To The Great Beyond

by Christopher Lovejoy on January 30, 2011

My first encounter with death occurred when I was a small boy. At the time, I might have been six or seven years of age. I remember that day as snowy and slippery and overcast.

In the afternoon, at around four o’clock, the driver of a large school bus full of boisterously loud children stopped to let a group of us off. Between the bus and the steep ditch that ran alongside the road, there wasn’t much room to walk. As I said, it was snowy and slippery, and perhaps even a little icy.

It all happened so fast. I heard someone yelp in fear, but I didn’t see who it was or where it came from. And then I heard someone start yelling to the bus driver not to go. In the flash of a moment, I saw that it was Noel, my next-door neighbour, and he began pounding on the door of the bus for the driver not to move, screaming as loud as he could for the driver not to go forward.

But the driver proceeded to move forward and a blood curdling scream pierced the world. The scream came from Noel and I saw him turn and rush back toward the rear of the bus, and it was then that I realized what had happened. His brother, and my best friend, Anthony, was lying under the bus.

The driver came rushing out of the bus, took one look at what had happened, and got back into the bus, moving it forward and out of the way of the accident. It was then that we saw what had actually happened to Anthony. His head had been crushed, from back to front, like a pancake.

Noel and the bus driver crouched next to Tony, but I stood nearby, transfixed by the sight before me. Remarkably, Anthony was still alive – barely. His eyes were half-closed, his breathing was shallow, and portions of his brain lay next to his head on the snow. His whimper of helplessness was slight.

This was the last time I ever saw him.

A Few Cautionary Notes

I’ve learned so much about death since then.

I’ve also learned that any account of personal fulfillment would not be complete without a consideration of death – what it is, what it means, and what it can teach us about ourselves and our lives.

I’m aware that there’s a lot of contention around what happens after death, but I’m also aware that there are at least seven ways to gain some heartfelt insight into what happens after we die.

Before I address these seven sources of insight, I’d like to make it clear that I’m not about persuading anyone that there is life after death, or “life after life” as some would have you believe.

I’m really about giving my readers options.

With respect to death, and what happens after death, the skeptical among us would have us believe that “if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist”. In response, you could easily counter as follows: “if you can’t measure it, it might mean you don’t yet have the right test or tool to measure it”.

I would go further.

From a materialist, physicalist, naturalist, mechanist, reductionist point of view, one could argue that the brain has a logic and a language all its own, but then, one could counter: so does the heart.

I think it would do well for us to remember that both the brain and the heart have neurons; that both can carry memories; and that both have insights of their own to give us.

I concur that extraordinary matters require extraordinary evidence, and that one ordinary personal account, anecdote, or testimony is shaky evidence at best, even when the subject seems credible.

But when you begin taking account of extraordinary multiple testimonies, numbering in the hundreds or thousands, the details of which correspond and correlate and cohere, then this is worth considering.

Granted, you might have a cultural or psychological phenomenon on your hands, but in my mind, I believe that it’s best to stay open to the reality that underlies it. It might not be what it seems.

Either to the true believer or the skeptical inquirer.

With the seven sources of insight that I’ll be indicating or exploring presently, let it be said that there could be more than meets the eye and that the heart could be leading the brain to evidence.

Or, if not to evidence itself, then to ways to gather and assess evidence.

One more thing.

Just as true believers can be biased, for their own personal reasons, in favor of having something be true, so too can skeptics be biased, for their own personal reasons, against having anything be true.

I should know. When I didn’t know any better, I played the roles of both true believer and skeptic at different times in my life on different occasions for different reasons.

Seven Sources of Insight from The Great Beyond

I’ve done many hundreds of hours of careful reading about what is claimed to happen to us after we die – some of it favorable to the notion of life after death (or life) and some of it not.

I’ve identified seven sources of insight from The Great Beyond (as I like to call it, knowing full well that this wondrous expression does not originate with me):

1. indications of life after life: this method involves examining the evidence for life after life through various other-worldly phenomena: apparitions, hauntings, possessions, and the like. By themselves, they don’t offer much insight, but they do, in tandem with the other methods presented here, offer some insight into what might happen when a soul gets stuck between this life and the next.

2. mediumship: this method involves someone (a medium) who serves as a go-between for a living person or persons and someone who is deceased, usually a spouse, relative, or family member. By establishing contact with a deceased person, a medium can relay messages (verbally or in writing – even without the benefit of doing a cold reading) to living persons with details about the deceased person’s life that only the living persons could have known about.

3. spiritual guidance: this method involves seeking and finding guidance from what are called guardian angels or spirit guides. People rely on this type of guidance to get clear about their purpose in life, as well as a host of other issues that have a bearing on the quality of their lives. Some people have developed their psychic abilities to a point where they claim that they can relay messages from your spirit guides. Doreen Virtue is a popular example of someone who employs this method.

4. case studies of reincarnation: this method involves a researcher who collects data and evidence from those (usually young children) who claim to have lived a previous life in a previous lifetime. The best researchers will observe and maintain a scientific protocol to ensure that both the data and evidence are valid and verifiable. Some very compelling results have been obtained with this method to suggest that we reincarnate. Dr. Jim B. Tucker, author of Life Before Life, is a prominent researcher in this area.

5. hypnotic regression to previous lives: this method involves clinicians or hypnotherapists who put their patients under hypnosis and regress them back to experiences of previous lifetimes with the intention of resolving difficult issues that affect the patients in their current lives. People who have undergone this procedure report vivid experiences as someone else – some of them quite horrific. Patients under hypnosis report these experiences either as a witness or as an actual participant. Dr. Brian Weiss, author of Many Lives, Many Masters, is a prominent clinician in this area.

6. hypnotic regression to lives between lives: this method was discovered quite by accident by Michael Newton, author of Journey of Souls, Destiny of Souls, Life Between Lives, and Memories of the Afterlife. I’ve read these works and they’re quite remarkable. Initially a staunch skeptic of the hypnotic regression method, Newton went on to regress over 8,000 people in his career to map out in detail the sequence of events that occur after we die, to a point where we can incarnate all over again.

7. near-death experiences (NDEs): the reality of this method was made popular by Raymond Moody, author of Life After Life and the subject of a fascinating video production by the same name. In this educational video, six people (from a cohort of over 2,000 people) provide six compelling accounts of what happened to them after they were declared to be dead. Their accounts are similar in a number of very interesting and intriguing ways, which serve to add to our store of insights into “life after life”. A fairly recent BBC production, The Day I Died, also brought some light to this fascinating subject.

For the remainder of this post, I’ll tap into some or all of these sources of insight, but for the most part, my focus will be on some very unusual and intriguing features of the near-death experience.

Based on these seven sources of insight, I have a pretty good handle on the research that suggests or indicates what happens after we die, what happens when we continue to live and learn between lives, and what happens when it comes time for us to choose if or when to reincarnate into yet another life (and if we do, to choose a particular body for a particular life with a particular agenda).

Unique Features of the Near-Death Experience

When people have a near-death experience, they do so when they’ve been officially declared clinically dead. Their hearts have stopped and their resuscitators have given up on reviving them.

Near-death experiencers (NDEers) share some intriguing commonalities.

They might describe the sensation of popping out of the top of their head or a sudden realization that they’ve been detached from their bodies. They can observe activity in relation to their body but might not realize at first that its their body that they’re observing. They can observe objects and people, hear conversations, and move freely about within the space surrounding their body – and beyond.

Interestingly, the things they see, hear, and feel can be seen, heard, and felt from a perspective that could not have been possible for them had they been alive, awake, and alert. For example, if a patient undergoes a type of surgery where the heart and brain cease to function for a time, he or she can still report an urgent conversation while the surgery is taking place and later have it verified objectively.

NDEers also report some unusual experiences:

(1) the panoramic review: during their NDE, they get a review, in a timeless moment, of every event and feeling that ever occurred in their lives since the moment of their birth, both as an observer and as a participant, as well as feeling every feeling they’ve ever had in their lifetime, as well as the feelings of those with whom they interacted – and the feelings of those affected by those they affected.

(2) the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel: during their NDE, they move, or feel guided to move, through a tunnel-like structure toward a brilliant light where they come into the presence of a being whose essence is described as pure peace and love. If they happen to move beyond this presence, they will typically come upon a scene so vivid and idyllic as to stagger their imaginations.

(3) instanteous movement through time and space: during their NDE, they can transport themselves instantly from one place to another by simply thinking about it, and while in a certain place, can observe the goings-on of those they know in their current lifetimes – and later report these goings-on to those they know when they come back to life, so to speak, and be confronted on how they knew of them.

(4) meeting deceased family members they never knew they had: during their NDE, they might come upon a family member – a brother or sister, for example – who died as an infant. This deceased soul will make it clear to the NDEer that, yes, you are my brother or sister (for example), and that if you check with our parents, you’ll know that this is so. The NDEer later checks and, sure enough, he or she had a brother or sister he or she wasn’t told about by his or her parents.

I’m just scratching the surface here. The point I’d like to make is that death, or so-called death, might not be as final or as inevitable or as necessary as many of us might think or feel or believe.

One thing is for sure: those who have a near-death experience are profoundly changed by it. Their priorities in life shift in a fundamental way. They become more interested or concerned with cultivating loving relationships; they become more unconditionally loving than they’ve ever been before.

Understandably, most of them report having little or no interest in returning to their current lives after they “died”. Their bodies were usually in bad shape at the point of “death” and they felt quite reluctant to return to their bodies and resume the task of living and recovering from their wounds.

The Relevance of the NDE for Personal Fulfillment

The one NDE account that struck me as most interesting, at least in relation to seeking and finding personal fulfillment in this lifetime, was the woman who shot herself through the heart.

Her NDE gave her some important insights into suicide attempts.

She learned that if you succeed in killing yourself, you’ll be fated to repeat a future incarnation where you face all of the issues that led to your suicide, plus all of the consequences of having killed yourself in the previous lifetime. In light of these insights, the existentialists were right: there is no exit.

From this account, and from many other accounts, a clear consensus has arisen about the nature of your expectations for the life that you live now – expectations that go beyond what you might currently expect of yourself and others in this lifetime.

The most fundamental and cherished expectation in the eyes of creation is that you retain a sense of value with respect to your willingness and efforts to love, help, give, care, and share. Unassumingly. Spontaneously. Unconditionally.

The more you do this, the more prepared and willing you are to love, help, give, care, and share, no matter your relationship with the person with whom you love, help, give, care, or share, without any expectation of gain for yourself, the more favored you seem to become in the eyes of creation.

All of which, apparently, bodes well for the quality of your future incarnations.

The other, less fundamental and secondary expectation is that you become knowledgeable, skillful, and wise – that you learn to grow to explore to realize as much knowledge and wisdom as you can – but in the context of serving and fulfilling the most fundamental expectation indicated above.

Where your soul, with its vulnerable sense of promise, thrives on love – the love of being – to serve the most fundamental expectation of your life, your spirit, with its ever expectant sense of possibility, thrives on joy – the joy of knowing – to serve the second most important expectation of your life.

Implications of Everlasting Life

One of my deepest interests in personal fulfillment, one that I haven’t yet written much about, can be summed up in a single question: what do these insights into life before life, life after life, life between lives, and life forevermore, have to do with seeking and finding personal fulfillment in this lifetime?

It might well be that oblivion awaits us all many, many googols of eons from now.

It might well be that oblivion is a fate shared by those who turn their backs on love.

It might well be that we are all destined to live forevermore, in one form or another.

In light of the heady sense of priorities expressed at the end of the previous section of this post, how might we best go about fulfilling ourselves and our lives in this lifetime?

Perhaps all we need to do is sit back and enjoy the ride, in the way that Bill Hicks counseled us to do, but curiously, this deceptively simple attitude requires an active, balanced, informed, inspired awareness.

The game seems rigged. We have no choice but to care. We have no choice but to seek meaning. We have no choice but to live our lives the best way we know how – now and forevermore.

Perhaps we would do well to remember: there’s no rush; there’s no hurry; there’s no urgency. Unless you feel this is necessary for your learning, your growth, your evolution as soul and spirit.

A Return to Love

After leaving the scene of the accident involving my childhood friend, I went home to tell my mother what happened.

I remember the moment quite vividly. We were standing inside our home, near the main entrance.

When I started giving her the details, she became upset, and when I finished answering her questions about what had happened, she broke down and sobbed heavily.

I was totally oblivious to her grief. I couldn’t understand why she was so upset.

“Why are you crying, Mom? He’s going to heaven!”

This made her cry even harder.

Years later, in my twenties, in recalling the accident, I, too, had a moment where I grieved for my childhood friend. By that time, I had lost my faith in heaven. I wept quietly and deeply.

In light of what I know now about death, or so-called death, my view has changed.

I’m now strongly inclined to assume that I will not die when I “die”. I have a solid basis for speculating what might have happened to my childhood friend, and why.

The accident might have been planned before his birth, for the sake of his own learning – to realize greater wisdom and evolve to a higher level of consciousness – or for the sake of effecting positive change at a cosmic level.

Or, it might just have been an accident.

Even now, I’m reluctant to use the word ‘accident’, because even if an incident was not planned before birth, it usually, if not always, has definite, if not subtle and meaningful causes.

I’ve questioned why a small boy with an easy-going, fun-loving spirit was crushed in the way that he was. I’ve questioned why this was even necessary in a world where love is supposedly paramount.

Here’s what might have happened after he “died”.

If he was a young soul, and this really was an “accident”, then he was probably confused by what had happened. He would have been disoriented at death, and it would have taken some time for his guiding lights to help him to see the light at the end of the tunnel, before guiding him there.

If he was an old soul, and this event was planned before his birth, then, in all likelihood, he would have been able to detach gracefully from his body after feeling the full effects of his earthly mishap. He would have greeted his guiding lights in a loving way, fully conscious of what had happened.

Either way, he would have received special treatment.

As a young soul, he would have been blessed with deep healing energy before being returned to his divine home. As an old soul, he would have been held in great esteem by his council of Elders.

I believe, based on my many childhood interactions with him, that he was a young soul, but a young soul by earth’s standards or a young soul by universal standards? I honestly don’t know.

Anthony, it was nice knowing you. I hope you’re doing well, wherever you might be.

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