Life is forever—I died: Part one.
I listen to others describe what it is they are looking for with prayer and meditation. They state such goals and objectives as “nirvana,” “bliss,” “heaven,” “peace,” “serenity,” “one with everything,” and “the grand and glorious enlightenment.” It is with a sense of apprehension that I now realize that what they seek I already reluctantly experienced and I am now trying to understand…
Walking down a short hallway from “the man-room” to my bedroom, I pass by the doorway to the living room. Out of the corner of my eye I see a young man sitting in a chair. The room begins to fill with a bright light. The walls become translucent, and I rush to my bedroom in order to escape. The entire event lasted only a few seconds; long enough for me to begin thinking that I imagined the person I saw from the corner of my eye.
I returned to the living room to confirm that nothing was there, but truth had settled in my mind. It resonated in my feelings, shattering – as it always does – my defenses. The figure I saw sitting in the chair was a younger Carlston. He was beckoning to me. Time stopped and I found myself at the veil’s doorway. The doorway, more to the point, what’s on the other side, is a place that I avoided for twenty years. The place beyond the veil of physical understanding is a place of God, and I have been there…more than once. I am a reluctant traveler of both time and space.
What is spirituality?
Part of it, is the realization that you are spirit; a consciousness of being…an awareness of one’s soul. In other words, to know that you are eternal. C.S. Lewis, in the Screw Tape Letters, describes human beings as “amphibians,” being one part physical and the other spiritual. Both the physical and the spiritual are individually different, yet each is a living element of the other. Most of us are deaf, mute, and blind to the greater part of our nature, choosing to only see and feel the physical part of our being and our world. We walk through our lives, never realizing the spiritual truth of who we are or where we are. Indeed, most perish, never having listened, spoken, or seen – as awakened spiritual beings. Never realizing that the universe is both physical and spiritual.
So, once upon a time, I died. My father had a near death event. His account finds itself in good company—you know: white light, beautiful music, and the whole out-of-body experience described by thousands. My near death event was not so pretty. There was no white light experience, out of body traveling, or glorious music. Bad dream, was my prophetic first phrase.
The words “bad dream” make so much sense when you know my story. That is, if you know the 25 year old Carlston. Until the age of ten, I lived on 200 acres in the country; running and playing in the fields of my parents. My world was turned upside down when we moved to a city of 200,000 and my acreage became a lot. I watched my father die from a heart attack when I was twelve. From the age of nine to the age of sixteen I drank and used drugs. I think drug addict is the word and I posed for a thug’s life. At the age of sixteen I began to follow a spiritual path. At twenty-five years of age, I had a job and girlfriend, whom I intended to marry. Then there was death.
With chest-pains, I awoke at around 3am. I went to the ER with my mother and they immediately rushed me in. After a while, the nurse told me that they were going to give me a shot of morphine. Being a recovering drug addict, I said, “that is unacceptable.” After arguing with the nurse and hearing the pleas of my worried mother, I gave in. The morphine had been injected. I looked my mother in the eyes, told her I was sorry and promptly died.
Stage one: Enter Hell
I read somewhere that time is an illusion, but this meant nothing until death. The ER staff was rushing about trying to revive me. It was in this moment that I became aware that I was dead. I struggled to move. I tried to speak. Finally, I endeavored to take one breath, but I could not. Like drowning, all that remained was terror. Then came the Presence. It spoke to me. There were no words. There were no sounds. The Presence was the Word, and the Word was, “Let me know when you’re finished.”
I was aware of the Presence but It gave me no comfort. I ignored It and focused my will on living— to breathe. All became dark as the minutes turned to hours, hours to days, days to years, and time lost continuity. I fought for an age in my struggle for life. The will ought not be underestimated, but it has its limits when unsupported. I don’t remember why, perhaps it was exhaustion, perhaps a lesson in futility learned, whatever the reason, I let go of life and fell into the void.
Stage Two: Soul to Heaven
I woke up in a place filled with spheres of a clear white-blue force, traveling in streams of pure energy; its hue was golden. The spheres would stop and look at me. Entire lives would swirl in my mind’s eye. Then, I was standing upon an alabaster sea— a sea without end. It was now that I realized there was no more pain; there was only peace. I felt the wind but none blew. There was warm sunlight on my face but none shined. The silence was a deafening music. Then there came a drop of what I will call water from heaven and it struck the alabaster sea. There was a great sound, which has no explanation. The sea lost its form. Then, the Presence called me by name saying, “Arise.” I saw a black sun swirling in the heavens with a golden red light, and it fell toward me. Then, I heard a doctor speaking to me and I said, “bad dream.”
We are the person we present to others, the person others see, and the being we truly are.
I spent weeks in the hospital. I was asked many times about what it was like to have been dead for three minutes. I responded to all inquiries the same: to the doctor who came by ICU, my girlfriend, mother, and to all my friends. I told everyone, without fail, that nothing happened. I wanted to return to my life. I wanted to forget. I didn’t acknowledge the death experience. However, my external life seemed to reflect my psyche, in spite of my will. My physical conditions required that I have a defibrillator implanted in my chest and my entire life style had to change. I suffered an infection after the surgery, which left me home-bound for a month. My mother learned she had an incurable cancer. The girlfriend left me, and I lost the job. I became angry. I resented everything, and suddenly I knew my mortality. I rarely left the house.
Months later, this young padawan had an audience with his master, Bill. The meeting lasted all of 5 minutes and this is what he said, “If you want to kill yourself, fine, but I am not going to participate. If you want to live, you know what to do.” Then he left, and I was alone. There is a loneliness few know; a self-imposed prison of isolation, and mine was a dark fortress of bitterness and fear that kept me safe from my new reality. I used to joke that I wanted a tattoo of praying hands with an inscription that read, “Fucking Bitter.”
During the time leading up to the “pleasant little visit” I had with my mentor, there were a series of symbolic occurrences. Each instance took me back to the experience of death. While in the hospital, I went to the chapel and found myself sitting next to a painting of the resurrection. In my neighborhood, while sitting at a stop sign, I saw, stalled in the intersection, a customized van with the resurrection scene painted on its side. There were many more. Always the same, an image of the resurrection, and it always took me back to the experience of death.
To say I was taken back to the death experience is more accurate than saying I remembered, reflected, or flashed back. I was suddenly on the ER’s metal table (I call it the slab). The walls melt way, and I fall through the void to the alabaster sea. Then, there was the great doorway or portal in the veil, which relentlessly called to me. I could see that there was a blank spot in my mind; something, which remained unseen. There was more to the death event than I remembered or saw. It was haunting.
The slab events lasted less than a second and more than a lifetime. I would simply ignore them. Having worked in the mental health field, I considered it dangerous to tell anyone about reliving my death event. I decided that well-meaning friends would insist that I see well-meaning doctors, psychiatrists, and therapists who would label, medicate, and treat it as a trauma or insanity. I was convinced that, over time, it would stop occurring, but to my dismay it was only the beginning. A cool breeze, warm sunlit day, a bird chirping, a shadow, a light bulb exploding, warm bath, a hot shower— all these, seemingly mundane experiences, have taken me back to the slab.
Following the pep talk from my mentor, I found myself reluctantly inspired. I went for a walk (at the doctor’s request). And I prayed. The next day I called Bill and told him, “walked and prayed” then I hung up. I repeated that call every day for the next ten months. While walking in a rain storm, it occurred to me, “I had died and woke up someone completely different.” That, in effect, the Carlston that had lived the previous twenty-five years no longer existed. I had been reborn. I could see how my mind was different, feelings changed, and even my physical world had been altered. It was like all new software had been downloaded. I was struggling to maintain who I was in the face of altered beliefs and changing attitudes. I remember the first 25 years. I saw them as myself, but there was a sense of separation, as if it belong to another man. I debated with myself, “was it not the same when I sobered up? Did I not see the first sixteen years as time and space occupied by another person?” No, this was different; my core was transformed. I no longer needed the inscription. A praying hand’s tattoo would suffice; however, I would resist this new reality for many years. Hoping it was only a philosophical idea and nothing more, I fought the prospect that it was a true experience, but truth has its funny little ways.