“Peaking” at Death

Fearless (1993)
directed by Peter Weir

In the context of Oneness, peak experiences, near-death experiences (NDE), and out-of-body-experiences are not only related but they are facets of the same diamond. Every human experience, of course, is a facet of the diamond we call Oneness but most of us are not conscious of these interrelated, interconnected and interdependent aspects of Simple Reality.

Peter Weir’s film Fearless can help with some key insights into questions about the experience of living and dying. Notice we said “experience” because living, dying and beyond death are all one experience with no separation. The conventional worldview will be challenged in this essay so keep an open mind. First, we need to define some key types of experiences related to the film that are not part of the mainstream conversation in our culture.

Research shows that many Americans have their first experience of “transcendental” states of consciousness with what transpersonal psychologist Abraham Maslow called Peak Experiences. Maslow used this term to describe the experience of the present moment, the experience of the NOW. Synonyms for the NOW from various disciplines include flow, epiphany and religious experience. “Not until Maslow codified the benefits of the peak experience, as well as what he called the Being-values (i.e., values which correspond to the awareness of the transcendent realm), did researchers, educators and the various helping professions begin paying closer attention to the attitudes, behaviors and values of human health.”[i]

Notice how close Marsha Sinetar’s descriptors (attitudes, values and behaviors) are to the definition of worldview that we use in Simple Reality, i.e., beliefs, attitudes and values. A peak experience can be the first clue for some of us that life is more than meets the eye or more than what we have been told.

Out-of-Body Experience

The “feeling” of an out-of-body experience is similar in some ways to a peak experience. “An out-of-body experience can arise at any time, even in sleep or dreams. It is often triggered by physical calamity or illness, such as an accident or surgery. In the out-of-body experience, there is location, position, and duration. An almost invisible energy body leaves the physical body and travels to a different location in the room or perhaps even at some distance. Sensory awareness accompanies the energy body and stops being associated with the physical body, which is then experienced as being separate.”[ii]

“The sense of ‘I’ is also associated with the energy body and not the physical body. Eventually, there is a returning of the energy body to the physical body and life resumes as before. This adventure is recallable and often related to other people. The calibrated level of consciousness of the individual does not change significantly. The personality does not change; however, there may be a dawning that the ‘I’ is not just a physical body.”[iii]

David Hawkins has a system called “calibrated level of consciousness.” Although the level of consciousness is not markedly affected by an out-of-body experience, the former worldview (P-B) and false-self identity can be shaken or called into question and create an opening for deeper insights into the nature of reality may occur.

Near-Death Experience (NDE)

We get a first-hand description of an NDE from C. G. Jung, which lasted for several weeks and included what he called beautiful visions and experiences. “I felt as though I were suspended in space, as if I were securely cradled in the womb of the Universe, in a measureless void, but overcome with an intense feeling of happiness. I thought: ‘This is eternal bliss, it cannot be described, it is too wonderful!’ This bliss, Jung went on, may be described as ‘a state outside of time, where present, past and future are one.’”[iv]

Abraham Maslow also had an NDE after a heart attack in 1968 and described the two years he lived after that experience as “my posthumous life.”[v]

The NDE experience can be influenced by religious beliefs. “The evidence from the near-death experience (NDE), for example, suggests that God is not vengeful, does not judge us or condemn us, and is not angry at us for our ‘sins’; there is judgment to be sure, but the reports appear to be in agreement that all judgment comes from within the individual, not from the Being of Light. It seems, in fact, that all God is capable of giving us is unconditional love.”[vi]

David Hawkins’ excellent description of the NDE will help establish a context that will deepen our understanding of the film Fearless. “[The] near-death experience is not local in setting. One enters a much grander and more splendid domain. An infinite, radiant love is always present. There is a distinct awareness that a state of revelation is occurring, and calibrated levels of consciousness show a sharp increase. One sign of the experience is that the personality changes and results in transformation. These changes are often quite noticeable. Often, there is a major shift of attitudes and diminished interest in worldliness. The fear of death disappears. There may even be a shift of vocation. Generally, there is an attraction to spiritual subjects as well as a marked lessening in the level of overall fear. This is reflected in greater peacefulness, grace, and the replacement of negative attitudes by positive ones. The transformation of personality may be quite profound in some cases. In others, it could only be aptly described as saintliness. Some people who have these experiences become healers and are drawn to the healing profession or ministries.”[vii]

In writing a review of the film Fearless for the IONS Noetic Sciences Review, John Wren-Lewis could relate to the film personally. “The most important experience of my life was in 1983 when I came ‘to the brink’ in a near-death-experience (NDE). I found a meaning I’d never dreamed of in Shakespeare’s statement that love ‘looks on tempests and isn’t ever shaken.’ I discovered, in the moment of time-stop, that human consciousness is grounded in the same fundamental energy that moves the sun and other stars and tempests too—an energy for which ‘love’ is the only word we have, though its common sentimental associations are hopelessly misleading.”[viii]

Fearless begins with a violent jet-liner crash from the passenger’s point of view. “Director Weir has pulled off the incredible achievement of enabling viewers actually to feel for themselves how at such moments human consciousness can transcend fear, and indeed mortality itself by moving out of time.”  Wren-Lewis has watched a number of films that try to depict an NDE, but all have failed to depict the experience that he had. “Fearless is the first film I’ve seen that has managed to convey the actual feeling of a dimension beyond the life of space and time.”[ix]

Professional researchers in the field have found that (like the character Max played by Jeff Bridges in the film) the experiences of feeling a blissful peace, encountering celestial beings, seeing a heavenly light, having no pain or fear, the slowing down or stoppage of time and going through a tunnel with a light at the end, can happen to a person who has only a narrow escape from death without being sick or hurt. For example, one of the first scientific papers written on the subject was by the Swiss climber Albert Heim in the 1890s. He fell off a cliff but luckily landed in soft snow with minor injuries.

“As he went down, time seemed to become infinitely extended, fear vanished, and he experienced wonderful colors and music, plus a panoramic review of his life right from childhood, with a sense that even his nastiest acts were now somehow accepted without being in any way whitewashed.”[x]  Heim found that many of his fellow climbers had had similar experiences.

The problem with credibility and the aftereffects of NDE’s in recent times is that in the 1970s and early 1980s researchers had a biased agenda being overzealous in wanting to prove that people who experienced NDE’s were not mentally ill and were indeed living healthier, more compassionate and creative lives than before. In 1988 a researcher in Idaho, Phyllis Atwater, in her book Coming Back to Life showed that people did indeed lead more compassionate and creative lives, but that meant they often went against the expectations of social conventions and their former friends and families.

“Yes, experiencers do indeed come back with new spiritual drive and urge toward a better world, but that often means preferring poverty to dull jobs that would keep families in the style to which they’re accustomed, helping strangers rather than going to neighborhood cocktail parties, and looking at scenery for hours instead of taking Junior to Little League.”[xi]  In other words, the fear-driven behaviors of the false-self survival strategy are diminished or gone.

Now we get to the major principle from the context of Simple Reality revealed by the film. After the plane crash, Max leads fellow survivors down the aisle (tunnel) of the plane toward the “light” of the exit. The “light” is always a symbol and an experience of the perfection of Creation, not a beckoning to an otherworldly heaven. The “heaven on earth” beyond time and space is what is experienced in an NDE; it is the experience of freedom from P-B and the false self right here on earth.

Wren-Lewis was able to choose response over reaction more often as a result of his NDE. “NDE’s are often spoken of as rebirths; mine felt more like a resurrection, because I was reconstructed with all my past experience, but with the fear-response [reaction] now operating ‘to one side,’ as it were, so that for most of the time I can heed it rationally but not be run by it.”[xii]

Some would say that the film is asking: Why does it take an NDE to experience Heaven on Earth? Not surprisingly, Simple Reality has a simple answer. Most of us choose not to. For the small number of people who experience NDE’s they have an experience that is not dissimilar to those who are undergoing a paradigm and identity shift as a result of their meditation and Point of Power Practice; fear is transcended. Wouldn’t that be worth a “fearless” commitment.

“Peaking” at Death

[i]     Sinetar, Marsha. Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics. New York: Paulist Press. 1986, pages 108-209.

[ii]     Hawkins, David. The Eye of the I. Sedona, Arizona: Veritas Publishing. 2001, page 163.

[iii]    Ibid.

[iv]    Ferrucci, Piero. Inevitable Grace. Los Angeles: Tarcher. 1990, page 315.

[v]     Wren-Lewis, John. “Reflections on Love and the Near-Death Experience.” IONS Noetic Sciences Review.  Petaluma, California. December 2000-February 2001, page 19.

[vi]    Grossman, Neal. “Who’s Afraid of Life After Death.” IONS Noetic Sciences Review. Petaluma, California. September-November 2002, page 34.

[vii]   Hawkins, op. cit., pages 163-164.

[viii]   Wren-Lewis, op. cit., page 16.

[ix]    Ibid.

[x]     Ibid., page 18.

[xi]    Ibid.

[xii]   Ibid., page 19.


Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.

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