Thursday, September 19, 2013

Review Of Proof Of Heaven

This book is one of many NDE (Near Death Experience) bestsellers in the recent past, including: Heaven Is For Real, 90 Minutes In Heaven, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, and, how can we forget, Sylvia Browne’s Life on the Other Side: A Psychic's Tour of the Afterlife (this last one is a joke, but only half mine). ‘Heaven’ in the title of Proof Of Heaven isn’t the traditional concept of heaven, and it isn’t a traditional Christian message, which might lend it more credibility since it isn’t as predictable. In the end, I always think the real-life stories that alternate in these books with the NDE vision are often as interesting, or more so, than the ‘visit’ to the after-life.

NDE’s are fascinating as psychological, not necessarily preternatural, events; and they are especially interesting as poetic/artistic language expressing a person’s deepest desires and darkest fears (“They should have sent a poet!”-- I only have minor doubts from time to time about the complete honesty and veracity of these accounts. As we all know, when you’re using words for something that is ‘beyond explanation’, like most of reality, it’s easy to embellish, exaggerate, offer post factum interpretation, and otherwise explain and apply rather than tell. In other words (see, I do it too), if it don’t fit, you MAKE it fit. Into the brain, that is.

Now, I’ll be honest, the nagging thought has fluttered against me many times that Dr. Alexander is fabricating a lot of his NDE because he wants to comfort people with something ‘tangible’ they can hold on to when they lose loved ones. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’d make it all up to sell a book, but… that is how religions are born. For the record, I think he’s being honest, but I know too well the meaning of Nietzsche’s words, “He who does not know how to tell a lie, does not know what the truth is” to think that it is not beyond any man—who, like in the case of Alexander, clearly wants to give others hope beyond this life—to fudge on a few details, or artificially tie up loose ends to make the story more ‘tell-able’. This is actually a fairly normal practice when it comes to retelling one’s dreams, and is known in psychoanalysis as “secondary revision.”

As far as having a credible, reputable, sane person write their story of something nearly unbelievable that happened to them, you couldn’t have picked someone better than Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon with lots of experience. He has taught at Duke University Medical Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, University of Massachusetts Medical School, and the University of Virginia Medical School. He was a former agnostic, and skeptic with regard to NDE’s. When he speaks, people listen. Including Oprah, may she live forever.

The ‘proof’ from his title comes from the fact that he truly believes the E. coli bacteria that caused his meningitis shut down most of his brain, especially the parts that could have enabled him to have dreams or thinking of any kind. He states, “My doctors have told me that according to all the brain tests they were doing, there was no way that any of the functions including vision, hearing, emotion, memory, language, or logic could possibly have been intact.” This becomes the lynchpin for his assertion that “true thought is pre-physical”, and consciousness transcends the brain and is not reliant on it. His evidence is more anecdotal here, but he is very, very passionate about stating this belief. Almost too passionate, maybe even desperate. Do you ever get that feeling that someone is trying to convince themselves more than you? But, then again, it’s hard to dismiss his plea for understanding when he alleges that he believes this experience was as real, and as dear to his heart, as anything in this terrestrial plane, including, I’m assuming, his love for his wife and children.

But here’s the crux of the whole tale: “You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever. You have nothing to fear. There is nothing you can do wrong.” And, “All is well.” Now, who can possibly have a problem with that takeaway? He says “Love is the basis of everything…it is the reality of realities.” Yes. If people could really believe that, there’d probably be less problems in the world. Imagine if people truly realized they were part of it all, and harm/good done to another is harm/good done to one’s self. And, for what it’s worth, the new world that entertained Alexander’s in his vision/dream/experience was beautiful, if a little boring sounding at time for personalities like mine. Now, for those looking for rest from a life they’ve found to be fatiguing and jading, in this ‘heaven’ they would be able to sleep well for millennia. The other pros to this kind of story being told: Alexander’s family says that he is more ‘present’ now with them than he has ever been, he encourages people with his story to believe that there is hope and the best is yet to come, and his foundation/organization at seems to want to encourage dialogue and critical thought in and between religious-scientific communities. He wants to use his story to do some good in the world. And maybe start a new religion. Which sort-of concerns me. But…other than that…

Not as a rebuttal to Alexander’s testimony, though it may unhinge some of his conclusions about his experience, I have assembled a narrative comparison between statements in Alexander’s book, and Christopher Bache’s Dark Night, Early Dawn, a work about trans-personal psychology and non-ordinary states of consciousness. Bache describes experiences in states responsibly and safely induced by psychedelics, NDE’s, and meditative practices; and the comparisons between some of his personal accounts in the book which he achieved by the use of psychedelics, and Alexander’s account are extraordinary. This, I believe, serves to illustrate that a person need not be brain-dead or literally ‘out of body’ to experience an ecstatic, revelatory ‘journey’ which provides sensory-cognitive stimulation that feels very, very real and profound. See the Narrative Comparison at the end of this review.

I truly believe we all need a sense of our connectedness and indispensability in the cosmos, to feel loved “dearly and forever”; and this book, I’m sure, provides that for many. However, I think that message is available to us in many different manifestations. It would be a pity if the only way to feel a ‘part of it all’ and really be presently mindful and joyful in life would be to die and see the afterlife, or read a book about someone who did. Also, there still is the matter of faith and self-affirmation that we need to help us appreciate the opportunity that life is and every moment in it. Do we loathe our lives, our selves, so much that we’re so anxious to cash it in for what comes next? It sounds so ungrateful. According to every religion, isn’t there a reason we’re here in the first place? And as far as pure materialism goes, there’s nowhere else to be! Let’s not blow it, or one day we’ll be looking back regretting we wasted it wishing we were somewhere else.

Narrative Comparisons From Dark Night, Early Dawn by Christopher Bache, and Proof Of Heaven by Eben Alexander.


 Primordial portal

I was first taken back to the primordial beginning before creation and there experienced human evolution in the context of a larger cosmic agenda. (218)

At the time, I might have called it ‘primordial’…as if I had regressed back to some state of being from the very beginnings of life, as far back, perhaps, as the primitive bacteria that, unbeknownst to me, had taken over my brain and shut it down. (28)

Loss of boundaries

Early on I had the experience of the dissolution of boundaries. I was experiencing the physical world, and everywhere boundaries were melting away. [I kept saying] “No boundaries. No boundaries anywhere.” There was not even a real boundary separating the physical and nonphysical dimensions of existence, and I experienced the worlds of matter and spirit as a seamless whole. (67)

I didn’t have a body—not one that I was aware of anyway. I was simply…there, in this place of pulsing, pounding darkness…I was simply a lone point of awareness in a timeless red-brown sea…There was no difference between ‘me’ and the half-creepy, half-familiar element that surrounded me. (29, 30, 31)

Just as my awareness was both individual and yet at the same time completely unified with the universe, so also did the boundaries of what I experienced as my ‘self’ at times contract, and at other times expand to include all that exists throughout eternity. The blurring of the boundary between my awareness and the realm around me went so far at times that I became the entire universe. (160)

Thought-environment control

I discovered, much to my surprise, that the experiential field within the circle was responsive to my thoughts. (67)

I slowly discovered [that] to know and be able to think of something is all one needs in order to move toward it. To think…was to make it appear, and to long for higher worlds was to bring myself there. (70)

Light and unifying being

I was brought to an encounter with a unified energy field underlying all physical existence. I was confronting an enormous field of blindingly bright, incredibly intense energy. Though the energy was not difficult to look at, experiencing it was extremely intense and carried with it a sense of ultimate encounter. This energy was the single energy that comprised all existence. (67-68)

Something had appeared in the darkness…it radiated fine filaments of white-gold light, and as it did so the darkness around me began to splinter and break apart…you could not look at anything in that world at all, for the word at itself implies a separation that did not exist there. Everything was distinct, yet everything was also a part of everything else. (39, 46)

Choice in multiple dimensions

Choice governed all experience. Different beings who were all part of Being Itself had simply chosen these manifold experiences. (68)

Free will is of central importance for our function in the earthly realm: a function that, we will all one day discover, serves the much higher role of allowing our ascendance in the timeless alternate dimension. We—the spiritual beings currently inhabiting our evolutionarily developed mortal brains and bodies…make the real choices. (84)

Higher awareness then, limited clarity now

I simply can’t yet fit the understandings I had into my ordinary, smaller mind. This does not lead me to question or doubt my experience. Even though I have lost large sections of the experience, I retain an unshakable epistemological certainty that this knowing was of a higher order than any knowing I am capable of in my ordinary consciousness. (69)

The problem is finding a frame of reference. The only categories I have available to me are simplistic approximations that can give only a vague sense of it. (72)

The experience I’m struggling to give you the vaguest, most completely unsatisfying picture of, was the single most real experience of my life. (41)

My awareness was larger now. So large, it seemed to take in the entire universe. (95)

It was all so real…almost too real to be real, if that makes any sense. (126)

Now that I’m back here in the earthly realm, I have to process it through my limited physical body and brain. (49)

Conveying that knowledge now is rather like being a chimpanzee, becoming human for a single day...and then returning to one’s chimp friends and trying to tell them what it was like. (83)

It’s like trying to write a novel with only half the alphabet. (72)


Nostalgic return

I was overcome by an overwhelming sense of homecoming and felt fully the tragedy of having forgotten this dimension for so long. (69)

You don’t know the place. Or at least you think you don’t. But as you look around, something pulls at you, and you realize that a part of yourself…does remember the place after all, and is rejoicing at being back there again. (39)

On the day that the doors of Heaven were closed to me [in the NDE], I felt a sense of sadness unlike any I’d ever known. (102)

Multi-universe and being

It explained that we had left time…[I] felt like time was simply one of the many creative experiments of the multidimensional universe I was being shown. (70)

I saw the abundance of life throughout the countless universes…I saw that there are countless higher dimensions, but that the only way to know these dimensions is to enter and experience them directly…The world of time and space in which we move in this terrestrial realm is tightly and intricately meshed within these higher worlds. (48)

Love as center of universe

Behind creation lies a LOVE of extraordinary proportions, and all of existence is an expression of this love. The intelligence of the universe’s design is equally matched by the depth of love that inspired it. (70)

Love is, without a doubt, the basis of everything…This is the realities of realities. (71)

You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever. (41)

Truth as harmony in being

I learned by becoming what I was knowing. I discovered the universe not by knowing it from the outside, but by turning to that level in my being where I was that thing. (74)

It seemed that you could not look at or listen to anything in this world without becoming a part of it—without joining with it in some mysterious way. (44)

I feel it, laid into my very being. (49)

Speechless communication

[A Presence] communed with me and ‘spoke’ to me in messages that were only sometimes put into words. It was explaining to me what I was experiencing not so much with words as with direct illumination. (274)

Without using words, she spoke to me. The message went through me like a wind, and I instantly understood that it was true. (40)

Each time I silently posed one of these questions, the answer came instantly in an explosion of light, color, love and beauty that blew through me like a crashing wave. [These answers came] in a way that bypassed language. Thoughts entered me directly. (46)

Freedom from existential limits and rules

This being was setting us free, placing absolutely no limits on our creative abilities. (274)

“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.


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