What follows is an account of a dream I had 35 years ago. It was of a place I read about after “seeing” (as in a vision) it in the dream. You’ve heard of it; it’s heaven. And you’ve heard the descriptions of it given by people who have had near death experiences, so some of this may sound familiar. After my experience, I read everything I could about near death/after life experiences. What is unique about my story is that I was not dying. Some medical experts (I can provide names if you like) attribute these visions to the altered biochemistry of a dying brain. As far as I know (and you’d think I would know) I was not dying when this happened. Neither was I at all sick nor under the influence of any drug or alcohol. My story is significant evidence that altered brain chemistry is not the explanation for these events.
Into another realm
It began with an awareness that I was leisurely walking down a narrow winding path through a dense forest. I say “an awareness” because this was not the awareness that I am familiar with. Unlike ordinary dreams and even in waking experience, scenes tend to be rather vague. A striking aspect of this scene was my perception of its detail. The forest consisted of trees like those in ordinary forests and might have been a mixture of oak and pine reaching heights up to 40 feet and shading nearly all of the forest floor. There were two or three types of grasses and I was aware of each individual blade. I saw patches of unvegetated ground, some covered with tree and grass litter and some, mainly in the center of the trail, uncovered and the firmly packed soil exposed. A rocky mound formed a small embankment on the left side of the path which made a gentle turn to the left. A few pebbles had rolled from this mound into the path. I was acutely aware of the size, shape and position of each one. As I rounded the turn, I looked closely at the bark on a tree close on my right. A particular flake of this caught my eye; it may have glinted slightly because as I looked increasingly closely at it, I realized it had the appearance of a flake of dark brown gold. These flakes, I soon realized, made up the bark of the entire tree. They were of such diverse sizes, hues, shapes and textures that none of the complexity of the tree was lost. Looking downward I saw that the grass likewise was composed of miniscule golden flakes where there was veining but now had a greenish cast. I looked up and around to take in a larger view of the landscape and saw that the entire forest and ground subtly shimmered being composed of these tiny flakes and sheets of this material where smooth contours existed. The forest retained all of the variety of color to which we are accustomed on earth and was not annoyingly bright or gaudy a you might expect. The scene over all was of a cool, dark-shaded, softly shimmering wood.
My astonishment at all of this was greatly magnified and the scene enhanced by my extraordinary state of mind. I had reached the limit, a fullness, an absoluteness of joy. Joy becomes exuberance in its fullness and it might have been exhausting to remain long in such a state; but what I felt was quieted, calmed by an equally complete feeling of peace, a peace of mind that can only spring from the complete absence of fear.
Take a minute to try to imagine what this encompasses, for my state of mind is one of the greatest revelations of the experience. You, as flesh and blood, have lived with fear from your first conscious moments. As one example, learning to walk is also learning not to fall for fear of physical pain. Later in life, we learn of psychological pain caused by conflict with others. Physical and psychological pain reoccur repeatedly and we come to anticipate (fear) that they will always be a part of our lives. Then we “learn to cope with” our fears; we become numbed to these expectations; we suppress them until the next incident. They are suppressed, not overcome or eliminated. We have pushed them beneath the surface where they permeate every area of our thought processes. We are not consciously aware of as these fears infuse into even the deepest recesses of our minds exerting a powerful influence over our attitude, our philosophy, our state of being, and our behavior. Every activity that I can name is made less enjoyable by the possibility of physical pain. Think of an activity – boating, traveling, sports, whatever. Now imagine participating in that activity with no possibility of an accident or injury. How much more enjoyable would it be?
And every relationship is diminished by the possibility of psychological pain, by fears of rejection, disagreement, competition etc. And, of course, every relationship and every other aspect of life is impinged upon by our knowledge that our very being, our life (as we know it), is transitory. Now imagine the relationships you have with the people close to you in a world where you know you will never have a serious conflict, never drift apart, and you know that those you care about will never die. Never. In my heart I am reverently grateful to God for having seen a glimpse of what that is like.
Now, as if this was not enough, add to it that I had reached a state of spiritual perfection. It took little introspection to see that all temptation was gone. Lust and greed had vanished, leaving no trace of ever having been part of my psyche. Other tendencies such as those toward skepticism and judgment of others were gone completely. Like the fears I’ve mentioned, I hadn’t been fully aware of their influence; but I was keenly aware of their absence once they had been removed. What remained only were the qualities I’ve strived in life to develop: kindness, acceptance, selflessness etc. As a bonus, I felt a warmth that far exceeded any I’d previously thought possible. Such warmth is not possible on earth where there is sin. It is only possible when the barriers between people caused by our tendency to sin are removed. Seeing no sin in yourself, you see none in others and feel no threat of being sinned against (including the sin of criticism) by others. This then is another fear from which I had been relieved.
To summarize, as I walked along I was fully joyous, rid of all fear, and rid of all inclination to sin. These changes in my state of being were sweeping changes. I was freed from all fear, from the smallest fear of biting insects, to the most burdensome and pervasive of all fears, that of death. I was without temptation to do neither the smallest nor the largest of sins. I encourage you again to dwell on what I have said about my state of mind. You have mentally to create another world to imagine it. It is essential that you do so to fully appreciate what I am writing to you.
The stream, home, and the light
And I came to a rapid stream about ten feet across and averaging about two feet in depth. It ran down from my right to my left in front of me. Its appearance was that of a flowing silver or gold – as thin and light as water – but impenetrable to light and having little color of its own, only that of the sky and trees which it reflected. My problem was to cross the stream and continue along the trail which I could see made another left turn on the opposite side of the stream, running along the bank, downstream. I looked down and could see, not with my eyes but with my mind, that the stream bed was cobble stones and some of the larger of these were piled up at the intersection with the trail for a crossing. Two or three large, flat stones lay only a couple of inches beneath the surface. I crossed the stream on these stones and although my feet had been immersed, they did not get wet.
Now I turned to my left and looking downstream, could see that the stream ran for approximately five hundred feet in this direction, then bent to the left. The bank on which I stood had a slope of about thirty degrees and increased in height from a few feet to ten or fifteen feet as the river valley deepened downstream toward the bend. Built on top of this bank, immediately after the bend, facing upstream, there was a small house. The trail ran directly to this house along the bank which was cleared of trees and supported a mixture of grasses and wild flowers. As I walked along the bank among the flowers considering my unearthly bliss I thought, “God, this is incredible.” I arrived at the house, turned around, and saw the spectacular view of the river and valley upstream that the house commanded, including the grassy flowered bank on the left and densely wooded flats on the right. In the distance I could see rolling, forested hills. Turning to my right, because of the bend in the river, I faced downstream. The river valley became increasingly deep in this direction and, likewise, the stream became wider, deeper and calmer as it gently curved to the right, creating something of an “S” shape.
My wife was inside working on some pleasant chore, baking perhaps, while I did some brief, pleasant work (such as gathering wood for a fire) outside. When we had finished, we met at the door and stood there in wonder at the view for a short time. Then, as if through a mist, the horizon became poorly defined and the color of the land, now a pastel brown, seemed to intermingle and swirl, like smoke, together with the now pastel blues and grays of the sky and clouds. From behind this swirling, part of a sphere of light appeared. This light had the most startling appearance of anything I saw in the experience. Its whiteness was of a purity not possible on earth and it was many times more lustrous than the rarest pearl. It was brighter than the sun but seemed not to be radiating light so much as it seemed to be gathering light unto itself. My eyes were drawn to it but were not bothered by its awesome brilliance. It seemed in some unexplainable way to be gathering up praises and radiating love, much like the sun radiates warmth, on what I sensed was a gathering of people hidden from view behind the hills not far beyond the banks of the river below.
I was irresistibly drawn to it. I looked at my wife and without speaking, nodded, communicating my feelings to her that I had to leave again, temporarily, to join with the people neither of us could see in communing with the light. She nodded back perfectly communicating her thoughts that I could go with her blessings. As I took my first step toward the light, I woke up.
Back to “reality”
That ineffable sensation of peace and joy remained with me for a few moments after I had awakened. I was alone in my studio apartment. I wanted to hold on to those feelings but, sadly, they gradually faded and I felt “normal” again. I’d had pleasant dreams before and not wanted them to end and believed this experience was nothing more than that, a dream. However wonderful and amazing it had been and whatever I may have learned about myself and about life itself, it was still just a dream to me. It was, nonetheless, remarkable and in the following weeks I told a number of people, including my Christian cousin, about it. In fact I told her about it several times and each time she recommended that I speak to her husband, Ron. I believe it was my third excited recounting of the experience to her when Ron was present. He listened quietly and when I had finished, nodded thoughtfully. He got up, went into his bedroom, and brought back a Reader’s Digest featuring an article on the book Life After Life. As I read the article that night, I began to realize that what I’d had was not an ordinary dream but a supernatural revelation.
The book, which I read later, and others like it are compilations of the stories of people who died and had been resuscitated. They are the remembrances of what these people experienced while “dead”. I can hardly express but you can well imagine my reaction as I read about unearthly things I’d experienced in a dream not long before. Some facets of my experience were unique and I did not experience everything reported by others in these books. For example, I did not feel myself being drawn through a long dark tunnel or passageway. But my story had many more things in common with the other’s than not. Importantly three things stand out: First, they all reported a new level of the feelings of peace and joy. Unfortunately they did not elaborate as I did, but some did mention the absence of the fear of death. Second, they described being able to read minds as Jesus did, and being able to communicate without speech. Finally, nearly all of them described what one book calls “the being if light”. Descriptions of this light, given in the books, matched my impression of it perfectly. Describing unearthly things in earthly terms is very difficult but I understood very well what they were saying. It’s one thing for a group of people to describe the same restaurant or city and have them agree on most things. It is another thing entirely for dozens of people to agree on the description of things that are, literally, out of this world. Because the testimony of these people agrees so well with mine on things that are so far from common experience and because our testimonies agree without prior collaboration, I am positively convinced that we all experienced a journey to the same real place.
I want to stress that my reaction to reading about what I had dreamed earlier was intense. I was overjoyed at what I had learned but frightened a little by the direct, personal intrusion of God into my life. I was also deeply shaken as some of my most basic assumptions about reality were proven untrue. It is an amazing fact the effects of the experience continue to grow as the experience itself continues to sink in. My thinking has to continually be readjusted in light of what happened to me.
I suppose it is everyone’s secret ambition to learn to cope with the inevitability of death. I can’t say that if tragedy entered my life right now that I would be strong enough to cope well with it. But God has given me something that will surely be a big help. During difficult times, I remember that place and long to return to it. I feel obliged to share what had been given to me. My hope is that by passing it on and having it spread around a little, that someday it will be of help to someone else. One day you might mention some things you’ve read here to a dying relative or someone else. Who knows? I’ve done my part to share my gift. Now it is up to you.