Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The people who've seen life after death


For more than a year I've been attending monthly meetings of a near-death experience (NDE) group. Most of those at the meetings have had one or even more NDEs. I have not, but the group welcomes people interested in the phenomenon.

With advances in medical science, many patients in recent years have been revived after their vital signs (hearbeat, respiration, brainwaves, etc.) have stopped. Sometimes the revival happens without medical intervention. Sometimes the NDE occurs when death from an accident appears imminent, such as during a fall from a high altitude, which seems to confirm occult teachings that the consciousness can separate from the body even before the body is destroyed if its destruction seems certain.

Skeptics argue that those who experience NDEs weren't "really" dead, since they are now alive. But in at least many instances, the subjects met the medical criteria for death, sometimes for several minutes.
NDE experiencers typically report certain features of their temporary afterlife, too well known for me to repeat. You can read as many firsthand accounts as you want at the Near Death Experience Research Foundation web site.


What is said at the meetings I attend is confidential, but since I will not reveal any names or identifying information, I can't imagine anyone would mind if I share a few general observations.

1. It's one thing to read in books about NDEs, but hearing about them from individuals present in front of you who've undergone them has a different epistemological quality.

2. Outwardly, the NDE experiencers I've met are normal. They work at conventional jobs and appear to have ordinary everyday lives. Nothing about them suggests they are fantasy-prone.

3. They are absolutely convinced that they experienced a different order of reality, that it was not a dream or hallucination.

4. The meetings include people who attend fairly regularly and new attendees. I've now heard the regulars describe their NDEs several times. They don't always use exactly the same words (which would arouse suspicion), but I have never caught any of them in a contradiction. They give the impression that the experience was so powerful that it is easy to summon up in memory.


5. Some experiencers say they had their NDE(s) before they ever
heard of such a thing. One woman, now elderly, had her NDE in the 1940s. She is one of those who've told the story several times, with complete consistency, as though it happened last week.

6. Every description of an NDE when I've been present has brought up strong emotions in the person talking about it — and often in other experiencers just listening. Even if the NDE experiencer begins the account in a very calm, matter-of-fact way, sometime between sooner and later he or she is immersed in waves of feeling.

7. I've asked them directly: do they now have any fear of dying? Without exception, no.

8. One way or another, they describe the NDE as a spiritual experience, although not in standard religious terms. One woman, raised as a Catholic and with Catholic relatives, is unable to communicate the NDE experience with most of her family because it doesn't fit their beliefs.

9. Although they call the immediate NDE positive, sometimes extravagantly so, the aftereffects are by no means an unmixed blessing. It seems incredible to me, but even close friends and family members can reject or ridicule them when they reveal what they've seen. (The woman who had an NDE in the '40s told her sister-in-law about it, and was told in return, "Don't ever mention this to anyone." It was another three decades before she spoke of it again.)

They have been very candid about how hard it is to integrate the NDE into their present lives. Some feel they have important knowledge that they want to let everyone in on, but don't dare for fear of being thought cracked. Hasn't the NDE idea entered the mainstream by now? I asked. Yes, they answered, but only as a subject for jokes, like UFOs or the Loch Ness monster.


NDE experiencers sometimes feel caught between two worlds, not at home in either. They may believe they've known a larger existence, and have to keep shrinking their consciousness to be able to operate in the state of mind of almost everyone else in their environment.

Even so, I let it be known that sometimes I envied them. Although I know intellectually and feel intuitively that we survive the death of our current bodies that must be foreclosed on, it would be deeply satisfying, I said, to have actually visited the Other Side and know it experientially.

This was gently rebuffed. Combining several responses, this is what they said: We drink the waters of forgetfulness when we come into this life so that we can better fulfill our purpose here. Learning and growth would be much harder if our consciousness was always distracted by the various levels of the astral plane and others that the disembodied consciousness exists on.

For one reason or another, they said, we were allowed a preview, but we needed to or were told to return to this world. If there is a reason for you to have an NDE, you will have one. Otherwise, you will know the Other Side when the right time comes.



Anonymous said...

I forget where I read this, but a researcher pointed out that clinical death may not be real death, as some sub-atomic processes may be going on that current medical instruments don't pick up. I once had a friend who was psychic, and one time he told me one of my deceased cats was following us, and he described her. I'd never even mentioned her to him.

Anonymous said...

A general comment: It's so refreshing to read a political blog which is also open to spiritual matters. Most of the blogs I've encountered are strictly materialistic (something of a misnomer, since spirituality deals with subtle forms of material) and rationalist (also a misnomer, since the denial of spiritual realities is highly irrational) in their worldview and deny all spiritual or psychic matters as humbug. I truly believe that the next forward step in the evolution of mankind is the attainment of a scientific understanding of such matters.

Rick Darby said...


Interesting story about your cat! I want to think the late Chessie is still around in the house in non-corporeal form. Sometimes in my imagination I scratch her head the way she liked and hope she can enjoy it where she is now.

Green Mamba,

Reflecting Light was originally intended to be a spiritually oriented blog that dabbled in politics, but that proved impracticable. Still, I try to reflect a spiritual viewpoint from time to time. I'm glad some readers like yourself are interested in both levels of phenomena.

Anonymous said...

Just want to second Green Mamba's comment. I always look forward to reading RL, and this entry was particularly engaging. Thanks again.


Anonymous said...

If Science were truly open to the scope of actual reality -- rather than artificially pre-defining what the boundaries are -- they would accept as undeniably valid (or damn near to it) the "gold standard" NDE account of Pam Reynolds.

- Bill from Maryland (hi, Rick)

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many spiritualy-minded people are right wing, or alternatively how many right-wingers are open to spiritual matters (outside of established religion)? It would seem the percentage is low on both counts, unfortunately. Maybe this can change.

Anonymous said...

This is not an NDE, but I was under general anesthesia for seven hours once during brain surgery, and afterwards I had dreams that made me think I must have had some level of awareness during the surgery. There were nightmares where someone or something would come up from behind me and I would hear a whirring noise and feel scraping on my head.

Actually, some of the dreams seemed to indicate that I witnessed the surgery from outside of my body. I had recurring dreams where whirlpools of molten material would form in unlikely places. Also, I had many dreams where objects would start spinning inappropriately, like part of a drill.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that interesting post. It's a fascinating subject, and there are without question, people out there with some fascinating stories to tell.

Rick Darby said...

Thank you all for your comments. I'm especially pleased that none of you have told me I'm nuts, which I know already anyway.

Hey, Bill from Maryland, good to hear from you. Where've you been?

Anonymous said...

"I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell."

That's the apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12:3-4. He was left for dead once...

Christians shouldn't think these people are nuts. I saw a book once that was about nightmarish NDEs, I gather not all are blissful.

Anonymous said...

I felt like this research gave me no answers what so ever.