“Everybody’s wonderin’ what and where they all came from.
Everybody’s worryin’ ’bout where they’re gonna go
when the whole thing’s done.
But no one knows for certain and so it’s all the same to me.
I think I’ll just let the mystery be.”
I don’t know where I was or who I was or if I was before entering this mysterious, complicated, wondrous world 61 years ago. And I don’t really know what will happen at the end of my journey here. No one does. Some have faith in particular outcomes and state their views with confidence, certainty and zeal. But despite all that’s said and written on the subject, the mystery remains. Meanwhile, science, of all things, just might be offering a glimpse of what lies beyond the veil separating us from the dead.
In college, in the 1970s, I read Raymond Moody’s groundbreaking look at near-death experiences (NDE), Life After Life, based on his interviews of 150 people who claimed to have died and been revived. Since Moody’s book was published in 1975, there have been thousands of such accounts, all describing similar experiences.
Some, including Moody, view these stories as proof of life after death of the body. Others insist they are neurological hallucinations. One of those skeptics was Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon before he had his own startling NDE in 2008 after suffering a meningitis-induced coma.
After his recovery, Alexander claimed he had died and, according to his book, Proof of Heaven, “journeyed beyond this world and encountered an angelic being who guided him into the deepest realms of super-physical existence. There he met, and spoke with, the Divine source of the universe itself.”
Alexander concluded from his experience that consciousness is not dependent on the physical brain and that bodily death is merely a transition from one state of being to another.
Matthew McKay did not have an NDE but after the death of his 23-year-old son, Jordan, experienced such searing grief and pain, it led him to seek re-connection. As described in my previous column, McKay worked with fellow psychologist, Allan Botkin, who described his remarkable success with helping war veterans communicate with the dead in his book, Induced After Death Communication.
In Seeking Jordan, How I Learned the Truth about Death and the Invisible Universe, McKay explained that out of 83 veterans who Botkin treated, all but two were able to experience a direct communication with a deceased loved one, what is described as an induced after-death communication (IADC). And through Botkin, McKay claims to have established a connection with Jordan.
In his book, Botkin describes additional research by others who obtained similar results. One study found that out of seventy-one patients, 79 percent experienced an IADC. Another study looked at two hundred eleven patients treated by sixteen different therapists trained by Botkin. Three quarters of their patients reported experiencing an IADC.
In the first study, a six-month follow-up found these clinically significant results: “a decrease in associated sadness, guilt and anger; an increase in a belief in an afterlife; an increase in the belief that one can get on with life in spite of the loss; a decrease in unwanted thoughts or images associated with the loss; an increase in the belief that the person they lost is still with them in an important way; a decrease in the belief that their loss is having a negative impact on their life and a decrease in feeling disconnected to the person they lost.”
In my practice, one of the saddest and hardest challenges I face is sitting with a parent who’s lost a child. Their pain is indescribable. Losing an aged grandparent or parent is difficult but on some level, natural and expected. We live our lives knowing that our grandparents and parents are likely to die before we do. Losing a child, on the other hand, tears at the heart of our deepest need to produce, nurture and preserve life. For many of us, our stability depends to a large extent on seeing our children experience a full and rich existence as we devote and commit ourselves to their security and welfare. And we want them to survive us. We need this.
It makes sense then that parents feel the death of a child as a loss of some physical, essential, intimate part of themselves. For many parents, having children is intricately interwoven into their life purpose. And once we are parents, many of us terrorize ourselves with fears that some unknown harm will befall our child. So it’s understandable that we would long to reclaim the lost or severed bond with our precious progeny. What is grief but the despair we grapple to accept as we feel the full impact of the void of death? Nothing material can fill that gaping wound. Our only hope is in spirit, the look and feel of healing love.
Some will never believe that contact with the dead is possible and I get that too. My own scientific brain is deeply skeptical. I don’t write these words to persuade anyone of anything. Still, when a friend I respect, an open-minded atheist who has had her share of pain and loss, recommended McKay’s book, I immediately knew I had to read it.
One thing is certain. People in pain will do just about anything to not be. Pain motivates. It doesn’t matter if it’s physical, emotional or spiritual. If we hurt, we seek relief. At some point, we literally or figuratively drop to our knees and surrender. We open up.
I am able to make quick and long-lasting progress with some clients in deep emotional pain. Their normal coping strategies and defense mechanisms become useless. Denial, avoidance, repression and the rest are abandoned, littered behind them like trash they once treasured but now no longer need. Desperation drives them to my door where I am honored to receive them.
McKay suggests our pain is necessary. It’s why we’re here. We don’t want pain, of course. We don’t want to lose, hurt or fail. No one wants these things but it’s a huge reason we’re here. It is vital fertilizer for needed growth. Our lessons of loss contain important truths that we traveled all this way to acquire. It’s how we become, how we evolve, how we deepen our awareness of eternal love.
In McKay’s book, his son Jordan explains why things happen as they do. Life is a school and we’re all enrolled. Some students are more open than others to learning but as long as we breathe, the lessons keep coming. There is a reason behind all of it. Jordan states, “And beneath the ripples of cause and effect, beneath the material impact of every choice, is the driving purpose of all consciousness (and everything consciousness creates): to become.”
Everything teaches all the time. It is up to us to pay attention and learn. He states, “There is a force, much like gravity, that pulls us toward the circumstances of our next lesson.”
If we are sensitive and receptive, we will feel it, Jordan explains, as “an attraction, almost a yearning to be entangled in a particular kind of struggle.” Beyond our conscious awareness, we may discover we “seek people, situations, and environments that offer a new version of old challenges that we haven’t learned how to face, or new lessons that are integral to the plan for this life.”
How do we come to know what we know if not by experience? We know by doing and feeling and being involved. In this sense, Jordan explains, “each event of our lives is pulled to us, and we to it, so that we may know what isn’t yet known, complete what is partial, see a hidden truth that all of consciousness has waited for us to see.”
Just as I tell my clients, Jordan explains that failure isn’t what we think it is. Many of us associate failure with shame and inadequacy when in fact failure can be our most powerful and compassionate teacher. What do we do when we fail? How do we cope? Can we accept such experiences with openness and grace or do we close up and shut down? Jordan explains, “Failure is the core experience that allows for becoming and change. It isn’t bad or wrong in a spiritual sense but it must be faced.”
I sometimes tell my clients if we are willing to fail, we won’t and if we are unwilling to fail, we will. By this I mean an openness to failure is an openness to life. We can’t win all the time and if we are ok with that truth, we will approach life with receptive, interested curiosity, not fear and resistance.
The only true failure, Jordan tells us is to “refuse to face” it “through denial, hubris, blame.” When we accept failure, we own it. We embrace it. This allows us to see “the truth of how things really turned out, which includes seeing the actual consequences of” our choices. From this process we gain both humility and wisdom.
While many of us live in fear of judgment and blame or a punishing hell, Jordan reassures. He states, “No actual judgment takes place. “ As I tell my clients, avoid the courtroom mind of right/wrong and good/bad and instead seek out the science lab mind where we run experiments, get results and learn.
Jordan elaborates, “It is solely about choices and outcomes: what we do and what happens after. Instead of judgment, the soul is allowed to see, which changes it at the level of soul DNA.”
Something in us knows the truth. When we hear the truth, we recognize it like an old friend. It feels right. It resonates. It fits. You are here for a reason as am I. And one of those reasons is to share this moment together and learn from it. Thank you for being you, being here, being now. It is a blessing to be with you, this way, this time