The Wonder of You: What the Near-Death Experience Tells You about Yourself (2nd Ed.), by Lynn K. Russell
Reviewed by Robert A. Charman
In the Preface the author says that since the first edition (2014) more profound understanding has come her way and she is now on a mission to ‘to tell every living soul in this astonishingly beautiful world just how magnificently beautiful you are. Whether you are aware of it or not, it’s true. My dream is that you will all know this by the time you come to the end of this book.’
Russell is an American and the background to her mission is that when she was seven (middle 1950s) her school assessed her as ‘mentally slow’, or ‘retarded’. She soon found that the mentally slow are not allowed to make decisions because, as her mother told her, they are always foolish ones. She was bullied at school and ridiculed by her father. At sixteen she dropped out, did unskilled odd jobs and became determined to marry ‘a man with a university degree’ who would have a decent income so she could be a stay-at-home wife and mother. To achieve this aim she decided that she could pretend to be smart by reading her sister’s high school books, then books on a wide range of subjects from religion to philosophy, psychology and science. In her late 20s she married a university graduate who turned out to be an alcoholic abuser. Aged 31 she had a nervous breakdown and was seeing a psychologist. She explained to him that although diagnosed as mentally slow she was pretending to be smart. He arranged an IQ test that, to her surprise, indicated she was ‘university material’. This unexpected finding initiated the second major decisional change in her life – divorce.
By the summer of 1973, she was divorced with three very young children and in her second year of a social work course when she had the first of three profound experiences that decisively changed both her outlook on life and the course of her life. One day, while looking idly out of the kitchen window at the crab apple tree in the backyard as she washed the lunchtime dishes, she suddenly lost her sense of everyday awareness and entered into an altered state of consciousness (ASC) in which she and the tree shared a living oneness that extended outwards to include all life on the planet. Beneath the physical separateness of things and people in everyday life she suddenly knew with a profound inner certainty that we are all One. The vision then disappeared and dish washing normality returned. A few days later, while washing fingerprints off the hall wall and in a relaxed state of mind she felt ‘taken over by a powerful force’ and became ‘intensely immersed in the awareness of an atom with its nucleus and spinning electrons’ and a sense that every element possessed a consciousness. This awareness expanded to include the sun and solar system as a mutually connected conscious system and then outwards into the Milky Way and across the galaxies, knowing they knew they were all part of a purposeful, universal Whole. There was no voice but the meaning of this experience became summarised in her mind as ‘Your being is intricately connected with the operation of the universe.’ Then the vision faded and she was back to everyday normality, but this time she was feeling very shaken and unnerved at what she had been experiencing.
A few days later while standing in the living room with an armful of toys she experienced the third and final vision ‘that brought with it great serenity, joy and a deeper understanding.’ This time, although she could not see or hear anything, she knew that she was not alone. There was an invisible Presence that enveloped her in ‘an enormous blanket of love, peace and joy’ and then a voice that said ‘This is where you came from and this is where you will return’. She then returned to everyday reality but remained in a state of bliss for months when nothing, not even her children’s quarrelling that, as she put it ‘normally set my teeth on edge’ could disturb.
Before these experiences she had been terrified of death after her atheistic mother told her that when a person died they were literally dead and had become non-existent. But after experiencing that blanket of love, peace and joy ‘I knew with complete surety that when I died I would continue to exist where all that love was’. These experiences led to a lifelong interest in books on spirituality, particularly Helen Schucman’s A Course in Miracles (1976) and accounts of near-death experiences (NDEs) and related out-of-body experiences (OBEs) that confirmed her experience of oneness with the universe and certainty of spiritual life after bodily death. In 2007 she joined the Near Death Experiences Research Foundation (NDERF), founded in 1998 by Dr Jeffrey Long, a radiation oncologist in Louisiana who became interested in collecting cases of NDEs after the wife of a colleague described her NDE after her heart stopped while under anaesthesia. Russell helped to collate and classify cases of NDEs submitted to NDERF that formed the basis for Long’s 2011 book Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences. She says that ‘All together I had the honour to research 2,500 NDEs and the information was so glorious I was compelled to tell the word.’ Hence this book and the numerous NDE cases that she quotes are drawn from this collection.
Although the term ‘Near-Death Experience’ is in the subtitle of her book and is now too socially established to change Russell thinks that it is a complete misnomer. The experients were not ‘near death’ but were actually dead with no heartbeat and no cerebral blood flow, and had already entered into what would have been the commencement of their spiritual Afterlife if they had not been resuscitated back into this life as their brain was still viable. Her book is ‘based on material that has come back from people who have died and returned’ thus demonstrating that dying is not a process ending in personal extinction but a transitional process from this world to the next. Russell says that ‘The moment souls leave their bodies they are greeted by a soothing balm and engulfed in an enormous comforter of deep, unconditional Love’. All their senses become enhanced and all their earthly disabilities disappear.
In a series of short chapters, illustrated with returnee death experiencer’s examples, Russell guides us through their experiences of Love, Light, Oneness, New life plans, Life reviews and so on. She tells us that suicides were met with non-judgmental, unconditional Love and given three choices: return to this life through being saved (although this was not always their choice as they were sent back anyway), have a new life rerun of the same circumstances that they must work through this time, or stay in the spirit dimension endlessly reliving the events until they were able to resolve the issues that had led to their suicide. Those who commit suicide have to face up to their responsibility for their actions one way or another (this doesn’t sound very non-judgmental to me).
In the ‘Responsibility and Freedom’ chapter she says that these are ‘flip sides of the same coin.’ You can’t have one without the other and the freedom we have is one of apparently infinite freewill. So how do we balance the two? This, says Russell, is how it all works ‘The purpose of our physical existence has many goals: to discover our reality, to Love one another, and grow back to our Source.’ How is all this to be achieved? She tells us that the first thing that we (as soul) did before we were born was to select a task or goal to accomplish in the life to come. Then we designated all the elements that would be needed to fulfil that objective including our choice of parents, family, best friends and others who would help. We then decided on our gender, skin colour, ethnicity, body shape, eye colour, whether we would be physically attractive or just blend in with the crowd, or whether we would need to possess physical disabilities. Then we chose the country and locale we would grow up in plus ensuring the necessary intelligence, personality and skills that would be needed. Once we, as soul, had put all this in place we were then ready to be born into this life BUT with complete amnesia as to our soul’s intended goals and objectives. It doesn’t seem to matter whether these objectives are achieved in this lifetime or whether we might need to reincarnate X number of life times before they are achieved even though we have no idea what they are.
Presumably, there is an eventual moment when our amnesia falls away as we realise that our soul’s objective has been finally achieved despite having no idea what it was and we find ourselves back to Source. What happens after that is not explained. To achieve whatever this goal had been would seem to require our normal experience of time in the sense of before and after, cause and effect. But Russell has been told by many returnees from death (surely a before and after event in itself) that during their death experience they realised that time is an illusion and does not exist. It seems that their experience is in agreement with ‘modern physics’ that ‘agrees with Einstein that the time/space continuum is an illusion.’ But for this reviewer the question remains: if time as we experience it in everyday life is an illusion, how can you, as your prebirth soul, plan your future Life’s goal before birth amnesia sets in?
In her chapter on ‘Purpose’ Russell says that the answer to questions such as ‘Why was I born?’ ‘What am I supposed to do with my life?’ and so on is easy ‘We are here to give meaning to the Source.’ This rather puzzling answer leads us into a discussion on the true meaning of Creation. Astrophysics tells us that all life is formed from ancient stardust. From the initial, primal cloud of hydrogen atoms (one proton, one electron) that formed soon after the Big Bang all the heavier elements necessary for life such as oxygen and carbon were created by explosive supernovae nuclear reactions that spread these elements throughout the universe as it evolved. So earth itself, and eventually all living things including us, was formed from these supernovae created stardust elements. But this, says Russell, is crazy thinking ‘How did stardust create living, thinking organisms, let alone an ant or an amoeba?’ Instead of this unlikely theory the true answer is that ‘we realise that all that we know is constructed from Love’ which is ‘the momentous Power that permeates everything and brings about creation.’ The Source creates not only because it wants to but, apparently, because it must ‘This Loving Creative Energy is a vast power greater than the Big Bang’ and all of us were spiritually there at the very beginning. According to death returnee Chantal’s insightful experience she realised that she had become one with Consciousness and saw that along with billions of others she had played an active role in creating the solar system. She was part of Consciousness that willed the solar system into being some 4 billion years ago so that Consciousness could come to Earth and experience being mortal.
There is a lot more discussion and theorising along these lines including a final chapter entitled ‘Easy, Peasy Science’ that draws together the findings of double slit quantum experiments to show, says Russell, that ‘Quantum particles that make up the whole universe become whatever we require them to be through our thoughts (original italics). Prior to that they are considered as possibilities because they can become just about anything. Like an obedient pet, if we require particles to do one thing they are happy to oblige. And if they are expected to do something else, then without hesitation they will do that as well’ (At this point physicists might sigh and think ‘If only’). She includes recent cosmological speculation as to whether the universe operates as a vast quantum hologram in which everywhere is represented everywhere else as in 3D holograms. According to Russell there can be no doubt about this ‘Consciousness is the reality of our being and we have created a holographic universe so that the reality of our being can experience life here.’ We are told that quantum physics and the insights from the thousands of death experiences are in complete agreement.
What are we to make of all this? Based upon her three, visionary experiences and the thousands of similarly emotionally convincing experience reported by returnees from death Russell writes with total conviction that the universe is a vast Consciousness, Love and Source as One, and that we, in eternal spirit, are part and were there at the very beginning of the Big Bang some 13.8 billion years ago helping the Source to create the universe and later the solar system by our own thoughts.
As far as Russell with her visions and the returnees from death are concerned this is how it felt during their experience so this is how it was and still is. Love is all the explanation we need. As far as society is concerned, those who have had Russell type visions or death experiences and now interpret the world in this way have been a force for good as many such experiencers have devoted their lives to helping others. But as someone who has never experienced such visions or, thankfully, a death experience, and live my life in everyday reality, this is not how the world that science has revealed or how everyday society looks to me. The genuineness of these experiences is not the issue. It is Russell’s interpretation that I find difficult to accept as much of it made little to no sense to me at all.
Firstly, I think that there is a more likely alternative interpretation of their experiences. Let us assume that on a subjective spectrum of possible personal experience the everyday ones of happiness and unhappiness are grouped around the middle. On the happiness side the spectrum extends to an extreme sense of a feeling of blissful union with the universe in terms of Love and with no sense of time as described by Russell and most of the death returnees. On the unhappiness side the spectrum extends to an extreme sense of dark, desperate lonely despair and dreadful isolation in a meaningless universe as in deep clinical depression and as experienced by some death returnees. Each extreme of experiencing is just as valid and meaningful to the experiencer as the other but remains, like our everyday experiences, personal experiences private to one’s self. Our relationship to society and the outside, physical world depends upon our state of mind.
Secondly, my disagreement goes far beyond that to the title of the book itself. I do not think that ‘The Wonder of You’ and her talk of ‘how magnificently beautiful you are’ can possibly include those who, past, present, and future, deliberately and with malice aforethought set out to humiliate, injure, torture and kill others, whether on a domestic scale including even their own children, or with others in acts of mass rape, torture and genocide, or as members of ruthless drug cartels or paedophiles watching dreadful acts inflicted on babies and children on screen. I do not think that emaciated babies and children dying of hunger, thirst or disease with flies in their eyes have had much chance to fulfil their soul’s prebirth purpose. And if this was that purpose what is the point of such suffering? The earth can be beautiful and bountiful, but it can also heedlessly destroy billions of living things as in past mass extinctions, or in thousands of people in an instant by earthquake, volcanoes, flood, tsunamis, fire and storms, or slowly through drought, or in agony during bacterial and viral pandemics. I think this is the true and precarious reality in which we live.
But everyone must interpret their life and the world in a way that makes most sense to them. I find Russell’s interpretation, especially the soul’s forward planning for a forthcoming amnesiac’s birth totally incomprehensible, and her view of the universe and our place in it at complete odds with scientific discovery and everyday living. But if her interpretation of life, the universe and everything makes sense to you, and there are hundreds of NDE books listed on the NDERF website that carry a similar uplifting message of all’s well with the universe, then this is the book for you.
Robert A. Charman can be reached at email: email@example.com