I was eight years old, attending a sleep-away camp in Sag Harbor, Long Island, NY in 1986. We were at the public beach; there was a strong rip tide.
A wave knocked me down and before I could get up, another wave dragged me into the ocean. It felt as though the ocean gripped me by the ankles and thrashed me on the ocean floor. It got the the point where I needed to take a breath, but couldn't reach the surface for fresh air. Having played "who could hold your breath the longest" in the tub with my older brother, I was familiar with my threshold for going breathless. It was only a few moments of agonizing for my next breath when all sensations in my body ceased. This is where it becomes difficult to describe because I entered a realm beyond the matrix of space and time . . . a realm so unearthly that our conjured language is inept to describe it. A narrative, almost by definition, exists in some sort of chronology, though my experience defies "time," hence the difficulty in explaining. Regardless, I will try.
While my bodily sensations ceased, my consciousness remained fully intact. I could only describe the feeling as floating, peaceful euphoria. I was gravitating toward an incredibly bright light... brighter than the sun... brighter than the naked eye could perceive... to human eyes, the light would be blinding... there was also a sensation of warmth and love... a sense of connection so deep and peaceful, the only loose analogy I could make is perhaps the feeling of being a suckling infant, in the warm embrace of your mother.
While I am floating in this experience of nirvana, it occurs to me: "Wait a minute! I don't have to breathe anymore! I know humans need to breathe to live. So... is this death? Oh my God! This is death! Wow. But. I think we both know there is more work that I need to do in this incarnation." [I feel as though I am having this conversation with a higher entity. A loving judge... "the source."] "Yes.. There is more for me to experience, more work to do. No, I don't want to die now." Though I made this decision, I also knew at the same time that I was completely at the mercy of this greater entity which way my fate would lie.
As I was coming to the conclusion that I wanted to go back, the bright light seamlessly transitions to having a lot of bluish/green movement as it turns into the sunlight streaming through the ocean water... I was rising to the surface and my consciousness broke.
The next thing I know, I am on the beach. The ocean spit me back out, several hundred feet from where I was on the shore when I got dragged in. Strangely, I was already resuscitated. I was not rescued by anyone. My face was stinging badly from being dragged on the sandy ocean floor.
I walked back to the group and the first person I recognized, halfway through the walk, I asked if my face was scratched up. She replied no and said nothing more. It then occurred to me: no one had even noticed what had happened!! This lack of validation was a VERY hard pill to swallow. I had just had the most intense experience of my life and I didn't have anyone to help corroborate the experience. And since it was of such an other-worldly nature, and something I hadn't heard anyone speak of, I did not feel safe sharing my experience with anyone. I went back to my towel and hadn't told a soul for many years after.
Almost , while under the influence of psychedelic mushrooms, I recalled my near-death experience (for which I had only recently discovered the name and that there were others who had had similar experiences) and realized the tremendous impact it had on my life... my sense of spirituality, my interest in exploring different states of consciousness, my reverence for nature, my passion for environmental and social justice, just about everything! It felt as though it completely marked the trajectory of my life.