Betty J. Eadie (1992). Embraced by the light. Placerville, CA: Gold Leaf Press.
Book Review by Ozodi Thomas Osuji
First, I will summarize the book and thereafter examine the implication of the reality or lack thereof of life existing after we die.
The story is that in 1973 thirty one years old Betty J. Eadie, an American woman of mixed Irish and Indian heritage had a near death experience. She had had seven children and decided to have a hysterectomy so as not to have other children and went to a hospital to have that operation. The operation went well and she was returned to her hospital room.
With no one present, during the night (around 10 PM) she said that she died and had a near death experience (the nurses and doctors were not there to corroborate her supposed death...five years later, responding to folks who asked her for evidence that she indeed died, she went back to the hospital to ask the doctor who worked on her whether there was medical complication during the night that she said that she died; we did not get clarity on that subject from her doctor).
Taking her word for it and, indeed, she died, she reported going through the usual process those who claim to have had near death experience report. She saw herself outside her body, hovering over her bed, then left the hospital room, visited her home and saw her family members at home. Upon realizing that she could not relate to them, touch them since she is now in a different form from them, and they could not see her, she left her house.
At some point she found herself in a dark ambiance, a place of total darkness. She looked up and saw a pinprick of light and was attracted by that light. She travelled to that light (travelling at a speed that exceeds the speed of light). As she was traveling in the darkness she felt happy, joyous and peaceful. She sensed that many other persons were also traveling in that darkness (presumably dead people moving to the world where folks go upon death).
Thereafter, she found herself in what seemed like a tunnel and went through it and emerged in a place of light. In the place of light she saw a figure she claimed is her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
She was happy to see him and asked him loads of questions and he gave her responses (the answers essentially rehash what other near death experiencers tell us about life after death and the philosophy thereof).
She was then sent to explore her new environment. Accompanied by two women she visited several places, including a garden, a greeting or welcoming party of sorts, many worlds and then returned to the world of life after death.
She saw how people in the world of light decide to come to our world; how they select their earthly bodies, parents, and place of birth and then jump into our world (into pregnant women) and are born on earth.
She talked about various ideas generally associated with new age philosophy, such as life review (what Easterners call Akashi records containing everything we did while on earth).
She was brought to a council of twelve men and Jesus (this scene is reminiscent of Jesus and his twelve apostles); the counselors told her that her mission on earth had not been performed, is not done and that her death was premature and that she had to return to earth to complete her mission (the philosophy is that each of us came to earth for a mission). She was happy where she is and did not want to return to painful earth but after a bit of cajoling she accepted that she had to return to earth.
There was a farewell party for her and she returned to earth and reentered her body and felt the limitation of living in body.
She said that she told her husband and children what had happened to her but did not tell the hospital staff. Apparently, the hospital staff did not tell her that at some point during the evening she had died or was in a bad way and they had to resuscitate her (this makes her story fishy, some would say).
Twenty years later (1992) she wrote a book on what happened twenty years earlier in her life (from what we know about human memory, folks often do not recall what happened twenty years ago accurately; this would cast doubt on the veracity of her story but let us give her the benefit of doubt and go along with her story).
Are near death experiences true? Atheists would have no difficulty dismissing them as rubbish. Some psychologists tell us that perhaps some changes take place in the brain of dying persons that make them have the hallucination, dream or vision that they call near death experience.
In so far that we only have to take the word of those who tell us that they have gone through these experiences obviously we can only believe them on faith or dismiss what they say as a kind of hallucination or dream.
Until we all can verify that folks really do go through near death processes all we have is the word of those who tell us about them. From what we know about human nature some people do tell the truth and some tell lies.
The skeptical part of us asks: was Betty Eadie telling us the truth or did she make up the seeming fabulous story she crafted in her book to sell a book and make a decent living?
Our experience tells us that some folks are deluded and in their delusion disorder could make such stories up and believe in them when they are not true.
Let us for the moment assume that folks do, in fact, see the world that they tell us that they saw during their near death experiences. We could say that they had an interesting dream.
In our nightly dreams we do see a world that looks like our day world and while in them accept them as real but when we wake up in the morning know that they are not real, that we were only dreaming. Dreams are not real, we tell ourselves and forget them and move on with the business of living on planet earth.
In effect, what these near death experiencers saw could be another form of dream and they ought to forget them and move on with their lives.
Talking about dreams, one may ask: how are our brains able to produce dreams at night, and if the near death world is also a dream, produce them? We know what our brains are composed of.
Our brain is largely composed of cells (neurons). We know about the shape of neurons and their composition and how they communicate with each other through elaborate neurotransmitters. We know what takes places at the synapses where two neurons meet and exchange calcium ion, potassium ion, sodium ion, magnesium ion, and other ions (ions are elements with their electrons either increased or reduced during chemical reactions). We understand the role of neurotransmitters, such as neuropiniphrine, serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine, GABA, endorphin.
Ultimately, messages are coded into electrons (packets of light) and transmitted from one neuron to another. This much we know about the brain objectively.
But how do brains translate electrical messages and chemical reactions to thought, such as this paper? That we do not yet know.
We do not yet know how the brain recreates our day world in our dreams. All that we know is that when we go to sleep we dream (signs of dreaming include rapid eye movement). People dream and in their dreams live in a world that seems like our external world.
How do we know that our external world is not also a dream? Is it because in our world if your foot strikes a rock you feel pain hence the rock is external to your body? But in our nightly dreams our feet also do feel pain from hitting rocks.
Hinduism says that our day world is a dream; philosophical idealism, especially solipsism says that the day world is a dream in our minds.
In Betty's near death experience she claimed to have seen her Lord and savior. Her lord and savior is Jesus Christ. Would a non-Christian who does not see Jesus as his Lord and savior see him in the after death world? Would a Buddhist or Hindu see Jesus or would they see Buddha or Krishna? If so could it then be that what happens is that Betty was dreaming and in her dream projected out a dream figure her religion takes seriously, Jesus Christ (Buddhists were taught to respect Buddha and would see Buddha).
As in our nightly dreams, a respected figure, in this case, the dream Jesus Christ said all the stuff he told Betty in her NDE? All the figures in her NDE can be seen as figures in her dream performing roles that dream figures perform in our nightly dreams.
Betty accepted that Jesus is her savor. This is a dependent approach to living. Independent people do not see other people as their saver. As a dependent personality she then projected out a strong all-knowing personality she called Jesus to tell her what to do.
An independent person obviously would not need a Jesus to tell him what to do hence in his dream would not see a Jesus telling him how to live his life or what reality means. Independent persons want to figure out what reality means to them by themselves.
From a psychoanalytic perspective it is easy to say that the NDE Jesus Christ is Betty's ideal self-image that as a woman she denied and repressed and then projected out into her dream. That Jesus then is she. In effect, Jesus is Betty telling Betty what to do. It is sort of like her alter ego telling another ego in her what is real and what is not real (in dissociative disorders, aka multiple personality disorder, some women project out another self and live through that seeming other self).
Notice that Betty's Jesus told her what she wants to hear, and gave her a philosophy that she feels amenable to. In other words, Jesus is Betty telling Betty how to live her life. He gave her a philosophy that suits her ego personality, a philosophy that suits a dependent, highly repressed woman.
An independent male who resents it if another man tells him how to live his life would not tolerate Jesus telling him how to live his life. I myself would feel offended if Jesus dared to know more than I do and tell me how to live and what life should mean to me. If I had Jesus in NDE he probably would tell me what I want another man to tell me: to go figure out the truth by myself and live accordingly; that is what I would consider respectful treatment; I would consider it disrespectful and insulting if Jesus presumed knowledge of the truth and told me what it is. If he did so, I would have immediately asked him: how do you know that this is the freaking truth; where is the scientific proof of it or are you such a deluded guy that you take your opinions as the truth?
It is very easy for a person to dismiss this whole NDE business as a charade, sham. However, those who have had experiences akin to it generally do not dismiss it so easily. I am considering Betty's NDE because I have had unique experiences that disposed me not to be cavalier to folk's claims of unusual experiences.
Some years ago my mother died. I was devastated by her death. I saw her as a saint. She lived for other people. She would give other people her last penny. She worked herself haggard for other people. That woman did not have a sense of self apart from serving other people. She placed other people's interests ahead of hers. It was as if she had no self and saw herself as part of other selves and must do what served other peoples good. She was there for all people, feeding people, training their children and generally doing what served public good. She did not talk much; she was a quiet woman but very wise. I loved her. When I heard that mother died I could not believe that such a saintly soul is now dead.
Our bodies are composed of the various elements especially carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. When we die those elements decompose and join their kind in nature. What is composed must decompose. In the immediate worms eat our bodies and in time those worms are eaten by other organisms. Ultimately, our bodies decay and revert to the various elements.
The elements are composed of protons, neutrons and electrons. Those elements ultimately decay to their parts.
Protons and neutrons are composed of quarks. Quarks are composed of photons (of light). Electrons are composed of photons of light.
Ultimately, all particles decay to photons and thereafter photons decay to whatever existed before the Big Bang (if you like you can say that they return to the nothingness from whence they came during the big bang).
My mother's body is decayed, returned to the various elements. That is the present reality on the ground. But a part of me could not accept that reality. I wished that there is life after death and that she is now in spirit. I know that this is wishful thinking; the rational part of me accepts the teachings of science.
Science teaches that we are animals that the universe produced through the concatenation of chemical mixtures. The universe on planet earth combined a bunch of elements into compounds and molecules. As Charles Darwin said, we evolved from matter to single celled animals and thereafter to multi-cellular animals and three million years later to Homo sapiens. The environment changes and we change to adapt to it or die out; surviving animals are those who struggled in a world where the fit survive and the weak die.
At best biology grants that human beings are a specific breed of animals through which the universe thinks about itself and understands itself?
Yet, a part of me craved for magic, the magical belief that people live after their physical death especially that my mother lives after her physical death. It is a craving that psychoanalysis calls fantasy (fantasy is an ego defense mechanism; we use the ego defenses to shore up our fragile egos; the ego defenses are: repression, suppression, denial, projection, displacement, reaction-formation, rationalization, sublimation, fantasy, avoidance, minimization, etc.).
When we are deprived we wish to have what we are deprived of; when we are hungry we dream of food everywhere. When death stares us in the face we wish for life after death (and engage in fantasy thinking).
I told myself that I am currently over employing the ego defense of fantasy. I got to quit it and get on with the business of living in the real world where there is struggle for survival and the fittest survive and the weak die out. Reality and wishful thinking battled in my mind and I lived a conflicted existence.
I was recently divorced and I lived with a girlfriend, a school psychologist. She is as rational as a human being can be and atheistic. She saw all religion as nonsense human beings employ to avoid facing the reality of their finitude, a mechanism they employ to obfuscate the oblivion awaiting them when they die. Make the most of this world then die and return to being part of the world of space, time matter and energy; that is all there is to human beings, she said; we should not have false fantasies about who we are.
Horace said, Carpe dien: Seize the day; live fully today for tomorrow we die. She is stoic in philosophy and I admired her no bullshit approach to living.
One Sunday morning I was lying on my bed when she walked into my bedroom (she had her own room) and sat by me talking to me. I heard her talking away. It was her old rational-self talking but at this very moment her rationalism kind of got jaded. Thus, I tuned her out and just laid there. Suddenly, I saw myself leave my body. I saw myself at the ceiling and from there looked down and saw me on the bed and saw her talking away. I looked up and saw a jet black environment with a point of light in it. I was fascinated by that light and began moving, flying is more like it, towards it.
As I got closer to the point of light it became larger and larger. I became aware that my mother was holding my left hand and was talking to me (I did not see her person, just feeling). She asked me if I really want to enter that light and told me that I still have young children to take care of.
She just asked me a question but did not tell me what to do; she knew me better than tell me what to do for no one tells me what to do; you make suggestions to me but do not overtly tell me what to do for if you did I would ask you who you thought you are telling me what to do.
I felt that I could not abandon my children and the moment I had that feeling I was instantaneously back into my body (thought produced action immediately; the wish to return to the world returned me to the world...so could it be that a desire to be in this world is responsible for my being in this world?).
The whole thing probably lasted no more than five minutes. In the meantime, my girlfriend realizing that I was not paying attention to her was shaking my body asking me to talk to her and when I did not she felt that there was something the matter and actually picked up the phone to dial 911 for emergency ambulance (she thought that maybe I had died or something, lying there lifeless and all).
Anyway, I was back in my body and told her what happened. As would be expected from her, the first question she asked me was whether I had taken drugs. Did I inject some chemical that altered my brain chemistry to make me have such a fantastic hallucination? No, I had not; I do not do drugs. I had not even had my morning coffee yet. After querying me some more she asked me to make an appointment to go see a brain doctor for folks with brain tumor often have visual, not just auditory hallucinations.
I told her that I did not want to hear her rational bullshit at this moment and essentially ordered her out of my room and she did. I got up from the bed and went to the computer by my bed and typed what happened. I considered it an unusual dream and resolved to think about it.
Did I doze off? I don't think so. So what was it? Honestly? I do not know. However, I do not want any god dammed shallow psychologist giving me a pat answer to what I do not understand. Perhaps, there are unusual phenomena out there and we ought to have the courage to study them instead of fill our little heads with fairy tales about what they are.
Let me backtrack a bit. A few years before my apparent out of body experience (OBE) I had unusual experiences. I am agnostic and not atheistic. I rejected my Catholicism at age 14 but kept searching for the truth. I looked at all kinds of religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, new age religions, you name it I had studied it and moved on for none of them made sense to me.
During my search I was introduced to a book called A course in miracles. I tried to read it and it did not make sense to me. It was written by a lady psychologist, Helen Schucman, a professor at Columbia University, New York. I thought that the lady must have had multiple personality disorder, dissociated from her regular personality and projected her ego to what she called Jesus who supposedly dictated the book.
The book was, in my opinion, written in gabbled gook, convoluted language. I threw it away. When I separated from my wife I moved into a house that I shared with a couple other men. One of the men taught mathematics and apparently was also separated from his wife. One evening, in the dining room, I saw him reading A course in miracles and told him that I tried reading it and that it did not make sense to me. He undertook to explain its message to me (and invited me to attend a group he attends that study the book).