I have known since I was a very small boy in
When I was nine years old, I was woken up to these possibilities during a crisis of illness. I was rushed to hospital in
Under anesthesia on the operating table, I found myself hovering above my body, somewhere up near the ceiling. I decided I didn’t want to watch the bloody work with the scalpel and flowed through the door and along the corridor to where my mother sat hunched and weeping. I couldn’t stand her pain, so I drifted off to a window, to the brightness outside, to the colors of spring and the laughter of young lovers seated at a sidewalk table, drinking each other’s smiles. I felt the pull of the ocean. I could not see the beach from the hospital window, so I floated through the glass and out onto a ledge where a blackbird squalled at me and shot straight up into the air. I followed the bird and sailed over the rooftops.
I saw a huge moon-round face, its mouth opened wide to form the gateway to
I fell into a different world. It was hard to make out anything clearly in the smoke of a huge fire pit. A giant with skin the color of fine white ash lifted me high above the ground, singing. The people of this world welcomed me. They were tall and elongated and very pale, and did not look like anyone I had seen in my nine years in the surface world. They told me they had dreamed my coming, and raised me as their own. For the greater part of my schooling, I was required to dream – to dream alone, in an incubation cave, or to dream with others, lying in a cartwheel around the banked ashes of the fire in the council house.
Years passed. As I grew older, my recollection of my life in the surface world faded and flickered out. I became a father and grandfather, a teacher and elder. When my body was played out, the people placed it on a funeral pyre. As the smoke rose from the pyre, I traveled with it, looking for the path among the stars where the fires of the galaxies flow together like milk.
As I spiraled upward, I seemed to burst through the earth’s crust into a world of hot asphalt and cars and trams - and found myself shooting back into the body of a nine-year-old boy in a
It was a little hard to discuss these experiences with the adults around me at that time, and we did not yet have Raymond Moody’s useful phrase “near-death experience” to describe an episode of this kind. One of the doctors said simply, “Robert died and came back” – with memories that made me quite certain of the existence of worlds beyond the obvious one, and of the fact that consciousness survives physical death.
There is great contemporary interest in the NDE in Western society, and this is a very healthy thing, because to know about the afterlife, we require first-hand experience, and need to be ready to update our geographies and itineraries frequently in the light of the latest reliable travel reports. In ancient and traditional cultures where there is a real practice of dying, near-death experiencers – who may be called shamans or initiates – have always been heard with the deepest attention and respect.
There is a Tibetan name for such a person, delog, pronounced “day-loak”. It means someone who has gone beyond death and returned. The famous Tibetan Book of the Dead, with its detailed account of the possible transits of spirit after death, emerged from the experiences of such travelers.
But to have first-hand knowledge of what lies beyond death, we do not have to go through the physical extremity of an NDE. We can learn through our dreams, the dreams in which we receive visitations from departed loved ones and others who are at home on the Other Side, and the dreams in which we travel beyond the body and into their realms.
Our dreams open portals into the multidimensional universe, including the places we may travel after physical death. As we become active dreamers, we come to realize that dreaming is not so much about sleeping as about waking up – to a deeper reality and a deeper meaning in life, and death.