Recently on "Super Soul Sunday," Oprah talked with American philosopher Jean Houston, author of The Wizard of Us. Here are the thought leader's wise answers to a few of Oprah's biggest questions -- about love, life... and the afterlife.
OPRAH WINFREY: What is the soul?
JEAN HOUSTON: I believe that the soul is the essence of who and what we are. It transcends our leaving this mortal coil. It is also a pain in the neck because it says, "Wake up. Don't go to sleep." I think it is also the lure of our becoming.
OPRAH: Wow! Got to take that in a minute. "The lure of our becoming." How did you even come up with those words? "The lure of our becoming." That's fantastic. Next question: What happens when we die?
JEAN: Well, I've nearly died on several occasions. When I was 19, I used to jump out of planes. One day, I hadn't packed my parachute well. And I was pulling and pulling on it and nothing was happening. My whole life from 0 to 19 went by in its own time. Not every little pork chop and Hershey bar, but.... [Then the parachute opened.] Once I had typhoid fever in Crete, and nearly died. But I had a profound sense of continuity. So I really believe that we are continuous in one way or the other....
OPRAH: In each of those examples -- at 19, with the jumping out of the plane; with the typhoid -- were you afraid of death in that moment?
JEAN: I have never been afraid of death. I've always had a sense of continuity from the time I was a child.
OPRAH: I think it was Joseph Campbell that said we're not afraid of dying, we're afraid of how we die. So, you sensed the continuity from the time you were 6 years old.
JEAN: I think it's a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. So I think we're always in process. I seem to be a verb. A becoming. And it's the lure of becoming that keeps us going on.
OPRAH: Wow. What is your definition of God?
JEAN: It varies from day to day. When I was a little girl, it was a very personal person. As I got older, it became the universe -- the universe in us. But mostly I think it is the wonderful words from Dante: "The love that moves the sun and all the stars, and moves in my heart and in yours."
OPRAH: Do you pray?
JEAN: All the time.
OPRAH: What is the central focus of your prayer?
JEAN: The first thing I ever say in the morning is, "Dear God" -- I still use that language -- "please make me be a benefit to someone or something today."
OPRAH: Yeah, mine is the same. “Use me. Use me.” Can you complete this sentence? "The world needs..."
JEAN: The world needs the sense that we are all in it together. I believe that we are here with deep purpose to become all that we can be. I believe that we are headed ultimately in the right direction. I believe that we have been given sufficient stress, crisis, complexity and consciousness to do things that are beyond our imagination, larger than our aspiration, more complex than all our dreams. I believe in love, I believe in you, I believe in me. I believe in this the most potent moment in human history.
Click through the slideshow to see other famous folks who had near-death experiences.