Over-commitment is not a wise choice when beginning a conversation that requires focus and time. That said by way of an apology, let me get back to my question about the function of distressing near-death experience.
Two emails have arrived in my in-box almost simultaneously, both bearing on this question. In one of them, a friend says:
“Some of the gold that has settled to the bottom of the pan for me, is the idea that faith is simultaneously a duality of two very strongly opposed forces that tear at our existence in exactly the same way it does in nature. And it is this duality that creates the tragic, joyful, soul-saving tension that is both our salvation and our damnation.
“It is critically important to understand that this duality is not, in totality, a blessing or a curse. In physics, light has the duality of being simultaneous both wave and particle. In the cat in the box example, the cat may be considered to be simultaneously alive and dead. Since in both cases, the duality is simultaneous and co-existent, it is indeterminate; it cannot be thought of as one state vs. another. The two states are not only coexistent, they are mutually dependent and mutually exclusive. Each state exists only because the other exists and at the same time, it exists in concert and opposition to its other. Every decision we make, no matter how large or how small is our own. And no matter which side of the duality we choose, there is immediate tension and conflict from the other side.”
The other email is from another friend, NDE researcher Jim McCartney. From a context quite different than that of my friend quoted above, he comments on “an intimately entangled universe pointing toward consciousness as the basis of all, a picture increasingly shared by scientists and mystics.”
He points to the well documented fact that, in contrast to the assumptions of conventional thinking, “Some people who have NDEs or undergo extreme trauma, over time exhibit not only resiliency, but significant growth, even though they may remain physically, mentally or circumstantially compromised. In fact, people transforming their life through crisis can be readily identified:
- “Greater compassion and empathy for others
- “New and greater strength (psychological toughness/resilience)
- “Greater psychological/emotional maturity
- “A recognition of vulnerability and struggle, and a deeper appreciation of life
- “New values and life priorities (less materialistic, heightened intimacy in relationships)
- “Greater existential or spiritual clarity”
Notice that he does not say whether the trigger will be pleasant or negative; in fact, it may be either. The key element in this is crisis. The precipitating event could be any revolutionizing situation—NDE, divorce, terrible medical procedure (especially in children), combat incident, spontaneous spiritual experience, natural disaster—any event that is presents as a crisis, a point of disjuncture. In NDE terms, crisis is the situation itself, whether it involves a blasting away of previous assumptions by way of a trip to what might be heaven or the destruction of assumptions about the reality of existence by way of a distressing NDE.
The crisis, which may be either joyful or anguished, precipitates movement toward the integration that is described in my other friend’s comments —“the tragic, joyful, soul-saving tension that is both our salvation and our damnation.” It is, indeed, the “intimately entangled universe.”
My friend concludes: