Update 1/19/18: My memoir, Angels in the OR: What Dying Taught Me About Healing, Survival, and Transformation, is available for pre-order. It is a #1 new release in several categories. I would love your support of a pre-order. My aim is to help make near-death experiences more mainstream.
“Because you are alive, everything is possible.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh Living Buddha, Living Christ
Humans are powerful spiritual beings meant to create good on earth. This good isn’t usually accomplished in bold actions, but in singular acts of kindness between people. It’s the little things that count, because they are more spontaneous and show who you truly are.—Dannion Brinkley
Since childhood, I have struggled with a few basic philosophies found in some Christian churches. I don’t believe I was born sinful. I believe I was born very close to the light of God. Reminding others of their basic goodness and divinity seems like a better plan than telling them they are born sinners. I prefer Brinkley’s idea that “humans are powerful spiritual beings meant to create good on earth.” This is what we should reinforce in ourselves and in others. Peace is more than possible when the focus in on the power of the human spirit and one’s connection to source.
Recently, I’ve read arguments from Christians who dismiss the experiences of NDEers, saying that these experiences are merely subjective. No single moment has ever seemed as real to me as the moments outside of my body. Subjective or not, every moment in my waking reality pales in contrast to seeing angels interact with this reality. Is that my personal experience? Yes, but it is an experience unlike any experience before or after that experience, a vivid, multi-dimensional experience that granted me knowledge and understanding in a direct and powerful way. I’ve spent decades trying to slow down those transmissions of light and information and decipher the meanings. The main point is that I changed because of those transmissions. Spiritual transformations happen in an instant.
Most people’s interpretations of the Bible are subjective. Though I am grateful that my mom taught me to read before Kindergarten, mainly by focusing on the Bible, I remember questioning some passages, especially in relation to women’s roles. Since I happened to be born a liberal, I suppose I was born a feminist as well, and St. Paul did not impress me, especially with lines like, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, she must be quiet.” in Timothy 2:12. The boys attending my elementary school acted like idiots, and I thought they could benefit from listening to me for a while. I knew how to read, tie my shoes, sit without fidgeting, play well with others, and write in cursive while they made fart noises, cried to get out of reading, and beat each other up on the playground. St. Paul seemed like a sexist who wanted power for himself.
His writings and certain interpretations of a woman’s role in marriage harmed countless women. Divorce started to ramp up in the U.S. when I was a child, and yet there were too many women who put off divorce, choosing to stay in horribly abusive relationships or loveless marriages because they bought into this idea that they were less than without a man. Sometimes, they even believed that they must submit their will to their husband and pray for his healing, even as he took his rage out on her. Only very small percentages of men who are abusive change. This information only seems to have become common knowledge in the last five to ten years thanks to books like Crazy Love and amazing researchers like Jackson Katz who remind us that women’s issues are really men’s issues when men are the ones committing crimes against women.
As a child, I questioned many passages of the Bible, but I stayed quiet about my questions because it would have cost me a lot to speak my truth. I would have compromised my safety and compromised being loved if I openly argued with the Bible. I acted the part. Being loved for a lie didn’t set well with me either. I believed that many authority figures in my life were wrong for not fostering my inquisitive nature, for not encouraging me to think for myself and question the world around me. Don’t get me wrong, there were and are many parts of the Bible I love dearly. The teaching’s of Jesus are close to my heart, as are many passages from Psalms. I only wanted the freedom to question religion and the world around me. Growing up, I did not have the freedom to learn about other religions and other practices. I wanted to believe in a loving God, not a vengeful one. The God I met during my NDE was more loving than any force I have ever dreamed of or encountered. I know that God is indeed a loving force.
Growing up, I never fit neatly within the box of one particular religion or way of thinking. I never fully adapted to my culture, and I’m grateful I didn’t. I saw it clearly for what it was. I detested the racism I saw growing up in East Texas. I cared for all people, and it hurt me deeply to see teachers treat African American students differently from white students. I knew these teachers were intentionally harming African American students by not giving them praise, attention, or awards. I saw certain students visibly wither from the lack of attention from teachers. I bristled when I heard comments like “women aren’t good at math and science,” dreaming of a different part of the country and a different time when these statements would seem archaic and outdated. We are reaching that place now. I sometimes felt crazy for my sensitivity as a child, but I am glad others had this sensitivity. I am glad some things about our world have changed.
Loving kindness is the most important trait we can cultivate in ourselves and for the world. We might fall on our faces, say horrible things to one another, but I hope each of us gets up, forgives ourselves and the world, and quickly and practices even greater kindness. May we see ourselves as connected and not in competition.
I write because I can no longer repress and suppress my truth. Any wisdom I offer is only with the intent to heal—to make everyone more aware of their essential goodness, more in touch with their ability to be a force of good on this planet. We are alive, and the possibilities are endless. Let’s not spend the time arguing and quibbling over details. Let’s love one another. I leave you with some of my favorite Thich Nhat Hanh quotes from Living Buddha, Living Christ.
“When our beliefs are based on our own direct experience of reality and not on notions offered by others, no one can remove these beliefs from us.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ
“Twenty years ago at a conference I attended of theologians and professors of religion, an Indian Christian friend told the assembly, “We are going to hear about the beauties of several traditions, but that does not mean that we are going to make a fruit salad.” When it came my turn to speak, I said, “Fruit salad can be delicious! I have shared the Eucharist with Father Daniel Berrigan, and our worship became possible because of the sufferings we Vietnamese and Americans shared over many years.” Some of the Buddhists present were shocked to hear I had participated in the Eucharist, and many Christians seemed truly horrified. To me, religious life is life. I do not see any reason to spend one’s whole life tasting just one kind of fruit. We human beings can be nourished by the best values of many traditions.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh Living Buddha, Living Christ