My Near Death Journey

My Journey – The Story of COMING ALIVE  – May 3rd, 2005 a little more than a month before my 49th birthday, I developed peritonitis and almost died from surgery gone wrong. During a second, emergency surgery to save my life, I had an extremely vivid and profound near-death experience. The boundaries of linear time evaporated. Multiple dimensions melded into one. Every one of my senses heightened. In essence my near-death experience was my initiation into full recognition of my higher Self and of Source. My sensitivity to energy flow increased, as did my desire to speed up my spiritual inquiry. In day-to-day life, I phased out my career of 20 years, and said goodbye to some key relationships. I came to appreciate and accept our impermanence in this world and I willingly stepped into the unknown. Nothing, absolutely nothing in my life was the same, or ever would be again.

The following account was written the morning after surgery.

I lay on my gurney as it wound in and out of busy streets, careening faster and faster through sharp left-right-left turns. The scene was nighttime in lower Manhattan, Union Square to be exact. Amid the stark black and white of the night, pulsating colors, yellow, red, yellow, red were occasionally obscured by steam rising from vents in the street. Then the lights, the smells, the sounds of the speeding gurney trip morphed into something more cellular, more electrical, and more intense. I was now a spot of light rocketing along a high-speed circuit board, pressed back by multiple g-force…seeing every detail of every day of the past 30 years of my adult life.

 Whizzing at me came the faces of lovers, co-workers, family, friends…I watched world events take place again…Relived every painful repast from deceit to abortion, marriage, divorce, moves across country, college friends lost and found, family gatherings, grandparents deaths, mom’s death, the face of every client or writer I’d ever sucked up to, or slept with, every hike or climb I did or dreamt of doing, the detail, the minutiae was staggering…and then every single piece of work I’d ever written, passed by me, in order by date…press releases mocking me, now meaningless, looking like the flapping orange flags of Cristo’s Central Park Gates* installation…and I heard a voice, “it’s over, you’re finished, you don’t need to do this anymore. Let it go.”

 The entire time this intense field of imagery was bombarding me, a second line of film, seemingly unrelated, scrolled along above it. A woman in a red dress skipping along through a sunny field, grey hair flowing, singing …”painting, painting, painting, I just want to paint flowers,” as if beckoning me back from the careening darkness. The gurney slowed, sliding into the dimly lit grey alcove and with a sudden blast, glass shattered just above my head and to the right. With a great hurricane-force suck it was over. The glass, the images, 30 years, out the window. My bed came to rest in the quiet grey of the ICU. Relief…

 Tears rolled down my cheeks. My brother said it had only taken me 15 minutes to come out from under the anesthesia, after the late-night three-hour emergency surgery. So I had to wonder if the wild ride of a lifetime that I had just taken occurred during surgery, those 15 minutes in recovery, or in a mere nanosecond. Time knows no boundaries. My tears told me I was still here. My mind told me that my hard drive had just crashed. All I want to do now is paint flowers.

In the days that passed, 21 in all, I watched the season change from winter to spring from my hospital window and nurses became friends. I accepted the offer of the hospital Chaplain to sit with me, and I blathered on to her about my fascination with labyrinths, and my out-of-body trip, and we talked about finding “the way,” the meaning of life. Flowers, labyrinths, pathways, blossoming—there’s a message in here somewhere, I thought—a spiritual awakening perhaps, a new direction, returning to my true passion—did I literally need to paint flowers, what was up with that?

Other questions arose during my recovery time. While my body was mending the incision from my pubic bone to my breastbone my mind was asking, what did I have to release that caused the need for me to be cut wide open, and what was I now to allow in?  In retrospect I needed to empty myself of eons of negative cellular memory so that I could absorb and radiate light-body energy and unconditional love.  Did I really have to go through such a brutal gutting? It felt oddly familiar and I have since learned though past-life regression that this wasn’t the first life in which I had been filleted. Still I wondered about the meaning of the message to paint flowers.  Ten days after leaving the hospital I spent the morning photographing flowers in my back yard and felt like I was truly beginning to heal. In the words of Eckhart Tolle: “Notice how present a flower is, how surrendered to life.”  That’s really all we have to be.

*Note: Years later I would come to understand a potential meaning in the ‘orange gate’ scene. In the Japanese Shinto tradition the orange Torjii gate symbolizes the transition from the profane to sacred. The tunnel of orange Torjii gates of the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto is said to divide reality with the spirit world. Something to think about.

COMING ALIVE – The Photographic Journey

This collection of photographs is about sharing and celebrating my evolution. It’s about coming alive to the celebration of life and making the journey from harsh self-criticism to self-love and compassion. It’s about re-engaging creative spirit, and embracing that process through art, poetry and photography. These clusters of images guide you along my journey, my process, as my heartfelt message becomes clear. Don’t sleepwalk through life and wait for a crisis to make a change. Live each day to the fullest, be at Peace with your Self.


At first the questioning, the seeking, trying to discover me “out there.”  The linen curtain shields the Great 
Mystery, the empty pathways metaphors for the search. There’s comfort in the aloneness that
 envelopes me as I wander mystical places. 
The path, not always obvious, offers unexpected gifts when I pay attention.


If eyes are the windows of the soul, 
what are windows? 
are symbols of my inward search regaining
 pieces of Self hidden or lost through
 time and disconnectedness. What part of me is in those rooms? 
What fears…what hopes? To dwell in this inner landscape is to acknowledge uncharted or previously 
unaccepted territory.


Flowers, soft light, bright colors all nurture the soul. 
Accepting and embracing the abundance
 and beauty around us helps us to realize
 that the beauty resides within, radiating outward. 
This awakening ignites a renewed 
intimacy with life. 
Universal love exists in the center of a 
flower, the symmetry of a leaf and the 
reflection of a dewdrop. 
I am reconnected once again.


Abstract explosions of light celebrate joy, transformation and wholeness at having reached 50. Captured while dancing along the path of the Botanic Garden’s “ Blossoms of Light” exhibit, these images begin to express my renewed energy and essence. I am grateful to be alive. I have much to offer.

All photographs ©LjWinston – please contact me to purchase prints, or for rights and usage

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