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.”
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.
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: https://amazon.com/dp/B0BTJWMK8C/
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.