Update on 1/19/19: My memoir, Angels in the OR: What Dying Taught Me About Healing, Survival, and Transformation, can be pre-ordered now. It is a #1 new release in several categories. I would love it if you helped me make near-death experiences more mainstream.
I’m happy to include another guest post about a beautiful out-of-body-experience. Personally, I know that meditation practices can make us more open to these experiences. Enjoy this story from across the pond.
On the River by Will H.
I started meditation in my late teens and in my twenties attended a number of silent mindfulness retreats, which I very much enjoyed. By nature, I’m a morning person and find that the early morning is the best time to practice meditation at home; the mind is usually quieter and well rested after a good night’s sleep. Years ago, however, I would also meditate at night just before going to bed. Somewhat to my surprise, I noticed that this had an unexpected effect on my dreams.
As a general rule, I found that practicing mindfulness for 30-40 minutes or so before going to sleep made dreams easier to recollect, deeper and more vivid…. a bit like tuning an old fuzzy TV so the picture quality improves. I once had dream of a roe deer on the farm, which then turned into what appeared to be an old shaman. The shaman tried his best to communicate deep and important personal truths that I strained to hear but frustratingly couldn’t quite grasp. Earlier still, another memorable dream foretold the future sale of the family farm some 7 years later when the full symbolic meaning came to pass. Interestingly, I later read a wonderful book by Piers Vitebsky called ‘Reindeer People’ about the nomadic reindeer herders of Siberia who it turns out have a name for just this sort of pre-cognitive dream that is only later fully understood with the passage of time.
All these deeper dreams as a result of pre-bed meditation seemed to involve the local countryside and tended to have what I thought of as shamanic rather than Buddhist motifs. I found this surprising at the time as mindfulness is really an Asian Buddhist practice. It’s only more recently that Burmese Buddhist elements have appeared in my dreams and even then quite infrequently.
The particular dream happened about 17 years ago and was an out-of-body dream. I lived at the time by a beautiful river in Southern England and the historical birthplace of fly-fishing. Rivers are mostly privately owned in Britain and my family had a farm that had diversified, so we sold fly-fishing days as a way to keep the farm viable. My home was a mill cottage, well over 100 year old with two braids of the river flowing on either side, quite something in the summer! In the off-season winter months, we would look after the river, doing habitat and riverbank restoration work with a small team of men. I had big plans for improving both the fishing and the in-stream ecology.
One night around this time I woke up to find myself looking down at my own body asleep in bed from a vantage point on the ceiling. I guess you could call this a lucid dream where you wake up and yet simultaneously remain firmly in the dream state.
No sooner had I registered this most unusual out-of-body experience looking at my own body, than a luminous oval sphere of light then came in through the window – sliver blue in colour it paused by my bed. As I looked down I could see that this ball of light exerted a suction on my left side about level with my ribcage and out popped another blue-silver ball of light. “Ah, this must be my one,” I immediately thought to myself.
My visitor spoke to me telepathically although seemed a little uncertain of how to address me, “Come on Will, come on William – we have to go and look at the river”.
So, I left my bedroom as a ball of light following another ball of light up and out of the window. We flew low to the river like a pair of brilliant blue kingfishers to a place upstream where the real-life team had been working that same week on riverbank repairs. We paused and looked at the work though no further words were exchanged.
I knew without doubt who the other blue ball of light was – It was Leslie, a river-keeper who had tended the river before I was born. What I know is that he had a heart condition, forgot to take his medication and died suddenly around the time my mother was pregnant with me in the early 1970’s.
I subsequently learned that Leslie was one of the great old-school river keepers. A man devoted to the care of the river, he would cut the riverweed by hand wading in the water with a scythe in the days before mechanical cutting. They told me Leslie would start work on the river at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. on summer mornings, unthinkable to our more lazy generation!
Whilst it was many years ago that I had this dream and the family farm was sold not long after, it has stayed with me all this time. I well remember waking up and feeling this great inner conviction regards two things following that dream.
Firstly, I felt a certainty that physical death was not the end. How could it be? I’d just met a dead person! Secondly, I was really struck by how someone could still care about a river over 30 years after their own death; it was emotionally humbling and made me wonder again what exactly happens after we pass on.
A final strange twist was that a few weeks after having this dream, I was distributing some pamphlets advertising our fishing business; I went into the local village Post-Office and asked if I could leave some there. An attractive woman behind the counter took a glance and then said with a smile “Oh my grandfather used to work there as a river-keeper – his name was Leslie.” I felt close to mentioning the extraordinary dream experience but I held back, something that I perhaps regret now. I’d never met any of Leslie’s family before (or since) so maybe I should have said something.
In my own defense, out-of-body mystical experiences involving the dead are not topics that we Brits normally talk about on first meeting! What was I really going to say? “Oh yes, I met your long-dead Grandpa two weeks ago, he got me out of bed to look at the river work we’re doing!”
I find it encouraging that thanks to the internet, we can now share these sorts of unusual experiences, and I hope with time all will be more accepting of them in everyday life.
Will H, England. April 2017.