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Near Death Experiences

Looking Back Over 60 Years As A NDEr

Presentation To Tucson And Mesa, Arizona IANDS Groups
November 8 And 9, 2012

I know that you have a NDE speaker every month. As I asked myself what might be useful to share with you, I was aware of the abundant breadth of experiences you have already heard from all of the speakers who come to your IANDS group to share their experiences. For my part, I would like to add not only my childhood NDE but also how that has influenced me throughout the course of my life. My NDE gave me a tremendous sense of freedom throughout my life. I have never had a fear of death. I have only a mild interest in acquiring fame and money. And, I have frequently felt the presence of God around me. My childhood NDE was an enormous blessing in my life.

My relationship to NDEs began on Halloween weekend in 1950 in St. Joseph, MO. I had just turned six and was extremely disappointed that a sore throat was keeping me from enjoying bobbing for apples at the church Halloween party. Things got worse from there. I developed a fever, headache and stiff neck and by the next morning at church, I was beginning to lose balance. In those days, emergency rooms were not readily available so we held out until the next morning when the doctor’s office opened. At that point, he told my parents that I had a peritonsillar abscess that was tracking into my brain and that my life was in danger. I was given an injection of penicillin and sent home to see how things would go.

At some point in the next few hours I had the experience of being out of body with a vantage point from the corner near the ceiling. In that space I felt no pain, only perfect peace. I wasn’t at all surprised although my background might have led me to be surprised. I just felt myself surrounded by love and experienced it as God. I felt like the soul that I am, the soul I would be when I remembered myself in this lifetime, and the soul I would be when I went Home at the end of this life. And it was perfect.

I next “looked” down and saw a little girl who was in a lot of pain. At first I felt empathy for her pain but then realized that she must be me. With that realization I was back in my body. That single experience shaped my whole view of the world and my place in it. I remember making the conscious decision not to tell my parents about it as I felt they would try to fix me in some way and I was quite certain that it was a precious gift from God.

So I lived my early years never speaking of my NDE to anyone. I don’t remember feeling isolated about that. It simply felt too private and personal to be spoken of. Still, I had the common effects that we have come to understand accompany a childhood NDE. I was always interested in spiritual matters and loved sitting in churches and being quiet in the out of doors. I could never understand teasing because I could feel what the other person was feeling. I appeared—and felt—more mature than other children my age. There was always the homesickness for the experience of being one with God. That was alleviated to some extent by my frequently feeling the presence of God surrounding me.

That homesickness continued for 18 years until the moment of the birth of my firstborn, my son Mike, when I was 24 years old. As I held him in my arms for the first time, I felt myself solidly commit to the desire to stay on earth in order to see him become a man. I had not been aware before that moment how much I was unattached to being here. The homesickness never went away completely, but it subsided substantially.

Five years later the aftereffects of my NDE supported me when my husband of 10 years wanted a divorce. At first I was devastated, but when I took my two pre-schoolers to the park the next day to give me time to think. I found myself relaxing as I watched all of the children play, not just my own. Soon I felt the oneness and interconnectedness of us all and I felt myself surrounded by God. With that awareness, I knew that I would be okay, whatever the details of my life.

With the divorce, I had the option of looking at what I really wanted to do with my life and, like most NDErs, chose a life of service. I applied to medical school in 1975 and was the first single mother accepted to Baylor College of Medicine. In addition to choosing careers emphasizing service, another characteristic of NDErs is that they have little concern about money which was a good thing as I was able to go to medical school as a single mother with very limited funds but not actually worry about it. I have found that the lack of concern about money gives an enormous sense of freedom in that one isn’t tied to the need for a lot of material possessions. And, I was fortunate to have shelter and food.

When I completed my Family Practice Residency in Houston in 1982, I joined one of the teachers in his private practice. As Dr. Silverman was showing me the office, I was struck by a poster on one wall. It showed a ship in the distance sailing on the ocean at dawn with these words below it, “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” I had a deep sense that my life would be about learning the meaning of that phrase. Soon I was busy setting up practice and caring for my two teenagers and a new baby. Settling into a routine of a family doctor who was also a wife and mother, I imagined this would be my life for many years to come. This ship felt comfortable in her harbor.

My life changed forever with reading one book in 1987. I read Ken Ring’s book, Heading toward Omega. It looked at how a NDE changed people’s values and attitudes. As I read that book, I realized how profoundly my NDE had affected me. I had never forgotten it but had thought that many of the ways that I was different from other people were a result of my personality, not my NDE. As I read that book, I had the realization that I was simply an “ordinary NDEr.” Once I had that thought, I realized that I needed to share my experience and thoughts with other doctors. At that time, Raymond Moody’s book had been out for about a decade and doctors were generally convinced that NDEs were a figment of people’s imaginations and that they were of little importance. Before I could talk about it with doctors, I needed to tell my parents and my husband, though. They were less surprised than I expected them to be. Now it was time to share it with colleagues. It was with great trepidation that I gave a noon conference to my fellow physicians at my hospital about a patient of mine who had a NDE. I included the meager research that had been done by that time in 1987and concluded with my own story as a childhood NDEr. To my relief, the attending physicians were truly curious and brought up puzzling stories told to them by patients that they hadn’t known how to explain until that moment.

I began giving a few talks about NDEs here and there in Houston when asked. When questions arose that I couldn’t answer, I contacted Elizabeth Kubler- Ross and through an enormous episode of serendipity she invited me to her farm to talk about NDEs. That helped enormously in fleshing out my understanding of NDEs. Another useful experience was going to my first IANDS conference in 1988 in Georgetown. It was just amazing to me to be around so many people who had not only had NDEs but were talking publicly about them. I went to every IANDS conference for the next 15 years and I still attend occasionally.

Even back in the Houston area, once I began talking about NDEs publicly, I met many people who had not only NDEs but also other Spiritually Transformative Experiences (STEs.) It was amazing to me how many people were like me. We simply hadn’t been talking about our profound experiences. Having these new deep connections changed my life dramatically, greatly enriching it.

Another dramatic change came with the advent of HMO’s in Houston. Being a new entity in the 1980s, they were not at all streamlined. They made life quite difficult for the family doctor and I became much less satisfied with my profession with that change.

One evening I went to bed having prayed to find an answer to my career dilemma. In the middle of the night I was awakened, looked at the Harris County newsletter for physicians and saw an ad for a hospice physician at the Hospice at the Texas Medical Center. I knew it was meant for me and a short two months later I had made the transition from Family Physician to Hospice Doctor. With my partner’s permission, I took the “Ship in a Harbor” poster with me.

I discovered that hospice work is an ideal career for NDErs since we typically have no fear of death, love to be of service to others, and have an interest in meaning in life and in spirituality. In fact, in a survey that I gave at the National Hospice Organization in 1993, 20% of the hospice workers in the audience had had NDEs themselves, way above the national average of 5% according to the Gallup polls.

While caring for hospice patients in the In-patient unit, I found that many of them were having NDEs in the last few days of life and that they often saw deceased relatives when they were fully awake. In making these experiences part of our check out rounds with each other at shift change, we discovered that having those experiences was one of the most reliable ways of predicting when a person was nearing death. I also found some differences between NDEs that occur in an acute setting and those that occur in the hospice setting. Life reviews are common in an acute NDE but I never had a patient undergo a life review in the hospice setting. I came to believe that was because the purpose of the life review is to live one’s life better. The purpose of an NDE in the hospice setting occurs is to prepare a person for death. Another difference was that in the hospice setting nearly everyone is greeted by deceased relatives whereas that is much less common in the acute setting. I felt comfortable in this hospice harbor and imagined myself being there for the rest of my life. But that was not to be.

Life changed again when we moved to Durango CO in 1994. And, of course, the “Ship in the Harbor” poster went with me. I was setting sail again. Guided by Spirit, it was there that I wrote my book, Love is the Link: A Hospice Doctor Shares her Experience of Near-Death and Dying. Its purpose was to show physicians the kinds of experiences that their patients were having, whether they were sharing them with the doctor or not. It also served to share stories of NDEs and the experiences of the dying so that people having those experiences would know they are not alone. Nowadays, the book is available in an audio version and I have brought a few with me tonight.

In 2000, I was asked to be the Medical Director of the Wellness Center at Mercy Medical Center in Durango, CO. When I asked what that meant, the nurses said ordering lab work had been the traditional job description. I asked them, “What is your highest vision of what this department might become?” It was from there that we envisioned creating an Integrative Services Department. Again, my NDE and “the ship in the harbor” image gave me the inspiration to invest long hours of development, research, and negotiating to work with holistic nurses to develop the signature program of the department. To my knowledge no such program existed in a small community hospital in 2002 when we developed ours. The “Touch, Love, and Compassion” program at Mercy provides free-of-charge energy work, music therapy, aromatherapy, and guided visualizations to patients with pain or anxiety and to people preparing for surgery. It has become the flagship program of the hospital, has served over 10,000 people in the decade since it was established, and has been the inspiration for the development of similar programs throughout the country.

Again, my NDE served me well since there was so little money and a strong possibility that our vision might not work out.

My ship was set to sail again in 2002 when I discovered Tai Chi for Health, developed by Dr. Paul Lam. It is a modified form of tai chi that improves the pain of arthritis and prevents falls in older adults. I recognized how helpful it would be to have physicians backing the introduction of this program in a widespread way. It was easy to immerse myself in this project as it fit in perfectly with my values as an NDEr. I became a Master Trainer of instructors and have taught over 70 workshops nationally and given many talks to hospitals about the benefits of tai chi. It has been a great joy to see how it has expanded throughout the world and is now benefitting over 250,000 people worldwide.

So what am I up to now? This summer I participated in the “Science of Compassion” conference in Telluride, CO. It was co-sponsored by Stanford’s CCARE (Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education) and the Telluride Institute. Over 40 international researchers presented the findings of their compassion research over the course of four days. As I took notes on the research, I was particularly attuned to how that research might be related to NDEs and NDE research. It was interesting to me that no one mentioned NDEs throughout the course of the conference and that they seemed to know very little about the research when I brought up questions. Much of their work centers on helping people to develop the motivation for compassion. It seems to me that the motivation for compassion is an instant result of a NDE and I am fascinated by how that might occur. This sudden increase in compassion may well stem from a mystical recognition of the Oneness. I have begun to wonder, however, if there might also be an epigenetic effect. What we are learning through the field of study of Epigenetics is that aspects of the environment may turn on or turn off certain genes and that causes permanent profound changes in a person. This is called an epigenetic effect and I’m wondering if an NDE is one of those environmental triggers that affect us a genetic level. This is pure speculation, but what I know for sure is that there definitely is a permanent change in values after a NDE.

The research also showed that mindfulness training and meditation helped to reduce chronic stress and the physiological markers of stress, including C-reactive protein. I wondered if that might be helpful for people who have undergone NDEs. It might help not only the necessary adjustments after an NDE but might also help relieve the stress caused by the illness or trauma that led to the NDE. I believe that it would be very valuable for NDE researchers to work with researchers in the Science of Compassion to combine their research both to learn more about compassion and to discover ways to increase it in the world.

Another area I have been pursuing lately is the use of hypnotherapy to help people integrate their NDEs. Research shows that it takes several years to integrate the experience. People often change careers, friends, and even spouses after a NDE. Is there a way to help make that transition easier? Certainly, IANDS groups provide mentoring through group support, information, safety, and connection, all important aspects of integration. For the past couple of years I have been using transformational hypnotherapy to guide people back to the NDE or STE in order to be able to access it more easily and to use it for personal growth. That same process helps a person to integrate the NDE into the rest of their psyche so that they feel balanced sooner than they might have if hypnotherapy were not available. As with all counseling after a NDE or STE, it is important to find a counselor who really understands NDEs. It is for that reason that I am delighted that ACISTE (American Center for the Integration of Spiritually Transformative Experiences) has formed to find therapists who are specifically trained in helping people integrate their NDEs. Last month I attended the first conference sponsored by ACISTE for therapists and ACISTE is a great resource for finding just the right therapist for you.

One thing that I learned at the ACISTE conference is that the NDE is often the gateway to other STEs that may be of a more gradual nature. Each of us in the audience who have had a NDE or STE found it to be an “aha!” moment. Most people have likely had an exceptional experience at some time in our lives. It may be a NDE, STE, or ADC (after death communication.) How can we use the accumulation of exceptional experiences to change our lives and our culture? Now that more of us are in the aging population, can we use that as an opportunity to develop soul making as a prototype for aging? Can we focus on our experiences that show us deeper aspects of ourselves? What conditions predispose us to that deepening?

We’ve come a long way since 1950 when I had my NDE. We’ve put a name to it, we’ve done research on it, and NDEs have become a household word. Now, how can we use NDEs to change our culture?

Perhaps Eben Alexander’s new website, Eternea, will take us part way there. Eternea looks at all aspects of consciousness from NDEs to STEs to Nonlocality. It shows the science and philosophy behind the phenomena. I’m particularly pleased about the Community groups called Love in Action. LIA takes the philosophy and applies it practically. What community projects increase love in our communities? How can we support and inspire one another in the practicalities of growing these projects? This is the area of NDEs where I am now devoting most of my energies. I’ve moved from keeping my NDE to myself to sharing it with colleagues and the world at large. I’ve used my NDE to start “Love in Action” projects in my own communities and now I’m helping to support a wider effort to inspire one another to fill our world with Love in Action projects in all communities. Please do share your ideas with me through


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