I recently read a book by a new author named Karen Henson Jones. The book is entitled Heart of Miracles: My Journey Back to Life After a Near-Death Experience. I posted a brief review on Amazon.com, and here I repeat those thoughts in the next four paragraphs, but there are some other things I would like to say; hence, this review.
Beat poet Gregory Corso wrote of having a life that was not up to him. “No choice of two roads,” he wrote, “if there were, I don’t doubt I’d have chosen both.” That view of life could be echoed by the author of this well-written book. Everything that happens to her stems from the sudden disruption of her normal, upwardly mobile life due to a heart rhythm abnormality that was discovered after a fainting episode in a Georgetown restaurant. She did not choose for that that to happen, but as she was recuperating the road that opened to her was a spiritual path of meditation, yoga and metaphysical books.
The book’s publisher, Louise Hay, has said that everything a person needs to know will be revealed at the proper time and place if he or she pays attention to the “inner ding.” Karen Henson Jones, who wrote this book, required surgery to implant a device known as an ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator) which can shock the heart back to a safe rhythm in certain life threatening situations. The ICD provided her a very real “inner ding” because a problem with one of the wires attached to the heart caused repeated problems to which she was sometimes alerted by the device beeping in her chest. Each of those mechanical failures required another surgery and another extended recovery period; and each, which she certainly did not choose, gave her more time for introspection and further progress along her spiritual path.
Over the period of years described in this book, Jones seems to have been traveling all of the time she was not convalescing in her parents’ home. She went to the Phillipines, California, the Virgin Islands, India, Italy, Bhutan and Israel,as well as a couple of less pleasant trips to Boston for surgical procedures.Those vacations and other travels are the primary subject of the book, though all revolve around the medical condition. This is essentially a travelogue that is long on the author’s personal insights and short on the information for travelers that would normally be expected. Nevertheless, it is entertaining and does have useful information – like letting us know to watch out for marauding monkeys in Rishikesh.
In the end, this is a pleasant read about the life of a young woman who seems to be a good and interesting person. Whether it can affect anyone’s life is personal to each reader. Some have been given roads parallel to Ms. Jones’s; others are headed in a different direction. Since I have thrown out a couple of quotations, let me close with one from the Who: “Sickness will surely take a mind where minds don’t usually go. So come on the amazing journey . . .” I enjoyed the trip.
I am not actually going to close there. Instead, let me point out that the subtitle of the book is “My Journey Back to Life After a Near-Death Experience. Hay House, the publisher, has had success recently in selling NDE (near death experience) books, with best-sellers like Dying To Be Me, by Anita Moorjani and Health Revelations from Heaven and Earth by Tommy Rosa and Stephen Sinatra. Those were stories of what is seen as the classic NDE where one leaves the body and moves through a tunnel of light to meet master teachers and deceased relatives.
Ms. Jones did not experience anything nearly so flashy. Her experiences began with losing consciousness and coming within a hair’s breadth of sudden cardiac death (“SCD”). Sudden cardiac death is much more common than most of us realize. It claims the life of nearly 400 people every hour in the United States alone. The fact that she experienced that and survived counts as a near-death experience in my book. Her story is not what she saw or learned when she was considered to have died, but what she saw and learned as she recovered. That is just as important and is something with which more readers are likely to empathize.
I mentioned that her recovery included a spiritual path of yoga and meditation, but there was a physical recovery necessary to make the spiritual one even possible. For instance, Ms. Jones remembers that after her first surgery:
Because I was virtually incapacitated, I really had very few thoughts other than getting through the day. … I did not have time to think about my life in general or work through what I had experienced in the hospital. …
I had to start to walk again, so I set goals for myself. First, it was one lap around the middle floor. Then it was to the end of the driveway. Then I strove to get to our next-door neighbor’s house.
I felt as though it took 20 times longer to do anything and any sense of time started to disintegrate as each eternal day bled into the next.
Fortunately, her efforts paid off and she began living a more normal life. Her writing tells that it was a difficult experience, but I am sure it was even worse than she lets on. I had the misfortune of going through what was nearly a sudden cardiac death myself fairly recently (and acquiring my very own ICD), and I know that recovery is very slow – glacially slow – and is not a linear process. I am sure that the day after she could walk to the neighbor’s house, she found that she was unable to get back down her driveway without feeling like she would pass out once again. Each step of her recovery process must have been a difficult one, and each setback an experience that left her seemingly closer to the death she had avoided.
Perhaps the ultimate moral of this story is one that is not stated anywhere in the book. It is that all human experience – not just the NDEs and SCDs – is really near-death experience. No one ever knows what fate may be waiting just around the corner. That sounds pessimistic and fatalistic, but it isn’t. If we can learn to live this and every moment in a way that gives meaning and fulfillment to our lives and purposes, we don’t need to fear the blind corners we find in our paths.
Karen Jones appears to have learned that, and I pray that you and I may do so, too.