(See Part 1, “My Son, My Light“)
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.