Vanisha Uppal shares her near-death experience and how it taught her to see life, death, and afterlife in a different light.
The first time I experienced death in the family, I was 23 years old. When I was a child, my grandmother told me that seeing a dead body is a sin, and I believed her. How silly of me! She told me, “Whenever you see a dead body or funeral around you, just close your eyes.” When my grandfather died, I just couldn’t close my eyes. In fact, the episode opened my eyes to so many things that I hadn’t thought of until then.
My grandfather enjoyed watching cricket matches on television. One night, all alone, he was watching an India vs. Pakistan match. Around 2am, I woke up to a commotion. I saw that my family and our neighbours had surrounded my grandfather who was in tremendous pain. Before we could understand what was happening and call a doctor, he was dead. He had had a heart attack. I stood at a distance, shocked. My family grieved too but eventually got occupied with organising the final rites and rituals. I, on the other hand, wanted to be left alone. I looked for a lonely corner in the house and sat there pondering over the many questions that came to my mind: “Where was my grandfather now? Where had his whole existence—his body, voice, presence, being and personality—gone? How could anyone disappear like this, and how could we be so helpless as to not be able to do anything about it?” Furthermore, I thought about what existence meant for each of us. “What were we doing in this world? Did we merely exist? Is this what we call life?” I continued to battle with these questions in the coming years. Sometimes, my grandfather came in my dreams, and I tried asking him where he was, in vain.
Eight years after that fateful night, my life took a sharp turn. Perhaps this was God’s way of answering all my questions. I was pregnant and my due date had passed. I was very anxious about my delivery. Two days later, I was taken to the hospital where my husband worked. It was a government hospital, and the maternity ward was a living hell. I was shocked by what I saw: so many women cramped up in one big room. They were crying in pain. My husband was terrified too but did his best to console me. I was given a bed in the big hall, and that night was a nightmare. Women moaned and howled while the doctors yelled back at them to calm down. I remember thinking that the doctors were not being empathetic. Or maybe, seeing the same situation every day had desensitized them. I wondered if they’d behave in the same way with me.
The next day, by noon, the doctors decided to induce labour artificially. The cramps were so painful that my initial reaction was that I wanted to get done with the whole thing as soon as possible. But gradually, I observed that the pain was becoming intolerable and surprisingly, I stopped crying and complaining. There was no sign of discomfort on my face. It was the same peace I’d seen on my grandfather’s face the night he died. I had never expected to behave in this way. I was so grounded internally that I didn’t hear any noise around me, nor did I feel anyone else’s presence in the room. It was as if I knew that from this point onwards, things were beyond human control.
I kept chanting with every breath as the pain built up. After five hours of intense labour, the doctors asked me if I wanted an epidural, to which I agreed. I was taken to the operation theatre where I delivered a healthy baby. Things had only begun to get better when suddenly, I couldn’t breathe. Even today, I can clearly recall how suffocated I felt. I was thrashing my limbs, gasping for air, and ended up removing my oxygen mask.
The dark tunnel and the movie
I don’t know how, but eventually, I found myself in a deep, dark tunnel. I was helplessly sucked in deeper, and it was as if the tunnel had no end. And then, everything settled; I was not panicking anymore. “Where was I?” It was as though a movie was playing in front of me in fast-forward mode and was about my life. Some parts were very strange; few events and people were unidentified. I could not recognise all my experiences, but since I was unable to comment and question, I silently watched the movie.
After the movie finished, I heard a firm and clear male voice. It asked, “Do you regret anything?” to which I spontaneously replied, “Yes, once I broke a boy’s heart. I should not have done that.” “Anything else?” the voice asked again, and I replied, “No.” The questions were so straightforward that I had no choice but to answer truthfully.
There was prolonged silence after that and I wasn’t able to get myself to speak anything. It felt like many years had passed by. But I was not restless anymore: rather calm and peaceful. Suddenly, I heard the same voice again, “Do you want to go back?” A vision appeared—I was lying on the hospital bed with a few people around me. I felt no attachment to my family and the one lying on the bed, namely myself. I did not feel any desire and longing at that point in time. From where I was, it all looked so meaningless. I replied, “No,” and was at peace. But the voice said, “You have to go back.” I had no choice. I saw another vision of myself working in my kitchen towards the end of the ninth month of my pregnancy. After pondering over it for 10 years, I now realise that it was a glimpse of me being present in that moment. I realised that even an ordinary moment is so precious. I believe God helped me work on my consciousness and understand everything I was unclear about. That said, many small details are still unexplored. A lot of contemplation is needed to unravel the hidden truth behind such events.
Finally, I experienced something which I call a return gift from God before leaving His home. I saw the splendour of His light everywhere. There was no sun—yet I saw such a strong light. I was sure it was thousands of suns shining together in unlimited space. I can never forget what I saw. Nobody will ask for anything more after seeing that. Everyone deserves to experience it. At that point, I realised I was not in my body, and yet I was present, seeing and experiencing it all. “Where was my body? Where were my eyes? How did I see everything? How do I remember all this?” I still don’t know. The whole thing lasted for a very short time, and I remember thinking that I didn’t want it to end.
“Why did God ask for my opinion when my decision did not matter anyway? Why did he want to send me back?” These questions still bother me, but I feel there is something good in it. I now understand that there are many higher levels of consciousness. I’ve even experienced them by the grace of my Master and God.
Once again, I found myself on the bed in the ICU, wires and tubes connected to my body. Unable to move or talk, I was very weak and had lost 15 units of blood. Even in that deplorable condition, I couldn’t wait to share my experience with the whole world. I had spoken to God and been in His presence. The next day, after I was moved to a private ward, I told my husband the whole story. He didn’t pay much attention to it, and neither did anyone else believe me. I understood it would not be easy to convey this message to others.
Life, death and afterlife reflections
In the following years, I got busy raising my child, Vrinda. In all this time, many new reflections have come to me: “Where does the accumulation of wealth, land and money lead us? Are we fearful and insecure? Does fear have any substance? Is saving for a better future not a good idea? Are we saving for our children, to maintain a good lifestyle, or for our old age? Is our priority money or relationships?”
Let’s take up these questions one by one. “Are we saving money for a better lifestyle?” There are many multimillionaires who aren’t necessarily happy. Money, in itself, cannot improve the quality of our life. The things that bring us the most happiness in life cost the least. “Are we saving for our children?” Do you think easy money will do them any good? How much money is really needed to give them a reasonably good life? I think the answers are clear. That leaves us with old age. What is the reasonable amount of money required for old age? Eat simple food, exercise daily and do some meditation to stay happy. Most importantly, show your family unconditional love, and God will take care of the rest. Accumulation of too much money leads to restlessness, especially if not used for a good cause. And the restlessness is naturally transferred to our children, unknowingly and unconsciously. We often put our relationships on the back burner because we’re too busy making money or living our own selfish lives. But when they don’t prioritise us, we feel offended. “Why?”
We are always busy preparing for the uncertainties of life. “How much time do we invest in preparing for death? Is it possible to prepare ourselves for it? Do we know where our soul goes once it leaves this world? Do we know how long we will take making that transition or how easy the process will be?” As someone who has experienced it, I can say that the transition, a state of breathlessness, is not easy. Let’s conduct a small experiment. Stand under the shower while bathing. Hold your breath and close your eyes; don’t take your head out of the shower. Stay there as long as possible. What do you feel? Chant any Vedic mantra or try to remember all that you have read so far in the scriptures and Vedas. Think of gods and gurus. When we’re struggling for breath and dear life, none of the troublesome thoughts and worries, or material desires come to our mind. Then why do they appear otherwise and make us forget life’s purpose?
The purpose is to live a natural, simple life in awareness, established in inner silence. This improves everything. As my Master says, “I am not there: there’s only unlimited space and the experience,” He means, we all can and must live in the moment, and work towards improving the quality of our lives each day.
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