Takeaways from The Afterlife of Billy Fingers: Part II

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Higher Beings/Angels:  Annie Kagan’s translations of Billy’s experience in the afterlife makes for a moving and uplifting book.  Billy’s descriptions of the Higher Beings/Angels ring true for me.  As an NDEr, I have struggled to translate the experience of coming in close contact with two of the most intelligent, large, amazing beings I have ever encountered.  By default, I have called them angels, but Higher Beings seems an accurate term as well.  I got the sense that other people might have different Higher Beings as their guides, but the qualities that my protective angels/Higher Beings exhibited most were intelligence, compassion, and healing powers.  They healed me through the backs of my surgeons with their light, and I had complete faith in their healing abilities.

Perhaps at different times in our life, different angels and guides show up for us.  In Kagan’s book, Billy describes the Higher Beings as, “Whatever qualities come under the heading of benevolence, that virtue is right there in the light.  It’s different with these Higher Beings.  They’re more specific, more personal, like the Divine Presence is focused through a prism.  And the colored rays that come through the prism—these are the higher beings.”  I resonate with that description because my Higher Beings were indeed specifically focused.  Perhaps at different times in our lives we might require differently focused Higher Beings.

Toward the end of the book, Billy says, “There’s an impersonal quality to these Supreme Beings, but that’s not a negative—it’s a big plus.  There’s a pureness to it.  This is what I’ve imagined being in the presence of God would be like….They are pure Spirit.  Just as our bodies are the carriers of our souls, our souls are the carriers of our Spirit.”  For me, this description helps add clarity to my interactions with my angels during surgery.  They were pure Spirit, pure benevolence, and put me at ease outside of my body immediately with telepathy and strength.  I knew I would be fine whether I stayed in the environment outside of my body or returned.  For me, all signs pointed to returning, but I got the sense that everything would have been beautiful, pleasant learning experience for me had I not returned.

Nature:  One of my other favorite lines in this book is a simple but true message reading, “Nature has more light than anything else on your planet.”  In the book, Kagan takes Billy’s advice and returns to nature for healing, inspiration, and connection.  All of us need the healing power of nature in our lives.  Technology is a powerful connector, but not healing in the way that being in nature is healing.  When I am broken, I go to the mountains and let the mountains give me their strength.  When I am stressed, I go to the ocean and let the waves wash away my pain and troubles.  When I want fun, I head to nature.

At another point in the novel Billy says, “The best cure for suffering?  An enlightened experience of it all.  What does that mean?  It means finding the invisible within the visible.”  Nature is a great place for people to experience enlightened moments.  Looking down from a high peak at a city helps us put everything in perspective again.  We are a small part of the whole, but our enjoyment of our life is key.  Nature keeps us present and helps us enjoy our lives more fully and even sometimes catch a glimpse of the invisible within the visible.

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Addiction:  (Spoiler Alert) Billy’s struggle with addiction and even his death as an active addict did not prevent him for any of the bliss, compassion, or benevolence on the other side.   Life’s purpose and a particular soul’s purpose can be grand on the other side while looking rather shabby on this side. One of the more important lessons I took away from my NDE was that the shadows I danced within during that time in my life (the drugs and alcohol) only prevented me from living more fully and connected to others at times.  I wasn’t judged by the light.  I was met with deep compassion and love.  Maybe if I would’ve stayed in the environment outside of my body longer, I might have seen how my life looked from a musical perspective—the ups and downs, the crescendos, and the drumrolls.

In recovery, people are sometimes shamed for relapsing, and there is so much disappointment around the deaths of addicts.  As an NDEer, I sometimes have a different perspective and see the struggle for sobriety as more of a dance the way Billy described it. I see those who relapse as in need of more compassion and care, not less and definitely not condemnation.  The other side greets us with compassion.  Part of our lesson on this earth plane seems to be finding a way to take everything a little less seriously, to let go of resentments quickly, to forgive ourselves and others instantly.  As Billy says, “…there is no one to forgive, because we signed up to do this dance together before we were born.  We weren’t acting out some type of I-did-something-wrong-to-you-in-another-life-and-I’m-paying-for-it-now kind of thing.  It doesn’t really work like that… It’s more a kind of experiment chosen for soul-type reasons that humans have an almost impossible time understanding.  And not understanding is an important part of the experiment.”

If there is one criticism I have of the book, it is that there is not a lot of description of how the oneness occurs.  During my NDE, I saw from the perspective of others in my life review.  That part of the life review for most NDEers shows us where we have hurt and disappointed others, not as a form of punishment but as a way to fully understand our roles and the perspective of others.  I know that there is much compassion on the other side, but the ways we harmed or hurt others is something worth noting in the life review process.  The ways that we harm ourselves are only pitied, but in my experience the light seemed to wish that I could love myself more and open up to others more frequently.  I appreciate the compassion and benevolence described and know this is correct.  There is a bit of “relearning” about our roles that goes on outside the body.  Mabye this could have been explained a bit more.

However, this is actually a minor detail.  The book as a whole is a fantastic read.  I loved it and highly recommend this beautiful, unusual, uplifting book.

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Response to Natalie Sudman’s Book Application of Impossible Things:  My Near-Death Experience in Iraq

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“Religion tells us we’re fundamentally sinners, and science tells us we’re fundamentally aggressive survivors.  My experience in the expanded awareness environments, however, assures me that we’re fundamentally good, holy, cooperative, creative, and amazingly cool.”—Natalie Sudman, Application of Impossible Things:  My Near-Death Experience in Iraq

Natalie Sudman’s experience outside of her body allowed her to connect with a gathering of beings who communicated with her in that added reality in amazing ways.   Her book pays special attention to language and rather than narrating the events of her accident and recovery chronologically, she zeros in on specifics from the moments she spent in the environment outside of her body.

Reality of OBEs and NDEs:  There are many things I enjoyed about this book, including the line in her preface which reads, “…I know—not believe—that what I experienced was real.”   For years, I have said this about my NDE, unmoved and bored by what skeptics have to say.  Though normally impressed with degrees from top-tier schools, I give skeptics zero credit no matter where they obtained their degrees.  After all, skeptics are operating only with their five senses and current theories that very well might change. Mainly, skeptics did not see the added reality that I saw existing along with this reality.

Sudman addresses this topic as well, breaking down the debate from those who rely only on this reality to those who say this reality is the dream and the other reality is the one that is more important.  She says both realities are real, and I couldn’t agree more. Sudman beautifully addresses how much information and how complex and layered this information is when communicated outside of the body.

Communication:  One of my favorite descriptions in her book occurs when she describes how communication in that dimension occurs as a, “…transfer of information in the form of an inexplicable complex matrix.  The information was minutely detailed and broadly conceptual—at once layered and infinitely dense, yet elegantly simple.”  Although Sudman plays around with language, trying to find the exact word to describe the entities, beings, etc. and ultimately decides on personalities, I felt more comfortable calling the beings I met—who sent healing energy into my body—angels.   Sudman met a group of equals, but the angels I met during surgery struck me as filled with much more information, wisdom, and understanding than I had at twenty-one.   My angels were comforting, highly intelligent, and capable.  Perhaps, differing ages, experiences, and mindsets at the time of death might influence who and how we interact with on the other side.

Like Sudman, I wasn’t interested in returning to my body if the injuries were too catastrophic.  Interestingly, Sudman participated in the healing of her own body, outside of her body, with assistance from the beings.  I communicated my wish to be able to walk, and my angels sent light through the back of the doctors, through their hands, and lit up my body, even ensuring that specific bone fragments would not press on my spine.  Whether they altered reality or ensured that the doctors would find these fragments, I do not know.  I only know they participated in my healing while I watched intently.  I have always felt that the angels were teaching me to participate in healing.  I liked reading about Sudman’s level of disconnection and even humor about the moment she and many healing beings worked on her body before she returned to it.

Free Will in the Environment beyond the Body:  Sudman discusses how she has read several NDE accounts, like mine, which feature a light or authority figure telling these souls they must return.  Her experience gave her the free will to return or not.  At first, she felt very tired and did not want to return.  She was given a brief moment of rest in another location, and then based on the communication she received from the gathering decided to return.  I often joke that I need a “thousand year nap,” and I’m a little jealous that it seems like she received an eternal moment of rest before returning to her physical form.

One of Sudman’s theories is that during NDEs with an authority figure telling them to return that “…these individuals retained some habits of perception carried over from the physical waking consciousness beliefs, and the authority sending them back was either a helper or simply their own voice of the Whole Self…”  In contrast, Sudman states that she knew where she was and trusted her experience within the expanded consciousness.

I wouldn’t say that I experienced judgement or superiority from the Divine Light on any level.  I do agree that the light deeply appreciated me.  My experience did contain a bit of compassion, and even though compassion implies a place of superiority or of knowing more that compassion was only a wish that I might love myself more in the human form, treat myself better, love others more fully and without fear.  The light didn’t want me to miss out on potential moments of beauty and saw that I shut myself off from others in college through introversion, fear, insecurity, childhood wounds, alcohol, drugs, and pessimistic views of the world.  My experience with the light did seem as if I had no choice in the matter but to return and teach.  If given the choice, I would not have chosen to return, and I would have missed out on great beauty and amazing moments in and out of the classroom.

Enjoyment of Life:  Like Sudman, I received information that enjoyment of our life experiences is very important.  The gathering of beings showed her this in a multitude of ways.  I was shown that life works better when we are like “little children” in that we deeply enjoy each moment without comparing it to other moments.  After my NDE, I certainly did deeply enjoy life.  Even a eating a candy bar slowing or stopping beneath a tree to listen to a bird singing might throw me into a deep, sensual, happy moment of complete beingness.   Sudman was surprised that enjoyment was an important criteria, but I can’t say that I was surprised.  The wonder of childhood made life all the more magical and enjoyment seems key.  The personalities or beings wanted Sudman to understand that she might enjoy the proposed tasks on the earthy plane.

Toward the end of the book, Sudman talks about how she knew that she would have some use of her right hand and that she would survive the skull fracture even though doctors and staff weren’t certain.  I understand that kind of certainty.  I knew returning to my body that I would walk.  I wasn’t promised a life without chronic pain though.  I was only promised that I would walk, run, and enjoy nature and many of the activities I enjoyed before the accident.  Sudman discusses how the whole self or the self outside the body is less concerned with this life, so detached in fact that the life that will be lived out seems quick from their viewpoint.  As she considers a life with damage to her eye and wrist and considers the many years that she might live with this condition in her body, time now seems much slower.

I especially enjoyed the descriptions of how life is viewed outside in the “blink environment” as she names it verses how it is lived within the human form.  Despite the new limitations, she focuses on enjoyment even of navigating life in a human form with new limitations.  I do that to a degree as well.  Whenever I have to move to a new home, I pack very light boxes since I can’t lift heavy ones.  I get more of a workout carrying more frequent small boxes.  There are ways to have fun, even with limitations. I liked that positive spin, and the realistic acknowledgment that living out this life seems much longer than how it seems on the other side.

Preference of the Other Side:  Many NDErs and those who have had profound spiritual experiences report preferring the other side.  Sudman writes, “…existence beyond the physical is utterly lovely, delicious, and strange, infused with limitless love, richly fulfilling, and euphorically effortless.”  She goes on to talk about how physical life viewed from the other side requires “razor focus” and is also wildly interesting.  I understand the preference of being in the existence beyond the physical.  I have never and probably never will feel limitless love like I felt as I neared the light until I die again. I also understand the many reasons to enjoy this life, and to try to accomplish all that we can connected to the will of our “Whole Self.”  Some people call this the higher self, the self that is not limited by time, space, birth, or death, the self that is capable of calm wise decisions that benefit the self and others.  May we all access or higher selves and whole selves more frequently.

I recommend this book if you are interested in language, in NDEs, in OBEs, and in critical and creative thinking about these types of experiences.

National Poetry Month and Other Reflections

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National Poetry Month:  To celebrate National Poetry Month, I’m posting “After the Wreck,” a poem published by the Binnacle in 2007 which is inspired from moments during my near death experience.  I’m also including a poem by Rilke from Book of Hours:  Love Poems to God which I adore.

Writing on Morphine:  I wanted to document my NDE as soon as I possibly could.  I stayed in ICU for a few days after surgery, but once I was moved to a hospital room, I asked for a pen and paper. My surgeon confirmed that I had died, but she didn’t feel inclined to talk about the spiritual experience with me.  The nurses were a bit more willing to listen to my experience but most seemed busy and hurried.  Some people only nodded and looked at me strangely when I wanted to talk about the powerful experience of being in God’s presence.

While in the hospital bed and hooked up to a morphine drip, my greatest fear was that I might forget those beautiful moments outside my body. The pain and disorientation made it difficult to write in a straight line, and the words bled down the page.  I persisted in the hope that a few lines would be salvageable and used later. The lines about the angels in this poem were lines I wrote days after the experience.

Memory:  To this day, I remember the vividness of the angels, the light, and the love from the divine intensely.  I’ve never forgotten the experience and the images.  What faded a bit were the direct messages given to me by light.  I remember a lot of what was communicated, but the information flowed into my spirit body so quickly that it was difficult to slow down the information and remember it as specific words.  Mainly, I knew that I had immediately and forever changed in that moment.

Outside of my body, I remember feeling slightly worried for my body as I looked down at the operating table, wondering if I would walk or run again.  The angels assured me that I would have complete healing.  In fact, they assisted in that healing, and my questions were answered not only with information but with demonstration.

Trauma and Forgetting the Beauty of the Light:  I have not forgotten the NDE in the way some dreams are forgotten, but there are times in life when the material world, when trauma, or when stress has overwhelmed me.  When overwhelmed and burdened by life, I can forget the beauty of that moment.  The memory though remains incredibly vivid.

Certainly, the actions of others have startled me, shocked me, and sometimes horrified me.  In my memoir, Healed, I write about being harassed by friend in a writer’s group, raped while living overseas, and beaten up by my first husband.  I thought my life after experiencing an NDE would be pure bliss, and I would live a protected, purely pleasurable life.  This was not my experience, and I wasn’t prepared to write about these traumatic moments until years later. Though I had greater moments of intuition after the NDE, I didn’t always know how to trust or use this intuition.  In those first years after the experience, I also had an almost child-like openness, trust, and belief in others and that trust sometimes put me in close contact with desperate people.

Service and Healing:  When I examine all my experiences together, these experiences sometimes seem like more than one person should have to endure.  However, I have survived and thrived, and I realize others have endured far worse events. Perhaps part of my legacy is to experience the horrors that many women have experienced and to report that what remains after harm has taken its best shot at me is light and hope.  I heard Matt Kahn say something similar about harm in his latest video, and this idea seems accurate to me.  What also remains after the harm is a deep desire to heal myself and to help others heal.  At certain times, I certainly forgot the light and its message.  At other times, I became angry at God on this journey, but I always came back to the belief that I should help others and should remind others of their connection to a loving, forgiving source.

Self-absorption and all too human wishes and desires vanish the moment I ask my students about their lives or when I am of service to others somewhere in this world.  There is no greater way to make the world a better place than to offer help or kindness.  We are freed of ourselves in those moments.  Who knew that freedom from the self would feel so wonderful?  It does though.

AFTER THE WRECK

How could I know that the world would have compassion

and that at the moment of impact my back would crack,

 

but I would retain the sensation of this body, first floating

away from it, then returning, silvered and open-mouthed

 

like a fish caught on the hook of a reoccurring dream,

struggling, flapping about, and jerked up to the surface

 

of a room full of florescence, tiny desires to survive

pulsing through my body in rivulets?

 

How could I know that the angels I recalled from paintings

would become bright, intelligent companions at the end of my bed

 

and that the torrential light from their eyes would answer my questions instantly?

How could I know that this peace would disintegrate like ice chips

 

in my mouth and this calming knowledge would drown in refills of morphine.

How could I know that I would forget specifics in the way we forget dreams?

—Tricia Barker

In these bodies, we are often anxious, but I love how Rilke reminds us that God is around us and in us from the beginning.  Certainly, the light on the other side of this life felt familiar. This light is the same light we have in our eyes as infants, and the same light that comes for us at the time of our death.

I am, You Anxious One

I am, you anxious one.

Don’t you sense me, ready to break

into being at your touch?

My murmurings surround you like shadowy wings.

Can’t you see me standing before you

cloaked in stillness?

Hasn’t my longing ripened in you

from the beginning

as fruit ripens on a branch?

 

I am the dream you are dreaming.

When you want to awaken, I am waiting.

I grow strong in the beauty you behold.

And with the silence of stars I enfold

your cities made by time.

–R.M. Rilke

Spiritual with Buddhist Leanings in an Evangelical Family: Part Two

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“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