He was clinically dead. His body rested in a state that seemed like an irreversible end-point of vital functions. Against all chances, he returned to the physical world after a timeless visit in the borderland. Here he shares his experience with our greatest unknowns: death and consciousness.
I have never been afraid of dying, and that is an evolutionary mistake. Self-preservation was to me the opposite of living, and I needed to feel alive. Not just surviving, but to be all full of life: vibrant, virulent, vital. I was hunting for adrenaline. These hunts were often unconsidered and spontaneous; most of all they were ridiculous. But they satisfied their purpose. Made my mind squirt and explode. And I always had a fun story to tell on Monday mornings after these weekend ordeals. I forced myself to be the one who sacrificed most in the hunts.
I was studying at the University of Technology in Sweden at the time. Enjoying how socially acceptable it was to be drunk during school time challenged everything else in my life. We had our golden treasury full of German-imported beer. When we drank, we did it heavily. The spring term was coming, and throughout the cold winter, I felt inspired to reduce my alcohol consumption. But I decided to go to one of the last university parties before stopping my destructive indolence. The party took place in a sauna next to a lake.
There was just me and Elsa left in the sauna, faint from the heat and drunk from the German-import. An ice hole was cut next to a pier ladder. Maybe one square meter across. I wanted one last dunk.
The Scandinavian winter is a persistent fucker. A bitter rivalry between seasons. Minus celsius from a frozen hell. The ice slept, blank and thick, over the lake. In slow motion, Elsa climbed down into the water. By the time I came down, she could no longer stand it, and left me alone in the lake. Completely inferior to nature. Only Elsa, the night’s darkness, and the winter knew that I was there. Coldness, provocation. My scrotum like a stone. The water bit me with its teeth of knives. And my mind was numb.
Elsas red back turned around when she heard my deep breath. She saw the tip of my head disappear underwater and swim out under the ice. Soberness forced her down to her knees while following my blurred shadow. She screamed for help, and I swam a long way out until I turned around. Straight towards oxygen. Relaxation. I was half a meter from the hole when I turned and started to swim out again. Elsa followed me as I swam back and forth in circles. I started to swallow water. When my stomach got full, breath could not combat the water anymore. Elsa saw my body disappear towards the black bottom.
By this time, the others came down to the lake with axes and drunk-heads. The ice slashed their hands, and the hole they opened was full of blood. The emergency services came after half an hour. They pulled me up. I had reached a temperature of twenty-six degrees Celsius.
I struggled hard to survive. My screams had no echoes. My desperate heartbeats pumped slower and slower. Encased in darkness, I knew my body was dying. The pain I felt evacuated my energy. My breath choked me. High above me, a light appeared. The intensity of it increased, and its speed towards me was exceptional. This light swallowed everything. I let it all go. It went so fast. I just let it all go. My heartbeats were faded. Consumed by water.
Death gripped my body, and my soul began travelling faster than the speed of light. It was too overwhelming to realize—what you thought was the definition of yourself, was nothing more than organic material. The unfortunate coincidence of composed atoms that were now decaying.
Guided by an invisible hand, I swept by landscapes as huge as the Milky Way. These landscapes created marvelous images. They were greater than wonders, with forms and colors I had never seen before. I felt such peace, I can’t express it.
I was in this place of total wholeness when a map appeared in front, inside, around me. It was not an external power. It was me who ripped off the blindfold and forced myself to see. This led me to a choice between this world and my life on earth. To not choose the satisfaction this universe gave me was hard. But I knew that this world was constant. The miracles would not disappear; this world was everything and everything was this world. An impression of what I once was gave me weight. I wanted to know more about my life and the people I loved. I started to shine. Stronger and stronger. My own light blinded me. It was all white. The formless being I was traveled back, and was placed inside my body.
Pain filled up my belly. My guts burned. Blood streamed through my lungs. I had something terrible in my mouth and throat.
I tried to scream, “FUCK!” but was completely noiseless. The light around me disappeared, and slowly people were exposed. Was that my mom who sat there and cried, with a smile on her face? Were those my siblings besides her? I wanted to talk but couldn’t. I tried, heartbroken. What had happened? Why did I lie here? What was my name? My mouth moved, but no one could hear what I tried to say. They just looked troubled.
I woke up and my girlfriend was over me with her hand in mine. I had no energy, but I tried to mime, “I love you.”
I woke up with more energy, but with a respirator in my throat. I was excited to tell my family something, but no one understood. I got frustrated. Mum told me to calm down. My shaking hand rose the middle finger to her face. Then she knew I was still myself.
I could not breathe. My blood could not circulate, so a machine had to pump it for me. But it streamed out of all openings and scars. When my primary functions worked again, I needed to learn how to walk and talk. My muscles started to molder during the time I was dead. Parts of my body had become rotten. My damn hunting had slaughtered my body, and it was a huge effort to take life back. I am now studying again, and working as I did before, but with a worse memory.
I survived. I am one of the few that has been dead and made a visit to the borderland. And one would think that I’ve become grateful for living. That I’ve become more careful with life, now I know how fragile it is. But the days have become anonymous and gray again. Cynicism and nihilism came back. And I still haven’t changed. I still can’t feel the pleasure of living. And I’m still burning my hands with iron, because I need to feel alive. But the difference is, I no longer let this show in front of others. I have no right anymore to feel that life is pointless. Because I have been saved.
Sympathy saved me. It was not only my friends who made it possible, not only the emergency service, nor the surgeons. It was a whole society, with the principle that the great worth of a life is self-evident. Just because it is life. And it is essential to maintain what makes us become human—that is, love. Love towards the mysteries of the universe, and the perfect, unconditional, love we can get from another human being. Without love, our society will end up as cynical as me.
Evolution has changed us from living only in order to improve as a species, to living with an emotional symbiosis with each other. To live in a world where everyone has the right to live a long and happy life. But how can I say that without being a hypocrite? When something inside of me still thinks that they should have left me under the ice.