I wanted to like this book. I wanted to believe it. The author seems so sincere. Who would not like to think that there is something beautiful beyond death, that there is nothing to fear, that we can do no wrong and we will be unconditionally loved? Yet, my determination was severely tested by the author’s presentation. When Eben Alexander describes his (NDE) Near Death Experience, in 2008, brought on when he descended into a coma from a rare form of an e-Coli Virus,from which there was little hope of his recovery, he fills his tale with a rather large view of himself. He often apologizes for this, but kind of arrogance is, nevertheless, ever present. I felt as if he believed someone had elected him to the top post, to sit at the right hand of G-d. His explanations were often too technical or needed to be accepted based on his word or blind faith. Because he is a man of science, he came with good credentials, but the book left me wanting more. I needed some substance and the book felt thin in that department. If people coming out of comas go into psychotic states, hallucinating, why is it not possible for them to go into a psychotic state and also hallucinate entering into it? If scientifically it is impossible when the Neo Cortex is compromised completely, perhaps the science is wrong. Surely we know little enough about the brain and how it works to simply believe that what he experienced was real and not a dream state of some kind. He had been unhappy in prior years. His family life and professional life had suffered. He was adopted and was unsuccessfully searching for his roots, until a recent contact with a sister proved somewhat fruitful, and he learned of other siblings. He learned that his parents had married and he had a sister who had died. Perhaps his NDE was merely wish fulfillment, on his end.
When describing his NDE , he speaks of the Realm of The Earthworm’s-Eye View, a place of misery, The Gateway, a place of celestial beauty, where he met the beautiful girl on the butterfly’s wing, and The Core, where he felt communion with a greater being, where he felt close to the Creator, to Om, to G-d, to Jesus. Although he justifies the validity of his experience with claims that these are concepts that are new to him, it seemed doubtful to me, a non-Christian, so how could it not be so to him, even if he was not a religious Christian at that time? Are those concepts not universally reminiscent of Heaven, Hell, Purgatory and/or Limbo?
Eben realized, as an adoptee, that he had always somehow felt abandoned, unloved and when he thought about his NDE, he wondered why he was the only documented case of a person who had an NDE that had not been aware of who he was, during the experience, and the only one who had not met anyone who had died during his life who would lead him through and comfort him, as others had. Why had his father not come to comfort him, to tell him everything was all right; he had not been able to please him and he wanted his forgiveness. These thoughts reinforced his feelings of abandonment. He began to question the legitimacy of his own experience.
When he was still a doubter, in 2008, shortly after his recovery, he went to church and was asked to light an advent candle. Walking up, the music and scenes and sights before him seemed more beautiful than they had in the past, and he was overwhelmed. Since his illness, it would seem that this environment had more meaning for him, and he was brought to tears. The experience evoked memories of his NDE. Eben began to realize that we are so much more than our physical bodies. Still unsure of himself, there was one final act that convinced him he should spread the word about his experience in order to enlighten the world. As a scientist, he believed his word would be more credible than the word of others who had had similar experiences. So when he received a picture of a deceased sister, sent to him by his biological sister he realized she looked oddly familiar. Soon he realized, the last piece of the puzzle had fallen into place. He had met someone he knew. The girl on the butterfly wing in her angelic form was, he believed, his dead sister. He had been reading a book by Elizabeth Kubler Ross in which a young girl relates a NDE to her dad and explains that she met her brother, but she had no brother…her father confessed that a few months before she was born, her brother had died. This revelation about his own dead sibling, gave him renewed hope and faith in his own NDE.
Eben believes that consciousness resides some place other than the brain. Paraphrasing, he says, “we live in the dimension of the familiar, but the grander universe is here, now, with us, in a different frequency.” He believes you don’t have to die to access this frequency, “to access the truths behind the veil”, you just have to learn how, but don’t try to hard, for that will defeat you. Meditation is a useful tool. To understand the grander universe, you have to be part of it, become one with it.”
Eben himself admits that his experiences are very hard to describe and it is evident in his writing which is unclear, at times. I found that there was too much information, too technical at times, but there were not enough facts to make it credible. He says his experience in the Core was greater than his ability to understand it, to put into words, that he was able to absorb knowledge at a faster rate, immediately understand things that would take months, even years in ordinary time. In this place, time didn’t matter. So, although he couldn’t explain it, are we to accept his explanation and beliefs on blind faith? Why was he chosen to pass on this message? I thought the connections he made could be coincidence rather than providential. He had been scientific in his thinking, but now he was more spiritual.
Eben wrote that the Creator allows evil to exist because we have free will, but who is the Creator? He says we are all part of the divine, part of G-d, who is all loving and forgiving. He says the divine is always with us, and our job is to grow toward the divine. If we are all part of this G-d, this OM, then who is it or what is it? I have trouble with blind faith. The book feels too Christian in its concepts to be universally accepted. I believe Eben is being a bit presumptuous when he assumes we can all achieve this divine state. Can Jews or Muslims, or Budhists or Hindus achieve this state without disavowing their own faiths?
After his experience, he founded ETERNA, a non-profit organization to serve the greater good, to advance research into spiritually transformative experiences. The organization offers comfort and spiritual guidance to those going through difficult times with illness, etc. (Eben believes that you have to earn your entry into the higher planes of the realm he visited. Perhaps, he wants to earn his own by being G-dlike, good and compassionate.)
There simply was no PROOF OF HEAVEN, for me. The pieces fell into place, all too conveniently. However, I encourage other readers to draw their own conclusions. Your own background may alter your view and you may find greater inner peace than I did, when you read about what happened to him from the onset of his illness to the time of his recovery and then also learn a bit about his past. As a physician, he also has checkered history which warrants investigation. Perhaps this is all about Alexander’s need for love, compassion and forgiveness. He believes, from his NDE, he learned that everyone is loved, they have nothing to fear, and they can do no wrong. That is the strongest message he received. That is also his strongest need, so perhaps it was his own wish fulfillment during his coma, rather than an ”other worldly” experience. At the end of the day, though, do we all have to be Christians to have this experience, to attain this afterlife?
I have told little about his experiences, so the reader may draw their own conclusions as they read the book.