Gifts from Crises

By Celia Coates

Research has shown that a significant number of the people who go through the physical and psychological crisis of a Near Death Experience (NDE) are transformed by it. Many lose their fear of death and they also become more generous and less competitive, feel more joy, understand love in a new way, and have increased intuitive or psychic abilities. (Please read P.M.H. Atwater’s section on the IANDS website: It’s not all wonderful – they can also go through a time when they have bouts of depression, and their relationships with people close to them can deteriorate. It’s quite an adjustment. However, experiencing their consciousness as separate from their bodies along with the transcendent elements of an NDE can cause a great shift in their view of what is real and what’s important. Even if it was not part of their pre-NDE self, they may get involved in causes that are dedicated to justice and fairness. Experiencers can approach life and other people in a much more open and caring way.

Contrast their perspective with one described by Bill Moyers.  ( In 1950 when he was 16 and had just begun his lifelong work as a journalist and wise observer of life in America, he reported an event in his small-town that later hit the national newspapers: fifteen women, some he knew and some who went to his church, rebelled against paying the required Social Security taxes for the women who cleaned and cooked for them. As Moyers described it,
These housewives were white, their housekeepers black. Almost half of all employed black women in the country then were in domestic service. Because they tended to earn lower wages, accumulate less savings, and be stuck in their jobs all their lives, Social Security was their only insurance against poverty in old age. Yet their plight did not move their employers.”

Moyers wrote that the housewives were good women but that they simply could not see beyond their own narrow interests. He described them as “fiercely loyal” to their own group, the kind of tribal loyalty that we can see today in our divided country. There are many now who want to set limits on those who are not “us” in their view – foreigners or people with a different religion, skin color, or income level. We have become a country where there are even non-inclusive “us” sources for the news.

The businessman who was outraged by President Obama’s statement that he did not build his business by himself is like those housewives from the 1950’s. His sincere but narrow belief was that he alone had created his business because he could not see that he’d depended on roads built by others to bring in materials and take his goods to market, he couldn’t see the workers who gained from public education and had contributed their skills and labor, he couldn’t see the social benefits provided by many citizens paying their share of taxes. He could not see, even at the material level, that we all depend on each other, and he certainly could not perceive the oneness of being human.

To change this destructive narrowness we must see the harm it’s doing and find an alternative mindset. In his article Moyers looked back to a discussion he had with Joseph Campbell in the l980’s during their influential PBS series THE POWER OF MYTH. Campbell was greatly influenced by the 19th Century philosopher Schopenhauer whose ideas on meaning and motivation Campbell brought into the discussion saying that a psychological crisis can help us move beyond the fixed perspective of self-preservation.

Campbell added that such a crisis,
“…represents  the breakthrough of a metaphysical reality, which is that you and the other are two aspects of one life, and your apparent separateness is but an effect of the way we experience forms under the conditions of space and time. Our true reality is our identity and unity with all life.”

The crisis of a NDE is one way to discover this metaphysical reality. But what about the rest of us, those who do not have that “opportunity” thrown at us? How can we learn about love and the oneness of being? NDEs are not the only kind of crisis that can transform us: sometimes a terrible accident, a loss, or even a startling, lucky event can help us recognize forces greater than ourselves.

John Newton, the Englishman who published the hymn “Amazing Grace” in 1779, had one of those different kinds of crisis. He’d had a difficult life that led him to become the captain of a slave ship. While steering his way through a violent ocean storm he felt helpless to avoid destruction and, even though he was not a religious man, he called on God’s mercy. The ship, and he, were saved. It was a transformative crisis for Newton that was expressed later in these lines,
“I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see” 

Becoming able to see is a core idea behind WINN.  Since so much is Needed Now, I believe that changing our narrow, cultural consensus about what is real and what matters could open us to making choices and basing our actions on positive values like those of people who have had Near Death Experiences.

Raymond Moody, M.D. coined the term “Near Death Experience” when he began researching the experiences of people who had died, or nearly died, and recovered. Some of them had memories of what they had seen, felt, and learned.(see his book LIFE AFTER LIFE, first published in1978.) Whatever the experiencer’s religion, background, age, or nationality, many similar elements occurred over and over again. It wasn’t until Moody collected and published information about Near Death Experiences that some people could understand what had happened to them sometimes decades earlier. Wondering themselves if it had been a hallucination or fearing they’d be called crazy, they hadn’t said anything. Then the stories poured out and a new field of research opened up.

Becoming able to see must include clear-headed research. I believe that the “stories” of peoples’ subtle energies experiences can also be collected and form a body of of knowledge just as the collected stories about NDEs did. That knowledge could un-blind us.

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