NOW SERVING Psychedelic Culture

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The following is excerpted from Changed in a Flash by Elizabeth G. Krohn and Jeffrey Kripal, published by North Atlantic Books.

When Elizabeth Greenfield Krohn got out of her car with her two young sons in the parking lot of her synagogue on a late afternoon in September 1988, she couldn’t have anticipated she would within seconds be struck by lightning and have a near-death experience. This chapter takes places just after she was struck.

***     

Sometimes when you go looking for what you want, you run right into what you need.

—WALLY LAMB, The Hour I First Believed

As I was processing all of this, really in just a fraction of a second, a warm, inviting, golden glow appeared to my upper right. I sensed it as much as I saw it. It was not a fixed light but more of a moving beacon that seemed to want me to follow it. That is, there was no defined form to the glow. It was not round like the sun. It was more like the glow around the sun. In any case, I understood that I was dead and that my children were safe with my family and the community at the synagogue, so I gave in to the temptation and followed the beckoning glow.

Things suddenly got, well, stranger than they already were. For example, I immediately understood that time is not linear. Things were happening in my field of vision and new capacities were awakening within me, but they were all taking place at the same time, all at once. Moreover, my movement was not encumbered by my physical body. Whatever I had become floated or flew toward the warm glow. As I followed the glow, it led me to what I will call “the Garden,” although it was unlike any garden here on earth. Many things about my visit to the Garden I now struggle to describe. They are simply not imaginable or thinkable. We just cannot perceive the Garden “where” and “when” we are now. And so the words to describe them do not yet exist here. Maybe they never will. Perhaps they are not supposed to exist here

But I will try to describe what I saw using our existing language and vocabulary. The glow led me to a beautiful bench made of what appeared to be hand-carved wooden scrollwork, which had been sanded and polished until the wood was glossy. The graceful curves and swirls of the deeply carved wood felt like satin to my touch. It was so incredibly beautiful and elaborately ornate that it looked like an antique throne built for two. The unique beauty of this bench was only surpassed by the otherworldly comfort I felt when a familiar voice welcomed me and told me to sit on the bench. The voice was that of my beloved grandfather whose death a year earlier, of course, I had been at services to commemorate when I was struck by lightning.

I took a seat on the ornately scrolled bench and found that it immediately conformed to whatever my individual body had become as soon as I sat down. The morphing bench was surrounded by an abundance of plants, the likes of which I had never seen before. The plants blossomed into magnificent owers that seemed to explode with colors from another color and light spectrum not accessible here. My grandfather’s soft, familiar voice, complete with the French accent that made it so distinct in this life, immediately put me at ease. The voice said that audible speech would disrupt my absorption of my surroundings, so he was going to speak what I had come there to know in my head, silently, telepathically. I have come to believe that this was actually not my grandfather, by the way. I think it was God using my grandfather’s voice to put me at ease.

The soothing voice was a calming vocal presence that I perceived yet did not hear. He knew things about our family that only my grandfather, and perhaps God, would know. This presence imparted information to me that implied a vast grasp and knowledge of where I was and what choices I would need to make if I chose to “go back.” He relayed the clear impression that the choice to remain in the Garden or to reoccupy my burned and soaked body was mine to make. I understood that I could take all the time I needed in making the decision to stay or return, and that I would be given information that would help me make that most difficult choice.

I was dead, but I was more alive than when I had been that twenty-eight-year-old woman with the child and the umbrella in the synagogue parking lot a few seconds earlier. I was surrounded by and suffused with an unutterable feeling of unconditional love. The love was all-encompassing and embraced me in every way: in the palpable scents that hung in the air around me like ornaments; in the soothing sound of a gently babbling brook nearby; in the cadence of the gorgeous otherworldly music surrounding me; in the visual oral feast before me; and in the deeply comforting knowledge that I was safe, protected, and unconditionally loved by God himself.

The glow that I had initially followed into the Garden had moved away from me. It was still to my upper right, but now it was behind a range of mountains whose outlines in the distance were backlit with the shimmering light of the warm glow from behind them. I resisted the impulse to follow the beckoning glow to the mountains, since the peace, comfort, beauty, and unspeakable love that surrounded me where I was sitting were all that I could ever want. The sound of the brook nearby, the music in the air, the sweet scents of the blossoms and grass, and the vivid colors of the sky, mountains, and flowers, lulled me to depths that I had never known my soul to possess.

Regardless of whether my companion on the ornate bench was my grandfather or some other being higher up the ladder, I knew that I was not alone in the Garden. I did not turn to look at my companion because I somehow knew that it would be overwhelming for me no matter what (or whom) I saw. I did not want to disrupt the visual and emotional perfection in which I found myself by seeing something I could not emotionally absorb. I knew that the abundance of love that this presence communicated to me was an immersion in spirit, the memory of which would never leave me. Still today I can draw on that memory of unspeakable love whenever I need to do so. I could have happily, willingly, and gratefully remained there for eternity. It was a gift, tailored to me, from a higher being that loved me unconditionally.

The landscape was clearly meant to comfort and assure me. The sound of flowing water, be it a brook, stream, waterfall, or ocean waves, is something I have always found to be gentle and soothing. A view of any scenery has always been enhanced for me if there is a body of water there. I think that is why it was so prominent among the other sweet sounds and music that permeated the Garden. The presence of all that I found to be warming, loving, and inviting taught me that, in this place, all who arrive encounter and perceive whatever is most comforting and reassuring to them. My source of comfort was the unmatched beauty of my surroundings and the all-embracing feeling of unconditional perpetual love, all captured in the Garden. This was my heaven.

Jeff has encouraged me to say more at this point. So let me put it this way. Let me say that I understood that all who come to this wondrous place are soothed and welcomed by whatever they find most comforting and pleasurable in life. Therefore, I was not surprised to find that my particular heaven took the form of a lush, perfectly manicured garden. Someone I saw in the distance may have expected his or her heaven to be a snow-blanketed forest. I instinctively recognized that while I found myself in a beautiful garden, someone else there might encounter a snowy forest, a boundless meadow, or a serene beach. Yet we were all in exactly the same place. We were in heaven. I also understood that in heaven one’s own appearance projects the best of whatever one believed oneself to be in this life. Each of these kindnesses, moreover, added to my ease during my visit to the Garden.

I feel so inadequate to convey the totality of the place where I was. As I tried to explain earlier, time in the Garden is perpetual. It is layered with events and sensations that all occur at once. is changes pretty much everything. For example, all the lines that I had drawn in my previous life to separate past, present, and future had vanished. As I attempt to write what I experienced, I am left only with those explanations that I once received from those whose experiences I mocked. One of the many ironies in this redirection of my life is that I now hold to be true what they did—most fundamentally, that there are connections to something much greater than ourselves. I also now understand that it is possible to return from another realm or dimension and be completely unable to help those who have not beheld it to understand that it exists at all. Something can be perfectly true and completely unbelievable.

The knowledge that was being transmitted to me as I sat on the ornate bench in the presence of the loving being who spoke in the voice of my beloved grandfather was also being shared with the other humans there, humans whose forms I perceived in the distance. Everyone was in pairs. No one was alone. They were dressed in what I knew as street clothes. And they were all beautiful, youthful, healthy, and perfect. I wondered, “If they are perfect, am I?”

I looked at my left hand, curious to know how the burn from the lightning strike had affected it. Remarkably, my hand looked as if it belonged to a younger woman. There were no chipped nails or wrinkles, and certainly no burn from the lightning. There was also no wedding ring. All I saw was the taut, smooth, pristine skin of myself at eighteen or so. The skin on my hand was perfect.

Although I saw people in the distance, no one approached me. Nor did I approach any of them. Why were they all paired up with someone? Did I appear to them to be alone? These questions were immediately answered by my companion, who told me that I was also part of a pair, and that he was the other half.

This raised more questions for me. Could the other people there see two of us? We must have appeared to the distant human forms as they did to me—as a pair, and as beautiful as I ever was at my best. Did this partner of mine look like my grandfather at age ninety when he died, or did he look eighteen like everyone else there? Or did he have an entirely different appearance? I don’t know because I never turned to look at him. I think I was not supposed to see him because I would have been overwhelmed at the sight of my beloved grandfather.

Or by the beauty of God himself.

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