Update 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.
This is the transcript of a previous interview with Peter Panagore. We had a few technical glitches in that video, but he was kind enough to redo the interview for me.
Tricia Barker: I saw something on your YouTube channel about how you went back to the spot where you had your NDE. How was that experience for you?
Peter Panagore: I hadn’t gone back ever. I wanted to back, and I didn’t want to go back. In 2016, I was at a book signing, and a woman who read my book engaged me. She said that she wanted to pay my way to go back to the spot of my NDE. I told her “no, no, no” and she said, “yes, yes, yes.” There were several times of us going back and forth about this idea.
Meanwhile, a strange event happened during this time. I was leading a retreat on an island near where I live, and I led a retreat there three times over three months. One guy kept coming back to my event, and he ran a Native American sweat lodge. He is connected to a spiritual elder, named Jim, who lives on the Reservation of Pine Ridge, South Dakota.
During a sweat lodge up in Alberta, that spiritual elder had a vision that he needed to go make an offering to Creator at a certain mountain in Banff National Park. So, the elder went up to go make an offering at this mountain, but he couldn’t get past Banff, so they do the ceremony outside nearby. And, he comes back home again and tells his wife what he did—about the offering. His wife, said, “Oh my God, Jim, that is the mountain in Peter’s book.” This man had never been before to that mountain before.
Tricia Barker: Wow. That is an amazing serendipity.
Peter Panagore: I know it blew my mind. I know this story because Jeff flew the Elder flew from South Dakota to Maine, to tell me this story. We talk for several hours sitting. Jim says, “I don’t know what Creator has in mind for us, but I know Creator has a plan for us to work together. At the very same time, the woman who was at my book signing continues to insist that I go back to Banff. Finally, after meeting Jim, I said yes, and this guy from the sweat lodge, Jeff, who I didn’t know that well, volunteered to go with me. I started going to his sweat lodge. I still go. Jeff contacted Jim, a spiritual elder of the among the Natives Americans and First Nation People and we met up in Calgary. Jim and his friend Smokey, drove hours and hours up to Banff with us, and they did a ceremony for me along the river. Jim and Smokey helped me because I was a little scared of going back. I didn’t know if we were even going to find this place—Cirrus Mountain and weeping wall—because it is way far north, and I found the mountain on the map but not Weeping Wall—the climb—that is on Cirrus Mountain. Nobody had marked it Google Earth. It might be marked now because I believe that I marked it.
Tricia Barker: That’s beautiful how it all came together.
Peter Panagore: It is amazing. During the ceremony Jim gave me a new name, Nagi Wichacha Nupa, which means “Two Soul Man,” and he showed me how to call my soul back. Jim had noticed that I had PTSD because Jim is a Vietnam War Veteran, and he watched my behavior back in Maine. He gave me a star quilt that is given to veterans. We found the mountain. I did what Jim told me to do—I called my soul back shouting and screaming three times, “I want my soul back!” I felt such a release of pain and an in filling of peace. I have made videos about this, the pain and the peace, but I cut the pain out of the story because it is too disturbing for many people.
Tricia Barker: That’s o.k. I can go there.
Peter Panagore: I know! (Laughter) I videotaped the whole thing, and I tested it with several people on Facebook. When they saw the whole thing, they were like, “Oh my God. Hmmm.” They had this reaction because when I went to the mountain, I screamed, and I called my name back. I kept calling my soul back, and I was raw in the voice and screaming and yelling for my soul to come back. We went two days, and I had this cathartic experience the first day where I was emptied of all the pain I carried from the event. It hurt so much. The event of dying hurt physically. It was painful and traumatizing. Psychologically, it was extreme.
Tricia Barker: Yes. People don’t talk about trauma associated with NDEs enough. I can relate with you in two ways. First, I met with a shaman a couple of summers ago and received important confirmation about something from my past. It is common for children to suppress traumatic memories. I told this shaman nothing about me, but she called a part of my soul back at the exact age that I knew I needed to receive healing. Secondly, though your location is much more remote and beautiful, I have returned to the intersection where I had the wreck which led to my NDE during surgery. And, in that moment, I called myself back and thought deeply about the event. It is a little weird that I stood at a 7-11 and did this while you were in beautiful mountains. (laugher). I tried to be fully grounded and present in that moment, allowing the past to be the past.
A lot of people don’t talk about how dying itself is traumatic and incredibly painful. I’m not afraid of death, but I don’t like the physical dying process. I am a little jealous of people who are at a spiritual event and have a peaceful, lovely awakening. We, NDErs, have a death that we journey through, and this is traumatic. It does cause PTSD to varying degrees. A lot of times, NDErs don’t realize it until later.
Peter Panagore: I should tell your audience that we are just getting to know each other, and I didn’t know that about you. I am seeing that we have similar experiences of the divine and our after-effects.
Tricia Barker: I wanted to interview you because we do have many similarities, and I was fascinated by the fact that you had your NDE at an early age– 21. I had mine when I was 22, and it dramatically changed and informed the rest of my life. I would like to hear how the experience changed your life. I know you said you were spiritual before your NDE, but how did your relationship with God and with life change?
Peter Panagore: Everything changed. I was not the same person, even though I was in the same package and had the same DNA and biology. My perception completely changed.
Before my NDE, I had been a charismatic catholic and experienced practices like speaking in tongues. I had seen crazy stuff in that prayer group; and I was born a mystic contemplative meditative person anyway, and always had leaned toward God. But, when I came back from my near-death experience, my need for religion was gone. I kept the meditation, but religion was not my connection anymore. I didn’t believe in the Bible in quite the same way I was raised to believe in it, back when I only believed in God. I no longer believe. I no longer doubt. I no longer have faith. I know that I am Known by the Knower. My perception of everything here is so much less than the divine being. My spirituality became much, much deeper instantaneously and left me at sea, left me lost in the wilderness, left me in space flipping over in my space suit by myself as the ship goes the other way and I’m thinking “where am I and what am I going to do?” Meditation, mysticism, and contemplation became the root.
Tricia Barker: For the listeners who have not heard about your near-death experience, could you give a condensed version of your near-death experience? I will put links to your book below. I love hearing about that oneness and that experience with the light because to me nothing has ever felt so good, and that connection to God is what I continue to long for. Dying, who that it would be the most powerful experience of my life? So, I would love to hear more about your experience with death.
Peter Panagore: Same here, Tricia. Same here. I was ice climbing north of Banff National Park in Western Canada, at Cirrus Mountain as I mentioned. We were at a very remote setting very far north. I had been a rock climber, but not an ice climber. I had a lead climber, Tim, who had become a trusted friend of mine while we back country snowcaved the week before near Mount Assiniboine; and Tim did a good job leading on our climb. We made a mistake on the climb and we got stuck at the top. We had used up our food and water. Long story short, we pressed on knowing we would die if we didn’t. An hour or two before dawn, we were stuck, 150 feet up and then the rope was jammed. I couldn’t get it free. Hypothermia had advanced to the state where I was falling asleep. I had gone through all the steps through the night. I was clipped into the mountain, and I would fall asleep and collapse. I was trying to get the rope free, and one end was tied to my harness and the other end was around the corner in the dark. And, I would fall asleep and then yank on the rope. I did this several times. To set the scene, it is very cold, and there is about ten feet of snow on the ground. It is March in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. We had been out all night in this weather and had frostbite. My feet and hands were frozen. I had reached a state of peace because I knew I wasn’t going to get out of this situation. We were fighting against death all night long.
I fell asleep, and what I saw was something I had never seen before. I saw a circle around me like in a Porky Pig cartoon where he says, “That’s all folks” and it was a fade to black. This fade to black crushed in rapidly, and I could only see black. I looked around and this blackness followed my vision. It was my vision, and I felt myself fall. Unlike the other times when I fell I asleep, I was asleep when I fell, and I never felt myself fall. And, I would feel myself when I smacked into the mountain and I would wake up.
This time I felt myself fall, and I didn’t feel myself hit the mountain. I thought to myself, “What is going on? Why am I still conscious?” My whole horizon was filled from top to bottom and end to end with an on-rushing of…. (Whatever I say from here on out is metaphorical because there is no language of description that can possibly contain this)
Tricia Barker: I know what you mean.
Peter Panagore: There was an on-rush of an intelligent fog, like a being, a thing that came in an instant from an infinite distance and the entire time filled my whole horizon. It rushed toward me and communicated to me directly, and I heard it inside myself say, “I’m taking you.”
And, I thought, “No you are not. I don’t know what this is, but I put up all my willpower. It plucked me out of my body like nothing. It was like blowing the little flower blossoms off a dandelion. I found myself taken by this intelligence taken into a greater darkness that was infinite, eternal, and illuminated. I was a sphere of consciousness, a self-contained unit of consciousness floating in this infinite void but completely ok with it and at peace.
Tricia Barker: That peace is amazing, isn’t it? Where does it come from?
Peter Panagore: It wasn’t me. (laughter) That’s all I know. I didn’t cause it. I was just in it and then of course there is no time. This is a place of non-being, no things, and no time. There is no future, present, or past. There is an eternal now. I had no physical body, no biology. I was myself, and I knew that I was myself as I was. Then, in this timeless space, there was a gigantic portal. The cover was transparent and translucent simultaneously, and when I turned my intention toward it the tunnel was in front of me. I could see in every direction at once. I had ten-thousand eyes and could see in every direction, but there was nothing to see except this portal.
Tricia Barker: That is a great way of describing it. In that environment, if you put your attention somewhere as in going in that direction then it simply happens. If you are just taking everything in, then you simply see with that 360-degree vision and see everything at once. I assume we see differently because we are not limited by the eyes; we are just out of the body.
Peter Panagore: I didn’t need any eyes. As a matter of fact, I didn’t have a brain, and I thought more clearly than I had ever thought before or since. My biology wasn’t in the way of my processing.
Tricia Barker: I know. I missed that way of being so much when I came back to form. I felt so much more intelligent out there, so much more connected, and so sharp. My thinking was so clear in the afterlife.
Peter Panagore: Unlimited even. Not eternal, but unlimited. I turned my attention to the tunnel and it was light years in length. I don’t know—just really long. I touched the transparent cover with my being. I sensed some light coming out of it. When I touched it with my being, it was alive, and that life entered me. That life allowed me to see the length of my eternal being in the same moment of understanding that I was a created being. So, my everlasting self was not contained by time, and isn’t now.
When I was dead, I was everlasting and not contained in this time/space as I am now. I can’t say eternal because I knew that I was created, but I was much, much older than anything biological. And, I also heard my name called, but it wasn’t Peter. It was the name of the essence of my being and all this happened in a flash. I knew that I was created in the moment that I heard the name that brought my soul into being. It was unpronounceable, and it is part of my connection to the other side now. I always hear my name called. I don’t hear it like I did then.
Tricia Barker: How fascinating. I didn’t realize that about your story. I try to communicate how things are transferred or communicated there. I describe it almost as an energy that was sent into my form. There was a lot of information that was communicated all at one time, and then sometimes the messages seem to slow down to communicate one thing with greater intensity. I would hear specific words like, “Watch this” or “You are going to do this in the future.” The intelligence seemed to direct me at times. Did you feel like there were times when you just absorbed a lot of information all at once, and other times when you heard specific things like your name?
Peter Panagore: Yes. And hearing my name was also knowing that I was known, and it was in the presence of the creator who called my name. I couldn’t see the voice, but I was completely infilled with the divine being’s love and bliss while being known.
And, my being known I also knew that there was nothing hidden about me, and I went through a review of all the pain that I caused everyone with intention and without intention. It was a purgation of fire. The fire of love cleansed me, and allowed the infilling. And, it was all at once. It wasn’t a sequence of events.
And the voice kept saying to me, “I love you. I forgive you. I know you. I have always known you. You are my beloved. I have always known everything. And, I understand that in human life, human beings are broken by the nature of their creation. And in the nature of your soul creation, you are less than I am because I am the eternal. Because you are created, you are not creator. Yet, you do have the essence of my being.”
When you are human, you are crushed into this form that causes pain to others no matter what you do.
Tricia Barker: Yes, I was intensely aware that when I came back to this brain, this awareness, and emotional make-up that my wounds were still there. What you are saying is profoundly beautiful, and you do a great job of describing the indescribable. So many people want to know more details about the afterlife because they haven’t been there and had that experience of seeing with that vision without eyes and leaving the body behind. In that environment, everything is experienced differently. I like how you describe being washed clean during your life review. My experience during the life review was quick. Everything flashed through my consciousness very quickly. I saw the things I had done. There were a couple of instances that were zeroed in on, and I saw that I needed to be less judgmental and cliquish. Did you see any patterns?
Peter Panagore: Yes. The people closest to me were the ones I hurt the most mostly unintentionally. The biggest suffering wasn’t the pain I gave people that I didn’t know I gave them. I suffered their pain 10,000-fold.
Tricia Barker: I know a lot of people want people to suffer a hell or a reckoning. Suffering the pain we caused others is intense, but I felt like I was encased in love as I was seeing these moments. It wasn’t hellish; rather, it was reflective, almost as if I was being taught how to be better. There was some sadness I felt in looking at these moments. I judged myself at times, but it wasn’t a horrific experience for me. It was a moment of growth and understanding. Is that the way you saw it?
Peter Panagore: Yes. Exactly. The pain that we cause each other here isn’t really through our own fault. It is because we give it to each other, but it is not because we are made this way. I self-judged. God did not judge me. The way I experienced this love was cleansing. I didn’t need to carry these things with me.
Tricia Barker: I don’t know about you, but I only saw what I had done, not the harm others had given me. I only saw the love as if this was the only thing that was real.
Peter Panagore: Exactly so. That is the treasure I carried with me.
Tricia Barker: So, after the life-review what happened in your NDE?
Peter Panagore: So, I went through all this and then I was in-filled with this oneness. This oneness wasn’t just a oneness of being, it was a combination of beauty and love. They were in equal parts with compassion, joy, understanding, knowledge, and wisdom—all the great spiritual gifts that you could imagine minus hope because of I didn’t need it. (laughter).
I was in the presence of the voice, and like you said I got individual slivers of slowed down time words but I also had these huge knowledge in-fillings which people are calling downloads. This is not fast-enough to conceptualize what we are talking about.
Tricia Barker: You are right. Even terabytes aren’t fast enough. (laughter)
Peter Panagore: No, it is not. So, I was in this state of non-being and understanding so clearly that the voice who had no sound or no gender was neither male nor female. It was just echoing inside my mind and speaking to me, but it was the totality of all that I could perceive and all the eternity of the space that I was in. It was more. Much more.
Tricia Barker: I have thought about that voice not having a gender, and it was powerful to me. I think we associate power with masculinity. But to me, that voice truly didn’t seem to have a gender, it just was, or as you said it simply echoed inside of me powerfully.
Peter Panagore: It just was, and that patriarchal language of the scriptures is not total. There is a significant percentage of female personification of description. And all Biblical language is metaphorical. The names of God mostly are relational. Anyway, that is an aside.
So, I said to this voice that had no sound just an ability to in-fill me with knowledge, “Am I dead?” The voice said to me, “Yes, you are dead.” I said, “Well, I can’t die now.” The voice said, “Why not?” I said my sister vanished when I was a kid. It turns out she ran away but we didn’t understand this. It was a long saga of terribleness resulting in my mother having a breakdown. That’s the nutshell of that story.
If I died, then I would take another child from my parents. My mom was broken, and my dad was her defender against everyone in a loving way. In the speed of a thought, I was swept through the eons, the galaxies, the immense distance, and brought to the presence of the whole earth. I was above the earth, still in heaven, but I could see the earth in totality as if in 3D and see all of the human beings on earth all at once from all sides. And all the billions of diverse people…are beloved like I am.
Tricia: That’s where we are different. I only got to see and experience all of Austin in my experience. (laughter)
Peter: (laughter) Well, that’s cool too. The voice said, “In the way that I love you now, you know that I have always loved you that way, eternally so. I love every single human being that way. Because of my love you know that all has been well and will be well. I knew that if I stayed in heaven it would be all well in a way that I can’t explain to people. God’s love is ultimate and infinite.
Tricia: I am jumping into the future with this question, but how do you explain this concept to people who come to you who have lost a child or are in these desperate places in life? How do you explain that all is o.k.? I’m asked this question a lot, and it is a difficult concept to translate to people.
Peter: It is, and I don’t expect them to understand. I made a huge mistake when I was a young minister. I had just got a church as an associate and the first thing that happened in the first three weeks is one of the high school students took his dad’s new car out for a joy ride, wrecked it, and came home and took a .38 and killed himself. The first thing I say to them in the meeting is that it is all o.k. God is love. All will be well because it has been well. They never came back to church again. I never saw them again. I didn’t know they didn’t understand.
Tricia: Yes, their suffering was too great in that moment.
Peter: Yes, their suffering was way too great. So, the first lesson is that I don’t expect them to understand. From there, I sit with them in their pain. The best type of dealing with suffering is to be with the person who is in pain. That is an emotional and psychological burden to the one who does that. There are no words to give to say that all will be well. They only hear platitudes. Pie in the sky when you die. So, I spent my career (until I went into television) being present with those who were suffering.
Tricia: I understand that. We lack community in the states the way that some countries have it. At moments in my life when I was broken by pain, I was aware that I would have healed much quicker if those around me could have been present with me fully, maybe hugged me and told me I would make it. It was a doubly wounding to experience trauma and then to have people react in awkward, distant ways. My pain didn’t have a place to go, so it stayed with me. I realized this in my healing process and made a point of being present and compassionate with others. That is, often, the best thing you can do for someone is to share the burden. It made healing seem to come full circle for me. I felt more whole by helping carry the burden of others.
Peter: Yes, the one carrying the burden is made more whole because they are giving more love. And the one in pain feels sustained and strengthened. Even if it doesn’t stop their pain (it doesn’t kill the cancer, it doesn’t bring the child back to life or the loss of the limb), the giver must realize that they may not be able to fix the problem.
Healing is not necessarily curing. Henri Nouwen, a Jesuit priest, wrote a 90-page book called The Wounded Healer and in it he describes that the one heals the best has felt that pain.
Tricia: Yes! That has been a hard lesson in my life. Certainly, I have experienced a lot, but while in action, while helping someone I have realized that because I have experienced so much I am capable of connection with a variety of people and can help so many people in so many different situations. I became more multifaceted because of the pain.
Peter: Exactly. And, if you see all other people as suffering beings, it is a lot easier to forgive them for their brokenness. The way to see other people as broken is to see yourself as broken. It takes down barriers but gives compassion. What we are talking about by being with people who are suffering is indeed being compassionate. A way to learn to be compassionate is to see your own brokenness, not flagellate yourself over it.
This knowing came from my NDE, and I can’t say that if you follow these seven steps, they will lead you to this place. I didn’t ask for this knowledge. It was a gift, and the gift is humility. I am exactly like everyone else in terms of my distance from the divine, and it is the distance from the divine that makes me realize that only the divine is the oneness. I might be a portion of the oneness, like a projection or a photon of it but it is so much bigger and brighter than me. I am exactly like everyone else, and if I am exactly like everyone else than the one who is suffering is no different than I am.
Tricia: I love these side topics, but back to your NDE (laughter). That description of oneness and being deeply loved is an important topic.
Peter: (laughter ) Yes, I knew that it was true that all were beloved. Then, God brought into focus the faces of my mom and dad, but as they were living. I could see them, and I could see their suffering. I could see their pain. God said, “In the way that you know that I have always loved you and all is well, and that is true for everyone. When your parents die, they will be in this place of being loved and beloved as you are now. You don’t have to go back to them because you know the eternal story. All suffering ends. Your parents will be fine.
I then said, “I have this other reason. I was in a theatre company for the college, and we were living on a big national tour. I had promised the director not to get hurt. God didn’t reply, but there was a pregnant pause. I haven’t gone through the door. Do I have to go through the door?
God said, “I want you to stay, but you can go back if you want to.” I asked if I could come back here, this interior heaven that had blossomed inside me, this state of super-consciousness and peace and bliss and beauty and love. God said, “Yes, you can come back here.”
So, knowing that my lifespan was the length of a wink of an eye, I figured I could endure it and I said I choose to live my life. God said, “You won’t live your life.” The next thing I knew I felt like I was being super-compressed from a much larger size, painfully and uncomfortably stuffed, screwed, and jammed into this physical, biological thing that no longer was me and I didn’t understand its functionalities. I felt like an alien in my body.
Tricia: Totally understand that. I couldn’t remember my name when I came out of surgery. I referred to myself in third person because I still felt like I was looking down at this body and thinking, “Oh, yes, her.” When the nurse asked me if I remember my name, I replied, “I remember her name. It is Tricia.” I wasn’t connected to this form. (Laughter)
Peter: Right! Because that’s not you. (Holds up hand) And, this isn’t really me. This is the place where I live—this biological body. And, most of me hasn’t ever come back. Most of me remains on the other side—my true Home, where I have always been, and am now, ever since I was called into being by name by Creator. Part of my task was, and is, to teach myself techniques and skill by study, and learn and practice how to open my inner door in order to see myself see this world because it is the only way I can survive here. I’d to teach what I have learned to help other NDErs and mystical seekers of God. The best way for me to share is to learn to get out of the way and let the Light shine through, and maybe even learn to enfire my soul, and radiate the Light that isn’t mine.
Tricia: How did the aftereffects hit you? You didn’t have a long time to recovery. You were just thrown back into life. That must’ve been disorienting. I had five months in a body cast with lots of time to read, think about my experience, and physically recover from the accident and surgery. I had a full year away from college to meditate and deeply think. I realize now that I had a gift with that year break from my life. The aftereffects were profoundly disorienting at times, so I can’t imagine being thrown back into life immediately.
Peter: First of all, what a blessing. (laughter). I am sure it was not fun at the time, but wow how great to have that downtime.
So, we self-rescued, and my body is still hanging on this rope. My body hurt, and someone was yanking on me. My partner was trying to bring me back to life. Our feet were still frost-broken. The rope comes free on the first pull, and we self-treat and go to the car.
Then, we have a terrible car wreck and lots of other stuff happens. I had to hitch hike back to Bozeman. I felt like I was living in a cartoon world, and what I haven’t said before is I was that cartoon character too. I had seen so much beauty on the other side that all things seemed not beautiful enough in comparison. I was in a beautiful place—western Canada—but it didn’t compare to the other side. Initially, I had no language to talk about my experience, so I read what I could when I could. I was already a meditator, so I meditated more.
Tricia: I wasn’t a meditator before, but I intuitively knew that I should meditate after I returned from the hospital. I couldn’t handle the pain killers, so I didn’t take them and simply meditated, imagined healing, and disconnected to my form. I had time to stay in communion with the light on those long nights of recovery when I couldn’t sleep. I can’t imagine being flung back into life. That sounds disorienting.
Peter: I was really disoriented. Within 24 hours after I died, so much happened.
Tricia: For me, in returning to my life it was wonderful to leave those patterns behind that I saw in my life review and come back with a mission to connect with others in positive, uplifting ways. Many near-death experiencers come back with a mission to do as much good as possible. Did you come back with a life purpose to do as much good as possible?
Peter: Yes (laughter). So, when people ask me what’s my purpose, that is it.
Tricia: Really? (laughter)
Peter: Yes, and be that and do that any day and any way and everywhere and all the time while knowing that my little tiny efforts are nothing in comparison with the goodness that is. My task is to share the Light itself as best as I am able to all who can see or all who want to see. I am not the Light, but the Light shines through me. My job is to clear the way, clear a path inside of me. Creator’s job is to shine through me, through all of us, each and every one of us. Our job is to get out of the way and let It flow.
I came back with a compulsion to communicate directly, and the doing good is a lesser way of communicating the divine being than being able to give it in a spiritual, hands on transfer kind of way which is the way I feel like I would want to give it and I’m incapable of giving it. My pursuit has been trying to figure out how to do that and communicate it in every way possible—language, action, giving to the poor, giving to the food bank, giving clothes away, being generous. The divine being was so generous with me with a huge capital G. Generosity is charity and charity is love. There are ten-thousand million ways to be generous.
Tricia: Me too! I would love to be able to send out moments of the divine to others and simply let them experience that completeness, that wholeness. I had never felt more supported, more loved, more at peace. To give that to others would be the greatest gift. And, amen to service and generosity. I work at a service learning campus, and teaching others the importance of service has been a beautiful thing. I have seen the joy of college students who suddenly get it that giving to others gives them joy. They are more deeply connected to their community. Even if they themselves are not privileged, they see how important it is to help others who were once in the situations that they were in.
What advice would you give to a young person who have had a NDE? I have come across kids 16-22 in my work as a teacher in professor who have had a NDE. What message would you give to a young person who is beginning to process the insights from their NDE?
Peter: Wow…that’s a good question. I think that everyone I speak to who is a NDEr has a different gradation of their experience. For instance, did they pop out of their form in the operating room? Did they travel through the tunnel and meet Aunt Jo? Their experiences, as varied as they are, if they understand the separateness of the soul, they have an understanding that no one else has. Well, other NDErs have this experience.
The difference between NDEs and OBEs is that in the out of body experience you are still attached to your body no matter where you go you are attached to your body. When you are a near-death experiencer, there is no attachment to the body. That so-called silver chord is cut. My primary advice to younger people is how do you find a way to live your life soulfully primarily?
My advice to those who are a bit older is a little different. Everyone who is 16 or older should find a practice of meditation or prayer and follow it heart, mind, and soul. Whether they pick of life of service, living like a Franciscan priest and giving of the self all the time or going and getting your MBA. You can go become and engineer or do anything you want in your professional life but find that center point where that inner eye sees God. If you can begin to open that eye up, it is not that your troubles will go away but you’ll find yourself more balanced here because the separation from this physical place in my experience is radical. I don’t know if you feel the same way, Tricia, but I don’t feel like I am from here. I have not felt like I am from here since I came back, so the way I find balance is through meditation.
Tricia: Good answer. You asked me if I feel like I don’t belong here. Many times, I feel like all near-death experiencers are all my brothers and sisters. I meet them and go, “Oh, you have been there. You know what I’m talking about.” There is this relief of not having to break down every piece of the experience, and we can simply talk about what it was like to be and feel the presence of God. I know that during your near-death experience you wanted to come back for your parents, but I was done with my body. So, when you talk about the difference between an out of body experience and a near-death experience, I looked at my bloody body on the operating table and was done with it. I did have information that I would be healed, but I was fine leaving it all behind once I was in that spirit form. I was done, done, done with the physical form, and that is a much different experience from an out-of-body experience.
Also, that flow of information and the way that we learn there is profound. I wish I could more moments of learning like that, but we still are living in the physical form and restricted by our particular brains. I must say that there is some disappointment in being back in the physical form. With me, the experience goes up and down. Sometimes, I greatly love being back in the body and eating good food and enjoying the physical world, but my consciousness there and the love of God can not be compared to how I experience life here. Do you struggle with the longing to learn that way and experience that love of God in the way that you did?
Peter: That is the source of my troubles. (laughter) That is the source of my feeling alien—is my always longing. I resisted it for a while because who wants to feel that perpetual broken-heartedness. This always longing, this homesickness. It is like a homesickness, a malaise that never goes away. So, I tried to fight it, but I found the best way to deal with it is to dive into it.
Tricia: I have a couple more questions. I read Howard Storm’s book and one of his complaints is that his congregations had trouble loving all people. They could love “this group” or “these babies” but not all people outside of the church. I know you can’t talk badly about your congregation, but what is your experience with people in general struggling with the idea of giving love to everyone?
Peter: Yes, it is not just churches. Churches are just a focal point of expectation for the culture. I am an ordained United Church of Christ minister. We ordained women first and gays first. I am just going to put that out there. Jesus says, “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and “Put God above all things.” The churches ought to be the ones doing that according to the culture in general, but they are just human beings. There are cultures insides the churches. There is suffering, beauty, love, but one of the blessings and curses of coming back from an NDE is that I can’t help other people with that. It is not like I am working at it or putting effort into it. There is the expanse of love that is more like a mist that is spread around instead of a spray bottle that is shot in one direction. Love seems to want to come out of me whether I want it to or not.
Churches are just filled with people who didn’t have an NDE who desire the divine in some way, shape or form. All theology begins with experience. Lazarus died. All religion comes from a person who had a touch with the divine and language gets layered on to it. I have served churches for 18 years, and Howard Storm is right. I will give you an example. Twenty years ago, we hired a gay organist and he brought his gay lover. They were fabulous, and I remained friends with them for years even after the gigs were over. In a meeting, one of the deacons came up to me and opened up our newsletter and an insert said, “Gay marriage is coming.” That was many years ago, and she leaned over and said, “I hope you don’t ever have a gay marriage here.” Even though she had that perspective, she was also a giving person to other groups, right? She was giving lots of money to support the church, and did good work. But, this particular area was fraught will all sorts of cultural misconceptions and lots of them were religious. We kind of duked it out, that woman and me, but I forgive her because what the heck… she is from this world. There’s all sorts of things that we are all not good about. This whole love thing, for me, is all wound up in forgiveness. It is not a separate issue for me. I forgive everyone all the time everywhere because I was forgiven.
Tricia: Nice. I would like to relate and ask a different question. In my role in the classroom, I made a commitment to do no harm. Even if I was boring one day, I would never say a hurtful thing to any student since I had this position of power. And, then I would give as much love to every person as possible because love is the great transformer. So, if someone came in with a bad attitude, if someone came in who was in a gang, no matter where these students came from I believed that these students deserved my love so that they could have a different future. I believed that even if what I was doing didn’t have an immediate effect it might do some good at a future point in their lives. Love might be the seed that would help. It is a beautiful practice to give to this world in that way. The classroom was holy to me, but outside of the classroom I struggled for years with granting that kind of instant forgiveness to others. Eventually, I got there, and forgiveness is so freeing for us. I see people hold on to bitterness, and I want to show them how to be free. They are only hurting themselves with that bitterness. You can be free and happy. That is what forgiveness does for us. Could you talk more about forgiveness?
Peter: Sure, you just said it well. Forgiveness isn’t about the other person.
Forgiving another person is about yourself because you free yourself from the burden of bitterness. You don’t have to carry that burden anymore. You can put it down and suddenly you are ten pounds lighter. You can dance a little better.
But, you said something interesting. You said you were giving love in this one area well, but not so well in other areas of your life. That is the lighthouse place. Every person and every NDEr is broken. There is a bit of misconception that we come back as holy people, but we don’t. We come back as ourselves with this added piece. Pardon me, and all your fans, but I have been an asshole to people. (laughter)
I know I have. But, everybody can be. Everybody is broken. Even NDErs. The love that I am sharing isn’t my love. It is not like I am giving away love that I have stored up. That’s not how it works. The love I am giving away takes effort from me to get out of the way for this love to beam. And that beam is the same beam that you shine out of you and I shine out of me, and it is not ours at all. Love comes from God, and it is God. That is why giving of ourselves is important. By loving each other, that is all we have to do. So, what would I tell an eight-year-old? Just love your mom, your dad, and your teacher. Love people. That is what I tell everybody. I only have one message.
Tricia: Kids are so good at giving love. One of the direct messages I heard in the afterlife was to be like a little child. Each message I received there seemed layered with wisdom. Children are very forgiving. They play easily. They enjoy nature and have faith that they don’t have to think about too much or analyze too much. Believing is a real experience for them and not a fractured, intellectual experience. If children feel that they are connecting with God, they believe it. Too many adults question if the experience they are having is really an experience from God. Do you understand what I am talking about?
Peter: I totally understand what you are talking about. Belief is the key. If you didn’t have an NDE, belief is the key component. You have to believe in order to feel it. And, when you believe it you begin to feel it. It is a self-reinforcing thing. If you don’t believe, it is hard work. It is not impossible, but it is just much harder. As for me, one of the things I came back with was no belief. My belief and my doubt was erased. If I were a motherboard and I had a whole bunch of chips in here, those were taken out and the holes were sealed up. Instead, I was connected to some mainframe somewhere. I know God is real. I know that I am known by the knower. I can’t unknow that. So, I have no belief. When I was a preacher, every single morning I would stand up there and tell people to believe and saying that I was a believer because I was not able to tell them the truth.
Tricia: I know. That part of your story amazes me. You waited so long to tell people. I told people as soon as was out of surgery, and as soon as I was out of ICU I asked for a pen and paper to write it down. I kept grabbing nurses and family members and saying, “I saw God. I saw God.” (laughter)
They were looking at me like I was crazy and saying things like, “Yes, I believe in God.” Their reaction was blasé. I don’t think they were getting the point that I touched God. I was in the presence of this amazing loving force. That’s what I was trying to communicate. (laughter)
Some of my family member thought it must the morphine that was affecting my brain. No one seemed to grasp what had just happened to me. All these many years later, I am so grateful to have found communities of people who are interested and understand these experiences.
I know there is a lot more to your story about why you waited and the circumstances what caused you to open up to your congregation about your NDE and then later write your book. We could keep talking for a long while, but I will simply recommend that people buy your book and go hear you speak.
Thank you for sharing your journey and connecting with me. I wish you the best of luck on your future projects.
Peter: Thank you so much, Tricia.
If you want to keep up with Peter Panagore, here is his website.