April 24, 2023

An Interview with Yours Truly if Unruly

Dear Friends,

As I’ve been beset with a sprained right wrist and tendonitis for the past six weeks or so, on the advice of my doctor I’ve had to forego writing any more blogs for the nonce. He suggested that instead of using my fingers to wander over the noisy keys of my computer keyboard, I would be better off using my left hand to beverage myself occasionally with a glass of sarsaparilla

Still, while I wait to recover, which should be in about another month, I was at least recently able to participate in an e-mail interview about my latest book, A Near-Death Researcher’s Notebook. If you remember a previous blog about this book, you will know it consists of various blogs I’ve written during the past few years that I have rebranded as essays. So most of you who have read these blogs for free are not likely to want to buy this book.

On the other hand, wasn’t it Oscar Wilde who said that a good essay was worth reading twice?

Actually, no. That was me. What Oscar said was “Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same.” I only wish I had run across this quip before the first of my several disastrous marriages.

But I digress. All I really wanted tell you is that until I can blog again, I thought you might enjoy reading this interview, which appeared in a somewhat expurgated form recently in the IANDS’ newsletter, Vital Signs. And who knows, there may be some people who haven’t read my blogs who might after all be interested in this book and keep it from languishing into obscurity before I myself wind up there.


Pioneering near-death experience (NDE) researcher and founding IANDS president, Ken Ring, Ph.D., just published his most recent book, A Near-Death Researcher's Notebook. Another long-time NDE researcher and current IANDS president, Jan Holden, Ed.D., read it. Ken agreed to an email interview by Jan; here is their exchange.

Jan: Ken, I just finished reading your newest book, A Near-Death Researcher's Notebook. Although you gave me permission to prepare for this e-interview by perusing rather than completely reading the book, I was frankly entranced and ended up reading every word. As an NDE researcher myself, as well as an aging person facing physical deterioration and demise, I related to much of what you wrote. But I think your book would be engaging for anyone interested in how learning deeply about NDEs, as you have, can affect someone's outlook on everything from the most personal—such as peeing challenges--to the most general—such as prophetic visions about the global future of humanity.  

Thank you so much for this comment, Jan. Of course, I’m delighted to know that you responded so positively to my book.  Let’s hope your enthusiasm will be contagious!

That said, here are a few of my questions and reactions, to which I invite your response—and any additional comments you might wish to make.

On p. 13, you described how, even fairly early into your NDE research, you felt as if what you were learning was provoking in you an "extended religious awakening." I was struck by the word "religious," which I associate with organized religion. The reason is that NDErs often (but not always) gravitate away from organized religion because they find it is not big enough to accommodate what they experienced in their NDEs. And you yourself, later in the book, say you have no use for the religion of your upbringing—Judaism—and that Buddhism comes closest to your views—though you also don't consider yourself a Buddhist, per se. If I'm on target with all those points, perhaps you actually meant "an extended spiritual awakening?"

Yes, you're right, but I think I can explain the contradiction. I wrote that article when I had just started interviewing my first NDErs in the late 1970s. At that time, I often felt a sacred atmosphere enveloping me when conducing those interviews and a numinous feeling would come over me. In those days, I thought of it as a profound religious experience. But in time, I realized, as you did, that it was really a spiritual, and not a religious experience, as such. I do not consider myself religious, but I do have a sense of the Holy, which I guess is more mystical rather than religious. I never have read
Rudolf Otto’s book, The Idea of the Holy, but what I have read about it seems to reflect what I experienced during those first interviews.   

I loved how your book chapters were so substantial while being so short. Your book structure enabled me to read, even briefly, and take a break whenever I felt a need to ponder what I'd read. In reading your chapters on the process of aging and dying—including your reconciliation with your dying father as well as your attention to the "warehousing" of the elderly in senior living homes, loneliness, and accompaniment of the dying in their final days, I often felt, in turn, touched, saddened, and uplifted. I've always considered you an exceptionally talented thinker and writer, and despite any other changes you've experienced, those qualities have not changed. I don't have a question here but, maybe, an opportunity for you to express gratitude that you still have so much to give humanity?

Thank you so much for these words of appreciation, Jan, both for me personally and for what I wrote in my book.

I’m coming to the end of my working life — and perhaps my life itself before too much longer.  I’m 87 now, and I have many physical difficulties to cope with, including at present a really bad case of tendonitis, which makes it very difficult to write now. But of course, I’m very grateful to have lived a long life and been able, somehow, to continue to write not only my own books and blogs, but to tout the work of others, as I do in this book. 

It has been the privilege of my life to have devoted so much to it to my work on NDEs and to have met so many wonderful and loving people over so many years from whom I have learned so much. As the old song goes, “Who could ask for anything more?” I have been blessed beyond measure.

I was so glad you gave a rave review for Bruce Greyson's recent book, After. I was also surprised and pleased to learn about some of your most-recommended books on NDEs of which I wasn't aware, such as David Sunfellow's 2019 The Purpose of Life: As Revealed by Near-Death Experiences from Around the World and his 2020 500 Quotes from Heaven: Life-Changing Quotes That Reveal the Wisdom and Power of Near-Death Experiences. I was also pleased to be alerted to very recent and impending publications, such as Jeff Janssen's Your Life's Ripple Effects, which you seem to consider an ultimate treatment of the NDE life review, and Alex Batthyány's Threshold: Terminal Lucidity and the Border of Life and Death, which is due out in September 2023. These books contribute clearly to the field of near-death studies. If you could wish one more NDE-related book into existence that you think either would further enhance the field or would potentially greatly influence humanity, what would it be? 

I’m going to do an end run around this question, and respond to it in a different way. We have been studying NDEs and similar transformative experiences for nearly a half a century now, and there have already been so many wonderful books published on this subject, including several recent ones you alluded to. So, while acknowledging my limited prophetic powers, I don’t see any new NDE bombshell books on the horizon.

But I can tell you what does excite me, and what I think may be “the coming thing” in near-death studies. It’s one of the books you mentioned — Alex Batthyány’s on terminal lucidity (TL). When I first read about TL several years ago, having come across the pioneering work of Michael Nahm on the subject, I was thrilled. And later, I got in touch with Alex, and we had and still have a very warm and cordial connection. I told him then that if I could still be active in doing research, I would certainly be studying TL myself. I subsequently read the draft of his book, and when it comes out this September, I think what it will do for terminal lucidity what Raymond Moody’s Life After Life did for NDEs — open up a new and exciting frontier for near-death studies.

I also loved that you touched on your own experiences with psychedelics and their potential to facilitate NDE-like experiences and/or aftereffects. I myself very recently participated in ketamine-assisted therapy as a consciousness exploration exercise. It was awesome, and I plan to write an article about it for an upcoming issue of Vital Signs. I'm embarking on a study of how reliable ketamine can be in facilitating NDE-like experiences and aftereffects in healthy adults seeking such experiences but not wanting to nearly die or engage in 10 years of meditation to experience them. Anything you'd like to comment on regarding such research?

I was very interested to read about your ketamine experience, Jan, and how you want to look into how it may be used to induce NDE-like experiences in healthy volunteers. Of course, ketamine has become quite in vogue lately, but, actually, you’re running about thirty years behind me.

In brief, in 1985, I was approached by a ketamine therapist who wanted to use me as an “expert” (she said) on NDEs to see whether ketamine could engender an NDE-type experience. (She and an oncologist were then working with terminally ill cancer patients.) I wound up using ketamine a total of nine times during the late 1980s, and eventually published an article about my experiences called Ketamine Days,” in a book entitled The Ketamine Papers:  Science, Therapy, and Transformation, edited by Phil Wolfson and Glenn Hartelius.  

You might well want to consult this book, Jan, and if you do, you can find out what I experienced when I was using it. I’ll leave it at that, but, if you read my article, I think you will agree that my own experiences were “out of this world.”

One thing that struck me was your use of the term "life preview" to describe how some NDErs get what you have called "personal flashforwards (PFs)" -- glimpses into specific scenes of their likely futures that often bear out in their actual future lives. In the interest of verbal economy, I wondered about changing the lexicon to: life review, life preview (instead of "personal flashforward"), and global preview (instead of "prophetic visions"). What do you think?

Well, I have a fondness for the terms I used (originally in my book, Heading Toward Omega), but I agree that your proposal certainly has the virtue of verbal economy. You don’t need my blessing, of course, but I have no objection. I just wonder how you could get people to adopt your terminology, but I’ll leave that to you.

Something I resonated to was your occasional reference to, "If only ___ had read / would read about NDEs: I wonder how their [atheistic, nihilistic, warring] attitudes might change." I have so often thought this same thing! In your chapter on Russia's war on the Ukraine and speculation about the life review that's in store for Putin, I had this fantasy: Remember the scene in the movie, A Clockwork Orange, in which the lead character was forced to watch horror scenes so that he would have an aversive reaction whenever he even considered taking aggressive action? What if we could kidnap Putin for a week and force him to watch one NDEr after another lovingly describe their life review? Maybe along with testimonials of veridical perception in NDEs so he could not dismiss NDEs as mere products of imagination? Considering the impossibility of this scenario, what about making your next book A Letter to Putin—and Other Actual or Would-Be Leaders on the World Stage? In it, you could address both the life review and what I'm calling global previews—for them to take into consideration when they make policy or military decisions.

Well, Jan, that is a beguiling but impossible fantasy in two ways. First, I can no longer write any more books. (Hell, with this damn tendonitis, I can hardly write this e-mail today.) But, second, world leaders, especially vile autocratic curs like Putin, even if one could capture him for a week of NDE “brainwashing,” would surely find a way to dismiss such testimony as fantasies of another kind. And even if I could write a book like A Letter to Putin, he would never read it, much less be influenced by it.  

Or to take this closer to home, do you think ex-and-possibly-again President Trump would be moved by such a book to change his ways? Hell, I wonder if that man can actually read at all. I think the late Philip Roth joked that Trump had a vocabulary about 75 words (doubtless including such tired tropes as “witch hunt” and “hoax”). 

No, the lessons of the life review would be lost on such people, but they can and do change the lives of us mere mortals, and to me, as I make clear in my book, I think the most important takeaway from the study of NDEs is the life review. It may not change the world, but it can transform people’s lives if they take the time to read and reflect on it. 

Well, my friend, anything else you'd like to say before we sign off? For my part, I'm very glad to have had this opportunity to reconnect with you, and especially on these particular topics! Thank you for your Notebook, and I encourage anyone interested in the implications of NDEs for meaning in death and purpose in life to read it. It was well worth my already-stretched-too-thin time!!

No, Jan, I think I had best rest my tortured fingers today and let you have the last word — particularly your concluding advice to the readers of this e-mail exchange. I don’t expect to enter into the days (I say days, not years, deliberately) of my retirement living off the royalties of this book on Majorca, but perhaps, thanks to this interview, I won’t have to end my career as a literary failure.

Thanks so much for making the time to do this interview with me. It was a pleasure in every way but digitally.  

It was my pleasure, Ken! Your book was a rich read, from your reminiscence about the early days of IANDS to your musings about the future of our planet and humanity. And, of course, your sense of humor and your Renaissance-man knowledge of literary and other figures only contributed to the experience. I believe that others will find it as enriching a read as I did. And best wishes grappling with those irritatingly persistent health challenges! 

April 6, 2023

Contra Reincarnation: Part II

Summer, 1976, our nation’s bicentennial. I am sitting outside my house, enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face, reading through a new journal on psychical research. I come across a review of a new book. Reading that review will cause an upheaval in my life. It will never be the same.

It's a review of a recently published book put out by a little Georgia publishing house of which I have never heard. The book reviewed is by a young psychiatrist named Raymond Moody, Jr.  It is called Life After Life. The review is by someone I also don’t know. His name is Michael Grosso. He will also change my life.

After I began my work on NDEs and helped to found IANDS, the International Association for Near-Death Studies, I made contact with Michael. I actually don’t remember how or when we met, and he had only a peripheral relationship to IANDS, but not to me, as it turned out. He would soon become one of my best and most valued friends.

At that time, he was a professor teaching at a college in New Jersey, but often came to New York where I would meet him. I had to be in New York in those days to meet with my publisher and my other New York friends, and Michael had his own reasons to visit the city frequently.

Michael had received his Ph.D. at Columbia in philosophy, but he had wide-ranging humanistic interests. He was a deep student of psychical research, he was a painter, he played the flute, and he was an exceptionally gifted writer and wonderful conversationalist. I have since read quite a few of his books, and always admired his stylish writing and envied his impressive erudition. I have joked that if I were ever to reincarnate, I would like to come back as Michael Grosso. I just loved the guy.

But apart from our shared interests in psychical research and near-death studies, we had a warm personal connection, too, talking about our amatory life (I learned the word, “amatory” from him, too) with our various girlfriends in those years. Michael was a very handsome man then and it was easy to see why he would be so attractive to women, but not just because of his looks. He was witty, charming and soigné.

Although he was a few years younger than me, he seemed like an older and wiser brother, even a kind of mentor. For example, even though my father was an artist, he disappeared from my life when I was about six years old, and I obviously had inherited none of my father’s genes. I really knew nothing about art. So Michael would take me to museums, such as the Metropolitan, though we might also have gone together to the Frick, which was my favorite museum (as it is for many), which I visited many times when I lived back east. So Michael would try to tutor me; he was effectively my personal docent.  

I learned a lot from him in the years we were able to pal out together. And we stayed in touch for a long time. However, after I left for California in 1996, we gradually lost touch with each other. Eventually, I learned that he had moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, so that he could become affiliated with the University of Virginia’s Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS), which is a code name for psychical research, near-death studies and work on reincarnation. It was headed for a long time by Ian Stevenson and after Stevenson retired, by Bruce Greyson. And in time, Michael and I re-established contact with each other, though by now we could only do so through e-mail.

But we had a lot to catch up on, reading each other’s books and learning about what had happened in each of our personal and professional lives during the years that had intervened since we had last seen each other. I was really happy to be in touch with him again and regretted that it had taken so long. 

One of his books that Michael recently sent to me floored me. It was called Yoga of Sound: The Life and Teaching of the Celestial Songman, Swami Nada Brahmananda. It is just an amazing, mesmerizing tale, and is capped by a long discursive chapter on transcendental music that shows off Michael’s flair for vivid, captivating writing. I was just “wowed” by his book, and tried to express my enthusiasm for it in a blurb I was happy to write for it, which I will reproduce here:

Many years ago, G. I. Gurdjieff published a book called Meetings with Remarkable Men. In Yoga of Sound, Michael Grosso introduces us to one of the most remarkable men of our own time, Swami Nada Brahmananda, who lived in perfect health to the age of 97, rarely needing to sleep for more than an hour or two, who didn’t dream (confirmed by scientists) and who, apparently, didn’t have much use for thinking (it makes one dull, he said). This swami, shunning honors or fame, lived to teach others, including the author, the transcendental power of music and made his own body itself a musical instrument and a channel through which the divine could sing. Yoga of Sound is itself a remarkable book and deserves to be included among such classics as Autobiography of a Yogi, Ram Dass’s Be Here Now, and the books of Carlos Castañeda. In short, stunning, mind-blowing and a marvel of the miraculous.

But this blog is not really about Michael’s books. All this prefatory material was really just to give you a sense of Michael and my personal connection to him. However, what it really means to be about is Michael’s views on reincarnation, so let me now turn to that subject.

During the time I was incubating my own blog about why I was opposed to reincarnation, I happened to mention to Michael that I was planning to write a blog about it. I was not prepared for his response.

What he sent me was a blog he had just written, not only on the subject of reincarnation, but with exactly the same point of view that I was prepared to argue in my blog.  

Neither Michael nor I have ever discussed reincarnation since we had been back in touch with each other. What is the antecedent probability that the two of us would be writing on the same subject, with the same point of view, at virtually the same time?   

Anyway, when I recovered from my stupefaction at this astonishing coincidence, I asked Michael if he would be kind enough to allow me to use his blog in one of mine, and he consented. I have reproduced it below. You will find that it comes with a bit of a sting, an edge. I try to leaven my blogs with a pinch of humor, but Michael lets you have it between the eyes. Read on, reader.

Why I Prefer Not To Be Reincarnated

I have sometimes met people who embrace the idea of reincarnation with enthusiasm. Moreover, it’s fair to note that the research of psychiatrists like Ian Stevenson and Jim Tucker, and others, do make a case for the reality of reincarnation. It may not be altogether compelling evidence, but, as Stevenson said, it is suggestive, often strongly so.
Equally suggestive, and often strongly so, is the evidence from the near-death experience and deathbed visions; from mediumship, apparitions of the deceased, ghosts and hauntings, and in some types of poltergeist case. In these forms of evidence, the surviving consciousness carries on in some kind of afterworld and is continuous with one’s earthly personality.  
The continuity of consciousness, which certifies who and what we are, is shattered by being reincarnated. My inner self is inserted into a new body and my memories will be buried under the new memory deposits of a new little person in a new body. Suppose I am the reincarnation of somebody who died and whose soul became the basis of my soul. Unfortunately, I’m totally clueless about this. As far as I can make out, the soul and consciousness of my predecessor is extinct. So I’m not sure what’s to be enthusiastic about. What is the difference between there being no life after death and being reincarnated? In other words, smothered out of existence by another person.  
I can, however, see why reincarnation might appeal to some people. Christians are taught to believe that after death bad people go to hell and suffer ineffable torture forever. Such cruel doctrines might turn a few people off. It’s easier to embrace the idea that a very bad person (I can think of a few) could reincarnate in a rat or a wild dog. Even the worst of us would at least have a chance to try to work our way back up the ladder of evolution
I see the attraction of believing we have plenty of time to carry on the adventure of our evolution. We need time to become enlightened beings. It might take eons for some us to finally achieve enlightenment. But better late than never. The tone of this scenario is a whole lot gentler than having one life shot at heaven or hell. But there’s a problem.
There is no evidence whatsoever that our species, or even some segments of the human population, are in any way uniformly evolving toward enlightenment. There have been high moments and great principles declared and sometimes lived in human history. But who really lives by the Golden Rule? Or by any of the high ideals proclaimed by our spiritual geniuses? Look around the world today. There is every reason to believe the same proportions of good, great, average, and outstandingly vile human beings are exactly the same today as they were in any epoch of human history. You would think that if the dead keep coming back, presumably learning something along the way, by now we might see some signs of collective advance. 

On the contrary, what we see is a humanity that created a climate crisis that promises to bring world civilization down, while destroying a million species of living creatures. While all of this is beginning to happen, the great powers are beefing up their world-destroying nuclear armaments, real wars are raging everywhere, while poverty, homelessness, and starvation are spreading all over the planet. I prefer not to be reincarnated on a planet being destroyed by the morally insane “leaders” of the world.   
Think of it this way. A man or a woman struggles to learn some skills in the art of living, some wisdom humbly garnered through a life of pains and challenges, some knowledge of the heart ripe for giving in a heartless world—and then dies.  Suppose such a person is reincarnated.  All that wealth of soul is forgotten, swallowed up in oblivion in some loveable baby who causes great joy when it is finally coaxed into saying da or, if he’s a genius, daddy, or mama, or possibly pooh pooh.  


So now there are three of us who are strongly against reincarnating – my webmaster, Kevin Williams, Michael Grosso, and me. Perhaps it’s too early to claim that we have started a kind of anti-reincarnation movement, but perhaps we have the beginnings of an anti-reincarnation club. If you would care to join us, just let me know.


To read Michael Grosso’s blogs and about his books, go to: consciousnessunbound.blogspot.com

To see his art, go to: paintingtheparanormal.com