I believe that the near-death experience (NDE) holds the secret of extraordinary creativity. It may turn out to be the starting-point of a new science of super mind. The (NDE) itself provides a vivid example of high order creativity. For the moment, let’s assume near-death experiences are just hallucinations that say nothing about life after death. Assume they’re no more than a type of dream or fantasy.
But consider how creative they are. What, I might ask, could be more creative than producing an environment and beings that appear and feel totally real and meaningful, and can profoundly transform the experiencer? What could be more creative than an illusion of all-encompassing love that leaves a person with empathy and deep soulful humanity? What more creative illusion than to give rise to the conviction of life after death, where conviction never existed before?
All the features of the near-death phenomenon, the out of body effects, encounters with deceased relatives, the profound review of one’s life, otherworld landscapes of breathless beauty, the choruses of transcendent music, the ineffable embrace with a being of light and love—what mind-blowing creativity! And all of this spewed out of oxygen-deprived, in effect, dead brains. All that surely qualifies as creativity of a super high order.
I have a question. How do we make sense of this paradoxical death-born creativity? A living person is a compound of biological matter and immaterial mind. Under normal circumstances our mental life is used to manage the affairs of our daily life. Our consciousness is engrossed with daily necessities, the twists and turns of life, external disturbances and inner preoccupations. The current and bulk of our consciousness is invested in the inner and outer traffic of our lived worlds.
Now what happens in a near-death case of cardiac arrest? The heart that pumps oxygen to the brain gives out and the brain is oxygen-deprived. The mainline view is that consciousness should go out like an unplugged lamp. In fact, the lamp not only stays on, it becomes exponentially more brilliant. It looks, in fact, as if the brain does not create but rather transmit and direct consciousness. When consciousness fails to transmit to brain functions it spatially separates from the body, and the moment that happens, it is free to scan and interact with a purely mind-dependent environment—as, for example, described in reports of NDEs.
I can now state more clearly what may seem a paradox. The more our mundane, habitual modes of consciousness are disrupted, diverted, indeed driven to the cliff’s edge, the greater the likelihood that consciousness be shunted into alternate realities.
Most of us prefer to stay away from the cliff’s edge. But there are people born to probe the outer limits of reality. I mean the shamans, yogis, saints, mystics, artists, scientists, explorers, etc. Oh yes, I forgot to mention philosophers.
The working hypothesis is clear: the closer we come to ‘death’, psychologically and literally, the more our attention is deflected from its habitual patterns of perception, and the greater the likelihood of shifting into altered modes of consciousness and experience. There are cases that nicely illustrate this hypothesis: different ways to induce a kind of near-death experience, and in so doing, attain extraordinary forms of creativity.
In the case of the 17th century mystic, healer and levitator extraordinaire, Joseph of Copertino, I made an interesting discovery. Physician Bruce Greyson’s empirical model of the near-death experience covers mystical, paranormal, psychological, and creative elements. I found that Greyson’s model of NDE experience matched the features of mystic Joseph’s life. In short—and please note—what a spontaneous near-death experience may reveal to an ordinary person suddenly, a mystic like Joseph, or a yogi or shaman, may have to labor and train for many years before, if ever, their moment of enlightenment comes. I’m not, of course, equating the NDEr with a seasoned yogi or evolved mystic.
I am suggesting that the NDE may become part of an experiment, in which individuals are initiated, using psychedelics et alia, similar perhaps to the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece. The near-death phenomenon, apart from its potent impact on experiencers, may be something we can reverse engineer as a way to gain access to forms of consciousness and creativity normally in abeyance. It will be possible for an everyday person to induce by experiment experiences psychically similar if not equivalent to transformative ND phenomena.
A sane, safe, and scientific design of this experiment could conceivably ignite large-scale changes of consciousness, conducive to the well-being of all forms of life on Earth. In particular, the life-review often reported of NDEs could alter the common mentality, if we at a certain time in our lives could be induced to have a sweeping review of all our thoughts and actions and simultaneously be aware of how we have affected all those around us. In this extraordinary state, we inhabit the minds and feelings of those we interact with, and sometimes loathe and bash. We are outside personal perspective, and for a timeless spell seem to inhabit the mind of God.
The books of near-death pioneer researcher, Ken Ring, vividly brought to life for me the transformative miracle of the ND life-review; which seems like the gift of a God’s-eye view of ourselves.
I’ll end this brief statement about a big idea with another example—this time an Indian rite of initiation, designed to elicit and master siddhis or supernormal powers. I’ve written about an esoteric master of musical sound vibrations, also a monk and sannyasi (renunciant), who gave me an account of his public rite, experiment, I would say; called Anestehan, the way to power. He described to me a retreat he underwent for one hundred and eight days, in a small underground room and no food—a few drops of milk every day. The purpose to master the taan or subtle vibrations and nadakhumbaka, the combination of breath-control and tabla performance. Nada Brahmananda trained himself to make complex tabla rhythms for thirty-five minutes on one breath while fixated visually on an icon of Shiva.
He did this, he told me, with his “death-body”—death because he stopped breathing for thirty-five minutes. The Swami was tested for this feat in an airtight chamber by a government-sponsored medical team. When I got to know him I learned that every morning at 3 AM he would perform this “death-body” rite of music and breath retention. He told me that during that Anestehan he decided he would do it or die. He lived to be 97.
Joseph of Copertino and Nada Brahmananda were heroic experimenters in detaching their consciousness from the world, which is a subtle form of dying; and both were extremists in the way they controlled their bodies, freeing up their consciousness while defying the apparent laws of physical reality. This is an experiment bound to be original because always filtered through our particular personality with all its quirkiness and nuances. It might well serve as the empirical introduction to a new science of spiritual evolution,
The NDE subverts obvious opposites: making of the worst our possible entrance into the best; turning the grim face of the end into the smile of a new beginning. Nature is either teasing us for perverse reasons or she is handing us a phenomenon to conjure with and confront with daring.
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