Life hasn’t been the same for Nancy Rynes, a former atheist scientist turned spiritually-oriented author and consultant, since the day she died more than three years ago.
On Jan. 3, 2014, an SUV rammed into Rynes on her bicycle at the roundabout at South Public Road and South 112th Street in Lafayette. Rynes lived through the accident, sustaining 24 broken bones, she said, each with multiple breaks, including nine vertebrae and five ribs. Her pelvis, sternum and collar bone were all cracked, and there was no count on the total number of breaks, she added.
“My higher-self exited my body and watched what was going on,” Rynes, who now divides her time between Seattle and Lafayette, said. A “classic” near-death experience came three days later on the operating table at Lafayette’s Exempla Good Samaritan Hospital, when she “basically flatlined” shortly after receiving general anesthesia.
While the whole experience apparently lasted only a few minutes, Rynes herself had entered a timeless landscape of beauty and love, she said. It was a state that she, like other experiencers -— a term for people who have had a near-death experience, or NDE -— finds difficult to put into words.
“(It’s) weird from a physical perspective to say that you feel love as if it were a force, but it was like an energy field that I could feel everywhere — love and peace and acceptance to an incredible level — that’s indescribable really,” she said. “It wasn’t necessarily from me, it was from outside, almost like if you’ve been under the high tension energy wires and you can kind of feel the buzzing of the electricity.”
Rynes is scheduled to give a presentation during the 2017 International Association for Near-Death Studies Conference, which begins Thursday and runs through Sunday at the Westin Westminster hotel in Westminster. The event features speakers, seminars, exhibitions and workshops.
It’s open to people who have had a near-death experience, NDE researchers and anyone else who is interested in the subject.
Eben Alexander, author of “Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife,” is scheduled to give a keynote presentation on Saturday. Alexander’s brain was damaged by bacterial meningitis, which plunged him into a coma for a week, according to his bio on the IANDS conference website. “Dr. Alexander miraculously survived — and brought back with him an astounding story,” the bio says.
Gratitude was emphasized
At the time of her NDE, Rynes, having done graduate course work in geology at the University of Colorado, was working in software development and training for a remote sensing company.
“I had gone into this experience being an atheist, so I didn’t really expect anything to happen after death,” she said. “I expected pure blackness and that was it. To have something be there, I thought, ‘I wonder if I died? And then if I have, why am I here? Because I don’t believe in this.'”
A “universal” or “divine” consciousness responded to Rynes, and then a guide took her through a life review of how she’d treated others, exploring select incidents, not always the ones she would’ve expected, in depth, she said.
“I was basically experiencing me through them, the pain or disappointment they were experiencing as a result of my negative interaction or negative word,” she said. Rynes was also shown when she was helpful to others, such as showing kindness to a King Soopers clerk, she said.
“Some things that seemed very minor came up as very hurtful to the recipient, like saying nasty words to someone at work one day when I was in a bad place. I had an opportunity to lift that person up, but instead I cut them down,” she said.
Gratitude, community-building, and the power of individual choice, she said, were also emphasized before Rynes was sent back for she understood to be life-course correction.
“It wasn’t a punishment, it was an opportunity for me to set things right and put my life on a path that it was supposed to have been on,” said Rynes, whose book “Messages from Heaven” was released in June.
Boulder internist Christopher Trojanovich had not seen Rynes, whom he treated, since 2014, but recalled her case.
“I don’t remember the specific number of bones broken, but would agree that it was relatively extensive. I think she ended up healing relatively quickly from the orthopedic component of her injuries,” he wrote in an email. “I do remember that her concussion (traumatic brain injury) had much more lasting effects and kept her out of work much more than ortho issues.”
Trojanovich also recalled Rynes’ purported NDE.
“We did have discussions related to her experience in the operating room, and she sticks out in my mind, because I could not come up with any other explanation other than a real near death experience — I remember her seeing this as a life changing blessing,” he wrote.
‘Nobody thought I was alive, and I wasn’t’
Robert Caplan, another presenter at the IANDS conference, is a semi-retired social worker from Boulder and former volunteer chaplain at Boulder Community Hospital. He was likewise transformed by an NDE. Caplan died, he said, during a 1957 naval accident in a Mediterranean port, when a plane on the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal was revved at full power during pre-flight preparations without Caplan having signaled the pilot that it was safe to do so. Caplan was sucked into the plane’s intake.
“A man crawled into the intake, and came out because of the heat — the suction is immense, the heat is immense. They had to wait for the plane to cool while I was in there,” Caplan said. “Nobody thought I was alive, and I wasn’t.”
Caplan, who estimated he’d been in the intake for 20 minutes, watched events unfold from outside his body, but then went back into his body to comfort a Catholic priest administering last rites, he said.
“I can see his angst and conflict for being the wrong guy for this particular sailor. His theology doesn’t match up with my (Jewish) dog tags,” said Caplan, who added that he was raised largely in Christian environments, in boarding schools and foster care said. “I came into my body and spoke to him, I wanted to reassure him.”
After Caplan spoke, great effort was made to revive him.
“I didn’t even have any interest in them reviving me. I could feel the energy of the drama, but I wasn’t attached to it,” he said.
Yet Caplan wept repeatedly as he described his ordeal.
“It’s very hard to talk about the enormity of the event. It doesn’t fit linear time and space, and what we call cause and effect,” he said.
The NDE changed his perspective, Caplan said, making him more of a spectator of the experiences that the “character” he plays in life is having. But some things haven’t changed.
“I think you don’t get free from the bumps and grinds, the high points and low points, they’re all our teachers,” he said.
“The NDE is not a free pass for what we would call an effortless experience of our being,” he said. “I have a challenge, an exploration of myself in this life, and it’s intimately related to what I would call fears and curiosity and courage.”
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