William Peters is the Founder of the Shared Crossing Project, whose mission is to positively transform relationships to death and dying through education and raising awareness about Shared Crossings and their healing benefits. As the Director of the Shared Crossing Research Institute, William and his team collect and study extraordinary end of life experiences called shared crossings. A global leader in shared death studies and end of life phenomenon, William has developed methods to facilitate the shared death experience and to assist experiencers in meaningfully integrating their experiences.
IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:
- How William’s two Near-Death Experiences changed his perceptions about life.
- The ways Shared Death experiences make grieving less painful.
- Shared journeys can teach us how to die well and live better.
- Programs William has developed that prepare people for Shared Death Experiences and Shared Crossings.
SOME QUESTIONS IRENE ASKS WILLIAM:
- What inspired you to found the Shared Crossing Project in 2011?
- Why is the phenomenon of a Near-Death Experience so much more well-known than a Shared Death Experience?
- How do Shared Death Experiences and Near-Death Experiences provide evidence of an Afterlife?
Listen to the podcast here
William Peters: The Shared Crossing Pathway: Accompanying Loved Ones Through A Beautiful End Of Life
Healthy parents heal and assist bereaved parents in very significant ways. It provides personal and specialized support, tips, and tools for finding hope. For those parents whose children have passed, it offers much-needed peer support, which aids in the healing process going a step beyond other groups because it supports the open discussion of spiritual experiences and evidence for the afterlife in a non-dogmatic way. Everyone is welcome, regardless of religious or non-religious background, allowing for open dialogues for those who wish to share their personal afterlife communications.
I’m truly both delighted and honored to have been asked to interview some of the enlightened presenters who are at this conference. These insights provide uplifting interviews comprising a special new series on the show that will illuminate the wondrous healing work of helping parents heal. The organization’s sole mission is to help other parents who have also lost their precious children, ensuring them that they need not walk alone through their profound grief. Thank you.
I’m so honored to have William Peters, who has a Master of Education and he’s also has a Master of Family Therapy. He is the Founder of the Shared Crossing Project, whose mission is to positively transform relationships to death and dying through education and raising awareness about shared crossings and their healing benefits. As the Director of the Shared Crossing Research Initiative, William and his team collect and study extraordinary end-of-life experiences called Shared Crossings, a global leader in shared death studies and end-of-life phenomena.
He has developed methods to facilitate the shared death experience and to assist experiences in meaningfully integrating their experiences. He is a Psychotherapist at the Family Therapy Institute of Santa Barbara. He specializes in end-of-life counseling as a means towards psychospiritual evolution and has served as a hospice worker with Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco. William’s work is informed by his two near-death experiences and a variety of shared crossings, which I’m so eager to hear about.
His bestselling book is titled At Heaven’s Door: What Shared Journeys to the Afterlife Teach About Dying Well and Living Better. I’m looking forward to talking with William about what is a shared death experience and how it lessens the pain of grief. How shared death experiences can help us to die well and live better as so much more for what is surely going to be an enlightening and very uplifting interview. William, our heartfelt welcome to the show. It’s such a pleasure to have you.
Let’s start. Let’s talk about your two near-death experiences. When did they happen? How old were you? What did you learn? How did they change your life?
My first NDE, Near Death Experience, occurred when I was seventeen years old. I was living a normal suburban life. I went up skiing in between Christmas and New Year’s. I was with some friends. I took what I thought to be a relatively routine fall. I was going pretty quick, but my bindings did not release when I hit the slope. My back took the brunt of the fall and fractured my spine severely. My experience in that moment was everything went dark right away. I don’t know if you remember the old M*A*S*H* TV show when they would get bombed and the energy would go out of the operating theater. That’s how I look.
That’s the example. That’s analogous here. Everything went out, the lights and the energy. Everything leaves my body but yet I still have this observing self. I was watching everything go dark, and I was telling myself, “Now what?” I feel no pain. The next thing I remember in terms of phenomena worth talking about was I was looking down at my body, and I saw my body on the ski slope. I’m moving away quickly and accelerating, but I’m enthralled by what I’m seeing. I saw beautiful Lake Tahoe because it was at Squaw Valley International Ski Center then I saw the San Francisco Bay Area, the Colorado Rockies, and Continental North America.
You got a tour.
I got a tour. I have a satellite view of planet Earth. All the time that this is going on, I am comfortable like I’ve been here before. No big deal. I then see the life review spinning in all the events of my life in the first seventeen years, clicking in front of me. It was more than a movie. It showed me how my actions impacted other people. It was a lesson and karma, cause and effect. Little things when I was 6 or 7 years old and I’d been mean to somebody. I remember we used to drive around on big wheels, and I crashed into one of my neighbors in this big wheel. He hurt himself, he ran in, and he told his mother how Billy had been mean to him. He was all upset, then she got all upset, and then she got upset with the husband, and the husband kicked the dog.
You can see the consequences of what you do. You actually see the ripple effect when you’re not nice.
That’s right. That was the lesson. Here I am having this life review and I’m still moving rapidly away from planet Earth and now into this wide tube, like a ribbed white tube tunnel. As I’m seeing through this tube is a beautiful solar system. A hyper-live galaxy with stars and planets moving somewhat close. I’m totally enjoying this. I’m mesmerized and captivated then I see a little bit of light in the distance and realize I’m dying. At that point, I realize I’ve been here hundreds, if not thousands, of times before. Something had emerged inside of me. I don’t want to die because I did not complete what I came to this incarnation to do.
Did you know at that moment what you came to do?
I had no idea.
You knew you didn’t complete something.
That’s exactly right. I knew that I had not completed what I was incarnated to do, but I had no idea what I was supposed to do here, so I started pleading. I grew up Catholic, so I’m on this light. I’m like, “This is God.” I even think, “God, don’t let me die. I have to go back. You have to let me go back.” I’m thinking as I’m telling this story, and I’ve told it a number of times, how would I even know that I could even go back? I knew a lot that I was speaking from a fair amount of knowledge. I didn’t even know why. It was very impulsive and reactionary.
In addition, you didn’t think about the fact that if you go back, you’re going to be in a heck of a lot of pain. You’re coming back into your body.
You got that right. That will get me in a moment because when I went into the light fully, I was completely at peace. I felt sublime, which I’d never felt before, yet I still wanted to go back, but my pleading was a lot lighter. You don’t know if I have to stay here. It’s not going to be so bad. This isn’t so bad. I didn’t feel a push on me. I started moving back, and I said, “Thank you, God.” A couple of moments later, I heard telepathically, “Make something of your life.”
I didn’t know what to do with, but my attention then turned to, “How am I going to get back in that body?” I then realized, “There’s a pool here. There’s an electrical current I’m riding here and it had a buzz to it.” Eventually, I go back in my body, but I have no feeling in my body. I got into my body. I had no feelings at that point, and I said, “God, don’t let me be paralyzed.” Suddenly, I felt ripples of warmth, like being under a warm shower. The warmth crushed by itself. The energy came across my body and I said, “Thank you, God.” My friend came up to me and sprayed me, I was skiing with him, and he goes, “That was a wipeout,” and I’m back.
Your back was okay.
No. I got up and I was in a lot of pain, but I was in shock. Being seventeen years old, I skied down the mountain, which was not smart. I stopped skiing at that point. The next day, I woke up and I couldn’t move. It turns out, as my orthopedic doctor said, who was a neighbor, a good friend of the family, “You were 1/32 of an inch away from being a paraplegic. You’re going to be in pain for a long time. I’m going to put you in a corset but don’t let anyone do surgery on you.”
It’s not good and you were young. You are going to be able to heal.
That’s what the hope was, but you already brought this up. The chronic pain that I’ve lived with since that time, which is now decades ago, I’m much better, but there were decades when I could not walk and sit. I didn’t sit in a movie theater for 30 years. It was very debilitating.
Did you wear a brace all the time?
On and off. It was trial and error. Not much is working. That was my first near-death experience.
That wasn’t enough for you. You had another one.
I didn’t even think about that experience. I literally didn’t even think about it until I was channel surfing at my parents’ house one evening, late at night. I hear some movie stars talk about this rib tunnel and a light. I’m going through it quickly. I get channel surfing. He goes, “Rib tunnel light,” and he’s got some woo-woo music in the background. I go like, “Rib tunnel light? I think I know something about that.” I went back and go, “That’s a near-death experience. He was talking about that. That’s what I had.” That was ten years after the accident.
You’re 27 then.
Probably 24 to 27 or that area somewhere. I don’t remember exactly when. Even at that point, I didn’t do much with it. None of my friends were talking about near-death experiences, but I had a second one.
What was that about, and how old were you with that one?
That was 1992, so I’d be 30 years old. I contracted what they call idiopathic thrombocytopenia. That’s a big word. I know it well because I had to look it up many times. It’s a low platelet condition. It’s basically crashing platelets. The problem you have is what they call ITP. You become a hemophiliac. You can’t clot.
Is it in the form of leukemia? Is it relative?
Leukemia is more of a cancer of sorts, from my understanding. This was because they didn’t know what was causing your platelets to collapse or go down to a level that you bruise easily and don’t clot. When I was in the hospital, I had a fall alert. They keep me in almost a padded room and it took me a number of years to get over that.
What happened with that?
When I had that, I went into the ER and then I woke up in the ICU, but I woke up on the ceiling of the ICU. I’m getting another tour. Keep in mind I stayed very much in the human realm on this one. I’m listening to the nurses talk, and once again, I’m totally comfortable. I am an observing consciousness without any identity to self. I didn’t even know I was in the hospital. Here I am there and I’m listening to the nurses talk. They describe this guy in bed number one who’s got a stroke and bed number two is an elderly woman who’s not doing so well.
Bed number three is this young guy. They’re like, “He’s in pretty good health. We don’t even know why he is here. He contracted idiopathic thrombocytopenia.” I got curious. I go over and look. I’m like, “That’s me.” I didn’t hang out there very much longer. I didn’t even go back into my body. I started cruising around some more on the tenth floor. That experience was very central to my own psychospiritual evolution. At that point, I was out of my body for a long period of time and moving around.
They didn’t realize that. They’re looking at this body but don’t know it is no longer inhabited.
In fact, I’ll tell you a story. The doctor came over from UCSF. He was a Kaiser doctor. I was in Kaiser, but he was also from UCSF. He introduced himself, at 4:00 in the morning, as one of the world’s leading specialists in idiopathic thrombocytopenia. I’m listening to him from above. I’m looking at the top of his head. I see my face and eyes closed in the hospital bed. I realize he’s asking me a question, “Mr. Peters, may I talk to you?”
I’m thinking, “Am I going to answer him? How am I going to do this? I’ll respond.” When I did, I went back into my body. As I did that, my view changed from looking at him from above. Now I was looking up at his eyes and I could see into his eyes. That was an interesting switch of perspective very quickly. He then told me a few things about my condition and that was it. Later, I drew and I left again. I’m pretty sure I left again.
Did all of this motivate you to go into therapy and get all this education? Before I get to ask you what put you on the path to these shared crossings you had in this whole other experience.
There is an experience in between my first and second NDE. This is how you get these experiences as they move you in ways that are unconscious. I was in a great deal of pain and was no longer relating to the culture of my youth. I was struggling with my identity. I don’t know who I was. I used to be an athlete. Now I could barely walk. The friends that I used to hang out with, who were able-bodied and healthy people, I was an imposter. I had this inner reflection going on about who I am. What’s a meaningful life now? I can’t do the things the rest of the people do. I can’t even sit and have a corporate job.
There’s no way. I had an experience in Yugoslavia, which was Yugoslavia at that time. Now it’s Bosnia. In Europe, I was traveling and I went behind the Iron Curtain. I remember waking up over an overnight bus ride from Greece heading up to Dubrovnik and seeing Muslim women with the burka on and only their eyes. I woke up in the morning in a very poor part of Bosnia. I don’t even know where it was, but I could see these women begging for food.
We were a bus coming in. The presumption, I think, was that we had money because we were on this bus. I had woken up and pulled the sash on the blinds. Something pierced my heart at that moment. Here are people who own their vulnerability and expressing they need help. That struck me very deeply because I had a similar need, desire for help, vulnerability, scared, and helpless in a certain way. I relate to them and in that moment, I said, “I need to be with people like this. I need to learn from them.”
It was going to take your focus off of yourself.
You’re right about that. That’s something very healing about that too. I signed up to work for the Jesuit International Volunteer Corps. I grew up Catholic. They gave me a job in the Jesuit missions. It was social work working with refugees. I was working in Peru and there’s a civil war going on. I have all this exposure to indigenous culture. For one, we were working with the Indian people who had been removed from their land. I had a beautiful experience. I was still in pain, but as you said, when you’re helping others, my pain gets less. They’re dealing with starvation, disease, famine, dislocation, and all sorts of things.
It makes it almost look like what you’re doing is easy.
Yeah. I was in a great deal of pain, and they were in pain too. I was like, “I can relate to this.” I could relate to that better than I could relate to my yuppy colleagues that I went to college with, which is great. They had a path that was working for them, but I couldn’t relate to that anymore. It wasn’t feasible for me. I had that experience. When I returned from Peru, I was in San Francisco. I took a job as a social worker. I was hired because I was fluent in Spanish. I wanted to continue working with the disenfranchised of our world. I was able to get this job.
I was studying Systematic Theology and Philosophy at UC Berkeley because I was trying to figure out what I was going to do and make sense of this experience. I was working with the Catholic church. It made sense all of this theologically and philosophically because it was a profound experience to be living in Peru during that time. I was in Guatemala as well. Long story short, I go to get a job doing social work.
I’m fluent in Spanish, which is why they hired me because there are all these immigrants coming over from the Mexican border. What happens is the AIDS epidemic broke out in San Francisco and I find myself now at the bedside of many, primarily gay men, dying of AIDS. Here I am, once again, like, “What suffering? What pain and trauma?” The caregivers are getting it because, in those days, dying of AIDS is with Kaposi sarcoma.
These are ugly deaths. Here I am bringing food and support. I felt blessed to be there because there was something very beautiful happening about the way the community was coming together. The men were helping each other and they all knew they had numbers. It was a matter of time for almost everyone there. I was very moved by that work and the courage that was exhibited every day. It was there also that I heard about the first shared crossings.
Let’s segue to that. Tell us about that. That started you on this whole journey, right?
Absolutely. It was there that I would work with the members of this community that were helping the men primarily live out the last days of their life. They would come to the St. Anthony’s Foundation, where I was working for food. We had a good food pantry and also for counseling services and mental health support. I developed relationships like support for these various communities. One particular person, Brad, would come in regularly. One time, he showed up early in the morning, just before I was starting my shift. He was at the door when I came in. I said, “Brad, what’s up?” He looked beleaguered and I go, “Brad, what happened?” He goes, “Randy died last night.” I say, “I’m so sorry,” but I’m imagining there’s some relief because he’d been suffering for a while.
He goes, “There was a relief, but I have to tell you it was a beautiful experience.” I said, “Beautiful experience. Tell me.” He proceeds to tell me about the community of men in this homeless encampment. In those days, it was south of the market. A very poor part of San Francisco. Now it’s quite nice, actually. He says, “We’re gathered around him. We had a campfire. All of a sudden, Randy rises out of his body.” He sees him rise up and he says we’re circled around him and everybody is casting their eyes up.
I said, “Everybody saw this?” He says, “Yes. We were looking up and he stopped at the top.” He said he was going up a cylinder of light. Brad said, “I thought the light was coming from the fire because we have a little campfire so we could see, but then I realized the light was coming down from above. It was a cylinder of light. He was traveling up.” He stopped and said, “Randy looked down on us all and Randy now was young, healthy, vibrant, happy, out of pain. He bowed and said, ‘Thank you.’”
What a blessing for them too.
That was my first hearing of a shared death experience. I was actually so taken by that that I asked Brad to take me to his community, which he did. I went over there and I talked to a few people. I remember two said, “I heard about this experience.” Two of them looked over at Brad as if to say, “Are we allowed to share this? Should we be talking about this?” They’re already squatters, so they’re already thinking, “We want to even talk about it. Is there something going on down here?” Brad said, “You can say a few words.” They didn’t say very much. They only acknowledged that this experience happened.
It sounds like this was the opening to the beginning of your life purpose. The message that you got from that first near-death experience. This is how you were led to that.
That’s the way I see it too.
Now, you’ve also had two other shared death experiences.
I’ve had many others since then, but I had another formative one that happened when I worked at Zen Hospice. After St. Anthony’s Foundation, I got some more graduate work. I came back and I was training to be a psychotherapist. I said, “I’ve always been interested in death and dying for obvious reasons.” I took a job with the Zen Hospice Project. I developed a mindfulness practice in the Buddhist tradition to deal with my chronic pain because it was a real good practice to allow me to settle into my body, let the pain go, and realize that it does indeed modulate. I have some modicum of management of that, so I took a position as a volunteer at the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco.
One afternoon, here I am, reading a book as I did every afternoon that I work with this particular patient who’s we’ll call Ron. He was very close to death. He was unconscious or unresponsive but in hospice, we know that the last sense door to close down is hearing. We always assume that they can hear us even though they’re not giving us any feedback or acknowledging the conversation. I’m reading him a book. I still remember the book. It was Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. As I’m reading, I pop out of my body and I look down at my body. I see Ron’s body’s very unresponsive prone and I’m like, “I’m a little bit taken back.”
I’m out of my body, but at the same time, I’m like, “I’ve been here before.” I’m not making sense. I’m not panicking. Let’s put it that way. I look to my right and there’s Ron. Ron has got this big smile and a big face. All I can remember seeing is his head with a smile, his teeth big, and his saying, “Check this out, William,” as if to say to me, “This is where I’ve been.” We communicated telepathically. He was definitely in the driver’s seat. I was more like a guest of sorts.
He was giving you another tour.
Yes. It’s another tour. I think that works. He like, “Here I am. I thought you’d like to know.” Sometime later, I went back into my body. I don’t even think I stopped reading. The important thing about this, Irene, is I went to go talk to the supervisor of our ward here. His name was Eric. He was a veteran of hospice and a wonderful man. I said, “Eric, I had this experience. I felt I was above my body and I was looking down at my body. I got to tell you, Ron was next to me up there.” Eric says, “A lot of things can happen here halfway between heaven and Earth.”
They’re going through hell with their pain or whatever.
That’s true. He didn’t make much of it. The reason I share this is because here we are at the most advanced hospice, one of the most leading edge, consciously aware hospice, but no knowledge of this shared death experience. I should probably give a definition of the shared death experience. The shared death experience occurs when somebody dies and a caregiver, loved one, or healthcare provider expresses that they shared in the journey from this human existence into an afterlife. They’re part of the journey, either sensing it, feeling it, observing it, sometimes accompanying the dying and moving along in the journey. A key feature of this shared death experience is a journey. There’s movement. That’s important to distinguish from other end-of-life phenomena I also study.
Other phenomena would be things like pre-death visions or visitations. Those are happened when the dying seems to be in conversation with their deceased relatives on the other side. You’re also here. I hear it’s common. They’re articulating and talking, but they also have a bit of a bubble around them. Those of us who are still fully in the Earth realm are like, “Mom,” and they may not even hear us. If they do, you’re going to interrupt the conversation. The point being is these conversations are going on, but there’s no movement in them.
There’s no journey going on. You can also have similar conversations, which we call Post-Death Visions or Visitations, those who come from our deceased relatives who come down. The most common description is my mom. Assume she died. She comes back and she sits at the foot of the bed or up in the corner. You’re looking at them and they’re there. They’re not on a journey. They’re coming for a visit. They look like themselves. Usually, younger.
They all come back looking better.
They do. That’s one of the features. That’s one of the things we used to determine it. How did they look? Were they younger? Were they more healthy? They go, “They look healthy.” That tells us that we’re talking about that post-death vision or visitation rather than another type of dream. These are distinctions. We have a real good algorithm for discerning these, but the difference between the shared death experience and these other visitations is there’s no movement.
That person is visiting from the other realm. They’re there. They usually say something like this. “Hi. As you can see, I’m fine. I came back to tell you I’m doing well. I love you. I’m still with you. I’m watching your life.” That’s it and they’re gone. Sometimes they have a specific message, but usually not. As opposed to a shared death experience where there’s movement, there’s typically ascension. That movement is usually heading towards a light. The key phenomena we see in the shared death experience are very similar to the near-death experience. You have phenomena like seeing deceased loved ones. The most common feature we have in the shared death experiencer sees the dying. That’s something you can’t have in a near-death experience because you are the witness.
In this one, you’re the witness, not the actual experiencer.
You’re a shared death experience, not a near-death experience. The dying is going through the same experience that the near-death experiencer has initially. The difference is the near-death experiencer comes back and the dying transitions fully. The shared death experiencer gets a glimpse and observes this landscape or the phenomena. What you see is you can also observe a life review. You can see the life review of the dying. You can have a life review of your life with the dying. In some cases, you even get your own life review.
It’s really interesting. There’s a movement through a tunnel often. You’re in a heavenly realm, a beautiful galaxy. It’s very much like the heavenly realms and the near-death experience. The light is often there as well into the distance. 3 out of 4 cases in near-death experience, the light is the dominant feature. In the shared death experience, it’s there often, but it’s not as luminous in a certain way because the experiencer doesn’t get as close to it.
You’re going to come back.
Exactly. You don’t go this far into the vortex if you are the death vortex, but you see elevated beings, angels, and spirit guides. There’s one feature I’m going to share quick. There is this being that’s there. It’s an elevated being. We can call it an angel. It can appear like an angel. It seems to have this role of managing the transition of the dying from the human realm into the afterlife. I’ve called this role The Conductor role.
They seem to be conducting an energetic movement. There are a lot of things that the conductor seems to be doing and some of the traits of the conductor is there’s urgency. There’s the purposefulness. There’s also a sense of grandness, bigness, strength and power. Sometimes this conductor looks like an angel. Sometimes there’s more than one. Sometimes there’s a big one and a small one. Sometimes it looks like this conductor is training others.
When you had the experience, it was with Brad.
I didn’t have the experience. Brad shared an experience with me about Randy’s death. I didn’t see it myself. When I was with Ron, I was at the ceiling of the human realm. I would have more of these experiences later. I’ve had a number of my own now, so I do know what it’s like to feel the conductor.
Did you have a new life review when you had a shared death experience?
I did when my father died. When he died, I was hanging out with his body. I was waiting for the morticians to come, which is something I always do. I always encourage people when I’m working with the hospice to stay with the body as long as they can because the human death transition is not as defined by medical sciences. It’s a titration. It’s a gradual to and from the human body into the next realm back to the human body into the spirit realm. I know this, so I was hanging out with him, and I was talking to him, actually. I was talking to him about some things that I was upset about with our relationship because we didn’t have the closest relationship.
He was a very business-oriented man and I went on a spiritual path, so he never understood me. We had that limitation in our relationship and I was talking to him about that. As I’m talking to him at one point, all of a sudden, I’m in another realm, and I’m watching a movie of our life together, scenes I could not even remember. I don’t have photos of them. This is not from memory. We had a family home in Lake Tahoe and he was showing me different scenes. Tahoe is a key place in our life because during the school year, the normal year in summer times, we always have family reunions of Lake Tahoe.
I could see this year after year and he was showing me or someone was showing us that there were indeed many good times. I was seeing the life review. I saw the challenges, the pain, and the suffering of our relationship but also the good times. It was a real invitation to see the wholeness of our relationship. I got the whole picture. That was a life review of my life, his life, and our life together.
As a therapist, that must have informed what you did a great deal.
That happened two years ago, in 2021. It was helpful for me to see the fullness of life because it was definitely there to pull me out of any overly waiting-on negativity. I’m not seeing the fact that this was a full relationship. There’s something in it about teaching. There’s something like, “Look how much you can learn from this.” You’re right. I guess my family’s upbringing and the challenges there as well are the gifts. As a therapist, I come upon that. We all do.
Would you say that the true death experience helps the survivor, the person who witnesses it, in some way with your breath and all?
Thank you. The research institute that I directed and I’m the principal investigator for the shared prosecuting research industry.
I want to learn more about that.
The thing to know is that we’ve done the first rigorous academic studies. The first study we did was 167 cases with about 107 people. What you get from that number right away is that a lot of experiences have more than one experience, which is very interesting. There’s a way in which I think these experiences grew you in a certain way to have more. It opens you up. It creates receptivity and an ability to have more. When we put this study together, the goal was to validate that the experience exists because all the people that came to us had very little idea of the shared death experience.
We defined it and they would come to us and say, “I think I might have had one of these.” We charted this and did rigorous research. We coded everything, and then we submitted the study to the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, one of the top medical journals in this field of medicine. It was published in December of 2021. It’s the first article and the reviewers were wonderful. What they said was, “Thank you for doing the research. We know these experiences happen, but no one has ever done the research on it.”
It opens the door for so much more in your life.
What it does is it gives healthcare providers the platform to say to their organization and superiors that this experience is in the literature. We know it happens. We need to educate our patients and families about these experiences. That’s the first big piece about the research.
It’s been accepted by a lot of medical people and you’re finding acceptance about it.
Medical communities are slow to transform. What we’re finding is that the hospice workers and particular nurses who know about these experiences are now bringing them in. It’s going to be gradual, but it’s a wonderful contribution. One thing I’m proud of about our organization is that we’re able to do this. Now you know you can’t discount these experiences because one of the things we found in our research was close to 39% of our interviewees expressed that when they shared their experience, they felt discounted, dismissed, and sometimes ridiculed. Many times in healthcare environments, they were told things like, “You were under a lot of stress. This could be grief hallucinations.”
In fact, the appropriate response from medical staff and professionals should be, “Tell me more. That sounds like a very profound experience. I know something about that. We now know that that is what they call a shared death experience. You should know this is a wonderful experience you’ve been granted somehow.” The question you asked initially is that our research has found that 87% of the experiencers believe their departed loved one is alive and well in an afterlife and will see them again. Their anxiety and fear of death over half is a low number because we didn’t ask it directly that their anxiety around death and dying is greater reduced, if not alleviated completely. You asked a question about grief. Anytime you lose a loved one, you’re going to have heartache and despair.
That’s a natural, healthy response. We found that share death experiencers are able to see the death of their loved one in a larger context. They see death as a natural part of life while they grieve fully and express their pain and anguish. They have a floor of cushion that supports them and lets them know that this death with a larger sense of meaning as if to say they see that their loved one is on a journey into a benevolent afterlife and they’ll see them again so their loss is not as protracted.
I would imagine it takes away from the fear of death.
Absolutely. It does.
It takes time and until the afterlife. Now your new book is titled At Heaven’s Door. You shared your journeys. You can teach us how to die well and live better. What would you tell us about that?
At Heaven’s Door is the first research-based book for the general public ever. It’s the first one and it is comprised of 28 breathtaking stories. I have over 150-plus stories to go for this book. I chose 28 and they all walk the reader gradually through a progressive understanding of the primary patterns, features, and nuances of the shared death experience. Also, I wanted to highlight how these experiences bring about personal transformation, primarily spiritual transformation.
Talk to us about that.
When you see that your loved woman is alive and well in another dimension and it’s good and quite frankly better than here, then that changes everything. It recasts the way you see human life. Many of us see human life as the end goal. Most of us, at the end of life, get a choice to stay or go. We’re going to try and stay.
The drama is very interesting. We can be very involved in drama.
We do and we want to stay here. We want to play out the last act and be as present as we can. The issue is that what you see with the people who have shared death experiences, they become more at peace. Whether I’m here or somewhere else, I’m still here. There’s a real expansiveness to their way of seeing themselves or not being confined by their human life. Their life becomes in view with a great deal more.
Meaning many of our experiences become spiritual secrets of some sort. They get into meditation. Sixty-seven percent of our experiences now have mindfulness practices, whether that’s prayer, meditation, yoga, walking in nature, or some contemplative, reflective activity that brings meaning, depth, and introspection to their life. That gives them a way of feeling more into the totality of their being, not just in a material way.
I think they’re behind the perspective.
They do. I would certainly say that I’m one of these people. You are too.
It changes your whole perspective on everything that goes on.
It’s so hard to believe that these experiences happen, yet it’s important to know that our research tells us everybody has. Anyone can help. All walks of life, even atheists. Agnostics have done it. They are typically transformed by that. They definitely go through it, but it doesn’t happen right away. As they ponder the experience, they process it more. It can take a while, but most people are very grateful for the experience.
Would you like to tell us anything else about the Shared Crossing Project and the research initiation? Can you talk a little bit about that?
We continue to do the research. We are a nonprofit and we depend on donations. If people are moved, we always say you contact us. It’s important that we continue this research. We feel that this research is going to change healthcare. It’s also going to empower the general public. For example, I have this door. This book, thankfully, has been very well received, and it’s getting out to most people who are at the end of life, quite frankly.
I was at a conference and one of the hospice workers goes, “We’re now giving the book out with Maggie Callahan’s book,” which is Final Gifts. It’s a great book that talks about nearing death awareness. Now they’re giving out my book as well because it talks about what actually happens when you begin this journey at death into an afterlife. She said, “People are eating it up and they appreciate it. It’s taking the fear of death away. It’s allowing for conversation.”
Something always pulls forward instead of looking at it as a final, like a period. It’s a comma. There’s more happening.
In some ways, it can take the mystery out of it or it creates a healthy curiosity about it. It’s creating dialogue and conversation about death and dying, which is something that typically does not happen in our culture. We waited for way too long. It’s taboo. When I say that it’s going to create cultural transformation, what I talk about is that, as the general public gets their hands on it, dialogue, and share it with friends, it’s going to be a bottom-up change. In other words, they’re going to come into their hospices and their doctors and say, “I want this experience. I’ve got terminal cancer. I’m dying. I want my family to come with me in the afterlife. I want to show them my life purpose.”
You’re teaching people that they can program them, and we get to choose. It’s like, “I don’t want them to participate in that. That’s what I want with me.” How does that work?
We have a program called a Pathway Program and it teaches methods for how to have a shared death experience, not only a shared death experience but other shared crossings. People tend to have a lot of visitations from the shared death experience and usually soon after they die. It’s all anecdotal. We’re doing research on this to see the efficacy of our programs in this regard. Anecdotally, about 80% to 90% will report some shared crossing near-death experience, either a shared death experience at the time of death, a post-death visitation, or significant synchronicities.
Do you meet with these people and train on what to expect and how to encourage and promote this?
The training takes place over three days. It’s pathway training. It starts on Friday evening, and Saturday and Sunday all day. We do it online now so people can take it from around the world, and we get people from around the world. It’s interesting who shows up on these calls. You get these cultural perspectives, which are beautiful. The first thing we do is I’ll do in three steps. It’s pretty clear. The first thing is we validate that these experiences happen. We lay a foundation that these experiences are real and they can happen. The cognitive resistances now decline because we have all the research. We then take them through what I call the death prep.
How do you prepare yourself psycho emotionally, psycho spiritually for a conscious, connected, and loving end of life, no matter what concerns? That’s the goal. We’re not even talking about how shared death experiences yet. We’re talking about walking into a relationship with your loved ones where you can talk honestly about what you want from your death and what you regret in your life. You go for forgiveness and compassion. You work out all your unfinished business because we know, and I know from working with people, that if you have unfinished business, regret, and misgivings with your friends, that’s going to keep you here.
It’ll follow you too, but it’s a hook that keeps you here. Whereas if you can say essentially you work towards this, the ability to look at all the key people in your life, primary relationships and say, “Thank you. I love you. Goodbye. I hope to see you again.” If you can get to that point, you leave your body with minimal resistance naturally. If not, there’s going to be a little bit more tension, angst, and what have you. We teach the method. You guide people through a series.
Also, the people who are accompanying them, you’re teaching them to calm down and have more acceptance, which encourages the person dying to let go.
That’s right. Some people will say, “How can you learn all this in the workshop?” You don’t learn it all. You learn the practices, but when you leave the workshop, we worked on a lot of it depending on the yard, but you have the tools. You get the whole packet when you leave so that you can continue to do these practices. The last thing we teach is these protocols.
The shared process protocols are methods that you take roles and we do guided visualizations where somebody is dying and somebody is going to be the identified caregiver level who’s the surviving one. We take them through a series of dialogues and attune them in certain ways. I’ve done this many times. I’ve been the experiencer who goes across the veil with them. What happens is it’s a huge energetic shift. Most of the time, the dying is unable to stay in contact with the surviving loved ones. That’s okay because we teach them how to reconnect.
You don’t teach the surviving loved ones how to reconnect the soul when the person is dying.
We teach the surviving loved ones on the Earth plane here to be receptive and open in how to attune the sciences. We teach the dying one transitioning how to realize that they’ve died. They’ll drop their human body and we teach them how to reach back and call their surviving loved ones to be with them in the afterlife. That’s what we teach. It takes a while. Obviously, we can’t do it with the interview, but the point being is we have a detailed, intricate process where we have exercises that set them up. Depending on the type of death that they may have, we teach different protocols.
It’s different if they died from a long sickness, an accident, or whatever.
Sudden death has a different protocol than a long drawn-out, say, cancer. Those are different types of death. We have different things also for dementia. We do have people who have dementia who had shared death experiences.
I bet because the personality is not dementia, but the soul.
The consciousness is fully healthy within the body. The brain may not be working with consciousness is.
Tell everyone tuning into us how to get ahold of you, connect with you, and get your book.
You can come to SharedCrossing.com. We have a lot of resources there. One resource I would encourage your viewers to take advantage of this is we have a story library. We record all of our interviews on Zoom with our interview participants. We take those recordings. It’s usually an hour and a half or longer and we summarize them into five minutes of the core material. You can go to our website and watch people talk firsthand about their shared death experiences. There are other resources there about shared crossings and what have you.
If people are interested, I have a consultation group for end-of-life professionals, mental health practitioners, spiritual care providers, and other people who are super interested in death doulas as well who want to learn about this. We talk about it. I ask people to bring their case studies or their client cases with confidentiality. I work with people about how to do skillful healthy interventions, talk to family members, teach these methods, and integrate these spiritual experiences into their lives. There’s that little too. The Pathway is the one that’s the most popular online. You can go to SharedCrossing.com, go to Education and it’s all there.
Please answer a question for me. I would like to know what is the top question about psychospiritual evolution. I hear so much about that. We’re ascending all this chaos. Tell us about it.
I apply psychospiritual evolution to my work as a psychotherapist. Somebody comes to me and they’re dealing with a death. They may or may not have spiritual experience. If they don’t have a spiritual experience, they have existential questions that come up. The primary question that comes up for somebody who’s lost the loved one is, “Where are they?” I now realize that I will know, at some point, in fact, everything I know and love, I will either die from it or it will die from me. Who am I? If this is a human life, what does it mean? What’s it all about? It is this process that brings about psychospiritual evolution because psychology has to do with the development of healthy stuff.
A self that can handle adversity has resilience, can be in the world with other human beings in a natural, give, receive, and do so in a meaningful way that brings meaning to them. When you face death, all of this seems to be challenged. The psychological part is the development of himself. The spiritual part of one’s evolution has to do with the who am I question. It’s becoming conscious, and then it’s less of a self in a certain way. You become a consciousness that has observing capacities, but you’re less egoic or oriented towards me, mine, and I. How do we, together, work as a human life that has to make money and provide for our family?
You need a strong psychological self to do that, but how do we honor these other aspects of ourselves and realize that this whole part of myself is going to die at some point? I’ve got to build a base in my spiritual self and consciousness. This is the dynamic we weigh. How do we balance the reality that, in our psychological self, I’m everything? In my spiritual self, not so much. I’m just a part of this greater divine universe. I’m part of it at best, but I’m certainly not all of it.
It’s not all about me. How do we deal with those? If you have a near-death experience that brings it up but also any spiritual experience or any of these shared death experiences brings that up, you’re surviving loved one. Where’s my loved one now? I had this experience. I saw this beautiful cosmos. I had spirit beings come by and I was communicating with them. If I never communicated, what does this all mean? Same psychospiritual experience. I have to live here and make a living, but on the other hand, it’s a lot more than what’s going on here. In other words, this human life is not as advertised. These are the psychospiritual questions that I help people with.
That is fabulous. I would say the best of your life.
I hope so.
I want to thank you because you’re helping people with the mystery of death. You’re helping people to transition. You’re doing so much to help parents heal and help families. You’re a light worker. There’s so much appreciation for all that you do. Thank you for being a part of this wonderful gift. It’s going to help and enlighten so many people.
Thank you, Irene. Thank you for inviting me.
It’s my honor. Thank you.
- William Peters Website
- Family Therapy Institute of Santa Barbara
- Zen Hospice Project
- William Peters’ book: At Heaven’s Door: What Shared Journeys to the Afterlife Teach About Dying Well and Living Better
- Jesuit International Volunteer Corps
- Jack London’s The Call of the Wild referenced in this episode
- American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine
- Maggie Callanan’s Final Gifts referenced in this episode
- Pathway Program