A near-death experience (or NDE) is a profound phenomenon, typically occurring when a person is clinically dead, facing death, or under physical or emotional trauma. The International Association for Near-Death Studies, (IANDS) now has thousands of documented cases of NDEs, which challenge some basic assumptions of mainstream psychology, medicine, and philosophy.
For example, many near-death experiencers (NDErs, as they are often referred to) accurately report events that occurred when they had no detectable brain activity or heartbeat. Often NDErs return with knowledge previously unknown to them.
Unlike dreams and hallucinations, NDEs have a consistent internal structure, and cross-culturally they reflect universal elements. Finally, the aftereffects are enduring and life-altering to a much greater extent than for those who experience similar health crises without an NDE. These observations are further supported by studies of resuscitated patients in hospital settings, indicating that the NDE cannot be explained by physiological or pharmacological causes. This phenomenon has the potential to radically affect every aspect of life, from moment-to-moment personal decisions to far-reaching public policies.
So What, Exactly, is an NDE?
Each NDE is unique, but they reflect many common features. Although a small percentage of NDEs include frightening or distressing aspects, the great majority contain beautiful, loving, and insightful elements which include one or more common motifs:
• a sense of profound peace and well-being;
• a perception of one’s body from the outside (a so-called Out of Body experience), sometimes observing medical resuscitation efforts;
• a rapid movement toward and/or sudden immersion in a powerful light;
• an intense feeling of unconditional love;
• a life review in which one relives one’s actions and feels their emotional impact on others;
• an immersion in a spiritual realm or world;
• an encounter with spiritual beings, and/or a joyful reunion with deceased loved ones;
• a flood of knowledge about one’s life and the nature of the universe;
• a decision by oneself or another to return to one’s body.
NDErs often struggle to find adequate words to describe their experience. They commonly say it is the most profound of their lives and, unlike a dream, “more real than real.” They nearly always report a complete loss of the fear of death and often feel deeply changed in their attitudes toward life, work and relationships.
Many believe that the essential purpose of human life is to develop our capacity to love. Although they adjust to these personal transformations, it may be difficult finding others in whom they can confide their experience. NDErs, caregivers, and others close to them usually feel in great need of information and support. Others have reported similar experiences and aftereffects that occur outside the context of a health-related crisis. These “near-death-like experiences” can happen during the profound peace of meditation, as a result of emotional distress or at the deathbed vigil of a loved one. These experiences are also a focus of interest for researchers.
The 2017 IANDS Conference comes to the Denver area this August. Learn more here.