Reflections in a Glass Eye

Reflections in a Glass Eye

“I’m busy. We’re all busy. But when Ken Ring publishes a new essay on his blog, I read it and am never disappointed. Now these essays have been collected in this beautiful book. Full disclosure: Ken and I have been friends for decades. I know his books on NDEs inside and out and have used them in my courses for years. Now at this vintage stage of his life, it’s a joy to read Ken’s musings on a wide variety of topics. Nothing is off-limits and everything benefits from his touch. His candor is disarming, his wit irrepressible, and he’s just such a damn good writer. Spend some hours with this wonderful book. You won’t be disappointed.”

                                   — Chris Bache, Author of ‘LSD and the Mind of the Universe: Diamonds from Heaven’

 

We’re excited to share with you an excerpt from Dr. Kenneth Ring‘s new collection of essays Reflections in a Glass Eye: Essays in the Time of COVID. 

As Tonio, the clown in Leoncavallo’s I Plagliacci, who introduces the opera by saying (or, rather, singing) that he is the prologue, perhaps I should introduce myself, if in a less dramatic fashion. Some of you may already be familiar with me if you were part of Raymond Moody’s University of Heaven crowd since for some fifteen months or so until December 2019, my essays were posted on that site. Well, I call them essays, but of course no one writes essays any longer, they blog. I have always resisted the use of the term although these days it seems we are stuck with it. I shudder to think of old Montaigne writhing in his grave in post-humous despair over the fate of the form he invented, which had such a long and glorious life in the world of literature. But I suffer enough as it is from being what used to be called an “old fogy” (someone will have to tell me what old farts are called these days; the only suitable term I can think of is in Yiddish—alter cocker). I don’t want to risk eliciting even more derision by using terms that are clearly demodé (oops, I seem to have done it again).

But as I have apparently drifted into a confessional mode, I had best own up to one of my most besetting flaws.

Photo by Gary Fultz

I am old.

Very old.

Let’s not get too specific but if I tell you I was born in the year that Babe Ruth hit his last home run, it will give you some idea. Suffice it to say that if I were a piece of Chippendale furniture, I would be an antique. But since I live in Marin County, perhaps a better sobriquet for myself would be that I am an ancient mariner (bad joke, I know—I can hear the hoots from here—but I couldn’t resist).

The thing about being old, in case you have never tried it, is that you are on a very short and uncertain leash toward the future, but have a very long tail extending into the distant past. And in my case, where I find myself in the present is really in the epilogue of my life. You see, I have had my life; it is over. This is my afterlife, and it is from my afterlife that I am looking back on my life. When I look into the mirror of my life, all I see is the past. So that’s some of what I would like to recall for you here—who I was before I became a has-been.

Some of you will know that those essays I wrote for Raymond Moody’s website were on the theme of “waiting to die.” As you will shortly learn, I had spent a good part of my life researching what it is like to die (it’s not bad, and is actually much better than you could ever imagine). But what I was writing about in those essays was what it was like for me waiting to die (which is about as much fun as listening to bagpipes, which at least is not interminable). Still, the thing is, in the end I was an abject failure at it; I just didn’t seem to have the knack for it.

But I digress.

I was going to introduce myself to you, wasn’t I?

Well, suppose I start by telling you how I first found myself spending a lot of time in the company of the once nearly dead. I was young then—in my early forties—and I was about to have the time of my life. Here’s the story:

It all began with two little purple pills. But they weren’t Nexium.

Photo by Adrian Lange

They were two LSD capsules, but I didn’t know that then.

I had better back up and explain.

In the early 1970s, just after I had tuned 35, I was a newly minted full professor of psychology with tenure at the University of Connecticut. And I was discontented. Not with my personal life, but with the field of social psychology in which I had been trained and hired to teach. I had recently published a critique of experimental social psychology, castigating it for the pursuit of merely clever and flashy research of the “can you top this” variety, which did not make me many friends. In any event, I was suffering from a sort of early career crisis, having become disenchanted with this, domain of psychology.

In March of 1971, when my wife and I went off to the Berkshires to celebrate our anniversary, I happened to pick up a book that my wife was then reading—Carlos Castaneda’s first book, The Teachings of Don Juan. It looked intriguing and after she had finished it, I read it.

I was then a typical Jewish professor—wedded to rational thought, committed to science and atheistic in my worldview. I had no interest in religion and very little knowledge of mysticism. But I was open to new experiences, and what had particularly excited me about Castaneda’s book was his discussion of what he called “seeing the crack between the worlds,” which he had apparently effected through the use of mescaline.

At the time, I had never considered using psychedelic drugs and my only familiarity with anything close was having smoked marijuana a few times. But since I had never been a smoker, even that was difficult for me, and my experiences with it, though of the usual kind, did not have any particular impact on my life.

Photo by Elizabeth Keir

Nevertheless, since there was a colleague in my department at the time who I knew was familiar with psychedelics, I approached him to tell him about my interest to take mescaline and why. He had read Castaneda’s book and knew what I was after.

I came to the point. Could he provide me with some mescaline? He could.

By then it was early May. The semester was just about over. He told me not to read anything further on the subject and just come to his apartment on the following Saturday.

That day turned out to be a rare beautiful sun-splashed day with everything beginning to bloom. My colleague lived at the edge of a forest. He suggested that I take the mescaline in his apartment, wait just a bit and listen to music and then go outside and into the nearby woods.

And then he gave me two purple pills to ingest. I did not know my colleague well, and as I was soon to find out, he was not only impish, but embodied the trickster archetype. While he gave me to believe I was taking mescaline, he had actually given me 300 micrograms of LSD.

Photo by Pretty Drugthings

I will not bore you with an account of the next twelve hours. Suffice it to say that all the pillars of my previous ontological categories soon began to crumble into dust. I had the undeniable feeling I was seeing the world with pristine eyes as it really was for the first time, At the time and afterward I realized that this was the most important and most transformative experience of my life— and nearly fifty years later, I still feel the same way. Nothing could ever be the same.

The one portion of the experience I will allude to here— because it eventually led me to the study of near-death experiences— took place when I was sitting on a log near a stream in the woods. I don’t know how long I was there, but at some point for a moment outside of time I—except there was no “I” any longer— experienced an inrushing of the most intense and overwhelming, rapturous LOVE and knew instantly that this was the real world, that the universe, if I can put this way, was stitched in the fabric of this love, and that I was home. However, again I have to repeat: There was only this energy of love and “I” was an indissoluble part of it, not separate from it.

I spent the next three years trying to come to terms with what had happened to me.

 

Dr Ken Ring

DR. KENNETH RING

Kenneth Ring, Ph.D., is a past Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Connecticut, and an internationally recognized authority on the subject of near-death experiences on which he has written five books and nearly a hundred articles. He is also the co-founder and past President of The International Association for Near-Death Studies and the founding editor of its quarterly scholarly journal, The Journal of Near-Death Studies, which began in 1982 and continues to this day. Dr. Ring has appeared on many television and radio programs and been often interviewed in the press in connection with his work on near-death experiences.

 

Read Dr. Ring’s previous post How it All Began on the founding of IANDS HERE.

And read one of our most popular posts — Dr. Kenneth Ring’s Do Our Pets Have an Afterlife? HERE.

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