The voices I had heard all my life that said that being gay was an automatic ticket to hell had ceased to be the voice of sunday morning televangelists and had become my own. The emotional weight of which, would keep me up at night. I could not close my eyes to it...mostly becuase I knew that no matter how far away I pushed it from my mind, I would have to deal with it someday....especially that someday that all of us face...the end of our lives.So...as I was coming out, I also began dealing with the question "am I going to hell?" I began reaching out to other spiritual traditions and went in search of an answer that would put that question to rest, once and for all.
Thats when I discovered near death experiences. I had heard of near death accounts but had never previously given them much attention. Finally, the light clicked on..."well, most spiritual traditions are either written thousands of years ago and have been passed down such that their veracity can be compromised in the constant retelling, and many new age philosophies seem out to sell you something....what do the people that have been through death and seen it first hand have to say?"
Here I have to give my disclaimer: This is a topic that I know will not resonate with many people...either because of their preexisting religious beliefs...because they view it as nothing more than a scientific anomally...or because they just don't find any benefit in exploring the idea of death and the afterlife. It is not my intention to evangelize...I present this material from the perspective of one to whom these stories have helped find a measure of peace. I have resisted writing this for some time because it exposes that part of me that is very much still a work in progress. I can speak about being gay with much more confidence than I can about spirituality. And Finally...I am concerned that this will be the place where I get labeled a complete nutbar....but...good, bad, or indifferent, here we go.....
first some mood music...I love Fragile State and the imagery here is appropriate...
Near death experiences took on popularity in the 90's though they have been happening virtually forever. Much like being gay...people are shy to admit to them becuase of how they fear they will be percieved. This causes a problem with accurate reporting. Books about the NDE phenomenon have been in print since 1975 with Dr. Raymond Moody's book, "Life After Life". The popularization of the phenomenon has led to a stereoyped scenario of seeing a bright light, traveling through a tunnel, encountering some form of heaven and meeting deceased relatives, undergoing a review of your life and experiencing the effects of what you did to others in your life...good and bad, and meeting a being of light that experiencers often describe as being GOD who loves and accepts them unconditionally, without judgement.
Thats the standard account...now heres the reality....NDS's are as different as snowflakes and while some will fit the stereotypical model...just as many do not. Some contain no religious iconography whatsoever, while still others may be full of it, complete with angels and pearly gates. Some contain very negative and frightening imagery at first, although these are the exception rather than the rule, and usually end in a much more positive manner. Some near death accounts only involve floating out of their body and witnessing attempts at reviving their body, while others may go on ecstatic trips into what lies beyond death learning the secrets of the universe. Some accounts happen without physical harm...with only the belief that death is emminent. Those who commit suicide are just as likely to have a positive NDE as anyone else. NDE's happen across differing cultures and religions and in those a that identify as athiest. a few experiencers have woken up on the autopsy table or the morgue..... But the thing that is common in nearly all of them is the feeling of unconditional love and acceptance and an emphasis that we are here on the earth to learn and grow and the only goal worthwhile is to learn to love unconcditionally.....even here, for the sake of time I have had to greatly condense the variety and scope of the experiences which number in the thousands.
What struck me the most was that gay people were having experiences every bit as positive as the rest of humanity.
From the Near Death Experiences and the Afterlife website:
Christian Andreason is one such experiencer who brought his questions about his sexual orientation with him when he died. Andreason has quite a long account and his experience has alot of traditional religious imagery intermixed with non traditional imagery and being a musician, his NDE is filled with themes surrounding music. Andreason, also ambivelant about his sexuality, asks a very hesitant question of his guide:
When I got to Heaven, one of the first things I asked was about the very issue of bisexuality, as it had caused me a great deal of concern my whole life. My lady guide walked me to a room that had a large screen in it. On the screen, I saw two forms of Light conjoining with one another in the act of making Love. My guide then asked me to tell her which was the male and which was the female? I said, "I dunno!" She smiled at me and said it does not matter. She went on to say that the two Lights were what God saw when he looked upon us. She explained that God always sees us as our higher selves and that gender is a very temporary thing that will not be around forever. It was further explained to me that God himself is both a Mother essence and a Father essence to us, therefore; God fully understands our attractions for members of similar genders. It was told to me (or rather I was reminded) that there are no mistakes in the way each of us were made. God knew what each of us would be challenged and blessed with. We each act according to our heart (or developed Soul center) and as we mature Spiritually, we come up higher each time.Liz Dale , a San Francisco based psychologist and near death researcher has been focusing her work on the near death experiences of gays and lesbians. here book "Crossing Over and Coming Home" contains about twenty accounts of near death experiences soley from gay and lesbian experiencers. One of the books accounts happened in 1991. Andre, a sound technician and musician from the San Francisco area, gives this very detailed account that began with a ruptured appendix. During his account, which turnes from a trip to Guerneville Ca into a mountain assent into heaven. Along the way, he askes his spiritual companions a fatefull question:
4:44 P.M. once again we began my review of my life. This time, I could see all the self-doubt that I had in my life centered around the question of my being of any worth to god, since I was a gay man. It was then that I mustered up the courage to ask these beings something I could sence they were waiting for me to ask. I asked, "Is it o.k. to be gay?" and they laughed and said, "who do you think made gay people?" I remember us laughing for what seemed like 1000 years. I felt like I fit in for the first time in my entire life....completely fit in.
Most of the other experiences that Dale collected don't address homosexuality directly, as the frank question above did. However, the fact remains that the experiences she reports are positive ones and the experiencer reports themselves as gay.
Also from the same page on near-death.com is the account of Helen, a lesbian who's account begins with her suicide attempt:
I remember being wheeled from the flat on a stretcher. Again, I floated above and could look down and see two men carrying the stretcher, and I felt secure and safe in the knowledge that I was walking away from all the chaos of my life. Again, I felt it was my decision to walk away. Then I remember a very powerful force pulling me towards a serene, very beautiful realm, a higher realm. I traveled very slowly along a tunnel toward a bright light, and I could feel an overwhelming sense of warmth and peace and whiteness. I wanted to walk into the whiteness, which was so tranquil and happy. It was like stepping into a vacuum, there was nothing tangible, no scenery to look at, but a tremendous feeling of being somewhere, like nirvana. I felt okay, as though this was where I was meant to be, as if I had arrived home, and I was at ease with myself for the first time in a long time.Again, I want to emphasis that everyones experiences is unique to them and what Helen encountered may not be what you or I would encounter....I try not to judge them on content or opinions that I may not agree with as these stories come from people of all ages and backrounds. I just take it in.
I also felt at one with the forces of the universe, as though I was part of something much much bigger, and yet I was also the whole of it. It was a tremendously powerful feeling, and such a contrast to the despair and depression that had led me there.
Now from my favorite website on the subject of NDE's... NDERF.org, the Near Death Experience Research Foundation is literaly a clearing house of thousands of submitted experiences. Some NDE's with gay content don't even come from gay experiencers...such is the case with these excerpts from William Sillyman's experience:
....When it comes to judging, God does not judge as so many religions practice, they do a really good job of guilting you to death. Guilt for looking at a woman or man, for taking a drink, smoking, etc. However, for you to defend your way of life, you are rewarded and praised.
....So many times religions will teach that actions and words can admit or restrain a person from entering the presence of God. These types of teachings, teach guilt and shame. For instance, if you say the words, “Shit, Damn or Hell,” that soul will not be worthy to stand in the presence of God. If a person chooses to live a different lifestyle than the norm, many religions will outcast the member from the group by scapegoating that individual and reminding the rest of the congregation how this individual will be cast into Hell and will never see the Light of God.
When I stood in the presence of my Creator, I had done things in my life that were not the Norm, but I felt no shame for them, I just felt loved. While I was there, I was able to see 4 old friends that I had had on this earth. These friends had all been killed in a car wreck after they had been hit by a drunk driver. Some would think that that was o.k. because they had been innocently killed. The drunk driver had also been killed. Yet he was there also. Why? Because the guys had all forgiven him for his actions. All five of them knew and agreed that their missions on this earth ended on that particular night.
Oh, I also forgot to mention, the four friends of mine, shouldn't have been in Heaven at all, because religion had condemned them to Hell. All four of them on this earth had been Gay. They had no shame or guilt for their way of life. Society had the shame and guilt. These were great guys, they never hurt another human being. Three of them even had younger siblings, and they not once ever Molested or Defiled them, in fact they protected them, even up to the day they died....
There is also the story of David H. who's bought with pnuemonia ends with a near death experience. He was self described as being, "angry with GOD because he is gay". This is an example of an NDE that begins with negative or frightening content that ends on a positive note and is well worth the read. unfortunatly it is too long to post here and breaking it up will make it incomprehensible.
also, is the story of Carry G. who encounters a being he believes to be Jesus:
I saw this encounter as my best chance to ask the being of light a question. I somehow knew this being was God, Jesus in fact. I had been struggling with homosexual thoughts since a teen and felt so ashamed, so I asked this being, "Is it alright to be gay?"
I could not see the face of this being, but I can tell you I 'know' it smiled and laughed. It did not laugh at me. It seemed to enjoy the fact that I asked my question as if it knew how hard it was for me to ask it and how earnestly I sought the answer. It 'looked' at me with such love (I felt this but again I could not see its face) and then the loving being said, "Carry, that is not the most important question." He said that with such gentleness; it clearly wanted to draw me into his life so that all my questions could be answered. Before I could ask, "What is the most important question?," it "touched" the top of my head. Again, I did not see this being touch me, but I know it did. And, when it touched my head my whole body became translucent. I could see right through my body and my clothes yet at the same time I could make out every detail even as I could see right through myself! Then, it poured something of itself in me, and a wonderful golden light poured into me. It was pure gold, a shimmering golden light. It was so beautiful; it was not like any ordinary light as this light was 'alive' with pure joy, peace, goodness, life. And, I watched as the golden light 'filled' up my feet and then my legs and then my whole body to the very top of my head. At that eternal moment, I felt so alive, so free, so loved, so joyful that I no longer wanted to be on this earth.
I will offer one last point and thats on why each NDE if different from another...if NDE's represent any kind of reliable account of what happens to us after death...then why does each person who has one undergo a different experience? Couldn't this all be explained as the halucinations of a dying brain?
As for the "dying brain" theory, some experiencer have revived hours later while litterally under the autopsy knife....yeah, not pretty. Many report traveling around the hospital they died in and can report places and things that they should not have been able to see that were later verified. In fact, in some cases, people who were born blind report having a faculty resembling sight in their experience. In addition, is the phenominon known as the "Fear death experience" in which an experiencer merely believes death is emminent and undergoes and experience even though no physical harm takes place...my favorite NDE of all time that demonstrates this is Marry W.'s experience. I whole hearedly reccomend reading it.
The difference in NDE's was once talked about in the account of Mellon-Thomas Benedict. The main point of which being, that the experience itself is colored by our expectations of what we will see after death...which includes unconscious bias. He says in his account:
I asked the light, "What is going on here? Please, light, clarify yourself for me. I really want to know the reality of the situation."
I cannot really say the exact words, because it was sort of telepathy. The light responded. The information transferred to me was that your beliefs shape the kind of feedback you are getting before the light. If you were a Buddhist or Catholic or Fundamentalist, you get a feedback loop of your own stuff. You have a chance to look at it and examine it, but most people do not.
This is what I found when I began looking for my own answers about what happens to us when we die. What I found amazes me...but I still regard it with a grain of salt. How many of these experiencers would have their own agenda in falsifying a tale...for book sales or merely attention? I don't think that can ever be answered without submitting each NDE experiencer to a lie detector test. So, while I use this as a guide that life and the universe is ALOT more than I know or understand...its also alot more than any church has a handle on also. We may in fact be the toddlers of the universe....just beginning to take our first stumbling steps into a greater reality. But, even if most of the people who report an experience are misunderstanding whats happening to them or worse, making it up, ...then....if even one percent of the stories that I have read are true, than that alone radically changes the way I look at life, spirituality, and the messages I recieved about being gay.
I admit that I am an NDE hound and read each account voraciously. Jay has little patience for my NDE obsession. He always tells me when I am on about NDE's that, "If GOD asks me what I have to say for how I lived my life, I will say that I loved you and not feel bad about that.".......a beautifull statement...and frustrating at the same time because I usually want to talk about what I read...it just goes to show that everyone approaches life and death from very unique perspectives. For me its a powerfull subject that I never tire of considering....And I add...if anyone out there like to talk about such things or has an experience they wish to share..I will always be and eager listener, I love to talk about it and don't often get to...though I do not collect stories to repost here as I have no way of verifying them.
But now I open the conversation to you ..the reader to take these accounts and make of them what you will...no matter what conclusions you can draw about them, NDE's remind us how much we don't know about ourselves and the universe....I look forward to exploring that uncharted territory.