Death is enjoyable
John Bowers was born in 1912. After working as a District
Commissioner in the Sudan, he served during the war in Abyssinia and
North Africa. From 1947 he was Head of the Adult Education Division
of UNESCO. He was also adviser to the Ministry of Overseas Development
and drafted the first Government White Paper on National Parks.
I suppose that for many old people the fear of death is one of the
most disturbing anxieties of old age. Anything that can remove or
mitigate it must be welcome. This thought leads me to recount a personal
experience and to suggest how it might be put to good purpose.
In 1942, on a Commando raid in the Sahara Desert, I was 'blown up'
by a bomb accurately aimed by a German pilot - a Near Death Experience
(NDE) which I greatly enjoyed. You may find this hard to believe but
I am deeply grateful for it. The 500lb bomb detonated within a few
yards of where I lay in the sand. I was instantly enveloped in a luminous
cloud of pale purple light and a thunderous roar of sound. It was
an ecstatic sensation and I felt no vestige of fear or pain. Then
I was happily floating, apparently twenty feet or so above the ground,
looking down at my body as it was flung over backwards. Soon I was
gliding up a tunnel that seemed to be made of translucent silk towards
a circle of primrose coloured light. I clearly remember saying to
myself: 'If this is death it's rather dull' (I think in retrospect
I meant uneventful). As if in response to this negative remark, I
felt myself being sucked back from the light and squeezed into an
unpleasantly heavy body. I will spare you the details of what followed
my return to earth, of the unenjoyable 33-hour return journey over
the desert, face down in a truck, and the eleven months of hospital
treatment and thirteen surgical operations that followed.
Although I remembered the experience very clearly, I did not think
or speak much of it. It was many years later when I began to write
my life story that I realised how deeply it had influenced my beliefs
The most convincing impression I recall was that I - the essential
Me - was 'up there' looking down at my body. This conviction is expressed
by almost all of those who have reported NDEs.
Brought up in the Church of England, I learnt in my childhood that
I was a body that had a soul. I imagined it as some sort of ghost
that would go to heaven when I died. I have now come to believe rather
that I am a soul that has a body. This seemingly trivial shift of
belief has led to many others.
If I can apparently leave my body and move weightlessly or free of
gravity when my body is close to death this seems to indicate, though
not, of course, to prove, that I am an immortal soul capable of existing
beyond bodily death.
The belief in immortality and the 'separable soul', logically leads
to a belief in incarnation as the common experience of mankind. This
logic has led me into sympathy with Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. It
has also deepened my belief in the incarnation of the divine 'Christ
Spirit' in the human body of Jesus and his transcendent immortality.
When I was apparently a free-flying non-physical entity out of my
body, which was 'lying low', traumatised and evidently unconscious,
I still seemed to possess the faculties of my physical brain considerably
enhanced - notably acute clarity of vision, memory and command of
language. It seems therefore plausible to assume that as an immortal
soul I have an immortal, non-physical brain with super-sensory consciousness
and that I shall retain this and its memories of 'previous lives'
after bodily death.
I even have a persistent belief that as an incarnate soul in a human
body I have two 'brains' - a physical brain and a soul brain - now
integrated by the process of incarnation. I find support for this
from the German mystic Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Anthroposophy
movement, who writes of the Soul Organisation.
I was drawn back before I reached the light at the end of the tunnel.
Many 'returnees' report how they went 'through the light' into 'non-physical
reality' - an extra-terrestrial sphere. Was this what Jesus called
his father's house of many mansions? Most of the 'returnees' report
meetings with deceased relatives, 'Beings of Light' and various religious
figures and many experience a life review - an instantaneous and helpful
replay of their earthly life.
After return to my body I had no sense of how long I had 'been up
there'. It cannot have been long because the German planes were still
strafing us. A cannon shell hit the truck beside me with a sharp metallic
clang. I still felt no fear and, remarkably, no pain, only a sort
of light-headedness that was not unpleasant. Many years later, ruminating
on the sense of being outside time, I recalled the strange feature
of the NDE that I seemed to see the actual event that caused the experience.
Did I 'go backwards in time'?
I can readily empathise with rational materialists, and indeed anyone
educated in our sceptical scientific culture, who finds NDEs incredible
- mumbo-jumbo is the term often used. Hallucination, possibly triggered
by endorphins is a favoured explanation. But those of us who have
had an NDE or any kind of OBE (Out of Body Experience) seem almost
unanimously convinced of its reality.
What then is the relevance of Near Death Studies to older people's
fear of death? I have found that many people who have learnt that
I have had an NDE are eager to hear about it and many seem to gain
assurance from the idea that death may be enjoyable. This assurance
might well be transmitted in a friendly talk by someone who appears
honest and normal and will tell of their experience without sensationalising
it and without any motive of conversion or fostering a change of belief.
There are a surprising number of people who have had NDEs and OBEs
and some could surely be enlisted to do this service.
resources from the Leveson Centre