness, then receded back into their private hells, calling: “Help me!” I felt like I was looking directly into peoples’ souls to the raw fear beneath their protective shells. I felt great compassion for all those in pain. I wanted some miracle to release them all from their misery, but I perceived that nothing could deliver them from it as long as they remained there, separated, through ignorance and fear, from their source. I sensed that the only thing that would release them from that condition was to break through the shield of separateness that divided them from themselves, from others, and from the infinite creative power behind this vast universe of space in which I now found myself floating. I was deeply troubled by this dark vision, for it appeared that humans were destined to remain imprisoned in their suffering as long as they inhabited the earth, and that only death would release them from this condition. Yet a thought passed through my mind: “If they could break through their sense of separation, look, and see this other realm here that exists beyond them, they would be released from bondage.”
Slowly the voices faded, the faces receded, the Earth fell away, and again there was only soothing darkness. Then I felt myself drifting again, farther away into the beyond, gently lifted towards a light in the far distance. I seemed to be carried further and further out into the universe at the speed of light as if swept by a gentle current. I was drawn to the magnetic force of the light like a river is drawn toward the sea. Then I came again to a resting place. I became aware of a compassionate presence that held me as I saw my life of 27 years on Earth unfold. I had lived and traveled extensively in India amid conditions of poverty, disease, destitution and death that were all-pervasive and inescapable. As a result of my exposure to these conditions, I had become seriously ill. I had also struggled with my own personal demons from a troubled childhood. As negative thoughts and emotions arose, they were simply acknowledged and held by the presence, without judgment, with complete forgiveness. Then I heard a voice. It was so gentle and tender, so full of love and compassion; I realized I had never experienced these qualities in my lifetime. The voice said: “If you had only known I was here, you never would have had to go through this.” Hearing this, I felt suddenly free of all that had held me chained like a stone to a condition of human bondage. While the negative states of my earthly life played out before this presence, it surrounded me with total acceptance and loving-kindness. The next thing I experienced was being drawn into the Light itself. Now the Earth was so far away that it seemed to disappear from my consciousness. The intensity of this light and my direct experience of it transcends expression in words. It was a brilliant, white gold transparency, radiating warm and pure luminescence. It seemed to be a nucleus of energy that was the essence of life itself; that charged all matter, animating it with its life-giving power. Cradled in this Light, I was suffused with a sense of joy, calm, peace, and beauty that were, until then, unknown to me. Unlike the beauty I had experienced on Earth, this beauty was eternally renewing and all-encompassing. It seemed to synthesize all opposing elements, dissolving them into the whole of itself. I perceived this light as the essence of divine love.
Inside this presence, I felt an indescribable sense of freedom, a release from all the burdens associated with human life. I was like an invisible, permeable membrane through which the Light passed and flowed, transforming me into the Light itself. It seemed to possess a universal spirit that was the consciousness and creative force behind human life. Bathed in its luminous warmth, I felt no longer separate but enveloped by a feeling of unconditional love. Here there was no desire, no pain, no fear. This was the final liberation, an experience of pure bliss. On Earth, I had feared death. Now I saw that death was not an end but a beginning. It was a return to the home from which I had come. My soul had entered the divine consciousness of eternal life, where all wisdom and knowledge resided. As I lay cradled in this loving light, a phrase came to me: “Now I know.” This was where my true self belonged. I knew I had come to my final resting place, back to the source from which I had come, and the end of all suffering. Then the light communicated again. The ensuing communication was like a sonic energy penetrating directly into my soul. Thoughts were transmitted without words, silently and directly as if an extension of the Light itself, passing through me by osmosis. The Light was both inside and around me. I was aware that I was both a separate, individual entity while being simultaneously subsumed by the presence of this other entity. Its voice was distinctly its own, separate from me, yet I heard my own unspoken thoughts expressed by it, as if it were inside my mind. A conversation ensued, transmitted like air passing through my cells. Held within this Light, I saw the essence of my life experience in a flash. It had become dominated by a deepening depression: nightmares, guilt, shame, fear, self-recrimination, and illness. I had been conditioned by the concept of “original sin” to expect recrimination, judgment, and punishment for my sins; therefore, I had anticipated the same response from this spirit of Light. But there was no judgment. There was only unqualified acceptance and forgiveness. This came as a shock to me. It seemed impossible that I could be loved and accepted just as I was in that moment. Released from the burden of self-punishment, embraced in the wholeness of this forgiving presence, I was enveloped in joy. I seemed to become transparent, the light of divine love flowing through me. Then I heard the sound of soft, benevolent laughter, which felt like the wise and gentle smile of the Buddha. Again I was surprised and perplexed; I had not expected to hear laughter from a divine force. It rained over me like soft petals. Then it said: “My child, you mustn’t take things so seriously. You are just part of an evolutionary chain, in which all life evolves at different stages of development. You are only human. You need not judge yourself so harshly. Be gentle with yourself.” I had gotten only the slightest glimpse of the limitless realms beyond the finite boundaries of the world we inhabit. I was eager to learn more. At the same time I was content to float in the peace and joy of the Light, where I had come to know the certainty of love. This yearning of humans to be connected, to love and be loved, was so clear and profoundly felt that I could not face a return to a world in which this simple truth remained, to so many, unknown, unrealized, or buried. I wanted to stay forever in the presence of Light. The Light knew my thoughts and said simply, “You must return.” Upon being told I must return, I feared being sent back to the same world I had observed from afar, steeped in its suffering, sent back to my human form, where once again I would be bound by the same conditions and limitations I had left behind. “Please,” I begged. “Please let me stay. Don’t send me back.” A hand appeared in the Light, with beautiful, slender white fingers. “My child,” I heard it say, with a tenderness that would haunt me forever, “I have given you the gift of love.” I tried to hold on to the hand, but with a wrenching in my heart, I felt it slip away forever, as it said: “Your life is not completed.”
The next thing I knew I was back in my body. Unlike the long journey into reaches beyond, my return to earth was abrupt, like the shock of birth. I had taken a trip to another galaxy light years away, so far away I could not imagine ever coming back; and then, by some feat of physics, been instantly repossessed by my body. No time had been granted to make the adjustment of having traversed a span of time and space so immense it would affect me for the rest of my life. Having passed through stars, beyond planets and galaxies, into the far reaches of a universe in which time as we know it did not exist, my soul was not prepared to return to the limited confines of my body. It felt constrained and bereft of the freedom it had known, like a prisoner returned to a cell. I wanted desperately to hold on to what I had left behind, clearly to remember every sacred moment before I lost it. Then the world drew me back into it.
I found myself lying on something hard. Slowly I came into half-consciousness, into a glaring light. As I tried to adjust to my return, it seemed a hostile place. Someone was doing something to me, but I could not feel my body. Someone came to lift me and prop something soft beneath my back. Suddenly a woman appeared with a bundle, which she put in my arms, saying: “You have a son.” Then she was gone as suddenly as she had appeared, and I wondered why she had been so brusque and left so suddenly. I had barely had a chance to hold him before the nurse returned to whisk him away. While holding him, I had seen that his head looked mangled, swollen and bruised, with two red gashes that were like craters on each side of his crown. Shortly after, I was told that his badly injured head needed immediate surgery.
While my son was in surgery, I woke up in a dark room. In the deep quiet of the darkness I felt the presence of the Light. It was alive and palpable in the room, infusing it with the same supernatural aura of joy and love I had experienced in that other world that now seemed so far away, beyond my reach. Though I had left it and some part of me behind, it now filled the room with a sacred light. Through the birth of my son, it had “given me the gift of love.” A connection existed between the experience of the Light I had left behind and the birth of my son. He was linked to it, as I had been, and he had brought it with him. I had gone full circle--from life, to what was like death, and back to life. I had revisited my home of origin. And he had made his journey with me from that home, bringing with him the gift of life and love. Lying in the room, I was afraid that if I moved, the Light would stop flowing into me and be gone forever. I wished I could sustain the joy and beauty of the love I had left behind, the radiant bliss from which my son and I had been wrenched. I had come falling like a meteor to the gravity of Earth, felt its leaden density and weight. Back in the prison of my small self, I was constrained by my human limitations, never to see the light again. I was left for a brief time between two worlds. Already I felt the Light slipping away. Now there remained the problem of bridging the gap between the two worlds and trying to comprehend all that had happened. I only knew that it had changed my life forever and I would never be the same again. During my stay at the hospital, I learned what had taken place during my son’s birth. The American doctor from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi had flown down to investigate the case. He informed us that the doctor who had performed the delivery was unable to deal properly with the complications. The delivery had left two cavernous depressions on each side of my son’s crown, which had put pressure on the brain and had to be elevated to eliminate the possibility of brain damage. The doctor said it would be a year before we would know if the post-natal surgery had reversed the trauma and prevented serious repercussions. A year later, when we returned to the United States to have my son examined for possible brain damage, we learned to our immense relief that the surgery had yielded perfect results. No damage had been done. We both wondered what might have happened if the neurologist, who was normally away on an international lecture circuit, had not been in Madras on that fateful day to perform the surgery. I give thanks daily for the miracle of that positive outcome and the blessing of my son’s life.
2012 – Forty Years Later: Changes and Effects
My journey some 40 years ago changed my life by leading me on a spiritual path of inquiry that continues to this day. Many years passed before I felt safe enough to reveal the experience to anybody. It felt too sacred and private, and I was also afraid people would either not believe me or think I was delusional. At the time it occurred in 1973, I was not aware of the extensive literature that has since emerged on the subject of NDEs. Although I never found out exactly what happened to me medically at the time I went unconscious or perceived that experience as a clinical death, I had no doubts that I had glimpsed the experience of death in some form. It was years before I learned that thousands of other people had been on similar journeys in varying degrees and documented them. When I first read these accounts, I was incredulous, feeling as if I had found members of a lost family who would understand what I had experienced. For the first time, I felt less alone and isolated. The phrase, “within a distant light” came to me because often, back on Earth, the Light seemed like a ‘distant’ power beyond my reach, while at the same time I believed at a deeper level that it existed ‘within’ me, and all humans, as our true essence or higher self. I continued to struggle with self-judgment and the conflict between feelings of unworthiness and fear versus feelings of love and self-acceptance. This conflict became the source of a continued search to integrate more qualities of the Light into my life. I sought out spiritual communities, workshops, literature, and alternative healing therapies. I began to see adversities as opportunities to tap into the Light for spiritual transformation and to try to help others find their own inner light.
As part of my spiritual path, I undertook volunteer jobs to try to help others undergoing adversities. The periodic depressions I experienced when feeling disconnected from the Light allowed me to empathize with others through their pain and help them see the healing power that existed within themselves. I worked as a hotline crisis counselor to provide intervention for people struggling with suicide, domestic violence and other crises, and counseled runaway youths. I also was trained and volunteered as an expressive arts therapist providing stress management to individuals and varied population groups in the community, including mental health centers, cancer and pain support groups, and senior rehabilitation centers. As an expressive arts facilitator, I discovered I could tap into the Light to find perspective and compassion in my own life, and help others find their own inner source of wisdom and healing. As an artist, I drew from the Light to overcome creative blocks and become more fulfilled in my creative life. One of the most important things I gained from the NDE was the feeling that there is a greater spirit of unconditional love to which we can turn continually for wisdom, comfort, and guidance through life’s challenges. The experience led to a belief that the Light of divinity exists within all of us, that all discord arises from a sense of separation from the Light, and that as we align our minds and hearts with it, we can experience its qualities in the forms of peace, love, joy, compassion and well being.
Relative to that belief, my higher purpose has been to engage in practices that help me and others re-align our human personality with the light of our higher spirit. It is to continue to try to understand and integrate the lessons of the Light; to learn greater self-acceptance, non-judgment, forgiveness and compassion; and to seek and find the joy that comes from being connected to the Light. Over time I experienced a marked increase in my commitment to the inner life and spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, mindfulness, visualization, healing arts therapy, gratitude, and journaling. I came to see the greater meaning behind the message of the “gift of love”: that the most important thing in life is to grow in love….love of self, love of others, love of life. I came to give less significance to such things as material wealth, fame, prestige, or power, seeing them increasingly as transient and ephemeral, unable to bring true and lasting fulfillment and happiness. Self-understanding became an important part of my spiritual journey as I came to see that peace and love can only come through careful self-examination and transformation of the things that block it—hatred, resentment, anger, fear, etc.-- so each individual must begin with him or herself, go through the darkness, and make the changes within, in order to affect change without.
After the experience, I wondered if there was some purpose or mission I was meant to fulfill. Over time, as I engaged in spiritual practices to examine and transform the dark sides within myself, I developed an increased consciousness that a greater spirit was operating in my life, as opposed to viewing life as a series of random, meaningless events. I came to see my purpose as a call to awaken to the presence of spirit as an active and constant player in my life. This required attunement to the existence of spirit at work in every aspect of my life, seeing people, places and things as teachers and as channels by which the Light was trying to communicate with me, offer guidance, and teach me what I needed to learn. For example, early on, while still in India, I came across a leper with missing limbs and half his face gone. At first I felt repelled. But then I reached down to give him a rupee and when I looked into his only eye, I felt an overwhelming sense of connection and compassion that transcended appearances. And much later, back in the U.S., a woman who was terminally ill with cancer came into my life at a time when I was struggling with questions about how to integrate the lessons of my experience more effectively in my life. Shortly after our meeting, my friend declared with prophetic certainty that we were similar, that we were meant to meet, and that we had been put on our path together for a reason. As we grew to know each other during the brief remaining year of her life, it became clear that we were both struggling with the problem of judgment—particularly of harsh self-judgment, as well as judgment of others, an issue she was struggling to overcome while she was dying.
During my experience the primary lesson that was revealed for me to learn was to be less harsh with myself, to learn greater acceptance and compassion for myself and others. During my friend’s lifetime, our get-togethers were focused almost exclusively on our spiritual growth, letting go of negative thoughts and judgments, learning to love more deeply and live in the present moment. She led me to groups, workshops, books, and tapes, the first being Eckhardt Tolles’ “Power Of Now,” to help us learn a more mindful approach to life that would free us from the limitations and fears of dark thoughts and feelings. I felt certain that the Light was communicating with me through this relationship. Through her life and her death, "G" accelerated my spiritual growth as a guide who had made her own spiritual growth the primary focus of her life. I had shared my NDE experience with her and was present as a source of love and compassion for her through her dying process to her death, offering her my vision of the Light of unconditional love that would await her after her death. From her, I also came to see that the emphasis I had placed on achievement was misguided, and that love is the most important thing in human life."G" introduced me to a beech tree she perceived as a channel for eternal consciousness whose voice can only be heard in stillness. We visited the tree frequently to listen to its messages. After her death, the tree became a symbol of life and love where her soul came to rest and loved ones came to visit her there in lieu of a grave. As I grew in awareness of the Light within, I saw my life move from unhealthy patterns to healthier, more productive and spiritually-oriented ones. Yet in spite of all this, I still find that it is not always so easy or simple turn to the Light when I need to. When fear arises, I often forget the existence of the Light, my ability to access it, and the knowledge that it is an ever-present source of wisdom and love that is capable of dispelling all negative states.
The other very important effect of the NDE was that it changed my view of death and the afterlife, taking away my fear of the unknown regarding what happens after we die. It convinced me that life does not cease to exist when the body dies; that we have a soul that is connected to a greater consciousness that continues to live in spirit form in another dimension…a realm where a higher intelligence of unconditional love exists. While I still fear the process of dying and the loss of loved ones, I find peace in the belief that our souls live on and are embraced in unconditional love. Trying to integrate the Light into my life has been a lifelong process. After the shock of returning to a confined body, I experienced periodic depressions about returning from a heaven of unconditional love to a world of discord and suffering. I still struggle with periods when it seems that the healing power of the Light is beyond my reach. I have often wished I could go back or re-experience the bliss of that enlightened moment in time. But I know now that I was sent back to learn more and grow spiritually. I know that the adversities I have encountered and those needing help who have been put on my path have been part of that growth. It was through the most difficult and painful times in my life and those I shared with others that I was brought closer to the Light. Through them my faith and trust deepened. My intuition was sharpened as I was led to cultivate an awareness that was open and attentive to receiving any messages that might be trying to reach me. There has been an increase in moments of heightened perception in which I sense the greater spirit operating in my life, and I have often felt led through certain people, books, or situations to solutions or resolutions that further my growth. Very frequently, when trying to find an answer to a question or resolution to a problem, I have been led directly to a specific book, sometimes a chapter, in which the answer lies. Also, because I have learned to be open to messages from the Light, they come with great frequency through people. For example, while I was struggling with resolving aspects of my experience, my son helped me see things from the Light’s perspective so that I could gain new insight on unresolved issues. It was clear to me that the Light was speaking through him. I came to see more clearly that the NDE, at least for me, was not a panacea that changed my life from one day to the next. Rather it served as a guide through the dark side of life, struggles and imperfections, which are an ongoing part of life’s journey. Another example of feeling a communication with the Light is through a ritual in which I write down the issue I’m trying to resolve (e.g., I seek a shift in how I perceive a situation or relationship from a perspective of love) and place it under my pillow. I have found that the resolution is invariably quickly forthcoming.
Until now, I have reserved sharing my experience with a select few. Among the people with whom I have shared it are my son, who was so integral a part of the experience, and who has since often served as a channel for the Light, offering messages I needed to hear. My second husband, sister, and a couple of friends also supported me. On rare occasions, I felt the grace of the Light’s presence in my life. Once, in the pit of despair, while I was lying sick in bed, I felt its force so strongly that it jolted me upright to sit on the edge of the bed. A vision of the Light and a hand appeared; the same hand with the long slender fingers that had guided me back to Earth, and it repeated the words: “My child, I have given you the gift of love.”
On another occasion in India, not long after my NDE, I had climbed to a Himalayan mountaintop with my first husband and son. I was sitting by a stream in a paradisiacal meadow with wildflowers while my son played in the stream. After months of having been steeped in self-doubt and anxiety I suddenly felt the Light fill me with a sense of unconditional love, freeing me from the bondage of all my dark thoughts and feelings. Everything that had tormented me on the plains, far below the mountain peak, vanished, leaving me with a sense that I had come home to my true self, which belonged with the Light. The Light carried me forward through my deepest fears and sorrows, through illness, divorce, and the death of loved ones. It gave me strength to go on when I thought all was lost. It helped me learn to accept the frailties I share with my fellow human beings, and to learn to continue to forgive myself and others. I believe that this, and the common experience of the thousands who have shared their passage beyond this world is testament to the existence of a spirit greater than ourselves. The crux of the Light’s messages to me were that our souls live on after we die, our relationships are eternal, and we must love ourselves as it loves us: here in this very moment, unconditionally, just as we are. I came to see the Light as the compassionate teacher that lives within each of us as our highest self. It seems to want us to experience its joy and wisdom, and to help us expand; to move beyond the limits and obstacles that prevent us from realizing the happiness and freedom we are capable of experiencing. I came to believe that the divinity of this Light lies in and around every individual, and it is our life’s purpose to find and express that divinity which exists--not somewhere far away in some distant world, but right here, within each of us.
Though the Light’s message seemed to me to reflect the wisdom of the ages, it continues to elude so many. For me, it is up to each individual to find the way back to the inner light of our highest self, and to embrace rather than shun the darkness within us, for only by going through it can we find our way to the other side.