Most of us are too busy struggling to survive on Earth to think about what might come after death. But experiences I’ve had have forced me to think about this question, experiences that stopped me cold because I couldn’t explain them. Things happen that force people to ponder the possibility of others worlds. Well, you ask, are there any?
This is a complicated question and has at least three parts. The first is conceptual. Does it make sense to say that people’s minds survive the death of their bodies? How can we begin to imagine how post-death consciousness is possible? One way is to realize that consciousness cannot be explained by anything material, and therefore must pre-exist our brains and thus possibly post-exist them.
The second part of the question is empirical. Are there any fact-based reports that suggest known people’s minds have indeed survived death? It may be a surprise to many, but there is a large amount of reportage that suggests the answer is yes.
Lastly, there’s the problem of context. Beliefs are culture-bound. In the Middle Ages the afterlife was established paradigm; in our age of scientific materialism, the belief is suspect. So we have to double-down on the factual way to explore the mystery, but in a context of rational open-mindedness. Progress depends on getting rid of rigid assumptions and ideologies and focusing on matters of fact. (An effort we know some people find very painful,)
On the empirical side, then, I’d like to describe a trio of incidents puzzling enough to suggest the reality of afterlife consciousness. The first has a striking veridical element. I was living in New Jersey and one hot summer night was unable to sleep, so I moved to the couch in the living room where it was cooler. By the time I began to fall asleep the sun was coming up and threw an amber glow into the room. I opened my eyes and looked up and saw standing above me about five feet away a perfectly clear apparition of my dead grandmother (on my mother’s side). I could see the moistness of her skin and lips and her whitish-blondish hair in an upsweep. Beside her was another woman, thoughtful-looking and composed. I made a mental note that she resembled my mother. They seemed to be peering at me with curiosity but at the same time through me. The apparitions hovered there a few seconds and then faded away.
Well, that woke me up and set me thinking. Later that day I telephoned my mom and told her the story. She suggested I come for a visit (in Astoria, Queens) so a few days later I did so. My mother showed me a photograph including grandma and her family. I had never seen the photo but immediately singled out one woman. “That’s her!” I said. “That’s the woman I saw next to grandma in the apparition.” She was my grandmother’s sister, Katie, and I had never met her. I remarked to my mother that “Katie” looked like her; apparently, others had said so too. Why this experience occurred when it did I have no idea, but it seems very odd that I should be visited by an apparition of somebody I never met and immediately recognized her in a family photo I had never seen.
The next incident occurred a few years later and is part of a longer story, about which I’ll mention just a few details. A student of mine confided to me that she was having unusual experiences. She was being guided by a child called Darius who spoke to her in her dreams. She shared her diary with me; (I still have the entire manuscript). ‘Darius’ began to instruct her in matters of higher consciousness and at the same time warned her that if she failed to follow his instructions, things would turn out badly for her.
Darius her dream instructor was encouraging her to stick with her impulse to study art while her family and even her boyfriend objected and tried to convince her to major in business or economics, an idea she detested. Her family, including a recently deceased aunt were conservative if not oppressive in their religious pontifications. But the more they badgered her, the more Darius came to her rescue, and in a few instances, appeared to her while she was fully awake. As the battle between Darius and Denise’s family intensified, the young woman began to precognize accidents and illnesses concerning herself, and did any other inexplicable things. The full story is of a young woman’s battle for her own soul and I hope one day to publish the whole story—a story I’m sure will resonate with the creative energies of the “Me-too Movement.”
Here I’ll report just one event I was party to—a terrifying dream. The dream occurred from the perspective of myself lying prone in bed. A hideous old woman, hovering over me, thrusting a gnarled index finger in my face, said: “You and Denise are in league with the devil!” So frightening was the aura that emanated from this apparition, I woke up instantly. But the leering apparition was still there, finger in my face, exuding an evil vibe, apparently having stepped out of dream space into physical space in its eagerness to bully me. And then it was gone. When I recounted my dream to Denise, she said it sounded like her aunt Dorothy, and added that her aunt commonly accused her of being “in league with the devil.”
About this incident, I have one comment: I cannot imagine that I would conjure up such a hideous specter from my own subconscious to inflict on myself. As far as I’m concerned, I experienced a visitation of something outside myself. And it was distinctly unpleasant. It tempers my enthusiasm for the afterlife—to think that I might once again run into Aunt Dorothy.
One more incident that made an indelible impression. It too is part of a longer story, so I’ll mention the main points. It was about two o’clock in the morning, and I was on a vigil at a haunted house in Clifton, New Jersey. About nine people had seen this apparition of a man who liked to appear when mother or girls were naked in the shower. This was clearly a dirty old ghost, and I suggested that the ladies of the house tell him to go to hell. I was invited to spend the night there and see what I could see. The family agreed that the ghost liked to emerge from near the stairwell. So I stationed myself on the couch, facing the stairwell.
In fact, I was not expecting anything to happen—but I was about to be surprised. Suddenly I heard a drumbeat that echoed clearly in the room. “What?” I said, and looked around, quite startled. On the wall I noticed a thin drum with a drum stick attached. I got up, took the drumstick and struck the drum. Same sound I just heard. Who could possibly have done this? I was the only person in the room. It had to have been the ghost. Who else? Thrilled I should say that the ghost had honored me by announcing his presence, I leaned back on the couch.
I began to write down what had just happened and glanced up again toward the stairwell. Much to my surprise, I saw a semi-transparent form of a man, best to say, rippling in space. The instant I focused on this hovering form, it moved directly toward me and quickly wrapped itself around my body. The featureless entity held me paralyzed.
I wanted to scream, “He’s here!” But I couldn’t; I was cataleptic. What I felt was too amazing to be frightening; I was fully conscious of the fact that something outside me had intentionally, and very efficiently, overpowered and taken control of my body. I felt a curious blend of supernatural frisson and scientific jubilation. The force that seized me then gently let go. (Maybe he attacked me because I called him a dirty old ghost.)
So, we have here one drumbeat, caused by something invisible. One ghost who proves he’s real in a very aggressive manner. And there’s something else. When I was first told about this peeping discarnate, I thought we might scare him away with a dose of holiness. I had a small photograph of Padre Pio (since canonized), and suggested we plant it somewhere in full view. The Padre was known for his battles with nasty spirits. So Mrs. S. placed the Pio photo inside a glass cabinet, fully visible and out of reach of small children and naughty cats. According to Mrs. S. that photo promptly disappeared—dematerialized! For nobody, she insisted, could possibly have taken it, as all were eager to have done with this annoying spirit. This trio of incidents (along with many others) have forced me to think outside the box of standard conceptions of reality—a non-stop bracing intellectual adventure.
 The reader may consult two of my books that cover these issues and stories in greater detail. Experiencing the Next World Now. Paraview Pocket Books (2004) and Soulmaking: Uncommon Paths to Self-Understanding. Anomalist Books (1997)