photo: Alan Levine on flickr

What happens after we die?

Do we disappear into a void, never to be seen or heard from again? Or do we float down a tunnel of white light, reuniting with our spiritual heroes and loved ones?

I have a few hunches about what happens after death. I think life goes on, though different than on earth. I think we reunite with the bigger part of ourselves, the part that’s one with Everything.

But what do I know?

I can’t say for sure until I die. And that hasn’t happened yet.

At least, not this lifetime.

But something happened, something that gave me an up-close-and-personal encounter with this thing we call death. And it changed me.

photo: fady habib on flickr

Here’s what happened:

A few years ago, Melissa and I attended the Wednesday Night service at the Center for Spiritual Living Santa Rosa. We had driven up from the Asilomar conference in Pacific Grove that morning and we were exhausted. But our friend Christopher Fritzsche wrote a Kirtan Mass and we wanted to hear it.

So we went to the Center.

We sat up close, in the third row on the right-hand side. We could see all of the people on stage – the singers and musicians and prayer practitioners and the minister, Edward Viljoen.

photo: Will Bakx

The music started and it was gorgeous. The entire piece was one long 5-step prayer. I’ve outlined this form of prayer in a previous post, but I’ll sum it up again here:

Step One is Recognition: Spirit is all there is.

Step Two is Unification: Since Spirit is all there is, I am that too.

Step Three is Realization: Since I am one with Spirit, I am one with my Good.

Step Four is Thanksgiving: I celebrate my Good.

Step Five is Release: I release this prayer to the Divine, knowing it is done.

So there we were, sitting up close to the stage, listening to the beautiful music – singing along and enjoying the power of the moment. We were halfway through Step Two – the “I am one with the Divine” step – when we suddenly noticed someone on the floor directly in front of us.

A woman who had been sitting in the front row was lying on the floor, unconscious.

Everyone around us mobilized into action. Our friend Debra Ellis, who is a nurse, was sitting next to us. She jumped up to assist the woman. Melissa ran to the back of the room to make sure someone had called 911. Several other health care professionals came forward to lend a hand.

Meanwhile, the music was still going: I am one with All That Is. The words and the notes surrounded the event and filled it with a gentle, yet all-encompassing authority. Something big was happening.

Something huge.

Melissa and I are both ministers, so we did what ministers do. We prayed.

photo: Minoru Nitta on flickr

And this is going to sound funny, but the minute I started praying, I realized I didn’t need to pray. There was already so much energy, so much light, so much love surrounding this woman, whoever she was.

It was like this:

Even though there were about twenty singers on stage, it felt like there were about two thousand voices surrounding the scene. The voices sounded like angels. Were they angels? Was that what I was sensing?

I had never felt so much peace surrounding such a seemingly scary and traumatic scene. So even though I didn’t need to pray, I kept praying, just to continue to participate in that peace, and that power.

Debra and the other health-care professionals were still trying to revive the woman. It appeared they weren’t succeeding. Was she dying?

It looked like she might be.

After just a few minutes, the paramedics came and carried the woman to the ambulance. It was at this point that I caught a glimpse of her face. I recognized her from one of my classes at the Center. Her name was Donna. I didn’t know her well, but I knew who she was.

photo: Georgett Eggel

After she was taken from the room, Rev. Edward offered up a gentle, beautiful prayer. The room was still filled with an enormous energy – peaceful and powerful, all at once. The music continued, and I sat there, in awe.

I wasn’t sure what had just happened, but whatever it was, I’d never experienced anything like it.

Was it death? Had someone just died in my presence? Was that what death feels like? If so, I thought, I’m no longer afraid of it.

Actually, my fear of death has lessened considerably since becoming a fan of a group of channeled teachers known as Abraham. They are – as they love to say – “as dead as it gets.”

But this was even more powerful. This was a felt-experience of the aliveness of what we refer to as death.

We found out later that night that the woman, Donna Piepgras, had been revived at the hospital. We then found out the next morning that in spite of this revival, she had died at 1 in the morning.

We also found out that the Wednesday Night Kirtan was Donna’s favorite service. And that, just before the service, she said she felt fabulous. She said she felt like she had come home.

photo: Nathan Jones on flickr

I know if it had been Melissa who passed away that night, I would’ve probably had a different experience. I would probably have been in shock, in mourning.

But because I didn’t know Donna that well, I didn’t feel any of that. I was just feeling amazed by what happened.

And grateful to her.

By leaving when she did, she was a powerful teacher to me and many others. Even though I barely knew her, I felt her spirit that night. I felt it as clearly and powerfully as I’ve ever felt anything.

You know how they say: Rest in Peace? This doesn’t make sense to me anymore. It doesn’t capture the vibrancy and aliveness of what I felt. Live in Peace would be more like it.

Even though I still don’t know what happens when we die, I do know that life goes on. I felt it.

And I will forever be grateful to Donna Piepgras for teaching me this lesson.

What’s your experience with this thing we call “death”? Who have been your teachers?



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