Thursday, February 14, 2013

Stephanie Dowrick investigates Proof of Heaven

 Eben Alexander is a neurosurgeon hit by infection - potentially deadly - to the brain. He didn't die. He came "back" to say he has seen and experienced new depths of "consciousness" and eternal life. 
Stephanie Dowrick investigates this exceptional story.

The very least thing you could say about Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven is that it is immensely intriguing. It is also fast-paced and sometimes revelatory. Does it prove “heaven”? Certainly not in the traditional, sentimentalized sense. And that’s not what Alexander sets out to do. Quite to the contrary, he is, to his core, a scientist, a highly experienced academic, former member of Harvard Medical Faculty, and – as significantly - an accomplished neurosurgeon felled by an overwhelming E.Coli infection of the brain. While in a coma, and with his neocortext non-functioning in any measurable or meaningful way, he experienced “the great and central mystery of the universe”. And he chose, in this book, to report on it to others.

The infection he suffered should have killed him. It did almost kill him. It should have left him with his faculties shattered. Instead, he survived seven days in a death’s-door coma, during which time he discovered that he, arguably like all of us, is more than a physical body.

In an interview with the New York Times Alexander is quoted as saying, “Our spirit is not dependent on the brain or body. It is eternal, and no one has one word of hard evidence that it isn’t.”

Is there a note of defensiveness in that remark? Probably, because of course in publishing this book and sharing these experiences publicly Alexander has laid himself bare before the millions of cynics who know what they know…and would regard it as crazy as well as futile to interrogate that “knowing” literally beyond anything they (or Dr Alexander) could imagine.

Dr Alexander, academic and neurosurgeon - and author
This book seems to me to be far more about consciousness than it is about “heaven”. “It was as if I were being born into a larger world,” Alexander writes. And it’s this “larger world” – worlds, really – that he wants readers also to glimpse or appreciate. From his experience, come three core messages: “You are loved and cherished. You have nothing to fear. There is nothing you can do wrong.”

This last statement may confuse readers who see a great deal “wrong” in our world, but the presence of evil as well as good, and the free will that characterises human experience, are also intrinsic to Alexander's discoveries and this is no stranger than Dame Julian of Norwich’s famous lines, “All will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” 

Love, Alexander concludes, is the basis of everything, however far we may wander from it. He goes on: “Not much of a scientific insight? Well, I beg to differ. I’m back from that place, and nothing could convince me that this is not only the single most important emotional truth in the universe, but also the single most important scientific truth as well.”

Elsewhere, in one of the most tender paragraphs in this book he writes of love: “How do we get closer to [our] genuine spiritual self? By manifesting love and compassion. Why? Because love and compassion are…real. And they make up the very fabric of the spiritual realm.” On earth, I would add, as in “heaven”.

The transcendent, wholly inclusive vibration of love, and the existence of a reality far greater and more intense than any material, transitory reality could ever be, are messages familiar to all those who have read or studied within the mystical traditions. So it is worth noting that the pre-coma Alexander was not particularly religious or spiritual. In fact, his religion seems to have been his beloved science and he had been as quick as the next doctor to dismiss NDEs as sensations produced by the brain.

Yet in his own case – and this is what sets his experiences apart - the parts of the brain that produce dreams, thoughts, sensations, were ravaged by deathly infection. This whole series of experiences – some difficult, more of them blissful – could not have been driven by prior expectation on the writer’s part, and nor could his physical or cognitive survival.

My own response to this book is reservedly positive. I can recommend it to you - not on the basis that heaven needs “proving” but rather for all that it contributes to our understanding of what unlimited consciousness is or may be, as well as for its simple reiterations of the eternal messages of love.

I do, though, have one significant hesitation that may be entirely personal. Towards the close of the book I was more aware than I wished to be of the cultural framework within which Alexander was writing. This had led him to share some of his “back story” in a way that was honest and often touching but also led to a coincidence – or a coinciding of worlds – that felt more Hollywood than I found comfortable. I do not doubt this writer’s humility or honesty. (See him talking about this experience here.)I am aware too of the limitations that come even with symbolic language when one is describing transcendent experiences. But that critical coincidence left me less comfortable than I might otherwise have been.

More important than that, however, was my pleasure in Alexander’s newly found, first-hand confidence that we need not fear death. “I understood that I was part of the Divine and that nothing – absolutely nothing – could ever take that away,” he writes. “The (false) suspicion that we can somehow be separated from God is the root of every form of anxiety in the universe, and the cure for it…was the knowledge that nothing can tear us from God, ever.” 

For that insight alone, and for sharing it, bravo, Dr Alexander. Bravo.  

This link may also be of interest to readers of Proof of Heaven.
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  1. I am very glad to have this wise and considered introduction to a book I am now really drawn to read. This is such a difficult area - one in which there is so much mistrust, sometimes for good reason - but we need trust if we are to learn anything from those who have been transformed by such experiences.

  2. I am interested in reading the book, particularly as I have a friend who went through a NDE and she went through the whole unconditional love feeling/experience. Your hesitation re the "critical coincidence" is noted but it's left me curious now ... Many thanks for your review

  3. Dianne, I know you will find it fascinating.
    Jay, I know what you mean about people's mistrust of these kinds of accounts. Certainly the reviews I heard and saw about the book from the mainstream media expressed this same mistrust. But I found his account compeeling, particularly when you consider his medical background.
    I hope you both enjoy the book!