Lessons from a Heart Attack
As you have probably noticed, I have been offline for about a month now. In case you haven't heard, I had a heart attack and a quadruple bypass operation. I know it's a shoddy reason for being offline, but hey, its the only one I've got!
Thank you to all the folks that have sent support, love, concern, prayers, cards and flowers. It makes a difference, it really does, on the spirits and healing process. I feel well cared for, well loved. And perhaps as a result, my healing has been reasonably quick and easy.
Many have asked me about insights or reactions from a brush with death. I'm afraid I don't have anything brilliant to tell you.
But I have have one suggestive insight from that nearly-other-side…
If you're like me, you've often wondered about the Hindu and Buddhist thought that he who knows himself as the absolute escapes from Samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth. For example, the Bhagavad Gita says: "having gone to that eternal place…they return not" (Gita 15:5-6). "Having come to [that state], rebirth they do not attain" (8:15) Buddhism teaches that the only way to escape the rebirth process that marks samsara is to gain Nirvana.
Frankly, I've never understood this. I've always wondered, how can anyone who hasn't died possibly know? And not having died, not even a near death out of body sort of moment, I still don't know.
But as I watched my light fade the night before my operation, one thing that struck me was that though I sensed something of my life energy fading, the sense of consciousness, steady and open, inside changed NOT A WHIT.
What or who I was simply remained. Behind the whole process the sense of being "It" or "That" remained what it was. I felt chest pain, and behind it that unchanging sense of "It." I felt sensations in my left arm, and behind it that unchanging sense of "It."
And its presence seemed to provide in some quiet but real way, a sense that it's OK, that it's ALL ok.
This "It" seemed to exist in a whole different realm. No change, no matter what was happening to my body. It didn't get louder or softer, or happier or sadder. At times I felt scared, easy or confident, yet "It" never seemed to become different. It just was, and continued with its quiet, subtle sense of confidence. And me… I just remained "It", even as the sense of being alive in this body struggled to continue.
This is no proof of the escape from Samsara. Not even close. But it offers just the tiniest bit of evidence. If it continues even as life fades, if it continues even as chest pain grows, then perhaps, just perhaps, it might continue in some way even through the great transition.
Sometimes when I give talks people ask me about what enlightenment says about Samsara or rebirth. People wonder if the silence beneath our minds may be God. My stock answer is that such questions are beyond my "pay grade." Then I explain that I'm serious, and that there are some things we mortal human beings are not in a position to know.
I don't know that I need to change this general answer, but it'll be harder to say it now quite so sanguinely. For this experience, small and subtle as it was, does offer something of a hint. Maybe, just maybe …