Not this crude leather; luminous beings are we.
In the beginning, I died.
I didn’t even realize that for many years. Because death in any form has mythical or archetypal significance, it gets our attention. It means out with the old, in with the new.
Death is a good place to start.
I was alone so there’s no one to verify my death. No wailing siren on a speeding ambulance, no EMTs urgently pumping on my chest trying to make my heart beat again or inflating my lungs to breathe for me. No one called a code blue and I didn’t find myself floating in a corner up by the ceiling, watching people in an emergency room feverishly shocking my body back to life.
I didn’t move through a tunnel toward the light and there was no meeting with a spiritual lightbeing of great power. In other words, there was none of the good stuff so thoroughly depicted in “standard” near-death experiences. At least none that I remember.
So, how do I know that I died?
I was 50 when I died. I was sitting in my recliner in the living room because that’s all I had the energy to do. Most of my muscles were board-hard and I ached deeply all over. A light touch in almost any place could cause excruciating pain that felt like a deep bruise but it lingered much longer than normal bruising pain. I also felt brittle. Every move seemed like it would crack or break me somewhere. It hurt to move, but then, it hurt when I didn’t move, too. Pain was a constant; the only variable was how much.
Chronic pain is physically and mentally exhausting. I was deeply exhausted, beyond the tiredness that can be remedied by extended vacations. This was a bone-deep weariness that held the grayness of death but I wasn’t thinking in those terms then. I couldn’t think much at all.
I went through painful day after painful day in a gray fog. I was a morass of confused emotions, totally bewildered, unable to explain what was happening. I was smart; why didn’t my brain work? I should have been strong and healthy and vibrant. Why wasn’t I? After all, I’d run marathons, lifted weights, meditated, did Tai Chi, counted calories and fat grams. Why did “all the right things” work for others but not for me? Was I going to survive this, whatever it was? Questions, questions. No answers.
Lacking the energy and even the will to barely breathe, I’d groan as I painfully dragged myself from my bed in the morning after a night of fitful, nonrestorative sleep, more tired than when I went to bed. I’d sit inertly in my recliner, exhausted and in a mental fog, going through the few motions of life that I could handle. I’d haul myself back to bed at night, still exhausted.
And then I startled myself one day when I heard my voice exclaim aloud, “I can’t do this any more!” I don’t even know what I meant by “this” but it didn’t matter because no one heard me and nothing happened. At least that’s what I thought.
Have you ever had a memory of something you know you never did, something you know you never dreamed? Normally you recall an action or a dream: I did thus-and-so and I remember the event. You recall not only what happened in the dream but you recall actually having the dream, “I had this dream last Thursday…”
Well, some years after I said I couldn’t do it any more, my physical condition had eased somewhat and my brain was functioning a bit better. Out of the blue this memory popped into my head. I nearly overlooked it but I did take passing notice before ignoring it. It popped up again days or weeks later; once more I quickly noticed and then ignored it. It was tenacious, though, and it kept intermittently irrupting more and more frequently until I finally paid closer attention.
When I did, I was stunned.
I’m approaching several people in robes who are awaiting my arrival. I’m waving and eagerly calling out, “I’m home! I’m home!” I’m overwhelmed with relief and love and so many other emotions that my chest feels full to bursting and I can hardly breathe or speak. I noticed an unusual and pervasive overpowering sense of love and welcome. I was surrounded by, I was “in,” Love. These people were truly glad to see me. I was loved extravagantly and I knew it.
That astonished me. There was nothing in my life to compare it to. I certainly never felt that way when I went to visit my birth home and people never responded that enthusiastically. Each time this memory replayed I felt the same awesome and vast feeling of being loved and wanted beyond comprehension. I was completely bewildered by this memory.
What finally blew me away one day during yet another irruption was when I suddenly realized that these “people” weren’t people in robes as my first impression had been. They were sparkling electric-blue spheres of light trailing faint diaphanous white swirls like wispy clouds beneath them. That was incredible but what really shook me was when it finally dawned on me that if they looked like that, then I must look like that, too! After all, I was one of them.
I was flabbergasted.
I know this all sounds like a dream but it didn’t feel like a dream. It’s hard to describe the difference because when we’re in a dream it feels very real. It’s not until we wake up that we realize it was a dream. This event, though, when I finally remembered it, felt realer than real. Years later it still had this feeling of being an actual experience. This was not a recurring memory of a distant dream.
If you want to think it was a dream, that’s OK. But I’ve been awake and I’ve been asleep and I’ve had dreams. I remember some dreams. This incident was completely different; it was not something I woke up from as from sleep. It was, plain and simple, a memory, and it’s had effects that have lasted. It began a transformation that took me a while to recognize.
I know this sounds terribly woo-woo and now you’re probably asking, “So what does this have to do with dying?”
After I got over my amazement, I tried to figure out where this memory could possibly have originated. If I had a memory then at some point I obviously must have had an experience to remember, right? I gradually came to accept that it, whatever it was, had actually happened, but I was still puzzled about what it meant and when it might have occurred.
I came to a conclusion relatively recently. I think that I literally died when I declared I couldn’t do it any more. Not only was I in pain and drained of nearly all my energy, there was a strange exhaustion, different from the fatigue that had become way too familiar over the years. It reminded me of when I’d once innocently said that I felt like I was “gonna die of tired.”
I decided that final exhaustion, though it might have had some actual physical component from many years of relentlessly driving myself, wasn’t just physical. I believe it was a result of spirit—or chi or life force or prana, call it what you will—leaving my body. I clearly remember passively sitting there, sunk deeply into the recliner with my head leaning against the back. I gazed at the bookcase across the room without really noticing. My head rolled to one side. I knew there was a spring day alive with chirping birds and new life just outside the screen door but I didn’t really pay attention to that, either.
What I did notice was that I was having to remind myself to breathe. I wasn’t struggling to breathe, I wasn’t making any undue effort, I just didn’t feel any desire or need to breathe. I’d exhale and after quite a while, without feeling any urgency to breathe in again, I’d remember to do it because that’s what was supposed to happen next. Then I remember one time I breathed out and I don’t remember breathing in.
If you don’t think this is unusual, ask yourself how often you remember your breathing at all, much less decades later. Even if you’re doing a meditation where you deliberately pay attention to and maybe control your breathing, do you actually find cause to remember it the next week? If you do, you remember the activity in general but not each actual breath.
I remembered. I remembered each breath. I breathed out and then there was no pain and I don’t remember breathing in again. Then, at some indeterminate point I lifted my weary head, and I was in my recliner, in pain again. Woke up from a nap? Not like any nap I’d ever had before. Or since.
I have no proof of what might have happened between breathing out then “waking up,” but I believe that’s when this memory was created. I still don’t remember any details beyond being welcomed by the “ball-people” although that memory blows me away even now. The love I felt was so different, so much more than anything I’ve ever experienced “here.” I can only surmise about who the ball people were and about any other events that might have occurred.
I believe these were souls, my soul family, welcoming me Home. A kind of welcoming committee is very common in the descriptions given by near-death experiencers but there’s so much more those other experiencers describe of which I have no recollection. They often seem to return with instant new understandings and even new powers, perhaps, and their experiences include things like expanded vision and meetings with a Divine Spirit. I remember nothing like that, nor do I have any special powers that I’m aware of.
Not that none of it happened for me. I just don’t recall it. I remember only the souls that met me and, most especially, the Love that surrounded me.
But I did change.