Who You Really Are

by Christopher Lovejoy on March 20, 2011

In this post, I’ll be deconstructing the tagline to this site, the one that reads, Serving you as your guide along your path of personal fulfillment in harmony with who you really are.

I’ll start by focusing on the last segment of this tagline and work my way backwards.

I’m doing this for my own reasons. I’ve begun work on “your ultimate guide to personal fulfillment” and I’d like to add some perspective to my writing voice as I outline and write this guide.

In today’s post, I’ll be doing nothing less than exposing the meaning of “who you really are”.

Fair warning: this post is well over 5,000 words long, but it reads well and it reads fast. You might want to relax into it with a warm beverage before you get started.

She was dead and yet she lived to tell the tale

In a documentary entitled The Day I Died, the BBC explored the controversial subject of near-death experience (NDE) in a way that I found fair-minded, balanced, and accessible to a wide audience.

On one side of the controversy are those who think that NDE can be explained naturally and logically.

On the other side are those who have actually had an NDE. For many of them (not all), death is an illusion. For them, death is less a mystery than it was before they “died”.

They know what awaits them.

I think death is an illusion. I think death is a really nasty, bad lie. I don’t see any truth in the word death at all – Pam Reynolds Lowery (1956 – May 22, 2010)

The story of Pam Reynolds, as told in The Day I Died, is mind-bending to say the least, but before we can fully appreciate it, we need to step back a little and look at the big picture.

Before Pam came along, researchers who were biased in search of a natural explanation were compelled to answer two questions: when does the NDE occur? And what happens to the brain when it does?

From the outset, they could not accept the notion that an NDE could occur when the brain no longer functioned. For them, the NDE had to occur in a borderline state of consciousness. That is, the NDE had to occur just before clinical death was declared or just after the sentence of clinical death was lifted.

Clinical death is defined by three basic criteria: no heart beat, no breathing, no brain function.

When people go into cardiac arrest, they meet the first two criteria. After about 8 seconds or so, they meet the third. Some have claimed that they had an NDE, detaching from their bodies to observe the goings-on of their would-be resuscitators. Some of these observations are objectively verified.

And there is no possible way they could have known that these events occurred if they had no brain function. If they had no brain function, how could they observe anything? Neuroscientists are fairly adamant about this: you cannot have an experience if you don’t have brain function.

For biased researchers, their answer is simple: the observation must have occurred before the patient slipped into that state known as clinical death or just as their brains were coming back to life.

According to these researchers, the effects of an NDE – the out-of-body experience (OBE), the light at the end of the tunnel, the euphoria – can all be explained naturally as effects of the brain.

One such researcher, Dr. Susan Blackmore, maintains that during an OBE, the brain is constructing a different view of itself – a view that says: “now I’m out of my body and looking down”. Because the brain has all of the memories it needs to construct such a view, the OBE is really just an illusion.

She also maintains that the bright light at the end of the tunnel is an effect of the visual system – from the back of the retina to the visual cortex – and the way in which its cells are composed. That is, there are lots of cells devoted to the middle of your visual field and relatively fewer devoted to the outside.

When people go into shock or when they’re deprived of oxygen, all of these cells start firing randomly, creating a visual effect that is typically articulated as “And I felt myself get pulled towards the light at the end of a dark tunnel”. She maintains that the memory of this sensation can occur in an instant, just before a patient slips into unconsciousness or just after a patient regains consciousness.

She also maintains that the emotional effects that occur in response to shock, stress, or oxygen deprivation arise in the wake of a massive influx of endorphins – the feel-good chemicals. They take away the pain and they make you feel wonderful. Ergo, the NDE is strictly a product of the brain.

Or is it?

Enter Pam Reynolds.

In 1991, Pam began reporting symptoms of extreme dizziness, loss of speech, and some difficulty moving her body. A CAT scan revealed a large arterial aneurysm at the base of her brain.

An aneurysm is a blood-filled bulge of a blood vessel or artery that arises from a weakening of the vessel or arterial wall. At the base of the brain, not only is such a condition difficult to access and treat surgically, it can also have catastrophic effects if it starts to bleed.

Understatement: at the time, Pam’s prospects for recovery didn’t look too good.

She was referred to Dr. Robert Spetzler, a surgeon at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, USA. There, she was to undergo a procedure called Operation Standstill (also known as hypothermic cardiac arrest), which at the time was experimental.

In a standstill operation, the body temperature of a patient is lowered to between 10 and 15 degrees C (compared to the typical temperature of the body at 37 degrees C). For Pam, her heart was stopped and the blood was drained from her head, causing her brainwave function to be flat-lined.

She would be clinically dead for up to an hour while the operation took place, according to the account given in the documentary (critics, however, have documented otherwise, claiming that clinical death lasted for only about 5 to 6 minutes, but if you look closely at the timeline, you’ll notice something very interesting happens at 11:25. In the book, Irreducible Mind, the authors, Edward Kelly, Emily Kelly, Adam Crabtree, Alan Gauld, Michael Grosso, and Bruce Greyson, discuss Pam’s case on pages 392-394 and expose many weaknesses with the skeptical criticisms).

In such an operation, the brain cannot just be put to sleep. All function must be brought to a standstill, where all metabolic activity ceases to occur, and where every measurable output that a brain can put out disappears completely, with no measurable neuronal activity whatsoever.

Pam remembers scrubbing her skin with a brush before the operation – and the stinging solution she used to clean her body thoroughly. She remembers being placed on a gurney and she remembers hearing its squeaky wheels as it moved towards the operating room.

Prior to the operation starting, Pam was put to sleep with a general anesthetic. Her eyes were taped shut and clicking devices were placed in her ears to monitor activity from her brain stem.

Her body was completely covered except for the areas where the surgeons would perform their procedures. She doesn’t recall being in an operating room and she doesn’t remember seeing the chief surgeon at all, but does remember being with one of his colleagues.

After that, nothing.

That is, until she heard a sound, an unpleasant sound, the kind of sound you hear in a dental office.

She relates that she felt the top of her head tingle just before popping out of the top of her head.

Looking down at her body, she knew it was her body, but she didn’t care. The observation she had was from the vantage point of sitting on the surgeon’s shoulder, watching him do his work.

She recalls the instrument in his hand – what looked like an electric toothbrush.

She assumed that a saw would be used to open her skull, and she heard the word “saw” being used, but instead observed what looked more like a drill than a saw. She also observed a set of drill bits in a case that looked like the case her father used for his socket wrenches when she was a little girl.

And then she distinctly heard a female voice: “We have a problem. The arteries are too small”.

Pam says she heard the surgeon reply: “Try the other side”.

She observed activity going on further down the body, which had her wondering: what are they doing? This is brain surgery.

What they were doing was accessing the femoral arteries so that they could drain the blood from her body and brain in preparation for the standstill operation.

Dr. Michael Sabom, the NDE researcher connected to her case, confirmed that the bone saw used was indeed an object that resembled an electric toothbrush. Being skeptical at first, the researcher was compelled to make a request by mail to get a picture of this tool from the manufacturer.

The chief surgeon: these tools are not visible to patients prior to an operation and they’re not opened until the patients are completely asleep so as to maintain a sterile environment. And there’s no way that the patient (Pam) could have heard the conversation through normal auditory pathways.

Sometime after hearing the conversation, here’s what Pam reported:

She felt a presence and turned around to look at it, and saw a pinpoint of light.

She felt the sensation of being pulled toward the light, not unlike going over a hill at a high rate of speed (as she described it). As she got closer to the light, she discerned a group of figures gathered and she heard the voice of her deceased grandmother. She reports that they went to her and she felt great.

She saw an uncle who had passed away at the age of 39, and she saw many she knew and many she didn’t know. She remembers asking: “Is God the light?”

The reply she heard: “No, the light is what happens when God breathes”.

She recalls: “I am standing in the breath of God”.

She remembers being reminded to go back to her body and she recalls her uncle escorting her there.

But she didn’t want to get back into her body – into something that looked completely void of life. She resisted, again and again, knowing somehow that it would hurt if she went back into it.

Her uncle kept reasoning with her, and she recalls hearing him say: “It’s like diving into a swimming pool. Just jump in!”

Her response: “No. What about the children? You know what? I think the children will be fine.”

At that point, as she recalls it: she saw her body jump on the operating table (caused by an attempt by doctors to revive her heart), and then her uncle pushed her, and she felt her body jump again.

Pam recalled that the sensation of returning to her body was like jumping into ice water.

When she woke up in the operating room, she said, with remarkable irony: “they were playing Hotel California and the line was, ‘You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave’.”

Some Startling Implications

Pam’s body was fully instrumented and under medical observation when she had her NDE.

While her body was physiologically inert and mostly covered up, she heard a bone saw that the chief surgeon used to open her skull and she saw what it looked like. She even heard a conversation and questioned its relevance.  She also felt the sensation of being pulled through a tunnel at a time when her brain was completely and demonstrably inert.

She saw, she heard, she felt, she recalled.

Her story clearly and unequivocally demonstrates that she retained coherent perception, emotion, and cognition at various times before, during, and after her body was either inert or clinically dead.

She collected and retained information outside of the use of her brain, and somehow, after she was revived from her standstill operation, she was able to transfer this information back into her brain.

At some point in her narrative, Pam relates that she experienced a sensation during a state of clinical death – not immediately before she went into it and not immediately after she came out of it.

The usual mechanistic, materialistic, physicalistic, naturalistic, logical, neurological, and physiological explanations are questionable at the very least, and suspect in light of this particular account.

All of which opens the door to viewing NDEs from a fresh perspective.

One that deserves to be taken seriously.

Pam isn’t the only one who has had an NDE. There are countless others.

And they all tell a similar story. A story that the world deserves to hear.

Without the fearful, defensive buzz of skeptical, cynical chatter.

In the Wake of the NDE

The NDE invariably has a profound and lasting effect on the people who undergo it.

Many of them experience a profound sense of purpose awash in the glow of unconditional love, in the presence of a very wise, very understanding, highly advanced spiritual being.

Their lives change in fundamental ways.

They become less materialistic, less competitive, less involved with the trappings of personal power, prestige, and fame, and more involved in the giving of their time, money, and energy.

They become more concerned with the quality of their relationships and more interested in the religious and spiritual aspects of life. Typically, they make radical changes in their careers and relationships.

It’s not unusual for a financial guru to become a counsellor, nor for a police officer to become a school teacher, nor for a perpetrator of organized crime to begin working with juvenile delinquents.

They come back to life with a heart on fire for love.

With no more fear of death.

What Happens After We “Die”

In the documentary, Life After Life, six authentic accounts of NDE reveal some interesting facts.

The religious beliefs and background of someone who undergoes an NDE has no bearing on whether they have an NDE and no bearing on the content of their overall experience.

Those who said they were atheistic or agnostic in their beliefs prior to having an NDE come back with reports of having a beautiful and full-blown experience. Whatever disbelief or doubt they had prior to their NDEs falls by the wayside after their experience, replaced by certainties of an afterlife and God.

A common pattern prevails all around the world: at the point where someone declares that they’ve died, they actually hear the declaration, and yet, from their point of view, they still feel very much alive.

Indeed, they report that their consciousness is heightened.

They report that their senses are heightened in ways they’ve never experienced before.

They might not always know immediately that it’s their body lying below them or next to them, but typically, many of them do realize this fact not long after they separate from their bodies.

The sequence of events that typically occurs after separation is quite regular and orderly.

First, there’s a period of time, however brief, where they linger in the earthly realm, following earthly inhabitants, checking up on them, and monitoring their conversations with each other.

They might stay in contact with their own bodies in the event of an emergency, or they might just go free, exploring the world at large, beyond the confines of rooms, vehicles, or buildings.

Out of body, a woman, blind from birth, could see her surroundings with perfect clarity.

Out of body, a man reported no sense of time or distance; he said he could be anywhere at anytime. A woman reported thinking about where she’d like to be and was there in an instant.

They can go to places on earth they’ve never been to before, and then go back there after they’ve recovered, recognizing it as the same place they visited while they were out of body.

One lady recalled: “I’m free. I’m no one’s wife or daughter. I’m just myself alone.” Out of body, and away from her body, this same lady overheard someone related to her family say that he thought she was about to “kick the bucket”. When she later confronted him after her recovery, he admitted with embarrassment that he had said it. Needless to say, this lady had a good laugh.

When they realize the phenomenon they’re experiencing has something to do with what we call “death”, the transcendental aspects of the NDE begin to emerge.

A bright light appears at the end of a tunnel.

They’re invariably and inexplicably drawn upward through a dark tunnel towards a light. Some have reported a quick ascent and others have reported seeing spirals or hearing chimes along the way.

Along the way, they feel at peace. They feel safe. They say it feels right.

This experience, incidentally, is captured in two works of art: a 15th century painting called Ascent of the Blessed, by Hieronymus Bosch, and a 17th century engraving by Gustave Doré.

As they approach the light, they might discern figures of light, some recognizable, some not. They might hear the voice of someone they know calling to them, reassuring them.

They report indescribable feelings of peace and love, joy and bliss, in the presence of an incredibly bright, warm, and loving light. This light permeates their being and they become one with the light.

Some have reported going right through it into an idyllic scene of vivid, brilliant color.

A Being of Love and Light

The light is described, not as God, but as the breath of God. This light is also described as belonging to a being of light – a personal and personable being of light.

Being in the presence of this light is being in the presence of love – a complete love, an all-pervasive love. Those in the presence of such love feel completely loved and accepted without conditions.

Such deep, warm love invariably exposes, by stark contrast, feelings of guilt and shame.

Furthermore, such a being is described as having a wonderful personality, who is very knowledgeable and intimately familiar with those who come into his/her/its presence.

He/she/it is described as being very wise, very helpful, with a wonderful sense of humor.

One lady relates: “A warm, loving light – the most masculine, but it also has overtones of mother love, sisterly love – totally pulsating, and accepting, and forgiving, but can I forgive myself for some of the selfish things that I’ve done?”

Another lady (after her suicide attempt) relates: “She took on all the pain and suffering with total understanding of what had brought me to this point, and it was like we were intertwined, that everything I felt, she felt too, and there was this unconditional love, like parents have for their children.”

One man interprets as follows: “This higher being of light was my higher self – the greater part of me looking at the part of me that had just experienced this life.”

Now here’s where things get really interesting.

Often, in the presence of this being of love and light, a panorama comes into view, bringing up every single event ever experienced, from the moment of birth to the close call with death.

There is no sense of temporal sequence to this panoramic view.

The events arise spontaneously, instantaneously, and simultaneously – all displayed in a way that is difficult to describe – a panoramic, holographic view of being inside your own life, both as a witness and as a participant. The participation is mental and emotional, but the participation feels physical.

In this theater of the heart and mind, so to speak, you feel the effects of everything you said or did – of how you affected others, and how they in turn affected others.

At this point, there is absolutely nothing hidden from your life. All is revealed.

This panoramic view makes us starkly aware of our influence on others in a most profound and far-reaching way, and it’s not the events in your life that you would necessarily expect would be reviewed. It’s not the big, self-glorifying accomplishments that get reviewed.

Rather, the simple acts of kindness – even things you might have forgotten.

You will see the things you did from the heart – the uncalculated, unpremeditated acts of kindness that you performed or committed from the goodness of your heart – not the momentous accomplishments or what you think has value, but “the little things” that you took the time to be or do.

The little, unknown things that you do for one another are what count – the things that seem to reverberate most consequentially through the universe (as one man describes it).

In your life review, you’re invited to look at yourself – to look at who you really are.

To look at what you’ve said and done, and give it a value in the eyes of creation.

For one man, his brush with death and the subsequent review of his life gave him a value of what love truly is, receiving a sense that you are so deeply loved and that you so deeply love. He maintains that you sense of part of you greater and far more magnificent than you ever gave yourself credit for.

This being of love and light is also interested in what you learned – in the knowledge and wisdom that you acquired in your current life, that you can bring with you into another life.

Raymond Moody, author of Life After Life, interpreted it this way:

Your capacity for love and your ability to express it and share it seem to count the most, and then, secondarily, in almost a grace note, your knowledge and understanding.

More often than not, they don’t want to come back

When the time comes for souls to return to their lives on earth, they typically resist attempts to have them return to their broken, lifeless bodies.

Sometimes, they’re given a choice to remain or return, but more often, they’re either drawn back involuntarily or they’re literally pushed back into their bodies.

One man, whose body was placed in a morgue for the weekend, and whose body was cleansed and prepped for an autopsy on Monday (attendants actually opened up his abdomen and removed a hematoma before actually cutting into his skin for a T-type autopsy), related that some great power took him by the neck and pushed him down, after which he felt a headache and opened his eyes.

Oftentimes, souls are coaxed or persuaded into going back, being made to understand and realize that it’s not their time to “die”. They either have people waiting for them who need them or they have things they need to accomplish.

From the vantage point of someone being at peace or bathed in love in ways that aren’t possible in the dense earthly realm, it’s not too hard to understand why many souls would resist their return to earthly life, even when they have dependents who rely on their guidance or nurturance.

Setting a Context for Examination

What are we to make of these accounts from The Great Beyond?

I, for one, cannot ignore them, or dismiss them, or say anything that would diminish them and their significance for the lives that we live and lead in this world.

I’m also not so cynical as to believe that all of these people are making up stories. Certain details of their accounts of the NDE have been corroborated by others in compelling ways.

I’m also not so skeptical as to think that the faculty of consciousness, with its capacities for perception, emotion, and cognition, is purely and solely a epiphenomenal product of the brain. If you resolve the matter of the brain to its finest levels, you find mostly empty space. There’s a compelling case to be made for viewing the brain as an intricate and complex pattern that serves to transmit and receive information – not produce it.

What is currently seen as “supernatural” (survival beyond “death”) could, with enough investigation, context, and insight, be brought quite easily and comfortably under the rubric of “natural”.

And so I feel quite justified in sharing what I’m about to share.

Questions, Questions, Questions

The questions that arise for me now are as follows:

Who is this being of love and light at the end of the tunnel?

Why do we seem to be so powerful out of body and yet so ignorant and selfish inside a body?

What are we doing here in this dense material realm called earth? What are we here to learn?

Why do we forget who we are once we enter this dense material realm?

And just how important is love in relation to knowledge and wisdom? And why?

In light of these questions, who are we, really?

Here’s the quick and dirty answer: we are spiritual beings of love and light having a human experience for the purpose of realizing what it truly means to love and be loved.

This answer is quick and dirty because it begs so many other questions.

Certainly, we cannot die.

Why?

Because we’ve already been created.

The NDE clearly indicates that our bodies can expire, but that the essence of who we are cannot.

We can lose everything we’ve ever attained, achieved, and accomplished in material form, but we can never lose our memories of what we attained, achieved, and accomplished. And we can lose everyone we’ve ever loved in space and time but we can never lose them once and for all.

Let’s start at the beginning again.

Who is this being of love and light at the end of the tunnel?

Is it God?

Your saviour and messiah? Your guardian angel? Your primary spirit guide? Your oversoul? Your higher self? Or merely the collective energy given off by a group of souls who are familiar with you?

Admittedly, there’s a lot of ambiguity and confusion in the documentary, Life After Life, about who or what this being of love and light might actually be, but there are also some intriguing clues.

The accounts indicate that when you meet this being, you’ll be meeting with one unified being with a distinct identity who is intimately familiar with everything you ever said and did in your lifetime.

This rules out a collective energy of souls.

The love that this being emanates is all-encompassing – totally accepting and totally forgiving. And yet, this being is interested in getting your feedback on how well you thought you lived your life.

If this being is your higher self, why would it need to ask for your feedback? Would you not just merge with your higher self, incorporating everything you ever learned and realized on earth?

And if this being gives the impression of being very wise, loving, helpful, and knowledgeable, the extent of these qualities suggests to me much more than what a primary spirit guide could ever offer.

And if many souls are “coming up” for panoramic reviews of their lives simultaneously, this would suggest to me that a unique being like God would delegate the task of assessment to other beings.

But then, perhaps we, and the assessors themselves, are manifestations and expressions of God.

An oversoul, interpreted as a guardian angel or an ascended master, seems like a good candidate for this being of love and light at the end of the tunnel awaiting your panoramic life review.

Such an oversoul could be viewed as a guardian of souls, a highly advanced soul who has successfully ascended to a position where it can manage and direct the evolution of a group of souls (for more information on this possibility, I refer you to the works of Michael Newton).

Now, why is it important or necessary that we know this?

For the simple reason that this oversoul, however you understand it, appreciate it, or conceive of it, could very well represent your evolutionary future as a soul.

This, of course, give us clues as to who or what we need to emulate if we’re to experience success in our kosmic, evolutionary journey through space and time and beyond.

But why do we seem to be so powerful out of body and yet so ignorant and selfish inside a body?

The people featured in Life After Life, who underwent their own versions of an NDE, reported some remarkable abilities, above and beyond the simple abilities to observe and monitor events in space and time. Most remarkably, they could be anywhere at anytime, in an instant, but they could also engage the world of space and time as if they were still in space and time. When you take a moment to think about it, that’s a lot of power. So why are we confined to bodies that grow old and die?

What’s going on here?

From one point of view, in light of how difficult and demanding life can be in this dense material realm, can anyone really blame or shame anyone else for being ignorant and selfish on occasion?

I mean, our souls (for lack of a better term) merge with our bodies before, near, at, or after the moment of birth and we forget who we are and where we came from. We grow up and we grow old and we suffer all manner of physical and psychological ills and pains and afflictions. For what purpose?

Are we being conditioned for some divine purpose?

Are we being prepared for a kind of realization that can come only from getting repeatedly beaten and brow-beaten into submission by the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune?

I ask these questions especially in light of what most people want to do when it comes time to decide whether to go back into their broken, lifeless bodies.

They don’t want to come back.

And who on earth can blame them? For many of us, life is hard and then you die.

But then, of course, you don’t.

Let’s look at it this way: when children are spoiled, are they capable of love?

Capable of loving and being loved?

Capable of caring and being cared for?

Capable of giving and receiving?

Capable of sharing and appreciating?

The answers really speak for themselves.

Innocence lost paves a way for love and wisdom to be found.

Which leads us to our next question:

What are we doing here in this dense material realm called earth? What are we here to learn?

It seems likely that we’re here to cultivate (soulfully) and celebrate (spiritually) a finely honed balance between loving and being loved, caring and being cared for, giving and receiving, accepting and being accepted, forgiving and being forgiven, knowing and being known, realizing and being realized. To the maximum extent possible.

All in the context of learning, growing, exploring, creating, performing, producing, managing, directing, evolving, and flourishing into our best, most enlightened versions of ourselves.

Why?

Perhaps because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate or imagine.

I think we need to ponder and answer this question from the standpoint of eternity.

What would you do in concert with others if you knew you could never die?

Next question: why do we forget who we are once we enter this dense material realm?

I’ve heard it said that we forget who are are, not because we’re stupid, but because it’s a price we pay for merging soul and body before, near, at, or just after the moment of birth.

Based on my reading of the works of Michael Newton, this, to me, seems like a reasonable explanation.

And, as life goes on, it’s not like we’re blocked by any and all means possible from recognizing and remembering who and what we truly are and where we ultimately come from.

And finally, just how important is love in relation to knowledge and wisdom? And why?

From what I can gather, and to put it poetically, love reigns supreme in the eyes of creation.

It’s not that love is more important than knowledge and wisdom – just that love is central to everything we know and realize, and central to everything worth knowing and realizing.

If I help an old lady cross the street, taking time out of a busy schedule, I don’t do this because I know it’ll serve me well in the eyes of creation, but because I feel genuine concern for this person.

When you think about it, it’s not this tiny act of kindness per se that counts. It’s the character that I cultivated that enabled, motivated, and inspired me to perform this act in the first place.

The seemingly small things we do for one another out of the kindness of our hearts, speaks not to obligation per se, but to a genuine realization that we are, in our essence, love.

And the light? A lovely aftereffect.

A grace note.

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