Printed in the Summer 2017 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Smoley, Richard, "Natalie Sudman: Prophet of Another Reality" Quest 105:3(Summer 2017) pg. 14-19
By Richard Smoley
What is a prophet? If you ask most people, they will probably say that a prophet is someone who can predict the future.
This definition isn’t particularly accurate. Many prophets—including those in the Bible—give more attention to addressing the present than to predicting the future. This is just as well, because their predictions for the future have usually not come true.
It may be better to define a prophet as someone who is in touch with transcendent realities and expresses this knowledge to the needs of his or her times. That is, a prophet tells the community what God or the gods believe it needs to hear now.
If we start with this definition, we would see that the prophets of our time are not necessarily those who tell us what is coming in the future, but are reminding us that transcendent realities—the very ones that our civilization works hardest to deny and block—are real and present and have a genuine connection with our lives.
Among these figures I would put Eben Alexander, the American neurosurgeon whose near-death experience (NDE) in 2008 shook his view of reality, inspiring his best-selling book Proof of Heaven. Possibly the chief message he was intended to carry back was the simple fact that the material existence to which we cling so desperately is not the only or even the most important plane of reality—even for us.
Another such prophet is Natalie Sudman. She came upon her calling in an unusual way. Born in Montana, she was raised in Minnesota. She trained as an artist, receiving a master of fine arts degree in 1989, and for sixteen years worked as an archaeologist in the western U.S. In 2006 she went to Iraq, serving as a project engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The stint in Iraq brought about a major break in her life. On November 24, 2007, she was riding in an armored Land Cruiser to visit some water treatment projects when her vehicle was hit by an IED—the military acronym for an “improvised explosive device,” or, plainly, a roadside bomb.
“All I heard was a ‘pop,’—the sound of a champagne cork from one hundred meters—the Microsoft sound of opening a new window—a finger snap from across the office,” she writes in her book Application of Impossible Things.
“I vividly remember taking a long, deep breath—more of a sigh that echoed an internal sigh . . . I was tired inside, exhausted from long days spent trying to train a new project manager while catching up with a demanding workload after an insufficient two weeks of leave. I didn’t want something hard, something that required effort. I wanted to rest.
“Get on with it, I told myself.
“Then I opened my eyes.”
Sudman was no longer able to see from her right eye. Both of her hands were covered in blood. Her injuries included broken teeth, “some of which took a quick exit through my face,” a heel broken by shrapnel, a hole in her skull exposing her frontal sinus, a skull fracture, and shrapnel in both eyes and in her sinus. Her situation was critical.
None of this, however, is the most important part of her story. The most important part took place after the explosion, just before she opened her eyes.
She found herself delivering a lecture.
“In this new environment,” she writes, “I stood on an oval dais looking rather intrepid in my bloody and torn fatigues, slouching a bit, dirty and darkly tan, addressing thousands of white-robed beings.”
Sudman intuitively knew that these were not the actual forms of these beings. They were “non-physical in essence, taking on form as if they intended to do that for a particular purpose.”
Curiously, she adds, “most of these thousands were familiar to me, and all were my equal regardless of their admiration for my latest silly feat on earth. (How intrepid is it, really, to choose to get blown up?)”
And indeed these transcendent beings seemed to be fascinated by Sudman’s account of what it was like to get blown up. She did not deliver a lecture as we understand it. Instead, she writes:
I presented what seems from my current physical body/conscious mind perception to be a transfer of information in the form of an inexplicably complex matrix. The information was minutely detailed and broadly conceptual—at once layered and infinitely dense. It included events, thoughts, incidents, individuals, and groups in all their relationship complexities: stories, concepts, judgments, connections, nuances, layers, judgments, and projections . . . Rather than being a classic life-flashing-before-the-eyes scene, this download was a collection that emphasized what might be very broadly understood as cultural and political information. I was aware that I deliberately offered the condensed data in fulfillment of a request that had been made by this Gathering of personalities prior to my taking on this body for this physical lifetime.
In essence, Sudman was uploading information about her experience to this “Gathering.” In order to genuinely understand this experience, a being from outside this dimension would have to have an enormous amount of background knowledge. What is a Land Cruiser? What is a war? What, for that matter, is getting blown up? Sudman appears to have conveyed the sum total of this knowledge to these beings immediately and directly—very much unlike the way we communicate on planet earth.
Sudman’s account brings to mind the language of angels as described by the eighteenth-century Swedish visionary Emanuel Swedenborg. In his book Heaven and Hell, he writes: “The language of angels . . . is so full of wisdom that they can in a single word express what we cannot say in a thousand words; and the concepts of their thinking can encompass things the like of which we cannot grasp . . . Because angels’ language flows directly from their affection, . . . angels can express in a minute more than we can say in half an hour, and can present in a few words things that would make many pages of writing.”
Swedenborg, writing around 1758, could hardly have thought of downloading, but one suspects that he might have used this analogy had he known of it.
Sudman’s description also resembles Eben Alexander’s in his NDE. When Alexander was in an altered dimension, his questions were answered, he says, “in an explosion of light, color, love, and beauty that blew through me like a crashing wave . . . These bursts . . . didn’t simply silence my questions by overwhelming them. They answered them, but in a way that bypassed language. Thoughts entered me directly . . . As I received them I was able to instantly and effortlessly understand concepts that would have taken me years to fully grasp in my earthly life.”
The chief difference between Sudman’s account and Alexander’s is that Sudman was doing the communicating, while Alexander was being communicated to.
All in all, Sudman estimates that this transcendental status update took place in five seconds of earthly time. For this reason, she calls this alternate reality the Blink Environment.
It is a far richer and more multifarious realm than the one we know. Responding to some questions of mine in September 2016, she wrote:
This is an environment, a “place,” as we might perceive it, where beings can have form if they choose to experience it that way. If one chooses to have form here, it’s a malleable form, easily changed or dropped. It’s a place, or a frequency, that has some access to the physical world but is not overlapping, and has some interest in the physical world but is not interfering. My sense is that it’s a place that beings use, but is not a place any being dwells for any length of time—not in the way we think of as having a long experience within. Time/space is experienced differently there, and my sense is that it accesses or sits within some sort of frequency band that experiences time/space in a much more comprehensive and multidimensional way. All relationships within this environment are friendly, supportive, egalitarian, and respectful. Communication is instantaneous. It’s not telepathy so much as just instant sharing; information is made available and absorbed.
One significant detail in Sudman’s story is that she gave her account to those beings in response “to a request that had been made by this Gathering of personalities prior to my taking on this body for this physical lifetime.” Could she have made some prelife choice to be blown up in this way and report back to her colleagues about it?
Possibly. Sudman says that all events in our lives, no matter how they seem or feel at the time, are the result of predetermined choices we have made. There are, in a sense, two selves: “the whole self mind” and the “human mind.” The “whole self mind” is aware of the totality of a being’s experience, and in fact has chosen and created it, even though the “human mind” may have no recollection of having done so. “In fact, we are the creative force in our lives, through our human minds and as infinite beings having an experience through these bodies and minds.”
To put it plainly, your whole self creates your reality: your limited, human self may be, probably is, only aware of some part of this reality.
This view is certainly more sophisticated than the simple belief that you create your reality. If you create your own reality, how did you do it? Did your bad thoughts bring about that auto accident? Did your hostile feelings toward that person cause him to get sick? You don’t need to follow these lines of thought very far to realize that they are quick and easy paths to madness. Sudman writes: “Believing or knowing that we create through thought can be empowering, but it can also be infuriating and frightening because if we create with our beliefs, then we have to acknowledge that we created THIS or THAT in our lives . . . ‘I did NOT create that!’ (I hear you!) . . . and it may be true. You in your human mind awareness did not necessarily create this or that. You as a whole being, however, had to have either created it or agreed to it” (ellipses here are Sudman’s; they do not indicate omissions. All emphasis in quotes is also Sudman’s).
Thus she believes that the choices she made for this life included the opportunity to be blown up by a roadside bomb in Iraq.
I am reminded of the myth of Er in the last book of Plato’s Republic, which itself is an account of an NDE. Er, a soldier, is slain, or nearly slain, on a battlefield. Journeying through the land of the dead, he comes to the point where the souls choose to take on their next lives, in which “there was every kind of mixture and combination.” They draw lots to find the order in which they will be allowed to choose their lives. “The drawer of the first lot at once sprang to seize the greatest tyranny, and . . . in his folly and greed . . . failed to observe that it involved the fate of eating his own children.” The soul of Odysseus, the shrewdest of men, draws the lowest lot and has the last choice. He chooses the life of an ordinary citizen who minds his own business, and says that he would have done the same if he had drawn the first lot.
In Plato’s account, as in Sudman’s, the soul chooses its whole life and the baggage that comes with it, good and bad. But Plato does not explain why this should be the case. Sudman gives this explanation:
From expanded awareness every action is understood to express creativity, have meaning, and influence the balance and order of the whole of All That Is. From my experiences in expanded awareness, it appears to me that no being is considered evil or bad. Actions of a being may be understood to be disruptive, inharmonious, or detrimental to the creative flow within any one reality, but the creativity of an action could be understood as valid—perhaps even necessary or useful—regardless of the overall disruption.
Thus all life choices, good and evil, from the perspective of the whole self, have an integral place within the whole.
Such an attitude detaches one from conventional moral judgments: “Instead of thinking, Whoa, that person is seriously f*ed up! I could think, Whoa! That experience took guts, or That one gets high points for drama, or Huh—very subtle, or Shit—they’re really piling it on, or Hmm—they’re like a microcosm of the macrocosm of what’s going on in the world, or I wonder what I’m/they’re doing with this? I wonder how it fits into the cooperative whole of creation?”
This perspective has something to be said for it. The present-day world gives us endless opportunities to become upset or angry or exasperated—attitudes which do absolutely no good whatsoever, as humanity should have learned long ago. Viewing them with greater detachment may not always prevent evil, but it very likely will keep one from compounding it.
Sudman’s view resonates with what I believe to be the inner meaning of the myth of the Fall in Genesis. The primordial man and woman eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil: that is, they wish to know what good and evil are like. As a result they are cast into a realm where it hurts to have babies and you have to work hard for a living: “In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children . . . in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” (Genesis 4:16, 19). That is this realm—earthly life. You will notice that nothing is said about hell.
Similarly, in Sudman’s view, the human task, or desire, is to experience the total range of possibilities, good and evil—not only in other realms, but in this one. And in fact this is the only plausible explanation for the whole course of history: that the human race has collectively chosen to explore all possible combinations and all possible outcomes at this level of reality—however delightful or excruciating. To put the matter another way, if you can think of it, and it is physically feasible in this dimension (and sometimes even if it isn’t), someone will have tried it.
The admiration that the Gathering express for Sudman casts further light on this issue. They admire her because it takes a certain specialized skill to function on this, the physical level of reality: not all beings can do it. She observes, “That it isn’t exactly easy from an energy standpoint seems to me, conversely and paradoxically, one reason why it can be difficult to remember who we are as Whole Selves while we’re in the physical. But the point is this: all of us are sharing a unique experience that takes real and amazing skill. We have absolutely no idea how amazing and totally cool we are, really, each of us, and how totally amazing and cool it is that we can maintain a physical body and comprehend experience from within time and space as we do.”
Nevertheless, this “unique experience” is clearly not pleasant at all points. This leads to another feature that Sudman’s experience shares with many other NDEs: the decision about whether to go back at all. Most people who pass through the gates of death are, at some point, given the choice of whether to stay in these heavenlike realms or return to a hard existence on planet earth. Of course we only hear from the ones who came back.
Sudman was given such a choice. The Gathering “requested that I return to my physical body to accomplish some further work. I was given to understand that my particular skills were needed at this time and would be effective only were I actually present in a body within the earth vibration.”
She goes on to say, “I’m entirely my own authority. I’m free to leave or stay. I’m free to alter agreements, negate them, or enter into new ones.” That much said, she adds, “to be honest, I don’t feel any attachment to the people, the landscapes, or the situations left behind . . . I’m not particularly interested in returning to the physical at all.” In light of all this, “that I could be so easily enticed to return to the physical when I was so exhausted is amusing to me now.”
Sudman declines to comment about what skills the Gathering believed that she needed to bring to the physical plane. “I consider them unique and interesting to me because they’re mine, but I don’t want a description of some of them to be interpreted as grandiose or ‘special’.”
Although she agreed to return to earth, “given my level of exhaustion and disinterest in the difficulties of this particular physical life to date, I requested that certain assistance be provided within that continued physical existence.” She was transported to a “deep place . . . where I could recuperate and restore my energies. Other beings assisted with this, doing most of the work while I entered a sort of spiritual deep resting state. From the physical perspective, this state lasted an equivalent of centuries within less than a moment . . . Some energy beings and I worked together, quickly repairing the body . . . The injuries weren’t entirely healed, as some were to be of use in situating me for tasks I had agreed to perform or things that I wanted to experience as a whole infinite Self.”
And then she returned to the reality of her bleeding body and the blown-up vehicle. Even after the healing performed on her in the other realm, her injuries required a long convalescence to heal.
Today Sudman lives in southern Arizona, where she has returned to her artistic vocation. Her oil paintings, which are featured in this issue, are abstract images reminiscent of the works of Paul Klee, in muted colors that evoke the desert in late and early hours. Her ceramic works, also in earth colors, have a feel of the Neolithic about them. Sudman also does psychic consultations by phone.
When asked how her perspective has changed since her experience in 2008, she replies, somewhat surprisingly, “I don’t know that it has changed. The NDE wasn’t a revolutionary experience for me. I think it was more evolutionary. It didn’t drastically change anything I thought or knew, it only maybe gave me a little more information in some places. Like any experience, it had some effect but it didn’t turn my world upside down, and the ways that it affected my worldview are probably not things I could tease out of the tapestry.”
When I ask her what message she feels she has to bring for humanity, she replies, “I have no idea, really. It’s too big an assignment for little me! All of humanity . . . yikes!” But she goes on: “Learn that affinity for yourself, good, bad, and ugly. Be your own best friend, loving all of it. Because from that, everything else follows: loving others, peace, all the good things.”
While this is good advice, I can’t help returning to the point at which I began this article. The principal message of Sudman, and of contemporary prophets like her, may simply be that these alternate realms, however strange they may sound and however much their realities seem to contradict our ordinary conceptions, do exist. Not only do they exist, but they are intimately interwoven with our reality, and shape it in ways that we do not see and probably cannot understand. This may be the thing we most need to hear today.
Alexander, Eben. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012.
Plato. Collected Dialogues. Edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. 2d ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton/Bollingen, 1963.
Sudman, Natalie. Application of Impossible Things: My Near Death Experience in Iraq. Huntsville, Ark.: Ozark Mountain Publishing, 2012.
———. Personal communication with Richard Smoley, September 2016.
Swedenborg, Emanuel. Heaven and Hell. Translated by George F. Dole. West Chester, Pa.: Swedenborg Foundation, 2000.
Richard Smoley’s latest book, How God Became God: What Scholars Are Really Saying about God and the Bible, was published in June 2016 by Tarcher Perigee. A version of this article originally appeared in New Dawn magazine: newdawnmagazine.com.