5 Near-Death Experience Lessons No One Tells You: #4 & 5

Finally, here are Lessons 4 and 5. If you’ve read the other two articles which house Lessons 1, 2 and 3, just scroll down to #4. If you haven’t read the first two installments of this little series, you may want to read the intro and first lesson. Lessons 2 and 3 can be found here. I’m guessing it will help set the context for what you are about to read, and make all of this a bit more humorous. Here’s the lessons, and few things to remember.

Lesson #1: “I” don’t make sense anymore
Lesson #2: Profanity is no longer profane
Lesson #3: If your mother doesn’t know you have tattoos – she will find out
Lesson #4: “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is no longer true
Lesson #5: Silliness is necessary for life, it is a spiritual practice

These lessons are a little outside the box. These aren’t what you may hear in the “usual conversations” you’re accustomed to when talking about the meatier issues of life, death, the hereafter, oneness and ultimate reality.

A couple warnings/suggestions/codicils:

  • If you are offended by profanity you should probably stop reading now.
  • This is my experience – you may or may not relate. That’s ok, I don’t need you to.
  • If you know anyone who has experienced a NDE, share this with them.
  • If you didn’t smile or chuckle at least once, you may have missed the point or need some internal adjustment.

Lesson #4: “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is no longer true

For some time now, I have believed that the small stuff is where life is. Now, this belief has become cellular. Don’t waste your time pining for some kind of spiritually transformative experience. Instead, do the daily, challenging, unglamorous work of becoming a better, healthier, more kind, loving, and connected person. And let the spiritual experiences take care of themselves.

This doesn’t mean to ignore the desire for spiritually meaningful experiences, but honestly, it’s where life is – in the small stuff. How often have we gotten irritated or annoyed by something “small” only to hear ourselves or someone else say, “Life is short, don’t sweat the small stuff!”

It’s these ordinary, mundane activities that fill our day: balancing the checkbook, getting cut off by an erratic driver, waking at 3am again because you don’t have the rent, remembering AFTER you’ve climbed into bed that the garbage wasn’t put out for the early morning pickup, cleaning the vegetables of chemicals, vacuuming up the never-ending supply of dog hair, spilling coffee on your neatly pressed pants as you pull into the office parking lot… All ordinary, small, sweaty things.

In the scheme of life, these things often have the same resonance as that summer mosquito “song” that whines so wonderfully and incessantly in your ear. It’s in these ordinary moments that are often sweaty, annoying, desolate and unsettling where we find our relatedness to all life. Can I open my exhausted mind, my hardened heart to the beauty in the most unsuspecting and mundane moments, rather than continually demanding a cosmic drama or a regular dose of extraordinary?

My friend Mark Nepo says, “I have come to understand that the same qualities of honesty, compassion, and expression that are required to face death and to survive illness are the very same qualities required to live our ordinary days. From here, we are given many chances to learn how to love and how to face things, both of which seem so frightening and monumental at first, but which become inevitable teachers and friends, when we can admit them.”

So go ahead and sweat the small stuff, it’s where the juice of life is. It’s the ever-present exquisite risk that invites us into living. It’s the honey that life drips on our soul and slowly seeps into the cracks in our heart, making even the most difficult or boring moments, the sweet nectar that will feed us making the ordinary life our most precious life.

Lesson #5: Silliness is necessary for life, it is a spiritual practice

This lesson you probably already knew, but maybe have forgotten. Do you do silly really well or are you experiencing a silliness drought? The word silly evolved from the old English word “saelig,” which means lucky or blessed. When you allow your silly side to come out you are affirming a sense of blessedness and allow those feelings to emerge playfully, joyfully. Silly can soothe, silly can restore, silly can uplift, silly can transform.

This is particularly useful when it comes to medical jargon. As I continue my healing journey, which isn’t really a journey because no one is taking me on a cruise, I have acquired a medical record about 3” thick. Now I know for some that’s nothing, and for others, it’s staggering. I imagine you could take my whole life of medical records and they wouldn’t stack up as high as this one episode. So I needed to add some silliness to make sense of the medical world, and frankly to survive.

For instance, those “bugs” that continued to hang out in my lungs long after I was out of the hospital and months after returning home, are called “bilateral infiltrates.” I decided it sounded like a military operation, which is much more exciting, and even puts a smile on my face. Every single person I have mentioned this to agrees with me, and also smiles and giggles right along with me. Silliness brings us closer to each other, reminds us of our common humanity.

How about this one? “Splenomegaly!” Wanna take a guess? Sounds like a medium-sized, chiefly terrestrial omnivorous reptile which emerged in the fossil record during the Late Jurassic Period, surviving through the Cretaceous Period, and finally became extinct mid-Mesozoic Era. Much more exciting than saying “an enlarged spleen.” I bet you’re smiling.

Isn’t life about seeing beyond what’s there? The word “busy” seems to pop up a lot these days. I think I’d rather be hearing the word “play” or “silly” come out of my mouth. Playing is a spiritual practice to disengage the brain, to abandon what we think we know and just roll around in the grass like we did when we were little – well hopefully you did, with your stuffed Splenomegaly won at the county fair.

The spiritual practice of silliness is reading the Sunday comics and finding the essence of yourself. This was a practice in my home growing up, my mother would ask us on Sunday afternoons where we found ourselves in the comics that day. Was it in Beetle Bailey, the Peanuts, Family Circle, or maybe the Wizard of Id? The ordinary is depicted as the extraordinary, the banal becomes comical, and the secular becomes sacred.

St. Francis, Zen masters, Taoist sages, Hasidic storytellers, Hopi clowns and performance artists are all prophets who have encouraged me to play because honestly what I know isn’t worth knowing, and what’s worth knowing can’t be known through the usual ways, or through the usual lens.

Silliness and play are the joyful expression of my being. It is at the heart of my creativity, my sexuality, and my most carefree and compassionate moments of devotion. It helps me live with absurdity, paradox, sadness, death, awe and mystery. It feeds my joy and wonder. It keeps me down to earth rolling around in the grass.

I’m sure there are more fucking lessons to come. It’s only been a few months since my NDE. In the meantime remember these words of Stanley Kuntz from his poem “The Layers,”

In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

Lesson #1

Lessons #2 & 3

Lessons #4 & 5