“Wind” by Andrew Wyeth
For many people, the idea of being “near death,” is one they would rather not contemplate, but as anyone who has survived an accidental or unintentional brush with death can tell you, suddenly finding yourself at the edge of such a possibility tends to narrow your focus sharply on whatever action might be possible to prevent it. Our instinct for self-preservation–our natural tendency to step back from the edge of a precipice–is completely reasonable in view of our interest in staying alive. We value our lives most notably as a result of being accustomed to waking up and living it everyday, but philosophically speaking, we resist contemplating the idea of our own demise since we are so uncertain intellectually as to what might be awaiting us when the inevitable moment arrives.
Those who have a strong background in any of the numerous religious faiths generally take solace in their beliefs of an afterlife, and there are many different explanations and theories which address such issues for those who take a more secular approach to understanding the world, but no matter what background we come from we still most often want our temporal lives to continue without having to consider too often what might transpire once we reach the limit of our abilities to sustain life, whatever the reason. We all hope that we can “grow old gracefully,” and can suffer greatly when those we love perish for any reason. My own recent experience of the loss of my beloved brother was heart-wrenching in the extreme, even knowing well in advance that the moment was approaching. At the memorial, I spoke of his journey through his temporal life, as well as the continuation into the next life–eternal life.
Such reassurances are not of much comfort to those who profess disbelief in any sort of continuation of existence once the temporal portion of life ends. Dr. Eben Alexander was one such person. He had been an academic neurosurgeon for more than twenty years, and trained in some of the most elite medical institutions in the world, including Harvard Medical School. A dedicated scientist and surgeon, Dr. Alexander had operated on more than a thousand brains, and cared for many different patients in dire circumstances. His knowledge of the workings of the human brain extended well beyond the point of hoping for miracles for his patients. All that changed when the good doctor suddenly found himself near death from a life-threatening illness.
His recently published book, “Proof of Heaven,” is the story of his life and death struggle with a rare form of bacterial meningitis, which severely compromised his own brain, putting him in a deep coma for seven days, and how it changed everything he supposed he knew about life and death. The story of his life prior to the coma, and of his survival and recovery, would be startling and nearly miraculous all by itself. Against all odds, he not only survived the devastating effects of the normally fatal strain of meningitis, but made a full recovery which permitted him to eventually resume his life as a neurosurgeon. His case was apparently unprecedented in numerous ways in medical terms, but when Dr. Alexander awoke after seven days, the story he had to tell went way beyond the particulars of his medical condition and his former life.
Near Death Experiences have recently received much closer attention by the scientific community, but as Eben Alexander acknowledged himself, prior to experiencing one first-hand as he lay in a deep coma, he was always sympathetic to his patients who told him of such events, but he never really gave them much thought, and like many scientists, he felt there was some more logical or prosaic explanation that would eventually be revealed through scientific research.
The book reports in great detail the doctor’s elaborate and fantastic near death experience as it unfolded. While the author’s body and brain approached what was quickly becoming the point of no return, Dr. Alexander the neurosurgeon was touring eternity, and with no awareness of his identity as a person, he describes being given the opportunity to learn about an existence beyond experience. Whereas most N.D.E.’s occur with the individual being aware of who they are, and who report meeting individuals they recognize on “the other side,” due to his acute brain infection, Dr. Alexander’s neocortex was completely “offline,” and none of the most often cited scientific explanations for such experiences could be applied to his circumstances. Without access to the neocortex, not even dreams or hallucinations are possible. This time, there was no way to explain.
I can wholeheartedly recommend this book, even to those who may already have decided that such things are not possible. With the powerful authority of a highly respected neuroscientist, Dr. Alexander holds up his experience to a remarkably thorough scientific scrutiny, and nearly abandoned his own belief in the experience, until after an exhaustive examination of the facts that led him to a startling conclusion. Even the most skeptical reader will find it enormously compelling reading.