* This article first appeared in Awareness Magazine, Nov-Dec Issue, 2016. Used with Permission.
As a young neuroscience professor, I had a spiritual awakening—an inner event that inspired me to spend the last thirty years exploring any understanding that might connect the exceedingly different worlds of science and spirituality.
Angels and miracles are two concepts, I found, that were accepted by spiritualists but never by scientists—and never, I must add, by myself. In religious texts and spiritual magazines, I would read descriptions of angels, the winged messengers or guardians sent by a deity and often the performers of miracles. A miracle, I would like to add, is defined by Webster’s as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.”1
Such claims frustrated me. I couldn’t fit these winged emissaries and their miracles into my scientific box, and so for many years I summarily dismissed these discussions. I felt they simply could not be true.
Recently, however, it occurred to me that I was asking the wrong question. Rather than Is it true? I could be asking this: Is there another way of understanding what people are experiencing when they see or feel an angel visit them and what seems like a miracle occurs? Perhaps by expanding my perspective, I might find some way to understand these experiences that countless people from various times and cultures have claimed to have.
While doing research for my new book Infinite Awareness: The Awakening of a Scientific Mind,2 I began to explore scientific theories that call for an expanded understanding of human consciousness. These theories propose that the brain itself may not give rise to consciousness, as scientists have long thought, but that our consciousness—the thinking-feeling being that we are—may exist independently of the brain. By this latter view, human consciousness might employ the brain as its organ and might even communicate with a greater consciousness, an infinite consciousness that is believed to be the source of the universe.3-4
In support of this theory, I found considerable research from the field of near-death experience (NDE).5-6 These studies indicate that people can experience cardiac arrest, have no cortical activity, yet remain consciously aware. Such people often speak of visiting another realm and experiencing a being who is filled with light and radiating unconditional love. Sometimes, even, they describe these beings as angels. Then what is an angel? Is it a being of light?
In her book Messages of Hope, Suzanne Giesemann, defines an angel as a being, often “with no form—an energy of a much higher order, an energy of pure consciousness.” Giesemann, a medium who was once a commanding officer in the US Navy, goes on to propose, “It is the light that surrounds them, when at times they do assume a form, which has resulted in this image of wings—so bright that you would want to shield your eyes.” 7
In Infinite Awareness, I recount the experience described by practicing physician Bettina Peyton, whose heart stopped in the operating room during the delivery of her third child.2 She remained lucid during the entire time of her cardiac arrest and wrote that at one point she thought she was going to die. “I see in my inner vision a vast darkness expanding behind me, at the backmost boundary of my mind. My awareness reaches the edge of the precipice and I lean backward, arching over the chasm of darkness below. Very naturally, I let myself fall, gliding downward in a graceful backward arc into the unknown.”2
Peyton experienced a blackness that shimmered and intensified in brilliance, and she sensed a pervasive presence in this light, a pulsating and intelligent power that filled her with deep peace. A voice in this powerful presence then thundered, You must live! and her consciousness funneled into the material reality of the hospital operating room, where she then witnessed the successful efforts of the hospital team to save her and her newborn daughter.
Was the sparkling light, the intelligent, pulsating power that enveloped Peyton with peace an angel? Was Peyton’s coming back to life after a prolonged cardiac arrest a miracle associated with this angel? We will never know. But according to Giesemann’s definition of angels, I think it could be. Peyton did, in fact, seem to be experiencing a higher order of consciousness, which she saw as pure light. And it was through this being’s words, You must live, that Peyton’s consciousness returned to her physical body, and seemingly miraculous events unfolded to bring her back to life.
These descriptions from Peyton and Giesemann resonate with the dictionary definition of an angel, “a benevolent celestial being who acts as an intermediary between the spiritual and earthly realms.”8 Peyton’s other-worldly experience itself also qualifies as a miracle, as the scientific perspective does not include the possibility that consciousness can operate once the heart has stopped and the brain is not functioning.
This is just one anecdote, a skeptic might say. And couldn’t this “experience” be nothing more than the hallucination of a dying brain?
Personally, I think not. Numerous studies have documented the veracity of NDEs in impeccably designed research, conducted in hospitals and with hundreds of cases. 4-5
Here is one more instance, from a series of near-death experiences documented by critical care physician Laurin Bellg and reported in her book, Near Death in the ICU. One of these cases, a woman she calls Naomi, told Bellg the following experience, after coming to the hospital in a coma, in full-blown cardiac arrest. Naomi said, “I saw everything. I saw it all. I saw my mom who died, I saw angels, saw you working on me, all the other doctors, me in the ER.”9
The woman reported realizing at one point that she—her awareness—was above her body, watching everything that happened in the operating room. From this perspective, she saw a growing bright light to one side, which, as she turned her attention to it, became bigger and brighter. “It was coming closer,” she said, “and I wanted it to, because the closer it came, the more intense love I felt.”10
As she described this experience, Naomi wept—and added, “It’s so hard to explain that kind of love. It was very intense and so real.”10
Naomi merged her awareness with that light and experienced communing with angelic beings, including the spirit of her own mother. Naomi wanted to remain in this experience but was told that she couldn’t, that she had more lessons to learn. Then, she found herself back in the hospital and in her own body. Naomi ended her account with the comment that her experience on “the other side” had removed her fear of death.10
Were the bright light and the loving spirit of her mother that Naomi experienced angels? I don’t know. But having read hundreds of documented accounts from trained and seasoned physicians in hospitals around the world, I do believe that these beings of light are real—and are closely involved with the miracle of returning to life after cardiac arrest with a new understanding of life and what is beyond it.
- Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 11th Edition, Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 2004:792.
- Woollacott, M. Infinite Awareness: the Awakening of a Scientific Mind. Lantham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield. 2015:110.
- Kelly, E. et al., Irreducible Mind. Lanthan MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2011.
- Batthyany A. Complex Visual Imagery and Cognition During Near-Death Experiences, Journal of Near-Death Studies 2015;34:65–83.
- Van Lommel P, Wees Van R, Meyers V, Elfferich I. Near death experience in survivors of cardiac arrest: a prospective study in the Netherlands. Lancet 2001;358:2039–45.
- Parnia S, et al. AWARE-AWAreness during REsucitation- A prospective study. Resuscitation 2014;85:1799–1805.
- Giesemann, S. Messages of Hope, One Mind Books, 2011. Ch. 16.
- Free Dictionary.com.
- Bellg, L. Near Death in the ICU, Appleton, Wisc: Sloan Press, 2016, p. 99.
- Ibid, p. 100-101.