From my session at the “Living from
the Light” workshop
Marina del Rey, CA October 20-21, 2007
The most common finding after a NDE is that
people are no longer afraid of death. They may
fear the loss of independence and the possibility
of pain and loss of roles that go along with
an impending death, but NDErs don’t generally
fear death itself. Because of that change in
perspective, many NDErs naturally gravitate
toward hospice and/or grief counseling. Sometimes
this occurs in a formal way through a profession,
sometimes it occurs as a volunteer, sometimes
it occurs more informally than that through
questions asked by family, friends and perhaps
even strangers. Sometimes we might like to offer
some words of wisdom, but aren’t sure
how they will be received.
This session today will give us an opportunity
to look at the ways that we use our NDEs to
ease other people’s concerns about their
own death. When do we share? How do we share?
When have we shared unwisely? Do we find it
difficult to understand fear of death when we
have so little fear of death ourselves?
Does our homesickness for Heaven interfere
with our involvement in life? If we know that
everything (even the “screw-ups”)
benefits our soul’s growth, are we less
likely to intervene in difficult situations?
- How do you go about sharing your views
of death and the afterlife?
- How does your lack of fear of death influence
- If you are involved in hospice work, do
you know if your hospice colleagues have had
NDEs or a Spiritually Transformative Experience
(STE)? How might you broach the subject with
- If you are involved in hospice work, are
conversations about NDEs common occurrences?
If not, how might you change the environment?
My Own Thoughts
When I am preparing a presentation, I often
set my intention to have dreams about what would
be most useful to the participants of the upcoming
session. When I did my “dream session”
for this presentation, I was presented with
a very clear vignette of a group who wanted
to find the perfect shoe that would fit each
one of them. They started off with a medium
sized shoe, but had to go bigger and bigger
in order to accommodate everyone. Finally, they
ended with a very large shoe that fit almost
no one. To me, the meaning was clear. When it
comes to using our NDE on behalf of people who
are dying or grieving, one size clearly doesn’t
fit all. I smiled to myself as I thought that
we might as well call this session, “One
size doesn’t fit all!”
It seems to me that we are at a time where
learning from deep listening and deep sharing
is what will move wisdom and compassion forward
and so I come to this session with that in mind.
When I first tried to decide what to say to
you today about sharing our new perspectives
with people who are dying and with people who
are in bereavement, I realized that I have no
pat answers. When I thought back on my own experiences
of being with people at that time in their lives,
I realized that I really just sit with them
and let them lead the way with their own musings.
My deep listening and being present with them
wherever they are seems to bring them comfort.
They know that they are not alone and that they
will not go somewhere in their minds that I
am not prepared to go with them without judgment.
Sometimes—not always—after I have
listened for a long time, they will ask me what
I think about death and I will tell them that
my attitudes toward death are colored by my
childhood NDE. I really don’t fear death
because I believe that I will return to that
place of perfect peace and oneness that was
a part of my NDE. It was the most powerful and
beautiful experience of my life that has been
a touchstone for me throughout my life. I may
also share that most of the several million
people living today who had a NDE and survived
resuscitation have no fear of death either.
I will leave it at that unless they ask more
questions. I’m prepared to answer anything
they might want to know about NDEs, but I absolutely
refrain from lecturing or proselytizing. A person
who is dying is at their most vulnerable and
I don’t want them to feel trapped with
a person talking at them and not with them.
That is truly how I share my NDE with people
who are dying. It seemed almost too simple to
share with you today until I was guided to a
chapter in Sogyal Rinpoche’s book, The
Tibetan Book of Living and Dying,
where he gave just that advice in his chapter
on “Heart Advice for being with the Dying.”
He encouraged readers to be fully present with
people and to let the dying person lead the
way. He discouraged any lectures or proselytizing.
Reading that chapter reminded me of a panel
discussion we once held at our local hospital
in Durango about how to help people with cancer.
The most powerful speaker was a man with cancer
who said that he simply wanted people to let
him be himself, to let him be where he was and
to not try to make him see their point of view.
He was particularly annoyed by platitudes. He
wanted to be truly listened to without hidden
agendas. I think that is something for all of
us to keep well in mind; even with the best
of intentions and with the most inspirational
of messages, the moment still has to be right.
And we have to give ourselves a break and recognize
that we will miss some ripe moments and jump
in other times when the moment is not ripe.
I don’t treat being with bereaved people
much differently. Again, I listen deeply and
come to where they are with the intent to be
open hearted and to lead them ever so gently
toward achieving some peace in their pain. I
am always aware that many people see deceased
relatives and that that can be a source of comfort
to them if they don’t think that it is
merely an illusion, so I look for hints that
that might have happened and then ask more questions.
At some point, I often say that many people
have an experience of their loved one after
death that is very comforting. If they don’t
pick up on it, I let it drop. I use silence
in a productive way. Too often we fill the air
with words when the silence would allow us to
drop to a deeper level if we were only willing
to take a breath instead of speaking a word.
Perhaps the most useful outcome from our NDEs
with regard to being with the dying and the
bereaved is our own enhanced sensitivity and
compassion. It is wonderful that we have no
fear of death, but that new perspective won’t
be heard unless we first use our enhanced sensitivity
and compassion to be truly present with the
The only way to be present with other people
is to take the time to be present with ourselves.
That is true whether or not we have had a NDE.
If we are rushed or have hidden agendas, we
can’t really listen to another person.
I encourage each of us to have practices that
lead us to our own place of stillness in part
so that we can be that still pool for others,
but mostly so that we can be that still pool
for ourselves. Centering prayer, meditation,
yoga, and tai chi are all ways to be in stillness
and I strongly encourage a daily practice. Your
own centered presence is the best way to tell
people about NDEs and then you can add the details
if they ask. This is my perspective on sharing
my NDE with other people. Yours may be quite
different. After all, one size doesn’t
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