[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery from the Dr. Eben Alexander luncheon.]

The weather and the scenery could not have been more heavenly on July 17 as more than 100 people came for lunch and a meet and greet with Dr. Eben Alexander, author of Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, at Nancy and Larry Koppelman’s oceanfront estate in Montecito.

Alexander’s topic was his near-death experience (NDE), which has resonated with a national audience to the tune of being on The New York Times best-seller list for the past 37 weeks. The interest was high as the affable Alexander — a highly trained neurosurgeon for the last 25 years with credentials that every mother would be proud of — told his story in the Koppelmans’ hushed living room.

He was introduced to the gathering by William Peters MFT, who has an M.Ed. in group dynamics from Harvard Graduate School of Education and is the founder and director of the Shared Crossing Research Initiative in Santa Barbara and Eterna, an organization that addresses science and spirituality and the organizer of the event.

Peters told the guests, many of whom were baby boomers with aging parents like myself, that ”his mission is to raise awareness and educate people about the profound and healing experiences available to the dying, caretakers and loved ones, ultimately alleviating anxiety and fear around life’s greatest mystery.

Having operated on thousands of brains in his career, Alexander told the guests that before his near-death experience — a profound psychological event that may occur to a person close to death or, if not near death, in a situation of physical or emotional crisis — he determined that what people of faith call the “soul” was really a product of brain chemistry. This was his medical interpretation until his own brain was attacked by an extremely rare form of meningitis.

The part of his brain that controlled thought and emotion were completely shut down as he lay in a hospital bed in a deep coma for seven days. Doctors tried every antibiotic and medical treatment known while consulting with his family, who had been holding a 24-hour bedside vigil, when Alexander’s eyes popped open. He had come back from death’s door and his recovery is nothing short of a medical miracle.

The journey beyond the world as most of us know it is at the heart of Alexander’s message and his first book. Being one who considered himself an attendee of only Christmas and Easter church services, today he is a doctor “who believes that true health can be achieved only when we realize that God and the soul are real, and that death is not the end of personal existence but only a transition.”

According to Bruce Greyson, a lifetime member of the International Association for Near-Death Studies, ”An NDE is a powerful event of consciousness; it is not a mental illness.”

Later that day, Alexander spoke about his experience to a group of more than 750 people at First Presbyterian Church of Santa Barbara, explaining how his near-death experience that he writes about in his book informs his understanding of consciousness.

Proceeds from the luncheon benefited the Santa Barbara chapters of the Shared Crossing Research Initiative and the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS).

Click here for more information about Alexander and his story.

— Judy Foreman is a Noozhawk columnist and longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at judyforeman@noozhawk.com. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Judy Foreman is a Noozhawk columnist and longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at news@noozhawk.com. The opinions expressed are her own.