Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, October 8, 2022 - The Near-Death Effect

Many years ago I was sick. Very sick. In fact, I nearly died. I lost the ability to walk or to speak. I was in the hospital for weeks.

The whole time I just knew I would recover, though the doctors seemed to think otherwise for a while. I overheard them talking about it. I remember experiencing an inner belligerence that they weren’t going to tell me what to do. I felt, rightly or otherwise, that if I wanted to live, it wasn’t up to them, it was up to me.

Once I had recovered, it hadn’t occurred to me that I’d experienced something approaching a near-death experience. Mainly because I hadn’t actually died. I was definitely threatened with death, I had to cope with the knowledge that medical professionals treated me with the deference of the dying and spoke in hushed voices of its likelihood within the feathered edges of my earshot. Yet to my face, they spoke in soothing tones and carefully curated their words. It was more annoying than comforting, really, but ultimately, I felt dared by the universe to survive.

The type of near-death experience we mostly hear about is that of a brush with clinical death resulting in what’s commonly described as an inviting light, a tunnel, a temporary reunion with loved ones who have passed, and often an admonition to return for our time has not yet arrived. Frequently, those who experience this phenomenon describe having felt a connection with the universe and a new comfort with the subject of death and its otherworldly implications.

But what of those occasions when we only nearly die? Do they count as a form of near death experience too? Apparently, they do. 

Within a year things began to change for me. It was neither conscious nor deliberate, but as the months and years passed, I steadily abandoned or reconfigured eitirely many of the things that had become standard desires in my life. Relationships that I’d endured despite their challenges now revealed themselves to be toxic and no longer tolerable. Career goals I’d long held for myself with ambition suddenly deprioritized themselves. After travelling the world for nearly ten years and loving it, I now couldn’t wait to move back to my hometown. What had become of me?

When we are faced with death, our lives inevitably change. We experience a subtle shift in values, which has the capacity to undermine the softer foundations of things we believed to be built on solid terra firma. Now we discover that we never needed them or were perhaps even in denial about real harm they were causing us. The blinders come off. 

I am definitely not the person who nearly died. The changes which have occurred since then are vast. These were not conscious decisions I was making, however. Only in hindsight have I been able to see just how much a small shift in values has changed the entire course of my life. Decidedly for the better.

I would not change a single thing about having nearly died. To this day I am eternally grateful for what I went through and consider it to be the most important thing that has ever happened to me in my life.

I say this all because that’s the exact experience our society is going through right now. We have all had a version of a brush with death. 

This pandemic we are still digging ourselves out from under has caused a pronounced but subtle shift in human values. It is worldwide, and affecting us all. 

I feel as though I am seeing on a global scale all of the micro changes I experienced as a result my own near death experience. Old ways of being that I’d grown used to suddenly felt so pointless. Toxicity that I too easily endured became firmly untenable. Desires that I’d only subconsciously entertained stepped to the fore and demanded identity. 

Be comforted, even though it feels like the world is on the verge of falling apart around us. It is the old ways gasping their last before dying. It is old relationships withering in the brighter light of our new selves. It is a battle between people who are willing to change and those who are not.

Comfort the frightened. In doing so you may very well find greater comfort for yourself. For we are all here in this moment together, and it is, without question, scary. 

But when we recognize that there is indeed a phenomenon at work, we can lean into it. We can use it as an opportunity to propel ourselves even further and with greater comfort over the shifting landscape of this traumatic era. 

My faith tells me that there is yet benevolence here. Embrace it. Take comfort in the shifting of values toward greater inclusivity and equity in the world. It will not come as peacefully as we would hope, nor will it be without loss. But it is a sacred momentum nonetheless, and shall deliver us one giant leap forward toward a better world. 

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