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Reply To: What Happens After This Life?



Thank you for your thoughts on near death experiences (NDEs), which is a subject that fascinates me. Your reflections brought to mind an experience of mine in this area.

I have participated in rebirthing rituals on several occasions (Rebirthing, a technique pioneered by the late Leonard Orr and Sandra Ray, akin to Stan Grof’s Holotropic Breathwork, adopts the pranic breathing central to tantric traditions; many who undergo this will recall their birth experience, and even some past-life memories). No past-life memories surfaced for me, nor did I re-experience my birth trauma, but there were a few mind-boggling moments that seem somehow to have slipped the bonds of time.

The guide for my first rebirthing session was a good friend thoroughly trained in the technique. At his instruction I lay down on a bed and performed rapid, shallow, circular breathing—not easy to maintain for an extended period, so his coaching helped keep me focused and on track the next two hours.

Intriguing process—monotonous at first, interminably so—but then I noticed a tingling in fingers and toes, a metallic taste in the mouth, and a heavy coldness, not shivery, but oddly refreshing, starting in the extremities and slowly moving up my limbs.

No need to bore you with the details, but I’ll mention one tangential tidbit. Halfway through I needed to heed nature’s call, so my coach allowed the necessary break, encouraging me to maintain the circular rhythm of my breath while away. I slowly shuffled down the hall to the bathroom—and shuffle is the right word, for that’s all I could do.

When I looked in the mirror, my face was different, the fingers of my hands were scrunched together in a tight little wedge (like a newborn babe?) with my body drawn up so that I appeared smaller—and I could not, voluntarily, release my fingers or unclench my hands (which made taking care of business a touch more challenging than usual)

and then, back to the bed, breathing, breathing . . .

At one point I recall thinking I had drifted off, for I heard my guide’s voice somewhere in the distance, calling me back, urging me to breathe—and I felt a little disappointed in myself, assuming I had simply fallen asleep.

This happened twice more.

With the process complete I finally surfaced, feeling peaceful and relaxed. That’s when my guide informed me that on the three occasions when I thought I had drifted off, I actually stopped breathing –– very different from holding my breath.

Aaron had timed each occurrence: the last was the longest—after exhaling, I did not breathe in for a full five minutes and thirty-seven seconds! Aaron finally called me back when my lips turned blue.

He asked where I had gone that last time after the breath had left my body.

I recounted moving through a passageway of red rock, similar to the Siq, the entry to the ancient Nabatean city of Petra (the setting of the final scene in Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail), toward a warm, welcoming, bright, loving light—not exactly white, but an ivory hue—where, at some sort of rustic cabin that proved larger on the inside than the outside, I was welcomed by my deceased father, and surrounded by a supportive crowd of friends and relatives long gone. I recall a warm, intimate, lengthy exchange with my father, though I’m not sure if words were involved; everyone else seemed somewhat amorphous and vague.

In fact, I had a sense that the deeper I journeyed into this realm, the more vague it becomes—as if I and the world were slowly dissolving—yet I felt no anxiety about this possibility –– and then I heard Aaron’s voice, faint, but growing stronger: “…breathe… Breathe…”

It’s a sweet memory I treasure today.

True, there could be many explanations. It might be no more than the nitrogen “high” affecting my brain in the absence of oxygen, a hallucination triggered by self-induced hyperventilation—or it might be the dying flickers of the electrons in my brain building a pleasant image, a compensatory metaphor for the most unpleasant process (to waking ego) of the body dying.

Yes, it could all be hallucination—but there’s one other element in the adventure where the dream intersects waking reality.

During one of the other episodes when I stopped breathing, I recalled attending a party, meeting a cute girl, talking to her for hours on a front porch, and then, as rain descended, retreating to a hippie van parked in front of the house and, well, everything kind of faded out from there . . .

I shared this, what?—memory? dream? wishful thinking?—with my guide.

The other image, of the long passage with light at the end and the meeting with my father, seemed archetypal enough—but we could make neither heads nor tales of the Girl-on-the-Porch, no matter what symbols we tried to see

. . .  until that evening, when I pedaled a borrowed bicycle seven miles across Portland to a party I had been invited to that afternoon—after the rebirthing—where I talked for hours with a now familiar girl on the front porch, until it started storming and we had to seek shelter inside a Volkswagen van!

(Is that a Rod Serling voice-over in the background?)

Though a part of me remains inclined to write off the encounter with my father as self-induced hallucination, the precognitive nature of the vision of the Girl-on-the-Porch makes it difficult for me to simply dismiss either episode.

I don’t know quite what to make of it all, so I treat this as an experience of metaphor: true on the inside, not quite sure what on the outside.

The way I process this memory is through the mythological complex of wind and spirit and breath and soul. Consciousness seems to have left my body with my breath—and consciousness returned when breath returned. However, definitely leaves me inclined to believe that something, though I know not what, does survive beyond the body, even if that is just individual consciousness being re-absorbed by a more universal Consciousness.