Have you ever had a Near Death Experience (NDE)? If not, maybe you haven’t heard or paid much attention to the term and don’t know what it means. As you probably guessed, it’s pretty much self-explanatory. In a word, it’s literally the experience of being nearly dead.
But it’s a misnomer in some cases. The experiences of people who are clinically dead for a brief time before being revived are also considered NDEs. So they are in — not near — death. They’ve arrived, but don’t stay long.
In any case, what’s fascinating is the ways in which people experience NDEs…and how profoundly those people change.
Description of Near Death Experience
Kenneth Ring describes it well. He was a psychology professor and researcher at the University of Connecticut in 1988 when this New York Times interview was published. Here is an excerpt:
It involves a pattern of feelings and images and sensations which include a sense of the most profound peace and well-being that is possible to imagine. It’s a sense of being separate from the physical body and sometimes being able to see it as though a spectator off to one side or from up above.
These people have a sense of moving through a dark space or tunnel toward a radiantly beautiful white or golden light. They are absorbed in that light, having in some cases a panoramic life review in which virtually everything that they’ve ever done in their life they’re able to see; perhaps meeting the spirits of deceased love ones or friends. And in some cases, they are asked to make a decision as to whether they would like to continue or go back to their body.
But some people report other messages while in that state of mind described above. They report comfortably moving toward that beautiful radiant light when suddenly a voice says — loud and clear — something along the lines of , “Send her back.” Or, “He’s not ready yet. He has too much to do still.”
Yet others don’t recall a thing about their Near Death Experience, seemingly not having experienced anything out of the ordinary. Except that their physical self almost died or clinically died for a moment.
Mary Neal’s Near Death Experience
“How you understand death directly determines how you experience life”
Mary Neal is a highly accomplished medical doctor and board-certified orthopedic spine surgeon. She had a pragmatic, scientific mindset when she left for a kayaking trip in South America in 1999. But she returned home with a far different mindset. She was purely, spiritually transformed. Here’s what led to that transformation.
Her kayak overturned and completely submerged in a river. Then she got pinned underneath the base of a waterfall. Without oxygen for 30 minutes…she drowned.
In that 30 minutes, she had the most profound NDE experience (though clinically dead). She describes how she wanted to stay at that beautiful, serene place where she went, where people wore gowns of fabric woven from love. But was told she had more work to do on earth.
Since her recovery, she has been writing and speaking about the profound spiritual message she came back to impart to humanity.
In a Tedx Talk in November 2018 she tells the audience to “wake up to the potential of your life.” Further into the talk, she assures the audience that if they do wake up and truly live, they will find “joy that transcends circumstances will become a state of being.” Even in the face of death, she says, there can be joy. After all, “death is nothing more than the door to home.”
Eben Alexander’s Near Death Experience
Eben Alexander, M.D. is a successful academic neurosurgeon with over 25 years of experience, including a stint at Harvard Medical School. Like Dr. Neal and most other medical professionals, he viewed the world through the lens of science.
All that changed after a 7-day coma. The cause was brain damage that he sustained after contracting bacterial meningitis from a deadly strain of ecoli. His doctors said he had a mere 10% chance of surviving. And if he did make it, they said, he would likely spend the rest of his life in a nursing home.
Not only did he survive, but his knowledge about the brain, mind, and consciousness had done a complete 180. He now states that “consciousness continues beyond the death of the physical body.” And that “souls are eternal and forever connected to each other through the binding force of love.”
Here is a clip of a 2018 talk with Larry King (yes that one). It touches on quantum physics and consciousness, which both figure highly in Dr. Alexander’s current views on life.
If you like what you hear, check out his books. There are links at the end of this article.
A Trip of a Lifetime
Although NDEs may not have been talked about much in recent years, this phenomenon has been the subject of exploration for hundreds of years. A French physician recorded the first NDE in the 18th Century, but it wasn’t until 1978 that scientists showed serious interest in this field.
The University of Virginia was the original home of The Association for the Scientific Study of Near-Death Phemomena. A few years later the association was moved to the University of Connecticut and was renamed International Association for Near-Death Study (IANDS). Co-founded by Kenneth Ring, IANDS is a thriving organization still today.
Another co-founders of IANDS, Raymond Moody wrote the book Life After Life, which hit newsstands in 1975. I clearly recall my excitement when buying that blue-covered book in a store at 17 years of age. I couldn’t wait to get home to read it. I don’t know why, but I’ve been intrigued by this subject for as long as I can remember.
I barely put that book down until my brain processed the last word. But I wasn’t alone. It fascinated countless other readers, clear across the continent. That year, Life After Life became the first book about NDEs to make it to the Best Sellers List.
Several years later, in 1998 researcher Jeffrey Long, MD established a website called Near Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF, nderf.org). It was to be used as a tool “to enlarge our collective understanding of death and what comes after death.” And to be accessible to anyone globally.
The site still serves as a log of NDEs worldwide, translated into several languages. It currently states that it has 4,700 accounts of NDEs, and that half a million people per month visit the site.
What Does NOT Cause NDEs
Over the years, theories have been put forward by people attempting to give a scientific explanation of what causes these mysterious events. Here, according to the IANDS website, are some attempts to explain the cause of NDEs with theories of neurological and chemical activity:
- lack of oxygen
- excess of carbon dioxide
- seizure activity in the temporal lobe
- the effect of drugs such as DMT or ketamine
- psychological avoidance of death
- normal shutting down of brain activity
- a dozen or more other possibilities
But they’ve all been ruled out by NDE researchers. Each and every possible explanation for what causes NDEs has been debunked. There is simply no scientific explanation for them. Not yet, anyway.
Dr. Jeffrey Long sheds valuable light on this topic. One of the foremost researchers of NDEs today, he presents his theory at a recent presentation for the Society For Scientific Exploration.
Profound Life Changes After NDEs
According to the IANDS website, “Around eighty percent of the people who experienced near-death states claimed that their lives were forever changed by what happened to them.”
People were returning from NDEs, the webpage reads, with not only an optimistic new lease on life and a more spiritual outlook. But also they had adopted “specific psychological and physiological differences on a scale never before faced by them.” This was observed in all age groups — children, teenagers, and adults.
The exploration of NDErs (people who’ve had the experience) explodes with intrigue when you consider characteristics commonly observed in people following NDEs. The following is a partial excerpt (with minimal paraphrasing) from IANDS.com.
- loss of the fear of death
- more spiritual and philosophical, less religious
- easily engage in abstract thinking
- more generous and charitable than before
- form expansive concepts of love, but problems maintaining satisfying relationships
- “inner child” or unresolved issues from childhood tend to surface
- convinced of a life purpose
- a child-like sense of wonder and joy
- heightened sensations of taste-touch-texture-smell
- increased intuitive/psychic abilities; ability to know or “re-live” the future
- less stressed; more detached and objective
- can continue to dissociate or “separate” from the body
- easily get “in the flow”
- hunger for knowledge and learning — highly curious
Takeaways and Further Reading
So this is the death that stumps science. Accounts from people who have experienced temporary death or near death serve as evidence that understanding death is the first key to experiencing joy every moment of every day. That’s not to say you won’t experience the lower spectrum of emotion. You’ll still grieve when you lose a loved one. But you won’t get stuck there, because you’ll understand that death is what Mary Neal calls “the door to Heaven.”
By investigating NDEs through the sources I present here, you’ll gain a better understanding of dying. Having such an experience would be one way to learn. But you can learn a great deal by opening your mind to the possibility of eternal life. A good start would be to simply read and listen to sources I’ve introduced to you here.
Links to titles on Amazon. (I don’t profit in any way)
Alexander, Eben and Newell, Karen Living in a Mindful Universe: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Heart of Consciousness
Alexander, Eben Proof of Heaven
Alexander, Eben The Map of Heaven
Partial bibliography from the IANDS website:
Hagan, John C. III (Ed.) (2017). The Science of Near-Death Experiences. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press. Evidence-based research on NDEs by physicians and scientists, including those who themselves have had an NDE. The recollections of NDErs often refute physicians’ scientific explanation of how an oxygen-starved brain can produce such vivid recollections.
Moody, Raymond (1975). Life After Life. New York: Bantam. The book that began it all. Easy reading, basic. An excellent phenomenological treatment of NDEs. While some findings have since been clarified and expanded by further research, this book remains the basic work in the field of near-death studies.
Fenwick, Peter & Elizabeth Fenwick (1995). The Truth in the Light. New York: Berkley Books. Report by a well-respected neuropsychiatrist and his wife, based on a careful study of over 300 NDEs in the United Kingdom. See his article, “Science and Spirituality”, on this website.
van Lommel, P. (2010). Consciousness Beyond Life: The science of the near-death experience. Scientific evidence that the near-death phenomenon is an authentic experience demonstrating that consciousness can be experienced separate from the body.
van Lommel, P., van Wees, R., Meyers, V., & Elfferich, I. (Article, 2001). Near-death experience in survivors of cardiac arrest: A prospective study in the Netherlands (PDF download). Lancet, 358(9298), 2039–2045.