Thursday, 2nd February 2006. Just another ordinary day for the world; but not for Danny Moorjani, whose wife Anita had just slipped into a coma after battling with cancer for four years. Danny rushed her to a sophisticated hospital in Hong Kong on the advice of her oncologist. When the comatose Anita was bought in, her doctor was shocked to see her condition. “Your wife’s heart might be still beating, but she’s not really in there. It’s too late to save her,” she said to Danny.
But Anita was aware of everything that was happening around her. She could see the doctors working furiously on her near-lifeless body, even as her loved ones looked frightened. Her Mom was crying. But when she tried to comfort her, no one could hear her.
Meanwhile, she could see that her doctor had called for another senior oncologist and together they were working hard to save her. She could see the scurrying around of nurses, the portable oxygen tank, the needles and tubes through which treatment was being administered. She could see her helpless family and other people who came to see her. She was acutely aware of every minor detail that was happening, not only around her immediate space but even beyond. Though her eyes were closed, the sharpness of her perception was more intense than usual.What’s more, she could not only see her loved ones but also feel their fears and hopelessness. She even knew how, in spite of all their efforts, the medical team had essentially given up on her.
But strangely, she didn’t feel frightened. On the contrary, she was experiencing a freedom that was as light as it was liberating. For the first time since her cancer diagnosis four years earlier, she felt no physical pain, no sorrow, no sadness, not even any emotional attachment to her physical body. She felt weightless and became aware that she could be anywhere, anytime.
“There’s nothing we can do for your wife, Mr Moorjani. Her organs have already shut down… she won’t even make it through the night,” she heard one doctor tell Danny, who was visibly anguished. She called out to him, to let him know that she’s perfectly fine but she just couldn’t voice her thoughts. And though she wasn’t attached to her own body, she could feel the despair of her husband. But, when she tried to comfort him, she felt she was being pulled away from the drama with a knowing that everything that was unfolding was part of a grander plan.
That’s when she felt her awareness expanding and her sense of separation with the others kept diminishing until there was no separation at all—she was in the other realm. There, she felt the presence of her late father and her best friend, who had succumbed to cancer a few years ago. She even conversed with them, though spoken words were not employed to communicate.
There’s a lot more that she experienced during that coma, which she later knew was a near death experience or NDE. She describes her glorious experience in her book Dying To Be Me, a beautiful piece of work that is evidence of the incredible transformation of Anita.
Her NDE transformed her in more ways than one. Not only did she experience miraculous remission of her ‘incurable’ cancer, she also witnessed a change in her perception of life, so much so that her whole life took on a new meaning.
Manoj Khatri caught up with Anita to get a glimpse of the magnificent wisdom that she now embodies. Here are the excerpts from the interview:
Manoj Khatri: “Death is the ultimate leveller.” How do you explain this popular expression in context of your NDE?
Anita Moorjani: I agree absolutely! You cannot take what you have here into the other realm. My NDE brought that home to me; it made me revaluate what is actually important in life. When we don’t realise this—that death is the ultimate leveller—our priorities are very different. But once you have a glimpse of it… when you actually experience it and bring that feeling back with you, you realise: Wow! All these things that I thought mattered lose all significance on the other side. It rearranges all your priorities in life—how you live, your emotions, everything. It makes you realise that the life we have created here, on the physical plane, is completely back to front. If you were to step out and look at it from the grander perspective, from the perspective of death, you see that everything we have created here is absolutely the wrong way around.
Manoj Khatri: You mean we’ve put the cart before the horse, so to speak?
Anita Moorjani: Yes, we’ve put the cart before the horse. You know we’re very much full of contradictions. What stands out for me is this: There are people who believe that being spiritual and religious means really trying to live as though the afterlife is here. So, on the one hand you have people saying that you have to renounce the world and give up materialism, you have to detach from all this, and that is how you get close to ‘spirituality’. Then you have all these people who live as though the only real world is this physical world and all they want to do is amass wealth, indulge in greed and consumerism. So you have these two extremes.
Interestingly, what I actually sensed in the other realm is that neither of these two is ideal. Because, on the one hand, if you surrender and renounce everything, there is no point of being here. You’re here to experience physicality, not to pretend that you’re already in the afterlife. You’re not here to give up everything and just wear orange robes and sit on a mountain top and meditate because you might as well not be here if you’re going to do that.
On the other hand, the way we’ve designed our world has got all of us on a rat race, where we work just to make money. We’re constantly on a treadmill. Of course, we got that completely wrong too. So people seem to be going from either thinking one or the other.
Manoj Khatri: So how does one bring this balance in our perspective? And what really is the purpose of being physical? Do you even think that there is any purpose?
Anita Moorjani: The purpose is to experience life. It’s to experience being in the physical. Because in the other realm we don’t have a physical body and we can’t know who we are. The other realm is a realm of non-duality. Here, we are in a state of duality. Only in this state of duality can we know who we are. Because, it’s only by comparison with others, by knowing who we are not, by knowing opposites—that you can’t have good without bad, negative without positive—do we know who we are. All that is only possible here. Only here can we feel our emotions, fall in love, get hurt and really experience life to know who we are. None of this happens in the other realm. You can say that this is reason we take form, we take birth here.
So, you don’t want to fall into the trap of escaping life by thinking you’re being spiritual by just becoming a hermit on a mountain top and meditating. On the other hand, you don’t want to part of the treadmill that I’m talking about that just goes to work everyday and doesn’t enjoy life.
What I suggest to people is that the thing to do is very simple. Just ask yourself: What brings you joy? What makes you happy? And that is your biggest signal into your heart. What has happened is that we have become a society of people that live from the head. But it is our heart that is actually the doorway to our soul and the doorway to our infinite self. So start living from your heart and ask yourself everyday, “What brings me joy?” Everything you do, whether you are going to work, or praying, or meditating, ask yourself, “Am I doing this out of love for myself, out of love for the people around me, out of love for my life?” Or “Am I doing this out of fear of the consequences?” and interestingly—nine times out of 10—you will find that most people do something not because they want to do it, but because they are afraid that if they don’t do it, there will be consequences.
Many of us even pray out of a fear. We go to temples or churches and follow religion out of fear; not because we want to attain higher levels of consciousness but because we fear what will happen to us in the afterlife if we don’t. So that’s actually the crux of my message. The biggest shift we can make is to make every decision from a place of love, and not because we feel fear of not getting ahead, or not having enough money and so on. For instance, when you choose everything you do from a place of love, then everything you eat, you will eat it because you love the food or because you love your body, or you love your health or you love your life… and not because of some fear such as, “If I don’t eat this, I’ll be unhealthy” or “If I eat that, I’ll become fat.”
If we start choosing everything from a place of love, our lives take on a completely different level. And this is the most upside-down thing we can do—to rearrange our priorities.
Manoj Khatri: When you use the term ‘the other realm’, do you really mean to say that there is just one realm or, are there layers and layers, and you’ve just entered one and there could be so many others beyond than what you just experienced?
Anita Moorjani: This one’s a little harder to explain because I say ‘the other realm’ due to the limitations of our language. Here, in this realm, we have all these divisions. Like here, when you’re in the physical, we think in terms of linear time, and even in terms of different dimensions. That is all something created by our minds that are only capable of understanding in physical terms. Once you’re no longer thinking in physical terms, there is no more separation, no more division. But if you ask me, are there other galaxies and are we connected to them, I can’t answer that. I believe that we are, even though I didn’t have a direct experience of other beings from other planets or other galaxies. But what I did have an experience of was this feeling of being able to be anywhere at anytime. And when we are not in this physical body, when we are just pure consciousness, and when time and space is not an issue and you can be anywhere at anytime—that literally covers every realm available to you. There is no division, no walls—nothing to keep you separated from anything.
Manoj Khatri: You said that in order to be healed you had to let go of the need to be healed and trust and enjoy the ride that is life. Yet, letting go came to you after immense struggle. In your own words, “When it became too difficult to hang on anymore, I let go”. Do you think letting go is possible without the struggle? How?
Anita Moorjani: What I’d like to advise people is: Don’t wait until your life becomes a struggle. Now, I practise letting go, every single day. I don’t wait for my life to become a struggle before letting go. Every morning, I just surrender myself to the universe and it’s almost like allowing the universe to work through me and allowing the universe to use me as its channel. Surrendering in this way does not mean giving your power away. When you give your power away, you weaken yourself, drain yourself. When you give your power away, you allow others to manipulate you. Surrendering, on the other hand, is empowering. It means allowing the entire universe, it means having the power of the entire universe, to work through you. It’s like you’re flowing with universal energy rather than going against it.
Before my NDE, I was just fighting, and fighting, and fighting against [cancer]… until that point when it was too hard to fight, and I let go. But since that experience, I understood that fighting is of no use. So now when I wake up, I just say—to no one in particular, to my highest self, to consciousness, to the universe, whatever you want to call it, even if you believe in God you can say it to God—I just say: “I surrender myself to you” and then allow the day to unfold and whatever is meant to come my way will come to me today. At night I just let go again… I release everything and go to sleep.
I have found that this really works for me. And the way my life has been unfolding since I have learnt to surrender and the things that have happened—I wouldn’t have been able to script it better. I couldn’t even have thought of setting such goals or dreaming such dreams. By surrendering and allowing things to happen, I have lost the need to pursue or chase anything.
Manoj Khatri: How do you deal with scepticism and cynicism? More accurately how do you stay insulated from other people’s opinions? Especially, the reaction of the medical fraternity. Have at least some of them reconciled that they just don’t know enough? Or do you find them rationalising away your inexplicable healing?
Anita Moorjani: Initially, I encountered a lot of scepticism but it’s decreased a lot now, which is good. And yes, they do try to rationalise. And the other thing is that many of them never take into consideration that mine is not an isolated case—there are thousands of such phenomena out there. But they deal only with one case at a time, then they argue with you as though you’re the only one that has had this experience. And they use their materialistic arguments and reductionism to explain it away. What they invariably fail to take into account is that there are thousands of people that have had these kinds of experiences. But if somebody has made up their mind, then there’s no way we can convince them.
Having said that, I have realised that there are two types of so called sceptics I’ve come across. The first kind is the one where I can sense that they want to believe, they are trying to believe, but their minds somehow won’t allow them to. They are so entrenched in their conditioning that they don’t seem to get out of it. But they are trying. And I can deal with those kind and quite like them. They have a natural skeptical mind but they are open, they want to understand.
Then there’s the other kind who I call the “debunkers”. Those are the ones who have made up their mind and for them it’s more like a sport. They try and disprove everyone and everything. I don’t really give these debunkers much time because the minute I sense what they are doing, I tell them: I don’t think it is my responsibility to convince you of anything. Because, I don’t actually try to convince them of anything. I just share my story. If it doesn’t resonate with them, that’s fine. If people think that everything that happened was only in my mind, that’s fine. So I just say to them, “I respect you for what you believe” and then I move on.
But if they are people who want to believe, I tell them that I have the medical records to prove that the cancer healing did take place. And it was more rapid than anything else. The healing itself is medically inexplicable. And then I tell them that I know that it was a consciousness shift. If they say, “But how can you be certain that your healing came about because of your NDE”? I tell them, “OK, so let’s just say that I don’t know what happened. Now I leave it to you. These are the facts on the medical side and I leave it to you to come up with an explanation.” So I give it back to them.
Manoj Khatri: Talking about healing, do you think that there is a radical change that is required in the current approach to medicine, if we are to truly heal people of diseases?
Anita Moorjani: Absolutely! Very, very radical… because I think that what medicine fails to take into consideration is that a person is much more than just a physical body. A much more holistic approach needs to be taken. Now, I don’t undermine medicine. Very often illnesses do need to be managed with medicine, but at the same time, I really think that potential doctors as well as people in the medical field really need to be taught to tell their patients to look at all the reasons why they are getting the illnesses, especially cancers, chronic illnesses, allergies, and anything that weakens their immune system. Why are these people’s immune systems becoming weak? What are they doing to constantly destroy their immune systems? A person is not just their physical flesh. There is so much more. There is their emotions, their identity, their self worth, their spiritual practice.
A much more holistic approach needs to be taken for sure. And we have actual proof… there are so many tests done with placebos and so much anecdotal evidence of people being healed because circumstances in their life change, or their emotional circumstances change, leading to better physical health. There is just so much evidence, too much to ignore and yet in medical schools, doctors are still not being taught all these things. We’re still dealing with most illnesses, I would say, in a very medieval and almost barbaric way—the way that we treat patients and the way that we only improve our diagnostic tools but we’re not broadening the way that we look at illness itself. I think that the way medicine treats people, the way they use diagnostic tools to treat very specific parts of the patient is no different from the way a garage repairs a car.
Manoj Khatri: Moving on from health, you have Indian origins and you have mentioned that your own culture caused you to put others before you. On the other hand, the western culture is often the other extreme—hedonistic, self-before-others. Urban Indian kids are getting more and more influenced by western lifestyles and beliefs. In this context, what advice would you give to parents, especially Indian parents, about raising children?
Well, I think the most important missing ingredient that parents are neglecting to teach their children—regardless of culture—is self-respect and self-love. The problem with kids these days is that they feel they are not meeting anybody’s expectations. They feel that they are letting down everyone—their parents, their peer group, their friends. Moreover, kids feel lost with all the coverage they see on TV, Internet and other media which exposes them to these different values.
What happens is that if these kids don’t love and respect themselves, they start blaming their parents for not letting them follow that other culture, for not letting them wear the clothes that they see the others wearing.
One thing that even I recall as a child—and I believe that many kids feel this way—is that when we are being punished, we feel our parents don’t love us at that time. Kids believe that they’re loved only when they meet their parents’ expectations. And I don’t know why it never occurs to us to recall this when we become parents, because we’ve all been children. When I tell this to people they say, “Yeah, that’s right! I used to feel that way too and I would do things so that my parents wouldn’t punish me.”
If parents really want to teach kids their own cultural values, the first thing they have to teach them is very good self-esteem. Kids need to know that they are loved unconditionally, even when we punish them.
We need to tell the kids, “If you behave badly, you will be punished, but we will still love you.”
What I strongly believe now is that it’s really important for parents to reassure their children from the time they are very young. Parents need to tell them, “You are loved absolutely unconditionally. You are a beautiful person with a lot of strengths. If you stay true to your nature, if you maintain your own culture, you will be more interesting to your peer group. Don’t be afraid to be different. You are unique and it’s good to be unique. In fact you should be unique, it makes you more interesting and these are your cultural values”. Children who know that they are valued, unique, and loved, have a healthy self-esteem. Then they can hold on to cultural values even when they are amongst people who don’t necessarily share their values.
Manoj Khatri: That’s so true, self-esteem is one ingredient that is missing. We all experience that when we are growing up. And I don’t think that it is particularly the parents’ fault because they themselves have been brought up like that. But somebody needs to tell them.
Anita Moorjani: Yes, it is not the parents’ fault at all. Everybody is doing the best they can with what they know. And many people, even young parents today, don’t realise it until someone tells them and then they go, “Yeah you have a point”. But the real missing ingredient has nothing to do with being exposed to different cultures or being exposed to TV or moral values or anything; all that is only on the surface. The real issue is that most of us grow up feeling unloved, lost and we feel that we need to conform to something to fit in and we feel that we’re letting everybody down. Somebody—namely our parents—need to tell us. And if we are parents, we need to tell our kids that you are perfect the way you are; you’re amazing, you’re beautiful and so on. And many people worry that this will make the kids bigheaded and too egotistical but it’s actually the opposite. Kids who turn out to be spoilt, bigheaded and egotistical are actually the kids who are neglected, and not the ones who are loved unconditionally. There is no such thing as loving a kid too much. The reason for the problems of kids and most adults today, is that they have too little love. There is no such thing as too much love.
Manoj Khatri: This brings me to another assertion you have made in your book. You said that perpetrators of crime and terror are the ones who suffer the most and need most sympathy, which on deep analysis seems to be true. Why are people so reluctant to accept this?
Anita Moorjani: Because, they don’t realise that these perpetrators are only a symptom of the problem of our society and we cannot deal with them in isolation. But then, we are conditioned to see everything as separate. You see, all these things—like the Delhi gang rape or the gun violence in the US—these are just symptoms of a deeper problem. And the deeper problem is not ‘their’ problem. It’s our problem. We’re all in it together. We, together, have created this problem and we now have to resolve it. But many people don’t want to feel that way. They are so entrenched in this physical ideology of separation, of believing, “I’m not them, they are not me, and I would never do something like that,” that it keeps them stuck in judgement. We’re always judging—they did this, they are wrong—that intrinsically we have become a very judgmental society.
Manoj Khatri: Isn’t this similar to the erroneous approach to health that you touched upon earlier—that we isolate one thing and try and treat that, whereas the whole organism needs to be addressed?
Anita Moorjani: Yes, and I think it starts with our education. It starts at a young age. But slowly people are starting to change and that is my hope. That is one of the reasons why I wrote my experience and I speak about it. It’s because people really need to see things differently if we want to see any real change. And what I’m really happy about is to see how people are speaking about things like the gang rape etc. At least the public is speaking out about their discontent toward the government and they are exposing so many problems. This was just the tip of the iceberg—they are exposing so many problems. Even in the US, they are exposing loopholes in laws that allow people to carry guns, which people believe they are doing for their own protection. But at the end of the day, they have to ask themselves: protection from what? Basically all these things are happening because, at the core, we have become a very fear-based society. Everything we do is from a place of fear. Every single thing. That’s why we have guns.
Manoj Khatri: So what should we do to address this deep rooted fear that is so entrenched in our genes now? What’s the message you would give to the readers who understand that fear is the root cause and would like to operate from a position of love? How does one make that shift?
Anita Moorjani: The only thing you can do is make the shift within yourself. You can’t go out and rally for all to do it. Because the minute you start doing things like fighting or rallying, you’re adding to that same fear-based energy. And it will again create resistance and cause people to fight back. So the minute you start fighting and telling everybody else to make the shift, they will resist and again it means that you are judging them. So all that we can do is see through it for ourselves and take the stand: “This is how I’m going to live… this is my life.” Just embody it. That’s all you can do. Just be it and what you will find is that you will actually touch the people around you and they will then touch the people around them. That’s what I have been doing since my NDE seven years ago. I was able to see through everything. I knew what I knew, I knew everything that I am telling you now, but I never actually ever attempted to go out and convince anyone else. All I did was embody my truth and then just watched what unfolded. And already, I see how things that I have written have gone viral, the interviews are happening, the book came out… so all you can do is just embody it. And that’s what I tell people, when they ask me, “What can we do?” I say to them, “Don’t go out and try to change the world, because people will resist you and you will only add to the same energy that’s fighting. Because you will just be judging those people and they will fight back.” In a way, I feel that’s what Mahatma Gandhi tried to say when he said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Manoj Khatri: Finally, can you speak a little about relationships? Has the idea of ‘love’ changed for you? What is the most profound insight that you have gained about love post your NDE?
Anita Moorjani: When we learn to love ourselves unconditionally, we are able to love other people unconditionally. And if you are having an issue in your relationship, the conversation I would really like to see you have is something along the lines of saying to your partner, “I love you unconditionally enough for you to have whatever you want in life. But, if what you want goes against my values for myself, I love myself unconditionally enough not to have to put up with it.” In other words, in regular love as we tend to practise in physical life, we tend to place conditions, we tend to have contracts like marital contracts and we expect people to stand by the contracts, whether they feel love for us or not. Unconditional love is when you love somebody so much that what you want for them is for them to have what they want for themselves. And when what they want for themselves is not quite what you want in the relationship, unconditional love for yourself allows you to leave the relationship. And if that person doesn’t want to lose you, if they love you and want to give you what you want, they will stay in the relationship, but it will be a much more real relationship than a conditional one where two people are doing it out of obligation.
Manoj Khatri: That’s absolutely beautiful. Well, thank you, Anita, for sharing all the practical wisdom with our readers. It has been an absolute pleasure speaking to you.
Anita Moorjani: Thank you for giving me the opportunity, Manoj.