Near Death…

Mar 01

I’ve heard many people comment on death and what happens-or doesn’t happen-afterwards. I suppose everyone has an opinion, but it seems to me that the words of those who have come close or crossed over should count for more than suppositions laid by folks who never left the armchair, so to speak. I’ve had a number of near death experiences-enough that I can pick out my favorites and enumerate them:

I took a film class during the winter quarter of my sophomore year in college. Part of the requirements for the class was that we attend foreign film night at the university movie theater-which was every Sunday. This was a happy condition and I got to see a lot of great films from all over the world. The only drawback was that I had no car and had to ride my bike. Usually, this was no big deal. Athens, Georgia, where I went to school, is a small town and getting around on a bike wasn’t really difficult. If anything, it was nice supplementary exercise to work off calories from the vast quantities of beer I consumed.

That said, the films were at night, and I had to bike home in the cold-not fun. One Sunday,  Pedro Almodovar’s Matador played. My first exposure to this wonderful director’s films. Aptly enough, the film dealt with death-at least in some sense. After the movie, I hopped on my bike and began to pedal home. I made may way up the steep hill that went from the student center (which housed the theater), past the library to north campus and the way home. At that time, I was extremely asthmatic (it went away later, a tale for another day)-and perhaps it was the combination of cold air, the bike ride…I’m not sure. Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe. Gasping for air, I fell off my bike and collapsed on the ground. No one came to my aid. It was winter on a Sunday night. There was no one around.

Struggling to breathe is terrifying at first-but then, as asphyxiation sets in, it gets more relaxed. “This is it,” I thought. I laid on cold asphalt. Above me, the indigo sky was vast, full of the stars that never fail. I was going to die, cold and alone. It was okay. It didn’t feel too bad. It wouldn’t have surprised me if I went out that way. I felt myself rising up, as though I was no longer observing the night, but amid it. But then, something pushed me, gently, back down. It was like being lowered…and there I was on the ground and I could breathe again. Not tempting fate, I pushed my bike the rest of the way up  the hill and waited until on level ground to pedal home.

I had a spiritual teacher once who told me that in the near future I would have an experience that would leave me at a loss for words. She was a little enigmatic and while I thought it sounded cool, I didn’t really think anything too crazy would happen. Sometimes, when meditation is deep enough, death can result. There are probably a number of reasons why this is-perhaps the individual is at a point where they are prepared to give up their current incarnation, or they have gone too far to the other side and can’t come back; of course, the reasons may be more complex, personal and beyond our understanding.

While in deep meditation, I reached a space where events went beyond my own intentions. As in shamanic experiences I’ve read about, my body seemed to fly apart. I was going through the portal of death! And rather than feel the fear or dismay that I expected, I felt elation. All my life I had heard and read mystically inclined folks say “this is all an illusion”-referring to the temporal, physical universe. It’s sort of de rigeur, and a phrase that is repeated so much I got tired of hearing it. Yeah, yeah, it’s all an illusion. Whatever. Upon my experience, I found-to my surprise-they were totally right. It is all an illusion. The true, spiritual reality that informs the physical lays behind everything. It was like waking up-and I mean that literally. I thought: “It wasn’t real! It was a dream! Just a bad dream! Thank God!”  There aren’t words to describe the relief I felt. Have you ever had a dream where you were back in high school, never graduated, had to take a test on a subject you hate for which you never studied? That was how it was. This life, this physical incarnation, is the test I had to take that I never studied for. But it was just a bad dream! A goddamn dream! I woke up. I never told my master what happened-she probably knew, anyway. But she was spot on.

Nearly two years ago I almost died. I had a life-threatening health condition and was hospitalized for two days. This was different than the other times. There could be no willing surrender to the inevitable. I have three children. I couldn’t leave them. With a strength and a resolve that is born from the love a parent has for their sons and daughters, I fought my way through. I would not die. I would not pass through the doors. Not yet. It was the longest 48 hours of my life. When my wife picked me up-the entire experience, alone in the twilight and shadow of the hospital , seemed surreal, another dream. And when I was outside…there was a blue sky, the sun on my back. Birds, trees. People milled about, talking, meeting, doing their thing. I observed in silent wonder. Later, I was happily reunited with my family, my friends.

I’ll never forget that singular moment: blue sky, sun on my back.

Death is the silence, the meditation. Life is the sound, the action. The same golden thread is woven through them.


  1. Brian Hager /

    I like the Death – Life dichotomy. Would you consider your children to be “spiritual gifts?”

  2. Peter Ristuccia /

    Thanks Brian. I would indeed consider my children-and all children-to be spiritual gifts.

  3. Engel Kobres /


  4. Brandi /

    I’ve had a few dreams where I’m dying, but I’m elated. The most memorable is when I was shot in the lower right diaphram. My life was escaping the wound as if by vacuum. The feeling was orgasmic and I was completely overwhelmed by happiness. The dream ended before it was over.

    Something or rather someone you might find fascinating that I’ve been ‘into’ for the past few months: Ra Uru Hu. Youtube the name and watch his story. It’s over an hour, but completely worth the time.

    Also, something different but not entirely so, there’s a free book online (but the book and other books by the author can be purchased on Amazon so it’s credible reading) called The Ascent of Humanity. Very interesting.

  5. Peter /

    Hmmm, that sounds interesting. Those are Egyptian terms: Ra is the sun god of course; Hu is coptic for “word.” I’m not familiar with Uru. I’ll look at it on Youtube when I get the chance.

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