By Dr. Yvonne Kason MD
By some twist of fate, I have been blessed with five Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) over the course of my lifetime. At the hand of the Divine sculptor, I have become one of a rare breed – a multiple Near-Death Experiencer!
All five of my NDEs had powerful after-effects on me and altered the course of my life, both as a medical doctor, and as a spiritual seeker. Together with other Spiritually Transformative Experiences (STEs) that I experienced – a kundalini awakening, mystical experiences, and psychic awakenings – they prompted me in 1990 to become the first Canadian Medical doctor to specialize my Psychotherapy practice in the counseling and research of persons having NDEs and other mystical and paranormal experiences.
It was my first adult Near-Death Experience in 1979 that launched me on my quest to understand STEs. On March 27, 1979, I was assigned as a young medical doctor to accompany a critically ill patient on a medical evacuation by airplane, in a remote area of northern Ontario, Canada. Mid-route during this medevac flight, our small twin-engine airplane flew into a blizzard, developed engine problems, and crashed.
As the engineless plane tumbled towards the ground with severe air turbulence, a wave of intense fear and panic overtook me. “God, help! I’m going to die!” I mentally cried out.
The next instant, my Near-Death Experience began… even before the plane had crashed. I suddenly felt a wave of profound peace and calm descend upon me, like a force-field pushing away all my fear. I then heard an inner voice comforting me, reciting verses from the Bible: “Be still, and know that I am God”; “I am with you, now and always.” As the words penetrated my soul, I was overwhelmed with a sense of peace, and the presence of the Higher Power, what I call God. I was no longer afraid. My mind was still. Somehow I knew something that I had never known before: There was absolutely nothing to fear in death.
Our pilot heroically managed to steer the falling plane and crash-land it onto the ice of a semi-frozen lake, but as soon as the full weight of the plane settled, the ice broke and the plane sank into deep water. I managed to get myself out of the sinking plane and found myself floating in freezing water about 200 yards from closest shore. Open water with a strong, swiftly moving current separated me from the land. I heard a voice in my mind repeatedly command, “Swim to shore!”
Although I was a strong swimmer, I struggled to swim towards the island because the soaked winter coat and boots I was wearing heavily pulled me down into the water. Part way to shore, I suddenly heard a loud low-pitched whooshing noise and felt my consciousness abruptly rise up, out of my body. Somehow I seemed to be 20 feet or so above my body, looking down on it, while a small part of my awareness was still in my struggling body.
I then rose further into a space filled with light. I felt embraced and permeated by intense unconditional love – what I instantly recognized as the profound love of a universal intelligent force – the Higher Power underlying the universe. This was the most beautiful experience I had ever had in my life. I felt that I was “HOME”.
From above, I watched with peaceful detachment as my physical body struggled to swim to shore. When my body was completely exhausted and about to sink underwater for the third and final time, my awareness seemed to slip momentarily back into my body. I found myself looking towards the shore. It was only twenty feet away, but I could swim no farther “It is true, you do drown the third time you go down,” I thought. Fearlessly, I surrendered to the Divine and to the thought of death.
Just at that moment, I saw a tall pine tree that lay fallen into the water. The tree was to my right, and the current was rapidly carrying me towards it. It looked to me in my paranormal state of consciousness, as if a rescuing hand of light was superimposed on that tree, and the hand was reaching out to me. Suddenly I realized that if I could swim just two more strokes, the current would carry me right into the tip of that tree. Somehow I swam those last two strokes and managed to pull myself along the tree to shore.
Through a series of “coincidences” and remarkable heroism, we were later rescued by helicopter and brought to a nearby hospital. When my near-frozen body was rewarmed in a hot whirlpool bath, I finally felt my consciousness re-enter my body. I again heard a loud whooshing noise and suddenly felt myself pulled down through the top of my head into the small confines of my body, abruptly shrinking from the expanded space above. The sensation was similar to what I imagine a genie might feel when it is forcibly sucked back into its tiny bottle. Suddenly I was back in my body again.
This NDE changed the course of my life.
Immediately following this plane crash experience, I talked with many “experts” around me, to try to figure out what on earth had happened to me. “Has anyone heard of such an experience?” I asked. The responses I got were not helpful. My medical doctor friends and colleagues postulated various medical explanations –dismissing my experience as a hallucination, brought on either by an electrolyte imbalance, a low blood sugar, or as an effect of hypothermia on the brain. None of these explanations rang true for me. Additionally, a self-professed expert on Near-Death Experiences who I consulted adamantly insisted that my experience was not an NDE, because I had never been dead during the experience and because I had not gone through a dark tunnel. I struggled for years with not having an accurate label to help me understand what had happened to me.
Fortunately, I did eventually find an explanation which rang true for me… for the time being. A doctor friend who was a devout Christian suggested, simply, “Yvonne, I think you had a mystical experience.” Yes! That label finally resonated with my soul. For almost 10 years I called my 1979 NDE a “mystical experience”. Now, after years of STE research, I know that my plane crash mystical experience was, in fact, a type of Near-Death Experience. [I describe my 1979 NDE in greater detail my books, Farther Shores, and Touched by the Light].
To my great astonishment, the Divine hand touched me again in 1995, and blessed me with another powerful Near-Death Experience. Remarkably, this NDE left me in a profound state of ongoing unitive consciousness for two months afterward. Then, on November 8, 2003, I had yet another powerful Near-Death Experience when I sustained a Traumatic Brain injury and died for several minutes. With reflection, I realized that I also had two NDEs when I was a child – one at the age of 5 years, and another at the age of 11. I share the stories of these other NDEs my new book, Touched by the Light.
Thankfully, on February 24, 2016 I experienced yet another type of STE – a spontaneous brain healing – which has enabled me to now write and give talks again!
Having had five NDEs over the course of my life impacted me profoundly. As a medical doctor, it certainly prompted me to shift my medical specialty into pioneering STE research and counseling. My personal struggle for understanding convinced me of the need to spread awareness of STEs, and to affirm that they are not hallucinations or a sign of mental illness!
In 1994, my clinical experience and research led me to coin the phrase “Spiritually Transformative Experiences,” as an umbrella term to describe the broad range of powerful experiences which I found all tend to similarly change the experiencer’s values and attitudes in a more spiritual direction. I also observed that all types of STEs tend to start or accelerate a long-term transformation in the experiencer, with shared physical, psychological, and spiritual after-effects. I classified STEs into five broad categories, each with many subtypes: Mystical Experiences; Spiritual Energy/Kundalini Awakenings; Psychic Episodes; Near-Death Experiences; and, Inspired Creativity and Genius. Over the years, I have counseled close to 1,000 people who had undergone diverse types of Spiritually Transformative Experiences.
My NDEs also impacted me on a profoundly personal level, as a spiritual seeker. My multiple experiences on “the other side” taught me many spiritual truths. The most powerful lessons I learned were:
In closing, I think the most important thing I learned from my five Near-Death Experiences was personal: to strive to make all of life a spiritual experience – to Meditate, Meditate, Meditate – to help speed our journey HOME.
Dr. Yvonne Kason MD, MEd, CCFP, FCFP is a family physician and transpersonal psychotherapist (retired), previously on faculty at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Medicine. She is a current Board member of IANDS, the International Association for Near-Death Studies, and a member of ACISTE, the American Center for the Integration of Spiritually Transformative Experiences. She will be a Featured Speaker at the International Association for Near-Death Studies conference 2019, August 29- Sept. 1, 2019 in King of Prussia, PA. Her new book, Touched by the Light: Exploring Spiritually Transformative Experiences, will be released summer 2019.