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Mark B's Experience

Experience description:   

Though this is not a literal NDE, I think it may be of interest to your readers, in that it triggered the same phenomena as an NDE, and was equally transformative in my life.  Better described as a spontaneous, unconscious OBE, I think it will be significant to others, as well -- both for its inclusion of paranormal faculties (360-degree vision, remote hearing, flight, telepathy, etc.), and for its precise synchronicity with a parallel event, which was occurring simultaneously, 50 miles away.    

Early in 1992, California resumed capital punishment, after a 20-year hiatus.  As a life-long opponent of the death penalty, I had joined hundreds of other protesters outside the gates of San Quentin State Prison.  Shortly before midnight, we received word that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had issued two separate stays of execution, apparently sparing the life of the condemned man, Robert Harris, for at least another month. 

Believing the execution was off, I drove an Orthodox priest back to San Francisco, returned to my home in Palo Alto, and went to bed.  Hours later, I returned to San Quentin in a dream -- though now it was me, rather than Harris, who was strapped into the gas chamber.  But as the cyanide fumes filled my nostrils and I braced for death, the seemingly impossible happened.  As easily as if my restraints and the walls of the death chamber were made of air, I simply stood up, walked out of the room, and passed through the prison walls like an open door. 

Outside the gates, I was startled to find that I had 360-degree vision, and that I could hear distant, whispered conversations at will.  Realizing that this "ultimate punishment" simply set us free, I rushed back to death row, hoping to assure the other inmates that they had nothing to fear.  As I passed the death chamber, I was totally unconcerned to see my body double strapped into the chair, apparently dead.  Of much greater significance to me was the fact that I appeared to be invisible to both the execution witnesses and the guards.

On death row, however, I found that I was visible to the few innocent men, and to those who had repented their crimes, while the hardened criminals remained oblivious to my presence.  Among the former was an inmate we all thought was crazy, because he was always mumbling to himself.  But as I passed his cell, he looked up at me and smiled, and I realized for the first time that he was praying. 

When I had accomplished my task on death row, I had an impulse to go to San Francisco, and immediately found myself gliding over the Bay, as effortlessly as a gull.  I landed in the financial district, where I noticed the same phenomenon I had encountered at the prison:  While I seemed invisible to the businessmen rushing by with their briefcases, the homeless people could see me, and reacted to my presence as if it alone had somehow transformed their lives.   

Realizing why the homeless people could see me while the businessmen could not, I suddenly saw the humor in the situation, and began to laugh:  The businessmen acted as if the homeless were invisible, too! 

When my own laughter awakened me, I looked at my bedside clock, noting the hours that had passed since I left the prison.  I lay in bed for some time, trying to make sense of the dream and its paranormal aspects, and eventually fell back asleep.   

A couple of hours later, the radio alarm awakened me to the morning news.  And the lead story was the execution of Robert Harris.  In the middle of the night, the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned both stays of execution, and Harris was strapped into the gas chamber for the second time that night.  Far more startling to me, however, was the timing:  The time when Harris had entered the death chamber was the precise moment that my dream had ended. 

Hoping it might give her some comfort, I wrote to Harris's sister, whom I had met at San Quentin, the day before his death.  I told her of my dream, and a couple of weeks later, I received a reply.  A week after the execution, also in a dream, Harris had appeared to another sister, who lived in New York.  He stood at the foot of her bed, wearing a clean, white shirt, and a look of peace that had always eluded him in life.   

"It's okay, Sissy," he said.  "I'm free now." 

This experience triggered a series of mystical events in my life that continued for more than two years, and forced me to abandon the atheism that had guided my thinking for 25 years.  I realized that all spiritual beings have a single source, and that the world's various religions share a fundamental wisdom, though it is often obscured by myths and superstitions.  As I later described it in a letter, "heaven" is merely the recognition that love is the only real value in life.  And "hell" is just the emptiness that comes from denying it. 

(Though I am not a student of NDEs per se, I wanted to share this story with an NDE group, after recently reading Mellen-Thomas Benedict's story online.  You may use it, with attribution, in any non-commercial way, with the understanding that a similar account will also appear in my forthcoming book, Immortality: The Gospel of Thomas and a Rationalist's Search for God.)