A number of years ago I went through a phase where I was craving an NDE (near-death experience). I did not want to leave my body permanently, but there was a desire to have more understanding about life and death, and I thought the best way to gain more understanding would be to actually have the experience of dying. I had read about near-death experiences and noticed that those who came back had a refreshed outlook on life, felt more spiritually awakened, lived life with more awareness, had a greater sense of purpose, and no longer feared death.
I was residing in a yoga community at the time, and although I was doing many practices that could lead to out-of-body experiences, I felt impatient and wanted to accelerate my understanding. My boyfriend at the time and I would joke about finding a medical student who was willing to flat-line me and bring me back. Of course, we didn’t go beyond joking about it. Instead, we persisted with meditation, practiced breath work, used float tanks, and made attempts at lucid dreaming; all much safer methods to get out of body than staging an NDE.
When cancer brought me close to death, not close enough to see the light, but close enough to know that at that moment dying was just a matter of letting go of the will to live, I gave up the desire for an NDE. Coming that close was close enough. Also, I realized that my curiosity around dying probably wasn’t very conducive to a recovery and that an NDE would likely turn into an actual death experience, especially since I was struggling to find reasons to stay.
In his book, Life After Life, and documentary, Afterlife, Dr. Raymond Moody presents his research on near-death experiences. Despite coming from different cultural and religious backgrounds, everyone he interviewed reported similar phases in their NDE. The last stage people reported was that they had a choice to return.
That aspect helps me when I think of my sister, which is still very often; there hasn’t been a week in the last nine months where there weren’t tears on my face from missing her. But, they are tears from me missing her, regrets about the moment’s I could have connected with her but didn’t, and letting go of the plans I had to connect with her in the future. Even though she didn’t intend to go, I believe she had the same choice as those who decided to come back. If she thought is was best to return, she would have.
Death makes us see the preciousness of life; I know that is one reason I once longed for an NDE. It was a time when I was unfulfilled in life. Even though my lifestyle at the time was desired by many, I had an inner discontent. Not enough to make me want to take my life, but enough to make me indifferent to living. I would try new experiences and study interesting things in hopes of filling the emptiness inside, but nothing enlivened me. Life was dull and flat to me, and I wondered how others could be full of excitement and joy.
Life is very different now. Even though my life looks terrible on the outside, I am very content on the inside. I have much gratitude for the little things and value any opportunities that come my way. Instead of feeling empty, I am full of possibilities and ideas; there are countless reasons to stay and no reasons to go. Although it didn’t take an official NDE to make me appreciate life, it did take losing my life to some extent.
“Life is precarious, and life is precious.
Don’t assume you will have it tomorrow, and don’t waste it today.”
~ John Piper