The new book “Proof of Heaven” by neurosurgeon Eben Alexander describes a near death experience he had while he lay in a coma induced by a meningitis infection. He saw and experienced a world with “flocks of transparent, shimmering beings,” as he describes in his book, an experience that for him provided proof of heaven. This book and other stories of near death experiences seem to stir up two types of responses. Skeptics believe the experiences have a down to earth explanation, that they are the result of unusual neuronal impulses within the brain as it nears death, perhaps. Others believe these experiences provide conclusive proof of the afterlife. What often seems to be missing from the discussion about near death experiences though is the positive impact these experiences can have in this life.
Stories of near death experiences often seem to defy ordinary explanations. In the book “Dying to be Me”, Anita Moorjani describes leaving her cancer-riddled body, and taking on a perspective of universal awareness, providing her with knowledge of events and places she should not have been privy to otherwise. Left with an understanding of her illness, she returned to her body and was dramatically healed, her advanced cancer rapidly disappearing from her body. But her physical healing was not the only impact the experience had on her. In addition to her physical healing, the experience profoundly changed how she sees the world and her life, leaving her free of fear, and fully appreciating the impact that all the experiences and beliefs of her life had left on her, ready to begin anew.
The popular book “Heaven is for Real”, describes the experiences of a young boy who, during emergency surgery, had an experience in which he met deceased members of his family and details of their lives that nobody had told him, describing what for him and others seemed like it must have been heaven.
My friend Rob lay deep in a fever after going through leukemia, chemotherapy, and a bone marrow transplant. Slipping away, he found himself standing in a misty train station, his deceased father waiting for him, saying that his room was ready, that it was time to go. Rob turned to come back, knowing he had more to do still, returning to this life to heal and work for the greater good, as told in “Gifts from the Train Station”. For Rob, coming back and getting a second chance left him feeling that he had to make the most of it, doing work in this life that really matters, helping others.
The Near Death Experiences Research Foundation website contains many stories like these. The details of the experiences often vary, although elements like a sense of universal love and acceptance run through many different stories.
For many these near death experiences represent proof of an afterlife, of heaven, resolving the age-old question about what happens to us when we die. To many people though these stories also provide a greater sense of purpose in this life, inspiring them with hope, freedom, and strength to let go of fear and embrace a new life with a greater purpose.
People commonly report after a near death experience that they are no longer afraid of death or the common fears that hold us back in life, and are eager to do work that matters with their life, making the most of the second chance they were given after coming back. They have a renewed sense of purpose, reaching out to help others in this life, working for the greater good.
Whatever its source, having a sense of purpose in this life can make a huge difference in our lives. We won’t all have a near death experience, and few of us would seek out such a brush with death, but we can all read stories like these and feel a renewed sense of urgency to make the most of this life. Whatever the explanation is for these experiences, feeling renewed purpose in this life seems like a valuable gift, not to be underestimated.
Glenn Croston is the author of “The Real Story of Risk”, exploring the strange ways we see risks in our lives, our work, and our world. He is also the author of “Gifts from the Train Station”, telling the inspiring stories of people who have gone through difficult challenges but come through them to find new purpose in life, and “75 Green Businesses You Can Start to Make Money and Make a Difference”.