Rebirth by Drowning -- and Wandering in the Woods

by Jonathan Ray

Many challenging and often spiritual experiences have shaped my mind and soul throughout my life. Fear of change or fear of death were realms of being that never had a chance to grow within me. As a child, I had never known stability, for my mother divorced my father when I was two and moved my sister and me back and forth across the country for many years. She married again when I was five and, for a while, I had a stepfather who was a cold, selfish alcoholic. That marriage fell apart about the same time we lost our house to a San Diego mud slide in 1965. My mother developed a rare blood disease and became very ill physically and emotionally. The following years were difficult and full of great responsibility for me. I cooked, cleaned, did laundry and worked nights after school for extra money to buy bread and milk. My mother was receiving welfare but often times spent it wastefully. She became progressively abusive, both mentally and physically and, at age fifteen, the State of California became the guardian for me, my sister and two brothers. My sister and I were sent to a foster home on the outskirts of San Diego while plans were made for us to fly up to Maine to live with our biological father.

I think all children with few exceptions, are born with a spirit of peace and innocence that remains whole until disrupted, repressed or destroyed by parents or society. I remember this one dream in particular that I had when I was a child. I would be experiencing a smooth flow of energy or soft waves inside of and around me that would suddenly become all scattered, painful and chaotic. I would feel warmth and security change to fear and anxiety. Those dreams began about the age of two; the same time I remember hearing my parents argue and fight violently during the night. My whole life has been an effort to find or return to the original state of being that is natural to my soul. During the short stay at the foster home, I felt peace for the first time in over ten years and was able to heal a little from some of the emotional wounds.


I had been living at the foster home for one week when one day I was invited to the beach with a friend. It was stormy that day and the waves at La Jolla Beach were higher then normal. We were warned that riptide or undercurrents were strong but the high waves were just too inviting for raft surfing. We were having the time of our lives when suddenly I felt it coming -- a powerful undercurrent pulling at my feet. I felt the sand under me caving away. Desperately, I did exactly what you are not supposed to do; I tried to swim against it. It was only a matter of thirty seconds or so before the force of the ocean sucked me under two or three hundred yards and out to sea. I felt panic and fear at first and saw my whole life pass by me in an instant. As my lungs filled with water, there was no pain and my panic turned to peace.

The force of the ocean, which at first terrified me, now was overwhelmingly beautiful. My soul seemed to merge with this force as I felt a great sense of vastness and wonder. My body was just tossed around in the tide, but the something that was me was suddenly above the whole scene. The feeling I had at this time escapes all description, but I remember the peace and beauty of it. It seemed that the normal sense of time had no meaning in this realm and I felt, for the first time, really free. Then the experience really deepened. Behind me, or above me, was a bright light. As I focused on the light, I saw the most beautiful person radiating love and light towards me. I had never had any religious upbringing and no one had ever exposed me as a child to the Bible nor Jesus. I did not really know at the time who this radiant being was. But I knew he or she was reaching out to me. It seemed a million miles away, but the being was so perfect, so clear and so full of light. Between the radiant being and me there were many jagged mountains and deep, dark valleys. I wanted to be with that being and go towards the light, but suddenly I could see the ocean scene near the beach again. A lifeguard had spotted me when I first went under, and had come down the beach in a rescue vehicle. He had swum out to my body, tied a float line on me, and was pulling me in. I can still remember being right above the scene, watching, in amazement, his strong strokes pulling me in. Seconds later, I was coughing, spitting and choking on the shore, with a crowd of people around. I was sad. A great feeling of despair came over me. I got up and calmly thanked the life guard and told my friend that I needed to go back to the foster home. Two weeks later I was on my way to Maine to meet my real father.

My life had been changed forever that day but, for years, I blocked out the experience. It wasn't until the age of twenty, that I began to dream about the drowning and had a deep feeling that I needed to get busy and do something with my life. At that time, I enrolled at the University of Maine and studied theology and philosophy. Those nights when I read the New Testament were very special and sacred to me and I longed for that light to again pervade my soul. Slowly but surely, over many years, the drowning experience eventually became a powerful truth in my life. The being that I had seen was Christ and I had felt his universal and unconditional love.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that the mountains and valleys that I had seen in my vision indicated the distance between the spiritual peace of Christ love and my life; and that my whole future life would be a journey over these mountains and valleys to merge with the truth of the light I had seen. I think that growing up with no spiritual foundation at all is worse then growing up with a false one, for at least you have something to believe in. On this vast sea of life and in the vast sea of human emotion, each soul must be able to know and hold on to something solid; some faith, ideal or belief system that leads to the understanding of universal love. Looking back, I can see that my life could have easily gone a self-destructive route had I not experienced those moments of death and the beyond. I thank God; the Creator and all the higher forces of good for that experience. I have developed a solid faith in my life based on this experience but developing this faith did not come easily as I could not relate the experience of what I seen to others without being considered crazy or off the wall. So, for many years, I just blocked it out. This was where I was at when I left the foster home for the journey to Maine.

You could say that my sister and I were excited about getting a fresh start in life with the parent we never knew. After a few days at my father's house that excitement turned to disappointment and pain. My father was a severe alcoholic in the advanced stages of self-abuse. Thank God for my stepmother! She held it all together the best she could but I collapsed into a period of depression and anxiety that lasted for a year or so. My sister handled it by getting pregnant and married at sixteen just to get away from the parental abuse. I left my father's house at seventeen and got two jobs working seven days a week to afford my own apartment. I went to night classes for my high school diploma. There was a tremendous level of hurt, unfounded guilt and emotional turmoil in my soul by the time I reached eighteen. The next two years were terrible for me and I would never want to relive them. They were terrible in the sense that I was lost . . . totally lost. The spiritual truths of the drowning experience had not yet dawned in my conscious mind.

At that time in my life there was a natural and native awareness attempting to develop within me. The friends I had met shortly after arriving in Maine were very abusive towards women, animals and the natural world in general. This bothered me and I did not fit in with them. I could not find pleasure in shooting wild squirrels or song birds for Saturday afternoon fun. When I walked out in the forest, I felt peace and a deep sense of oneness. These feelings of oneness with nature became intense around the age of eighteen and I found myself wanting to be out in the woods every chance I could. It was also hard to come to grips with my father's ways and the attitudes of his family and friends. He lived in the small mill town of Old Town on the Penobscot River. Within Old Town, on an island in the river, there was and still is today the Penobscot Indian Reservation. In 1970, when I arrived in Maine, it was the Anglo mentality to exploit the Penobscots and to treat them with hypocritical prejudice. Even my father boasted with his friends about going on the reservation at night to sleep with tribal women. All of this made me sick as I became increasingly aware of the reality of society in that area. I could not let myself become a part of that destruction of human dignity, nor could I find it within myself to disrespect a woman of any race. I was different I guess, which made me a loner often times, but I continued to strive for self-realization and the healing experience I found in nature.

It was the Maine woods, rivers, streams and sharp seasonal changes that brought me the first real experience of wholeness I had known in my life. I was still very lost emotionally and spiritually but I was committed to not becoming like my father. He had shown me all the things not to be and I see now the necessary purpose of my path with him. We cannot condemn the people in our past that may have caused us pain as they usually turn out to be the seeds of growth, change and self-realization in our own lives. I've had to learn to love and forgive to be able to find any peace within myself and, if any one of them be judged, it would not be my place, position or desire.


During those years of emotional confusion and drifting, I let go of my parents. I remember the exact moment in time that this happened within my heart and soul. It was on the cliffs of Monterey back out on the Pacific Coast. I had hitch-hiked across country to see my mother . . . hoping that she had gotten better but found her cold, angry and unstable. She blamed me for the intervention of Child Protection Services in her life four or five years earlier. I knew it was not my fault as I was only a child then trying to hold it all together. I just couldn't go on watching my younger sister and brothers be beaten and emotionally abused. My visit this time was short as I knew there was no relationship at all to build on and I had to put distance two or three days I traveled up the West Coast until the afternoon at Monterey. That afternoon turned out to be a major turning point in my emotional growth. Laying on the cliffs overlooking the western sea, I was crying out hurt and angry asking; "If there be any God or loving Creator; why then did I have to be so hurt by my parents?" I can remember wanting to blame someone or some unknown force for my turmoil as the setting sun cast a golden glow over the cliffs and into my mind late that afternoon. I had laid there for hours watching the ocean resigned to my pain and anguish and shook at times while re-living my drowning in those waters years earlier. It was within the golden glow that I was somehow released from my pain and grief. I transcended above the emotional anguish and I felt or heard within that I did have parents . . . good parents. I came to know the warm and brilliant sun as my father. Later that night, the rising full tinted moon became my mother. Somehow that realization brought me enough peace and security to really let go of the hurt and go on in my life. I knew then that there was nothing for me in California anymore. I left the Pacific Coast that night for Maine, determined to create a better life free from the afflictions of my parents.

Even in those days, the difficulties and tribulations that I experienced were forming me and, perhaps, directing me to develop a more spiritual atonement to life. Life brings us all difficulties and we can easily escape the need to grow spiritually through addictions or in the shadow masks of decaying social fortitude. There were periods all through my early twenties when I tried those escape routes but they never worked. I kept having re-occurring dreams about my drowning in the Pacific which always left me longing to again experience the feeling of universal oneness. The vision of Jesus in the afterlife would flash in my mind but I still could not grasp the larger meaning of the experience or relate personally to "Christ" or "God". This came later after reading the New Testament in college. It was then that I was struck by the natural and simple beauty so pervasive within the core message of Jesus.

As the years went by, I found peace through a growing understanding of the drowning experience. Remembering the vision of afterlife, I came to know that I was on a journey towards understanding the message of Christ over many mountains of spiritual realization and through many valleys of emotional despair. Passing through the valleys, which were often very dark and difficult, would eventually lead to emotional growth. Like so many people from my generation, I had not known love as a child. So, I went into my adulthood and into relationships with women unable to give or accept love. I came face to face with this problem at the age of 22 - two years into college. I could not go on in life without facing serious emotional issues. At the same time, I was discovering some real truth in the Christian prophesies and in the prophesies of other cultures such as the Mayan, Hindu and Chinese. The more I opened my mind through study and meditation, the more I came to see that I was living in a world on the brink of political, geological and economic chaos. I had so many questions and had never related that well to the material culture of America which has been built on the suffering of others. I had become really upset when I learned about places like Guatemala and how the CIA kept the people there repressed in order to preserve their fronted businesses like United Fruit Company. The native people of Guatemala are forced to work for less then a dollar a day, harvesting fruit and vegetables on the land that was once their own, to be sent to the United States just to ensure cheap prices for bananas on the grocery shelves. My college education was exposing me to the painful realities of injustice and economic systems all over this continent built on lies and treachery. I loved this country, but could sense that a great wind of change and retribution would someday sweep over America.

All of these sudden realizations, combined with the spiritual experiences that I had had up to that point in my life, brought me to the summer of 1977.

Groping to find myself and my purpose in this life, I decided to give up college and work for a while and joined the Peace Corps. I really wanted to reach out and give myself to the third world struggle. I thought that the Peace Corps would be the answer.... Was I ever wrong! I was assigned to go to the Micronesian Islands in the South Pacific to work in a foreman-type position in a small molding factory owned by American and other foreign investors. After looking into the position, I found out that it was their procedure to strip the islands one by one of precious rare woods to make fancy moldings for the rich back in the developed world. Meanwhile, the native peoples worked for starvation wages while their culture, which revolved around the trees, was destroyed. After all the trees were cut, the factory would be moved to another island leaving the people dependent on surplus food (welfare) shipped in from America. Needless to say, I turned the position down and wrote the Washington Office a very angry and concerned letter about their 'humanitarian' policies. I was quickly re-assigned to a position in South Yemem working at a boys' orphanage. I did not know then that North and South Yemen were on the brink of communist war and the U.S. government wanted to put a few American civilians in South Yemen as political pawns. I was suspicious though, and the suspicion grew when two Arabian men showed up in San Francisco, where I was making a short visit, and followed me everywhere I went. I had called my sister in Maine and learned that two Arabian men were "courting" her during this same time. They were buying her clothes and dinners and had offered her trips to Washington D .C. It did not take me long to figure out that my honesty with the Peace Corps had put my life in some kind of danger. I headed back to Maine immediately and went to stay with a friend who was building a cabin in a remote area. I did not have any fear about the incident, but it served to drive me further towards deep introspection about this society and where I was going.


Somewhere within my soul, there was a place I needed to go. My intense searching, my education thus far and my desire to experience nature on a more basic and primal level were all strong factors in my decision that summer to cleanse my mind and body with a long dedicated fast. I needed to find my "vision" in this life. After saying good-bye to my family and friends, I headed out into the forested hills of Central Maine. There was no other path for me at the time. Something was out there for me to experience, or, rather, something was calling from within me. Even my decision to fast was really only a conscious acceptance of my destiny and the calling to experience the deeper realms of existence. My family thought that I had completely lost my mind, of course, but their grounding in life was rooted in emotional insecurity, addictive behavior and material satisfaction...the same as much the rest of American society. I was on a different path. Their fears and condemnation had little or no effect on what I felt I needed to do.

From that point on, each day that passed left me experiencing increasingly more peace and freedom. By day, I wandered up streams and through virgin forest groves trying to keep a fix on the general location of my wandering so as not to get totally lost. This fear slowly dissolved after the fourth day as I felt a deep intuitive trust in the normally unseen world that I was starting to experience, and I somehow knew that I would not be led astray. By night, I lay in pine needle beds that were always ready, it seemed, for my weakening body. Every once in a while, I would climb to the top of a giant hemlock tree and rest for the night. At about sixty or seventy feet in the air, the top branches of hemlock trees are thick, solidly interwoven and crescent shaped. There is no way you can fall out of that natural hemlock hammock. The summer night breezes and deep crystal skies that I experienced in those hemlock tops began to open me up to a cosmic realm of consciousness. My state of being was elevated more and more each day as I deprived my material body. The spiritual aspect of myself was becoming the dominant force of my being and was reaching out for a vision and the fruit of mystical experience.

On the evening of the fifth day, I became very weak and semi-conscious. I was hungry and ate one red-topped mushroom that was growing at the base of a large hemlock that I would climb for the night. I was led to the tree, it seemed, by a raven which had been following me all day, making many different sounds and calls as if to tell me something. I could barely pull myself up through the thick branches, but, after a while, finally made it into the swaying cradle of the tree-top under the midnight canopy of sky. Something was changing in me that night. There was no fear, worry or conscious, analytical thinking...only the letting go of my separate identity to the unconscious realm.

I could have died a physical death that night and, perhaps, my individual 'ego' self did. I do know that the many places I went in the spirit were real -- just as real as the hemlock tree in which I lay. I remember a feeling of passing back through time. Waves of alternate white light seemed to be the conscious experiences of lives, and the moments of colored light being the unconscious or subjective experience which most people call death. Within the white light, there were glimpses on my own history, inter-related with the history of humanity. Within the moments of subjectivity, it seemed that I merged with God and universal truth. Only after hundreds and hundreds of these dawn-dusk cycles did I 'awake' to a past life on the level of sensual experience.

I awoke climbing a stone foot-path high above a radiant sea. All around me there were mountains which rose directly from the tidal currents interrupted only by very small sandy, shell filled coves. I could see that I was on an island, and in the distance was a vast shoreline stretching across the horizon. My name was Anathenius and the shoreline on the horizon was the western edge of Atlantis. Ahead of me on the foot-path were many women and children brought here by my mother and me to escape the corrupt "God-Kings " of central Atlantis. I could see her small fleet of boats, silhouetted against the emerald reflection in the ocean, heading back to rescue more people. There had been rumors of war with China, and even more terrifying, the land had started shaking with constant tremors. Above me, high in the mountains, a camp had been established years earlier by my mother, Astaria, and by many others to preserve the old ways. I never made it to the camp that day, for I watched in horror as the great continent of Atlantis exploded and started sinking into the sea. I was thrown to the ground while the whole foundation of the world shook so hard as to throw all human beings off the surface of the blue star. Great clouds of ash, steam and molten rocks were enveloping me just as my mother's small fleet disappeared under a giant wave.

We are never given more pain then is possible to bear during any transitional moments between life and the afterlife...pain is an experience rooted in the material world of feeling. The moment that the soul begins releasing the body is when the pain stops. After I saw the small fleet disappear, I went through a few short agonizing moments of gasping for air while suffering flashes of burning sensations. Soon, my soul was gone from the body of Anathenius and revealed to the fountain of light which flows eternally into all souls. With me were many others; a tidal wave of human souls rushing away from the material world as the whole continent of Alantis was destroyed. We were all cleansed and subjected to truth's unveiling power. I was healed of my sorrow and realized my personal failures, for, at the time of my death on the island, there was a desire in my heart for a just life. There was no judgment, only the burning light of truth and the exposing to the light the level of love that I had come to understand during my previous lives on earth. This was the determining factor in my continued evolution as a human being.

"Atlantis is gone because of the many mistakes made by both humans and their gods."

I could feel these words echo through my soul as I was transported somehow to the home of the Great Grandfather-Mother Creator in the center of this galaxy. The being that was before me radiating these thoughts and words into my soul was both male and female energy with millions of forms. Currents of magnetic feeling deeper then love spiraled out to every star in the galaxy, it seemed, and I wanted to merge forever into its glowing aura of creative freedom.

I come to you Grandmother Creator...
in truth and in Love
I ask only for light in my path
through the shadows and illusions
of my undeveloped self.

Please guide me here........
Please allow the beauty and purpose
of this soul to be understood.
In the name of Jesus,
and all the great lights
of humankind.......Amen


It was nearly three months before I broke the fast and solitude that summer of 1977 and began to re-ground myself back into a busy life of trade work and college.

But years later, after a mysterious illness put me in the hospital, I remembered that summer of fasting and visionary past life experience and was not completely sure if maybe the material reality of my life was the "dream" and the mystical experiences were the reality of my being.

I thought about the difference between the conscious and unconscious state of being and decided that the reality of my life and present journey was something I just could not fully understand. I just accepted it and was secretly thankful for the near death and past life experiences as they had begun to merge together with rational illumination in my mind.

I wondered about death and about the places that I had experienced that had no relationship to time and space in the material world. The afterlife experience and many of the mystical visions and unconscious memories were more real to me than most of my conscious life. I had always struggled to find peace and understanding in the conscious realm, but it was different in the 'spiritual' realm. Peace and understanding just existed as a sort of base level. Travel in that realm was unrestricted and time was not the same. Even today, I can remember the vision of Atlantis sinking as if it was happening right in front of me. It is as if the long fast and the openness it created within my soul removed the rational barriers that blocked my deep unconscious memories. Or it could have been that I tuned into the superconscious and collective mind of humanity. Whatever the case be, I knew that there was a growing unconscious force behind my life with some kind of direction.

There are times when I go for months and even years so busy and progressively working in my life that I forget about certain spiritual and mystical experiences that were, at one time, overwhelming . Often, it takes years to assimilate the mysteries and truths of those experiences into my conscious mind. There are times, though, that my thoughts are flooded with dreams and visions remembering and re-living the times of openness to the normally unconscious realms. So often in the past I had repressed my strong mystical side for everyday society does not relate well to the unknown and irrational.

My family, especially my father, had ridiculed and condemned me during and after my fast. Condemnation of this type goes back for two thousand years in Western civilization. The political religious leaders of Christianity never favored those who were open to nature and the mysteries of life. Instead, they feared such non-conformists and usually put them to death. My theological studies in college had made me aware of extensive condemnation of any mystical experience. I had quickly grown past any fear of social or family ridicule, though, and was fol lowing my heart and my own direction which all souls can find within.

(excerpted from the book, "The Awakening of Red Feather" by Jonathon Ray, available in December.

For more information, send e-mail to

Return to Near Death Experiences

Return to Sacred Transformations main page