Sebastian Junger's Scary Near Death Experience

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Sebastian Junger

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Sebastian Junger is a bestselling author, journalist, and an Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker. His latest book, "In My Time of Dying", is available now. www.sebastianjunger.com

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joe wanted sebastian to say he saw the DMT elves when he went into the twilight zone between life/death

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We were talking before, there's so much to talk about, but we were talking before and you were saying that over the last year you almost died because you had some crazy internal, you had an aneurysm in your pancreas, is that what you said it was? Yeah, I had an undiagnosed asymptomatic aneurysm, which is a sort of ballooning in the blood vessel in the artery, in my pancreatic artery and out of the blue, it was a congenital thing, like I apparently had developed during my whole life, it was just from a structural problem and one afternoon, one beautiful June afternoon last year it burst and I just felt this pain shoot through my stomach, I was like damn what is that? Within a few minutes I couldn't stand up and within about 10 minutes I would start to go blind and my wife called the ambulance and those guys got there. I was tanking really fast and the hospital was an hour away and by a miracle, I don't even think the doctors understand it, but by a miracle I was still alive when I got to the hospital, I lost 90% of my blood into my abdomen and I didn't know I was dying but I was dying and I was right in that sort of twilight zone and a black pit opened up underneath me and I felt myself starting to get pulled down into it and I didn't want to go, like it was cold and dark and black and bottomless and I just knew like do not go down there, I was getting pulled down into it and right at that moment, my father who passed away in 2012, my father sort of appeared next to me and started trying to communicate with me and comforting me and I sort of waved him away and the last thing I remember saying to the doctor, I was sort of losing consciousness and the last thing I said to the doctor was you're losing me right now, you got to hurry. He was trying to put a, he'd cut my neck open, he was trying to put a line into my neck, you know they pumped 10 units of blood into me and that's what brought me back. It was really close. Wow. When you say you felt like you were sinking into a pit, like were you seeing this? Yeah, I mean, you know your perceptions are very weird because there's very little oxygen in the brain, I had a hemoglobin count of 1.2, if you're a doctor you know what that is, it's almost unheard of and so I just felt this pit underneath me and it was pulling me into it and I didn't want to go. And you can see a pit? Yeah, I mean again see slash feel, your perceptions are very weird when you're like that and then my father also was sort of floating above me, he was a presence. I don't know if seeing him is quite the word, it's another perception. Wow. Yeah. So, coming out of that, once you regained your health, you must have had an incredible newfound appreciation for all the people in your life and just everything. It was a long path, you know, I mean I'm a really healthy guy, later the doctor said you know I was a marathon runner when I was young and I don't drink, I'm athletic and I use my body pretty vigorously and he said that saved your life, like you didn't have a heart attack, like you owe your life to that. Wow. But the next morning, you know, I didn't know that I'd almost died, I had no idea, I have two little girls, I have a four year old and a one and a half year old and the most precious things to me, I mean I can't even describe it obviously and the fact that they almost lost their dad was just devastating when the ICU nurse came in and said, how are you doing Mr. Younger, you're one lucky guy, you almost died yesterday, I had no idea. And then she came back an hour later and she said, how are you doing? And I said, you know, physically, and I was throwing up blood, I was not doing very well physically but I said I was, I said, but you know I'm really struggling with what you told me and it's really terrifying, I didn't know. And I mean I said I almost died in my own driveway in front of my family and I didn't even know, like, and I said I keep thinking about it, I can't stop. And she said, the wisest things, one of the wisest things I've ever heard, she said, she said stop thinking of that moment as scary and start thinking of it as sacred. And she didn't elaborate, she didn't need to. And the next five days in the ICU I thought about the word sacred and what the experience was now giving me access to. And you know, not to sound sort of like trite but life is a friggin' miracle. And I'm not religious, you know, whatever. I don't think any of us, few of us, I certainly didn't quite understand what a miracle it is that we're alive, that we exist, that we draw breath, that we can think about ourselves, that we're here for even one day is a freaking miracle. And you can forget that because your life gets busy and all of a sudden I feel like life was sort of returned to me, meaning that I understood how sacred it is. And again, I'm an atheist, I don't mean sacred in a religious sense. I mean, in the sense that it has a profound value and you mustn't forget. It's so easy to lose sight of that when you're caught up in your bills or traffic or you bullshit and... Yeah. There's so much of life that is essential in order for you to just keep on existing in society but not really important. Yeah. And you know, we're humans. I mean, we're wired to react to things. Someone pisses you off or you're tired. It's not that we shouldn't have those reactions. Those reactions also keep us alive. Our emotional and physical reactions are adaptive and they protect us, right? But at the end of the day, you don't want them to run away with your experience of life. You want to reclaim it and just go right... All I have to do is go back to that moment of what happened in that driveway and that I was spared getting pulled into that pit. That didn't happen. And my daughters get to have a father. I get to experience whatever the rest of my life is, whatever it is. Who knows how long I'll live. But that gift was returned to me. And I don't even know who to say thank you to other than I've started giving blood. Ten people donated blood and saved my life. I'll never know who they are. And that makes you part of this sort of web of life in a way that it's what I gave blood for the first time. After this happened, I gave blood and it made me feel so good. And now I can't wait to do it again. Like you're part of something bigger. And that's one of the most profound human joys is to be part of something greater than yourself. This experience, how long did it take you before you were fully recovered? Well I had a gallon of blood in my abdomen. A gallon? Well whatever the amount of blood in your body. How do you get it out? Something like that. They can't. It's a hematoma and my body had to gradually reabsorb it. So that takes months. And now I'm left with this sort of psychological residue of the experience which is I have this renewed reinvigorated appreciation for life. But also the truth about life is that none of us know for sure we're going to be alive at sunset. We all know you can get cancer or you can die at a car accident or whatever. But really the truth is we're alive because the tiniest membranes in your body are not rupturing. You know what I mean? Your body is incredibly complex and if something goes wrong you can be dead in minutes and you can be totally healthy and that can happen. And the fact that the universe can just randomly take you out for no apparent reason, that's pretty startling news if you think about it. I didn't know it worked that way. And it can make you kind of paranoid. Did it make you paranoid? Oh totally. Yeah. I was like, I mean this is gradually going away but I just realized you don't know. You just don't know that you're going to be alive in an hour from now. And you're going running, you're reading a book to your daughter, you're whatever having dinner with some friends. And now, an hour from now I could be dead or the guy I'm talking to could be dead and none of us know and none of us can do anything about it. And that's just what life is. We're living on a rock, hurtling through the universe. I mean we're part of the universe and we exist at its mercy really. Were you afterwards contemplating what that pit was and what it means and what it means to slide into that? You know I started to do a little research into the death. I want to write a book about this. I think I'm going to call it Pulse. Ooh, I like that. The thing that keeps us alive. It's a good name. And why we're alive and what happens when you die. And I've just started doing some research into this. And the visitation by dead ancestors is very common for people. And often, I mean there's all kinds of reasons that you might hallucinate when your brain's low on oxygen. But I didn't hallucinate anyone in my family. I didn't hallucinate my dead father. And that's very, very common. I didn't know I was dying. So it's not like I conjured him up because I knew I was headed somewhere. I was very confused and there he was trying to comfort me. And that's a really common experience. So I looked into it. And so they have all these, you know, release of ketamine and like they have all these DMTs and they have all these sort of neurochemical explanations for the subjective experience of dying for the person. And we only know this because people come back like I do and report what they saw. And it's usually pretty weird. But it's pretty weird in predictable ways. Like a lot of people see the dead. It's as if they show up to help. And I want to repeat, I'm an atheist. I'm not religious. I don't believe in anything. My dad was a physicist. So I want to sort of explain what happens in ways that he would respect scientifically. And so one of the things they said is that you can take low oxygen, ketamine, all these things that physically could happen in the brain, you can subject a healthy person to those things and they don't have the same kinds of hallucinations. Those hallucinations are particular only to the dying. And I want to know, I want to try to figure out what is going on in that weird twilight space. Catch new episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience for free only on Spotify. 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