March 30, 2023

Reincarnation? No Thanks!

I agree that the idea of reincarnation is repulsive. If I have a choice, as I believe we do, I will choose not to reincarnate.

When my favorite philosopher, Woody Allen, was asked how he felt about death, he replied tartly: “I’m against it.” That’s exactly how I feel about reincarnation. I’m completely opposed to it, and, given a choice, I would definitely opt out. I would rather stay dead than come back to life, especially if I could no longer be myself of whom I am, despite everything, inordinately fond. And then I have this still niggling fear that because when I was a kid and would amuse myself by sticking pins into a grasshopper, it might be my karmic fate to return as one. Sure, I know that’s very unlikely, but then where transmigration of souls is concerned, there’s no guarantee that just because I am a human in this life I would necessarily return as one.

Of course, the trouble is, if you look into the research on reincarnation and the many books on the subject, what you will find is overwhelming evidence that reincarnation does indeed occur. And not just in countries in Asia where belief in reincarnation is widespread, but in the West as well. Furthermore, it’s not just that people can “flash on” purported past lives as, for example, in the many anecdotal cases of déjà vu when an individual travels to a city he has never before visited, and yet “recognizes it,” and knows exactly what he will see when he crosses a bridge and climbs a hill at the top of which he is a certain he will see a cathedral – and does. He will also have an uncanny knowledge of other landmarks as well. Such experiences are surprisingly common, but they hardly constitute compelling evidence for reincarnation. Alternative explanations are obvious.

But what about cases like this?

A contemporary French journalist has a vision of a man, a Nazi soldier. He sees him clearly, sees him killed, sees what appear to be other people in the soldier’s life, another man, a little girl. And he somehow knows the soldier’s name, Alexander Hermann.

The author, Stéphane Allix, realizes from the start that he is this man. He knows words in German, a language he doesn’t speak.

He wonders what this could mean. Did such a man actually exist and, if so, why did he manifest to Stéphane in this startling but undeniable way?

In a book Stéphane wrote entitled When I Was Someone Else, what follows is the story of Stéphane’s obsession to divine the meaning of his vision. The book is a riveting detective story, a thriller, a harrowing journey back into the darkest days of WW II, and, most of all, the author’s relentless quest for self-discovery and to fathom the nature of his identity. 

In the end, one reads how Stéphane was led – one would almost have to say “guided” – to ultimately find that everything he had seen in his vision was true, and why it had been given to him. It seems clear that he had lived and died before when he was this Nazi soldier.

Stéphane Allix is a dear friend of mine. I’ve known him for many years, and have visited him in Paris and he has also visited me in my home. I have no doubt that what he reports in his book really happened to him.

And of course, he is hardly unique in recounting his memories of a past life as someone else. There are many such accounts in the literature on reincarnation. You can find quite a few in books like Reincarnation: The Phoenix Fire Mystery by Joseph Head and Sylvia Cranston. One famous case of this type is Edward Ryall’s Born Twice: Total Recall of a Seventeen-Century Life, which is extensively described in this book. It was also exhaustively investigated and authenticated by the world’s foremost student of reincarnation, the late Ian Stevenson, a psychiatrist, whose career was mostly spent at the University of Virginia. I will be discussing Stevenson’s own work based on about 3000 cases of apparent reincarnation next. But the book by Head and Cranston is a veritable treasury of evidence and testimony that make a compelling case for the reality of reincarnation. 

Ian Stevenson, who died in 2007 at the age of 88, was a legend in his own lifetime, even before his death. The reason for his fame and the esteem he received from many of his professional colleagues is that no one with such a distinguished professional pedigree had researched more cases suggestive of reincarnation more sedulously than Stevenson. His research is noted for being extremely meticulous, thorough and critically evaluated. He is by far the most highly regarded and quoted of reincarnation researchers as a result of the many books he published on the subject.

I was privileged to meet Stevenson twice at the University of Virginia about forty years ago. I found him reserved and dignified, but courtly. I remember he warned me against starting a journal devoted to NDEs; he thought it would be mistake. But here Stevenson was wrong; The Journal of Near-Death Studies has continued to be published quarterly for over forty years now.

Turning, however briefly, to Stevenson’s work on reincarnation, which took him all over the world, particularly to Asia and the Middle East, he typically studied children who claimed to recall past lives. In most instances, they would spontaneously talk of their prior life sometime between the ages of two and four, though these memories would generally begin to fade by the time they were between five and eight years old. But if “the devil is in the details,” so is the truth to be found there.

It was common for these very young children to know intimate and obscure details about the person they claimed to have been, and Stevenson was able to verify the great majority of them, about 90%, to have been correct. When taken for the first time to the neighborhood where they claimed to have lived before, they would recognize it immediately, and when introduced to the family among whom they had, in a prior life, grown up, they might say to a woman, “Oh, you were my wife then.” Reading about these cases, as I have, you can’t help but be stunned by the accuracy of a child’s memory of his former life and impressed by the strong emotions expressed on being reunited with his prior family.

One particularly intriguing type of case has to do with birthmarks. Stevenson had over 200 cases of children whose birthmarks corresponded exactly to the location of a fatal would suffered by the previous personality. It might be known, for example, that this individual died as a young man from a stabbing in the neck. And on the neck of the child in this life, there would be an inexplicable scar of unknown origin in just that area. That Stevenson could find so many instances where biology and reincarnation seem to intersect sends the mind reeling – at least, they did mine.

Okay, we could spend page after page talking about the evidence for reincarnation, but let me now turn to why I am so viscerally opposed to it.

To begin with, consider me. I am now very old, not in the best of health, and in my opinion, I am not likely to survive the year. So suppose I die later this year. And say, after spending the next fifty years or so somewhere off-planet, I have to reincarnate in the year 2075.

By then, if current projections for climate change are correct, our earth is likely to be an unlivable inferno, with torrid unbearable heat, crippling droughts, violent storms, glaciers that have disappeared, and human and animal life in the greatest possible peril.  

Would I want to come back to earth then? Hell, no! Would you? Count me out!

But I have another objection as well. Let me give you a hypothetical, if admittedly simplistic, version of how reincarnation might be supposed to work. This is, I submit, is a fairly common understanding of the process.

Say you are man, a farmer, who has spent his life on his farm in Nebraska. You have lived your life, have married, sired four children, lost your left hand in farming accident, developed cancer and died at the age of 81.  

At your death, you are first greeted by guides who take you into the realm of the afterlife where you are then met by what John Audette calls “the welcoming committee” – your deceased loved ones. You are overjoyed to see them again.  

You spend your time (although there is no time there; there’s not even a “there” there, but never mind) in eternity, but eventually your guides make it clear that you are going to have to leave this heavenly realm and reincarnate.

You are naturally reluctant to leave, but apparently you must. You still have lessons learn, you see, and you can only learn them in an embodied state. So you are asked to select your parents in your next life whose circumstances will afford you the opportunity to learn the lessons that will further your spiritual growth.

So down the chute you go, heading toward your new mother’s womb; you drink the waters of Lethe, so that you completely forget who you were, and wake up, a bawling Black babe in Alabama.

Then, you live out that life, only to die again, and go through a similar process of death and rebirth – over and over and over again – until eventually after what?  -- hundreds of incarnations, perhaps? – you have learned all your lessons and can finally “get off the wheel of death and rebirth.”

Well, bloody hell! Do we have to suffer living life after life after life on this doomed planet of ours, or perhaps elsewhere, until we can ultimately be discharged from this kind of seemingly endless torment of life in a body? What kind of monster set up this horror show? It’s enough to turn you into a gnostic who believes in a malevolent god, a demiurge who is running this ghastly recycling affair.  

No thanks, this is not for me, and I think I know a way to escape this trap of doom.   

When a person has an NDE, although he is sometimes told “it is not your time – you have to go back,” other people appear to be given a choice: either to remain in the heavenly realm or go back to their earth body. Of course, in my research I can only talk to those who chose to return. Those who elect to stay are difficult to interview.

Well, then, even if reincarnation does occur, perhaps not everyone has to reincarnate. Perhaps it’s a choice, and if that choice is given to me, then, by jingo, my answer would surely be: “Reincarnation? No Thanks!”

March 24, 2023

The Phantom Hitchhiker

To provide an example of the kind of mysterious and mind-bogging experiences John Audette describes in his new book, Loved by the Light, I will simply reproduce one of the stories he relates. But to John, it was just one more instance of an event that seemingly kept him from having a fatal automobile accident. Another “angelic intervention?” Well, see what you think after you finish reading it.    

The fourth “angel encounter” in my life took place in April or May 1976 in southwestern Virginia. I was a full-time graduate student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University in Blacksburg. One of my interests in graduate school was thanatology, the studying of death and dying, along with gerontology and medical sociology.

The year before, I had the great pleasure of meeting and befriending Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the late prominent Swiss-born psychiatrist who single-handedly revolutionized treatment and care of terminally ill patients in the U.S. and abroad, and who pioneered the hospice movement in the United States and elsewhere. I had read her books and attended several of her workshops and lectures during that time period. I deeply admired and respected her. She was a true original. 

One day in March 1976, Elisabeth called to tell me that the she would be flying into the Tri-Cities Regional Airport in Blountville, TN. It was about 130 miles from where I lived at the time, or a little over a two-hour drive. Elisabeth was to be the keynote speaker at a gathering of nurses there. She was also to receive an award for her work. 

Elisabeth asked me to pick her up at the airport, which I was more than pleased to do. Spending time with Elisabeth was a true honor, so much so that I was willing to skip classes for a couple of days and drive better than a hundred miles for the privilege of having some private time with her, which was hard to come by in those days.

Her plane was due to arrive from O’Hare early in the morning, around 8 a.m. as I recall. This meant I had to set my alarm for 5 a.m. to allow enough time for the drive and other things that needed to be done. The night before, I didn’t get to sleep until after midnight. I had stayed up later than usual to finish a term paper that was due on that very same day. 

When the alarm rang, I reached over in my sleep to turn it off. I then started to drift back to sleep once again, but after a few more moments of light dozing, I finally roused myself out of bed. After a quick shower and a quick bowl of cereal, I ran out the door and jumped into my white mist-covered Aston Marina. I headed to my first stop, which was the mail box of a fellow graduate student who had agreed to deliver my term paper to our professor. 

It was a foggy morning in rural southwest Virginia and in 1976, street lights were not all that plentiful along Interstate 81, so the highway in front of me was quite dark. Visibility was very limited. I drove along speedily headed southbound, determined to get to the airport on time for the arrival of Elisabeth’s plane. There was hardly any traffic heading south. I mostly had the entire interstate to myself.

After an hour or so of driving, my eyes began to close. Tired from not getting much sleep the night before, I began a dangerous descent into falling asleep at the wheel of my car (yet again). More than a few times, my eyes would close completely and my head would drop, whereupon my car would veer over onto the right shoulder of the interstate. The sound of gravel heading the undercarriage of my vehicle would abruptly awaken me each time. My eyes would open wide and I’d quickly pull back on to the pavement.

This happened several times in fast succession. Each time I’d hear my inner voice warning me to pull over and sleep for a while. But I stubbornly ignored that voice, bound and determined to arrive on time to meet Elisabeth. She was counting on me to arrive on time and I was not about to let her down. She had a tight itinerary during this visit and I was not about to be responsible for getting her off to a late start. 

About 50 miles or so from my destination, I could no longer keep my eyes open. I was running off the road with much greater frequency. Once, I almost lost of control of the car as I had a knee jerk reaction and turned too sharply in an effort to bring my car back onto the pavement. It was scary, and I tried everything I could think of to keep myself awake, but to no avail. No matter what I did, my eyes kept closing as I sped down the interstate. 

This part of Virginia is hilly and mountainous. Steep drop offs, ravines and gullies were commonplace on both sides of I-81, and there were no guard rails in place at this time to stop a wayward car from going over a cliff. I knew that I could easily kill myself if my car was to crash into one of these ravines or gullies. I knew I would be a sure traffic fatality if I continued to drive and continued to allow myself to fall asleep at the wheel. 

My inner voice grew louder and louder. “Pull over and go to sleep for a half hour or so, dummy, before you kill yourself!” But I kept turning a deaf ear to it. In desperation, I even slapped myself in the face several times in a vain attempt to wake up, but to no avail. My eyes kept closing, even though I sensed that my life was in peril.

I admonished myself. I gave myself stern warnings, thinking I could somehow scold myself into staying awake. “Next time you fall asleep you’re going to run off the road and nose dive into one of these deep ravines down there,” I told myself. You’ll die a horrible, ugly, nasty, gross death in that dark, black void down below and they won’t even find your body, so WAKE UP!” 

I fully expected that the next time I fell asleep, it might be permanent. Nevertheless, foolishly, I kept on driving, tenacious as ever about making it to my destination on time. Sensing the hopelessness of my careless attitude, and the immediate prospect of certain death, I believe God then intervened in a supernatural effort to save my life.

Half asleep at the wheel, with eyes mostly closed, I barely noticed a man with long black hair, wearing a white suit with his thumb outstretched, hitchhiking alongside of the road, mostly obscured by fog. I zoomed by him in a rather oblivious state. When my brain registered his presence there amid the fog, I pulled over to the shoulder of the road better than 150 feet in front of him. Yes, my reaction time was that bad as I was so very, very drowsy. 

I stopped the car and sat for a moment to absorb what I had just seen. I could hardly believe my eyes. For an instant, I wondered if I was imagining the sudden appearance of this man. I thought to myself, “That guy just materialized out of thin air. What’s he doing out here in the middle of nowhere in the pitch-black dark, hitchhiking?” I mean, there was no one around. No other cars. Nothing but nothingness. He was not even close to an interstate exit. I could not understand how he got way out there in the middle of nowhere. The scene was weird and eerie. In fact, it was surreal, so surreal, I wondered if I was dreaming the whole thing, but I was not.

I wondered whether it was safe to pick this guy up, but then I realized that his company would keep me awake. It occurred to me in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t pick him up, some terrible fate might befall me as I would probably continue falling asleep at the wheel. So, reasoning that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, I put the car in reverse and backed up to offer this gentleman a ride.

By now, he was running toward my car as I was backing up to meet him. But I did not have to back up very far because surprisingly he was right there already beside my car.  I could not figure out how he got up to my car so fast, but in my half-asleep brain-dead state of being, I did not seriously question it or think too much about it.

He came up to my car door on the passenger side. I turned on the dome light and rolled down the window of the passenger door. He politely bent down with one hand on the door and asked if I would give him a lift. I asked him where he was going. He said west to Reno, Nevada. I told him I could take him as far as the exit for the Tri Cities Regional Airport near Johnson City, Tennessee and Abingdon, Virginia. He said that would be fine, so I invited him to step inside. 

We quickly introduced ourselves. He told me his name was Michael. He said he was going to Reno on instructions from God to raise money for his church. He said he was a preacher and that his fledgling church in northeast Virginia needed funds to pay for renovations.  He went on to say that God had told him where to go and what to do when he gets there to procure the needed funds. He said God instructed him to visit a certain casino there, and to play “blackjack” at a certain table. He did not reveal the name of the casino, but he was certain that God was guiding him to the right place for the right reason. He was sure of it, and was a driven, determined man on a mission as far as I could tell.

Michael was about 34 or 35 years old; I would guess. He was approximately 5’ 11” and weighed about 175 pounds or so. He had collar length wavy black hair, black eyebrows and piercing soulful brown eyes. He was wearing an all-white suit. Even his shoes were white. All he was carrying with him was a Holy Bible with a black cover. That book was his only possession, no suitcase or shaving kit or duffle bag with a change of clothes, nothing else but a black Holy Bible. Again, very strange.

Michael and I talked and talked, non-stop. We spoke about God, about religion, about good and evil, about forgiveness, as well as social theory and my studies in graduate school. We also spoke about Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and her work. The conversation was enlivening. 

Suddenly, I became wide awake. The sleep that had clouded me earlier was gone, long gone. Michael’s company was invigorating and strangely comforting, like I was having a reunion with an old friend. His company quickly put an end to the driving equivalent of Russian roulette that had overtaken me in my drowsiness behind the wheel only minutes before. 

We had driven for more than an hour together, but it seemed timeless. As I looked into his eyes, I felt deep recognition, almost at the soul level, like we had met before, or like I knew him from some other place, perhaps some other time. I remember wondering if he could be an angel sent to save me, but it was just a passing thought at the time. 

Soon, the sun rose and the new day had begun. Before I knew it, we arrived at the exit for the airport. I liked Michael and was not ready to say good-bye. So, I invited him to join me in meeting and greeting Elisabeth. Politely and graciously he said, “No thanks. I don’t think that’s going to work out.” I thought who in their right mind would turn down an opportunity to meet Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross at the height of her fame and popularity? Well, Michael did. I was about to find out why.

Just before the exit, I pulled off onto the shoulder of the road and stopped the car momentarily. I asked Michael for his address and told him I would write him in a month or so to find out how his trip to Reno, Nevada turned out. He obliged and wrote down his name and address. He handed me the paper with his address on it. I placed it in the glove box of my car. I wished him lots of luck. We shook hands and said goodbye. I pulled away and headed up onto the exit ramp, watching Michael in the rear-view mirror for part of the time, feeling grateful for his company which clearly kept me from meeting with certain catastrophe. 

As I turned left onto the overpass from the exit ramp, I lost sight of the place where Michael was standing, but only for a few moments. When that spot came into my view again just a minute or so later, Michael was gone. He was nowhere in sight. He could not have walked to under the overpass so quickly. It was too far away from where he was standing to have walked or run there in the short time that he was out of my sight. And no other car could have picked him up so quickly without me catching a glimpse of it. He had to be around there somewhere, but he was nowhere to be found.

I drove slowly along the overpass looking for Michael. I surveyed the median and the shoulder of the interstate, up and down, through and through, but he was nowhere in sight. As I searched around for Michael to discern where he might have gone, I did not see any place for him to go except to keep walking straight ahead along the shoulder of the road toward the overpass. 

Puzzled by Michael’s sudden disappearance, I made a mental note to write him as soon as I returned to Blacksburg, where I lived at the time, to inquire as to where he went once I drove away from him. I then parked my car in the airport parking lot and proceeded into the terminal. Once inside I quickly made my way to the gate designated for Elisabeth’s arriving flight. I arrived there ten minutes or so before the plane pulled in to the gate, right on time.

All of the deplaning passengers strolled by me, every single one of them except Elisabeth. Then the procession stopped. A few moments later, the flight crew came walking through. I asked if any other passengers were on board. They said there were none. I went to the ticket counter for the airline she was supposed to have flown and asked them to page her. The nice lady at the ticket counter obliged by paging her three times for me, but all was for naught. A supervisor then returned from break, and said “Are you Mr. Audette?” How did she know my name? I wondered. “Yes, that’s me,” I replied. She said Dr. Kubler-Ross had called earlier and left a message for me. I was to call her at home.

I changed dollars for quarters, and then made a long-distance call to Elisabeth from a nearby pay phone inside the terminal. Elisabeth was at her home in Flossmoor, Illinois. She was home sick in bed. She had taken ill at the last minute and could not make the trip. She canceled her flight and her appearance. She had tried to reach me too at my home, but apparently sometime after I had begun my journey to pick her up at the airport. She apologized to me and, of course, I said no apology was needed. I then wished for her a speedy return to perfect health and said good-bye.

As I walked through the terminal on my way back to the car, I stopped in the gift shop to buy a post-card to mail immediately for Michael. Now my mind was really racing. “How did he know that this was not going to work out before I knew it was not going to work out?” I asked myself. “Who was that guy?” I wondered. 

The first thing I did when I returned to my car was to open the glove box to retrieve the paper with Michael’s address on it. I wanted to send him the card right away as my curiosity had gotten the better of me. There was only one problem. The piece of paper which contained his address that I had carefully placed in the glove box maybe an hour or so before was not in there anymore. It too had vanished, just like Michael. Just like Michael, it was nowhere to be found. I looked through everything in that glove box, including each and every one of the pages in my car’s owner’s manual. Not there. Gone. Vanished. 

As quickly as Michael had appeared, he disappeared. As quickly as the paper with his address appeared, it too disappeared. “This is really strange,” I thought. Could he have been another guardian angel sent by God to keep me from dying before my time? I think so. No other explanation makes any sense to me. 

March 23, 2023

Without Him, IANDS Would Not Exist

 Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for? 

John Audette is not a household name. Unlike many of the illustrious eminences who have received worldwide recognition for their contributions to the study of near-death experiences, beginning with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and Raymond Moody in the mid-1970s and extending until our own time with Eben Alexander, the author of Proof of Heaven, John Audette’s name is likely to be unfamiliar to almost all of you who are reading this blog. And yet, if it were not for John Audette, it is doubtful that organizations like IANDS – The International Association for Near-Death Studies – which has done so much to educate the world about the importance of NDEs and similar transformative experiences would ever have come into being. Few people know that it was solely because John had formed this vision years before IANDS was founded and had convinced others of the vital necessity to create such an organization that it was brought into this world to carry out its mission. Since its founding, IANDS has had many stewards, but John was its father, its progenitor, its ur-visionary.  

It's long past time that John should receive public acknowledgment for what he has contributed to our modern understanding of what happens when people enter, at least for a brief moment outside of time, into the vestibule of death, and upon returning to what we call “life,” are never the same. It is my intention in this blog to introduce you to this man to whom we owe so much. So this is John’s story of his spiritual journey that ultimately led to IANDS, but to so much more, as you will soon learn. 

John was born in May, 1952, in East Hartford. By a strange coincidence. he was delivered at Saint Francis Hospital, which some years later was one of the three main hospitals where I found my respondents for the research I reported in my first NDE book, Life at Death. When John was four, his family moved to Fort Lauderdale where he grew up, and he currently and for some years has continued to reside in Florida.  

I will skip over his early years in order to come soon to the pivotal event in John’s life, but I should mention that after he graduated high school, he served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnamese war, although he did not see combat. 

After he returned to civilian life, John found himself at a small college in Augusta, Georgia. He was now a sociology major and soon became president of its Sociology Club. The club would often invite speakers and one of its members suggested her next door neighbor, a medical student named – Raymond Moody. When John inquired what the speaker might talk about, he was told that Moody had been interviewing people who had come close to death and had reported some “mystical experiences.”

When John heard that, he said he “lit up like a Christmas tree.”  


The reason is that when John was eight years old, a classmate’s mother had suffered a near-fatal heart attack, and later told John that she had gone to heaven. John could also see that this woman had changed dramatically afterword – she just wasn’t the same person. John, who was always a sensitive child, never forgot his encounter with this woman, and when he was told about Moody’s research, that early experience came flooding back. He was now tremendously excited to learn what Moody would have to say.

John would later write, when he met Raymond the next day, “I heard the ring of destiny…. I felt then and I still feel today it was the defining moment in my life. It was the single most important event in my personal history.”

It was April, 1974, and John was not quite 22-years-old at the time.   

After he heard Raymond’s talk, he cleaved to him like a barnacle. According to John, he and Raymond had “hit it off” on first meeting and felt an immediate liking for each other. John was very eager to help Raymond in his research so he could learn more about what Raymond was now calling “near-death experiences,” and indeed Raymond was happy to have John’s help. When, in November of the following year, Raymond published his groundbreaking book, Life After Life, which would before long become a worldwide best seller, John was thrilled. He already knew what his calling was, his purpose in life, and the tremendous success of Raymond’s book only confirmed that.

But there’s more of this story, and for that, I need to return to what happened to John when he first heard Raymond speak in April, 1974. Here, I can do no better than to let John describe that happened to him that night as he sat listening to Raymond talk about NDEs.

I was in the audience hanging on every word. It was then that I received what I can only describe as “divine inspiration” to form an international association that would harvest and harness the enormous power of these extraordinary experiences to trigger profound individual and social transformation on a global level through the vehicle of science.

I was a self-avowed agnostic at the time, but I was deeply moved by Raymond’s discussion of his research findings … down to the core of my being. I reasoned then, as I do now, that these experiences possess great potential to change human nature and, consequently, the nature of social, political and economic systems, as well as organized religion.

John was on fire, having had his own road to Damascus conversion experience, and although John would never seek to promote himself or endeavor to be the St. Paul of NDEs, he was hopeful that Raymond would support and help him to begin to do the work to transform the world, first by forming the kind of organization that John had envisaged.

But John was soon to be disappointed, the first of many disappointments that he would encounter over the next few years, and indeed for the remainder of his life, as he discovered that for all of his idealistic enthusiasms, few people could bring themselves to share John’s vision for global change based on the findings of NDE research.

Raymond was the first of many eminent researchers and authors to rebuff John.

Surprisingly, from the beginning, Raymond was expressly negative about the association idea. He was he was not fond of organizations and discouraged me from pursuing it. I hounded him through much of 1974-1976 to fully support the idea but to no avail.

Actually, no one who knows Raymond would have been surprised by his lack of interest in John’s proposal to form an international association to further John’s vision. Raymond is definitely not “an organization man.” He is humble, modest, humorous, unpretentious, folksy, gentle – and sweet. He is not ambitious personally or professionally, and has often refused lucrative offers to promote himself. He will leave it to others to try to change the world. Organizations with that avowed purpose would just be an unwelcome distraction for him. He simply wanted to continue to do his research and write his books, which indeed he has done over his long career. So, in short, Raymond turned a deaf ear to John’s repeated exhortations. John was being a pest.

Nevertheless, in the end, Raymond somewhat reluctantly acceded to John’s plea and agreed to host a meeting for some of us early NDE researchers who had ourselves been inspired by Moody’s book.

At that point, John went on the road to hustle us. This is how I came to meet John in 1976 when he came to my home in Connecticut and shared a bit of his plans with me. I liked John immediately, resonated to his ideas, and, said, in effect, “Hell, yes!” John and I seemed to bond at that meeting, which marked the beginning of our more-than-forty-year-long bromance.

Here's a photo John and me shortly after we met. I was sporting a short-lived beard then, and we both had wild hair!

In November of the next year, John convened the meeting at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where Raymond was then located. Raymond served as our genial host and told us – there were about ten of us in attendance, as I recall – that he really wanted to complete his medical studies and was more than happy to “pass the torch” to the rest of us. Figuratively speaking, we grabbed it with alacrity and enthusiasm.

It was at that meeting that John outlined his ideas for an international organization to further the work and spread the word about NDEs, and, in the end, three of us, in addition to John, were in – Bruce Greyson, a psychiatrist, Mike Sabom, a cardiologist, and myself, who was a transpersonal psychologist at the time.

By the following year, “the four amigos” met at a conference – I believe it was in St. Louis – and it was there that we formally established the organization that John had envisioned in what he came to call “his download” in April, 1974, when he first heard Raymond speak. He proposed to call it The Association for the Scientific Study of Near-Death Phenomena, or ASSNDP, for short. He would run it out of his home, which was then in Peoria, and so he did for the next three years.

These days, few people remember or are even aware of ASSNDP, but it was John’s dedicated leadership of that organization that led directly to IANDS a few years later when John again traveled to my home and asked me to take over the reins for a year. However, as I have written in my earlier blogs, I only agreed to do this if we could rebrand and expand the organization for which I proposed the name, The International Association for Near-Death Studies, or IANDS. Thus was IANDS born, and without John, it never would have happened. 

At that time, “the four amigos” had effectively become three, since Mike Sabom, for the most part, had only a peripheral relationship with IANDS in those early years. But by later in 1981, IANDS was on its way. We organized a big, well-attended conference that year at Yale University, which included some illustrious personages, such as the then prominent Rhode Island Senator, Claiborne Pell, whom I got to know at that time, and one of his friends, a Prince of Liechtenstein.

Since those exciting early years when we were among the first researchers to promote and further the scientific study of NDEs, scores, probably hundreds by now, of physicians, scientists, academics and other scholars have contributed to the development of this field. And these days, the term, first introduced by Raymond Moody, "near-death experiences" (or NDEs), has long entered popular discourse. But it was John’s original vision that really was the inspiration that ultimately led to the development of the field of near-death studies.

However, I need now to turn back to John’s own spiritual journey, which is really the true subject of this blog, as you will see.

John was never really fully happy with the way IANDS evolved. It was still a relatively small organization and never captured the public imagination the way Raymond’s book did. Very few of its board members shared John’s grand vision for how the world could be transformed by knowledge of NDEs and similar transcendent experiences. By 1985, he had left the board and IANDS for good, somewhat disillusioned and definitely disappointed.

He continued to try to find other prominent figures with whom he could collaborate and whom he hoped would share his vision of the potential power of NDEs to have a global impact. One of these was the astronaut, Edgar Mitchell, who became a close friend of John’s, but never really embraced John’s perspective. Similarly, for other worthies – there were quite a few John solicited, including Eben Alexander, who worked with John to establish a new organization, which John called Eternea, and which he still heads. But, like so many before him, Eben had his own books to write and talks to give, so that collaboration, too, ultimately fizzled out, at least from John’s point of view. And, like IANDS, Eternea was never able to secure enough funding for it to realize John’s dreams for it. Another in a seemingly endless series of personal disappointments.

What to do? I had an idea. There was still a way for John to promulgate his vision for a better world based on NDE research and other similar experiences.

John would write a book.

And so he has. It is called Loved by the Light: True Stories of Divine Intervention and Providence. And it is brilliant, stunning, and makes for riveting reading. When I first started to read it in draft form, I was immediately hooked. As I’ve said, I’ve known John for over forty years, but it wasn’t until I read this book that I learned so much about him that I had never known, including that there were at least seven times in his life that, by a kind of miracle, John narrowly escaped death. John thinks it was ‘divine providence” that intervened to save him. Reading his book, I found it hard to disagree. In any case, when you read about these mind-blogging episodes, you will easily understand why John feels that it was really the hand of God that saved him.

His book has already garnered high praise from such well-known writers as Jane Goodall, Caroline Myss and Anita Moorjani, among many others. And Raymond Moody himself contributed a glowing forward, a brief paragraph from which I will reproduce here:

Expect much wisdom to be revealed on these pages, including John’s deeply personal stories about life-saving angel encounters, near-death and shared near-death experiences, bona fide after-death communication, personal sacred epiphanies, as well as several extraordinary events… [John’s book] affirms that God is real and so too is survival of human consciousness after bodily death.

Of course, when it comes to John’s more utopian vision for a global transformation -- John’s version of “the impossible dream” -– probably most readers will agree that it can only be understood as aspirational, and not anything that could happen soon in our benighted world. There is no reason to think that in our secular age, the axis of the world would shift as a result of learning about research findings like NDEs since in our own time miracle stories don’t move us as they once might have. More likely, we will just continue to fiddle with our iPhones while the world burns.

John sent me one review that is probably going to be typical about this aspect of John’s book. Here’s just a brief sample of how John’s vision has been dismissed as pure fantasy:

It must be said that Audette probably resides somewhere on the Primrose Path or in the upper reaches of Cloud Nine. He must be terribly naive to genuinely believe that his plan has even a remote chance of succeeding. The odds of the G-20 calling for a global Biblical debt Jubilee to retire all forms of debt world-wide are much better, or the odds of the world’s major religions selling off all their precious jewels, art and real estate to eradicate global poverty. 

True enough, but I have another way of understanding John’s vision. It says more about John than it does about the future of our world. In my eyes, John is really a kind of bodhisattva, someone who can’t really be happy until “the last blade of grass is enlightened.” Or, in John’s case, until the world is.

Toward the end of his book, John quotes one of my students who had a very deep NDE. This student told me this: “I wish everyone could have an NDE. It would change the world. Everyone would understand each other and there wouldn’t be chaos, and there wouldn’t be greed or war.” If only…

If only…. Maybe one day in the far future when the world wakes up. Should that day ever come, John Audette’s vision will finally be fulfilled. 


To order a copy of John’s book, please go to this link:

This is actually part one of a two-part blog. In part two, which will be posted tomorrow, I will relate just one of John’s personal stories of what he calls divine intervention. It will give you a good idea of the treasures to be found in his book.

March 7, 2023

Let There NOT Be Light

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.
-- Genesis

Could God have been wrong? According to a Swedish scientist, quite possibly. A little light may be a good thing, but too much of it can be and has been devastating to many species including Homo sapiens. Like anything, too much of a good thing is likely, in the end, to be a bad thing.

For my part, however, I have always craved light, as much as possible. Growing up in sunny California, I was often bathed in light, and I loved it. As some of you know, I see very poorly, so in order to read, I need as much illumination as I can get. Hell, I even entitled my most popular NDE book Lessons from the Light. And I know from my NDE work that heaven itself – or whatever you want to call the realm where NDErs go to die – is filled with light. As one NDEr assured me, “there is no night there.”  

And yet….

My girlfriend Lauren, however, while visiting me, often works at her laptop in semi-darkness. I am forever asking her, “sweetheart, don’t you want more light?” She simply shakes her head and continues to type away in the murk of my dining room. I, in turn, shake my head. I can’t understand how she can possibly see anything! 

Turns out, the world would be better off with more Laurens and fewer Kens. 

We are all used to worrying about various forms and effects of pollution – our phosphorous-filled lakes, our contaminated water supplies, the carbon dioxide in the air, the plague of plastics everywhere, the alarming melting of the glaciers, and so on into the night – a phrase redolent with portentous meaning, as you will soon see.  

But among these well-known dangers to the integrity of our environment, there is one that tends to be overlooked: light pollution. Van Gogh’s “starry night” is now likely to be obscured, especially in our large cities, by all the artificial light we project toward the heavens. Indeed, cities like Singapore and Hong Kong are now so brightly lit that one wonders whether its inhabitants’ descendants may end up losing their night vision altogether as their rhodopsin becomes irrelevant.  

Of course, I exaggerate for effect and with some lame humor, but light pollution is no joke to many of our fellow creatures who earn their living, hunt their prey or seek their mates under the canopy of the dark sky. 

Take bats, for example. According to a recent book entitled The Darkness Manifesto by a Swedish chiropterologist (which, I learned, refers to someone who studies bats) named Johan Eklöf, during the 1980s, bat colonies in Sweden were plentiful. No more. Most of them have disappeared. And why? Light pollution seems to be a major factor, according to Eklöf:

District after district has installed modern floodlights to show the architecture it’s proud of, all the while the animals—who have for centuries found safety in the darkness of the church towers and who have for 70 million years made the night their abode—are slowly but surely vanishing from these places.  

And not just bats, but the lives of various species of moths have also been seriously disrupted by the brilliance of urban lighting. Eklöf gives several examples, but here let us just consider the lowly cabbage moth.

Once the sun sets, the adult moth begins to fly, looking for its mate. The female takes the initiative by extending her antennae forward, flapping her wings (“come to me, baby!”) and exuding her distinctive “come hither” scent. Successful mating will soon lead the female to lay her eggs. But what happens when this kind insect coupling goes awry because of light pollution? Again, Eklöf:

The female emits fewer pheromones in the presence of artificial light, and furthermore, the composition of the scent is completely different from that emitted in darkness. So mating never gets started. The females wait in vain in the darkness.”  

This may seem trivial in the scheme of things, but it’s not. The reason is that moths play a crucial role as pollinators, which are vital to keep our ecosystem thriving. And if you happen to remember a blog I wrote some time ago about insects, you may recall that “bugs” are absolutely essential to human life as well. Without insects, humans would not survive. So we have every reason to be concerned with the romantic lives of moths!

And, joshing aside, there are good reasons to take this threat seriously because, according to Eklöf, in recent decades, the biomass of all flying insect species has apparently collapsed by nearly an unnerving 75%! If this continues, then we could really be in some deep you-know-what.

I learned about Eklöf’s new book in an essay by the New Yorker’s splendid critic, Adam Gopnik, who, you might know, played himself in a cameo role in the recent film, Tár, starring Cate Blanchett, apropos of nothing. But what is relevant here is that Gopnik, in his amusing fashion, points his finger squarely at the cause of all this meddling and messing with our natural environment.

The source of all this harmful light is, of course, us, city-dwelling human beings, who are presumably keeping the lights on all night in pursuit of our own couplings. Where once human life had its nocturnal rhythms, interrupted only by the dim light of candles and fireplaces, the Earth is now so lit up that, seen from space, it glows like a Japanese lantern. Since the invention of the light bulb, street lights and floodlights have come, ominously, to disturb age-old circadian rhythms, to the point that, Eklöf writes, “artificial light, the polluted light, is now dominant—light that causes birds to sing in the middle of the night, sends turtle babies in the wrong direction, and prevents the mating rituals of coral in reefs, which take place under the light of the moon.”

Then there is Las Vegas, a city I have had the misfortune of visiting only twice, and even without losing a fortune in one of their glitzy casinos, quickly learned to loathe. To me, not that you asked or care, it represents everything that is hateful about America, but I will not subject you to one of my tiresome diatribes. Still, I can’t resist waggling one of my Zola-inflected fingers at one of its most outrageous excesses. 

Case in point: Did you know that sitting atop the Luxor Hotel, there is a light beam that creates an astonishing and obscene two billions candlepower of light every night? This is meant to attract tourists and gamblers,  and perhaps some lowlife denizens of Las Vegas as well, and of course it does, but it also attracts flocks of birds who are evolutionarily programmed to fly toward bright lights, and it totally screws them up. Moreover, in 2019, it lured great swarms of grasshoppers, a pseudo-Egyptian plague that Alfred Hitchcock, were he still alive, could have made a movie about. Pity the poor grasshoppers.

But, to be sure, it’s not just the winged creatures of the night who are affected and thrown off course, if not destined to an early death, by all this artificial light that harshly illuminates the dark skies overhead. It also interferes with the lives and functioning of certain terrestrial bipeds, namely ourselves. Inhabitants of indoor spaces at night, we are nevertheless bathed for hours in the artificial light of our laptops and other screens, to say nothing of the kind of illumination we receive from our lamps and ceiling lighting fixtures. Eklöf points out that our daily cycles of melatonin and other sleep hormones are thereby disrupted with sometimes dire consequences. And we wonder why we have so much trouble sleeping nowanights. 

The body enters a vicious circle where stress and disturbed sleep go hand in hand, we become vaguely depressed. Obesity has many causes, but one of these is constant low leptin levels, which is a direct result of the breaking down of the melatonin circle. 

To which, Gopnik wryly adds: “The grasshoppers beam down to their burning death; we just grow chubby and cheerless.” 

But there is another side to the story of a world that is becoming more saturated with artificial light after the sun goes down. The night, of course, is traditionally the realm of mystery, romance and poetry when only the celestial spell of lunar light is finally allowed to emerge and awaken the hidden world of the unconscious. The Romantics knew this well and celebrated the creative allure of the night. You can read about this in books about the Romantics, such as Tim Blanning’s history of the Romantic Movement, The Romantic Revolution. But you can also find it in the poetry of Novalis, in the philosophy of Schopenhauer, and in the operas of Wagner, particularly in his Tristan and Iseult.   

The Romantic Movement arose, of course, as a reaction against the French enlightenment with its emphasis on reason and the intellect, and its rejection of religious dogma and what it regarded as outright superstition. The apostles of the enlightenment wanted to banish the old outworn ideas of the past and looked forward to a more progressive age that would culminate in the perfection of man.  

We have seen where that has led.

But the Romantics had a different vision of what life could and should be, and for them, the night was the source of the creative life and the fulfillment of the soul. They would not be happy about the trend of things today when the natural cycles of the day and night have been so profoundly disturbed.

Of course, we need light. Who would want to return to dimly lit and dangerous city streets, much less to candle-lit rooms with no television, no smart phones, no computers, and so on? No, electric lights are here to stay, and none of us would want it any other way. But, still, maybe we should strive for more balance and rein in our Promethean urges for the divine fire we now take for granted, failing to realize that what may brighten our lives may also burn us and other creatures.

Yes, I admit it – I have always loved light and loved to bask in it, but then I have always been partial to the Romantics, too. I want to have it both ways, don’t you?

Toward the end of his essay about Eklöf’s book, Gopnik refers to the great poet, Goethe, who used to hang out with the romantics of his time, especially the romantics of the Jena set in Germany around the turn of the 19th century (Schiller was one of his best friends). I will let him have the last word – before I return with a final, brief coda:

“More light!,” Goethe’s famous deathbed command, was the battle cry of the Enlightenment, which produced the progressive-minded science that eventually gave us the light bulb and the neon sign and the L.E.D. “Turn on the night!,” still the essential cry of the Romantics, from Caspar David Friedrich to Kiss, urges us to love in darkness. The light of reason makes searchlights and lighthouses; the love of darkness asks us to adjust our eyes and egos sufficiently to see as owls do. Seek light in the morning; accept the night when it comes. Then call it a day. 

Or as my girlfriend, Lauren, is wont to say: “Please turn down the light, Ken. It’s entirely too bright in here.” Which is why I say the world needs more Laurens and fewer Kens.