The following exceptionally informative and inspiring discussion took place in April of 2014. Members of NHNE’s now defunct Near-Death Experience Network share what they learned from DECADES of intense, multifaceted, pedal-to-the-metal exploration.
The Difference Between Drug-Induced Spiritual Experiences & Near-Death Experiences
By Near-Death Experiencer Diane Goble
What is the difference between the brain during an NDE and the brain on say, LSD?
The difference is brain chemistry is affected by LSD. During a NDE experience, consciousness leaves the brain. Consciousness survives death and is eternal. Having experienced both, I have some expertise.
During my NDE (40 years ago at age 30, I drowned), I was part of the experience, involved in it, participating in it, one with it. There was never any fear, only overwhelming love and peace. It was more a remembering, it all came back to me, of having done this all before, knowing I was going home, an experience of having complete knowledge of the Whole/Source/God.
About 15 years later, I tried LSD a few times, also mushrooms and MDMA. This was shortly after I found out what I had was called a ‘near-death experience.’ Before that I didn’t know what to call it and never talked about it because I was afraid people would think I was crazy — or possessed. Then I started reading about other people having similar experiences.
The psychedelic experiences were as different from my NDE as looking into a fish tank and SCUBA diving around coral reefs in Nassau. The only thing similar was the out-of-body experience and exploring another dimension of the multi-verse. A big difference is between seeing and being. LSD showed me a mechanical, Newtonian universe. Mushrooms more of a fairy land, full of interesting, magical creatures from etheric to earthy, underground. Ecstasy was an exploration of my inner being from a loving perspective. All fun and exotic, but nothing profound, ineffable, meaningful, esoteric like the NDE. I returned with knowledge of particle physics and galactic motion (and I’m no scientist).
Forty years later, I remember no details from any of about half a dozen psychedelic experiences and every detail, feeling, and emotion from my NDE. It changed the course of my life, my personality, my interests, my beliefs, my future. I know my purpose in this life and I live it. I have no fear of death, I know what happens next! The drugs did nothing but provide a few hours of meaningless entertainment.
Dr. Rajiv Sinha writes:
Loved what you’ve written — and having gone on a somewhat parallel route earlier in my life, I’m totally with you when you say that the NDE experience is firmly etched and “recallable” whereas the drug induced experiences, no matter how pleasant, are hard to remember. Never thought of it, but you’re absolutely right. Also, the number of people who have had bad trips on hallucinogenics far outnumber (as a percentage) the number of people who have had an unpleasant NDE. That’s telling too.
David Sunfellow writes:
Rajiv, thank you for adding your thoughts (and experience) to this discussion. Many people are confused about this topic and Diane’s comments, reinforced by your own, sheds some light on this important topic. I hadn’t thought about the number of people reporting “bad trips” far outnumbering the number of people who have reported unpleasant NDEs, but I think you are right about that too! Thanks for taking the time to mention this.
Barbara Whitfield writes:
I agree with what you wrote here David — but only to a degree because I have sat with people who have had spiritually transformative experiences triggered by drugs. Our opening speaker at the first ACISTE conference told his experience in detail and it was triggered by LSD in the 60s. He is a prominent professor of psychology now and much of his work comes from the roots of his experience. He wrote a wonderful endorsement for Charlie and my book on The Moody Blues — which describes the levels of consciousness involved in their timeless words and music. I have a chapter on spiritual experiences and some of the members of this bands use of LSD in the 60s. It is reflected in much of their lyrics. For me the bottom line lies in the transformational qualities of spiritually transformative experiences and drug induced experiences have aftereffects that are just as profound — not as often but still life changing.
When I gave talks in the 80s and 90s, people would come up to me (after the talk, one to one) and tell me about their experiences triggered by other means that were not life threatening — helping someone else die (which I described as “entrainment”), during childbirth, hearing a spiritual talk or reading a spiritual book like ACIM, great loss, doing a 12 step program, detox and more as described in Chapter 8 of our book.
David Sunfellow writes:
Barbara, thanks for your insights. While it seems clear that many spiritually transformative experiences, including some that have been induced by drugs, can produce spiritual experiences that are just as deep and profound as those induced by classic near-death experiences, I’m wondering if you agree with the general thrust of Diane’s experience (and Rajiv’s). What I hear them saying is that as people who used BOTH drugs AND had a near-death experience, that the experiences (at least in their cases) were/are significantly different. Whereas NDEs “tend” to produce experiences that are more directly connected with the Source of life, drug experiences “tend” produce experiences that are less direct — and, by extension, less transformational. Do you agree with this train of thought as “a general rule”, meaning there are always exceptions, or are you more of the opinion that there is no significant difference between near-death experiences as a whole and drug induced experiences? They can both produce significant personal transformations that are of the same general intensity? In other words, you don’t see any significant difference between the large numbers of people who report spiritual experiences from drug use as compared to those who report spiritual experiences from NDEs?
While I realize that it is difficult to discuss topics like this because there are so many variables, it does seem important to identify and articulate general laws or principles. From where I’m sitting, one of those general laws or principles would be that using drugs to produce/force spiritual experiences are more dangerous and less effective than more natural methods. Ditto for attempting to induce a near-death experience by deliberately exposing our bodies to life threatening situations, such as waterboarding, extreme pain, or other techniques designed to push our bodies and minds to the breaking point.
I’m interested in identifying general laws, ideas, principles that most people can put to work in their lives. In my mind, this does not mean that using drugs, or following other extreme paths of awakening, may not be good, helpful, and needed for some people. This is a given. Even though there are general rules, we are all different. General rules do not always apply to everyone.
What are your thoughts on this?
Also, the ways that you report that people can have spiritually transformative experiences that are not life threatening, and also not drug induced — helping others die, being present at a child’s birth, hearing a spiritual talk, reading a spiritual book, experiencing great loss, doing a 12-step program, detoxing, etc. — sounds good to me. These are the kinds of experiences that I’ve come to believe tend to be more gentle, graceful, natural, and easier to ground and integrate than their more dramatic kin.
Dr. Rajiv Sinha writes:
Barbara, you’ve actually written a book about the Moody Blues!! Awesome! I didn’t know that and I have to read it. They were and still are one of my favorite groups and influenced the thinking of an entire generation (even in a 3rd world country like India!). And yes, I agree with you that spiritually transformative experiences can be triggered by drugs or other means.
You might recall that in the description of my NDE I referred to a friend, Sunil, who died in a motorcycle accident a few months prior to my experience. I’d like to share how much his death and the circumstances leading to his demise affected me, almost 6 months before my NDE.
Sunil and I joined The Doon School, one of India’s elite public schools, in 1964 at the age of about 11 yrs. We studied together, competed for top honors in biology (we both wanted to become doctors and bio is mandatory for that), boxed, trekked, talked about life and finally were admitted to the same medical school. We were together the evening before he died, both mildly stoned (genetically enhanced THC producing cannabis had not yet been discovered!) and I can, even today, recall his words almost exactly. “We made it, Xeke,” he said, “Become doctors. I’ve got engaged to my childhood sweetheart today and I’m going to marry her in the next 1 year. My brother’s come down to spend time with me. I haven’t met him in 3 years. (His brother was an officer in the merchant navy.) We’re flying down to meet mum and dad tomorrow and the family will be together after such a long time. Got it all man. Nothing more to ask God for. This has been the best day of my life!”
Six hours later he and his brother were both dead in a horrible mobike accident. The family and his fiance’ did get together — at the crematorium.
I was devastated. That my best friend should die within six hours of stating that he’d achieved what he’d striven for over a period of 14 years, that he was as happy and contented on that evening as I’ve ever known a human being to be, seemed illogical, even cruel. In my mind I railed against the unfairness of his death. I was so psychologically disturbed by the incident that I couldn’t take my exams and had to spend an extra 6 months in med school. For the first time in my life I stood exposed to the impermanence of life and its achievements.
To say that it was a transformative incident would be putting it mildly. And it was therefore perhaps fitting that it was his presence which sent me back to my body during my NDE. A closure which could not have happened in any other way.
But I draw a parallel to the incident. Sunil’s death made me “aware”. My NDE gave me “acceptance”. His death made me question achievements and the permanence of relationships, my NDE gave me the key to understanding the connection that exists between every item of creation stretching beyond the “time-space” continuum. Therein, I think, lies the difference between an NDE and a spiritually transforming incident of another nature. An NDE is “absolutely” personal, there is no involvement of a 2nd party — no drug, no talk, no written word, no Guru. It’s not better, just different.
I guess no two spiritually transformative experiences can, or should, be compared. Each and every one of them is unique and individual. And anything that spiritually transforms a human is to be appreciated.
Much of what I’ve written above had not occurred to me before and I thank you, once again, for taking me to a mind space that I had not previously explored.
David Sunfellow writes:
Great heartfelt post, Rajiv. Really touching.
Concerning Barbara’s book, it is located here.
Barbara Harris writes:
David, I agree with your general rules.
With that said, I must admit that in the past I have participated in shamanic rituals that included natural “medicines” (not chemicals out of nature). These rituals were in natural settings with “set and setting” that had been handed down through generations dating way back to times before our “modern” inculturation. This was after my NDE and while involved in research. I could and still can see how these rituals were life transformational. But to prove your point — they didn’t have a certain depth, a richness that can’t be explained in this reality.
My point was to not leave out other triggers that do change people’s values, perceptions and relationships with themselves, others and God.
Barbara Harris writes:
Dear Rajiv, thank you for writing this story of your friend. Sunil is alive in your heart and has affected me deeply.
Charlie and I just returned from a five day cruise with The Moody Blues — us and 3200 other passengers plus a long list of musicians from the 60s and 70s. It was a “blast from the past!”
With this great mob of fun loving “seniors” all of us were assigned to dinner tables every evening — tables of 10. So with trememdous odds of this not happening — sitting next to me and having perfect eye contact for five evenings — was a gentle little flower of a women in her 50s who was obviously dying — or it was obvious to me. Her husband finally revealed that she had terminal cancer and they were through with what traditional medicine could do for her. (I seem to be a magnet for people getting ready to transition and I have gotten used to it but the contrast between ELO performing “I’m Alive” and this frail beautiful soul was so poignant — I Thank God for Charlie because of course he understood exactly what was going on and as a past oncologist — joined in.) The most amazing part of this sudden soul friendship that we 4 joined in was that after the deep sharings — we could lighten up and be with each other in a very “normal” way so she had fun — she joined in and participated — and on the last night of their extended cruise (they stayed on after we left) she peacefully died.
Rajiv, I have been crying off and on since last week when this happened. Your post about Sunil has helped me to understand (once again) how poignant life here on this little planet is! There is joy and there is sorrow — there is suffering and there is celebration — but what is real is our relationships with others who become us too. Sunil and you in Spirit are one. Terri and I, her husband Daniel and Charlie became one for a brief time. Our hearts merged and I will carry her in my heart til hopefully we meet again on the other side.
Thank you David and Rajiv for this opportunity to express what I have been experiencing for the last week. Love to the both of you.
David Sunfellow writes:
Barbara and Rajiv, what a lovely, informative, and moving discussion. I give thanks for the caliber of people, the depth and breadth of life experience, and the quality of conversations that this network has allowed us to share. It’s food (and music) for the soul…
Thomas Spitzer writes:
I’m just reading The Ultimate Journey/Consciousness and the Mystery of Death by Stanislav Grof. He relates many powerful experiences he facilitated using LSD “psychedelic therapy” with those with terminal illnesses and how the experiences eased their fear of death and opened them to their true nature.
David Sunfellow writes:
Hi Thomas. I haven’t read this book, but am aware of some of the research, past and present, that indicates “psychedelic therapy” can be used to successfully treat a wide range of illnesses, including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Alcoholism, and Depression. And, of course, many people report that these kind of experiences changed their lives for the better by introducing them to various altered states of consciousness and existence. There are some related references here and here and especially here.
Diane Goble writes:
I neglected to mention another drug I tried back then that I would say had a profound affect, even transformational, and that’s MDMA, which became better known on the street as Ecstasy. I did it several times under the direction of a psychotherapist and this was before it became a rave party drug and was made illegal. It was called the Love Drug because it allows the person to move into an extremely loving state of consciousness (similar but not as intense as the feeling of unconditional love in the NDE), with the intention of resolving the past emotional issues hindering present day personal growth, including for PTSD, depression and other mental troubles. It allowed me to “see” an early childhood trauma I had repressed and to forgive my perpetrator, and express gratitude to his soul for helping me resolve this karmic past life issue. I was able to release the fear and anger, and subsequently to have better relationships.
Norman Van Rooy writes:
I was curious if anyone on this site has any information first or second hand that compares DMT — the Spirit molecule — found in shamanic brews in Central and South America or synthesized in a lab? Some of the YouTube videos about it are quite impressive and there are aspects to that short journey that seems to be cut of the same cloth. The psychedelic experience is short…perhaps around 7 minutes, but is much more meaningful than LSD and seems in many cases to have entities as a part of it. Time is absent and many different dimensions can be experienced simultaneously. For many this will bring about a major life change.
Barbara Harris writes:
Diane, I too “dabbled” with MDMA in the 80s as a drug used in therapy to help us get to issues that were so buried we couldn’t reach them but knew they were there and getting in our way. I tried it myself and became a sitter for others with the idea that they would then take their issues into therapy for at least 3 more sessions.
For me, personally, under those circumstances, MDMA was a great adjunct to my Life Review. I was very grateful for it and it became apparent that when those issues had surfaced, there was no longer any need to use it again.
It’s not recreational. It’s therapeutic! I went on to work with others in the psych community to legalize it for therapeutic purposes. Here are some online links to learn more:
The four documents included there are:
1) The original 2011 Pilot Study publication where 83% of treatment subjects (10 of 12) ended the protocol with sub-clinical scores on the CAPS PTSD assessment.
2) The 2012 Follow-up study of patients in the original pilot study showing the durability of the results of the pilot program.
3) A 2012 Swiss replication study that failed to confirm the clinician-assessed large effects of the original pilot. The sponsoring organization for these various studies, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), put a positive spin on these results as can be seen at their press release.
4) The latest psychotherapy treatment manual for these protocol-based studies. See chapter 5 for an explanation of the psychotherapy that occurs with concurrent MDMA administration. It is interesting to note that the therapy seems to reach back to childhood traumas rather than just address the acute trauma that “precipitated” the PTSD symptoms.
(I retrieved these papers and others from webbing around the MAPS website.)
Barbara Harris writes:
Norman — I’m beginning to feel like a druggie here! I’m not, but we did experiment back a few decades ago — I tried DMT under “research” circumstances to compare my NDE with DMT. This was in the 80s and we were looking for the right “cocktail” that could replicate the essence of the NDE. It did absolutely nothing for me. My Pot days in college were a lot more impressive then the “White Smoke” as it was called back then.
Some tried Ketamine back then as the “doorway” out but never got the results they were looking for.
I found that the only “link” here in this reality is to sit with dying friends and loved ones, even patients, for their energy vibration is so powerful as they transition that it “entrains” those of us who are with them. I wrote about this in The Natural Soul and Spiritual Awakenings — with or without a hands on meditation that brings us and “safe” loved ones into a “Loop”” of oneness.
What we have experienced is a group spiritual experience that can last for several days and helps those grieving to realize there is more to “life” than we thought.
Upon reading this post, I thought I might add to it — good luck with this one. I assure you that this is a true event that to this day I still don’t understand. If anyone has any insight, feel free to share it — and thanks.
I will not go into a lot of detail, but having grown up in an orphanage, I was considerably different from most people that I knew. I was very self oriented, but also very insecure. To try and resolve my lack of basic emotions I experimented with all kinds of drugs. LSD was one of my favorites.
In 1972 while attending Western Carolina University, I and four friends were doing acid at their apartment. It was about 8:30 pm on Friday evening. I happened to see the lights of a car go by and got up (curiosity) and went to the sliding glass doors, pulled the curtains back and looked out to see where the car was headed. I froze in my tracks.
I then called to Vince, a friend who was on the couch. He came over to me. I asked him to look on the porch and tell me what he saw. He pulled the curtains back and looked out. He instantly froze in place.
I asked, “What do you see?”
He didn’t respond.
I again asked. His response was, “What do you see?”
I answered, “It looks like Jesus Christ reading or holding a book.”
He said, “Man, that’s exactly what I see. He is in a white gown of some kind.”
“Yep, he sure is,” was my response to him.
I then asked him to turn on the porch light so we could see more clearly. He refused. I asked again. He refused. I then reached over and turned it on myself. Lo and behold the image disappeared.
Probably needless to say, but we kept this event to ourselves. This is the first time I have shared this with anyone as I am still reluctant, but have grown older and care less about people’s opinion of me. When seeking answers one has to be ready for anything. To this day I vividly remember every aspect of it. We both shared with each other later that we felt like He was letting us know that He didn’t approve of our actions. You may call it spiritually induced, drug induced or whatever, but I find it very strange that we both saw and felt the exact same thing. It was nothing like my death and return experience four years earlier (this was emotionally disturbing) but none-the-less seemed to be a brief visit to the spiritual realm.
Barbara Harris writes:
This is my gut feeling:
If one person drops acid and sees Jesus — it’s a hallucination.
If two people drop acid and see Jesus — it’s consensual validation!
If that was my visitation — I would interpret it as — God’s son is at my door and all I have to do is let Him in!
How did you interpret it?
Thomas Spitzer writes:
Hallucination is just a word that implies unreality or meaninglessness. If consciousness experiences anything it is real whether the experience is facilitated by drugs or by being hit by a car. Ultimately we have no idea what “reality” is. I consider Mitch’s vision to be a blessing.
David Sunfellow writes:
Mitch, thanks for sharing this experience with us! I can’t remember ever hearing an event like this, where two people who are using acid (or any other drugs), report having the same, identical visionary experience. What leaps to my mind though are the growing accounts of shared-death experiences where people do report having the same visionary experiences. It sounds like you and Vince slipped into a space that lies beyond the reach of most drug-induced experiences.
A few questions:
What impact did the experience have on you and Vince?
Did you stop engaging in the actions that the vision of Jesus was apparently warning you about?
Did you notice any other significant changes in your life, relationships, thought process?
Barbara and David, I hope to answer both of you. I am somewhat reluctant (still) to share some things as it seems to offend some people. I am not too concerned about what people think of me, but in no way wish to offend or hurt others.
At the time, I accepted that He was telling us that we were on the wrong path in life. But it took me a few years to actively/consciously respond. For two people to experience what we did at the same time was quite overwhelming for us both. This “visit” along with confronting Him during my death experience sent me on a completely different life path. I will not elaborate here as it is rather lengthy, but in brief:
I graduated college with my “piece of paper” saying that I had successfully completed an education in the science of engineering. I took a job in automotive design. I stayed at that job for 5 years and was very good at it, but was just not fulfilled. I quit on the spur of the moment one day, left home, took a job at one of the largest churches in the country. I began to research scripture in search for answers. (Because of both events). I eventually became an ordained minister, but still was not at peace. I had to get away from the Bible and into original manuscripts to find what He desired for me to learn. It’s absolutely mind boggling what was recorded before man got his hands on it and distorted it.
It took me over 35 years to realize what God wanted me to do. It doesn’t matter to me what you call Him — God, source, light, creator, father, whoever, or whatever is fine. There is a destiny to life. I hope that there is someone else here that understands what I mean when I say that I now exist in both the physical and spiritual realm. I am in contact with both, but know that there is still something lacking – maybe it’s just the finish line. I guess I will find out, but meanwhile I will do all I can to help and share with others.
When I now look back at my life’s predestination, all I can say is, “WOW!” He sure knows what He is doing. (Someone does for sure). The one thing I will leave you with is: “It amazes me just how many people really don’t want to know/accept/find the truth.” We unintentionally build too many walls. The answer is not hidden nor is it a mystery. That is, however, not all our fault. We are taught and seek “material (physical)” instead of “eternal (spiritual).” He knows what He is doing. Oh, the human emotional status and (thought/lack of) pattern! My love goes out to you and, thank you.
David Sunfellow writes:
I thought it might be helpful to say a little bit about my personal experiences with drugs. Simply put, I haven’t had any. None. I’ve never been high (or low) on any drug, synthetic or natural. Not even pot. Nor have I ever been drunk. Some of my kids have experimented with drugs, and all of them, like most people, drink, but I’ve never done any of it.
When I first got on the spiritual path, I thought not using drugs was a higher, better, more grounded way to live. And it made me a higher, better, more grounded person. But as the years passed, I began to notice that the decades of work I had done on myself were not producing the breakthroughs I wanted and needed. In many ways, on many levels, I felt stuck. I also became aware that not all the reasons I avoided drugs and drinking were noble or healthy. One of the biggest subterranean forces at work in me was a fear of loosing control. I grew up in circumstances, and with people, who were so pathologically out of control, that I had zero interest in turning my mind, my emotions, my life over to drugs. In a sense, my life had already been a drug trip — a bad drug trip — where all kinds of weird and exotic forces had their way with me as a child. I had had enough of that and was determined to create a stable life and build a solid consciousness that couldn’t be violated again.
But stability, as we all know, is only half the equation. We also need to leave room for experiences to reach us that can shake things up and carry us to new heights (and depths). So along with all the shadow work, dream work, relationship work, family of origin work, childhood wounding work, body work, and other kinds of personal development work I had been doing (which allowed me, for the most part, to maintain control of my own domain), I started paying serious attention to the breakthroughs people were reporting using “psychedelic therapy”. Actually, I’ve tracked this topic long before there was a clinical name for it and seriously pondered, for example, making a trip to Brazil to take Ayahuasca for a ride.
Anyway, a few years ago, I had some friends who had personally experienced the transformational powers of LSD. More than that, they had been guides for others. And also had some of “the original good stuff” locked away in a safe place. They offered to take me on a trip using the original stuff — and serve as protective guides. I took this opportunity so seriously that I gathered my family together and asked them what they thought. I explained how I felt stuck in various ways and thought a therapeutic LSD trip might help me make some breakthroughs. The ones in my family who had drug experiences weren’t impressed. They thought drug-induced transformations were over-rated and the whole idea was both dumb and dangerous. But they all agreed that I should do what I felt I needed to and said that they would support me whatever I decided to do.
With my family on board (kind of), I turned back to the offer. In the end, I realized that I really didn’t feel that good about the people who were offering the LSD trip. While they claimed their experiences had changed their lives, they didn’t feel that healthy, whole, happy, or functional to me. There were, in fact, some rather large elephants in the room (shadow aspects of their personalities) that they apparently couldn’t see. Then I pondered all the other folks I knew about who championed drug use as a path of transformation. What I realized was that those who felt the healthiest to me, had left drugs behind. While many of them began their spiritual journey using drugs, eventually they decided that drug use was not a way to anchor permanent states of consciousness, or even stable lives in this world. For that, you had to stay in your body, in your mind, in your emotions, and do the hard work of step-by-step becoming a more loving, grounded, caring person in this world. And that turned the tide for me. I passed up the opportunity to take LSD.
So that’s a little bit about my history with drugs.
I personally believe that drug use, for many people, especially if it takes place in a protected and/or ceremonial space, can be very helpful. The evidence for this is clear and overwhelming. So I’m not against drug use and not suggesting that there is anything wrong with people who have used drugs to make breakthroughs or experience awakenings. It does, however, seem clear that if drugs do provide legitimate transformational experiences that they lead people away from using them, rather than farther in. And, as myself and others have said, that the transformations they produce are “generally” not as deep as other kinds of transformations that are more directly connected to the Source of life.
Let me close by bringing up a larger issue: what is purpose of life? Are we here, in this world, to leave, to escape, to enter higher states of consciousness by ignoring this one; or here, in this world, to become fully embodied? I’ve come to believe we are here to get thoroughly involved and consciously master the challenging (and delightfully wonderful) forces that exist in this plane of existence; to bring Heaven (and heavenly states of consciousness) to Earth. If our excursions into other realms are intended to help us be more fully present in this one (and more aware and integrated with other realities at the same time), then great; if not, if we are using them to escape this reality, then I think our escape attempts frustrate our souls which respond by sending us back — again and again and again — until we get with the program. What do the rest of you think about this?
Norman Van Rooy writes:
This experience sheds light on one of the most profound and perplexing questions of Christianity. How was it possible for the teachings and practice of Christianity to spread across the entire Roman Empire in a matter of 20 years after Jesus was crucified? I have pondered this for a long time. It touches upon the issue of the “Jesus Myth”, a modern attempt to redact Jesus out of any legitimate historical relevancy. It touches on the possibility of a resurrection. And it touches on the very possibility of Jesus as a miracle worker. If one person sees Jesus after the crucifixion — it is a hallucination. If 12 or 50 people experience it at different times and settings it becomes a certainty, so much so that it galvanizes the distraught and confused followers and sets in motion the amazing expansion of the Jesus story. I have always been puzzled as to why Christianity spread so rapidly given the harsh environment it bloomed in. This shared vision can explain the power and intensity of the early Jesus movement.
David, I enjoyed reading you short testimony of morality and must say I have great admiration. You are among the few to overcome the temptation of a physical/mental attempt at spirituality. At this point in life I wish I could look back and say the same thing. The least and best I can say is that I did learn from it.
I have heard all kinds of reasons for life even to the extent that life has no purpose. In that there are no words in the human language to describe the purpose of life, it is always feeble to attempt to do so. I hope to read some responses to your question as I would find that extremely interesting. I may try to elaborate at a later time, but for now I will just most feebly say: “Without life there would be no experiences of obtaining the knowledge of knowing the differences between all of existence.”
Hey to you Norman, thanks for responding. If there is one subject within human thinking that brings debate, it is the name Jesus. There seems to be truth in that it is a name above all names, huh? I don’t know if you read my death and return experience, but the one prominent memory is my meeting and talking with Jesus. I was a young man of 17 and knew very little about Him and really didn’t care to. He had other ideas it seems and made himself known to me. Needless to say, it dramatically changed my life. The second “meeting” with Him changed the course of my life. I often cry spiritually because of what mankind has done to His teachings in that book called the Bible. So much has been changed and strays from the truth because of man’s struggle for power and of course, money. The great thing is that no matter how hard mankind tries to be god, they can not lessen the love He has for us. I generally don’t post responses that relate and refer to the Creator and I am sure that it will bring responses that explain why.
Barbara Harris writes:
I love the flow of this conversation we are having. I totally agree and enjoy everything that has been said.
I want to emphasize the part about drugs or “Medicine” as an aid to spiritual growth and when that happens — be able to move on and not become dependent on it.
Adding to this conversation, Stan Grof’s Holotropic Breathwork is a great experience to further our spiritual growth. I did it for a week with Stan and Christina. They developed it when Stan could no longer legally use LSD with patients for research.
Another way to grow spiritually I mentioned earlier and that’s volunteering to work at a hospice, or just be with a loved one as they transition.
My niece told me a while back that God is lonely. I was stunned. I talked it over with Charlie and I was shocked when he agreed! I knew that before Charlie I was lonely and what our love does for each other is support each other’s spiritual growth. What we have helped each other to do is allow our Soul to evolve and live a spiritual life. I can understand the “God being lonely” idea when I think of my own loneliness and how I have gotten in touch with my “god within.” Charlie and I have given each other a safe place to BE.
The part of us that lives after our physical self dies is the part of us that is a part of God (not the totality) but you know what I mean.
So when we have conversations like this — the same thing is happening. David has given us a safe place to be. We touch each other in our Souls. We have humility. We accept each other in all our differences and all our likeness. And to me this is the purpose of why we are here. To grow our Souls so we can realize who we are and not be lonely anymore.
I hope this made sense!
David Sunfellow writes:
John Cox writes:
I have just now been able to sit down and read all of what’s been written here. I now wish that I had been on this bullet train for the entire journey rather than grabbing hold of the mag lev after it’s left the station and has reached its cruising speed of 300 mph. However, I’ve been sitting here for the last hour or so reading and thinking about everything in one fell-swoop.
Early in my reading, what came to me is this:
Brain = Drug-Induced Brain-Altering Experiences
Mind = Natural Mind-Altering Experiences
This came to me from having read earlier comments posted at this Network regarding the differences between the brain and the mind. The brain is physically based and the mind is spiritually based. It just seems to follow that, since drugs are a part of this physical reality, then it would be physical, brain oriented. It also seems to follow that NDEs and other spiritual experiences that are generated spiritually would be spiritual, mind oriented.
With continued reading, however, it seems that this syllogism is too simple. The whole topic, cannot be titrated so easily, if at all.
I have the need to tell Mitch that I think I understand what you meant when you wrote that you would be getting responses or reactions from readers. Well, my response is that I easily identify with your comments from your first written words. Your comments facilitated opening my own memories of similar experiences through which I feel more physically connected and through which I feel a stronger sense of physical belonging.
I easily identified with David’s comments as well. My drug “history” is almost the same as yours with the exception of alcohol use. I’ve always been blessed with a spiritual ability to easily drop down into meditative trance and experience reality outside of the physical with no assistance from brain altering, physical drugs. I’ve also had the need to control and for reasons similar to yours. How it is that I could, on the other hand, trust turning control over control to Kingdom of God that is within us, I don’t rightly know.
For the past several months, I’ve been buying and reading books related to Gnosticism. These books give a fresh, new orientation to who Jesus might have been. Reading Gnostic literature influences me when I take a stab at articulating what is the purpose in being in the physical world as spiritual beings: We are here to be fully human, or Anthropos, as articulated by Jean-Yves Leloup in his book, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. In other words, we are here to be aware of and to actualize our fourfold human potential: soma, psyche, nous, Pneuma.
Operationalizing our purpose in being here might go something like this: We are here to merge our spiritual beings with our physical bodies in the physical environment in order to undergo spiritual transformations through which to help others do the same. I think that purpose as defined here fits well with what Barbara has already had to say about purpose. We are most definitely not here to escape, dissociate, deny, or minimize our specific, physical reality.
Dr. Rajiv Sinha writes:
This discussion is really going places!
I’m afraid I can’t claim that any of the “drugs” I experimented with were under the supervision of a psychotherapist or were monitored – they were purely recreational and I had a blast! The quantities and incidents were also limited because you can’t study extensively and do drugs simultaneously – your memory,recall and the ability to connect facts get thrown out of the window. So what I write here is a purely personal point of view, no validation by any authority.
I note that there has been a lot of discussion here on the various types of “drugs” that people have experimented with – things as mild as cannabis, progressing to mescaline, peyote, MDMA, iwahuasca, LSD etc. What I’d like to point out here is that the NEED to change one’s state of consciousness is inherent in mankind. Hence whether its alcohol, nicotine, any of the above mentioned chemicals ( synthetic or natural) OR dancing, singing, painting, jogging, meditation, prayer etc., human beings have striven since creation to enter, albeit temporarily, an altered state of consciousness which differs from the ‘normal’ state of consciousness. I differentiate between the two because the ‘normal’ state is driven by survival instincts ( the need for shelter, food, security ) whereas the human in an ‘altered’ state is as far from these basic instincts as can be. One can only indulge in the altered state of consciousness if the basics are taken care of. At least to some extent. Unless, of course, a physical dependence or addiction gets added to the equation.
One has to acknowledge that consciousness altering drugs are becoming more powerful and tailor made. The shaman in the Amazonian forest could never have dreamt of LSD, any more than the meditating monk in the Himalayas could have had any concept of MDMA. The drug induced high will evolve even further. Initially, newer, faster acting chemicals and more efficient systems of administration. Later, chips implanted in the brain. Further into the future one could predict the evolution of specific frequency modulated brain stimulators which wouldn’t need anything as crude as a physical device to induce specific sensations. Old timers will lament the passing of the ‘pure’ drug experience.
However,the NDE experience will also evolve. The “flat liners” are already here. With the progress that we’re seeing in resuscitative science its only a matter of a decade or less before tailor made NDEs are going to be made available. Artificial death, for the amount of time you want, guaranteed recovery, no side effects. Hook up with a friend or partner – meet your soul mate in the afterlife. Want to visualize the Buddha or Jesus when you see the light? No problem, it only costs a few hundred dollars more.
A 100 years from now, should one log into the updated version of NHNE, this debate of drug induced spiritual experience vs NDE will still be raging. Or perhaps debates about which is better – older, natural drugs vs the newer synthetic variants. Or perhaps trips induced by powders, pills and potions vs those induced by electromagnetic radiation. Or perhaps the visions and sensations experienced by a natural NDE vs an ADE (Artificial Death Experience). We are only limited by our imagination in understanding how far we can go.
I’m not being cynical or facetious here – this merely brings me back to my pet theme. Its not about HOW you had your spiritual experience. Its not about WHAT you experienced. Its all about what you bring back. Its about how you apply this spiritual experience to your daily mundane existence. Do you choose to keep on trying to recreate the experience (I’ve often heard it said that the “first” trip is always the best and that later one’s only trying to recapture the intensity and the novelty of the initial experience.) or do you want to apply to your life, in practical terms, the positivity you experienced? That’s free will. That’s individual choice.
The way I see it, a spiritual experience is meaningless unless it’s applied. Constricted unless its shared. Perverted if its used for self aggrandization or personal material benefit. Perhaps only if we rise above these normal human failings do we breathe life into our near death experiences.
Barbara Harris writes:
Rajiv, reading your post was like having a spiritual experience!
This whole thread is wonderful!
Your last two paragraphs are what I have been saying or trying to say for years!
I think I wrote a forum here with Obligation in the title and got practically no comments. My NDE was all about relationships — with my self, my significant others (some of whom were selfishly controlling me), and my relationship with this Energy we call GOD. And from then on, even now, my life is about my relationships. I keep applying everything I’ve learned from that experience we call the Life Review. After being granted the grace of my NDE, I feel obligated to continue what I learned. I continued having this life review with MDMA — my relationship with my self and my loved ones. A Shamanic journey showed me I had the energy of the “Holy Mother.” Call it an Archetype — I felt her in me. It wasn’t a concept to try to believe in — it was a living experience.
I recently wrote a short, cute and profound book with another NDEr. The book is called AFGEs — Another F***ing Growth Experience.
We dedicated it to: “Our EX Husbands who generously supplied us with AFGEs. And our current husbands who are really good at pointing out the mess before we step into it.”
I know that life is one AFGE after another with some joy thrown in between. But I never thought of saying it like you just did with the idea of applying what we learned.
And your last statement about breathing life into our NDEs — perhaps that is why I finally (at 71 years of age) feel like — I’m living in my Life Review — and this one is a lot better than the last one — because I have “Applied, Applied, Applied.”
Dr. Rajiv Sinha writes:
Dear Barbara, I could get hooked onto you and your comments!!
Seriously though, you’re one person I know who’s worked on herself very hard and unceasingly. I’m talking about the myriad experiences, physical, mental and spiritual, that you’ve put yourself through or have been granted the grace to experience. What you’ve never mentioned in your blogs is how painful they can be — its not a bed of roses with angels singing hosannas as the scales fall off your eyes. The more deeply entrenched the issue, the less we want to address it and when we do try and understand the patterns we bruise our egos, leave wounds on our psyches. It’s not fun; just plain painful at times.
On the other hand, I’ve known people who’ve spent years, decades, scratching their personal psychological scabs (and other’s too, as a profession) but have always approached it from a negative point of view. That you’ve managed to retain your sense of humor and perspective is something I find admirable. And i’t’s something I’d like to emulate. I’m 61 yrs old now and my prayer is that when, and if, I get to 71, I’ll still be able to approach life with the positive energy that suffuses everything you write.
Barbara Harris writes:
Well Rajiv, you’ve exposed me. You know as much about my journey as very few of my personal confidants. I have bled plenty. I did the Heroes Journey for many many years. Thank goodness I had the tapes of Bill Moyer interviewing Joseph Campbell. And then I met Ken Ring and he gave me an overview to what my NDE had started. A few years later, at an IANDS Board meeting he handed me the Galleys of Heading Toward Omega. This was the same weekend my husband of 23 years and I separated. I will spare you all the bloody descriptions of the next 10 years but there were also some wonderful moments. (See below to watch my 18 minute YouTube video where I talk about my six years of research assisting Bruce Greyson and Ken.)
Family wise, my parents, my sib and my 3 kids during that time treated me like I had some dread disease but I was learning like I’ve never learned before. And then I started writing books. That really opened me up to my process of learning how to be human. And, of course, I have always been guided with help from the other side. My mantra has always been, “What would God do?”
When I met Charlie I started reading his books and his wisdom blended so well with mine. Besides actually finding our relationship which after years of hard work is now filled with Unconditional Love — we share a psych practice and therapy groups for adults that were repeatedly traumatized as children and later. That describes me too. And our group members teach me every week — they are as fierce about their recovery as I am!
My sense of humor — that was THE Gift. It comes from my shadow. I still hear it trying to seduce me to merge with it. Instead, my Witness consciousness watches and listens (occasionally it still gets me — it’s easier now though to tune it out or at least tune it down). So sometimes, my shadow side says something totally outrageous and I use it.
The (shameless plug) one book that helped me the most, that I wrote with Charlie and another couple who have spiritual communities. It’s about The Power of Humility. I presented the map at the ACISTE conference as “A Map of Integration.” The map is included below. It shows the levels of consciousness with a grounded way of knowing when we are operating out of which level and how to use humility to raise ourselves up — out of conflict, and up to co-commitment, co-creation and Unity.
I had believed before this book that Unity was only possible after we die or occasionally during meditation. And that belief was limiting. Unity is available here on this side too. Humor is part of it. God likes to laugh.
David Sunfellow writes:
Thanks for your thoughtful comments, John, especially your last paragraph, which reminded me of a vision dream I had at the beginning of my spiritual journey. The often brutal nature of the spiritual path, which everyone here is deeply acquainted with, is also reflected in this dream. Here it is:
“The Greatest Movie Ever Made”
I dreamed I was sitting in a movie theater watching a movie. As I watched the movie, a host of meandering, shallow, incoherent, sometimes violent images tumbled across the screen. “What kind of ridiculous movie is this?” I thought, appalled that someone had spent millions of dollars on such a worthless, poorly-written movie. Squirming in my seat, I watched and watched, becoming increasingly irritated, impatient, and disgusted. Finally, just as the movie was about to end, the nonsensical scenes started pulling themselves together. In a matter of seconds, the jumbled scenes began to make perfect sense, and a breathtaking masterpiece emerged. When the movie was finally over, I sat back in my chair, overwhelmed. I had just seen one of the greatest, most perfectly executed films ever made. Meanwhile, as I sat and watched the movie, another image was playing in the background of my mind. I saw myself laying on a floor in convulsions. Stretching, moaning, and rolling around, I was being compelled by some unseen force to expand into a larger body that had somehow been superimposed over me. I knew that expanding into this larger body was the purpose of my life and that when the process was complete, I would be a new being — exalted, happy, fulfilled — even though now, as I was stretching into this new form, I was racked with pain.
Most of us can probably identify with the images presented in this dream. Our personal lives and, indeed, the world at large, often seems to be a hodgepodge of nonsensical events. What does it all mean? Where is it all going? Can anything good possibly come from the pain and suffering, the chaos and confusion so rampant in our personal and collective world? My dream’s answer to this was simple: Even though it may not be clear to us now, one day, if we hang in there long enough, all the pieces will come together and we will realize that life is a masterpiece. What’s more, we will find ourselves, by virtue of our difficult, often painful efforts to learn and grow, transformed into beings of unparalleled splendor.
David Sunfellow writes:
Rajiv, another fantastic post! I resonated most strongly with your last paragraph: that when all is said and done, it is mostly about APPLICATION! Without applying what we have learned and experienced in our lives, spiritual experiences become exactly what you say:
“A spiritual experience is meaningless unless its applied. Constricted unless its shared. Perverted if its used for self aggrandization or personal material benefit.”
With respect to humans being hardwired to pursue altered states of consciousness, amen to that too. And amen also to the idea that we are going to continue to experiment and try out all kinds of things to figure out how to access higher states of consciousness in the best way possible. That’s exactly why I wanted to have this conversation. What I want to know is this:
What is the best way to access higher states of consciousness in a way that is safe and effective; that produces the best, most integrated, balanced, and life changing results?
I listened to a fascinating presentation by Dr. Gregory Shushan over the weekend. In it, he describes the sweeping work he has done to determine that the core truths presented in near-death experiences, while wrapped in cultural packages, are universal across time and diverse human cultures. He also talks about how many religious traditions trace back to the near-death experiences of individual experiencers. As the culture embraced these experiences, there began to be concerted attempts to reproduce the experiences without having to die.
In the past, it was a challenge to share these kinds of experiences in the cultures in which they emerged, let alone share them cross culturally, around the world. But that’s what’s happening today. Thanks to the internet (and other global communication systems) we are now sharing all kinds of spiritually transformative experiences on a global, cross cultural scale and the search is on to:
1. Identify the core truths that are the same for humans everywhere;
2. To create systems that will allow human beings everywhere to access higher states of consciousness in safe and effective ways.
To use an analogy, accessing higher states of consciousness is kind of like building airplanes. It is absolutely clear now that humans can fly (reach and experience higher states of consciousness), but how, exactly, can we reach these higher states of consciousness in safe and effective ways (and stay there)? In order for planes to fly, it’s clear that basic aerodynamic laws have to be honored. If you don’t honor these laws, planes crash — or never get off the ground, or fly badly. I think the same idea applies to spiritual experiences: there are basic laws involved here. If you can identify and honor them, you have good results (you are able to build planes that are very stable and reliable). If you don’t honor them, or only partially honor them, you get poor results (you build planes — have experiences — that are unstable, unreliable, and sometimes dangerous).
Which brings me back to using drugs to induce spiritual experiences. While using drugs to induce spiritual experiences obey some of the laws of spiritual aerodynamics, and can, therefore, get planes off the ground, they tend to violate other laws and, because of this, produce flights that tend to be bumpy, unsustainable, and, at times, dangerous. Based on the evidence I have seen, I think systems that shock our bodies (and brains) into altered states are generally not the best way to get us airborne. They may be necessary and helpful for some people, in some situations, but as a general path, it seems to me that there are better ways to go.
Most of you know that I have been trying to identify the universal path that near-death experiences as a whole advocate. The NDE system I see addresses all the concerns were are talking about here. And it does so beautifully, casting a wide net that includes everyone and everything. It is also a mind-tweaking combination of acknowledging that everything — and every action — is perfect in the grand scheme of things while, at the same time, insisting that some ways of viewing life (and living in this world) are more effective than others. Version 3.0 of this evolving system is posted here:
One of the core themes that I see championed in NDEs is that life is about relationship. Our relationships with other human beings and the rest of life, including the chemistry of our bodies, brains, minds, emotions, and spirits, offers us feedback as to whether or not the particular system we are using is effective. In other words, when we engage in a particular activity, does it tend to bring the entire system into greater wholeness and health, or does it carry us into isolated places and states of consciousness at the expense of other elements of our personal and universal eco system? A good example of how this idea is played out in the real world is through how conventional food is grown. Without looking at the eco system as a whole, conventional farming focuses on growing more food. In order to do that, you reduce the diversity of crops and add tons of pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals to reach your goal. In the end, you grow more food, but the food is less nutritious, sometimes even toxic, and the eco system as a whole is poisoned and degraded. This kind of system, along with the mentality that produced it, is clearly not sustainable. One way or another, the imbalances will return to bite the farmer (and the consumer) in the butt.
Bottom line: The more we are in healthy relationship with all the forces that appear in our inner and outer worlds, the better things work (the higher we can fly and the more stable our flying is because all the forces in life are supporting us).
How do these ideas strike the rest of you? Am I making sense?
One last thought. The first people to pioneer new paths usually have a tough time. Their cultures tend to resist and reject them (and their ideas). Their first inventions tend to be crude, clumsy, and often dangerous. Progress tends to be inconsistent and is usually made through trial and error. I think that’s where we are now. Things are messy. Things are confusing. And we’re the ones discovering and paving new trails, often at great personal expense. Look at the fantastic journeys we’ve been on. The amazing things we’ve learned. The pearls of great price we have gathered. I really, deeply appreciate being able to have conversations like this one. I salute all of you and appreciate the part you are playing to lift us all to higher, deeper places…
Barbara Harris writes:
We’ve got to fuel that airplane analogy with HUMILITY. Without it NDEs and STEs don’t stick. I’ve seen it over and over. Experiencers become arrogant — they’ve got the answers and everyone should listen to them which is the worst way to handle our relationships. We used to call it the “Guru Syndrome.”
Humility means having the willingness and openness to learn more about self, others and the God of our Understanding.
John Cox writes:
David, your comments make me think of the poem by Oliver Wendel Holmes:
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!
David Sunfellow writes:
Barbara, I think this is very important too — and one reason (among many) that I think it is important for anyone who has had a near-death experience, or spiritually transformative experience, to learn about the experiences of others. Along with making it crystal clear that we aren’t the messiahs we might think we are (because the bus is full of other people who have had experiences as deep, or deeper than our own), learning about the experiences of others gives us a small taste of just how big the universe is and how teeny weeny our current understandings are.
One thought that has popped into my mind many times is after we, as a race of humans, have created a universal system of understanding that accurately reflects our collective spiritual experiences, we run into beings from another planet, or universe, who have a whole different way of viewing things. And after that encounter calms down and we’ve created a bigger, even more informed system, that system is stretched when we encounter beings from the multi-verse and beyond. And on and on the cycle goes.
I think we can see this same process at work in near-death experiences themselves. Some experiences reflect earlier, more tribal, less universal stages of growth and development, while other experiences are a bit further down the road. The best example I can think of is the near-death experience of Alon Anava. If you haven’t listened to his NDE, be sure to make time for this one. It’s quite remarkable. Both Alon, and his NDE, appear to tap into the kind of spiritual experiences that the prophets of the Old Testament probably tapped into. The emphasis is primarily on the importance of obeying laws (becoming an orthodox Jew in Alone’s case) and being a good Jew. The word “love” does not appear one time in Alon’s hour and a half story. Very illuminating and Alon is a fantastic story teller.
So, yes, humility, I agree, is a foundational posture. The moment we begin to think that we know everything, a rude awakening is probably around the corner.
David Sunfellow writes:
Beautiful poem, John. Thanks for sharing it.
Don O’Conner writes:
“I’ve seen it over and over. Experiencers become arrogant — they’ve got the answers and everyone should listen to them which is the worst way to handle our relationships. We used to call it the Guru Syndrome.'”
Indeed, it’s a very insidious thing that happens.
Humility isn’t the cure for it, IMO. Honesty is. Humility will come when one is completely honest with their self.
But it’s a rare individual that is honest, at least with their self. Most can’t stand to look in the mirror that intently.
David Sunfellow writes:
Good point, Don. Humility arises naturally when one is honest. That’s something to deeply ponder.
Don O’Conner writes:
Honesty is tightly related to acceptance, IMO. When one can accept everything about oneself, then they are being honest with their self.
That doesn’t mean that one has to hate some part of their self, obsess over some part of their self or eradicate some part of their self. Just face what they are.
Each of us is the sum total of ALL experiences that we have had in our life, so called positive or negative. It has made us who and what we are. The key is are we happy with who and what we are. Are we satisfied? Do we wish we had done things differently? (Though if we had we would be a different person.)
Don O’Conner writes:
On to the original post.
Yes there can be a difference between drug related experiences and NDEs, though there are a few that enter the NDE by way of drugs, either overdose or because they entered the drug experience with “a spiritual awareness”. Though most that take drugs don’t do it for the (possible) spiritual effects.
I had taken LSD back in the late 60’s, early 70’s and there are a few experiences that are indelibly engraved on my memory just as my NDEs are. I think that part of it is in how one enters the experience.
I became aware of “The Light” and the watcher during an LSD experience. But I had merged the taking of LSD, with yoga, meditation and breath control.
There are no absolutes 🙂
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