National Poetry Month and Other Reflections

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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.

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

Response to National Geographic’s Article “The Crossing”

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Update 1/19/18:  My memoir, Angels in the OR: What Dying Taught Me About Healing, Survival, and Transformationis 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. 

National Geographic:  This month my story and a few other NDE stories were briefly featured in the April issue of National Geographic.  Our stories were not the main focus of the article “The Crossing.”  This article examines scientific and human experience as a way to explore the dying process.  The primary NDE story is the story of Mary Neal, an orthopedic surgeon from Wyoming and author of To Heaven and Back.  I liked Robin Marantz Henig’s description of Mary Neal’s response to the first responders working on her body.  They called, “Come back, come back,” and Neal found this “really very irritating.”

Consciousness Beyond the Body:  I understand Neal’s irritation.  Being free of the body and merging with a greater sense of consciousness feels wonderful and not at all like the “brain is shutting down.”  It is irritating to come back, and many NDErs report this feeling.  I describe returning to my body as being swallowed up by a dark wind.  I felt more alive while dead.  Most of the magic, light, and beauty disappeared, and my body felt heavy, drugged, and painful.  I didn’t want to be stuck in the limited experience of this particular body with her history, her stories, her psychological and childhood wounds, and the limits of her particular mind.  Outside of my body, I was both myself and greater than myself, connected to an incredible download of information, and for that moment I knew so much more than I could ever know living in this one perspective.  The experience of existing in a more expansive and connected universe made my individual experience seem boring and limited.  I had been inside the minds of so many others, and now I only had my mind as a way to process life.   When the nurse asked me my name, I said, “I remember her name.  It’s Tricia,” and it seemed annoying to have only my brain as a vehicle to process experience and information. Outside of my body, I was connected to a greater knowledge and understanding.

Many people I know have reported having a knowledge or sense beyond the physical, sometimes knowing the very moment someone close to them has died.  There is a knowledge beyond the physical that perhaps cannot be explained by measuring brain waves.  NDErs sometimes report a great connection to knowledge beyond what they have ever experienced.  The moments outside my body seemed nothing like a dream or a hallucination.   After my accident, I began to practice lucid dreaming, and even though these dreams were glorious, they were not the same as the NDE.

During my NDE, angels were sent as guides to comfort me and the information given to me in streams of light altered my consciousness.  Watching the angels work through the surgeons was an amazing moment because the surgeon’s scientific backgrounds may have made them skeptical that angels could work through them, but the angels were able to work through them anyway.

Scientific Arguments:  This article gives a little more time to researchers like Kevin Nelson, a neurologist at the University of Kentucky who calls what is happening to the brain during an NDE a “REM intrusion,” asserting this is the same brain activity that characterizes dreaming and happens during events like moments when a person might suddenly lose oxygen.  The way I see it is that scientists are standing on this side of the veil testing brains and making hypotheses without giving enough credit to the idea that there might be a reality beyond this one that humans are in the process of navigating while in these states.

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Pear vs. Apple:  To put it another way, say I ate an apple away from the view of scientists, and then a group of scientists tested the bile in my stomach, tested my sugar levels, and the acid forming on my teeth and suggested that I may have eaten a pear or possibly an apple.  I tell them I know that I ate an apple, but they continue to believe that a pear is just as possible as an apple because of the chemical reactions in my body. NDErs are repeatedly telling researchers that they experienced a greater consciousness than their own consciousness.  They saw people working on their body, and they saw a world beyond the body, but scientists continue to say, “No…this is a dream state or high-frequency Gama waves associated with meditation.”

Even if the brain that is not completely brain dead experiences these states, might these experiences happen because the spirit has disconnected, the essence of that person has gone on and that is the realm NDErs are describing?  Maybe during some meditations the spirit takes a brief hiatus the body as well or at least calms down, no longer focused on sensations of this world, sometimes even opening to guides from the other side.  Maybe this is why the brain chemistry is similar during meditation.

Science and Religion:  Some scientists argue with these NDErs experiences using only data.  Some Christians argue with only the Bible. Going back to the apple vs. pear argument, if scientists tell me the apple I’m eating might be a pear, I think they are ridiculous.  In the same vein, if some Christians tell me that I ate a demonic pear instead of an apple because my experience isn’t described in their book, I think they are equally ridiculous, perhaps more so for giving a “demonic” explanation to  the most light-filled, glorious moment of my life.

Some scientists want to prove that NDErs are only dreaming and there is not an afterlife.  Some Christians want to prove that their particular version of the afterlife is the only one that is real.  Both camps are afraid to admit that they may not know everything and may not be able to explain everything given their current information.  Most NDErs laugh at both camps, preferring the poets, spiritual seekers, and the open-minded, curious folks of the world.  Though NDErs don’t have all the answers, they have profound experiences that make them believe that we go on after death.  Science and/or religion simply can’t explain everything for us after our particular journeys.  I know that I came back with a lot of joy for life, an almost childlike appreciation of the smallest things.

I wish the article had captured our joy and the essence of our experiences.  I think we all should have been pictured jumping for joy with a caption reading, “I’m Alive!”  I don’t think of death as a traumatic experience.  I think of it as a beautiful, peaceful experience, and choose not to focus too much on the physical trauma and instead on the spiritual insights and beauty of those moments outside of my body.triciajumping

Spiritual with Buddhist Leanings in an Evangelical Family: Part Two

triciaandbuddha

Update 1/19/18:  My memoir, Angels in the OR: What Dying Taught Me About Healing, Survival, and Transformationis 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

Lucky to Have Died, Lucky to Be Alive

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Update 1/19/18:  My memoir Angels in the OR: What Dying Taught Me About Healing, Survival, and Transformation is available for pre-order and is a #1 new release in several categories.  I would love your support in helping me make near-death experiences more mainstream.

And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.” —Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

I consider the moment of my death the greatest gift of my life.  However, anyone who heard me screaming at the top of my lungs in pure, unrestrained panic in the ER at University Center Brackenridge Hospital in Austin, Texas would not have believed that twenty-four hours later I would be filled with the wonder and peace of the afterlife.  Immediately after surgery, I became a different person, hardly recognizable even to myself, as if a different, more mature soul had replaced the other immature one.

My near-death experience immediately altered my life and placed me on a different life path, one where I would dedicate my life to teaching and helping others.  Before the near-death experience, I was agnostic, materialistic, and deeply wounded by childhood scars and brief, unsuccessful attempts at romantic relationships.  I was shy and reserved and only opened up to a few people.  Like many people, I loathed public speaking.   I never imagined going into the teaching field, but my experience on the other side showed me that teaching would be the major part of my life’s mission and give me a greater connection to others. In the classroom, I have opportunities to help others achieve their academic goals, find peace about the dying process, or simply to offer people a moment of kindness and empathy.

As soon as I was given the chance to enter a classroom setting, I realized how easy it is for me to stand in front of others and teach.  Teaching has never been about me; rather, it is about how much kindness, compassion, and understanding I am willing to show for others.   In the classroom, I open myself to angels willing to work through me for the benefit of my students, and this process has given me boundless joy.  Each day spent working with students has been a gift from the other side.   In the act of serving others, I forget myself and my own issues and focus my attention on others.  Whatever difficulties I faced in my own life, the very moment I stood in front of my students I was there for their success, their healing, their growth, and their happiness.

One of my favorite books on the subject of near-death experiences is Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander.  I’ve underlined almost every description he writes, thinking “Yes, this is the way I wanted to say it if I had a medical degree.”  I put off writing my memoir because Dr. Alexander articulates the scientific elements of the experience in a way that I can’t.  Lately, I have been guided to see that my perspective as a woman might offer healing to those who can relate to my life history and traumas before and after the accident.

On a couple of occasions, I told my story to a few people at an IANDS (International Association for Near-death Studies) meeting.  I admire and respect the work Dr. Jan Holden has done in the field of Near-death Experiences and Out of Body Experiences.  Dr. Holden recently co-edited a wonderful book titled The Handbook of Near-death Experiences:  Thirty Years of Investigations.  She includes portions of my story in her lectures and video segments because she likes to capture NDE’ers describing their experience in their own words.  Researchers are particularly interested in stories with a verifiable moment, and my experience includes one of these moments.

When I went to my mom’s house to recover after my wreck, I asked her if my stepdad, James got a candy bar while I was in surgery.  Mom said that when my dad showed up, James had never met him and he felt a bit uncomfortable and walked around.  When he returned, he had a candy bar.  As James walked through the hospital, my mom told me that she experienced an overwhelming sensation that I had died and fell to her knees and prayed.  I am touched that the prayers I felt from her and my dad were indeed happening at the moment my spirit left my body.  The biological and spiritual connection between relatives is undeniable.

Over the years, I have gone to hear numerous speakers and authors talk about near-death experiences.  In Austin, I heard Dannion Brinkley speak, and his confidence in his experience gave me peace.  I loved the fact that he made the audience laugh and feel joy around the subject matter.  He, and many others, have paved the way for my experience to be integrated into my life more easily. Whenever I hear Dannion Brinkley or other NDE’ers speak, I know that person is my brother or sister who saw behind the veil, who knows what I know.  When I hear stories like mine, I know that I am not alone.

At this point in history, many people have described their near-death experiences.  My NDE story is one more story, one more experience to add to the growing number of these stories, but I know that my experience of the other side has altered me for the better.  I’m not agnostic or driven by fear anymore.  I’m far from perfect and have made many mistakes, but I’m more open, more caring, and more interested in others than I was before the accident.

I love to help others find greater healing and motivation in their lives.  I’m an intuitive, though I rarely give readings and prefer to give guidance and help others in classroom and workshop settings.  I get messages from angels while I am in the act of serving others for their greater good.   I am open to giving readings on occasion.  I have some abilities that surfaced after my near-death experience, and other mediumship abilities that became evident after my father passed away in 2008.  Before contacting me or any reader, I believe people should trust their own intuition. Any reading should put people more in touch with their own innate sense of knowing.  I work full-time as a professor, so readings are something I only do when I feel guided to connect with someone. 

I’m happy to be alive in a time when more and more people can relate to my story and other stories about near-death experiences and talk openly about these subjects.  I deeply appreciate the work that many people are doing to help family members and patients integrate near-death experiences into their life in helpful ways.  We are lucky to be living in a time when the angels are working through us, and sometimes we happen to feel the energy shift for a moment and smile a little as it happens, grateful for the brief interaction.

May you be healed.  May you be blessed.  May you harm no one.  May you add joy to the lives of others.  May you be reminded of your light and divine connection. May you remind others of their light and connection to source. May you find a connection to nature and play more often.  May you be a loving person.  May you know that love, not hate, is the answer.  In a nutshell, that is what I learned on the other side.