The blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up.
-- Matthew, 11:5
Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there's a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.
-- Helen Keller
A middle-aged man, with a paunch, is sitting on a doctor’s examining table waiting anxiously for the doctor to return with the results of his latest examination.
The doctor comes in, looking solemn.
“I’m afraid it’s your body,” he intones.
I am that man. Surely Yeats did not have me or my body in mind when he wrote his immortal lines, “things fall apart, the center cannot hold,” but they are apposite, I’m afraid. Somatic entropy is icumen in.
I don’t want to bore you with a list of my various infirmities and debilities since I already regaled you with those woes in the very first essay in this series, which I wrote in December, 2017. I’m tempted just to write something along the lines of, “suffice it to say, they have all grown worse.” But I will resist that temptation if you will indulge me for a few moments in order to give you some specifics. Besides, as usual, I have an ulterior motive for mentioning some of them, which will shortly be revealed.
To begin with, I now list. That is, these days when standing or walking, I am no longer an orthogonal being. Instead, following my political proclivities, I tilt to the left. Generally, I am not aware of this until I run into a lamppost or something, which is a painful way of being reminded that I now am an embodiment of the same principle as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. (You can see photographic evidence of this if you scroll back to the tenth essay in this series where there is photo of me, tilting, while wearing a University of Heaven t-shirt.)
And then there is my difficulty in walking, quite apart from my wayward posture. For one thing, I have now acquired not just a paunch of my own, but a pot. I joke that having once written a book entitled Heading Toward Omega, I could now write another called Heading Toward Rotundity. Hell, I am only heading toward death, but I have already achieved full rotundity. And this in a man who was once described as a “slender mustachioed researcher.” The pounds don’t come off easily any longer; they adhere, having found a cozy home of their own in my belly and seek to expand like a balloon filling with air, even when I think about consuming another York Mint Patty. The result is, I no longer just walk; it’s more that I now waddle, and sometimes wobble, in the general direction of my destination, drawing piteous and condescending stares, and sometimes curses, from the buff young Marinites who have to swerve to avoid hitting me with their bikes on the walking path that runs along the creek adjacent to my home.
But that’s only the beginning of my current travails. Worse still is what causes me to mutter, “ai, ai, eye!” Yes, it’s my eye, or rather it’s the lack of vision in one of them. (And, BTW, I can’t resist mentioning to you that for years I saw an eye doctor named – Dr. Ai. No, I am not kidding. He was a retinal specialist, and that was really his name. I managed to refrain making the obvious joke whenever I saw him.) But back to my eye.
I have had glaucoma for over twenty years, and recently it’s got quite a bit worse. When you have glaucoma, you are regularly tested to see how much peripheral vision you have lost. Would you like to see the latest results for my right eye? Please take a look at the diagram on page 4.
Ignore all the numbers. Just look at the picture with all the black shading. Wherever you see black, that’s what I don’t see. So, you can see that I am completely blind on the left side of that eye, and have only a little sliver of vision in my right visual field. In addition, I have what’s called a macular pucker (or wrinkle) in that eye that interferes with my central vision. When I try to look at the Snellen chart (the chart that eye doctors use to check your vision), the best I can do is 20/200.
So to put all this into technical terms, that eye is shot. In order to see anything, I have to depend on my left eye, which isn’t nearly so compromised by glaucoma, but it ain’t so great either.
Are you beginning to get an idea of my visual world? Unfortunately, my vision has deteriorated quite a bit since I started writing these essays. Nowadays, I don’t see as much as I infer the existence of what we were once pleased to call the external world. I mean, if the street where I walk was there yesterday, I assume it must still be there today. But my vision is getting to be a joke. For example, the other day, as I was completing my warm-down after my stint on my stationary bike, I happened to pass by my next door neighbor, who was walking her dog. I did recognize that a dog was coming toward me, but I failed to recognize my neighbor. Just call me Mr. Magoo of Marin.
Well, you can see – no pun intended since that verb is largely conjectural for me now – that I have my reasons for hoping that I won’t have to wait too much longer to have better vision. No, there is no operation that can help me.
The only thing that can – is death! And now I will tell you why I have cause to think that one day, perhaps before too long, I will have perfect vision.
One of things that first struck me so forcibly when I was starting out on my life as an NDE researcher was how often my respondents would comment on how well they could see (and hear) during their NDEs. Here are some of those remarks from my first book on NDEs, Life at Death.
I could see very clearly, yeh, yeh. I recognized it [her body] as being me.
My ears were very sensitive at that point…Vision also.
I heard everything clearly and distinctly.
Seems like everything was clear. My hearing was clear…I felt like I could hear a pin drop. My sight – everything was clear.
It was as if my whole body had eyes and ears.
Years later, one of my students, who had had an NDE, and who had previously lost most of the hearing in one of his ears, told me he could hear perfectly during his NDE.
And it’s a similar story for people who are poorly sighted, but not during their NDE. Consider the following case of a 48-year-old woman who reported this experience following post-surgical complications. All of a sudden:
Bang. I left. The next thing I was aware of was floating on the ceiling. And seeing down there, with his hat on his head [she is referring to her anesthesiologist]…it was so vivid. I’m very near-sighted, too, by the way, which was another one of the startling things that happened when I left my body. I see at fifteen feet what most people see at 400…They were hooking me up to a machine behind my head. And my first thought was, “Jesus, I can see! I can’t believe it, I can see!” I could read the numbers on the machine behind my head and I was just so thrilled. And I thought, “They gave me back my glasses.”
Things were enormously clear and bright…From where I was looking, I could look down on this enormous fluorescent light…and it was so dirty on top of the light. [Could you see the top of the light fixture, then? I asked.] I was floating above the light fixture. [Could you see the top of the light fixture?] Yes [sounding a little impatient with my question], and it was filthy. And I remember thinking, “Got to tell the nurses about that.”
Even more astonishing than the fact that those with defective vision seem to see perfectly during their NDE is the finding from my own research on the blind (he said modestly) that clearly shows that even persons who are congenitally blind -- people who obviously have never seen in their lives – can and do see during their NDEs. As one of these persons who I interviewed for my book, Mindsight, where I present about thirty of these cases, and who had had two NDEs, said: “Those experiences were the only time I could ever relate to seeing, and to what light was, because I experienced it. I was able to see.”
This testimony comes from a woman named Vicki who was 43 when I first met and interviewed her in Seattle. In the course of her interview she told me that during her (second) NDE, when she was 22, which took place in a hospital, she found herself up by the ceiling and could clearly see her body below (she recognized it from seeing her hair and also her wedding ring). She continued to ascend and eventually came to be above the hospital, where she saw streets, buildings and the lights of the city. She also told me that she saw different intensities of brightness and wondered if that was what people meant when they referred to colors.
Vicki was only one such case of the congenitally blind who reported some kind of vision during their NDE; as I’ve mentioned, there were others. How such eyeless vision, which I called mindsight, can occur is something I speculate about in my book, but the fact that it occurs is incontestable, however inexplicable it appears.
What does all this research have to tell us about the kind of body we may find ourselves in after death? Of course, no one can say with certainty, but the implication is that it will be one in which all of the senses we have in our earthly body are somehow able to function with perfect clarity. And if that’s so, it stands to reason that whatever infirmities or physical limitations we have here will be absent there.
Think of it this way. When we dream, we are usually not aware of any bodily limitations. Indeed, we may not even be aware of having a “dream body.” I know that in my own dreams, I am aware of myself, but not my body. Now, don’t misunderstand: An NDE is in no way like a dream; it is far more real. From the standpoint of an NDE, it is more real than what we call life, and certainly more real than even the most vivid dream. Nevertheless, our dreams are perhaps the best intimation of the wonders that await us after we die. And in that state, the one that we can anticipate when we die, all bodily malfunctions appear to be transcended.
When I contemplate such possibilities, I know it makes it a lot easier for me to deal with the signs of my own creeping decrepitude and my increasingly poor vision. I know that they are only the temporary impediments of my aging body.
In any case, you can now understand that I am not just waiting to die. I’m waiting to see. Perfectly.
Dr. Ring is Professor Emeritus of psychology at the University of Connecticut where he researched near-death experiences. He designed scientifically structured studies of 102 near-death survivors that further developed Dr. Raymond Moody's early NDE findings. He is well-known for his ground-breaking research of investigating NDEs among blind persons in his book Mindsight. Ken Ring is the co-founder and past president of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) and is the founding editor of the Journal of Near-Death Studies. He has published several near-death experience related books, including Life at Death (1980), Heading Toward Omega (1984), The Omega Project: Near-Death Experiences, UFO Encounters, and Mind at Large (1992), and his most well-known and celebrated NDE book, Lessons from the Light (2000).
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