Full text of Joyce Hawkes’ talk: Biophysicist Discovers New Life After Death at TEDxBellevue conference.
Joyce Hawkes – Biophysicist
Have you ever looked at yourself and wondered what’s under the skin? Do you realize there’s one hundred trillion cells in you?
Twenty-five trillion of them are red blood cells. Those red blood cells wear out… last four months. So if you calculate it out while you’re sitting here every second, your body is making two to three million brand new red blood cells. And you don’t have to even think about it.
That unseen part of us is astonishing.
I fell in love with an electron microscope a long time ago, and that microscope led me to a fabulous career. I was at the very top peak of it as a biophysicist scientist, publishing, speaking, run in a lab. I loved this work and I felt all was well. Science was the whole deal.
And then all of a sudden, something else happened. I was home, cleaning house, and this thing was on the mantel. And I was vacuuming in front of the mantel, I didn’t bump it, but it fell off and I took it in free-fall. It hit me on the head.
That was a game changer. Sudden death.
I went down the long, dark tunnel. I never heard of near-death experiences. I didn’t believe in them. If I had heard of them, this was in the late 70s before they were popular.
I had no belief in an afterlife, and greeting me at the entrance to the light was my grandmother and mother; two women that I love dearly who had passed. And they could express their love to me. And they didn’t look like they’d been dead 20 years. They were in great shape.
And then into a place that was exquisitely beautiful with rolling hills and lights. And the emotional sense was you’d never want to leave. Everything was perfect. There is no agenda and nothing going on in my head except being there completely.
That film in the presence of a being of light, once again, unusual. I had no belief. I had no idea. This was just not part of the paradigm in which I worked. I had no discussion about coming back or not.
I had no real life review, but all of a sudden I’m back on the floor with a really sore head and I reach up and touch my head and it’s matted with dried blood. So I wasn’t out a second or two seconds or even a few minutes.
What we’ve figured is probably at least an hour and a half, maybe two hours. And most people out that long are gone. They die. There’s something like 13 million records of near-death experiences in our culture now. Very interesting stories, similarities, but not exactly the same.
I had some take-home messages from this event. The first one, which I’ve put into practice deeply and all the time is housecleaning is very dangerous. Don’t do it.
So then, my scientist’s brain, which is curious but also kind of stubborn, said, well, OK, so you had an event with low oxygen… so and so.
And I discounted the whole thing, but I couldn’t get away from what I had seen in the unseen world. I couldn’t get away from the expansion of my reality. And I couldn’t get away from the emotions that I experienced there.
So I started reading and talking to people, so on and so forth, and slowly began to experience and understand that a healing gift had emerged, not because of near death, but because of becoming aware that all of us are healers.
You’ve got two to three million brand new red blood cells in this last second. Your body is healing all the time. We touch one another with kindness, with love, and that becomes healing. We can meditate and do some things with that.
It took me seven years and a real distinct calling to make that my life work. And so I truly jumped off a cliff and left the lab, trained somebody to take over the lab that I was running. And shook my head a bunch of times since, what have I done.
In the process of trying to understand what, how we touch one another would help, I had the opportunity to go to several foreign cultures. The most powerful one was in Bali.
I experienced 10 years of going back and forth from Seattle to work with a Shaman trans-medium healer there. She was amazing. Her name was Jero Mangku. She worked deeply in Trans. And this is one of her states.
When she was in that state, she could look inside of someone’s body and describe what was going on with them. She described cells. She’d never seen a cell; she’d never heard of cells. She’d never seen a book of histology. She had no education in it whatsoever.
But in her own way, she penetrated to the depth of a person’s issues and could describe that so that I understood it. We shared a lot in those 10 years and I worked exclusively with her during that time. She took me to some very unusual places and unusual temples.
This particular one and this carving you would never find. There’s no sign. It’s not in any tourist book. But I had great experience with her. She would bless me with holy water and from time to time and sprinkle me with a little water. And on this particular day, she decided it’d be fun to just soak me totally.
The experience there was such that when I came back to work with my clients, the work had expanded. I could do things I couldn’t do before. So the learning was not about technique. It was not about protocol. It was about deepening oneself in the practice and sharing that with another.
In more recent years, there’s been a lot of interest, particularly in Richard Davidson’s lab at the University of Wisconsin, and now it’s spread to some other places.
And what goes on, at least in one group of cells, the neurons of the brain, when we’re in a compassionate state and reaching to another or in a meditative state.
So the curiosity for me has continued to expand and move and ask questions, trying to work with both sides: What’s the science of what’s going on here, and what is the spirit of it, and how can we help each other?
This was a bit of research that we did in New York City. There’s a young man up on the table and his brain waves are being shown on the far left computer. Looks like he’s asleep right now. The thinking mind is closed down. He’s got a lot of delta at the bottom of that computer chart. And so that says he’s in a deep unconscious state of sleep.
When he actually woke up and we were finished, he said, the arthritis has just been hurting me so much, is gone… It’s a lot better, and stayed gone.
Now my brain is being recorded on the right. The axis right down the middle is the split between the right hemispheres of the brain. There’s been a lot of information that our left brain does the thinking and the right brain does other stuff. Scientific literature now says that’s not entirely true.
And here is a situation where both my right and left side of brain are doing similar thing at the same time.
So the very upper bars are very fast neuron activity: the gamma and right under it, the next couple of bars are those somewhat speedy beta waves activity, again of our neurons thinking. So I’m alert, aware, not drowsy.
Then the big broad expanse there are alpha, those are slower and those are the sense of well-being. So when you’re doing this work of responding compassionately to another, there is a sense of well-being in the practitioner also.
Right under that big broad expanse or some other bars. About three levels of those are theta. They’re slower again in neuronal activity. Those are active in dream states. They’re also active when we’re visualizing.
And the bottom ones that are busy there, too, are delta waves.
Delta is usually only seen in most of us in deep unconscious sleep, but in advanced meditators and when people are sending healing, there’s a lot of delta activity. Curious. We don’t know why, but it’s curious.
Now, here’s another EEG type of work which has a little bit different axis. But you see over one, two, three, four, five sensors… that huge array of blue spikes all across the top of my brain when I’m sending healing to someone. Those are all delta. And you see the bar graph, the one that’s blue. Some of that delta activity is 10 times higher than anything else going on in the brain.
So there’s something about this very slow pattern which is active in the waking mind but when we are involved in helping others.
I had a really cool opportunity to go to Tokyo. I was invited there to Tunahan [ph] University, where they hooked me up with one hundred and twenty five sensors.
Now I’d have a lot of EEG work because we were interested and curious in all of this. And lo and behold, they stuck those sensors on my head out of a vat of salt water and it ruined my hair…
But each of those had a wire that went to record what was going on in the neurons of my brain. And we saw that in the thinking brain, we’re just sitting around brain. There wasn’t much activity. That’s the little picture.
The big one is during a healing session. When I was sending to a man that had was right in front of me, end stage colon cancer. The red is the highest activity of neurons that could be recorded with their equipment.
And in fact, it started kind of in the rear part of the brain, moved across the right side. Then off to the left, it looked like it almost shot out of the left prefrontal cortex. That’s a part of the brain that’s known to be active when compassion arises.
So then we asked as our curiosity kept dragging us along: What happens if you’re working with someone along ways away? Does distance limit this work?
So my friend Juan Acosta was recording someone with quantitative EEG in Santa Cruz. And I was in Seattle almost a thousand miles away. And I thought, oh, boy, oh, boy, they’re going to show a lot of delta, right, because I’m running delta.
No way. This woman had virtually the same activity in her beta, theta and delta. What changed? Was there alpha wave?
When I talked to her afterwards, she’d been in the midst of a horrendous time in her life. She had not had a sense of well-being or peace, she said, for over a year.
And during a very short session, about ten minutes, all of a sudden, she felt peaceful again. And her alpha pattern went from 41 microvolt square to 110. So the healing is not confined to the brain or to the neurons, and it’s not the route of it, but it’s an easy group of cells to be able to test. We don’t have to chop you up and put you in the microscope.
I’ve also done work now in India, seven thousand seven hundred miles away, and we found immediate response and changes in someone who is being tested at a bio sciences research center.
I’m also now actively working with a group at the University of Washington, a group of fabulous scientists. And so we’re just beginning some studies, again, following the sense of curiosity: What can we understand? How can we help one another?
So I hope that you will take with you today, this idea:
We walk with mystery in us, around us. What we know from microscopes and telescopes inform us that the world is huge and there’s a lot of reality we don’t know about. We also know that compassion can actually touch the world.
And so I encourage you to take a moment to think about sitting on top of Mount Baker and send compassion, send well-being to your loved ones, to your community, to this world.
Resources for Further Reading: