When I was 19 years old and living in Texas, I was critically injured in a 100-mile-an-hour collision with a drunk driver. What happened next isn’t something I could have explained in familiar terms at the time—in the helicopter on the way to the hospital I had a heart attack and “died.”

The last thing I remember before I died was that my body began to convulse violently and I felt exceptionally cold. But I could still hear the loud, droning rhythm of the propellers overhead.

A tunnel of light

A speck of light appeared at the point between my eyebrows and I experienced a tremendous upward surge of energy, like bouncing in the air from a trampoline—a feeling of going up but not coming down again. The realization dawned that I wasn’t breathing.

There was a liberating sense of relief in not being in the body, an almost amusing awareness of how heavy it had been. I felt like I was floating in a pool of warm water with the sun shining on me, the warmth absorbing me as I absorbed it. I was comfortable and relaxed.

The only sound was like wind rushing through trees. In front of me was a tunnel of light.

“Do you want to stay?”

I passed quickly through the tunnel and came out into a big open space where I was surrounded by a powerful presence. This presence consisted of many souls and emanated pure light, pure golden warmth, pure nurturing comfort, and an overwhelming feeling of love.

It seemed that I had merged with all these souls. We were all one and yet individual, too.  Nothing else existed; nothing else mattered.  It felt like home. Then, from the midst of these souls, a loving, gentle presence spoke to me, not in words but through the medium of feelings. The question asked was, “Do you want to stay, or do you want to go back?”

Somehow my soul knew exactly where it was, why it was here, and what was happening. I knew I had died and left the material world. My answer to the familiar presence was, “I haven’t met the right people yet, and I haven’t learned to serve.”

The reply that came back was, “If you go back, you will experience physical suffering. It will not be easy for you physically.” And my soul said, “I need to go back because I need to do these things before I can come home.”

Back in the body

As soon as there was an understanding, I could again hear the loud beat of the helicopter blades and then, a man’s voice yelling, “Clear!” After a violent shock, I felt myself thrust upward, and the heaviness of being in the body returned.  The medical technician had used defibrillation paddles and restored my heartbeat.

At the time, no books had been published on the near-death experience, so I had no reassuring explanation for what occurred. But somewhere deep inside I understood that my soul had chosen a mission in life. Who were these people I needed to meet?  What did it mean to “learn to serve?”

For several days I was in a coma. The doctors said my survival was miraculous. I had suffered a ruptured spleen, six broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a deep laceration to the head, and a contusion of the heart that would have killed me instantly had it been a fraction of an inch to either side.

Who is my guide?

My memories of leaving the body lent urgency to the process of recovering and embracing life. I knew I wouldn’t die again until I had learned the lessons my soul had chosen. And I knew there was a loving guide who watched over me, who would help me find my way home.

After I awoke from the coma my mother told me details of the accident, the first being that my friend Joe, who had been with me in the car, had survived and would be fine.

Then she told me something that she had learned from Bobbie and Jodie, two close friends who had been in the car behind us.

When Bobbie and Jodie pulled Joe and me out of the burning car, it was dark and raining. I was choking on blood but Bobbie couldn’t see well enough to help me.  Bobbie yelled for Jodie to go to their car and get a flashlight so he could clear my air passage—something he had learned in law enforcement training.

Flashlight from an angel

Jodie returned empty-handed and Bobby exclaimed, “God, I need a flashlight!”  In that moment, Bobbie noticed a man behind him who handed him a flashlight. He said that the man was short, rotund, olive-skinned, with long black hair and small hands, and was wearing what appeared to be an orange choir robe.

After clearing my passage, Bobby turned to thank the man but he had vanished, and there were no car tracks. Bobby later discovered that there wasn’t a farm for two miles in any direction. Mom said, “Bobby still has that flashlight and calls it his flashlight from heaven, delivered by an angel.”

A second miracle occurred shortly after the first.  Two cars stopped within minutes of the collision. In the first car was a doctor on his way back to Mexico, who had decided to take this remote, scenic route to avoid the highways.

In the second car was a couple returning to their farm two miles away. The doctor attended to Joe and me while the couple went to their farm to call an ambulance and Joe’s and my parents.

Finding Ananda

Over the years I continued to be puzzled by what it meant to “meet the right people and learn to serve.” Eventually, I discovered the Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda. Later, I found out about Ananda Village.

It wasn’t long before I understood that Yogananda was my spiritual guide, and that at Ananda I had found the “right people.” In this family of friendly God-centered devotees, I knew I would “learn to serve.”

When I prayed or meditated, I felt Yogananda’s presence all around me. I knew I had spent many lifetimes as a disciple of this great teacher, and that he had been guiding my life long before I found Ananda.

In fact, it seems that Yogananda was present at the scene of the accident—the “man in orange,” ready with the flashlight just when Bobby needed it. Bobby’s description fit him perfectly.

Excerpted from AIDS: Pathway of Miracles, by Happy Carol Winingham. For a copy of the book, e-mail London@mcn.org.

Several years after moving to Ananda Village in the 1980s, Happy was diagnosed with AIDS, and given 6-12 months to live. Despite ongoing health challenges, she lived ten more years and was able to “serve” in many ways—as a spiritual teacher, actress and playwright, and AIDS activist.

Paramhansa Yogananda: A Great Modern Channel
by Swami Kriyananda

Paramhansa Yogananda spoke—from personal, visionary experience, and not from book learning—of countless mysteries of the universe: of how it was made, and why. He told us of life on other planets, and predicted a time of interstellar travel—which he said was a reality, despite its seeming impossibility, according to the known laws of modern physics.

He described—again, from direct experience—levels of reality that are much too subtle to be perceived by the physical senses. He spoke of the ages of civilization on earth, and of the implications for mankind of having entered, as we now have, a new age.

He revealed to our imagination a divine creation so marvelous, so infinitely vast and complex, so inspiring in its beauty and lofty purpose that I think not all the books in the world could equal what we heard from him in person.

He could see people in the astral world, converse with them, and receive messages from them. He could tune in to high souls and let them speak through him. From what he told us, and from what seemed to us truly our own experience with him, God Himself used his voice to teach us and guide us.

He saw things in people’s past that even they had forgotten. He saw far back in time, also, beyond the portals of this life, and helped people thereby to understand problems in the present lifetime that, until then, had left them confused, perplexed, or resentful. And he saw things in their future, as well. People couldn’t bring themselves to believe all the predictions he made, but they proved right nonetheless.

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