Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, by Eben Alexander, M.D. is certainly right at the top of my list of most profound NDE’s I have ever read about.
As a practitioner of one of the most highly educated professions, Dr Alexander had no real belief in any sort of life beyond death. He was wholly immersed in the science of his field. He was an occasional church goer, but had no active participation in organized religion. He describes himself as a C & E’er Christian, attending services at Christmas and Easter!
He suddenly contracted a deadly disease, “spontaneous E. coli bacterial meningitis.” This disease aggressively began eating his brain, most notably, the cortex, the part of the brain which most makes us human, the part we think with, and analyze, and form ideas with. The bacteria was eating his brain from the outside in. And it is the outermost layers of the brain which are the most “human”. This disease is so rare that the medical personnel treating him could find no precedent cases. They finally considered his case as a “N = 1”. In other words, completely unique, nothing for them to base treatment on, etc. Every other case of this disease ever recorded always had some precipitating condition, such as brain surgery or some immune deficiency. For a completely healthy, active person, in mid-life, this disease was completely unprecedented. And the disease is so aggressive that there is over a 90% fatality rate. And even if they could save his body, the chances of him ever regaining any semblance of human functioning were pretty much a complete zero.
While in a seven-day coma from this disease Eben Alexander had one of the most unique and profound near-death experiences ever recorded. The first lesson he learned from this, after recovery, was that human consciousness, our awareness of who we are and what we are, is completely separate from brain function.
But while I was in coma my brain hadn’t been working improperly. It hadn’t been working at all. The part of my brain that years of medical school had taught me was responsible for creating the world I lived and moved in and for taking the raw data that came in through my senses and fashioning it into a meaningful universe: that part of my brain was down, and out. And yet despite all of this, I had been alive, and aware, truly aware, in a universe characterized above all by love, consciousness, and reality. There was, for me, simply no arguing this fact. I knew it so completely that I ached. What I’d experienced was more real than the house I sat in, more real than the logs burning in the fireplace. Yet there was no room for that reality in the medically trained scientific worldview that I’d spent years acquiring. (p 129f)
During his NDE Eben experienced three levels of the Spirit realm, or “heaven”, in his words. He first experienced what he came to call the “Earthworm’s-Eye View”, then moved into the “Gateway”, and then “. . . into the black but holy darkness of the Core. . .” (p 70). He would go back and forth between these places. It was in the Core, in the presence of God, that he learned the most profound spiritual truths.
The Earthworm’s-Eye View was a somewhat unpleasant place, not necessarily frightening, just a subhuman consciousness. He initially had no awareness of himself as human, or even animal. “I wasn’t human while I was in this place. I wasn’t even animal. I was something before, and below, all that. I was simply a lone point of awareness in a timeless red-brown sea.” (p 30f) But, the longer he stayed there, the less comfortable he felt.
As my awareness sharpened more and more, I edged ever closer to panic. Whoever or whatever I was, I did not belong here. I needed to get out.”
But where would I go?
Even as I asked that question, something new emerged from the darkness above: something that wasn’t cold, or dead, or dark, but the exact opposite of all those things. If I tried for the rest of my life, I would never be able to do justice to this entity that now approached me . . . to come anywhere close to describing how beautiful it was.
But I’m going to try. (p 32)
Initially light appeared, splintering the darkness around him. “Then I heard a new sound: a living sound, like the richest, most complex, most beautiful piece of music you’ve ever heard.” (p 38) Then he found himself flying. As he flew through an opening in the light, he found himself “. . . in a completely new world. The strangest, most beautiful world I’d ever seen.” (p 38) It was a green, lush countryside of trees, fields, flowers, streams and waterfalls. People were there, children, singing and dancing.
I don’t know how long, exactly, I flew along. (Time in this place was different from the simple linear time we experience on earth and is as hopelessly difficult to describe as every other aspect of it.) But at some point, I realized that I wasn’t alone up there. (p 39f)
He found himself accompanied by a beautiful girl, riding on the wing of a butterfly. This Being conveyed messages to him.
Without using any words, she spoke to me. The message went through me like a wind, and I instantly understood that it was true. I knew so in the same way that I knew that the world around us was real–was not some fantasy, passing and insubstantial.
The message had three parts, and if I had to translate them into earthly language, I’d say they ran something like this:
“You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.”
“You have nothing to fear.”
“There is nothing you can do wrong.”
The message flooded me with a vast and crazy sensation of relief. It was like being handed the rules to a game I’d been playing all my life without ever fully understanding it.
“We will show you many things here,” the girl said–again, without actually using these words but by driving their conceptual essence directly into me. “But eventually, you will go back.”
To this, I had only one question.
Back where? (p 40f)
This is one aspect of Alexander’s NDE which is quite different from most other NDE’s reported. “Many people have traveled to the realms I did, but, strangely enough, most remembered their earthly identities while away from the earthly forms.” (p 76f) Also, most NDE’ers report undergoing a life review of some sort.
I experienced none of these events, and taken all together they demonstrated the single most unusual aspect of my NDE. I was completely free of my bodily identity for all of it, so that any classic NDE occurrence that might have involved my remembering who I was on earth was rigorously missing. (p 77)
Eben Alexander believes it is this aspect of his particular NDE which allowed him to go so deeply into the spiritual realms. “Throughout my entire time in those worlds, I was a soul with nothing to lose. No places to miss, no people to mourn. I had come from nowhere and had no history, so I fully accepted my circumstances–even the initial murk and mess of the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View–with equanimity. And because I so completely forgot my mortal identity, I was granted full access to the true cosmic being I really am (and we all are). . . . At the risk of oversimplifying, I was allowed to die harder, and travel deeper, than almost all NDE subjects before me.” (p 78)
When Eben returned to his earthly life, he immediately began wanting to re-educate his peers. But he encountered the same paternalistic attitudes which he himself had previously practiced upon patients trying to explain their experiences while in coma or medically dead states. This book is one of his efforts to educate the general population on the reality of the Spirit realm. And there is so much more in the book than I can include here. Just discovering the identity of the girl on the butterfly wing is worth the read!!!
I will conclude this lengthy review with Eben’s experience of going to church approximately a month and a half after his experience.
My memory of my time out of the body was still naked and raw, and everywhere I turned in this place that had failed to move me much before, I saw art and heard music that brought it all right back. The pulsing bass note of a hymn echoed the rough misery of the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View. The stained glass windows with their clouds and angels brought to mind the celestial beauty of the Gateway. A painting of Jesus breaking bread with his disciples evoked the communion of the Core. I shuddered as I recalled the bliss of infinite unconditional love I had known there.
At last, I understood what religion was really all about. Or at least was supposed to be about. I didn’t just believe in God; I knew God. As I hobbled to the altar to take Communion, tears streamed down my cheeks. (p 147f)