Are you wondering what the agenda at an afterlife conference is like?
It wasn’t all feathers, freaks and flower petals.
The Fourth Annual Afterlife Awareness Conference speaker roster integrated both the sacred and the profane, to coin a phrase. There were as many scientists, scholars and physicians as there were shamans and mediums, giving an integrated 360 degree view of afterlife studies. I thought you might like to know a bit about some of the presenters I saw.
Austyn Wells was the delightful medium who gave a half-day workshop on developing psychic ability.
You have probably heard that we all are born with this ability, but since it’s not something we recognize or are encouraged to develop, we’re a bit rusty.
I always, always get performance anxiety about things like this, but I did pretty well during our first exercise. I don’t entirely trust myself, though, and often thought, “how am I divining this? is it the way they look? or am I making it up? Is it general?” My intuitive skills are always working, but to me that word involves being attuned to how someone looks, acts, talks, rather than divination.
I’m not sure how I’d do if I were blindfolded. But it might be fun to try!
This is Raymond Moody, MD and PhD in Philosophy. Yes, he taught Philosophy.
He is considered the Granddaddy of near-death experience —NDE— research, since he wrote the first contemporary book documented NDEs among patients. That was back in 1975 and I remember it distinctly. It set off quite a reverb in the medical community. I think it took enormous courage for a physician to bring this subject out into the light where it could be examined seriously and I give him all credit for initiating that. Because for me, “serious examination” is the key. I’m going to blog more about that and about what Dr. Moody has to say about “skeptics” soon.
Of all the speakers, his presentations were the most intellectually challenging. My brain hurt after his second talk. It’s been decades since my college philosophy class, and he grounds all of this afterlife material in Plato and Hume— he believes the question about the existence of an afterlife is a more philosophical than scientific. And yet, when I met and talked to him, he was gentle and such a lovely human being. Dr. Moody has written a number of books on the subject since then.
This is Hollister Rand, a Southern California medium I know, and her rescue dog, Bodhi. Last spring, Holly did an amazing circle at my house for 9 of my friends and she’s doing another one in a few weeks (with Bodhi). We are all looking forward to another action-packed two hours! Her book, I’m Not Dead, I’m Different, is exceptionally well-written and I recommend it to anyone, especially grieving parents.
I met Hollister a few years ago through a John Edward event. He won’t bring forward mediums that he does not believe in—and only rarely brings anyone with him—so the fact that she was with him carried a lot of weight with me. I’ve not been disappointed. My friends are still talking about the messages from the afterlife that she’d have no way of knowing. Since I also knew some of these obscure things I got to witness first-hand how good Hollister is without the possible “contamination” of my own hopes. She is GOOD. So you can imagine how pleased I was to see her on the conference schedule. There, she happened to get some messages for a woman I’d talked to the day before. Again, I knew enough about her late son to be able to validate Holly’s reading.
At lunch I asked Holly if she communicated with Bodhi. “Not as a psychic,” she said, “but we do communicate.” I laughed. “Like a dog mom, right?” I asked. It was her turn to laugh. We then shared a few anecdotes about dog motherhood. Yes, famous mediums are regular people, too.
Yes, Eben Alexander, MD was seated right in front of me before his presentation.
It would be hard to not know who he is, given the publicity about his recent book, Proof of Heaven. Dr. Alexander is a Duke-trained, former Harvard neurosurgeon who inexplicably got a rare bacterial meningitis. All neuro tests indicated he was brain dead for a week. The day his family decided to withhold care on his doctors’ recommendation, he regained consciousness and slowly, got his faculties back.
When he was able to speak, he told quite a tale. While he was brain dead, he went to an afterlife. I won’t ruin it for you; read his book.
“My experience taught me that everything I used to tell patients who reported NDEs was absolutely WRONG,” he now says. Both he and Dr. Moody are very firm about one thing: that science does not know the origin of consciousness. At all. It is not known. And they make a case for it being non-local. That is, consciousness resides outside the brain. Outside the body.
My husband said, “you mean, in the cloud?” and laughed. But in a way, that IS what they mean. Consciousness does not die, they say. Just the body dies. And consciousness is not part of the body. That’s huge.
That’s the bottom line of all of this, dear readers. The concept of what makes that spark of us—our consciousness—and the question is whether it lives on. It’s remarkable that the people who make the strongest case for life after life are physicians. Even a neurosurgeon. I also know personally an internist and know of an orthopedic specialist who are all on board with this concept. There are thousands of other medical professionals who get this.
I have to admit that THIS is what got my attention in a big way. The credentials of the people who have stepped out. They’re not turban-clad seers. They are medical professionals who work close to death all the time. As Dr. Alexander says, “any hospice nurse can tell you this.”
I’m sorry, Julia, this is a terrible photo of you. Meet Julia Assante, PhD.
She had a long career as a scholar in ancient Near East studies but now we have the pleasure of her writing and work in afterlife studies. Her book, The Last Frontier, is brilliant and mentioned in last week’s reading list. I was lucky enough to be able to tell her how much I got out of it when I read it last year and guess what? She’s working on another.
Her website offers this quote, a concept I believe to be profound and true:
Death is not what separates us from the departed, fear is. The terrible finality, the deep grief and remorse we now experience would vanish once we truly realize that our departed loved ones are still alive and communication with them can continue.”
I fully understand that there is a whole group of religious people who believe communication with the dead opens the door to demons. Like Julia, I don’t believe that to be true.
For some reason I forgot that Julia has also been a medium for decades—maybe because her book is so brilliant and she is so brilliant that her light overrode that small fact.
Like Holly, Julia points out that we do not need mediums to communicate with loved ones on the other side of the veil. We can do it ourselves.
If, like me, science speaks loudest to you, Gary Schwartz, PhD should be on your reading list.
Years ago Gary tested three well-regarded mediums under laboratory conditions at the University of Arizona. The results of his triple-blind tests showed that “chance” did not explain how these mediums were so accurate. He was the first one to actually set up scientifically valid studies on mediums.
Oh, wait. I didn’t tell you that Gary is professor of psychology, medicine, neurology, psychiatry, and surgery at the University of Arizona and the Director of its Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health.
These are just a few of the speakers I heard at the Afterlife Awareness Conference and they are formidable intellects, every one of them. They’re working on what Julia Assante calls The Final Frontier, which is to say that they are going where no man has gone before. So to speak. At least no scientist. And just like any trailblazer, they have their detractors. Some are “professional” skeptics. Some are looking for the absolutely incontrovertible evidence of communication from the afterlife.
I’ve read so much about this over the past 20 years and the foundation for my own point of view is this:
We think we’re an advanced society and for 2014, we are. But in 100 years science will have advanced so much that some of the things science believes to be true will have been proven otherwise. And some of the things on the border of disbelief will have been proven true. We can not judge this stuff from our own limitations. All advances in science were made by people who stepped over the boundaries, past limitations into uncharted territory.
And that’s how I view this: uncharted territory.
One day, science will tell us more about the afterlife and may even prove its existence.
Until then, I have the utmost respect for the professionals who have risked their reputations and careers for this work. It really is cutting edge.