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What Is The Meaning Of Life?

A talk with those who've had near-death experiences.

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Sonia Pulido
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I woke up on the wrong side of the bed the other day. I was ready for Friday, but it was only Tuesday; the day ahead was full of responsibilities and mundane tasks. I let out a sigh as I slowly made my way to the shower. Here we go again, another day, I thought.   

And then I recognized the power of my own thoughts. Another dreadful day? That’s the attitude I am choosing today? You know, Suzanne, I told myself, there are so many people (both near and far) who are waking up today thinking, “Wow, I am so lucky to be alive today! I get to see/live/experience another day!”

I started thinking of people I knew who had experienced brushes with death and thought about how they cherish every day for the blessing that it is. I imagined all of the people I don’t know who maybe got a second chance at life, too. Whether it be cancer, car accidents, drug addiction or any other unfortunate circumstance, people all over the world have looked death in the face and wake up each day with appreciation. Considering this, my attitude quickly changed. It was up to me to decide if today was a blessing or a burden. I was responsible for my own attitude. My thoughts of those who have had near-death experiences stuck with me for days. I wanted to know more, to ask them if life changed after their brush with death or about the advice they would give to people like me. And so, I did just that. Their answers serve as inspiration for all.   

Be authentic 

Heidi Bright, 60, Ohio

Diagnosed in 2009 with highly aggressive end-stage uterine sarcoma and not expected to live out the year

“The main thing I learned is the importance of being authentic — of understanding who I am at the deepest levels and living from that center. I was able to do this through accepting my emotions for what they were without trying to change them. I learned to feel my emotions as sensations in my body without thinking about them. I simply allowed them to exist inside me, waited 90 seconds, and then the emotions would lift. As my practice progressed, I found myself moving out of my head space and into my heart space. When coming from my heart space, I became more authentic with myself and others. Then I was able to reconstruct my behaviors and make better choices. I gained the courage I needed to completely restructure my life. This, along with conventional medical treatment, brought me into radical remission in 2011. Ever since, I have been free of any evidence of cancer and free of any cancer treatment. I continue remaining true to what is true for me, and I have maintained my health.”   

Be the light 

Milana Perepyolkina, 50, Utah 

Body shut down after figure-skating injury

"This is my near-death experience. It was similar to what many people describe happening when their heart stops. I saw a very bright light. The beauty of this light was unspeakable. I slowly approached the light and became one with it. All of my senses reached their highest point and I was filled with love. The joy I felt did not compare to anything I had ever experienced. I became this light, and also kept my sense of self. I felt enormous peace. I was in a state of bliss and ecstasy. I did not want to go back to my physical body [but I did]. I gained consciousness with tears of gratitude rolling down my cheeks. It wasn't a dream. It was more real than 'real' life. I still feel the connection with this incredible light. After this happened, I decided to completely change my life and to become a healer, a spiritual guide and an author. I began seeing future in my dreams. I learned how to heal myself and others. I realized that we are all one and shifted my work from being self-centered to serving others."   

Do what makes you happy

Jimmy Watts, 38, Texas 

Near-fatal car accident 

"Just over a decade ago, I was involved in a near-fatal car accident and was brought back to life by the ambulance crew who pulled me out of the wreck. All I remember was skidding off the road and the next thing I knew I was having tea with my grandma on her front porch. We didn’t say much to each other, but she smiled at me while we sat in her swing chair and I felt relaxed and calm; the tea was hot and sweet, so for once, all seemed to be right with the world. Then my grandma turned to me and said 'It’s time to go Jimmy. I’ll see you again soon enough.' I woke up in the hospital and didn’t know why I was there.  That momentary glimpse of something else made me realize that death isn’t something that we should be afraid of and that I needed to spend whatever time I had left on Earth doing something that made me happy because life is feeling."

Relax into life 

Edie Weinstein, 62, Ireland  

Suffered a heart attack in 2014 at age 55

“I came to realize that I was a workaholic. Not just someone with a strong work ethic, but someone who was addicted to work. I simply did not know how to put my busy-buzzy brain on pause so I could relax. I learned that I need to listen to my body; rest when tired, eat when hungry, be with people when I choose to, and be in solitude if that suits me. I learned appropriate boundaries and how to say no to what I did not need to do. I learned that I don’t need to be all things to all people. I learned that the world doesn’t stop spinning if I rest. I learned that I can accept support from those who want to help me. I learned that I am not afraid of death, but rather terrified of incapacity. I learned a deeper appreciation for the blessings in my life. I learned that anything can happen. I had no clue when I woke up that morning, that before noon I would have had a stent inserted and would be hooked up to machines. I learned that the woman I was died that day to give birth to the one who is typing these words, and she had to die because she was killing me.”  

Make moments matter  

Jaclyn Strauss, 41, Florida 

Survived two battles of postpartum hemorrhage 

“The meaning of life was never more apparent to me [than it was] a few weeks after I managed to make it back home alive from my near-death experience. I realized that things that I thought mattered before — such as material items — were of very little importance. Had I not come out of the hospital alive, my handbags and shoes weren’t coming with me. [I realized that] making moments that mattered with those I love is what life is all about. I also realized that happiness is not some magical place where I would arrive one day; [rather,] happiness is made up of moments in time. I need to make a concerted effort to relish the moments of happiness as they are fleeting but most impactful to my overall well-being.”  

Take risks  

Frank Dimaio, 71, Florida 

Car accident at age 20

“After [my accident], which changed my physical body forever, my spirit changed as well. Always a bit of a daredevil, I became a daredevil on steroids. I resolved to experience as much as I possibly could and try everything while I was still fortunate enough to walk the earth. I embraced the words of George A. Custer: ‘It’s not how many times you get knocked down that count, it’s how many times you get back up.’ Since then, my life has been one adventure after another, and I am present for all of them.”   

Just live  

Kimberly Morse, 39, New Jersey

Two near-death experiences: near-drowning at age 5 and an autoimmune disease-related experience at age 35 

“The meaning of life. This answer may not resonate as well as most would like it to, but there isn’t one. The purpose of our lives is to live. Live your life. Make decisions that you feel are the best ones. Don’t worry about what other people think. If you have children, raise them, but don’t lose who you are. The vast majority of the messaging we hear in the U.S. is that we need more — more money, more clothing, more food, more material objects. None of that is true. ... Make sure you are able to have what you need, and appreciate anything beyond that. … The meaning of life? Just to live and be kind. See others as human beings, deserving of the same love you want. We have lost sight of that. Life is about growing, as people, as one human race, to help ease the suffering of the next person, as much as we can. Material objects are not more important than a person’s life and well-being. We should strive to ensure that all people have what they need to live, then treat others with the same respect and love we feel we are deserving of.”   

Life truly is a gift; one that is so very easy to take for granted. We do, however, have the power to change our perspective, to wake up in the morning and decide, I am going to live this day like the gift that it is and cherish each moment. And on those days when it is just too hard to do that, we can rely on others to help us get there — because on any given day, at any given moment, someone somewhere is sincerely thanking God for another day alive.