by Linda M. Potter
There have been thousands of stories published on Near Death Experiences (NDEs) and millions more that never made it into print. A term coined by Raymond Moody, author of the 1975 bestselling book Life After Life, it rapidly became part of the popular vernacular.
A Gallup poll conducted in the early 1990s revealed that approximately 13 million Americans claim to have had a near-death experience. Although each NDE is unique to the individual having the experience, there are common elements that are considered “typical.” For example, most stories include a journey outside the physical body, encounters with family members or religious figures, and the feeling of moving beyond the boundaries of time and space. The exact details of an NDE tend to reflect the religious, philosophical and cultural beliefs of the person involved.
Skeptics have long dismissed these “life-after-life” experiences as simply the results of normal brain function gone awry. Neurosurgeon Eben Alexander was one of those skeptics. That is, until he had his own near- death experience.
In his book, Proof of Heaven, Alexander writes: “As a neurosurgeon, I’d heard many stories over the years of people who had strange experiences, usually after suffering cardiac arrest: stories of traveling to mysterious, wonderful landscapes; of talking to dead relatives — even of meeting God himself. Wonderful stuff, no question. But all of it, in my opinion, was pure fantasy.”
Consciousness, he believed, began and ended in the physical brain. His training and years of medical practice had taught him that regardless of what other organs were failing, if the brain was still functioning, any number of wild hallucinations were possible.
And it all made sense until he contracted an extremely rare form of bacterial meningitis that placed him at the center of what he calls “the perfect storm of near-death experiences.”
His own brain simply crashed. His brain wasn’t malfunctioning. It wasn’t functioning at all. Yet, he had a full-blown NDE, one he could never have anticipated, one that defies any traditional scientific explanation. It was, instead, a much “realer than real” journey to the Core realm of all existence.
His NDE was anything but “typical.” No visions of doctors gathering around his bedside scrambling to save his life, no family members to greet him at the end of a tunnel, no… anything — including any awareness of who or what he even was. It began in darkness:
“Darkness, but a visible darkness — like being submerged in mud yet also being able to see through it. Or maybe dirty Jell-O describes it better. Transparent, but in a bleary, blurry, claustrophobic, suffocating kind of way. Consciousness, but consciousness without memory or identity — like a dream where you know what’s going on around you, but have no real idea of who, or what, you are.
But, the Underworld was only the first realm he would visit; there was much more to come. Even four years later Alexander struggles to find words to explain an experience beyond the vocabulary of science, and well beyond the confines of language. How, in fact, do you communicate an alternative reality so astounding and so real that it makes this life completely dreamlike by comparison? He’s determined to answer that question. It has become his life’s mission.
LINDA M. POTTER: Your book has topped the New York Times Bestseller List; you’ve appeared on dozens of talk shows, and been interviewed by publications all over the world. Do you feel your experience is truly “proof of Heaven?” Or was that title the publisher’s choice?
EBEN ALEXANDER: I fought that title! When I first approached Simon and Schuster in January of 2012, I had some really sexy, kind of cool title like N of 1* as in “N of 38 patients” [in a clinical trial]. But I think the publisher was right. Proof of Heaven definitely hit a nerve. Originally, I complained that it wasn’t really “proof” in the scientific sense because I knew full well that the scientific human mind will never weigh in pro or con on the existence of that realm. It may not be scientific proof, but it is pretty strong proof that Consciousness is eternal.
I also knew that people would bicker about the definition of heaven. And if you get hung up in the details, you miss the fact that the important thing is that this realm is absolutely real. It’s so non-earth like. It’s completely outside of our concept of space and time; it’s a much richer, more vibrant, more crisp and fully existent world than this little illusory, dream-like material realm we live in.
LMP: Your NDE began, however, in an anything-but-heavenly, primordial “Underworld”realm. Did that surprise you?
EA: The coarse, primitive, Earthworm’s-Eye View I describe, that dirty underground realm that was completely unresponsive and did not acknowledge my curiosity, was also a realm of no words, no language and no memory whatsoever of my existence as “Eben Alexander before-coma.” I think that was a crucial part of setting the stage. And not remembering any of the religious teachings that I had in my life allowed a kind of tabula rasa on which to make a very basic statement about the reality of that first realm.
LMP: The Earth-Worm’s Eye View realm seems similar to many of the depictions of purgatory or even hell that have shown up in both literature and art through the ages.
EA: A lot of religious mystics — cabbalists, Jewish mystics, Christian mystics and Buddhists have contacted me about similarities in my story to ancient stories that they‘re familiar with. That was a literature that I certainly knew nothing about prior to my coma, but it was brought to my attention later because there are striking similarities [in my story] to writings by prophets dating back thousands of years. That’s because, of course, it is a realm that is eternal and doesn’t change with the vagaries of life on earth. And a lot of people early on said that it sounds like hell or purgatory. It could be the origin of purgatory, but I think hell is a different issue.
LMP: In the lessons you received in the higher realms, were there any insights on the concept of hell?
EA: It became very clear in my lessons that at the end of each of our multiple incarnations we go through a life review that looks deeply into the “goods” and “bads” of our lifetime. We relive them in perfect clarity; we end up feeling the emotional power of those life reviews. That’s how we learn those deep moral lessons. Any pain or wrong doing that we’ve handed out to others we feel from their point of view, but much more powerfully than they ever had to. I think that going back thousands of years, that’s the origin of our idea of hell. Experiencing that pain would be far worse than any eternal damnation.
LMP: After spending time in the Underworld realm, you are transported to a place you call the Gateway realm. You describe it as: “brilliant, vibrant, ecstatic, stunning.” You say you felt like you were being born, “not reborn, or born again. Just… born.” In your description, it appears to be a very earth-like place — both familiar and yet, at the same time, totally different than the earth we know.
That realm really exists. I see it as like Plato’s World of Forms on which this earthly realm is based. When you see that resemblance, some of it may be culture or personal memories in the brain overlaying and tainting memories. But [that resemblance] could also be because it’s a very real realm that exists outside of our physical world — one that’s been the origin of a lot of our moral concepts as well as our ideas about the nature of Heaven, God and reality.
At the end of the book I realized that the most prominent feature of that Gateway realm, the beautiful girl on the butterfly wing — was actually something much deeper. As I came to know months later who that girl was, that had power beyond words in terms of helping me to understand the depth of this journey and how it was rooted in a fundamental, essential nature of my being that far transcended anything that I could have dreamed up in my mind.
LMP: When you moved on to the Core, you encountered God. What was that realm like? Did you have an opportunity to ask God questions?
EA: In that realm of infinite eternity was the all-powerful, all knowing Source of everything. That realm was so far beyond physical incarnation that it’s quite clear God would have no earth-like presentation — no gender, no face. That Entity is a power that is so far beyond anything we can imagine and a knowing beyond any kind of human knowing.
I was given lessons out in that inky blackness by a brilliant Orb of light brighter than a billion stars that I looked at as kind of a translator. It wasn’t as if I were actually asking questions, but there was a tremendous amount that I was taught there. (I’m working on my second book which goes deeply into a lot of those core lessons.)
LMP: In the book you refer to God as “Om.” You write: “Om was the sound I remembered hearing associated with that omniscient, omnipotent, and unconditionally loving God….” Why did you choose to call God by that sound?
EA: “Om” was the sound that came back with me. When thinking back on that Core experience, that brilliant Orb of light, that all powerful, all loving deity that was the source of it all, the sound I heard in that realm was “Om.” Anyone who knows anything about the physics of music would wonder what kind of resonance you could possibly get in infinity and eternity, but infinity and eternity actually are resonant and that was the sound I heard.
Many years later people alerted me to the fact that “Om” had a meaning in meditation. But for me “Om” was simply the best representation of that deity. To me the word God sounded like such a trivial human word, it clearly fell way short of the mark. That Presence [I experienced] was so much grander than any little human concept of God. For me, “Om” had no attachment as a word and which is why it worked as a good descriptor.
LMP: I love the way you describe your encounter with God. “This Being was so close that there seemed to be no distance at all between God and myself. Yet at the same time, I could sense the infinite vastness of the Creator, could see how completely miniscule I was by comparison.” How would you characterize the essence of this Creator God?
EA: This is a God that is infinitely loving and all about compassion, forgiveness and acceptance; a God that loves all of God’s children: Christians, Muslins, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, skeptics, and so on — that loves all life on earth and in Consciousness throughout the universe. God is not one of hate and revenge. Those are petty, little human ideas. God is much grander than we can ever imagine. The God that exists at the Core is a grand all-loving God.
LMP: You’ve said that Consciousness itself is the single greatest entity in all of existence. Can you explain what you mean by that?
EA: At the core, it’s all One and at the deepest Core it’s all divine — all One with God. Even the materialists — the scientists, cosmologists, those who do string theory and quantum gravity; they’re all basically converging to say that pure information is the core of all that exists. Everything we see as space, time, mass, energy… can be essentialized into vibrating strings of energy and higher dimensional space-time. And at the very deepest level, everything is entangled into one. Sir James Jeans said long ago, “The Universe begins to look much more like a great thought than a great machine.” That’s a crucial understanding of what this all really is. And if you’re able to go far enough, it all is around that Consciousness — that
One is divine, that this whole material world is a very cleverly wrought illusion, that time and space are all illusion. You have to know that Consciousness is not this epi phenomenon of the brain, but is, in fact, a far richer thing that completely precedes and is outside of (and supporting) all of the material realm and this apparent reality.
LMP: Your experience was incredible, but even more amazing is that you came back and had the opportunity to tell about your journey. Just how rare is it for someone to survive the brain infection you experienced?
EA: It was a one in 10 million or less diagnosis, and my chances of full neurologic recovery, given how sick I was, were even more remote than one in 10 million. Even rarer is the fact that after going down into coma within 3 ½ hours and losing all my neurologic function in my neocortex for seven days, I was able to make a complete recovery. My being back to work part time within 3 ½ weeks and full time within three months completely blew away any possible explanation by my doctors.
LMP: Do you think the fact that your NDE and subsequent recovery was not typical actually added to its credibility.
EA: If I’d had the typical near death experience — seeing my father and all that, it all would have likely been dismissed in spite of the extreme rarity of my illness. Very accomplished physicians in major medical centers had absolutely no explanation for how such a recovery could have happened. In spite of that, if my father had been there front and center to welcome me, I myself might have been tempted to say, even as real as it all seemed: “I guess that’s one of the tricks of the dying brain.” I think the fact that my story was so different enabled lessons that prove the reality of that realm.
LMP: Now that you’ve returned to a normal life, do you do anything to maintain that connection with God you made during your NDE?
EA: For me it’s very important that I mediate. You can watch the DVDs, go to the presentations and read the books, but at the end of the day, you have to “go there” yourself. It’s well worth the effort and the time to do that. That’s why I put two or three hours a day into it. Meditation is absolutely crucial.
For more information about Eben Alexander and Proof of Heaven, visit www.lifebeyonddeath.net.
*An N of 1 trial is a clinical trial in which a single patient comprises the entire trial.
_Linda M. Potter is a writer, popular speaker, and the author of If Only God Would Give Me a Sign! available in selected bookstores, on her website www.LidaPotter.com, at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. Linda is also the Managing Editor of BellaSpark Magazine. <lindampotter@LindaMPotter.com>.
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