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Monday, December 13, 2010

Coming Back...Survival or Rebirth?

I recently viewed two episodes of I Survived...Beyond and Back, a series currently airing on bio. television network. The fascinating television series features first-person accounts and testimony of people who have flat lined; some for a few seconds, others for up to an hour, and come back to life. Other evidence of the person's "death" experience features interviews from the medical personnel and family members who were present. Each episode includes three survivors and explores their encounter with death and the ways in which it has changed their outlook on life forever.

The episodes reminded me of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's study of death, dying and transition. Kubler-Ross, a  Swiss-born psychiatrist and author, gained fame as one of Time magazine's "100 Most Important Thinkers" of the past century. She is known as the "First Pioneer of the Final Frontier Called Death" for her work and books On Death and Dying and Life Lessons.

Kubler-Ross collected information drawn from her years of working with the dying and learning from them what life is all about, in-depth research on life after death, and her own feelings and opinions about this fascinating and controversial subject. Her inspiration for the research occurred while working at a hospital in New York after arriving in the U.S. in 1958. She was appalled by the standard treatment of dying patients. at the time. Kubler-Ross said, "They were shunned and abused. Nobody was honest with them."

Unlike her colleagues, Kubler-Ross made it a point to sit with terminal patients, listening as they poured out their stories to her. She began giving lectures featuring dying patients who talked about what they were going through.

In 1965, she moved to Chicago where she continued to work with nurses, sympathetic doctors and priests to better counsel the dying. There, she held weekly seminars interviewing patients in open, informative conversations. She identified five stages in the death processes, universal to all patients she encountered: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Though near-death experiences are sharply criticized by many scientific and theological investigators, Kubler-Ross's research had convinced her that an afterlife exists. (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying, 1969) She was intrigued by stories of near-death experiences and concluded that death does not exist in its traditional definition; rather it occurs in four distinct phases: 

1. Floating out of one's body like a butterfly leaving its cocoon, assuming an ethereal shape, experiencing a wholeness, and knowing what is going on around oneself,

2. Taking on a state of spirit and energy, not being alone, and meeting a guardian angel or guide,

3. Entering a tunnel or transitional gate and feeling a light radiating intense warmth, energy, spirit, and overwhelming love, and

4. Being in the presence of the Highest Source and undergoing a life review.

All of the testimonies of death from I Survived...Beyond and Back that I viewed seemed to support at least some of the phases above. Science might explain NDEs as visions produced by the brain which eventually finalize upon permanent brain death -- purely physiological phenomena that occur within an oxygen-starved brains.
It's accepted, based on studies, that between 4% and 18% of people who are resuscitated after cardiac arrest have an NDE. "There's nothing mysterious about NDEs," says Mark Mahowald, director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center. "Many people want it to be a religious, paranormal or supernatural phenomenon. The fact that NDEs can be explained scientifically detracts from the mystique." (Daniel Williams, "At the Hour of Our Death," Time, August 31 2007)

But, if minds can transcend physical bodies and experience clear visions of verified events which they could not have possibly experienced under an old paradigm, is it time to question aging scientific models and focus on a new one? Could there be "underlying mechanisms in more mysterious realms that cannot currently be described," as stated by Karl Jansen, Auckland psychiatrist. Just because NDEs do not fit the current understanding of the brain, should that mean they are meaningless?

"So what's so baffling about NDEs? We know that when a person's heart stops, the decline in brain function caused by a cut in blood supply is steep. Simultaneous recording of heart rate and brain output shows that within 11 to 20 secs. of the heart failing, the brain waves go flat. A flat electroencephalogram (EEG) recording doesn't suggest mere impairment. It points to the brain having shut down. Longtime NDE researcher Pim van Lommel, a retired Dutch cardiologist, has likened the brain in this state to a "computer with its power source unplugged and its circuits detached. It couldn't hallucinate. It couldn't do anything at all." (Daniel Williams, "At the Hour of Our Death," Time, August 31 2007)
Whatever the cause or reality of NDEs, the returning patients describing their experiences are 100% convincing as travelers who have tread new spiritual ground. Each describes a profound effect on his/her life and seems to relate the out-of-body trip as a heavenly, pain-free, almost magnetically-satisfying existence. While such experiences are profound, no one has returned with proof or verifiable information from "beyond the grave." Still, as I read of parallel universes and other mind-bending theory, I am open minded to any interpretation of  my eventual demise. Isn't wondering a true gift of intellect and spirituality?   

According to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross...

"Dying is nothing to fear. It can be the most wonderful experience of your life. It all depends on how you have lived.

For those who seek to understand it, death is a highly creative force. The highest spiritual values of life can originate from the thought and study of death.

Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.

How do the geese know when to fly to the sun? Who tells them the seasons? How do we, humans, know when it is time to move on? As with the migrant birds, so surely with us, there is a voice within, if only we would listen to it, that tells us so certainly when to go forth into the unknown.

I believe that we are solely responsible for our choices, and we have to accept the consequences of every deed, word, and thought throughout our lifetime. 

People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.  

There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace. You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden or even your bathtub.

Those who learned to know death, rather than to fear and fight it, become our teachers about life.

When we have passed the tests we are sent to Earth to learn, we are allowed to graduate. We are allowed to shed our body, which imprisons our souls." 

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