By Adriana Pawlik
Most scientists will tell you that there is no life after death. They argue that the bright light a lot of people report having seen after they have been revived and brought back into the earthly realms is nothing but a figment of the imagination: the brain’s attempt to protect us from the terrifying finality that comes with death. According to them, there is no Jesus welcoming us in his kingdom or an already deceased loved one waiting to be reunited with us, nor a new residence for us in the Garden of Eden. Scientific evidence seems to be able to give logical explanations for what happens when people have a near-death experience. The visions they see and sometimes also voices they hear come from residual brain activity. Studies show that cultural norms can have an impact on these experiences as well. The psychiatrist Bruce Greyson states that while Americans mostly describe their near-death experience as entering a tunnel, people from developing nations tend to talk about their experience as entering a well or cave. Does this mean these experiences are nothing but beliefs, expectations coined by the cultural background of each individual, which the brain starts to play automatically, like a movie before a person dies?
While I’m not denying scientific evidence and think it is important to include it in the discussion about the possibility of an afterlife, I also believe that science has a limited ability to explain certain phenomena. Therefore, many people turn to religion or look into spirituality in the hope to find the answers science cannot give them. A topic as controversial and almost off-limits as death and what might come after exceeds the ability of the mind to think logically. Especially in our progressive, western world more often than not, the idea that there could be more than our earthly life is shrugged off as a silly fantasy. In other cultures, like the Mexican one, for example, death is treated as a normal, integral part of life. On the day of the Dead, Mexicans celebrate their dead loved ones with bright costumes and paint their faces with sugar skull make-up. Lots of little sugar skulls serve as a festive decoration, too. They decorate the graves of their dead relatives with magnificent, colorful flowers and candles and bring them food because they believe on this day, their souls return from the other side. In this way, children learn early on that death is nothing to be afraid of. They learn how to deal with death in a healthy way and they also learn that it’s not the end of the soul.
Most scientists might deny the existence of an afterlife, but what science does confirm is the fact that everything in the universe is made of energy. The great Albert Einstein once said, “Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.”
This means, if our souls consist of pure energy, we won’t just fade away into nothingness after we die, but actually move on to a different plane of existence. The neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander used to be a non-believer when it came to anything even remotely spiritual. For a rational person like him, life after death was complete nonsense and near-death experiences were a trick of the mind.
That was until he himself had to face death. Due to an E. coli meningitis, Eben Alexander was left in a coma for seven days. During this week, his neocortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for thinking and creating, didn’t work at all. From a scientific perspective, it was absolutely impossible for him to have any conscious experience, and yet, he claims to have been to another reality, a different world of consciousness that doesn’t need a functioning brain to exist. The doctors who took care of him had lost all hope that he would ever wake up again, but against all odds, he did. And he came back with a message: There is a life after death. His experience of this other world was so vivid and real, a brain incapable of any kind of activity, could have never come up with imagining a whole new reality.
Hardcore skeptics will still find a logical explanation for what happened to Eben Alexander and all the other people who had a similar experience. On the one hand, I can’t blame them, but on the other hand, it is rather one-dimensional to assume that there can’t be something bigger than us. An incident in my own life proves to me that there is more between heaven and earth than the eyes can see. A few years ago, my mother told me about what happened to me when I was a baby. I was about a few weeks old when my mother began to have dreams about me not breathing anymore. Then one day, when it was usually time for me to be fed, my mother was unsettled because I was still asleep. Driven by this unshakable feeling that something was wrong, she went to check on me. Suddenly, it was as if all the nightmares she had had the days before became reality. My lips were already pale, so she took me into her arms, but I was limp, lifeless. Not having learned how to properly resuscitate a baby, she quickly put me on the changing table and started to move my legs, trying to bring me back, which she did eventually. Anyone would expect a baby that almost died from crib death to cry. But I didn’t cry. I opened my eyes and smiled at my mother as if I had seen the most beautiful angel on the other side. Of course, I have no memory of what had happened. What I do know with certainty is that the premonition of my mother saved my life.
Although I don’t know if I truly got a glimpse of the afterlife back then, I do have an idea of what it could be like. It’s rather a feeling than a vision. However, maybe it will be like everyone says. Maybe there will be a tunnel, a bright light guiding me. Maybe I will meet Jesus or Buddha or any other prophet. Maybe there will be angelic figures awaiting me. Maybe there will be a Garden of Eden, a sort of paradise with breathtaking landscapes and glorious food. Even if none of this will happen, I at least hope to see all of my loved ones again. The thing I’m absolutely sure of is that there will be peace. A sense of unity and unconditional love. I imagine heaven to be a place without judgment or prejudice. A place of freedom and acceptance. This is not to say that death is easy and life here on earth is only a struggle. On the contrary, life is precious and death can be hard and dreadful. Especially for the ones, we leave behind. But I like to believe that anyone would agree that seeing death as taking an Uber ride home makes it a lot less scary.