Thursday, December 22, 2022

Elizabeth Krohn's near-death experience

When Elizabeth G. Krohn got out of her car with her two young sons in the parking lot of her synagogue on a late afternoon in September 1988, she couldn't have anticipated she would within seconds be struck by lightning and have a near-death experience. She felt herself transported to a garden and engaging in a revelatory conversation with a spiritual being. When she recovered, her most fundamental understandings of what the world is and how it works had been completely transformed. She was “changed in a flash,” suddenly able to interact with those who had died and have prescient dreams predicting news events. She came to believe that some early traumatic and abusive experiences had played a part in preparing her for this experience.


Told in matter-of-fact language, the first half of this book is the story of Krohn’s journey, and the second is an interpretation and analysis by Jeffrey J. Kripal, Associate Dean of the School of Humanities at Rice University who holds the J. Newton Rayzor Chair in Philosophy and Religious Thought. Kirpal is also Associate Director of the Center for Theory and Research at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California and served as the Editor in Chief of the Macmillan Handbook Series on Religion. He places Krohn's experience in the context of religious traditions and proposes the groundbreaking idea that we are shaping our own experiences in the future by how we engage with near-death experiences in the present. Changed in a Flash is not about proving a story, but about carving out space for serious discussion of this phenomenon.


Krohn writes: The NDE changed me in ways I never could have imagined. On September 1, 1988 I was a skeptic. Nothing could have dissuaded me from believing that when a person dies, that’s the end—that they are gone and nothing of them remains. But a bolt of lightning literally jolted me into reality.


On September 2, 1988, that lightning bolt bestowed upon me a gift, the power and profundity of which remain unmatched more than three decades later. That gift was knowledge that death isn’t the end; knowledge that where we are now is a temporary place, and where we go when we die is home; knowledge that what we do with our time here matters and affects our afterlife; knowledge that our souls, the vessels that carry our consciousness, continue on after bodily death and actually become keenly aware, awake, and all-knowing once unencumbered by our bodies.


One of the things I learned in the afterlife is that no two souls have identical afterlife experiences. Each experience in the afterlife is tailored to each individual soul, their expectations, and their needs. Each soul perceives the afterlife, and everything about it, differently.


"When you find yourself dead, in a place of otherworldly love and beauty, with a sudden understanding of everything, and you hear your beloved deceased grandfather tell you to sit on the most elaborately crafted bench you have ever seen, you sit. I took a seat on the ornately carved bench and found that it conformed to whatever my individual 'body' had become as soon as I sat down. The bench morphed around me. As I sat, cradled in the most comfortable seat imaginable, I began to look around. I saw that I was surrounded by a Garden of foreign plants, the likes of which I had never seen before, or even imagined.


My grandfather’s soft familiar voice, complete with the French accent that made it so distinct during his life, was a soothing presence. He said that audible speech would disrupt my absorption of the surroundings, so he was going to give me information, knowledge, and answers to my questions silently. I believe that this voice was actually not my grandfather speaking to me, but was God using my grandfather’s voice to put me at ease. This was a strange reckoning for me, given that in life I had been such a non-religious and non-spiritual person who gave very little, if any, thought to the existence of God. And yet, here I was, sitting on a bench with someone I thought was God in a place that I knew was Heaven. 


The calming voice shared things with me about our family that only my grandfather, and of course God, would know. This presence gave me information that showed a total knowledge of where I was and what choices I would need to make if I chose to go back to my life on Earth. He relayed the clear impression that the choice to remain in the Garden or to reoccupy my burned body was mine to make. I understood that I could take as long as I needed to make the decision to either stay in the Garden or return to my life on Earth, and that I would be given information that would help me make that decision. 


I was dead, but I was more alive, conscious, and aware than when I had been that twenty-eight year old woman with the children and the umbrella in the synagogue parking lot a mere second earlier. I was surrounded by and suffused with an unutterable feeling of unconditional love. The love was all-encompassing and embraced me in every possible way. Everything in the Garden emanated love. The lull of a gently babbling brook, the cadence of the soothing otherworldly music surrounding me, and the resplendent, fragrant visual feast of constantly blooming flowers and hypnotic colors I had never seen before, all reinforced the knowledge that I now had: that I was safe, protected, and unconditionally loved by God. I was home


The glow that I had followed into the Garden initially had moved away from me. It seemed to be a living energy, a conscious entity that moved with purpose. It was still to my upper right, but it had now shifted behind a mountain range, whose outline in the distance was backlit with the glow’s shimmering light from behind the mountains. I resisted the impulse to follow the living glow to the mountains, since the peace, comfort, beauty, and ineffable love that surrounded me where I was sitting were all that I could ever want. The sound of the brook nearby, the music in the air, the sweet scents of the otherworldly vegetative oasis, and the vivid backdrop of the sky and mountains lulled me to depths that I had never known my soul to possess.


Regardless of whether my companion on the ornate bench was actually my grandfather or, as I suspected, God, I knew that I was not alone in the Garden, and I knew that the feeling of abundant unconditional love that this presence communicated to me would never leave me. Still today, I can draw on that memory of unwavering acceptance and love when I need to do so. I could have gratefully and willingly remained there for eternity. That love, that place, that afterlife was a gift, tailored to me, from a higher being that loved me unconditionally.


The landscape was clearly meant to comfort me and put me at ease. The sound of flowing water, be it a gentle brook or crashing ocean waves, is something I have always found to be soothing. A view of any landscape has always been enhanced for me if there is a body of water in the scenery. I think that is why it was so prominent and noticeable to me among the other sweet sounds that permeated the Garden. What I understood is that all who arrive in this place encounter and perceive whatever is most comforting and beautiful to them. My source of comfort was the all-embracing feeling of unconditional perpetual love and the unmatched beauty of my surroundings all captured in the Garden. This was my personal Heaven.


I understood that all who come to this wondrous place are soothed and welcomed by whatever they find soothing, comforting, and pleasurable in life. Therefore, it made sense that my Heaven looked like a perfectly manicured garden. I love gardens and find peace and joy in spending time in a well tended garden. During my time in my heavenly Garden, I saw people in the distance. I instinctively knew that those people perhaps had visions of something other than a garden as their perfect Heaven. People I saw in the distance may have expected their Heaven to be a thickly wooded forest. Others may have seen a boundless field of wildflowers, or a quiet beach with gently rolling waves. Yet we were all in exactly the same place. We were each in a Heaven tailored specifically for each individual soul there. Understanding this loving kindness added to my ease during my visit to the Garden.


I also understood that one’s own appearance there projects the best of each person’s soul in their most recent Earthly life. The type of person you are here on Earth colors the experience you will have in the afterlife. What we do with our time here on Earth matters. A lot. Learning this was surprising to me as I never thought that my actions or thought processes during life would have any bearing at all on my death. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I learned in the Garden that not only the acts I performed during my life but even my very thoughts and feelings had woven together to create the tapestry that was my afterlife—my Garden. The fact that I had been a good person in life mattered in the Garden. The fact that I had not been religious did not.


I feel so inadequate in my attempt to convey the overwhelming totality of the Garden. Time there is perpetual. Its events and sensations all occur at once. This idea of simultaneous time, the physics of it, is something I understood while I was in the Garden but have difficulty explaining, or even understanding, now. I do understand, however, that it is possible to return from another realm or dimension and be completely unable to help those who have not seen it to understand that it even exists at all. Something can be perfectly true yet completely unbelievable and impossible to scientifically prove.


This knowledge that I was absorbing while on the ornate bench in the presence of the loving being who spoke in the voice of my beloved grandfather was also shared with the other humans (or souls) whose forms I saw in the distance. Everyone was in pairs, and no one was alone. Everyone was dressed in what I knew as street clothes. And they were all perfectly beautiful, youthful, and healthy. I wondered: If they were all so perfect, was I?


I looked at my left hand, curious as to how the burn from the lightning strike had affected it. My hand looked as if it belonged to a younger woman. There were no chipped nails or imperfections on the skin, and certainly no burn from the lightning. I noticed that there was also no wedding ring. All I saw was the pristine skin of myself at eighteen or so. The skin on my hand was flawless.


As soon as I thought of questions, I had the answers. I saw people in the distance, although no one approached me. Why were they all paired up? Did I appear to them to be alone? My companion explained that I was also part of a pair, and that he was the other half of the pair. We must have appeared to the distant human forms as they did to me—as a pair, and as beautiful as I ever was at my best.


As quickly as I was receiving answers to my seemingly unlimited stream of questions, I had more questions. There was only one question for which I never received an answer: What did my companion in the Garden look like? Did this partner of mine look like my grandfather at age ninety when he died, or did he look as he did at age eighteen, as everyone else there seemed to? Or did he have an entirely different appearance? I don’t know because I never looked at him. I now think I was not supposed to see him because I would have been overwhelmed at the sight of my beloved grandfather.


Or by the beauty of God. 


Elizabeth G. Krohn is the author with Jeffrey J. Kripal of Changed in a Flash: One Woman's Near-Death Experience and Why a Scholar Thinks It Empowers Us All (North Atlantic Books, 2018). Krohn received an award from the Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies for her essay “The Eternal Life of Consciousness.” 

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