Twenty-five years ago, I fell into a dimension of life I had no concept existed. The event started with a blinding pain in my abdomen. They wheeled me into surgery, and from there I went into the universe. It felt perfectly normal.
I had no body. Instead, I felt reduced to the basic structure of the universe, I had become molecules. Yet I had my mind intact. In my molecular state, I found the universe beautiful, black yet massive with molecules.
A sense of love, tranquility, peace and harmony filled me. As I bathed in this incredible completeness, I saw a review of my life. I realized I’d had a wonderful life. Then I became aware of gentle lessons on love, kindness and generosity. Finally, the question was formed for me to answer: Do you want to stay, or do you want to go back? I thought about this, of my wonderful life and my feelings of love, peace, tranquility. I gave my reply, “I want to stay.”
Kerplunk! I found myself back in a hospital bed. My mind was relaxed and accepting. Then beautiful voices began to sing to me. Sometimes the voice would be a soprano, then a duet would sing, or a chorus, and sometimes a brass quintet in a slow dirge would play. I had never heard any of this music before, and I had grown up in a family in which music was an everyday part of our lives. One sister became a professional musician, yet I had never heard any of this music.
When someone came into the hospital room, the music stopped. When the person left, the music began again. At some point, the surgeon came to check on me and said, “You shouldn’t have lived.” I knew this better than he did. The music continued for over a week, until I left the hospital. Once home, I never heard the music again.
I never said anything about this until over a year later when I mentioned the music to a friend who was an anthropologist. “Oh yes,” she said, “that is heavenly music. It’s in the medical literature. It is part of healing.”
Even then, I said nothing about having become psychic. At least, that’s what I thought had happened when friends came to visit. Without trying, it seemed I knew what they were going to say before they said it. When visiting with my father, I literally saw the words form across his forehead before they came out of his mouth.
None of this felt strange, which was probably the strangest part. My life had changed in some fundamental way and I didn’t know why I had not just returned to my old self. As I gradually tried to understand what had happened to me, I remembered reading Kubler-Ross’s studies as I researched for my work as a newspaper editor. But my changed sense of self seemed too far-fetched even for me. I had been a hard news reporter for major newspapers in Chicago and Dallas and for a news bureau in Washington, D.C. I was a most sane, clear-headed person, not given to hearing music or reading minds.
When I became mobile again, I started my library research, looking for descriptions of what had happened to me. I was too embarrassed to say anything about these strange events without some sort of supporting explanation. I certainly didn’t regard myself as a nut case. I simply could no longer believe anything I’d been taught about religion, life, death, relationships. Instead, I marveled at the vastness of life. In the many books I read, the answer always came back the same: I’d had a near death experience. I found many accounts that matched parts of my experience.
Over the next 15 years, I occasionally had insights and intuitions that felt psychic, although not with the intensity of when I returned to my body. I felt naturally more loving, kind and generous toward others than before this happened. The event itself haunted me less, and although I still had various experiences I could only call extrasensory perception, I had given up trying to understand it in some everyday explanation.
As if waiting, another medical event landed me in the hospital, but this time no doctor could diagnose the illness. Instead, I was misdiagnosed with cancer and various collagen diseases. Why? Because the rare autoimmune disease I did have mimicked cancer and collagen diseases in some respects. After almost a year, as my life began to fade, a remarkable cardiologist diagnosed the cause of my disease and said she would make every effort to find world authorities on my illness. I thought, well, I could help with that on my computer. In the meantime, she worked with other doctors to begin medication and pericardial heart surgery. That revived my body temporarily.
During my confinement, I had to rethink my life, again. I now knew I could never return to my other life, which included long-distance bicycle trips, travel, and my editorial work. I decided to study subjects I’d never had the opportunity or taken the time to pursue – Buddhism and astronomy. And I began to search for information about my disease. My cardiologist had given me certain clues.
However, I was very angry that my life had dimmed with an unknown disease. A friend told me that I had to find some kind of peace, and directed me to the Dallas Zen Meditation Center.
Much to my surprise, I did find peace. In one of my discussions with Dr. Ruben Habito, head teacher and founder of the Maria Kannon Zen Center, and Professor of World Religions and Spirituality at Southern Methodist University who had studied Buddhism in Japan, I asked why I had not died. “Because your work is not finished,” he replied. That had never occurred to me.
I then consulted Dr. Allan Vreeland, a clinical psychologist who teaches at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. He affirmed that my near death experiences were not unique, although their interpretation was controversial. He confirmed that my experience of communication with disembodied beings, to deliver messages of comfort and love to troubled individuals, was shared by others with experience of near death. He encouraged my meditation practices and understanding of Buddhism as a way of approaching the inevitable experience of death with stability, confidence, and clarity.
And Dr. Habito had been correct. My work wasn’t finished. My medical search on the Internet for my disease introduced me to a woman in Michigan who had a variation of my disease. Her work with a medical instrument company had led her to the National Organization of Rare Diseases (NORD), and to Dr. James Loyd, of Vanderbilt Medical School. Dr. Loyd is the world authority on my particular rare disease. We set up a web site on the disease, and I agreed to research and write an application for the disease to be added to the list of rare diseases with NORD. It took close to two years to research and write the application, which Dr. Loyd read and approved. But as a result, NORD listed Fibrosing Mediastinitis (FM) as a rare disease. Soon, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control recognized FM as a rare disease. Now we could raise funds for research. Soon afterward, we produced the first medical conference on FM with physicians from Vanderbilt University Medical School lecturing, and with Dr. Vreeland contributing a lecture on meditation techniques for managing the stress of chronic illness. Patients came from throughout the United States. At last count, the FM web site had over 17,000 hits.
Through these new experiences and new friends, I have learned that Buddhism best defines my revised, exhilarating understanding of life which I find so vast that I cannot describe its dimensions. Meditation each day opens my mind and brings me peace.
I can appreciate the deep personal compassion that is the most common response of persons who have come very close to death. I am no longer afraid of my mortality. I know that my body will die, but my energy and my contributions are a part of the universe. Energy never dies. As the Buddha taught: we are transformed through many lives.
(1) “Life After Life” by Raymond A. Moody, Jr. M.D.
(2) “Evidence of the Afterlife” by Dr. Jeffery Long, M.D.
(3) “Near Death Experience” -¬Wikipedia”
(4) ”Pam Reynolds (singer)” — Wikipedia