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Dying To Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing
Dying To Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing
by Anita Moorjani
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.51
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47 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Planet-Quaking Thunderclap: Paradigm Shift for the Near Death Experience, March 7, 2012
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This is, in my opinion, the best book ever published in the English language (and I suspect any language) of a single near death experience. It may also be one of the most important books ever published on the way we treat and view ourselves. I have known the author personally for several years, but the above statement (and others like it below) are not a result of this. Rather, the exact reverse is the case: Anita's scintillating honesty, her authenticity on all aspects of her experience, the love and integrity of commitment between Anita and Danny (her husband) who saw her through the entire ordeal of cancer, her compassion and care for the healing of others through the self-realizing of their own Magnificence, her intelligent, playful, wholesomely un-guru-like personality in the wake of such an extraordinary event having happened to a human being, is precisely what generated the friendship. When I had a most difficult and delicate personal issue to deal with a few years ago, I chose Anita to confide in, even though we had not known each other very long. I disclose this fact only to illustrate how highly I rate this person's integrity and authenticity.

Those who know me on the NDE circuit know that I can also be a real stickler for evidence in the claims made for remarkable experiences (on this issue, more below), but with Anita it was just, purely and simply, never an issue. There is something about this kind of sincerity and honesty that just shines straight through, by the shortest path, like rays beaming through a stained glass window. I knew it. I saw it. And like the rays through the window, no one needed to say "we need to do some research to see if that is sunlight."

Anita is not a saint or an Ascended Master. I believe she would be horrified to be regarded as either. She is a real human being, not a Levitating Adept. She can be funny, silly, and just too plain fond of chocolate and ice cream, like the rest of us. In fact, I'm not yet *entirely* convinced that she didn't come back from the other side just for the ice cream...but that's another story.

Okay, so to the book. We've come a long way since Dante's Inferno haven't we? Sinners punished in an obsessive and disturbingly peculiar hierarchy of levels, each described in a kind of manic, fascinated detail (this is the Inferno, of course). Anita's book is like the absolute antipodes of the `Inferno'. Instead of a world in which we are already corrupt, fallen, sinful, begging for salvation, stamped on the foreheads with cosmic wrongness from the moment of our birth, Dying To Be Me inverts this picture and says no, that's all wrong. We are not miserable, "sinful", imperfect fleshly contraptions groveling at the divine chair for admission and redemption, in the hope that some pittance of grace will be tossed our way like pennies showered from the gloved and complacent hand of some passing monarch. Rather we ARE the divine, both occupant and chair, as well as tapestries, draperies, and the entire royal chamber. We don't need to seek grace because we are the grace that we seek. We don't need to hunt down, Sherlock Holmes style, the light of the divine, because the very act of arduous seeking blinds us to noticing ourselves as a powerful source of emission. This is Anita's message. How could we ever have fallen, before, for such a dysfunctional and crippling view of life and the cosmos? As if universal force creates us to pity us? To crush us down? To emphasize our smallness? The central message of this book is that we should simply *allow* the essential nature that nature herself intends for us.

For myself, the section on Anita's younger years in Hong Kong really helped fill in some blanks and bring to life the whole picture for me. Everything from eating at the Bladerunner-esque Dai Pai Dong in the street, to sipping tea from little cups with tigers or dragons on them, to the vivid depiction of the `hungry ghost festival" and leaving empty seats at the dinner table for the famished dead. More importantly, based on what I hear in this section, it now seems a lot more evident to me, from the patterns she discloses of her childhood, that her fear really was a principal causal factor in her illness. You can sense its systemic presence through all the chapters of her childhood; it is there always, like a crouching bear, this sense of inadequacy, of trying constantly to measure up to essentially impossible and unreasonable standards, and of course (at that stage of life) failing.

Turning to the issue of evidence, I don't think it is the most important thing in this case, but it is important enough in the subject at large, I feel, that I would like to mention it. The field of near death research is not without its problems. There are bogus experiences in circulation. Claims of medical events that evaporate when the least investigative pressure is brought to bear on them. These claims subtly (or not so subtly) undermine accounts like Anita's, because the public and the endless ranks of armchair experts, a nontrivial portion of which would still dearly like to dismiss ALL these experiences as not worth the paper they are printed on, are apt to tar all with the one brush. Well, the present account is not one of these. In fact, in terms of medical evidence presented, again even though I don't consider it the most important element of Anita's experience by far, it simply does not get any better than this in a published volume. The places and the doctors involved are named in the text. A full, detailed report written by a cancer specialist is included in the text. This is the only published near death experience I have seen, anywhere, EVER, that has got this right, and I have taken the trouble to make myself familiar with the great majority of them. The only comparison that even approaches was the case of Pam Reynolds, but that did not involve an anomalous healing. The evidential status of Anita Moorjani's case is singular and impeccable.

The cancer reversal is (in our worldly thinking anyway) the most remarkable aspect of Anita's story. The aforementioned cancer specialist had this to say in his report:

**minor spoiler alert**
"Based on my own experience and opinions of several colleagues, I am unable to attribute her dramatic recovery to her chemotherapy. Based on what we have learned about cancer cell behaviors, I speculate that something (non-physical..."information"?) either switched off the mutated genes from expressing, or signaled them to a programmed cell death. The exact mechanism is unknown to us, but not likely to be the result of cytotoxic drugs."

I have some background in biology, and genetics, and it is scarcely possible to overemphasize the significance of what is being said in this statement. But here's the problem: just another "medical fixit" is not going to solve this conundrum. There is *not going to be* an undiscovered protocol, a daring surgical procedure, a new type of scanner, an inrush of nanobots, a new cocktail of drugs worthy of being shaken and stirred by Tom Cruise...that is going to solve this matter. Because Anita was healed, self-healed, by direct unobstructed agency of the same universal life principle acting in her and through her, as gave rise to genes and bodies and doctors in the first place. All attempts to hunt the snark down other rabbit holes will finally lead to frustration. That was the "information" provided to the system. When Anita's consciousness was aligned in the native state with this universal source of life, aligned like Atman-Brahman, she said "I/We want to live", and since it was the universe itself that was saying it, there could scarcely be any dissenters.

Once that happened, what took place in the cells of the body was merely like "handing a clerk some forms to sign." The miracle was not that she was healed. Nothing short of a miracle, either on this earth or off it, could have *stopped* her from being healed.

This is the secret passage that medicine needs to explore, with humility and sincerity, if it really wants to deepen its potency for the ability to heal. Medicine has had its successes, and we should applaud those successes, but the fact is, even in a simple case such as bone-knitting, that nature does the healing, and we simply help to clear its path. That doesn't mean that we can't do anything. It doesn't mean there aren't intriguing possibilities and new directions to explore. But it does mean that just another mechanism, just another medicine, is not going to cut it. If the cause is in a high level (meaning-rich) expression or thwarted expression of the life principle, colloquially what we call the "spiritual", then messing around with pharmaceuticals and high tech instruments will be like trying to get rid of political corruption by deleting names from the telephone book.

Anita's particular cancer seems to have had this kind of cause. Now we live in a complex world of multifactorial causes. No one, and I'm sure Anita would agree with this, should conclude that the same cause holds in every case. BUT, even in those other cases, with different causes, such as ageing, exposure to radiation, or even other diseases altogether, so much unexpected light may in the future be shed even on those cases by open-minded pursuit of this type of case, that a whole-hearted exploration is more than worth the doing. There is more to all this than just some new age fad. In the fifties, a boy was cured, by treatment with hypnosis, of congenital icthyosiform erythroderma of Brocq, a hideous condition capable of causing almost total skin coverage of hard, horned scale (icthyosis). There's a thread here. The consciousness cannot be left out of the picture, not if we really want to get to grips with this. And this is surely the most important direction in which Anita's account should launch us: how others can also be brought to this kind of healing. But it is not just the technique that will have to change; it is the people behind the gloves...and this is not a concept that Western Medics are used to.

I was also glad of the way that Anita placed the emphasis on this life, and not the "afterlife". Although not everyone will agree with me here, I think another signal breakthrough of Anita's case, and her book, is that it begins to wrest the near death experience away from the somewhat clammy hands of the "life after death" brigade, with which it has "too long languished", to coin a phrase. Again, the message of Anita's experience is not some hurried affair in which we frown our way through life as quickly as possible, like so many grim commuters with the brims of our hats pulled down low against the rain, in order to get to some promised land "elsewhere". Life, the universal creative principle, is pouring itself in to *this* world, to this universe, to the now. It is pouring itself IN, with passion, with vigor, not OUT. On this point I agree with Anita absolutely, and it has been my own view for a long time. "The main show" as the author states it, is "here", not "there". This doesn't mean that an extraordinary state or harmony and fulfillment is impossible. It simply means that we have been too hasty (as the Ents would say) in assuming that life was seeking it, building it, elsewhere, and not right here in the universe of action and expression. I think, myself, that this offers a much healthier vision of the near death experience, and Anita's experience may signal a turning point in the way that said experience is glossed and understood in society. Rather than a portal to a realm that is in some sense an idealized continuation of our human life, experiences such as Anita's suggest more that the near death event is a kind of interface between the dynamic, active, expressing realm of being (the "here") and the underlying Fundament or potential which is the high octane source behind it all. But the Fundament isn't satisfied just being potential. It wants to be active, it wants to express, it wants the "here". Thus Anita, the universe as Anita, realized not only that she wanted to come back, but that it was good to come back; it was good and joyous to express again as Anita Moorjani. In a sense, the needy hankering after an afterlife, like all needy hankering, short-circuits this joyousness. We need to trust that the Fundament is simply always there. It's not going anywhere. We will always be it.

I don't agree with absolutely everything that Anita says. For instance, the commentary on rapists and murderers was not particularly convincing to me, for reasons I won't indulge to go into here. But I don't think Anita would mind this. As I say, she is not a guru and I suggest that people don't treat her as such. She does not have the answer to everything, nor should she be expected to. That's a bit too much responsibility for one person! And after all, one of the very reasons we may all be different is precisely because each one of us is capable of bringing unique contributions, and insights, to the structure of existence and this magical (though admittedly sometimes confounding) thing called life.

However, that is a minor matter. I do in fact agree with the great majority of what Anita says, a situation that I can honestly say has occurred only about two or three times in forty years of reading.

Make no mistake. You will count on the fingers of one hand the number of times a book like this, an opportunity like this, presents itself to you in your lifetime. I won't quite go so far as to say that you should drop everything and read this book. No wait: actually, I *will* go that far...you should drop everything and read this book. No, really. I'm not kidding. No...REALLY, I'm not kidding. I am extremely selective in what I choose to endorse, and this is, without qualification, my biggest endorsement ever. I'm even slightly embarrassed because it is so out of character for me. Anita is not in this for the money. But from me to you, for the few dollars you spend on this book, I personally guarantee you that it will repay its value one hundred fold before you even reach the back cover. Don't say I didn't warn you.

I am proud to call Anita Moorjani my friend. And I am profoundly glad she is in the world...first for Danny, and secondly for the world.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 1, 2012 11:36 PM PDT


Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need
Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need
by Blake Snyder
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.57
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars not perfect, but pretty good, July 26, 2010
To those other reviewers that complain about the scripts this author has sold and/or had made into films, they have a point. Both of his produced movies seem to be instantly forgettable. However, it is a fact in life that those who do a thing best are not necessarily the same as those who teach it best. I have seen that principle made flesh in hundreds of different ways.

Save the Cat is not as shimmeringly brilliant as some claim it is, but it isn't half bad either, and certainly not as bad as some claim it is. There is a lot of sound advice here, even if much of it has existed in previous forms elsewhere. Snyder's main success is to boil a very tricky and subtle process down to something that can be digested and thus internalized.

But that is probably also its risk. As others have pointed out, this tendency towards reduction drives the advice given in the direction of formula. In my opinion (not being an expert however) this is the one area of Blake Snyder's advice you would do well to treat with some skepticism, especially (and surprisingly) since he drops hints that he wants you to follow his "cheat sheet" more or less to the letter (i.e. to the page number).

My suspicion would be that seasoned script readers in Hollywood can "smell" any script that has emerged as the output of any individual's formulaic "method" a mile away, and in that scent they can probably even discern fairly quickly which method or which guru it is. Such a script is likely to describe a short throwing arc into the trash can.

These cautions aside though, Save the Cat has a lot of helpful advice, especially when combined with a number of other books that do what this one does not, and which travel deeper into story. It certainly is not the last book on screenwriting you will ever need. It's probably better if it is your first, learn his rules, and then be prepared to break them, or at least bend them.


Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near-Death Experience
Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near-Death Experience
by Pim van Lommel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.35
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17 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Do NDErs Dream of Illuminated Sheep?, July 24, 2010
This book covers a lot of old ground, and significant portions of it are still lodged in 80s style battles against "medical materialism": not carbon dioxide, not hypoxia, and so on. The strongest section of the book is the set of speculations on quantum nonlocality. This is not new either, it has to be said, as speculations pertaining to consciousness being rooted in nonlocality have been around for a long time now. Still, it might actually be *true* that this is the case, and that there is some (perhaps very simple or primordial) form of "consciousness" that pervades all matter and thus is not "lost" as such, upon death of an organism. The problem arises in defining what sponsors this nonlocality. Neurons are not a serious candidate because of decoherence, and tubulin dimers definitely have their supporters and their critics.

I'd have to say though that this by itself doesn't worry me too much. Consciousness is the most subtle behavior of nature. It doesn't seem that unlikely that it partakes of another of nature's great subtleties...quantum principles of nonlocality...in order to exist, and if we haven't ironed out the details yet, well, that's our problem, not nature's. The symmetry in nature, the coherent expression of organic systems. There's something not quite plausible about all this being sponsored only by Newtonian collisions. Nonlocality may not "explain" consciousness, but it may at least be the domain in which it exerts its influences.

If the High Tales of unusual perceptions in the OR are really so, it may actually be true that some form of mind or consciousness of the dying person survives, at least for a little while.

And there's the rub. A little while. For if we take the thesis seriously, there is another side to its coin, and that is that the people undergoing NDEs aren't really "dead". They are at the very beginning of a "death process". If not just consciousness, but "life process and structure" is all an expression or symptom of this speculated quantum nonlocality, then it is clear that their organic systems are still "mostly alive" by this definition, even if the cortex is not functioning. We are in uncharted terrain here, and it behooves us to be cautious. For my own part, should survival not be permanent, I would question whether hanging around for a few hours after brain shutdown isn't actually worse than simple death. I guess we must hope that isn't the case, but the fact is that *most* unusual phenomena associated with death are in that time bracket.

It is for this reason, among others, that I think we must draw a distinction between the bare *possibility* of a nonlocal consciousness unmasked at death, and the supposed *contents* of that consciousness as allegedly displayed by the NDE. The latter do not follow from the former. Indeed, many "truths" stated in near death experience are in simple opposition to what we observe in nature. Our natural desires for an uber-parent, for the universe to be "moral", for our lives to be planned with purpose and so on, all find their place within the NDE in the form of "life reviews", contracts made before birth, and so on. It all seems just a bit too suspiciously like our own idea of an idealized or utopianized form of life rising to meet us from our own unconscious. This is a huge question about these experiences that is not being sufficiently addressed in books like this, and even though this book is better than many and certainly superior to recent publications in this field, it still spends too much of its time battling medical materialism.

The really rich, interesting questions about NDEs fall out into two areas. First, the whiff of a nonlocal consciousness of some sort expressible when the brain really shouldn't be functioning. Second, the origin of the content in NDEs. Again, the questions that are not being asked relate to our capacity as a race with mythopoeic capability. Myth is our most ancient response to the problem of existence. It has been with us, has shaped our very brains and minds, since the days of earliest man. You could be forgiven for thinking, reading some of these books, that the earliest event of any significance to the subject was when Raymond Moody coined the term Near Death Experience in 1975!

All in though, it seems that there may be something here. It probably isn't what we think it is (in literal terms), but any form of consciousness whatsoever that could express itself nonlocally through distributed systems, should it prove to be so, will eventually be enough to shake a nervous paradigm to its roots.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 2, 2011 9:31 AM PDT


Donkey Gospel: Poems
Donkey Gospel: Poems
by Tony Hoagland
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.83
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4.0 out of 5 stars refreshing, February 13, 2010
This review is from: Donkey Gospel: Poems (Paperback)
Perhaps not the darling poet of the academic purists, Tony Hoagland doesn't fail to surprise with this unique blend of the comic, the tragic, and the exquisitely observed. The poems with a humorous edge to them appear to be the most successful, and this is surely where Tony finds his best voice.


The Antipodes of the Mind: Charting the Phenomenology of the Ayahuasca Experience
The Antipodes of the Mind: Charting the Phenomenology of the Ayahuasca Experience
by Benny Shanon
Edition: Paperback
Price: $63.87
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a very erudite and thorough study, February 13, 2010
Its hard to imagine more credibility in this subject area. The author is not only a cognitive psychologist but has himself partaken of the ayahuasca brew over a hundred times, and so can offer a unique double perspective of 'inside' (subjective) and 'outside' (objective). The book makes many interesting and fascinating points, covers its terrain with meticulous care, and provides as "complete" a picture of the ayahuasca experience as it is likely possible to write about. I do have a feeling that the author hankers after a Platonic cosmology, as seemingly revealed to him in some of his ayahuasca visions. Of course, it could also be that these are among his deepest and fondest assumptions and that this is why they turn up regularly in his own visions and in those of others. That said, as a repeating motif in the visions, it becomes interesting. I was also somewhat surprised that the author referred, seemingly in sober fashion, to the works of Castaneda, long discredited. This didn't seriously impact his own argument, but it does raise moments of massive double take on the part of the reader which the author may not be aware of. It's widely acknowledged that Castaneda probably drew on authentic anthropological source material, but that his ethnography of "Don Juan" was essentially fictional.

Although I am giving this book five stars and recommending it to anyone seriously interested in the interior cognitive spaces of the ayahuasca experience, I do have one rather strong criticism of the book, and that is in terms of its readability. I appreciate that the author is following an academic model consistent with the anthropological literature. Unfortunately, the real world consequence of this is to render substantial sections of it close to unreadable. This is particularly the case with categories, broken into sub-categories, broken into further sub-categories and so on, and with very frequent references to points that will be covered two chapters on, or one chapter on, while nevertheless being mentioned as we move through. All of this seriously interrupts the reading flow, and (in my opinion) should be moved into a zone of appendices, keeping a traditional textual flow for the reader's experience. At the moment it reads too much like a textbook or index reference. Again, I want to emphasize that my overall opinion of the book is very positive, and at times it is deeply fascinating. Those times, however, are precisely the occasions when the author is in normal textual flow and not in category-chart or appendices mode.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 23, 2011 8:19 AM PST


The Truth in the Light: An Investigation of over 300 Near-death Experiences
The Truth in the Light: An Investigation of over 300 Near-death Experiences
by P. B. C. Fenwick
Edition: Paperback
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars solid and much under-read study of NDEs, February 5, 2010
This is an example of a doctor-authored book on the subject of the near death experience the way it should be done. The technique, as with other books of this kind, is to solicit volunteered reports. Clearly this method has serious limitations and you want to take care to make sure that what you can legitimately claim matches up with your research method. Fenwick achieves this well.

Probably the most interesting part of the book is when Dr Fenwick brings his neuropsychiatrist expertise to the subject areas of anoxia and memory. The question of how NDErs manage to "remember" their experiences when the brain has just recovered from a profound trauma is an important one, as it is very common for experiences immediately preceding such a trauma to be forgotten altogether.

Another really interesting factor thrown up by this study was the substantial difference in the frequency of so called "life reviews" between American cases and the UK based research sample of the author. The UK study turned up VERY few such reviews of the dramatic and detailed kind populating the American cases. This strongly suggests that there is something about the American psyche which lends itself to that component. This seems to be borne out to some degree when considering the American fascination with psychotherapy and analysis of almost infinite variation, something that your average brit (rightly or wrongly) is much more likely to look upon with scorn. This seems unlikely to be a coincidence, though, certainly, it would need a further study of some kind to actually establish that as the cause. One way or another, this seems a fairly essential difference between the American and UK cases.

Yet another interesting feature of the book is the Indian cases included, although these are snatched from another study elsewhere. The case of Durga Jatav for instance, who was dragged away (in the experience) in front of the judge of the dead, where his legs were "cut off at the knees". When you read these accounts, it is glaringly obvious that there is no single worldwide thing called a "near death experience" as some people believe. Rather, what exists is a loosely collected bunch of very approximately similar experiences once you peel away all the layers of cultural imagery (in the Indian cases, for instance, at least in the studies described here, that imagery revolves around the gods of the dead and "clerical errors". In the West the imagery revolves around "dead relatives" and many more meetings with a Christian-style god of light as opposed to the leg-amputating Yama and his henchmen.

A very good study that covers a lot of interesting ground. The next stage is to ask whether people who perceive themselves to be out of body really are out of body, and whether people remembering events, especially as influencing the lives of others, are remembering these correctly. At some point this subject has to emerge from the protective shelter of anecdote.


Otherworld Journeys: Accounts of Near-Death Experience in Medieval and Modern Times
Otherworld Journeys: Accounts of Near-Death Experience in Medieval and Modern Times
by Carol Zaleski
Edition: Paperback
Price: $30.09
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a rare jewel among plain stones, February 4, 2010
This is the best book ever yet published on the subject of near death experiences in the English language, and probably any language. Saying that, it wins through mainly because it understands itself not to be a scientific study (it is not) but a scholarly work of comparative literature. I have read just about every book (in the English language) written on the near death experience worth reading, as well as many that were not worth reading. This is one of the very best. It charts the history of the near death experience through the Western Christian traditions, showing how it has formed itself, at least in Europe and America, out of those traditions.

This is far from being the whole mythic picture of NDEs, but Zaleski has done a wonderful job of showing how deep and evolving those roots are even from within Christianity. Go back 200 years and the experience is almost nothing like what it is today, with its "spiritual democracy" and "self empowerment" motifs, clearly developing in parallel with social changes in the intervening period. Folks who don't know this history, or who are blissfully unaware of it, often assume that there is a single changeless thing called a "near death experience" that remains constant and consistent across the world. This is not so. Any similarities that can be ascribed to "experiences at the boundary of death" are in fact VERY general, as anyone who cares to examine Thai experiences, Indian experiences, Chinese experiences, Melanesian experience, and the few other non-American groups who have ever been studied, will soon see for themselves. The myth of global consistency arises out of flawed methods of sampling. For instance, people will only report having an "NDE" if they know, first of all, what that term even means, and what it is taken to refer to. When submission is left to individuals supplying their own reports, instead of field study, what happens is that this creates a heavily weighted bias, even with "people from other cultures", for the Americanized template of what one of these experiences is supposed to be, which in turn reinforces the mythos that this template is "consistent". These other culture cases, for instance, are often people who have lived in America, have access to the internet, have read of other American-style experiences, and so on. When you break through all that assumption, you find what you find with Melanesian or Thai experiences, which is that they are RADICALLY different from the American Moody-esque "NDE template".

This book was the first and original foray into this much understudied question of the cultural variance in death-boundary spiritual experiences. A truly comprehensive work on that topic could scarcely be written, because it would swell into a Golden Bough, requiring lifetime(s) of work in field anthropology to gather the necessary data, or even assimilate the scattered clues in old texts of various nations, cultures, and religions. Yet it is a task that must be done if we are ever really to understand what these experiences are, and how they grew into being. Zaleski's book is one of the very few that correctly sees and understands this issue. Most modern publications along with their authors believe that the NDE either arrived in 1975, or else is fundamentally the same across geography and history. Nothing could be further from the truth and are literal representations of real events. Just read a few Thai NDEs, and you'll see the problem much more efficiently than by reading my words here.

Meanwhile, if you are interested in NDEs and you haven't read this book, I would say it is like being interested in movies and not having seen Gone With the Wind.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 1, 2010 9:58 PM PDT


Darkness Shining Wild: An Odyssey to the Heart of Hell & Beyond: Meditations on Sanity, Suffering, Spirituality, and Liberation
Darkness Shining Wild: An Odyssey to the Heart of Hell & Beyond: Meditations on Sanity, Suffering, Spirituality, and Liberation
by Robert Augustus Masters
Edition: Paperback
16 used & new from $69.23

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars riveting account of shattering mystical experience, February 4, 2010
This book is not for the faint of heart. You won't find much of the "feelgood factor" in it that populates so many tomes in this field. The author's account of his radical spiritual emergency is gripping and really does penetrate like a true blade much closer to the hard existential questions that haunt the backdrop behind all of science, philosophy, and psychology. It is the author's determination not to avoid this difficult material that makes it stand out so far from the others. Setting itself against the heavy current of "love and light" books that try to sell us the comforting message that everything is OK with the universe and under control, this book enters that tradition which warns, as even some mystics have done, that existence is balanced on an extreme paradox of the light and the dark, of becoming and unbecoming, and that there is no, absolutely NO "quick fix" for this situation. This is very similar to what I believe myself, and is the direction inquiry inevitably travels in when contradictions in more simplistic viewpoints begin to mount.

The book has its faults. It has a 'self-publishy" feel about it, and a quick check didn't establish any other authors for 'Tehmenos Press' except the author of this book. That is not necessarily a mortal sin of course, except that the book, here and there, called out plaintively for an editor. The prose is at times purple to the point of beetroot juice, and the writer insists on inserting his own poetry into almost every third page. A few of these help the mood, but most of them are distracting of the underlying material. The book would be leaner and fitter if it concentrated on its philosophical kernel of radical personal experience and the author's reaction to it. The book also meanders a bit, especially in the second half. Still, in the broad picture these are minor quibbles and I strongly recommend "Darkness Shining Wild" for those with the courage to step off the map of consensus stories, and who value real honesty concerning the human psychological and spiritual predicament.


Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences
Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences
by Paul Perry
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.37
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4 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars adequate (if maddeningly naive) summary of the field, February 3, 2010
It is difficult to know how to be fair in reviewing this book. The author is sincere in his beliefs and has made an earnest attempt to collate data in a difficult area (doing experiments on people at the boundary of death is hardly easy science).

A number of those attacking critical views as "unbalanced," "opinionated" and other invective (to quote Monty Python "Don't give me that, you snotty-faced heap of parrot droppings!") have claimed, in so many words, that such reviewers do not know what they are talking about and cannot back up their arguments. I cannot speak for all critical reviewers here, but I will respond below in the best manner possible, which is to provide the very substance which they wrongly claim is missing. I have therefore added to the review to offer readers more detail as to why I do not accept that this volume, and volumes like it, consider the subject matter in sufficient depth.

Responding to the Out of Body "proof"

There is no doubt that people often have the subjective experience of being out of body. Yet almost all scientific attempts to establish the existence in literal fact of any such thing as an out of body experience, have fallen flat. The only really notable exception to this was a one-off incident with a subject of Dr Charles Tart, and that was decades ago

To talk of "proof" in respect of out of body experience is massively off the chart of present levels of demonstration. However, this does not mean that we cannot say anything about them at all, and that there aren't a range of other phenomena, which when understood correctly, shed significant light on it. To begin with, what enables you or me to move around in a coordinated way and to have spatial sense of the body's domain of action and limits of action, in other words awareness of the body's kinaesthetic and somaesthetic boundaries, is not just a series of nerve impulses arriving at the brain, but a virtual map or modal "image" of that space that builds up in the brain over time. There are many terms in circulation, but let's just call it the sensorimotor map for simplicity. Children who do not have full coordination yet have not reached the point where this map is mature, despite having normally functioning musculo-skeletal system, etc. Pathological versions of this map can form when things go wrong or when the brain gets confused as a result of altered or suppressed proprioception from the body. The nervous system tends to shut down from the outside inwards, so loss of normal body awareness is an earlier as opposed to later event in this process. This renders proprioception inactive but does not discharge the body image which may remain active, functioning pathologically, for a while longer. Phantom limb syndrome can be considered a partial case of this. Here there is a mismatch between arriving stimuli, including the visual stimulus, and the body image. The resulting sensation is of an "out of body" limb extending into space. This can be considered an impaired body image. The opposite is also possible: the body image can be artificially enhanced, as in a long term baseball player, where the bat really can in a sense become an extension of the arm. The relevance of these observations to "OOBEs" should not be difficult to spot. While they are clearly not exactly the same phenomenon, a "phantom limb" and a "phantom whole body" are clearly not entirely different phenomena either. Ramachandran, using modern computer imaging techniques, and originally mirrors, succeeded in morphing and changing these phantoms, demonstrating that they are neural-map-like in character.

There have also been cases where almost entire ability to process proprioceptively has been lost due to neuropathy, yet the patient was not paralyzed. In other words, the defect was in the body image, not the muscular system or motor function (Cole, Gallagher, McNeil 2002).

What I'm saying here also carries with it a prediction and is testable. The prediction is that individuals with profoundly impaired body images will not be able to have "out of body experiences". Indeed, I have yet to hear of a single case of long term spinal injury at level C6 break or higher, with quadriplegic dysfunction, who had "out of body experiences" and again this would make sense, because the body image would have changed or atrophied over time. Likewise, although some young children might have OOBEs, they should not be able to have them with an ongoing image of a phantom body until their own body image is established. Again, this is testable. Contrast this with blind people. There is no reason why blind people should not have OOBEs, even those blind from birth, because their body image is for the most part functional and complete.

Finally, there have been experiments done by changing the sensory input information using virtual goggles or other altered perception that fools or confuses the brain's body image. The body image then adapts to "seeing itself" from a different position. To claim that this is something wholly different from "real" out of body experiences is obviously special pleading, as the similarity is to any reasonable person beyond coincidence, as well as the logic of what is happening and why, which begins to achieve transparency.

Responding to the NDEs of the Blind "proof".

There is a similar system of problems with this claim. "Vision" consists of an ocular component (the actual eye apparatus, optic nerves, etc) and a neurological component. Congenitally blind individuals lack a functional ocular component but they do not lack the structural visual centers in the brain unless there was also relevant brain damage. To be sure, these are likely to redistribute their allegiances and / or be appropriated by neighboring regions or to appropriate other functions themselves, but it is questionable even then that they ever redistribute their functionality entirely. In other words, there are brain-rooted systems of "vision" even in the blind, and "seeing" is more than the arrival of external light stimuli, but involves spatial processing. Vicki Umipeg, perhaps the flagship case of "NDEs in the blind" was not congenitally unsighted but blinded post partum due to exposure to excess oxygen levels in an incubator. However, even in cases where we are talking about the congenitally blind, this does not offset the fact that brain structures normally associated with visual processing still exist in the individual's brain structure. The reciprocal situation to this is blindness caused by tumor or injury to the occipital cortex, while the ocular system is uninjured and functional.

Additionally, direct stimulation of the visual cortex has long been known to generate phosphene-style light impressions (at least as subjectively reported, see below) in the blind. This is now the basis of attempts to create prostheses that bypass the ocular end of the human visual system.

The above discussion relates to a deeper philosophical problem, namely how someone who has never seen by way of external visual stimulus can discriminate category between "seeing" as the rest of us do and "vision" as in the internal processing of experience, even if, under abnormal stimulation or activity patterns of the nervous system (as in near death) they are processing that for the first time. Clearly they cannot, as they do not have any resource or the tools with which to make the distinction. This is in essence the same problem as knowing, for instance, if a bat "sees" sounds as colors. We can't know. But neither can a bat know. A bat might assume, if it could assume, that what it experiences is what humans call "red", but there is no way to establish this. That is a very serious problem with this whole argument of NDEs in the blind. I recommend a famous essay "What's It Like to be a Bat?" by Thomas Nagel, to put yourself in the space of this problem.

Responding to the Perfect Playback "proof"."

The "life review" that is often spoken of NDEs in fact has strong analogs in a number of other situations with unequivocally living brains where it is clear that the same (or, on the minimum hypothesis) a very similar process is acting. A good instance of this is experiences under the drug Ibogaine. A rolling evaluation of life events in a temporal sequence is frequent with this drug, along with the therapeutic benefits of such a self-evaluation. That very term "life review" has been used by a number of people undergoing the experience. Again, the chances of this being a coincidence are minimal. A similar effect, although to a lesser degree, can occur with the brew ayahuasca and as a result of prolonged meditation. There also seems to be a strong connection to other self-therapeutic activities of the mind-brain such as the eye movement EMDR treatment in which subjects see images or glean impressions of deceased relatives and gain some element of healing or even complete healing, or Raymond Moody's "psychomanteum" (essentially a skrying mirror) where similar events take place. It seems to me though that the real thing going on in these various processes is that the subconscious mind, by one route or another, is being de-liminalized. By this terminology I mean at least a partial fusion of conscious and unconscious mind not normally achieved, and whereby unusual phenomena are observable at the interface. In near death experiences, this deliminalization would be caused by the far-from-equilibrium state of the brain's normal process. In Iboga and ayahuasca, normal brain function is again significantly altered, and the upwelling of imagery and themes normally residing in unconscious domains strongly suggests deliminalization. Meditation too, over a protracted period. I don't profess to know exactly how EMDR is deliminalizing, but I'd make a strong bet that it is nonetheless, probably coupled with alterations in memory processing. Of course in all of this there is the question of what is meant, ontologically, by "deliminalizing the unconscious". However, that question cannot be addressed by anything resembling Dr Jeffrey Long's methodology. See the following remarks at the bottom of my review.

People having NDEs report panoramic "life reviews" in which, it is said, they even see the hurts that they have done to others. But again, all of this can be understood on a psychological model of grief reduction. In addition, there has been no study done, to the best of my knowledge, which seeks to determine whether these memories people experience are actually accurate, or whether the events and hurts they see caused in the lives of those they have influenced, really happened that way. Without such close study, it is impossible to know whether these reviews are more than internally self-referenced psychological events.

In the interests of not making this already long and hopefully depthful review too long, I won't list blow by blow through the other categories. Suffice to say that there are pretty robust counter arguments to be put against each of the author's categories (I could elaborate in comments should anyone be interested), including this popular misconception of worldwide consistency which is largely a sampling artifcat, and the book would have been much stronger if it had demonstrated an awareness of these issues or argued against them cogently, which it does not.

I might be accused of deciding a priori that out of body experiences or perception of operating room events by the blind, and so on, cannot be what people hope they are in their spiritual aspirations for the subject. I do not in fact decide in advance. However, to discern that, as should be clear from the above discussions, requires a much tighter protocol than this book uses (not that it's unique in that...the same applies to pretty much every other published book in this subject area). To answer that question requires a protocol clearly capable of discriminating between events in personal space and a (putative) transpersonal space. The only study in action I know which is attempting to do that is the AWARE study. However, any positive results that might emerge from this study will be worthless if the protocol is not tightly controlled. And the problem is, I can't see how it COULD be in a real world hospital or critical care environment. I seriously hope that it will not be discovered later that there are all kinds of loopholes in observation, as led to the controversy for the Charles Tart experiment mentioned. Apparently the hidden images are "randomly generated", but without round the clock surveillance of dying patients, which I really have to wonder if they have the kind of permissions for, the study runs the risk of exposing itself to severe future criticism. I would hope these problems are addressed now, rather than at the end of the project.
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Animals and the Afterlife: True Stories of Our Best Friends' Journey Beyond Death
Animals and the Afterlife: True Stories of Our Best Friends' Journey Beyond Death
by Kim Sheridan
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.83
90 used & new from $2.99

7 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars adequate, February 3, 2010
I read this book shortly after losing a pair of furry friends...cherished companions for many years. I knew why I was reading it too: looking out for exactly the kind of comfort these books are in the market for. The problem was twofold. First, it gave me exactly what I wanted to hear, except that for me, the effect was the opposite of what the author intended. I began to see the anecdotes as clear instances of psychological defense mechanisms and "grief reduction" on the part of the owners left behind. I also agree with the other reviewers who mentioned that there is too much spiritual philosophy in the book and not enough dealing with the raw experiences.

The raw experiences are probably the stronger aspect of the material, and the author should have stuck with that instead of trying to sell us the interpretations of animal psychics and a philosophy of reincarnation. I would be satisfied if I could convince myself that kitty even survived. That he's back as kitty ##2, doesn't really do anything to boost my mood. All in all, a book of comfort, but to really persuade critical souls like myself, I would need a lot, lot more.


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