March 27, 2020

Are We Having a Collective NDE?

By Kenneth Ring, Ph.D.

If you’ve been following my blogs, you may remember that in my first one, "An NDE Researcher Ruminates about Death in the Time of COVID-19," I drew on some correspondence with a graduate student who wondered whether because of the widespread nature of this virus we were undergoing what she called a "collective NDE." So imagine my surprise when last night I received this note from a woman who herself had survived an NDE:
I was inspired to write you because I thought of you directly as it started to dawn on me that we might be living through a collective near-death experience.
I had my NDE at sixteen and was transformed forever, and now as I am listening to people describe their experience with this "pandemic time" I can't help but feel like millions of us are having similar processing experiences, life reviewing, atemporal experience, waves of spiritual connection -- and it seems like we will move to the other side of this profoundly affected as such. Purpose is emerging, importance of connection... etc.
Having had two such inquires recently both of which used the same expression, "a collective NDE," got my attention and caused me to exercise what’s left of my brain in a little reflection.

As my most recent correspondent indicated, NDEs have the power to bring about a profound transformation. My research and that of others have offered abundant evidence that NDEs tend to lead to radical changes in one's values and behavior such that NDErs become more loving and compassionate and decidedly more spiritual. So if the very specter, horrifying as it is, of possibly widespread death and certainly even the worldwide fear of death were to usher in a planetary NDE, so to speak, might we reasonably expect that humanity -- at least those who survive -- would be similarly transformed?

It is a comforting thought to suppose that when this black cloud of the virus finally lifts, we might, as a species, reap the benefits of the light of a collective NDE.

To me, personally, it is a slender reed of hope to cling to since it is entirely possible, and perhaps even more likely, that all the survivors of this ordeal will reap is a collective case of PTSD, owing to the pervasive trauma that this virus can be expected to inflict on us. Even so, there is plenty of evidence that trauma, even seemingly soul-destroying ones, can nevertheless lead to astonishingly positive personality changes and spiritual growth. So it is at least conceivable that when humanity emerges from its current trauma, it too may find itself in a nascent state of spiritual renewal with an undeniable sense of deep connection to all the peoples of the earth who together will then have to fashion a planet where love for one another and all life must reign.

A utopian dream perhaps, but in these dark dystopian days, it is at least something to think about. And if this kind of transformation should come about, we will have reason to give heartfelt thanks. In the meantime, I plan to cling to that slender reed of hope, and maybe if enough of us do, the dream will one day become the reality of our lives.

March 24, 2020

Silver Linings in a Dark Sky

By Kenneth Ring, Ph.D.

Are you suffering from virus fatigue? I know I am. You can’t turn on the TV or check the Internet without being drenched in stories about how terrible it is -- and of course it is dreadful -- and how grim the prospects are for the long term. While I don’t intend to adopt the way of the ostrich to deal with it, I think there is something to be said, not for denial, but for diversion. I know when I listen to all the advice for how you protect yourself, I sometimes think that the only way to be safe is to cut off my hands and then have someone decapitate me. That way, at least, I would no longer have to worry about touching my face.

All right, there’s humor, too, even lame humor like mine, to provide diversion of another kind. Whatever works.

But then, let’s not forget that this crisis also has brought out some things to be grateful for. I know I am filled with gratitude for its unexpected benisons. Let me just share one of them with you, which will exemplify what I mean.

I have a dear Mexican woman friend who has had a hard time recently after her father suddenly died. Not long afterward, she broke her leg and various complications ensued. Many months later, she is still struggling to recover. And yet...

I just received this note from her yesterday.
Dear Mr. Smile!!!
I hope everything is going soft and easy for you. Please keep calm and enjoy your quarantine. You must have lots of emails to answer and some time for relax and enjoy!
I am still working hard on my recovery. Now I am going daily into the pool, so this may help me a lot with strength and resistance... always with love and good mood!!
Here we take our own measures to make this experience a positive one. I really think this was meant to be since our sense of separation and lack of love between each other. 2020 will be remembered as the year where Mother Earth claimed some peace and showed us what is love about. I am sharing a beautiful video with you. Hope you like it.
I send you all my love from home!! 
I replied immediately:
Dear Miss Sunshine,
Thanks for checking in with me. I'm all right, just buried  under an avalanche of email for the last few days as everyone has been writing me to make sure I'm all right. And since most people write me long letters or send me their videos, blogs, poems, podcasts, what have you, it is taking all my time to keep up with my mail. I have to spend all day at my computer and don't even have time to brush my teeth! Still, it’s gratifying that so many people take the time to express their concern and love. So my thanks to you. It’s reassuring to learn that you are okay and still progressing in your recovery.
And I agree with your sentiments, too. As I wrote to another friend, the other day --
On the plus side of this vile virus crisis is the fact that it is putting people in touch with each other again in heartful and life-affirming ways. This is one way to contend against the fears that are being stirred up in the mainstream media, which I think represent another kind of toxin. Paradoxically, it is this very enforced isolation that is bringing people together, if only virtually. I myself, even though I bellyache about being on an email treadmill, am grateful for all the many friends, longstanding ones and recent ones, who have written or called me to make sure I am all right. And I’ve even heard from all of my grandchildren, which is rare, as well as my own kids of course (I have three) and other family members. It's comforting to feel surrounded by so much loving light in such dark times. 
So for this outpouring of love and concern from so many friends and family members, and indeed even for "the kindness of strangers" who have also come may way lately to offer assistance to me, I am filled with gratitude.

Only connect, E. M. Forster famously said at the end of his novel, Howards End.  I don’t think he meant it the way I mean to, but this is also a time when people are connecting with each other with love and caring. My experience must be typical of many, and I hope it has been for you, too. As trying as this time has been for all the world and for however long it may endure, the darkness has not extinguished the light of love, and never will.

March 20, 2020

Is the World Still Turning?

By Kenneth Ring, Ph.D.

To me, the world -- and certainly my world -- seems to have become still, like molecules at absolute zero (all right, I know that even then they still vibrate a little, but I’ll stick to my metaphor all the same). Seemingly, everything has ground to a halt and we all now live suspended in an indeterminate limbo of anxious uncertainty and not a little dread about the future. The world’s future and our own.

We here in California are now, all of us, living in a locked down situation. We can leave our houses if we must but otherwise we have been directed to stay home as much as possible and avoid contact with others. And last night, even worse news as our governor, Gavin Newsom, announced that he expects that 56% of Californians will become infected with the virus. Just what I needed to hear before tucking myself into the womb of my bed.

Predictably, I had a troubled night’s sleep and feel like crap today, but at least I’m not sick. Yet.

This morning, I got out my little calculator and did some figuring. Let’s see -- there are about 40 million of us in California, so if Newsom is right, we can expect about 22.4 million to get sick. If we assume a 3% percent death rate, that means, if I have calculated correctly, maybe some 67,200 of us will die of this disease. But since at age 84 and not in tiptop health I am in that vulnerable category, the odds that I may not make it are not exactly encouraging.

On the other hand, what’s so important about my petty life? I’ve lived long enough, anyway, and am only taking up room on this planet. What I really think about are younger people and children whose lives may suffer so much because of this virus or even die. How monstrously unfair! How absurd! It makes me think that the Gnostics were right, and that we are governed by a malevolent god, or more likely, live in a universe that is indifferent to our fate.

I’ve spent over half my life studying and writing about near-death experiences. So I am okay with death. In fact, last year I brought out a little book of humorous essays I entitled Waiting to Die. Hey, I may not have to wait much longer! This could be my chance! (Is humor still allowed during a pandemic? It had better be!)

But do I really expect to die? Well, yes, someday if I ever can manage to get around to it. But the thought of having to kick the bucket because of a stupid virus -- it’s just unacceptable! Also, demeaning. No one deserves to die because of a virus, even if many already have. See my comment above about absurdity.

The world will go on, even without some of us. It will keep turning no matter what. It won’t be the same after this, but children will play outside again and there will be the sounds of laughter and song. And have you noticed? It’s spring.