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Tom Coburn is a Big Fat Jerk


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Monday, February 28, 2005

Near Death Experiences, Part I

I've been thinking about writing about NDEs for several weeks now. I've discovered, however, it's a fairly complicated subject --- especially because NDEs, like so many other things, have become so commercialized and trivialized by self-proclaimed seers and prophets and snake-oil artists.

Despite all that, it's still a pretty fascinating topic, unless of course you're one to insist that NDEs are merely the result of the brain being flooded by various chemicals and reacting to mere neurological twitches and spasms.

Sure, there's something to the purely scientific explanations, because there always is. But the purely scientific fails to diminish how very interesting NDEs are. They appear everywhere, it seems, persisting over time despite culture or religion or socialization or whatever. And there's a commonality about them --- which, sure, scientists use as further evidence that they're purely a neurological phenomenon.

But are they?

Now I'm not interested in NDEs because I'm religious person. In fact, my parents refused to raise us in any kind of organized religion --- they thought of organized religion as abuse. Which it often (usually?) is. So I'm not coming to this as someone who's been indoctrinated into any real belief in Heaven or Hell or Lucifer chasing me around with his pitchfork or whatever.

Nor do I have any particular belief in or fear of death. I've seen enough ghosts in my lifetime to be pretty skeptical that one day, we're here and the next POOF we're dust, gone forever, wormfood. I mean, come on now! I saw my first ghost when I was about 5. It was my dead cousin Barbara. I'd never met Barbara --- she'd died years before I was born, when she was about 11 years old.

I saw her one summer when I was staying with my spookiest grandmother --- my hillbilly granny. One morning about 5 a.m., I was awakened by Barbara --- she was standing next to my bed crying "Mama! Mama! Mama!" I jumped up and ran to my grandmother and screamed "Barbara's here! Barbara's here!" And my grandmother simply said "Well, of course she is." And that was the end of that.

I've seen a few more since then, but I don't want to scare you all too badly. I mean, I am actually pretty normal. Really I am!

In any case, my interest in NDEs really got riled up some years ago because my sister had one. She was giving birth to her last child. It was a Caesarian section and their first mistake was giving her inadequate anesthetic. Then they cut something by accident and all hell (so to speak) broke loose and her heart stopped and she was officially dead.

Now, my sister has blanked this experience from her memory --- fortunately, she's also a complete boob when it comes to the internet, so she won't rediscover it by reading the blog. I only know about it because I was at the hospital with her and, hours later, when she finally came around, she and I started talking and she told me. She still remembered it a few weeks later because I asked her about it. But, within the year, she'd blanked it out.

The thing is, she went to hell.


She said that first, she was up by the ceiling looking down on her body and the operation. Then she went somewhere and it was horrible and dark and there were the shadows of horrible disfigured people and bones and corpses everywhere. And it was what she defined as hell. But then, she heard her daughter crying and she came back to her body.

The English word "hell" is a cognate, or relative, of hel, the Norse goddess of the Underworld. In Norse mythlogy, those who die from old age or sickness or other undramatic cause are relegated to her authority and sent to Helgardh. Helgardh, also known as house of mists, is inhabited by every imaginable kind of spectre and ghost of those who have died before.

Which certainly sounds like my sister's experience.

Whether a soul can get out of Helgardh, I don't know --- I mean, Norse mythology is not my thing. The bit I've read from other traditions, however, suggests it's likely a midpoint, kind of like a busstop --- unless of course the Norse tradition is especially dogmatic and unforgiving, which it might be.

My father appears to have also had a near death experience, although that's a little murkier. Several months before his final death, he did essentially die, but was revived and ended up in a coma for a month. I was there when he woke up --- well, it takes them a while to revive from a coma --- so better said, when he revived enough to have fully open eyes and full consciousness and ability to speak. And he grabbed my arm and wanted to know if he'd had a stroke. I said no, you didn't. He was glad for that --- then he looked at me and said "Amazing! It was simply amazing! I can't even tell you ... " And he began smiling and clasped his hands about his heart and then suddenly the nurses realized he was awake and it was all lost in the fluttering of doctors and medical equipment and tests.

The seminal text for NDEs is the Tibetan Book of the Dead. I've been searching for an online version, which I haven't yet found, but will likely just order it tonight. I've been going through website after website of NDEs --- there is an amazing similarity between them, I must admit. But I haven't yet come up with any criteria for what I would consider a legitimate NDE and what I suspect might be people merely engaged in some attention seeking.

I mean, I do know others who've had them, some who I believe and one or two who I am very, very suspicious of.

And yes, I know about Kubler-Ross. But I have a few qualms about her --- something about it feeling kind of regimented to me or something.

In any case, I'm not too comfortable saying much else. I want to do some digging about in the Tibetan Book of the Dead and looking through some other things first. I'm on break here in a week or so --- I imagine then I'll have more to say about it all, especially as I've timed things so I won't have any grading then.


At 9:44 PM, Blogger Deb said...

Hi Cookie. I was more like your Dad when I had my NDE. I haven't been the same since. It was so pleasant, I'm looking forward to my next one; but I'd still like to wait 50 years (smile).

P.S. I'm 50 now....almost

At 10:16 PM, Blogger Cookie said...

I just ordered Tibetan Book of the Dead and a companion book (name, I can't remember) to help steer you through it, and I am really looking forward to reading them.

The experience with my dad was pretty amazing. He'd had a number of close calls before - a major major heart attack in his 30's, a gigantic aneurism (sp?) that nearly spanned the entire length of his aorta - lost in a snowstorm once with a friend and had to camp over night outside in blizzard conditions (they were out hunting and on horses, so it was way back in the woods!) ...

... but his suspected NDE definitely caused a significant change. Unfortunately, he only lived a few months more -

It's an amazing topic.

At 4:11 AM, Blogger MJ said...

I've been reading Chronicles of Tao, by Deng Ming-Dao, where it says, "There is no demon to punish you if you're bad. Hell doesn't exist after death unless you believe in it; the mind is strong enough to create exactly the place you envision and imprison your entire being in that dimension for an eternity. Retribution only exists within the mechanism of consequence. Consequence is not a being. It has no mind. It's not a thing. It is a force."
Studs Terkel has an interview (in his book that I mentioned on my last post) with a woman who had a NDE. That's my next purchase. And the I Ching. Have you tackled that?
It is good to talk about death, and bring it into the realm of life.

At 9:31 AM, Blogger Cookie said...

I think it is, too. We're such a death-phobic culture, and we seem to do everything possible to insulate ourselves from it.


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