BEYOND OUR LAST BREATH
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When I do a funeral for one of the patients I’ve served, I will usually say something like: “Almost all of the religions and spiritual practices of the world speak of a life after this one …… a place of healing and peace…..”
People find it comforting.
But is it true?
So, what’ is “Beyond our last breath”?? (Hopefully our next one, right?…but if not)… then what?????
A few years ago a radiation oncologist, Dr. Jeffery Long, wrote a book called, “Evidence of the Afterlife; The Science of Near Death Studies”. At the time it was the largest study ever conducted, reviewing over 1600 cases. After reviewing all the evidence he concluded that, in his opinion, life does not end at that last breath.
(Based on what I’ve witnessed being with the dying I agree with his conclusion).
By the way this phrase, “Near Death Experience”, comes from Dr. Raymond Moody’s book, “Life after Life”, first published in 1976.
Today there are Literally thousands of stories from people reporting NDE’s -
among them a number of doctors, including Neurologist Eben Alexander and spinal surgeon Mary Neal- both of whom have written books and spoken at length about their experience.
Some of the commonalities Dr. Long discovered as he reviewed the data:
*The person is surprised to find them self still aware and “alive”
*Able to see their body but find themselves outside of it/usually (but not always) above looking down
*Able to hear what others are saying (drs. Rescuers, EMT’s) BUT unable to be heard when they try to assure them they are OK.
*Feelings of PROFOUND peace and calm
*A bright light-this may start as a tiny point of light that grows
*Tremendous, overwhelming sense of love from the light
*Seeing their entire life in minute detail (time seems to stretch out)
*(During this life review) Able to feel the effects of their actions/words on others- to experience it as if they were that other person
*No Judgment from the light, only love and support as they judge them self and learn
*The appearance of what seems to be a tunnel and a sense of great speed as they travel in this tunnel
*Coming out of the tunnel into a place of beauty
*Meeting deceased loved ones
*Being told it is not there time and they must go back- not wanting to go back. (Not all of these happen and the order or sequence varies)
Let me tell you about my very first patient after I’d finished seminary and been hired at hospice. He was a 68 yr old man with cancer. He was a bit of character- when we first met he told me he had been a hell-raiser in his younger years. We hit it off and he invited me for regular visits. One day I showed up for our usual visit and it was clear to me that he wasn’t doing so well and things were changing. Although we’d talked a good deal about his life and his beliefs, we’d not talked about death. So on this day, seeing the change, I asked him: “how do you feel about dying?”
He was in bed, partially sitting up with his head down, chin on chest.
All of a sudden his head snaps up and he gives me this big smile and says, “NO problem- I already did it once!”
So I asked him to tell me more and this is what he said….
“About 24 years ago I was rushed to the emergency room with a major abdominal bleed. Next thing I know I am outside of my body and watching as they wheel me in to the room. I see my body lying on the gurney and a doctor and a nurse and a few other people working like crazy.
The first thing I notice is how good I feel- better than I’ve ever felt in my life! Looking at my body lying there it occurs to me that that body wasn’t me! It was like my car- it got me around in this life. Then I hear the doctor shouting, “We’re losing him”
Here’s the thing I feel so good I don’t want to go back into that body so I try to tell that doctor, “I’m OK” But he can’t hear me. So I stand there, maybe about 8-10 feet off to the side and watch them continue working like crazy. Then it get’s really strange…” he pauses for a few seconds, then continues. “On my left I notice this light and it starts to grow- it’s brighter than anything I’ve ever seen- brighter than the sun but it doesn’t hurt to look at it and now it’s the only thing I can see. Here’s the thing, if I thought I was feeling good before, standing there in this light I have no way to describe it- it is beyond words. If you can imagine the most loving feeling you’d ever had in your life, it wouldn’t come close. This was love x a million! -simply off the charts! Then the light spoke to me and said, “It’s not your time- you have to go back”
With that he stopped and said, “So I have no problem with dying because I know that light will be there….”
Now I will tell you that this guy had told me in our earlier visits that in his hell raising days he’d been a heavy drinker, gambler and a lousy husband and father but then had given up all that stuff and turned his life around. So after he shared this story with me I asked him if this experience had anything to do with his quitting drinking.
He said to me, “Well yeah. Here’s the thing- I’d been a real S.O.B. and yet this Light had loved me anyway! When I came back I just didn’t want to be that way anymore.” He died a few weeks later.
There is a postscript to this: about 2 years later I was invited to speak about hospice at a community event and there were maybe about 50 people there. I happen to share this story and after I was done with my presentation a woman came over to me and asked to speak with me. She introduces herself and tells me she was the nurse at the emergency room that day all those years ago. She then says this patients name (which I never shared-HIPA) and goes on to confirm the story (at least the fact he had been close to death).
I began to selective share this story when appropriate. One time I shared it with a patient- a 90 year old man- and when I finished he said to me, “That’s it exactly”. I asked what he meant and he proceeded to tell me a story that had happened when he’d been a young man and had been gravely ill. This had also happened to him but he’d never shared it with anyone because he couldn’t put it into words--he also said people didn’t talk about those kinds of things back then. As time passed he’d thought that maybe he imagined it but in hearing this story he felt a sense of relief because he knew he’d not imagined it after all.
I have had many patients tell me about seeing deceased loved ones. And obviously this is before they’ve died! I will tell you that most of these people were totally lucid and oriented to place and time. What’s going on here?
My thoughts on this:
You have a body, but are you that body?
Are you in the same body you arrived here when you were born?
Way back in your earlier days, somewhere around 3-ish, you had a realization- “I” ! as in “I am”! and then almost immediately this became connected to a name-your name- then you attached it to “me”. But it wasn’t exactly the same thing. The I was THAT which noticed –it was/is awareness.
That sense of “I-ness” is with you right now. It has been with you through all the various bodies you’ve already had in this life. Hold on to that for a few minutes - because we will return to it. I promise.
Speaking specifically to the phenomena of seeing deceased people, I believe that as a person is approaching the end of their life there are many changes occurring within that person. To operate in this world our senses are tuned to this world- we can only hear a specific range of frequencies. If a sound is above that or below it we will hear nothing. Same is true for light, we are able to see only a specific range-what lies outside this is invisible to us.
I believe that in these people their senses are starting to shift and this is why they see what we don’t. Think of it this way: our bodies are operating within the parameters specific to here- this 3 D reality. Think of it as being tuned to specific frequency, like your radio. (To hear WAMC you have to be at 90.3).
As death approaches this starts to change. Think of it like signal drift. It’s something like that. My thought is that the person seeing deceased loved ones is seeing light that we can’t. It’s part of the “shift” their consciousness is beginning to make, away from the physical senses. It’s beginning the process of tuning into a different “signal/station/frequency”.
I’m using this analogy because it helps to give us a frame with which to conceptualize the idea.
OK, this brings us back to where I started out, with the “I”-ness of you. That is the consciousness I’m taking about here.
But isn’t consciousness the result of the brain? Well, there is the hard problem- because how something as complex as an experience of “me” arises due to some electrical/chemical process in a 3.5 lb mass of mostly fat and water, NO one knows (hence THE HARD PROBLEM).
What we do know is that certain areas of this brain light up when certain things are being done. We can observe activity. And we do know that when areas of the brain are damaged, functioning changes.
What I want to suggest is that this consciousness that does clearly use and operate through the brain is NOT created there. To think it is would be like having a radio and believing the music you’re listening to is being created by radio.
But if the tuner in that radio gets damaged? No more music, right? But that doesn’t mean the signal with the music doesn’t still exist.
Again we’re back to analogies
My thought is that what has been called, the “soul” or the “spirit”
is this same thing I am now calling “Consciousness”. It’s a name- our name -a way to describe something. This name may fit a bit more comfortably in today’s world because it doesn’t carry the baggage religion may have for some people.
There’s a saying in Buddhism, “ A finger pointing at the moon is NOT the moon”. I think that too often this happens with words and names-we mistake one for what it’s trying to point at.
So let me try to wrap this up for you. That energy that is currently moving through you in that body, the mysterious force animating you and living through you does not die. That body, and all its components, will decompose and return to the elements from which it came.
But that energy? That will continue. The first Law of Thermodynamics: Energy can be changed from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed.
It seems to me that what these stories are telling us is that consciousness- the awareness you have -is part of that energy and it continues.
I realize I’ve given you a lot here this morning. Truth is I have just scratched the surface. I could easily have filled an hour here and would certainly be happy to do a presentation some time that will go deeper. You can go to my website where I do have links to some of the things I’ve quoted here. But for now, thanks for listening.