Friday, March 30, 2007


David Oakford, a near-death experiencer from Detroit, Michigan, contacted me and said: “Some people in Portugal discovered me on the Internet and asked if I would talk about my story at their conference. The name of the group is Espaco T, and my wife and I are going.” I was very happy for David as I knew he had never shared his story before in public and this would be a good experience for him. His book, “Soul Bared,” was in its early stages when I first heard of him and was able to make a few editing suggestions to help him out.

I thought no more of David’s coming adventure until he contacted me again. “They need an expert on near-death experiences to be on a panel. I gave them your name.” Sure enough Cristina Afonso of Espaco T e-mailed. Her invitation to come was vague, followed by a volley of messages attempting to answer my many questions. All I could make out was: “We’ll cover your expenses; you’ll have 15 to 20 minutes to speak.” After ticket mix-ups and an urgent phone call, I wound up leaving a day early with no idea what lay ahead. Had it not “felt right” to go, I would have canceled.

“Felt right,” indeed. The Fifth International Congress of Espaco T on “Death, Culture, and Art” turned out to be so important, it was literally a culture-changer – that “leading-edge” event you knew would not only alter lives but could forever change a country. For the first time ever, 350 attendees and 40 speakers joined in the determination to break long-time taboos, and speak openly about death and the culture’s traditions regarding death, and the place art has in the dying process. Portuguese equivalents of CEU credits were issued to an audience of mostly professionals of one type or another – yet it seemed to me as if there were as many lawyers in attendance as nurses and psychologists.

The agenda was unlike anything I had ever encountered in the U.S., or any place else, for that matter. And it was hard hitting. We began with a pathologist showing graphic photos of suicides, drug abuse, and erotic stimulations that killed, as he described what the dead can tell us. People from a myriad of religious faiths shared their views about death – Muslims, Gypsies, Witches, Catholics, and Baha’is, to name a few. Physicians, oncologists, nurses, and therapists complained about the conspiracy of silence – that in our final moments we are denied the truth about what is happening to us. We are entitled to speak up, to have hope, and be with people who care.

David did a wonderful job sharing his story once the near-death experience was introduced, followed by presentations on out-of-body experiences, reincarnation, consciousness studies, the paranormal, and miracles. People “differently-abled” proved that handicaps are no such thing – whether blind or crippled or challenged by conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Wellness issues were broached, and immortality, death dreams, suicide bombers, terrorism, and death preparations. Facing a child’s death was handled in several ways, revealing how far ahead of us the Portuguese are with incorporating art into hospital settings. Young and old alike want to express how they feel – creative art projects enable them to do that.

What captured my heart and struck me deeply, was this single fact reported by each group: the worst pain anyone suffers at death is spiritual pain.

You should have seen the faces of the crowd when I spoke about near-death experiences. Even with just barely 20 minutes to convey hours of material, what I did manage to share, and David Oakford, too, was hope. Believe it or not, most of the people attending were not that acquainted with the near-death phenomenon (except for some of the myths), and they were even less acquainted with the spiritual approach to life and its living. When the President of Espaco T, Jorge Oliveira, closed the Congress with a spiritual visualization exercise, tears flowed from many faces.

I checked with Cristina and Jorge afterwards, and had their assurance that if I could send over some IANDS brochures and research suggestions, they would contact those people most inclined to act on this – and perhaps a near-death research project in Portugal might result, as well as the beginnings of an IANDS group. I will happily sponsor this mailing and follow it through.The spiritual pain, the spiritual hunger, reported again and again at this Congress is exactly what the near-death experience speaks to – that need for hope, that possibility that there is more to come after we breathe our last breath. The Portuguese are ready to learn more about near-death states. IANDS can make a difference here, and I propose that we do just that.

Initially, I was whisked away to Porto, Portugal, not knowing what would happen or how I could serve or with whom. Greeting me when I arrived were orange-tiled roofs, incredible potato-fish dinners amidst huge trees of flowering roses, and a population of Balkan refugees who have become beggars on many streets. The local economy is strong, mainly from textiles and shoes, Port wine, of course; still, it is a stretch for them to cover all of the social services they need. Recycling measures are in full swing (they’re far ahead of us in that regard) – and - that sense of a cutting edge in cultural change is in evidence throughout. For instance, next year, the unbridled use of tobacco bends to accommodate smoke-free rooms, and the commitment to shift away from tight social taboos and fears embraces a more open discourse and inclusiveness.

The Congress on “Death, Culture, and Art” that I had the privilege of attending was nothing short of awesome. My thanks go to Cristina Afonso and Jorge Oliveira for their exceptional kindness, and to the legion of friendly volunteers who made the Congress possible. I look forward to hearing a lot more from these people in the future, especially about near-death studies conducted within the Portuguese population and the very real possibility of a Portugal-IANDS.


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