Opinion Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.
This column marks the fifth installment in a series exploring topics and research that provide new insights into the boundaries of established science, and part two of a package focused on the spiritual realm and near-death experiences.
By Adam Stone
It was August of 1994, the sun was shining, and Dr. Tony Cicoria was joyfully working the barbecue, enjoying some summer fun with about 25 family and friends at a pavilion his wife rented for a party at Sleepy Hollow Lake in the upstate New York town of Athens, about 30 miles south of Albany.
The veteran orthopedist, then 42 and a former college football player, excused himself to make a quick call on a public payphone at the front of a building to check on his elderly, widowed mother.
He hadn’t noticed a storm cloud already gathering above the lake.
Dr. Cicoria dialed his mom, and the phone rang about a half dozen times. No answer. He went to hang up the receiver. That’s when he heard it: CRACK!
A big flash of light struck his face, tossing him like a rag doll. The jolt of lightning stopped Dr. Cicoria’s heart, rendering the doctor essentially dead.
But he had a sensation of moving forward. He saw the phone dangling, his mother-in-law running toward him, his lifeless form on the ground, and, eventually, a nearby nurse performing CPR on the shell that had been his body.
He realized he was dead.
“I went from being in a physical form to being in a spiritual form,” the physician says in a video summary of his experience.
Dr. Cicoria could hear and see everyone, with complete control of his mind, in a state of expanded consciousness.
“But I realized at that moment that whoever I am, I always am, and there’s no such thing as death,” Dr. Cicoria recounts. “And my spirit, or whoever I was, is eternal.”
As a formless manifestation of himself, Dr. Cicoria said his consciousness traveled the pavilion. He went through the side of a wall, where he found his wife painting children’s faces at the party.
“And I remember taking a picture in my head of who was there, what kids were there, how the furniture was arranged and what order the kids were standing in,” the orthopedist explains in the video account of his experience. “And that became an important issue later on when we were comparing notes and I was able to say all these things that verified the fact that yeah, I did see it, and I was there.”
Dr. Cicoria, whose story has been profiled by The New York Times, The New Yorker, and PBS, among many others, said he learned how “we’re essentially two people.”
Our biological bodies, Dr. Cicoria concludes, are “nothing more than a costume over the top of who we are always.”
The medical practice where Dr. Cicoria previously worked, in Norwich, Ct., tried to connect me with him late Friday afternoon. I couldn’t reach him directly by press time but his well-documented story, personally narrated in various video accounts, was just too compelling not to share.
But amazingly, I haven’t yet touched on the most incredible aspect of Dr. Cicoria’s story.
We’ll get to that near the end.
Near-Death Experiences, known as NDEs, often involve a profound sense of peace, a tunnel-like passage, encounters with deceased loved ones, and a life review, offering people a glimpse into another realm.
Accounts of these experiences can be found across recorded history.
For example, an 18th-century book, “Anecdotes de Médecine,” by French military physician Pierre-Jean du Monchaux, provides a fascinating glimpse into an NDE from hundreds of years ago.
In the 1740 account, which was unearthed by an archaeologist less than a decade ago, the French doctor described a famous Parisian pharmacist who went unconscious and later revealed a profound sensation of being in heaven, animated by an intense, pure light.
And although reported near-death experiences date back to early recorded history, in ancient Greek and Roman texts, it’s probably safe to say the most famous, in a sense, is the biblical account of Lazarus resurrected by Jesus four days after his death, around the 1st century AD.
But as someone who is not committed to any organized religion, an appealing aspect of the near-death experience topic is how the conversation can be conducted outside or inside the boundaries of traditional theological dogma.
It’s possible, for instance, to consider the Lazarus story in the context of NDEs and within the framework of Christianity, or as just an early and relevant historical anecdote.
Irvington-based fitness instructor Laurie Goldsmith Sperandio, who had an NDE in 1978, put it this way to me two weeks ago: “I’m a practicing Jew,” the Westchester resident said, “but I know what I went through. It didn’t make me more or less religious, let’s put it that way.”
In my column last week about near-death experiences — a catchy term coined by Dr. Raymond Moody in his 1975 book “Life After Life” — I leaned heavy on some anecdotal evidence in the reporting, anchored by Sperandio’s story.
But this week, I wanted to take a deeper dive into the new scientific research itself, in plain English and in broad strokes.
Back to School
I connected with Dr. Sam Parnia, a renowned expert in the field, to get schooled on more of the basics.
Dr. Parnia is an associate professor of medicine and director of critical care and resuscitation research at NYU Langone Medical Center. He also runs the Parnia Lab, which conducts resuscitation research designed to increase survival rates for cardiac arrest patients.
The group’s data suggests that increasing oxygen flow during resuscitation can enhance cardiac arrest treatment. Researchers at the lab are studying medications such as magnesium sulfate and a combination of drugs to protect the brain from damage during cardiac arrest.
Meanwhile, the team’s NDE research findings have generated headlines across the globe over the past two weeks.
Here’s the deal in a nutshell: the new science confirms the authenticity of NDEs by identifying unique electrical brain markers associated with these experiences.
A study conducted in more than 25 hospitals in the United States and the United Kingdom and involving 567 patients was the most comprehensive examination ever of the human brain and consciousness during the transition from life to death through cardiac arrest resuscitation.
But don’t take my word for it. Check out Dr. Parnia’s online video summary of the research yourself.
The doctor stressed how the study reveals that the hyperconscious experiences reported by patients as they near death are real and entirely distinct from hallucinations or dreams.
Advanced brain monitors reviewed signs of lucid consciousness in patients who had experienced cardiac arrest, going through life-to-death, a process which is more like a light dimmer than a light switch. The patients were clinically dead for a period of time, as defined by science.
“The brain was flatlined, but eventually, at some point in 40 percent of them, we actually saw signs of lucid brain activity, which actually validates what people have said for years, that they’re having a real lucid experience as they’re going through life and death,” Dr. Parnia told me in our phone interview last week. “That’s the first thing that was important. We found basically a brain marker that validated millions of people’s testimonies.”
At this point in the game, if you’re specifically and unambiguously writing NDEs off as hallucinations, you’re just ignoring or unaware or misinterpreting the best available science.
But I did ask Dr. Parnia why the number isn’t higher than the already astounding 40 percent under the assumption it’s a universal experience.
“In many cases we couldn’t get read outs because of motion artifact,” he replied in a followup email exchange. “It was like trying to see through clouds. If the clouds do not clear, you don’t have visibility.”
Dr. Parnia also shared a video with me that helped encapsulate the science with a minute-long narration.
The Great Beyond
In short, when humans are on the verge of death, our brains experiences a unique phenomenon called disinhibition.
This leads to the activation of dormant brain areas and ultimately provides access to profound consciousness, memories, and emotions.
The purposeful moral assessment millions have described as part of their NDEs — the so-called “life review” — is distinct from random flashbacks.
“While no one knows the evolutionary purpose of this phenomenon, its occurrence suggests our consciousness and selfhood is not annihilated when we cross into the great beyond,” the video shared by Dr. Parnia explains.
Additionally, Dr. Parnia’s clinical study upends any notion that the brain always dies within minutes of oxygen deprivation, revealing its resilience even after prolonged periods.
“Consciousness, awareness and cognitive processes may occur during [cardiac arrest,]” the clinical paper, published in medical journal ‘Resuscitation’ on July 7, summarizes.
There are about 750,000 in-hospital and approximately 350,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests annually in the United States each year. Survival rates range from between just five and 20 percent overall; many who make it suffer in their remaining time with severe brain injuries.
I asked about the broader implications of his team’s findings for CPR and resuscitation science, which is Dr. Parnia’s expertise and passion.
“We need to find ways to give medications to people to save their brain and to allow us to restart the heart, because right now, the way that resuscitation is practiced is not very different to how it was in 1960 when it was first discovered,” he replied. “And that’s unfortunate, it’s a real shame, because everything else in medicine has moved forward, and this is still living in the past.”
But Dr. Parnia and his team are working on it. I did wonder why more progress hasn’t already been achieved in the medical community.
“Because people always thought that death is the end,” Dr. Parnia replied. “They thought that when your heart stopped, you couldn’t come back to life. And also they thought that your brain would be permanently damaged after five or ten minutes of oxygen deprivation when your heart stopped.”
As a result, “no one has really tried” to find optimal treatments to bring people back and save their brains, the doctor said.
“They thought it’s too late,” he explained.
Last week I also began reading Dr. Parnia’s book, “Erasing Death: The Science That is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death,” published in 2013.
The book opens with a startling anecdote.
In August 2009, Joe Tiralosi, a healthy 57-year-old driver, suffered cardiac arrest and was revived after being clinically dead. He didn’t have a pulse for 47 minutes.
That’s right. Not a typo. A whopping 47 minutes.
“It worked, they brought me back,” a tearful Tiralosi explains in an emotional YouTube video posted by NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.
Parnia’s colleagues, aware of his resuscitation science research, had summoned him at the time to debrief with Tiralosi.
The doctor met with the Brooklyn man and his wife in his hospital room a few days after he awoke from a coma.
“What gripped me is that [Tiralosi] recalled only one detail during the time his heart was not beating, but what he remembered affected him profoundly,” Parnia writes in the opening chapter of his book. “He said that he had encountered some sort of spiritual being, though nothing that had mass or a shape. He described encountering a luminous, loving, compassionate being that gave him a loving feeling and warmth.”
Tiralosi was no longer afraid of death.
Dr. Parnia’s current and future research is partially focused on novel treatments for brain preservation during critical situations like cardiac arrest.
By exploring a combination of various drugs and therapies, the goal is to not only resuscitate patients successfully but also to ensure they regain full consciousness without significant brain damage.
The impact of any breakthroughs in this department are obviously profound for end-of-life care, to say the least.
In short, Dr. Parnia envisions further research into the brain-consciousness-death relationship and innovative treatments to preserve the brain during cardiac arrest, aiming for successful resuscitation and minimal brain damage.
But the good doctor and his team are also digging deeper on the human mind and consciousness.
He hopes to conduct more extensive and comprehensive studies that provide real-time insights into what occurs in the brain and consciousness during near death.
“Because we used to think of death as being the end, it was almost like how people used to think the Earth was flat and they used to think that once you got to the edge, you would just fall off,” Dr. Parnia observed. “People have always constructed their view of death as the end, and there’s nothing beyond. But what we’re showing is there’s a whole world that develops beyond and there’s a whole world of research that needs to continue.”
The United States federal government invests about $7.3 billion a year on cancer research. NASA enjoys an annual budget of about $25 billion. Yet very little is comparatively spent on research in the area of resuscitation from cardiac arrest, or corresponding brain restoration science.
Dr. Parnia stressed how we need to rethink this.
Cardiac arrest, he observes, is one thing that’s going to happen to all of us — each of our hearts eventually stop.
“Not properly researching cardiac arrest undercuts all other forms of medical research,” Dr. Parnia wrote in “Erasing Death,” his 2013 book. “If a cancer patient turns out to be curable and is treated but suffers a cardiac arrest, and we don’t bring that patient back safely, then all the effort that had been put into the cancer treatment has been wasted and a life is needlessly lost.”
I also asked Dr. Parnia last week about the impact his research might have on him personally, over and above his role as a scientist.
“It makes you think twice about the way you conduct yourself and makes you think twice about the meaning and purpose of what you’re doing,” he replied. “And I think that I’m no different to anybody else. I’ve been affected by that too.”
Dr. Parnia’s passion for the topic began during medical school, about three decades ago, prompted by personal experiences with patients who had cardiac arrests, leading him to question the nature of consciousness and when death truly occurs.
He’d grown especially close with one particular person.
He watched as doctors tried in vein for more than an hour to save the patient, who was flatlined throughout, long before he was declared dead by the medical team.
“And so I remember during this whole process thinking, well, what happened to this wonderful human being that I was talking to?” Dr. Parnia recalled. “When did he lose his consciousness? Is he able to hear us? Is he able to see us? What’s happening to his brain? When did he really die?”
A litany of additional questions rushed through Dr. Parnia’s mind, questions he’s still seeking to answer today with his research.
“And initially I thought it would only take like, a year or two, but I realized later, as I dug in deeper, that it’s a fascinating area and that it has really become my whole career,” he explained.
Northern Westchester Hospital
I connected last week with Dr. Richard Stumacher, a pulmonary disease and critical care physician here locally at Northwell Health’s Northern Westchester Hospital (NWH). He emphasized the team-based approach to resuscitation.
In-hospital cardiac arrests can be managed by groups comprising doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, and various technical staff.
The individual person responsible for administering CPR is typically Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) certified, with other team members providing support as needed.
These certifications are periodically renewed, ensuring that resuscitation teams are well-trained and up-to-date.
“So after a cardiac arrest or a rapid response, the teams debrief and we talk about what went well and what our opportunities were,” Dr. Stumacher explained in our phone interview last Thursday morning.
He noted how all hospitals in the United States adhere to guidelines set by the American Heart Association (AHA) for running CPR in a hospital setting.
These guidelines are continually updated based on research conducted by the AHA.
But medical questions around resuscitation, especially without more advances in brain revival, can be morally dicey for physicians.
Dr. Stumacher reflected on the challenges of interpreting medical data, more subjective factors, and their impact on end-of-life decisions.
In fact, the increased promise of reviving clinically dead patients, in light of recent research, could create understandable but misguided direction from patients’ loved ones.
As someone who performs the chest compressions and knows what the outcomes might be for someone who is, say, essentially brain dead, Dr. Stumacher said it can feel “like I am violating a body as they’re dying.”
“[A loved one] who’s grieving horribly and understandably is in that moment where they’re doing what they think is the right thing, and it’s torture for the person who’s dying, and it’s torture for the people who are doing that, and it tortures the person making that decision, but they don’t see it in that moment in time,” he observed.
Data and Continuous Improvement
Discussing resuscitation success rates, Dr. Stumacher pointed out that it’s essential to consider that not all cases are expected to have positive outcomes.
Some patients, for instance, have underlying conditions that significantly impact their chances of survival.
While NWH’s success rates are slightly higher than the national average, maxing out some years at 31 percent (about 24 percent of U.S. patients survive in-hospital cardiac arrest following resuscitation efforts overall) Dr. Stumacher cautioned against over-interpreting these figures, as survival depends on myriad factors.
A spokesperson for Phelps and Northern Westchester Hospitals, which are both Northwell facilities, did not have comprehensive data on success rates across the sprawling company, which is New York State’s largest healthcare provider.
But Dr. Stumacher highlighted the importance of looking at “survival to discharge” as a meaningful metric.
This statistic measures the number of patients who not only survived a cardiac arrest but also successfully recovered and were discharged from the hospital. The figure can vary from about nine percent to 18 percent at Northern Westchester Hospital, somewhat better than national trends.
The Mount Kisco hospital provides advanced medical support for procedures like balloon pumps and ventricular assist devices. Patients are then sometimes referred to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
“We don’t just have an okay team, we have an amazing cardiac cath lab team,” Dr. Stumacher stressed. “So we’re able to have a little bit more advanced support.”
When asked about the state of resuscitation science and research, Dr. Stumacher expressed both optimism and caution.
Referring to Dr. Parnia’s work specifically, he acknowledged the need for further research, especially in the realm of neurologic recovery following cardiac arrest.
“And where I could see this going is can somebody come up with a medication or an intervention that would help improve neurologic recovery,” he said. “And that’s something that I agree with Dr. Parnia that we could use more research on.”
I didn’t want to let Dr. Stumacher totally off the hook, and not delve into the heart of the matter.
While the physician’s work doesn’t typically involve patient interactions that would provide opportunities for him to hear about near-death experiences, he has thought deeply on the subject.
In short, Dr. Stumacher believes NDEs are likely the result of brain activity during the transition from life to death.
He does not believe in an afterlife but keeps an open mind.
“Well, so their experience of it being real to me makes it real,” he explained. “I guess we’re splitting hairs about what ‘real’ is right now.”
He then added: “It certainly was real for them.”
100 or 200 Years
It struck me during our interview how the region is incredibly lucky to have passionate and insightful healthcare professionals like Dr. Stumacher. Deeply thoughtful and contemplative on the NDE issue, Dr. Stumacher detailed his rich and nuanced view on the emerging science.
“I think this is really great research,” he said of Dr. Parnia and his team’s latest work, which he studied before our call. “I think it’s unique and different. I think it needs to be explored.”
Even if Dr. Stumacher never personally concludes that consciousness persists after biological, earthly death, he said belief in an afterlife creates a societally helpful incentive structure.
“And I think that the idea of spirituality and the afterlife is very important if for no other reason than considering your afterlife helps people act a little bit more humanely and appropriately in this life even,” he elaborated.
I asked Dr. Stumacher how established or traditional science might explain a near-death experiencer observing items in other rooms or details of their own surgery (later authenticated by physicians) while still “unconscious” or clinically dead.
“Spiritually, it’s beautiful because there might be the possibility that someone either has a different kind of experience, not just concrete, like, I see what’s happening to me, but transcendent, and that’s a great thing,” he replied. “And there may not be an explanation for that for 100 or 200 years.”
It’s an important point to make.
Future science might very well give us tidy, consensus-achieving answers, like Copernicus controversially publishing in 1543 how the Earth orbits the sun, and most of humanity then coming around on his finding by the 19th century.
But those scientific answers could be spiritual in nature. Those two notions are not mutually exclusive.
Undeniable proof of an afterlife would create a new scientific domain; it would not stand counter to the important mission of studying the world through observation and experimentation.
For me, if the goal is avoiding confirmation bias, it’s not only NDE true believers who need to be willing to absorb data that challenges preconceived notions.
Medical science, more broadly, must do the same.
There’s also an incredible postscript to Dr. Cicoria’s story.
Before the lightning struck, he was immersed in his orthopedic work, seeking to publish academic papers, even chairing an important annual medical meeting about the spine.
“And I was going down that road and none of those things seemed to be important anymore,” the doctor explained.
After he tried to return to normal life, following his recovery, Dr. Cicoria developed an insatiable and for him unprecedented desire to hear classical piano music.
He drove to a store in Albany and was drawn to a CD of Vladimir Ashkenazy playing his favorite Chopin.
“I started listening to it and I was absolutely captivated,” Dr. Cicoria remembers.
Now he wanted to play and create piano music. Two problems: he didn’t know how, and he didn’t own a piano.
“Well, the very next day,” Dr. Cicoria remembered, “one of our babysitters came by and said, ‘I’m moving, and I had this old upright piano that I want to keep, but could I store it at your house for a year?’”
He of course said yes.
Shortly after Dr. Cicoria also had a dream about himself walking onto a stage, playing in a concert hall. There was a loud, dramatic end to the music, and it jolted him out of sleep at about 3:15 a.m.
“And I thought, well, let me go out to this piano,” Dr. Cicoria said. “And I started trying to plunk out different notes of things that I heard, but I had no idea how to write music. And I had no idea how to play it either. So I said, ‘the hell with this.’ I went back to bed.”
But from that moment on, whenever he went to the piano, the music from the dream would start to play in his mind. In fact, it would play all the time.
He found a software program called Sibelius, which teaches how to write music. The orthopedist spent the next seven months, in basically every single free moment he had, practicing on the piano. He’d do his 12 to 14 hours of medical work, return home, put his kids to bed, and get to the piano.
Dr. Cicoria says the music took him as close to that feeling of euphoria from “the other side” as he could get.
“It’s almost like there’s a connection that I can access,” he said. “It’s a frequency that I’m able to tune.”
Mozart reportedly said elements of his music would essentially come to him in finished form. That’s what happened to Dr. Cicoria, whose only prior musical interest was listening to rock music.
“And lots of people have speculated that our brain is nothing more than a receiver,” Dr. Cicoria said in his video account. “There’s no way in the world it could house all the information that we had have access to. There’s some off-site place that we are able to communicate with.”
By Oct. of 2007, Dr. Cicoria unveiled his first piano composition in Westport, Ct. The next year he played at the Goodrich Theater in Oneonta and released a recording, “Notes From an Accidental Pianist and Composer.”
While some might suggest (lacking the scientific evidence they rightly prize, mind you) that there’s undoubtedly some future discoveries in store to explain away Dr. Cicoria’s mystical new abilities with more traditional language, the orthopedist simply knows what he knows, just like millions of others who have had NDEs.
Just logically, I think we should be more inclined to accept wisdom and insights about the universe from those who have experienced clinical death as opposed to from those who simply speculate on its nature.
Before the lightning experience, Dr. Cicoria was exclusively grounded in a certain type of scientific approach to understanding commonly accepted reality.
Now he understands there’s much more to our existence. It’s about love, learning, and working in service of others.
“If everybody could experience that before they die,” the doctor said, “they would have a whole different perspective on life and what we’re doing here, and it would change everything.”
(How to live life in the loving way most NDErs advocate, within a world filled with goodness but also marked by hate, cruelty, and violence, is another topic for another day).
It’s probably worth noting how I was generally agnostic and disengaged on the topic until earlier this summer. I begun an unexpected, sort of accidental deep dive into the spiritual realm in July, starting with “Surviving Death,” an imperfect but at times gripping 2021 Netflix documentary series.
I was captivated in particular by episode six, a 52-minute exploration on reincarnation.
If a conversation like this emerged before this summer, I might have left a smidgen of room for open-mindedness, if I was even paying attention, but be generally inclined to disbelieve anything I couldn’t feel or touch.
But now my view aligns with the one held by award-winning journalist Leslie Kean, whose book — “Surviving Death: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for an Afterlife” — inspired the series.
She uses traditional, old-school reporting skills to explore “truths that you can probably never get to,” as she put it to The Guardian in 2021.
Kean, who has contributed investigative reporting to The New York Times, noted how she’s following a distinguished lineage, including luminaries like philosopher William James, author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Dr. Ian Stevenson, who delved into paranormal investigations over past centuries.
“They’re not necessarily believers,” Kean said. “But they’re people that take it seriously enough to want to study it.”
It’s important for believers and nonbelievers, especially those who have not had a NDE, including myself, to acknowledge the inherent folly in positing any unequivocal conclusions, even as we give our best stab at making sense of this magical, mysterious world.
Dr. Moody, the aforementioned psychiatrist who coined the term “Near-Death Experience” in 1975, is also the founder of The Life After Life Institute.
For decades, Dr. Moody, a college professor in Georgia, declined to publicly pronounce any unambiguous, unequivocal conclusions about an afterlife.
Yet as an expert in ancient Greek history, he did put significant stock in case studies and the ancient thinkers. The soul is immortal, and philosophers must spend their lives preparing for the moment of death, Socrates told Plato.
Even with the striking similarities described by countless interview subjects, Dr. Moody refused to claim proof of an afterlife, a loaded term. After all, he reasoned, NDEs are subjective experiences.
He reports, you decide.
However, Dr. Moody eventually began researching so-called Shared-Death Experiences, or SDEs — a mystical phenomena where people who are not dying experience spiritual events during the dying process of a loved one.
It dawned upon him that documented third-party witnesses to the otherworldly provided the “missing link of objectively proving the existence of an afterlife.” In fact, Dr. Moody even had an SDE himself, along with several family members, when watching his mother die in the spring of 1994.
The psychiatrist recalls the room changing shape. Multiple members of the group felt as if they were being lifted off the ground in a glass elevator, and several saw Dr. Moody’s late father appear.
“I can’t think of any way around the evidence,” Dr. Moody eventually concluded, as quoted by co-author Paul Perry in the preface of his new book, “Proof of Life After Life: 7 Reasons to Believe There Is an Afterlife,” published just two weeks ago. “I’ve tried but I can’t. So I say, yes, belief in life after death is rational.”
Former Examiner Editor
It’s pretty remarkable how we can know some people for many years without ever learning key details of their biography.
Pat Casey, editor of our White Plains Examiner edition from 2011 to 2020, told me many years ago in passing how she’d previously done work in hospice. That memory jumped to mind while doing this reporting, so I contacted Pat last week.
I learned that, more specifically, Pat was a hospice volunteer at Visiting Nurse Services in Westchester in the mid-1990s.
“Patients often spoke of another world like this one or they saw children like angels looking at them,” Pat told me in a text exchange last Friday morning.
Pat was well suited to absorb these accounts with an open heart and open mind, and then some. As it turns out, in 1973, when living in a flat in England, she underwent an Out-of-Body Experience, or OBE.
An OBE is a phenomenon where a person feels as though their consciousness has temporarily left their physical body, often accompanied by the sensation of floating or hovering nearby.
Stick and Stones
Like NDEs, OBEs have been reported throughout history by people from across the cultural, religious, and socio-economic spectrum.
“I was surrounded by light and infinite mother love,” the veteran newspaper editor told me last week.
Her husband witnessed the experience.
“He didn’t know what I was doing,” the mother and grandmother explained of her 1973 experience in the English flat. “I had leaned back so far he was afraid to touch me.”
Dr. Moody has written about something called the psychomanteum technique, or mirror gazing, a method designed to communicate with late loved ones, or gain personal insight. Pat wasn’t aware of the concept at the time of her OBE but later learned about it.
She said the nature of what Dr. Moody describes is “like what I experienced.”
“I called his institute many years ago to discuss it and they wanted me to visit — but I never did,” Pat told me.
Call it pseudo-science or other derogatory names if you wish, but highly-esteemed doctors have conducted credible, peer-reviewed research in these types of supernatural areas, underscoring the need for further investigation.
Pat noted how her husband had passed away in March of 1997 of a brain tumor, at age 52.
“Several of us heard voices in the house, saying things like ‘he’s not ready yet,’” Pat remembers from the time just before his death.
She pointed out how the experience of having worked as a hospice volunteer in the years before her husband’s death “prepared me to help him and his family.”
The former White Plains resident, now living in Rhode Island, was gathering with family last Friday morning when we texted for the first time in nearly two years.
I learned how they were all together because Pat’s father, William Girrier, was in the process of dying, making our unexpected conversation last week all the more timely.
He died just hours after we serendipitously reconnected.
Pat recently took a yearlong mysticism class, “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying,” which emphasizes the importance of embracing the process of dying as a transformative part of life, advocating for a spiritually aware approach.
I guess when discussing front-page newspaper planning for a decade, Pat and I never quite got to discussing this light fare.
Yes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
And no, the scientific method can’t yet explicitly prove in consensus-achieving fashion the “reality” of what Dr. Cicoria, Dr. Moody, and countless other people have described about our consciousness persisting after our bodies have expired.
But, for my money, while stipulating the inherent mystery and need for heathy skepticism, I’m going to trust the millions (including former Harvard neurosurgeon and author Dr. Eben Alexander) who have experienced the otherworldly, not the billions of skeptics who have not.
Although doubters are wrong to glibly dismiss near-death experiences as mere brain games or dreams, they might be partially correct in one respect.
It’s more than possible NDEs’ provenance lie within our minds, and when people share their stories, the anecdotes become invitations to enrich our consciousness, hinting at the path toward eternal, divine awareness.
One question to consider: If the person you trusted most in the world told you about their classic NDE, and assured you with genuine certainty of the experience’s authenticity, how might that shape your perspective?
If we’re going to draw an informed inference as laymen, let’s at least draw a likely conclusion corroborated by the testimony of millions of people. Not to mention the incomplete but mounting science.
Undeniable proof of an afterlife, widely embraced by the medical community and the populace, would reshape the human experience. Although it would not guarantee any sort of heaven on earth, knowing bodily death isn’t the end could rejigger the mind.
In fact, people like Dr. Moody say the burden of proof has shifted. The existence of widespread OBE testimony, he asserts, means doubters are the ones who need to disprove the type of witness claims that would stand up in a court of law if we were litigating any other earthy dispute.
A spectator or two alone can send an accused murderer to the electric chair.
‘Everything is a Miracle’
Here in the court of public opinion, it’s reasonable to cast understandable doubt on wondrous claims. But after a months-long review of evidence, facing that binary choice, my personal jury verdict is in.
There’s ample reason to believe the detailed, heartfelt and vetted testimony of trustworthy people in all walks of life, whether it’s with NDEs, assault accusations, or any other disputed matter.
In their unbending skepticism, debunkers often overlook the enchantment woven into the very fabric of our universe, dismissing the spiritual despite enduring questions about the origins of our cosmic dance of galaxies, planets, and stars.
While it might be excessive to expect emerging science to persuade hardcore atheists to reconsider their blind faith in a godless universe, it seems reasonable to hope the latest research could convert a soft disbeliever into a curious agnostic about the possibility of a transcendent higher power.
About a century after the Big Bang was first introduced as theory, it’s still only a disjointed bowl of scientific word salad that aims to explain what exactly preceded that “original” moment in time 13.8 billion years ago.
To cite a famous (perhaps apocryphal) Einstein quote, there are only two ways to live your life: “One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
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