I’ve recently read Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, by Dr. Eben Alexander, who documented a miraculous experience that led him to believe that the death of the brain and of the body doesn’t constitute the end of existence, that consciousness lives on after death and god exists and loves all beings. He dedicated this book to people like him (and me) who are sceptical about NDE recollections. As someone with an obsessive preoccupation with the subject of NDEs and insights into occurrences that hint at the phenomenon of consciousness existing independently from the brain, I’ve had this one on my reading list for a while. The way the narrator describes his communication style in the idyllic world he visited is not unlike my own transcendental experience from some time ago: wordless, felt, almost telepathic, and ineffable.
The narrator views his NDE as a life-turning event that led to a metamorphosis of his life as he knew it, due to a very significant paradigm shift regarding a fundamental belief. As a firm believer in science, although hoping to be proven wrong, he had always aligned with the view that the brain equals consciousness, that once the neocortex is switched off, the possessor vanishes into non-being. He had read many recollections of NDE subjects who claimed to have navigated otherworldly landscapes or talked to god during their experiences, but he always thought such instances were still brain-based, that they happened whilst the brain was not totally shut down – for instance, if someone’s heart was temporarily off and their neocortex was inactivated for a while yet not irreversibly damaged and irretrievable. That was before he was afflicted with a very rare case of bacterial meningitis and, whilst in a coma and with a completely inoperative neocortex – as he claims, the deeper part of him – that he had previously described as existing beyond time – deserted his body and his mortal identity, including his memories and his self-concept, to wander into other realms, meet otherworldly beings, have a conversation with god, and have glimpses into higher dimensions.
During his comatose metaphysical odyssey, he delved into the Underworld, the Gateway, and the Core, places that he was convinced were real.
The Underworld was characterised by “Darkness, but a visible darkness-like being submerged in mud yet also being able to see through it. Or maybe dirty Jell-O describes it better. Transparent, but in a bleary, blurry, claustrophobic, suffocating kind of way. Sound, too: a deep, rhythmic pounding, distant yet strong, so that each pulse of it goes right through you. Like a heartbeat? A little, but darker, more mechanical-like the sound of metal against metal“
Whilst in this pulsing underworld, his consciousness was devoid of memory or concepts of identity, his existence was not limited by time, and he felt like his awareness was uncannily merging with his surroundings. In a way, the experience was dreamlike, as he could perceive what was happening around him, without having any self-concept. He didn’t have a body or at least the awareness of one, or the capacity to form words. It felt like he had regressed to a primordial state, he ponders, as far back as the bacteria that infected him, causing his illness – in a world devoid of emotion, logic, and language.
The traveller’s extremely apathetic predisposition gave him a certain invulnerability, due to his detachment from his memories and sense of self. Although he could judge that he may or may not survive that place, thoughts of either option caused nothing but indifference.
The narrator mentions this underworld dwelling was like being inside a murky womb with bloody vessel-like ramifications of a dirty scarlet aglow, or like being buried underground yet still able to see the matrixes of roots.
I am going to include his entire description of the place, because I feel it is a great image of an uncanny liminal space:
“The longer I stayed in this place, the less comfortable I became. At first I was so deeply immersed in it that there was no difference between “me” and the half-creepy, half-familiar element that surrounded me. But gradually this sense of deep, timeless, and boundary less immersion gave way to something else: a feeling like I wasn’t really part of this subterranean world at all, but trapped in it.
Grotesque animal faces bubbled out of the muck, groaned or screeched, and then were gone again. I heard an occasional dull roar. Sometimes these roars changed to dim, rhythmic chants, chants that were both terrifying and weirdly familiar-as if at some point I’d known and uttered them all myself.
As I had no memory of prior existence, my time in this realm stretched way, way out. Months? Years? Eternity? Regardless of the answer, I eventually got to a point where the creepy-crawly feeling totally outweighed the homey, familiar feeling. The more I began to feel like a me—like something separate from the cold and wet and dark around me—the more the faces that bubbled up out of that darkness became ugly and threatening. The rhythmic pounding off in the distance sharpened and intensified as well—became the work-beat for some army of troll-like underground laborers, performing some endless, brutally monotonous task. The movement around me became less visual and more tactile, as if reptilian, wormlike creatures were crowding past, occasionally rubbing up against me with their smooth or spiky skins. Then I became aware of a smell: a little like blood, and a little like vomit. A biological smell, in other words, but of biological death, not of biological life. 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.”
The being of light he continues to describe was spinning, emitting shiny, white-gold filaments causing the darkness enveloping the protagonist to fracture and disintegrate. Eventually, the whirling light revealed an opening, a portal that the traveller went through, feeling like being born into an idyllic, blissful world, where the inside and the outside were intertwined and where he also experienced uncanny feelings of déjà vu.
“Below me there was countryside. It was green, lush, and earth like. lt was earth, but at the same time it wasn’t. It was like when your parents take you back to a place where you spent some years as a very young child. 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-a part way deep down-does remember the place after all, and is rejoicing at being back there again.”
The narrator continues to emphasise the realness of the place throughout the dreamlike descriptions. He also describes “the single most real” experience of his life: an encounter with a girl who communicates a special, soothing message to him by transferring its conceptual essence into his mind, wordlessly. Whilst acknowledging the limitations of earthly language, he translated the message as such:
“You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.”
“You have nothing to fear.”
“There is nothing you can do wrong.”
Inside the Core, advanced, ethereal, winged beings, scintillating creatures with silvery bodies, living sounds, and an elusive divine being blessed the surroundings. Everything was part of Source. After silently asking questions such as “Where is this place? Who am I? Why am I here?”, he mentions that “the answer came instantly in an explosion of light, colour, love, and beauty that blew through me like a crashing wave. What was important about these bursts was that they didn’t simply silence my questions by overwhelming them. They answered them, but in a way that bypassed language. Thoughts entered me directly. But it wasn’t thought like we experience on earth.”
This part was what struck a chord with me because of my own experience of transcendence. There is an uncanny resemblance between my own otherworldly encounter and the excerpt above, particularly the communication style, which is something that I’ve written about on my blog at some point and in my diary more extensively, and our words seem to describe a similar encounter – albeit with an extra element that was pretty essential in mine. It’s also relevant to say I was not in a coma or on DMT, and there were no perceptual hallucinations, it was an intense inner feeling whilst I was caught somewhere between worlds.
I would love to end this on a positive note and to say that this book will convert your world view on matters of the afterlife. Naturally, however, despite the credentials of the author, I was inclined to take the subject of his writing with a grain of salt, especially in regard to the moment when the NDE happened. I was so excited about this non-fiction book because it was written by a neurosurgeon who expressed his belief in science throughout it, as well as confidently asserting that his conclusions were grounded in medical analysis of his experience and on his deep familiarity with the most advanced concepts in brain science and consciousness studies. Normally when I read about NDEs, they often appear intertwined with the notion of a DMT-induced hallucination and there remains an unresolved issue of whether the voyage to alternative realms occurred during the coma or immediately before or after it, which is more scientifically plausible. This makes sense, especially considering the numerous cases of people who have miraculously awakened from extended comas, only to confirm that they only encountered nothingness beyond. There have been neuroscientists who also discredited the supernatural element of Dr Eben Alexander’s story, saying it was unscientific and justifying it using the same explanation I mentioned. One of the doctors involved in his case also stated that Eben was hallucinating before he went in a coma.
And I understand and still feel the scepticism. However, because of my experiences, I must say this story opens up that door of the esoteric inside my mind a little bit wider. I shall see if reading Dr Raymond A Moody will have the same effect.