June 14, 2023

At 87, Kenneth Ring, the Authority on Near-Death Experiences, is Ready to Die

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Vicki Larson is an author and has been an award-winning lifestyles editor, writer and columnist at the Marin Independent Journal since 2004. She has worked as an editor in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Walnut Creek, San Francisco, Napa and Miami.

ABOUT THE JOURNAL:  Established in 1861, the Marin Independent Journal is a daily newspaper covering Marin County in the Bay Area of Northern California.

The following is an article by Vicki Larson who is the Lifestyle Editor from the Marin Independent Journal.

1. At 87, Kenneth Ring, the Authority on Near-Death Experiences, is Ready to Die

By Vicki Larson

Kenneth Ring was in his mid-40s when he started to get interested in near-death experiences and the possibility of an afterlife. Death wasn’t something to fear, even his own.

Now 87, the preeminent authority on near-death experiences (NDE) still doesn’t fear death. In fact, the Kentfield resident welcomes it and with the publication of his latest book, “A Near-Death Researcher’s Notebook, What I Have Learned About Dying, Death, and the Afterlife,” hopes others will, too.

After decades of researching NDEs, you might think there was nothing new to discover. You’d be wrong. Ring talks of what’s called “terminal lucidity,” when someone suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s experiences an unexpected return of mental clarity and memory.

“The interesting thing is almost always in cases like this, that person is to die soon, often within a few hours,” he says. “It’s as if they awaken at the point when they’re about to make their transition and they’ve come to say goodbye. So people who are in this situation, if this was your grandmother who had this encounter, feel like they’ve been given a final gift. It leaves people kind of stunned and thrilled, and completely puzzled about how this can happen.”

It’s not a new phenomena and it’s relatively rare, but it’s finally being researched, he says.

And when Ring first started researching NDEs nearly a half century ago, many people who experienced it thought they were the only ones and often believed they were crazy, so they were reluctant to talk about it. That has changed as well.

2. New View of Death

“At the time that I was starting my research, this was very fringe-y and not well accepted by the medical profession, but now there’ been so much published about near-death experiences, hundreds if not thousands of articles written in the professional literature, so people are much more forthcoming about their near-death experiences these days than when I was starting out,” he says. “It’s given us a whole new view of death.”

Initially, research indicated that about one in three people who came close to death had a transcendental experience. After more decades of study, it’s more like one in six, he says. Still, it’s not an insignificant amount.

Ring first learned about NDE after reading Raymond Moody’s 1975 book ”Life After Life,” one of the first best-sellers on the subject, when it was newly published. It was life-changing. As a professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut, Ring thought the subject needed someone grounded in research to do a deeper dive into it instead of the approach by Moody, a philosopher and physician. So he took it on.

He interviewed 102 near-death survivors, which informed his ground-breaking 1980 book, “Life At Death: A Scientific Investigation of the Near-Death Experience,” which was followed by six other books on NDEs. In 1980, he co-founded the International Association of Near-Death Studies and served as its president for several years. He also is the founding editor of the Journal of Near-Death Studies.

What he learned was that those who had near-death experiences had some commonalities, no matter if they were in an accident, on the operating table, suffering from a heart attack or even a suicide attempt, and whether they were religious or not. They all experienced similar feelings, images and sensations, including a profound peace and well-being, feeling separate from their physical body and moving through darkness toward a radiant light. Some had to decide if they’d like to continue or return to their body. And they are fundamentally changed.

3. Something More

They also believe that there’s some sort of life after death.

So does Ring.

“If you study near-death experiences and talk to hundreds of people as I have, you can’t help but feel that there’s something more to look forward to after we die. It almost beggars imagination. I don’t think there are any words that can fully describe what that experience is. I don’t believe near-death experiences prove anything like (an afterlife), but if you look at the evidence and you look at the testimony of near-death experiencers, it’s pretty hard not to think that life is not a dead end, that life continues. So I’m definitely open to the idea of an afterlife. I think the evidence is very strong,” he says.

“I was never interested in trying to prove life after death. I wasn’t interested in life after death as an issue, particularly. I was interested in what people could learn from having near-death experiences and what it can teach other people,” he says.

He did that in his 2000 book “Lessons from the Light: What We Can Learn from the NDE,” which has proven to be his most popular book and that Jenny Wade, a developmental psychologist, calls “a practical guide that motivates through its sheer heart-gripping beauty.”

And it’s helped shape his view on death, especially since he’s been living with spinal stenosis for the past six years that has recently gotten worse.

“You learn from talking to people who’ve had NDEs who almost universally attest that they are not afraid of death. You absorb something of their attitude and values toward life. So the result of all my studies and my personal experiences, yeah, I’m not afraid of death. I’m not looking forward to the dying part — I don’t want to suggest that that isn’t painful and difficult for many people. I don’t mean to dismiss that. Once you cross that threshold, it is such a positive experience.”

4. Teaching Moment

Ring’s latest book doesn’t just address NDEs. He also also tackles issues such as the ethics of the right-to-die movement, the epidemic of loneliness many Americans are experiencing, how COVID interfered with people’s abilities to be with love ones in their final hours — “I though that was one of the cruelest blows of COVID” — and the potential of using psychedelics to ally fears about death, as Michael Pollan has extensively written about.

Ultimately, his goal in all his books is to help people learn from people’s near-death experiences, especially since not everyone experiences it. It’s less about death and more about how to live, and how a “life review” allows us to see how our words, actions and behaviors impact others and the karmic justice that results.

“If everything that you do you basically get back, every good action that you do, every kindness that you express, you begin to experience that in the life review. And the things that you do that are nasty, you experience that as well. It’s not judgment, you’re not being condemned, you simply see them for what they are. You learn from them,” he says

In an interview with the New York Times in 1988, Ring, then in his 50s, shared he was not only not afraid to die, but that he was actually looking forward to it — but not too soon, he was quick to add.

Now that he’s in his late 80s, he’s still looking forward to it.

“I can barely wait.”

June 11, 2023

What Mark Twain Didn’t Say, But I Do

Ken, I’m hearing that you’re dead, died a week ago, in fact.

Would you let me know? You can easily contact me dead or alive.

You will get my “Away” message on email because I’m out of town, but I’m using my phone to access email.

If you are dead, you know that I love you. 
If you are alive, you know that I love you.

Guess I must love you, huh? — Kim

I received this quite shocking message the other day from an old friend and one of my favorite NDErs, Kim Clark Sharp.

I can’t find my reply, but I know I alluded to an apocryphal quote attributed to Mark Twain who was alleged to have said, but never did, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” In my case, they were at least premature.

But it seems that these rumors, like myself, refuse to die because only a few days later, my friend and fellow NDE researcher, Jeff Janssen, sent me an item about me that he found on ChatGPT, which indicated that I had actually died in 2021, which was news to me. (However, I knew that the first iteration of ChatGPT had actually ended in September of that year.)

Still, this was a bit unsettling because in fact I was already having some intimations from my chronically ailing body that my time might be running out. After all, I am now about to turn the corner toward 88, but I have no confidence or even wish that I will reach the end of the block to my double eights.  

Consider: I grew up with three male cousins. Two of them already died around the age of 80, and my remaining cousin is now 83 (and will probably live into his 90s since his dad – not a biological uncle to me, however – lived to 99). I’ve already outlived all the male members of the maternal side of my family (I know virtually nothing about my father’s relatives, but my dad died at 41). My mother lived until she reached the age 88. So, realistically, and perhaps actuarially, how much longer can I expect to live?

I am not going to burden you with a recitation of my bodily troubles. I have no interest in striving to become Ken, the Kvetching King. I have alluded to them in some of my blogs already. Suffice it to say, they are just getting worse, and life has become more difficult for me in recent months. Even now, my eyes smart when I use my computer. (I will be trying some special fit-over glasses to reduce blue light, but I am not hopeful that this will solve my visual problems.) Well, Scott Peck told us long ago in the first sentence of his best-selling book, The Road Less Traveled, that “life is difficult.” Indeed, especially for old duffers like me. If Hitler hadn’t already used the title for his book, my motto might well be, mein kampt.  

I actually don’t read German, but I know there is a cumbersome German word for what I’m experiencing these days: lebensmüdigkeit, which I believe translates into something like “weariness of life.” It is one step down from the more familiar “weltschmerz.” 

One of the signs of my coming end-times is more difficulty in reading my books. It’s not just that reading text is often more difficult for me, but that after I eat lunch, I can drowse for hours while trying to read. Well, babes sleep a lot after they are born and old men do, too, before we are born again into another kind of life.

Recently, I had wanted to write a new blog about the wonder – and the peril – of trees. I had read an article called “What We Owe Our Trees” by the Harvard historian, Jill Lepore, who also is a staff writer for The New Yorker, that had rekindled my interest in this topic. Since she referred to a number of books that I had already read and was currently trying to read, I was eager to try my hand (actually, both of my remaining hands) to craft my own blog on the subject. But I quickly and regretfully realized that I would only wind up mostly paraphrasing Jill’s article while adding only a few literary flourishes of my own. What was the point when she writes so much better and far more knowledgeably than me?

Instead, I will just encourage those of you who think you might want to read up on this subject to consult Jill’s article, which you can find on this link:

You might also want to read Peter Wohlleben’s wonderful little book, The Hidden Life of Trees, and if you’re really ambitious, you could get ahold of a copy of Richard Powers intricately plotted novel about trees called The Overstory. Powers is one of the most extraordinarily gifted writers of our time, who apparently knows everything about everything. His books are jaw-dropping, mind-bending wonders.

But reflecting on all this and having already written my last book on NDEs, A Near-Death Researcher’s Notebook, this year, which actually sold a lot better than I had supposed, it occurred to me that maybe it was time to bring my blogging life to an end as well. So this is also to let you know that Ken Ring is about the ring down the curtain on the Ringdom. As I know I have said before (it is one of the afflictions of old age that one repeats things one has already said) that I am running not only out of time but out of ideas to write about. A caveat, however:  I am not saying that I absolutely will never write a blog again. Only that I at this point, I have no plans to do so.  That’s why if you should wander by the Ringdom any time soon, you will just see a sign saying “Gone fishing.”  

I remember when I first started writing these blogs when I was in my early eighties. My first blog began with these imperishable words: “What’s it like, waiting to die? Of course, it’s different for everyone. I can only say what it’s like for me. On the whole, it’s rather boring.”

Well, that was then. At that time, as you might recall, I indulged a conceit, joking that it was my hope to reach the age of 1000 -- months, and then check out. Well, I have long shot past that marker, and am about to reach 1050 months of age. Now, I am just impatient “to go home.” After all, writing has been my life and, in recent years, my salvation. What will I do with myself if I can no longer write? Sure, even if it becomes harder to read, I can watch tennis, but that is scarcely a raison d’être for living. Solitaire, anyone? 

But, rest assured, I will find something to do even if it is only to watch the clouds roll by when sitting out on my patio. And lest you misconstrue things, I want also to reassure you that, except for the occasional bad day or scare about my latest somatic inkling of ultimate doom, I am not depressed. I’m actually happy most of the time and still grateful, despite everything, to be here. After all, I’ve had a good run, and have had and continue to have, many blessings in my life including of course the love and devotion of my children, the loving care of Lauren, my longtime girlfriend, and the love of the friends who still remain in my life.

And, to be sure, I’m grateful to those of you who have been reading my blogs all these years and especially to many of you who have taken trouble to write to me. I hope you’ve been at least occasionally amused by my musings and otherwise entertained, perhaps even edified, once or twice, by what you’ve encountered in my blogs. Feel free to stay in touch, if you like. At least I can still do e-mail. As the Chinese say, non ti scordar di me.   

I know I’ve also said in this somewhere, in one of my books perhaps: A famous general of my time, in giving his farewell address, said “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” So do old NDE researchers.

But not quite yet, however. I promised my old and dear friend, PMH Atwater, a veteran NDE author many of whose books I have in my library and whom I’ve known for the last 45 years, that I would read her just recently published autobiography, Edge Walker, before I become a posthumous author myself. I’ve just opened the package containing her new book to find it inscribed with a very loving dedication to me. Of course, the font is small, which will be a trial for my poor eyes, but I will persevere, dear Phyllis, don’t worry. A promise is a promise, and unlike my wedding vows, this is one I mean to keep.

June 4, 2023

The Sporting Life

As I have been moving ever closer to my dotage and growing used to my decreasing mobility which causes some of my neighbors to mistake me for a tree whenever they see me loitering outside, seemingly attempting to implant myself in the soil around my house, I have come to entertain myself by watching various sporting events on TV. After all, if life has become a spectator sport for me, why shouldn’t I indulge myself in the sports I loved and played in my youth – baseball, golf and especially tennis. Some of you might remember that for so many years until his retirement, I was an ardent Fedhead – that is, an avid follower of the great Roger Federer and would live and die watching him win thrilling tournaments and lose some heartbreaking ones.  

But watching sports has been mostly a lonely passion for me. Most of my remaining friends aren’t interested in sports, and although a couple of my kids sometimes follow golf or baseball, their involvement is nothing like mine. After all, they are busy and still have a life whereas I can only remember when I had one.

Nevertheless, although my girlfriend Lauren will sometimes watch tennis with me, she is easily distracted and will often wander off just at a crucial turning point in a game or tennis match. But when she’s not here, and I have watched something memorable or thrilling or terrible, I cannot restrain myself: I have to write her about what I’ve just witnessed.  

When I was a kid, I dreamt about being a sports journalist. And now, I seem to have become one, even though so far I have a very small readership, namely one, my long-suffering girlfriend.

But no more! I have decided to branch out. I want to include you among my followers, if you’re willing. Even if you’re not interested in sports, you might find some of my ravings entertaining. Anyway, I invite you to read on and let me know what you think.

I’ll begin with a note I sent to Lauren after the conclusion of a major golf tournament I spent one weekend recently watching….

Since I have to sit here for a while, I’ll just take the time to tell you a heartwarming story from yesterday’s golf tournament.

An old professional golf instructor from Southern California was eligible to play in this tournament. His name was Michael Block, and he’s 46 years old. In seven previous tournaments, he never made the cut. But the first day, to everyone’s surprise he finished with even par, 70. Quite an achievement as he was only a few strokes behind the leaders. And the next day, he did it again — finished with another 70. He was beginning to attract attention.  

The next day featured relentless rain almost all day, and most of the golfers struggled to make a good score in it. Most everyone failed. But not Michael — he shot a third straight 70, even in these miserable conditions. He was becoming the darling of the tournament. Everybody was talking about him now and not just the guys in the lead. Could he continue to astound?

The day dawned sunny and bright for the final round, but Michael bogied the first hole, just barely missing his putt. But he soon made a birdie and was even par again. He eventually was two over par when he came to the 13th hole (I think it was) when he made a hole in one! It was the only hole in one in the tournament. The fans went huts! He came to the last hole one over par. But if he could par the final hole, he would earn a special exemption that would allow him to play in next year’s PGA and other important tournaments.

In golf, it is traditional that all the fans gather around the 18th fairway as the final players approach the last hole. I watched him as he strolled toward the green, listening to the adulation of thousands of fans, cheering him and calling his name. Consider this: He had worked all these years in total obscurity; no one had heard of him. What a moment! Can you imagine how he felt taking that walk?

Still, he had work to do; he couldn’t allow himself to be distracted by the tumult around him or undone by his own emotions.

Nevertheless, he messed up, and his approach shot was way off the green. It looked hopeless. But he made an amazing shot to reach the green and had a 6-foot putt to make in order to par the hole.

Could he do it? The enormous crowd grew quiet as he hovered over the ball.   

The ball rolled gently toward the hole and had just enough energy left to topple into the cup. He had done it!

The crowd erupted! Michael bent over to retrieve the ball, overcome with emotion. He then ran into the crowd, found his wife (surrounded by his kids) and they joyfully embraced. He was crying. So were all of us.

He later said that this had been the greatest day of his life.  

This is why we watch golf.


Then just today – I’m writing this on May 31st – I was watching some tennis matches at the French Open, which is played on a clay surface. The great Rafael Nadal has “owned” this tournament for years – he is called the King of Clay -- having won it an astounding fourteen times, but this year he was injured and couldn’t compete, leaving the field wide open for somebody else for a change.  

The two matches I saw today were unforgettable. Read on and you’ll see why.  

Here’s the write-up of the first one I sent to Lauren shortly after it concluded. I entitled it “A Shocker at Rolland Garros” (the tournament is named after a French pilot).

Ever hear of a 23-year-old Brazilian player with the improbable but memorable name of Thiago Seyboth Wild?  

Of course not; nobody has. And in tennis he is a nobody, ranked #172 in the world. Eight times he’s tried to quality for a major tournament; failed every time. Finally, he gets into the first round at Roland Garros. And who is his opponent? Medvedev, the 2nd ranked player in the world and one of the co-favorites to win the tournament.

I was still sleeping when the match started, but when I checked the scores, I found that the Brazilian had actually won the first set in a tie-break, but lost the second in another tie-break, and then the third set, 6-2, so it looked as if that would be the end of the line for him. But not so fast, Sherlock.

I saw he was actually up 3-0 in the fourth set. What? I was still in my bathrobe, not even having had the time to take a shower, but I put everything on hold to check out the match.

Thiago, as I will now call him, was soon broken, so they were back on serve, so, again, I thought that would be it for him, but no! He broke back and went on to win the set, 6-3 — to the cheers of the crowd. So it would come down to the fifth and final set.

And it started great for Thiago; he broke Medvedev again in the first game. But soon Medvedev had broken back to knot the set at 2-all. But each player kept losing his serve (there would be five breaks of serve in this set). Finally, Thiago broke again and now was serving for the match!

He won the first three points and was on the cusp of triumph, but then lost the next two. The next rally was exciting and he made some tremendous shots, and finally — finally (after well more than 4 hours) — he prevailed! Wow!

Of course, the crowd went nuts.

Afterward in the interview with him, I learned this. He had actually begun to cramp in the second set when he had a lead in the tie-break (and had set point) but then lost. And lost badly in the third set before storming back to win. He had never beaten a top ten player or played a five set match in his life, much less at the center court at Roland Garros before a huge crowd.  

He’s very personable, too, speaks perfect English, is handsome and not that tall — a charmer. If he keeps this up, he will become the Michael Block of Roland Garros.


But thrilling as that match was, the best was still to come – the featured night match. After it was over and I had recovered from the enormous emotion that it had engendered, I couldn’t wait to write Lauren about it: 

OMG, I just finished watching one of the most incredible and improbable comebacks of all times. Listen up.  

First, the back story. Gael Monfils, a Black French tennis player, has long been one of the most entertaining, colorful and beloved of all French players. He has always been a great fan favorite, and for many years. But now he’s old, 36, and in recent years, he always runs out of breath and pants as a match goes on. His legs, like mine, just ain’t what they used to be. And during the last year, it’s been even worse for him. He had to take off almost the entire year because of a foot injury and when he returned, he didn’t win a single match, even when not playing in the top circuit. I think he lost 8 in a row, and his ranking slipped all the way down to 394 whereas he had been close to a top ten player for many years and even at Roland Garros had been a semi-finalist. I think it was because of that and because he is so beloved, that he was allowed to play in this tournament. And even was the showcase attraction for the night session, an honor, which just concluded. His opponent was a young rising star from Argentina named Baez. The match was supposed to be kind of a farewell appearance for Monfils.

But he really wanted to play tonight for a special reason. He and his wife, another tennis player who had won her match earlier, just had a baby daughter, their first child, who was in the stands. Monfils, as a newly minted father, really wanted to play for her, as he said afterward.

As expected, he lost the first set, 6-3, but somehow managed to win the second by the same score. I wasn’t watching, but decided watch the third set. It went back and forth and Monfils was already laboring, but by a miracle, he pulled ahead at the end and managed to hold both his nerve and his serve, and won the set, 7-5, to a cheering and ecstatic crowd.  

But by now he was clearly spent, and obviously out of gas. Everyone figured the match was over, especially when his opponent won the fourth set easily, 6-1. I wasn’t watching anymore, but saw that his opponent was sweeping to victory in the final set and was up, I believe, 4-0, when I checked on the Internet. Clearly, Monfils was done. I went back to doing e-mail.

But when I checked again, he had managed to claw back, and was now behind 4-5, with his opponent serving for the match.

I decided I had better watch. And by the time I was, Monfils had somehow managed to break Baez’s serve, and now it was 5-5. Incredible. But Monfils was in trouble. He could hardly stand. He was limping and in obvious pain. Despite his injury, he — by some miracle —  was able to hold his serve. It was now 6-5, with the other guy serving. 

By now, Monfils was just hobbling around. He took extra time and was penalized for it. The game went back and forth, and finally it looked as if it was headed for a 10-point tie-break that Monfiis would not be able to withstand. But he drew on his reserves to get to match point. The crowd was screaming. Nevertheless, he lost the next point, and it was deuce again. But he won the next point to get to a second match point. He was about to lose the next rally, but by an act of God, he made a passing shot down the line to win — game, set, match. It was over.

A great broad smile broke across his glistening face, as he raised his hands in victory to thunderous applause. After his shook this opponent’s hand, he collapsed on the court and sobbed uncontrollably, as I’m sure many of the crowd did.

It was probably the greatest and most improbable comeback in this tournament’s history. And so deeply moving. A match for the ages.

Today started with the Medvedev upset by that young Brazilian and ended with the old Frenchman coming back from the dead for one last hurrah. In a couple of days, Monfils will play that Danish brat [his name is Holger Rune], now one of the favorites to win the tournament, and Monfils will surely lose. But what he did today will never be forgotten by French fans and all those who have followed and loved Gael Monfils all these years.


This is why Ken watches sports. A boy always needs heroes to look up to. So does an old man who can still thrill when he is a witness to other old (and sometimes very young) men who defy the odds to perform miracles while large crowds cheer and weep with joy.