Near-Death Experience and Personal Transformation (Book Excerpt)

Near-Death Experience and Personal Transformation (Book Excerpt)

LightExperiences that bring us close to death have an enduring impact on our lives. Marilyn Schlitz, author of the Death Makes Life Possible book, will be interviewed on the popular radio program Coast-to-Coast AM about how these experiences have the power transform. Tune in on Wednesday April 29th from 10:00PM to 12:00AM to hear the insightful conversation. You may also enjoy the following Death Makes Life Possible book excerpt which explores these themes.


Simon Lewis was a rising film producer. With the production of Look Who’s Talking under his belt, he had set up a deal for Nick Nolte’s next picture, and his film Old Friends, produced for HBO, had won some Emmys. And then he was forced to change his life.

I was on my way for dinner one evening and a big van traveling at seventy to eighty miles an hour ran a stop sign and bulldozed my car against the curb. My car took off and hit a tree in mid air. This was less than a mile from Cedar Sinai Medical Center, one of the biggest hospitals in LA. Some paramedics were off duty on their way home from work when they saw the crash. They . . . told the police that there were no survivors in the car and that I was dead.

This place of pure consciousness that I was experiencing was actually inside the lowest level that is measured of coma, which is called a Glasgow Scale Coma 3. I was there for over a month, not expected to live. . . .

When I came out of the coma, I recognized my family, but remembered none of my past. In fact, it was only after a few weeks that pieces of memory started to come back.

A memory from my coma came to me of a protector who was traveling with me through this inner space, through this journey into infinity. And very slowly, in the middle of the night, it occurred to me who that protector was. I realized it was my wife. I was very pleased, and I told the night nurse who came to turn me over every twenty minutes the good news.

The following morning my mother came to the hospital to explain that I hadn’t always been in this room and in this bed. The reason I was in this room and this bed was because I’d been in an accident. Before this room and this bed I’d been a filmmaker, that I was married to Marcy, and that she had died instantly in the crash. During my month in a coma, she had been laid to rest in Phoenix, Arizona.

So I lost everything that really mattered most to me. And that started this journey through consciousness to find what makes us who we are, to see if I could recover who I was, and also to find a reason to go forward.

Lewis had had what William James called a noetic experience—a direct, personal encounter with death and a world beyond the physical—that transformed his life. I have been chasing these unplumbed sources of illumination for many years through my life and work. Over and over I have found clear support for the value of these experiences in shaping and transforming our worldviews in positive, life affirming ways.

Noetic experiences move people from a strictly materialistic view of our existence to one that has ineffable, spiritual, or mystical dimensions. Many people report rich and compelling states of consciousness that shape their understanding of death—and what may lie beyond. People’s encounters with the transcendent offer a personal kind of methodology for understanding the transformative potential of our own inner experiences. They are a way of knowing about reality that transcends logic and reason. In the context of death and dying, such experiences may be painful, rocking people from their natural steady state. Noetic encounters with death can also offer inspiration, hope, and mindfulness in the face of life’s ultimate transformation.