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A Second Chance: Reconnecting with What Matters Most

"Don't spend your precious time asking 'Why isn't the world a better place?' It will only be time wasted. The question to ask is 'How can I make it better?' To that there is an answer." --Leo F. Buscaglia

As I read the newspaper and listen to the news about current world problems, it's easy to point fingers at our elected officials and blame them when I do not agree with decisions made by Congress about how America will respond. But I still come back to asking the question, 'Where is my responsibility, and what can I do?' I know what I will do on November 5 - I will vote.

But beyond voting, how can I make this world a better place? I've asked myself that question many times over. My answer is simple: I can examine my own choices and behaviors and check to ensure that they are congruent with my values.

Although I have never had a near-death experience, I have heard numerous stories told by those who have. In each case, all of the individuals have spoken of their experience as a life-changing one that has prompted them to make significant changes in their lives. Each survivor is grateful for being given a second chance -- a chance to reconnect with what matters most 'to right the wrongs they have done, or to shift gears and live with a renewed sense of priorities and purpose.

One such person is New York Times best-selling author, Dannion Brinkley. In reading about how Brinkley's near-death experience prompted major change in his life, I was struck by the power that humans have when we connect with our deepest beliefs, commitments, and values'and make different life choices as a result.

Brinkley once served in the Marine Corps and worked within U.S. intelligence operations. A veteran of several war zones and intelligence work, he had just returned home form Nicaragua in 1975 when his life was forever changed.

On September 17, 1975, Dannion Brinkley was at home talking on the phone during a thunderstorm. Suddenly a bolt of lightning hit the phone line, sending thousands of volts of electricity into his head and down his body. It traveled down his spine and welded the nails in the heels of his shoes to the nails in the floor. It knocked him out of his shoes and into the air, threw him back down, and bent the bed frame. As his body burned from the inside out, he was paralyzed. Fear engulfed him. Because of Brinkley's espionage background he thought that someone had come to even the score by doing exactly what he had done to others many times and in many places in the world.

His heart stopped. In the process, he had a near-death experience. As Brinkley opened his eyes, he was in a blue-gray place. In this place, he was calm and no longer on fire. Brinkley rolled over and saw himself sprawled across the bed. He watched his wife come down the hall and begin CPR efforts. He watched as paramedics arrived and began working on his body.

During Brinkley's near-death experience he underwent a panoramic life review. He felt every emotion, thought every opinion and saw every event that had ever happened in his life. In addition to reviewing everything about his life, Brinkley also got to 'be' every person he had ever met. He got to feel the direct interaction between the other person and himself 'all of the pain, anguish, frustration, humiliation and anger that he had inflicted on so many people.

Eventually, Brinkley returned to his body, which had been massively traumatized by the lightening strike. (It took two years for him to relearn to walk and to feed himself.) When Brinkley revived in the morgue after 28 minutes of death, he had an incredible story to tell. Brinkley was told of events that would shake the world before the year 2000 'including the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the Persian Gulf War, and a coming economic crisis. Of the 117 revelations that he recalls, 95 have already come to pass.

Once recovered, Brinkley wanted to find a way that he and others could benefit from his near-death experience. To this end, he has been a hospice volunteer for 17 years, helping people eliminate their fears of death. In May 1997, he founded the national hospice volunteer organization called Compassion in Action.

I was moved by these excerpts from Dannion Brinkley's book, Saved by the Light, which describes his near-death experience:

The Being of Light stood directly in front of me. As I gazed into its essence I could see prisms of color, as though it were composed of thousands of tiny diamonds, each emitting the colors of the rainbow.

I felt comfortable in his presence, a familiarity that made me believe he had felt every feeling I had ever had, from the time I took my first breath to the instant I was sizzled by lightning. Looking at this Being I had the feeling that no one could love me better, no one could have more empathy, sympathy, encouragement, and nonjudgmental compassion for me than this Being.

The Being of Light engulfed me, and as it did I began to experience my whole life, feeling and seeing everything that had ever happened to me. It was as though a dam had burst and every memory stored in my brain flowed out.

When I finished the life review, I arrived at a point of reflection in which I was able to look back on what I had just witnessed and come to a conclusion. I was ashamed. I realized I had led a very selfish life, rarely reaching out to help anyone. Almost never had I smiled as an act of brotherly love or just handed somebody a dollar because he was down and needed a boost. No, my life had been for me and me alone. I hadn't given a damn about my fellow humans.

I looked at the Being of Light and felt a deep sense of sorrow and shame. I expected a rebuke, some kind of cosmic shaking of my soul. I had reviewed my life and what I had seen was a truly worthless person. What did I deserve if not a rebuke?

As I gazed at the Being of Light I felt as though he was touching me. From that contact I felt a love and joy that could only be compared to the nonjudgmental compassion that a grandfather has for a grandchild. Again I was allowed a period of reflection. How much love had I given people? How much love had I taken from them? From the review I had just had, I could see that for every good event in my life, there were twenty bad ones to weigh against it. If guilt were fat, I would have weighed five hundred pounds.

As the Being of Light moved away, I felt the burden of this guilt being removed. I had felt the pain and anguish of reflection, but from that I had gained the knowledge that I could use to correct my life. I could hear the Being's message in my head, again as if through telepathy; 'Humans are powerful spiritual beings meant to create good on the earth. This good isn't usually accomplished in bold actions, but in singular acts of kindness between people. It's the little things that count, because they are more spontaneous and show who you truly are.'

I was elated. I now knew the simple secret to improving humanity. The amount of love and good feelings you have at the end of your life is equal to the love and good feelings you put out during your life. It was just that simple.

My life will be better now that I have the secret,' I said to the Being of Light.

It was then that I realized that I wouldn't be going back. I had no more life to live. I had been struck by lightning. I was dead.

After reading about Dannion Brinkley's near-death experience, I paused to imagine what it would be like to see my whole life flash before me in the span of 28 minutes'to feel every emotion, think every opinion and review every event that had ever happened in my life. Would I like what I saw - what I thought - what I felt? Whether you believe in these near-death experiences or not, the idea of such an intense review of one's life is rather mind-boggling.

Given that only a small percentage of the population has reported having a near-death experience (most people don't live to tell about it), the majority of us can only imagine what that experience would be like. Perhaps the closest you or I will ever get to this is by imagining that you have just died after living a long life and you are listening in on your own memorial service. I challenge you to ponder these questions:

1. What would you want people to say about your life? What would represent a life well-lived with no regrets? (This represents your beliefs, commitments, and values.)

2. If you continued to live your life just as you are now, what do you think people would have to say about you someday at your memorial service? (This represents how well your actions and behaviors align with your beliefs, commitments, and values.)

3. Based on your responses above, is there anything you choose to do differently than you are doing right now? If so, what's holding you back from doing it?

I encourage you to identify one thing that you choose to do differently, and come up with an action plan to begin this week.

About the Author
Kathy Paauw, a certified business/personal coach and organizing/productivity consultant, specializes in helping busy executives, professionals, and entrepreneurs de-clutter their schedules, spaces and minds. Contact her at or visit her website at and learn how you can Find ANYTHING in 5 Seconds --Guaranteed!

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