Matt Burkhartt | Staff Photographer
Eben Alexander, an academic neurosurgeon and the author of Proof of Heaven, speaks Wednesday during the Interfaith Lecture in the Hall of Philosophy.
Life was predictable for Eben Alexander until Nov. 10, 2008. The neurosurgeon woke up at 4:30 a.m. with severe back pain. After developing an excruciating migraine, he eventually collapsed on his bed and fell into a week-long coma.
Alexander, author of Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, spoke of his near-death experience and the spiritual realm he experienced while in coma during his 2 p.m. Interfaith Lecture Wednesday in the Hall of Philosophy. The lecture, titled “Consciousness and the Near-Death Experience,” is part of Week Nine’s theme, “From Here to Hereafter: Facing Death with Hope and Dignity.”
The coma was a result of a rare bacterial meningitis set off by E. coli. Alexander said by the end of the week, he had a 2 percent chance of survival. His neocortex — the outside covering of the brain responsible for sensory perception, reasoning and language — was destroyed in the process, which doctors said made it impossible for Alexander to have experienced anything while in the coma.
“My brain was wrecked, destroyed,” Alexander said. “I had no words, no language, I had no knowledge of humans. There my mother, sisters, sons standing around me — I had no idea who these beings were.”
And yet Alexander said he did have experiences, and he remembered — and still remembers — them vividly.
The first thing he said he remembers from the coma was being trapped in a murky, earthy, primitive realm. He had no physical form, but he had the conscious ability to question his surroundings.
Then Alexander said he was rescued from the earthy state.
“A slowly spinning, pure white light — very clear and pure with these fine white and gold tendrils — came slowly spinning toward me,” he said. “The most beautiful part about it was the music. This incredible melody.”
That melody, and all sound in this eternal realm, was important, Alexander said. Every time he was stuck in the first, murky level, he said he would be rescued if he remembered the melody.
Alexander said the white light took him to a level full of lush, vividly colored vegetation, which he traveled through on a butterfly wing.
“Butterflies in that realm are mind-blowing,” he said
Everything swirled in motion, and he said he saw thousands of souls dancing below him. Golden orbs that he said represented spiritual beings emanated hymns from above him.
A beautiful girl sat on the butterfly wing with him and told him — not through words, but by transcendence — that he was loved, would be taken care of and has nothing to fear.
Alexander said this message showed him that everyone in both the physical and spiritual realms share one consciousness.
“Not just all of humanity and not just all of life on Earth. It’s much bigger than that, and we are all part of it by being conscious beings,” he said. “The old saying, ‘Nothing to fear but fear itself,’ goes so much deeper than I ever realized. Our consciousness is actually our direct link to the divine infinite power, creative source, at the core of the universe.”
He continued: “Each and every one of us, by being conscious beings have nothing to fear. We are eternal spiritual beings. And by knowing that we are directly connected — and that the creator of this universe loves us as much as the entire creation — we have nothing to fear.”
Alexander said he was taken into a third level where he was in a state of inky darkness. This was the core of the universe, he said, and in it he encountered two beings: a presence of love for all of creation, and an orb of all-knowing light.
In this realm Alexander said he was told he would be enlightened and he still had nothing to fear, but he could not stay in that realm. He said he went through a cycle — making it to the top level, learning something about the universe, falling back into the primitive realm and then calling the white light to take him back through the loop again.
Eventually, after countless cycles, Alexander said he was stuck in the primitive realm, but this time he could hear murmurings — what he said were prayers from the physical world — and six faces appeared to him in the darkness.
Five of those faces were actually present the last 18 hours Alexander was in coma. The last face, Alexander said, was the face of his youngest son, Bond. Although Alexander didn’t recognize him at the time, he felt a strong connection to Bond’s likeness.
“There was something about him that got my attention. And in fact, I knew I had to come back no matter what,” Alexander said. “Even though I did not remember who he was specifically, I sensed that connection so strongly that I knew I had to come back. And that’s what brought me back to this world was my love for Bond.”
These experiences taught Alexander a few things.
He said there is no need to fear death because death is not the end of one’s spiritual life, and he realized the incredible healing power of unconditional love.
He also realized the brain does not create its own consciousness — something he said he would have never believed pre-coma.
“Before my coma, I was a card-toting member of the reductive scientists club,” he said.
Science is just now starting to understand that the brain does not create consciousness, he said, and in this understanding science and spirituality can strengthen each other.