Eben Alexander, the neuroscientist whose near-death experience (NDE) became the basis for the bestselling book Proof of Heaven, spoke to a packed audience in Bryn Athyn on April 6, 2014.
He started by mentioning that Swedenborgians were among the first spiritual groups to contact him after his book was released to talk about the common ground between his experience and theirs. But during the course of his talk he emphasized that people of all religious backgrounds have had experiences like his, and that this points to a deeper common ground shared by all human beings.
In November 2008, a rare form of bacterial meningitis left Alexander in a coma that lasted for seven days. During that time, his brain was completely inactive—as he describes it, he was as close to brain dead as it was possible to be without actually dying. Yet during those seven days he had a remarkable experience of traveling through the afterlife and encountering a being of infinite love and wisdom, a being he would later identify as God. His recollections bear a remarkable resemblance not only to other near-death experiences but also to Swedenborg’s descriptions of the afterlife. Like Swedenborg, Alexander was left with a need to share what he had learned.
Until his NDE, Alexander had always believed what he had learned from neuroscience: the brain creates consciousness. During the talk, he said that his experience taught him otherwise. “Our consciousness is liberated when it’s freed from the shackles of the brain,” and in fact the world of spirit is much more real than the physical one. “Our body is what’s illusory; it’s our consciousness that is real.”
Alexander shares Swedenborg’s conviction that God’s love exists at the core of our consciousness, and that if we serve as a conduit for that tremendous force, it can lead to transformation and healing not only in our life but in the lives of those around us. That is the work that Alexander says he is undertaking now, using what he calls “sacred acoustics” to help activate the parts of the brain that connect to the Divine. He encouraged audience members to share in that journey and to experience sacred potential within themselves.
Before and after the talk, the Foundation gave away free copies of Our Life after Death, a short, standalone volume excerpted from the “World of Spirits” section of Heaven and Hell. While Our Life after Death was originally released last fall, for this event the editors of the New Century Edition prepared a new, abridged edition that simplifies the language of the original translation for a broader audience. This revised version, which will replace the first one, is currently available for sale. To purchase a print copy or download a free e-book, visit our bookstore.
A Guide for Deeper Exploration
In connection with Eben Alexander’s visit, Swedenborgian associations around the Philadelphia area are sponsoring discussion groups that explore the connections between Alexander’s near-death experience and the afterlife as Swedenborg described it. In collaboration with these groups, the Foundation has developed a four-week study guide that highlights key themes, offers questions for discussion, and gives some examples of parallels between Alexander’s experiences and Swedenborg’s.
If you’re interested in hosting a group of your own or in studying on your own, you can download a copy of the discussion guide for free.