January 25, 2024

What You Can Expect to Experience When You Die: Revelations from Some Extraordinary NDErs

“And death, which alike levels all, alike impresses all with a last revelation, 
which only an author from the dead could adequately tell.” 

[Author’s Advisory: This blog is very long, but to get the most out of it, I strongly suggest that you try to read it at one sitting when you will not be interrupted.]

Actually, it’s misleading to suggest that anyone can tell you what you will experience when you die. Despite the title of this blog, I would never be so presumptuous. But what I can tell you is what some remarkable NDErs have to say about what they experienced once they passed through the portals into the house of death. As you read their accounts, I think you will agree that their revelations are so astonishingly mind-blowing as to leave you speechless with wonder. Be prepared vicariously to enter into a world that is utterly beyond anything you have known on earth. If you can absorb this, I can virtually guarantee it will stun you to learn what may await you – if you are as lucky as some of the people whose experiences you will be reading about shortly.

In writing this narrative of what you can expect when you die, I will be drawing on the testimonies of a number of NDErs, most of whom I know personally, but my chief source will be a German woman named Anke Evertz, the author of a remarkable book entitled Nine Days of Eternity. You will learn a great deal about her story as we proceed. Also, there will be many quotes in this blog from these NDErs, some of them long extracts, for who is more qualified than they to play the role of Melville’s “authors from the dead?”

Now, with this preamble dispatched, let’s begin this long journey into the afterlife.

One of the first things that many people report when they suffer an event that brings about a near-death crisis is a very definite sense that they have left their physical body. Not only that, but they often report that they can see it from an outside perspective. This is what happened to Anke, as she relates in her book:
A feeling of detachment came over me and from that pivotal moment on, there were two of me, and I felt barely any connection to my physical body.

Suddenly, as if I’d been catapulted out of my body, I was able to see myself from the outside. One second, I was in my body and the next I’d become detached from it, although I was still fully conscious and alert … I was experiencing it all from a spot some six feet away from my body.
This experience soon led to a feeling of tremendous exhilaration, freedom and the thrill of being fully alive:
I felt no connection to my body whatsoever; it didn’t even feel like it belonged to me. It was as if my body itself was home to all the pain, sadness and heaviness of the past few years of my life, whereas I finally felt free of it all, unburdened at last. I couldn’t remember ever feeling so free and light. I was like a bird that’s’ spent its life in a tiny cage and has suddenly been set free … but all the time, l was feeling more alive than ever in my limitless, bodiless state.
Here, we have to pause to reflect on the meaning of Anke’s initial experience of being in a bodiless state. This aspect of NDEs often does not receive the consideration it deserves because of the emphasis that is usually given to what comes afterward.

But here’s the first thing you need to take in. You are not just your body. You exist in a dual form. There is your physical body, but you learn in an NDE that there is more to you than that. You also are a soul, or, if you prefer, a spirit, and indeed that is what you really are.

This is the first lesson you learn in an NDE.

And here things get complicated because of language, which will force us to take a brief detour from the journey that Anke has just embarked on.

Many people who have NDEs make a point of saying that words can never capture their experience. That it is, in essence, ineffable, something that eludes our ordinary language. Here we have to remember that our ordinary language is body-based. While in your body, you are limited in time and space and feel yourself to be separate from the world outside yourself. But when you are out of your body, you see that this is an illusion. When you are out of your body, you are boundless; you no longer live in time, but in eternity, which is not everlasting time, but timelessness itself. In your body-based consciousness, you can only speculate about the afterlife. When you are out of your body, you just know.

Not everyone who enters into death is aware of leaving their body in the way that Anke did. Some simply find that they have left time and entered eternity, as happened to one of my good friends named Joe Geraci who told me this:
It was a total immersion in light, brightness, warmth, peace, security. I did not have an out-of-body experience. I did not see my body or anyone about me. I just immediately went into this beautiful, bright light. It’s difficult to describe; as a matter of fact, it’s impossible to describe. Verbally, it cannot be expressed. It's something that becomes you and you become it. I could say, “I was the peace, I was love.” I was the brightness, it was part of me … You just know. You’re all-knowing – and everything is a part of you … It’s just so beautiful.

It was eternity. It’s like I was always there and I will always be there, and that my existence on earth was just a brief instant.
There is a lot to unpack here. To begin with, can you imagine what it must feel like to see your entire life as if it were just a brief flicker in time? But this is what Joe realized when he was able to view his life from the perspective of eternity. Joe also makes it clear that there was no way that mere words could ever convey his experience. When you exist in eternity, you are unbound from space and time and your body, but our ordinary language is constrained by and structured in a spatial and temporal framework. Only when you leave ordinary language at the door can you begin to appreciate the nature of eternity, your true home. Finally, though this is only implied by Joe’s account, you still retain your sense of personal identity, but what you are is so much more than the limited local self you call your ego.

Now we come to the most important thing I have to tell you about the afterlife. This will require a little background first.

Not to brag, but my book, Life at Death, which I published in 1980, is now regarded as the first major scientific investigation of NDEs. It followed directly from Raymond Moody’s groundbreaking book, Life After Life, which gave us the term, “the near-death experience.” In my book, I found quite a few instances, as had Moody, when a respondent indicated that he or she had been aware of a “Presence” or sometimes just “a voice.” But whatever it was, it was something that was able to communicate telepathically to the individual.  

At the time, I failed to appreciate just how important this Presence (as I shall call it from now on) was or just what it was. But I can tell you now that it holds the key to the mystery of the NDE. And in what follows, I will attempt to unlock the door to the afterlife. For this purpose, I will first draw on the experience of Anke and afterward on that of another NDEr I know very well.

Here, then, to begin with, is a long extract from Anke as she tries to describe her encounter with the Presence once she becomes aware of it:
‘Everything is OK, Anke.’ A soft, melodious voice carried through the room.

Startled, I turned in the direction that I thought the voice was coming from and saw a radiant figure smiling invitingly at me. It was as high as the ceiling and the light it emanated was so indescribably bright that I could barely make out a body. I stood spellbound beside the bed [clearly out of her body] for what felt like an eternity staring at the figure.

I’d never seen anything so beautiful. This figure made of soft celestial light had the power to change everything it touched…

The figure, the presence, was more than just light, and more than a spectrum of colors … I sensed that the figure was emanating a somewhat masculine energy. I immediately felt safe and protected because it felt as if he knew me.

‘All your questions will be answered …’ As the figure came closer still, I could feel myself being drawn into his luminous energy field.
I had the extraordinary sense that I was no longer bound by structure of material density. It was like an inner liberation, and I felt a happiness that I’d never experienced in my life. I felt completely safe embedded in this energy field, in this unlimited space bound by a great unconditional love … I felt freer and lighter and more alive than ever before. 

I could not only see this light but also feel it and experience it in all my senses. It felt limitless, as if it was coming from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. The light brought out in me overwhelming yet glorious feelings and sensations.
It's the light of a living, universal consciousness that pervades everything in existence. It makes you feel a complete, pure and unconditional love – none of the emotions we experience as human beings come close to it.

Other people are aware of speeding at a tremendous rate toward the golden light in which the Presence is to be found. This is the kind of experience that happened to a good friend of mine, who became one of the best known NDErs in the early days of my research. I would like to say that it was I who discovered Tom Sawyer (yes, that was his actual name – another story for another day), but it was really the other way around. Tom had discovered me by reading my first NDE book, Life at Death. After that, he made contact with me and came to visit me at “The Near-Death Hotel” in Connecticut. That visit changed both of our lives, and we remained good friends until Tom died several years ago.  

Here is what Tom told me about his experience of dying as he sped toward the light:
Then all this time, the speed is increasing … Gradually, you realize … you're going [at] least the speed of light. It might possibly be the speed of light or possibly even faster than the speed of light.

You do realize that you're going just so fast and you're covering vast, vast distances in just hundredths of a second …

And then gradually you realize that way, way off in the distance -- again, unmeasurable distance -- it appears that it might be the end of the tunnel. And all you can see is a white light … And again, remember that you are traveling at extreme speed. [But] this whole process only takes … [say] one minute and again emphasizing that you might have traveled to infinity, just an unlimited number of miles.

You then realize that you are coming to the end of this tunnel and that this light is not just a brilliance from whatever is at the end of the tunnel - it's an extremely brilliant light. It's pure white. It's just so brilliant. . .

And then, before you is this – excuse me [he pauses here] - is this most magnificent, just gorgeous, beautiful, bright, white or blue-white light [another pause]. It is so bright, it is brighter than a light that would immediately blind you, but this absolutely does not hurt your eyes at all … It is so bright, so brilliant, and so beautiful, but it doesn't hurt your eyes. And the next series of events take place - oh, within a millisecond, they take place -- more or less all at once, but of course in describing them I'll have to take them one at a time.

The next sensation is this wonderful, wonderful feeling of this light … It's almost like a person. It is not a person, but it is a being of some kind. It is a mass of energy. It doesn't have a character like you would describe another person, but it has a character in that it is more than just a thing. It is something to communicate to and acknowledge. And also in size, it just covers the entire vista before you. And it totally engulfs whatever the horizon might be….

Then the light immediately communicates to you … This communication is what you might call telepathic. It's absolutely instant, absolutely clear. It wouldn't even matter if a different language was being spoken … whatever you thought and attempted to speak, it would be instant and absolutely clear. There would never be a doubtful statement made.

The first thing you're told is, "Relax, everything is beautiful, everything is OK."
...You're immediately put at absolute ease. It's the most comfortable feeling that you could ever imagine. You have a feeling of absolute, pure love. It's the warmest feeling. [But] make sure you don't confuse it with warm in temperature, because there's no temperature involved. Whatever your senses would feel absolute perfect - if it's temperature, it's a perfect temperature. If it's either an exciting emotion or a placid emotion, it's just perfect and you feel this and you sense this. And it's so absolutely vivid and clear.
Then the thing is, the light communicates to you and for the first time in your life … is a feeling of true, pure love. It can't be compared to the love of your wife, the love of your children, or some people consider a very intense sexual experience as love and they consider [it] possibly the most beautiful moment in their life - and it couldn't even begin to compare. All of these wonderful, wonderful feelings combined could not possibly compare to the feeling, the true love. If you can imagine what pure love would be, this would be the feeling that you'd get from this brilliant white light.


What is this Presence? Raymond Moody called it “a being of light,” and I think that’s still a pretty good generic description of this Presence. But Tom is clear, and so is Anke, that it is not a person, and has never been one. Indeed, the Presence tells Anke: “I’m much more than you think. I’m not a person or an individual entity. I’m part of you … I’m connected to everything that makes you what you are.” What it appears to be is your True Self, which is how Anke sometimes refers to it, though most of the time she just calls it her “nameless teacher.”

What is most stunning to learn about this Presence whatever it be, is that it seems to be omniscient about you. It knows your innermost thoughts, it knows your history, not only from your present life, but has knowledge of the innumerable lives you have already lived. In the deepest and most undeniable sense, the Presence is who you really are.

Not only that, but as it conveys to Anke, it has always been with her.

But just here, we must pause again to clarify a confusion about language. Words like “always” and “never” are adverbs that relate to a temporal dimension of our embodied life. However, the Presence doesn’t live in time, but in eternity. So when he says he has always been with her, he is forced to use a linguistic expression out of convenience that is not accurate. 

Her nameless teacher has “always” been there throughout all of her lives. Some sample quotes:
“I’m always there.”

This light had always been by my side.

Just when I felt I’d identified a beginning and end of my current life, my teacher unveiled further glimpses of the countless other lives that I’d already lived, repeating with a smile, ‘I’m always there.’

In every one of my incredibly different lives, my teacher’s unmistakable golden light had been by my side. 
This is true for you, too. Each of us has a Presence, a being of light, that has “always” been with us throughout the eternity of our being. We are never alone and never without the Presence’s benevolent guidance. However, it can usually only manifest to us in conditions of bodily extremity, such as when we undergo a near-death crisis.

What follows are some of the teachings that Anke’s Presence conveys to her so that she can better understand the nature of reality from the standpoint of her life as an eternal being:
As soon as you think a thought, everything that it entails is thought into existence simultaneously. When a question arises, so do all its possible answers.

Time as we know it in the material world is completely absent – everything is happening right now and therefore all at once. We labor under the illusion that a past and future exist … The soul isn’t subject to space and time. 

Our soul stores all our experiences from previous lives, and it knows our higher purpose and path, our current life plan and its challenges – and the solution to those challenges – that come with it. 

I felt his infinite wisdom, his endless compassion, and all that I imagine goodness to be. But the most wonderful thing was the incredible love he had for me. I’d never felt so loved, and in such an unconditional, appreciative, and personal way.  

[He] began to teach me using the universal language of telepathy … He knew what I was thinking before I thought it, and the answers I received from him were often so extensive, complete and multilayered that understanding them pushed me to the edge of comprehension. 

The first thing he showed me was a review of my life to date. I was shown that even insignificant events had been a piece in a bigger picture and found that I could identify a deeper meaning behind incidents I’d long forgotten about.
Anke sees everything all at once [no time] as if projected on a large screen and experiences what she felt and thought during these scenes. There ensues a long discussion of her life review, and it’s clear that one has a life plan and a purpose, just as all of us do.

She is shown “scenes from the countless past lives that she [and her mother] had spent together. Sometimes her mother in this life is her brother in a past life, etc. Ditto for her father. She sees how they have all been connected … Indeed, all of the people in her life now were a part of this tapestry. “From this perspective, all these individuals were like the cast in the film of my life, in which I played a leading role.” 

Every situation we encounter in our lives … is in accordance with a higher purpose … Everything that happens is part of a perfectly formulated plan.


Tom Sawyer’s narrative tells us a very similar story:
The second most magnificent experience … is you realize that you are suddenly in communications with absolute, total knowledge. It's hard to describe … You can think of a question … and immediately know the answer to it. As simple as that. And it can be any question whatsoever. It can be on any subject. It can be on a subject that you don't know anything about, that you are not in the proper position even to understand and the light will give you the instantaneous correct answer and make you understand it. . .

Needless to say, I had many questions answered, many pieces of information given to me, some of which is very personal, some of which is religiously orientated … one of the religious-orientated questions was in regards to an afterlife and this was definitely answered through the experience itself … There's absolutely no question in my mind that the light is the answer. Upon entering that light … the atmosphere, the energy, it's total pure energy, it's total knowledge, it's total love, pure love everything about it is definitely the afterlife, if you will.
Tom concludes this account with a statement clearly implied by what he had already described; it is a recurrent motif in many NDE narratives:
As a result of that [experience], I have very little apprehension about dying my natural death … because if death is anything, anything at all like what I experienced, it's gotta be the most wonderful thing to look forward to, absolutely the most wonderful thing.

We come, finally, to the last of the revelations that Anke’s Presence is prepared to disclose to her. And when you learn what it is, you may be bowled over and stupefied or simply incredulous or possibly dismayed. But like a character in a Hermann Hesse novel, you are about to learn the secrets of this cosmic magician, who has been conducting this tour of the afterlife for Anke. But what Anke now experiences is how the Presence can change his form at will, and how the realities in the afterlife are created. And most astonishing of all, that she can do it, too. She again becomes aware of the Presence’s golden-yellow energy field, and then, for the first time, he shows himself as a human body:
Never had I gazed into such loving eyes; they made me feel as if they knew me inside out. Whole worlds were reflected in them – they were like a gateway to the universe and far beyond.

Then, with a slight movement of his fingers, the Presence transforms himself into a little boy, then with a snap of his fingers, we were in a beautiful garden. Then, he snapped his fingers, and a beguiling beautiful woman appeared … although the word “beautiful” barely begins to describe her. She wore a long dress bathed in light with a delicate golden belt. Countless sparking diamonds formed each strand of her long golden-blonde hair. But the most striking thing about her was the large sparkling diamond on her forehead, which shimmered in all colors.

The woman’s warm-hearted gaze expressed everything that we humans try to put a name to using terms like love, wisdom, and truth. All of this was united in her. “Let me show you reality,” I heard her say as our surroundings transformed once more … We were on a snowy mountain top.

“These are all reality,” Anke. Reality is a creative process that’s continually drawing on itself and creating itself anew in each moment. This continuous re-creation is a playful, curious and wholly conscious process …

The Presence returns and undergoes more transformations. He showed himself as Jesus, the Buddha, a Native American chief, a bear.

So to quote from a famous Beatles’ album, what we learn from “this magical mystery tour” is that the Presence which manifests as the Light and that exudes a LOVE that is beyond compare can appear in any form it wishes. And we can also now understand is that the afterlife is a mind-built world, ever-changing, and responsive to our own background, desires, interests and creative impulses.  

Another good example of the ability of the Presence to change forms at will in response to our character and background is provided by the late Mellen-Thomas Benedict, whom I first met in 1981. I would later write about him in my book, Lessons from the Light. Here is what he told me:
The Light kept changing into different figures, like Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, mandalas, archetypal images and signs. I asked the Light, “What is going on here? Please, Light, clarify yourself for me. I really want to know the reality of the situation.” I cannot really say the exact words, because it was sort of telepathy.

The Light responded. The information transferred to me was that your beliefs shape the kind of feedback you are getting before the Light. If you were a Buddhist or Catholic or Fundamentalist, you get a feedback loop of your own stuff. You have a chance to look at it and examine it, but most people do not. As the Light revealed itself to me, I became aware that what I was really seeing was our Higher Self matrix.

We all have a higher Self, or an oversoul part of our being. It revealed itself to me in its truest energy form. The only way I can really describe it is that the being of the higher Self is more like a conduit.
This helps us to understand that certain features in NDE accounts are not what they appear to be. For example, when people who have an NDE report meeting and being embraced by Jesus, it’s not what it seems. Instead, it’s the Presence that manifests in that form, a form that makes sense to the individual who experiences him in that way. I don’t think there has ever been an NDE in which Jesus identifies himself as such; people just intuitively identify the Presence as Jesus. He knows what moves our hearts.

Another example of how the Presence can transform itself into any one of a number of forms has just been brought to my attention by my webmaster, Kevin Williams. It concerns a very unusual case of multiple NDEs that all occurred at the same time. Here is a brief account that Kevin sent to me:
May Eulett was struck by lightning at the same time as her cousin and a friend. All of them appeared in each other’s NDE (a "group" NDE) and experienced the same thing with the exception of some aspects of their NDE. Here is an excerpt:
We saw that the sparkling lights were tiny, transparent bubbles that drifted in the air and sparkled on the grass. We realized that each tiny sparkle was a soul. To me, the valley appeared to be Heaven, but at the same time I knew that James and Rashad were seeing it differently. James saw it as the Gulf of Souls. Rashad saw it as Nirvana, and somehow we knew all this without speaking. The light began gathering at the far end of the valley, and slowly, out of the mist, a pure white being began to materialize. I saw an angel with a strong, bright face, but not like you’d usually imagine. She was closer to a strong, Viking Valkyrie. I knew she was the special angel that watches over the women of my family, and I perceived her name to be Hellena. James saw this same being as his late father, a career Naval officer, in a white dress uniform. Rashad perceived the being to be the Enlightened One, or Buddha.
Soon Anke learns how to create her own reality, as if by magic. She first tries to create a Christmas tree and was astonished to find that she could, just by imagining it.
A small, beautifully formed Christmas tree stood before me. It was the first thing that had come into my mind … I only had to think of a Christmas tree and there it was (as real as my teacher was). 

It was pure magic. One after another, a multicolored umbrella, a streetlamp, a pond with a rowboat and every animal imaginable all appeared. 

Her teacher says, “You create your own reality with your thoughts.”
Anke is not the only NDEr who has described the wonder of creating your own environment after you die. One of my very good friends is PMH Atwater, who has had three NDEs, and is a very popular author of many very worthwhile books on NDEs. Her latest book, Edge Walker, is her autobiography. In it, you will find this ebullient description of what she discovered during one of her NDEs. 
First, I decided to create and shape a house, a specific type of house. Exact details were fixed in my mind – seeing each part, noting proportions, readying myself to project to what seemed as if a definitive space in front of me. I then released that thought. I held true to my goal and there it was, the same house I had envisioned. I ran to it, at least it seemed as if I did. I kicked the foundation, opened and shut windows, stomped across the green floor of the front porch, fingered the brass doorknob, gave a slap to each of the three porch pillars.  As near as I could tell, this was the four-square white house with steeply pitched roof that I had envisioned. Right here. Right in front of me. Real! 

For something animate, I chose to create a large oak tree complete with huge gnarled roots, a canopy of limbs, leaves and birds and fliers of all types. Each detail was pictured in my mind, then I aimed for a particular spot some distance away. Presto! It happened! Not only was the tree beautiful, it was complete with individual leaves, textured bark, and insect holes. 

I proved it! A human such as myself could create from scratch. Thoughts are things!

On a binge of non-stop creation, cities took form, along with people, dogs, cats, trash cans, alleys, telephone poles, schools, books, pencils, cars, roads, lawns, birds, flowers, shrubbery, rain, suns, clouds, rivers. And everything moved on its own and had breath, noise, language. All manner of activity occurred aside and apart from anything I designed - then went about their own business according to their own pleasure and perception. 

And Jesus: I wanted so much to see him. I wanted to thank him for the role he played in history and the examples he gave for others to follow. His life and mastery of being had deeply affected me. Instantly he was there. No, there was no sense or need to bow down and worship him as if he were some kind of God figure. He was my elder brother whom I had not seen for a long, long time. The mood was joyous. We laughed and hugged. I expressed the thanks held deep within me.  

Our tour of the afterlife must end here, not because there isn’t much more to our lives after death, but because we cannot go further. You have to remember that NDErs like Anke, Joe, Tom, Mellen-Thomas and PMH have only entered the vestibule of the house of death after which they return to their time-bound physical bodies on earth.

We know there is more, that there must be more, and that eventually most of us will find ourselves having to reincarnate after having been shown what kind of life and challenges we need for our soul’s growth after which we find the mother whose womb awaits us. And then, down the chute we go into another life. Life after life.

January 16, 2024

The Revenge of the Orcas

Several years ago, I wrote a blog about orcas, who are often referred to as “killer whales, “although, confusingly, they are actually a species of large-bodied dolphins. They’re just whale-sized denizens of the ocean. In fact, they are the largest species of dolphins in the world. They can range in size from 23 to 32 feet and can weigh up to 6 tons!  

In my blog, I told a number of stories about how these orcas who appear to have a kind of telepathy had helped to rescue people whose boats had got into trouble or whose owners had become lost and disoriented in the fog. Typically, a group of orcas would suddenly appear and somehow “knew” where the owners of the boats lived and would escort them to their ports and safety. There was even an instance when a pod of orcas all at once stopped feeding and swam to a location where they found a woman who was drowning and saved her life. (It later turned out that the woman had attempted suicide.) Indeed, such stories are well known among marine biologists who have studied the behavior of orcas.

This is perhaps one of the most paradoxical things about killer whales. Despite the fact that they have been hunted down and savagely slaughtered by humans for many years, not only do they not respond in kind, but only with kindness itself. As the naturalist and ecologist Carl Safina, who has studied orcas extensively, remarks, “The fact is, killer whales seem capable of random acts of kindness.” However, I don’t think that’s quite accurate. Their acts of kindness are not random; they are targeted and deliberate. Furthermore, as deadly as these orcas can be in hunting down their prey, there has never been a recorded instance of orcas in the wild harming, much less killing, a human being.

But perhaps this is changing. Consider, for example, the following case that comes from a recent article in The New Yorker:
On the night of May 4th, the skipper Werner Schaufelberger was sailing the Swiss yacht Champagne toward a Spanish port town on the Strait of Gibraltar when he heard a loud rumble. His first thought was that the boat had hit something, but he quickly realized that the vessel was under assault—by a group of orcas. “The attacks were brutal,” Schaufelberger told the German magazine Yacht. Three orcas, the large black-and-white dolphins also known as killer whales, worked in tandem; a large orca rammed the boat from the side while two smaller ones gnawed at the rudder until it was destroyed and the yacht was taking on water. Schaufelberger radioed for help, and the Spanish Coast Guard sent a helicopter and rescue cruiser to collect the four people on board. None were injured. The only casualty was the Champagne itself, which sank while being towed toward land.
This not an isolated incident either. These attacks, which started in 2020, have continued and, if anything, have become more numerous as well as more vicious. The orcas involved in these deliberate assaults near the Strait of Gibraltar comprise a group about fifteen individuals who generally work as a team. They seem to have sunk three boats (and attacked others) in 2020, and according to the article in The New Yorker, 
The orcas have continued their disruptions—with encounters happening almost every day in May and June … One sailor said that the orcas had playfully thrashed his boat around “like a rag doll,” removed the rudders, and left him marooned for days.
A captain of a boat reported an original attack three years ago, and said that recently they had honed their strategy and had detached both of his ship’s rudders. In late October, several of these orcas spent more than an hour battering another yacht off the Moroccan coast. Eventually, the crew had to be rescued.

It is as if these orcas have become a kind of seafaring mafia, and as one wag put it, they are now engaged in orca-nized crime.

Why is this happening now? Why have the orcas, at least in this area, turned savage whereas before they seemed benevolently disposed toward humans and, as I said, were known to rescue them from perilous situations. But lately, they seem to be willfully and maliciously causing these dangerous and indeed life-threatening rampages. How come?

Various authors and lay persons have already proposed several theories, and there is not as yet any consensus on the matter, certainly not among experts. However, it is hard to avoid speculating on the matter, and what I will offer here is only my own hypothesis.

To begin with, it’s known that a particular adult female, dubbed White Gladis, was involved in many of these incidents, with others who were mostly juveniles. Some have suggested that White Gladis had been injured by a boat or by fishing equipment, and was attacking the vessels because she had learned to see them as a threat. That’s at least a plausible possibility.

But perhaps more telling is the fact that these Iberian orcas are critically endangered. It appears that there are only about forty of these orcas still alive. I don’t know how many have already died, but we can guess who is responsible for what is assuredly a sharp reduction in their ranks. 

Even when I was writing years ago about the orcas in the Pacific Northwest, it was already clear that their numbers were in precipitous decline owing to various factors, but certainly the toxicity of the oceans and the navy’s use of punishing sonar were among the main causes. And it is now well known, and I’ve written about this, too, that our oceans are full of crap, plastics, fishing nets, and all sorts of debris that are harmful to marine life. We human beings are very good at poisoning our environment, including the oceans. Now the alpha-predator of the planet, we also have a talent for extinguishing most varieties of megafauna, and the climate change crisis we are all experiencing will only accelerate that dreadful and lamentable trend. 

Orcas are very smart creatures. They have to live in the marine environment most of us only see from the surface. They can tell which way the sea winds are blowing and smell the rotten stench that is beginning to pervade their waters, to say nothing of the dangerous debris that they now must encounter and try to evade. And surely, being the savvy and telepathic animals that they are, they know who is responsible, so that when pleasure-loving yachtsmen, who may be oblivious to all the undersea dangers orcas have to confront daily, come with their boats, what can they expect? And who else can the orcas attack, anyway? So it’s easy to imagine the boat strikes as acts of defense by a group facing existential threat. In short, all this may well represent the revenge of the orcas. 

Although this is my own provisional interpretation, I am far from alone in suggesting it. And while this is a serious matter, regardless of its cause, it can also be the fodder for a kind of playful whimsey as the author of the article in The New Yorker points out: 
A world away from the Strait of Gibraltar, at the Minnesota State Fair, a crop-art contest got so many political-orca entries, one observer noted that “‘Let orcas eat the rich’ was literally an entire subgenre.” It was a tidal wave of cheeky projection: the orcas were comrades, applauded for a revolutionary uprising, striking a blow for climate justice one yacht at a time.
Still, until recently, such incidents have been rare, and so far as I know, they have been narrowly localized to the Iberian area. Nevertheless, they could signal a disturbing trend that we should be alert to monitor. After all, although no orcas in the wild have been known to kill human beings, several orcas kept in captivity and trained to perform at marine amusement parks have attacked their human trainers. One named Tilikum actually killed three people. When aroused and mistreated, they can turn deadly.

All the same, in the interest of balance, I have to mention that some marine biology experts have been warning against the dangers of anthromorphizing the behavior of orcas. No matter what may underlie the attacks, these experts aren’t buying the kind of interpretation I have proffered in this blog: “It is,” they write, “unfounded and potentially harmful to the animals to claim it is for revenge for past wrongs or to promote some other melodramatic storyline.”

And yet … As the author of The New Yorker article, concludes:  
Can you blame us, though? We love charismatic megafauna. And orcas, in particular, have rizz … Orcas occupy a sweet spot in terms of how humans see wildlife: they’re captivatingly alien, but the presence of trained orcas in film and amusement parks has taught us to think of them in relation to our own culture—often as a symbol for nature reacting to human overreach. When such creatures start ramming the boats associated with the rich, it’s natural to want to connect the dots.
Well, you know how I connect them. What about you?  Let me know….

January 9, 2024

NDE Videos from the Past and Present

Dear Friends,

Recently, an old friend with whom I did an informal TV show forty years ago got in touch and sent me the YouTube version of that old show. It’s very amusing, starting with a spilled tall glass of water and ending with a kiss. It also features me singing my near-death song, “I’m Out of My Body at Last.” But in between the fun and games, there’s a lot of serious talk about NDEs. So if you’d like to see what I looked and sounded like forty years ago, click on the video. It will take about a half hour.

Also, as a special bonus, I will offer something that those of you interested in NDEs will definitely want to watch. This one is just a nine minute recent video narrated by one of the most remarkable NDErs I have come across in recent years. I have just ordered her book, Nine Days of Eternity, which has been a best seller in Europe, and may want to blog about it once I’ve had a chance to read it. Her name is Anke Everitz and her story is fascinating. She was nearly burned to death, was put into a coma for nine days, and had a series of revelations during her NDE that were most remarkable. To get just a brief sampling of her story, click on the video:

I hope you’ll enjoy watching both videos and learning more about NDEs from doing so.

January 4, 2024

My Life as the Jack of Spades

Most nights, to end the day, I turn to the latest novel I’ve been reading, and when I finish my reading stint, I sometimes play a game or two of solitaire before heading toward bed. I usually win only about once in a dozen tries or so, but the partial reinforcement keeps me hooked. Unfortunately, in the game of life, I have had even worse luck, for there I have drawn the Jack of Spades as my calling card.

If you don’t know your playing cards, you may not appreciate the significance of that card. There are of course kings and queens, and all of them are shown with two eyes. But the Jack of Spades is one of the only two jacks with but a single eye showing, and that, alas, is how I look today. Ken as the Jack of Spades, and very definitely not the jack of all trades, as you will see.

So why I am now sporting this piratical eye patch, you ask. Well, the answer is as simple as it is distressing. For the last month or so, I had found it increasingly difficult to read my books and even to read articles on my iPad. I couldn’t figure out why, but then I remembered that in my right eye, which is effectively blind because of my glaucoma, I have long had what is called a “macular pucker,” which is sort of a winkle in one’s macula. It had been stable for years, but lately, it seems, it is starting to spread, and I believe I am now showing the first signs of macular degeneration. (I will find out when I consult my eye doctor in a couple of weeks.) Fortunately, my left eye whose vision isn’t that great, but is my only relatively “good” eye, does not seem to be affected, so like a man who has to rely on just one lung, as was the case for the Norwegian composer, Edvard Grieg, I will have to depend on a single eye. I have become the Cyclops of Kentfield.

I was born with a very rare ocular deformity whose incidence is only about 0.14% in the general population, which means it occurs in slightly more than one in a thousand births – my bad luck! This condition used to be called congenital nystagmus but that term has been replaced by infantile nystagmus since it is now known that it develops in the months after birth, and not at birth. What it signifies is a kind of uncontrollable eye wobble.

Nobody knew that I had this condition or such poor eyesight when I was a pre-schooler. According to what I was told, it wasn’t discovered until I was six years old. I think what might have clued people into my eye problems was the fact that, in order to stabilize my vision as much as possible, I had learned to turn my head to the left. According to what I learned when I was finally able to see an eye doctor, this movement would apparently help my fovea to attain its best possible vision, even though because of my extreme near-sightedness, it still wasn’t that good.

If you were to see photographs of me as a kid and teen-ager, you would see that instead of looking straight at the camera, I am often gazing off to my left. This caused me problems. I looked goofy. I also remember when at sixteen, when I went to get my driver’s license, the examiner thought I wasn’t paying attention to the road, and warned me, saying something like, “Kid, if you keep looking out the window instead of the windshield, you are never going to get your license.” In fact, I flunked that test and didn’t get my license until I was 17 – by faking it. By the time I was an adult, I had learned to control this condition enough to cease looking to my left, but by then the damage to my psyche had been done. My poor vision has been the bane of my life.

In school, I always had to sit as close to the front of the class because otherwise I couldn’t read what was on the blackboard. In math classes in junior high school, it was difficult for me to follow the proofs that the teacher was chalking up on the backboard. I had to learn to compensate in various ways.

I remember when I went to see my eye doctor when I was in junior high – a man that I always remembered because of his unfortunate name, Millard Gump – his telling me that it was very unusual for kids with my condition to do well in school. I would not let that stop me, no matter my lousy vision and the odd looks my appearance sometimes caused me to suffer. (“Hey, four eyes, whatcha looking at?”) Needless to say, the way I looked, combined with my general clumsiness (about which I will say more later), did not exactly make me any girl’s idea of a “dreamboat” once my gonads kicked in. 

(By the way, before I forget, I can’t resist interrupting this story of my troubled youth as a visual maladroit with a sidebar about the funny names of doctors I have consulted over the years of whom Millard Gump was the first. Eventually, there was my proctologist, Dr. Speer; and for twenty years, my urologist was Dr. Piser, who lacked only a second “s” to make it his name perfect; and, finally, my retinal specialist, Dr. Ai – I kid you not.)

Although I eventually learned to do well in school (and actually graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Berkeley), my life outside the classroom was marked by a decided lack of success. I don’t know if this had anything to do with my bad vision – I’ve always wondered – but I was never able to do the sorts of things that most boys do easily. When in grammar school it rained during gym periods, we had to go into the gym to dance. I remember my hands sweating because I could never dance – I had no sense of rhythm, much less grace in movement. Those periods were a torture and an embarrassment for me. When I was given a bike, I lost control of it and was nearly killed by a truck. I decided riding a bike was not a good idea and gave it up. I tried piano lessons, but seemed to be born with two left thumbs. I flunked out of cub scouts when I failed to figure out how to tie a knot. I remember an incident when I was playing with my friends in an empty lot near my house and at one point, we had to jump over a muddy swamp. I froze; I was afraid to do it. We sometimes walked on railroad tracks, but when I tried, I would always fall off. Roller skates? Forget it. Ice skating – I would never dare. And so on.

Even when playing sports like those I really enjoyed, such as baseball, I was a flop. I was always chosen last and placed in right field. I could do all right in softball, but not in hard ball. I was always afraid of being hit by a pitch and in a forerunner to little leagues, I compiled a miserable batting average of .207, though it did include one triple. When fly balls did come my way, I could never track them; you can’t catch what you can’t see.  

Not only was I a klutz about most physical things, but I had absolutely no mechanical ability whatever. When my mother re-married when I was ten years old, my stepfather turned out to be very good at all things mechanical and could fix anything. I tried to bond with him and show interest in what he was doing, but it was hopeless. I was no good at that sort of thing, and he soon saw it was a waste of time. And I was a menace, too. Once when my dad was doing some electrical work in the kitchen, I got a really strong shock that scared the hell out of me. I decided to stick to non-electrical books.

When I got into junior high school, we were obliged to take “shop.” That is, learn to work with tools. I was and have always remained afraid of tools other than a hammer or screwdriver. I never read the works of the historian Thomas Carlyle, but I have always resonated to what he said about tools, viz., machines are inherently aggressive. TouchĂ© Thomas. It was also in junior high that I had to confront the fact that, despite my biological father having been an artist, I could not for the life of me draw. I remember I got a D+ in art class, which was a gift. In high school, although I was an outstanding student, we had to pass a swimming test in order to graduate. I nearly flunked it, but managed to pass, thanks to the kindness of my instructor.

The list could go on, but you get the picture. Something was radically wrong with my brain and my body. It was stupid. The only thing I was good at was reading, writing and learning languages. 

I take that back. There were actually two things that occurred in junior high that finally came to my rescue and began to repair my very low self-esteem. I had been a somewhat pudgy kid when I was in grammar school, but before I went on to junior high, I had begun to shoot up in height and become slender. I also turned out to be fairly good looking after all. And best of all, I found that I could run. In fact, I became a track star and set school records for the 50 and 75 yard dashes, and also anchored the final lap of relay races, which I ran barefoot.  

I don’t have a good photograph of me in those years, but I do have one taken when I was ten and a half that will show you the kind of kid I was developing into.

Eric Hoffer was a longshoreman in California who could write. He wrote several wonderful books during the 1950s, which were very well thought of and which I read. It’s been many years, but I remember learning two things from him. One was that nature was pitiless and one must not romanticize it. The other was that, in his opinion, he had reached his peak at the age of 5 after which he began to decline. Likewise, I think I reached my peak in junior high – looking back at them now, they were my golden years.

The other important thing that occurred during that time that bolstered my woeful self-esteem was the interest taken in me by an English teacher, Evelyn Murray. She encouraged me to write; she thought I showed talent as a writer. She believed in me. We stayed in touch for several years afterward. What would I have become without her seeing something in me that no one else had noticed?

Well, as my life developed after that, especially in college and graduate school, I had more success, and not just in my studies. With women, too. I learned that I was attractive to women and have had many rewarding amorous relationships in my life. And that I could indeed write. I would never really become a scholar, but I did become a successful and respected author, particularly for my work on near-death experiences. And the father of three wonderful children of whom I am very proud.

I still had problems with my vision, however. I always sweated bullets before having to go for a renewal of my driver’s license because my vision remained poor. Indeed, for a period of seven years after I became a young professor, I drove without a license because I was so afraid of failing to pass the vision test. I finally succeeded, but it was always touch and go at the DMV. But eventually I drove across the country, back and forth, three times, and never had an accident. Kind of a miracle, eh? I had to give up driving at 86, and though I hated not being able to drive any longer, I was so relieved never to have to go back to the damn DMV.  

Actually, now that I think of it, I did have one experience when I was a young professor that finally gave me an idea of what it must be like to see well. When I was about thirty years old I decided to try using contact lenses. In those days, they were “hard” lenses, and, naturally, given my lack of dexterity, I found it difficult to insert them properly. I also didn’t like the way they felt – I was always conscious that I had something “foreign” in my eyes. But I could finally see amazingly well, so clearly. I was thrilled.  

Nevertheless, there came a day during the summer when I had to change a flat tire. Sweat poured into my eyes, and I had a terrible time completing my task. After that, I decided to go back to wearing glasses, and pitched the contacts. Never did go back to them.

Eventually, however, I did develop more serious eye problems. I started to have glaucoma at sixty, so I’ve had to deal with that and take thousands of eye drops for almost the last thirty years. I’ve had cataract surgery, too, and even worse, a partial corneal transplant, which was one of the worst and most traumatic ordeals of my life. And in recent years, my vision has continued to deteriorate so that it’s now harder for me to follow the ball watching tennis on my TV or see the news and sports commentators clearly (or hear them that well, for that matter). And, as I said at the outset, now in having to read, I’ve had to embrace my life as a one-eyed jack of no trades. I’m not worried that I will go blind – I hope that I will die before that happens and like Helen Keller who was convinced that she would see after she died, I believe I will finally see perfectly then. Can’t wait!

So that’s the story of my ocular and other misadventures in life, so far. It didn’t start well, and my poor vision was often my bĂȘte noire growing up, but just as people hoping for racial justice sing “We shall overcome sometime day,” I think I’ve managed to overcome my own visual struggles and a body that just isn’t good for much except for a few things that have made my life, and I hope the lives of others, worthwhile.