Near death experience is an instinctive experience that people go through in an instance where someone goes through an almost death situation or clinical death or in a situation where there is high possibility of death to occur. These circumstances are, for example, when one passes through a serious car accident, when one becomes seriously ill, when there is a serious injury, attack by military people or suicide attempt. People who meditate deeply or those who are in great distress have also had this experience of NDE despite the fact that they were not at the point of dying (Berman).
Many people who have been through this experience say that it is not just enough to call the situation near death, because to them they were actually in death itself. Those who have experienced near death have reported two types of near death experiences. The first one is called pleasurable near death experiences. These include moments of joy, love and peace. A few though, have reported moments of distress in their NDEs. These include feelings of horror, fear, guilt, anger among others. In both kinds, the victims confirm that the experience was very real. Near death is not about being in a situation that threatens life, but rather forming a perception where there is a recognizable flow of events that rather seem real. Many people who have gone through this experience believe beyond doubt, that they have learnt great lessons about the purpose of life. All in all, the whole process cannot be easily described by human understanding, it is beyond normal comprehension. Even art, symbolism or scientific animation cannot describe the experience (Bubulka).
Across the world and over, people have reported such experiences to be powerful. Such is the perception of moving through a space of light and darkness. A serene feeling as nature appears in a different and unique style in the universe. Near to death experience may start with the feeling of being out of body. One perceives to be physically separate from the body. It involves a state of moving at very high speeds, mostly through a dark space into a space of fantasies and often encountering strange beings which are perceived to be sacred. Members of one’s family who had died long time ago start to appear during this experience. Some glare of indescribable light may shine to engulf the person in a brilliant radiance that is not painful at all. Different from the normal life, this light uniquely glow around the person and is felt and believed to be the sacred presence of a supreme being that is of their religious faith. These are some scenes that in a majority of cases I only see in movies (Brubaker).
Near death experience may contain all the common features, but the majority of encounters has reported one or two of this features simultaneously. Where near death experience is so much severer, permanent changes happen in the lives of the victims. The details of the entire encounter will be remembered vividly for decades by the affected victim. They are normally hard to rub off from one’s memory.
Phases of Near Death Experience
Pleasurable near death experience has four phases that take place in a certain order. Near death experience is extremely unique; it can pass through any combination of phases which can occur in any order. Sometimes the phases may appear to occur together at once because of overlapping. The phase that normally occurs first can be called disassociated, because those who experience pleasurable near death visions do not feel associated with their physical bodies anymore. They have the feeling of complete detachment and are diplomatic without seeing, or feeling or examining anything in meticulous. They often describe a sense of freedom from pain and feeling completely good.
In naturalistic phase, those who go through near death experience say that they become exposed to natural environment. Which are their body and the neighboring area from a point outside their bodies? They usually claim that thing looked and sounded normal, but strangely clear and vivid. They also claim that they had the weird skills such as being in a position to see walls and see through them and having the ability to hear thoughts which are not spoken from people around them (Dougherty).
In the supernatural phase, they encounter beings and environments that are considered not to be part of our natural world. They may also encounter dead loved ones or other entities that do not have physical description. They also say that communication that they do with these beings is mind to mind and not spoken. They claim to have journeyed through extremely magnificent environment in which everything appeared to have a beautiful life from within. They also say that they heard some beautiful music sang in the manner they have never listened to before in the world. They normally say that they moved very fast through a tunnel towards some brightly glowing light, as they entered this light, they realized that it was a supernatural being. They feel totally known and wonderfully loved by this being. Sometimes they do say that they go through life revision. Some do claim that they travelled beyond that light bearing in mind towns of light and acquaintance.
The last phase of pleasurable near death experience is the return to one’s normal physical body. A section of those who experience NDE say that they had a choice of either to come back or not to. Their choice to come back, they say, might be due to the love that they had for some living friends or families. Another section says that they did not have a choice of either to return or not to. They were either told to come back or they just found themselves back in their normal body.
Distressing near to death experiences also have four phases. Though distressing, NDEs are less described most of the times as compared to pleasurable NDEs. Distressing near to death experiences occur in the following order; those who experienced distressing NDE say that the powerlessness type has similar phases as pleasurable NDE. They say that they felt powerless when this they were going through this experience. As a result, they resisted, were angry or were afraid.
Another type is the nothingness type, they say that they felt as if they did not exist or they were all alone in a desolate place. Inability to realize who they were and the loneliness ate away their bones, they were resigned (Price).
The next is the torment type. They say that they were in a terrifying landscape, sometimes saw evil beings around them, noises that were annoying, terribly frightening creatures and other human spirits that were in great distress.
The worthlessnesstype is the type where they were being negatively judged by the Powers that were above them during their life review. Some say that once they gave up in their resistance or once they sought for help from a devoted higher power, their distressing NDE was transformed into pleasurable near death experience. Very few have expressed that their pleasurable NDEs turned into distressing NDE.
Who Has NDE?
It appears that near death experiences have been happening several times in the last few decades because of the great advancement in medical field. More sophisticated treatment mechanisms have been invented, and lives are saved from very critical conditions that would otherwise guarantee obvious death to the victim. They are brought back from a point where they have given up the hope of ever living again.
Because of public acceptance of the near death experiences, many people are willing to share their experiences. Studies have indicated that about 12%-40% of people who experienced NDE later come to reveal that they went through it. Statistics have it that in the United States alone several million people have gone through near death experience.
Near death experience is an “equal opportunity” process. People from all kinds of cultures, traditions and ages go through it. From infants who can share their near death experience once they can talk to elderly people who have had instances of NDE. Near death experience has been reported from both genders, from people who have different educational status, people of all religions and even those who don’t believe in any faith or religious practice, people of different social classes, people who are heterosexual and homosexual, people who have good life history and those who have bad life history, people who have mental illness and those who are sane (Hagin). From this list it cannot be inferred that there can be any exclusion as far as who is to go through near death experience is concerned, it is not predictable who is going to have pleasurable NDE and who the distressing one.
Research has also indicated that the characters of a person does not define whether or not they are going to go through near death experience or which type they are going to experience. The only exception can be in a characteristic called “absorption” which is the ability to be absolutely focused on something without being distracted in any way. It is however not clear whether higher levels of absorption may lead to greater instances of NDE in a person or whether NDE may lead to greater levels of absorption.
Near Death Experiences in Special Population
Studies have shown that near death experience in Western civilizations such as in Europe and Australia appear to be similar to those experienced in the United States. This has been noted to those in non-Western cultures, but the basic features are rather the same. For instance, encountering the spiritual domain that is different to that which is on earth is quite a common feature in near death experience around the world. In countries where many tunnels have been constructed, victims normally describe a movement through tunnels at great speeds. In countries without tunnels, people do not describe movement through a tunnel, but victims rather may describe movement through the neck of a gourd or other things that they are familiar with in their culture. The culture and experience of a person may influence the form their near to death experience may take. This also affects the explanation or interpretation of their experience.
Near to death experience by infants is the most fascinating one, because cultural influence on them is dependent on their age: the younger they are the lesser their NDE gets affected by culture around them. However, children’s NDE is just similar to that of adults. Children who had near death experience say that they felt different from most of the other children through their time of growing up.
People who experienced NDE during a suicide attempt are another interesting group. Although study shows that people who attempt to commit suicide are likely to try again, those who go through near death experience are much less probable to attempt to commit suicide another time. They say that they have studied that their life is a life of a purpose. After this experience, they realize that life is a gift that should be handled with care. This time around, they accept hard times and strongly believe that it is their responsibility to deal with such challenges when faced with any. They see life as s full time opportunity to spend in bettering their ability to love and to further their knowledge.
Another point of great interest is made up of veridical perception which is a perfect description of particular peculiar events that do happen around the unconscious physical body of those who go through near death experience, so that they could not have taken notice through hearing, seeing, reasoning or logic. Most often such descriptions involve the existence of people such as family members around.
There are also reports of the blind going through near death visions. There is also an account of a woman who was undergoing brain surgery. Her eyes were shut, her ears blocked. Her body was frozen down and her heart stopped beating for about an hour. Blood was drained from her brain so that the surgery could be done. Meanwhile her brain was completely functionless, yet she was able to describe the entire medical instrument that the doctors used on her and every process that the doctors and nurses took her through (Gibson).
Causes of Near Death Experience
Scientifically, the causes of near death experience have been explained biologically, psychologically, neurologically and chemically, as an absence of oxygen or presence of too much carbon dioxide in the body, or some drugs like Ketamine and DMT which affect the victim. Psychologically refraining from death and normal shutting of the brain activities are among many other causes. There is no scientific explanation that has successfully been able to give a clear account of the causes of near to death experience.
Many patients who were monitored clinically and were well oxygenated have reported to have gone through near death experiences. Drugs bear no weight as a cause of near death experience. The characteristics of hallucination are far much different from the ones in near death experience. The claim that NDE can be induced through drugs has never been convincing enough to be digested as a cause of NDE. This claim has not been drawn from many enough sources of evidence, since in a number of instances it has drawn its conclusion from examining one or very few patients. From there prominent researchers’ desk, it has been concluded that neither physiological nor psychological model explains the common features of near death experience. It has been noted that many people after near death experience develop new interest and ability (Eby).
Many of those who have had near death experience can remember events that happened around them. Near death experiences are known to have revealed some crucial family secrets. This cannot be scientifically possible.
Despite the fact that there has not been found any relation between NDE and religion, many studies have revealed the significant connection between NDE and the importance that a person gives to a religious activity. The reason here being that to others, they consequently believe that they have seen heaven and now absolutely believe that there is existence of God, and life after death is real. To other, NDE has convinced beyond any possible doubt about the purpose of life as it is according to the religious teachings which include, loving one another, service to God and to man and belief in something that does not physically exist. Not much study has been conducted to relate near death experience and religion.
Near Death Experience and Religion
Hindu: From the samples taken it is inferred that Indian near death experiences are similar to those of the Americans in some ways, but are different in others. The Indian near death are reported not to see their physical bodies during their near death experiences, but Americans do. The Indian near death experiences often report being taken to the realms of afterlife but are then referred back to life after the functionaries that took them there realize that they made a mistake. In America if you ask them why they came back, they say that they were sent back by their deceased family members or they can also say that they came back because of the strong love ties that they had with the people or the duties they have with living persons, or say that it was not their time to die.
Questions have been asked why NDEs such as those of Indians are so different. The reason is that people do have different cultural and religious background by which they go through their experience. Jody Long, a NDE researcher states that people tend to integrate their near death experiences depending on their own pre-existing beliefs (Bennet).
A narration of a near death experience describes how a young student called Vasudev was dead for days until he was almost cremated. However, some signs of life arouse attention and Vasudev was taken back to hospital where doctors tried hard and eventually brought him back to life. Upon narrating his experience, he said that he was dragged away by some people to some strange world; he was powerless and could not help himself. Upon reaching he saw a strange man who was dark allover and did not wear anything. This man called out and shouted at the two people that they had brought the wrong Vasudev, they needed Vasudev the gardener. When the student woke up, Vasudev the gardener was standing near his bed. Strangely, in the night of the same day, Vasudev died. The black man that Vasudev had seen had a club; he identified him as Yamraj the Hindu God of the dead.
The cases of near death experiences from India as studied by Statwant Pasricha and Stevenson reveals that in Hindu the subject is taken by a messenger before a man or a woman who is often believed to have papers or a book that they consult. A mistake is realized, a wrong person has been taken. The person is brought back. In many cases the right person who was needed may be staying around the same village (Antonette). The majority of cases reveal that after the wrong person comes back to life, the right person who was meant to die dies after a short while. In contrast, the western near death experiences do not give any psychological reason, if they do give any, they say that they came back in their own accord. In Hindu, NDE involves reading a book to check for the records of the subject, this is an equivalence of the book of life in Christianity.
In Hindu, it is a traditional religious belief that the reading of someone’s akashic is done immediately after death. This is a belief by Indians across the globe. Hinduism, Buddhism and other southern Asian religion depicts samsaric process as unhappy. What keeps people trapped in the samsaric process is the law of karma. This law, like any other natural law, ensures that every good or bad deed eventually goes back to the individual in form of reward or punishment.
Buddhists: Buddha accepted the Hindu beliefs about reincarnation and karma, and the fact that the ultimate objective of religion is to escape death. The only point where they differ is the notion that individuals don’t posses eternal soul. Upon death, according to the Tibetan Buddhism, the strength of the deceased goes through a process that takes forty nine days before they can finally either enter into nirvana or come back to physical life. These stages are divided into three and they are called, “bardos”. It is very important that the person going through this process becomes completely aware because what they go through really affect them, whether they enter into nirvana or come back for rebirth.
Stage one of the bardos is called “chikai”; this is the time for dying individuals to realize that they have dropped the physical body. The consciousness of the person experiences the “clear white light”. Everyone at this stage sees the light; the more spiritual one is the more the length of time that he sees the light. Second stage is the “chonyid”, here the individual experiences hallucination caused by karma, and they still feel like they are still in the body. Only the most evolved have the capability to skip the “bardo” stage and transit directly into nirvana. In stage three, which is called the “sipda”, this is the stage where reincarnation/rebirth takes place.
The most significant connection between Buddhism and near death vision is the experience they have with a heavenly light (Bailey). Buddhists denote to this light as “clear white light”. Buddhists believe that this light comes from all the enlightened ones. As is similar with Buddhism, near death encounters have explained this light in an almost similar way. For example, Mellen-Thomas Benedict saw this light transform into personalities like Jesus and Buddha. Encounters with figures of light and darkness explained in near death encounters can also be found in peaceful and wrathful beings found in Buddhist afterlife. In the bardo stages, the individual sometimes feels the desire to come back to physical world. This is also seen in near death experience: if an individual is given an opportunity either to remain or to come back to life, they choose to come back claiming that it is for the love and duty they have with the surviving persons that they opt to return. Also as is similar with Buddhists, near death experience agrees with the concept of reincarnation.
Jews and Christians: the only story apart from Daniel that refers to the beliefs of reincarnation in the Hebrew Scriptures is the story of Elijah’s who ascended to heaven alive. Malachi describes this reincarnation as a symbol of the coming of Messiah. It is true that the Hebrews did not believe in the concept of reincarnation. An orthodox sect of Judaism referred to as Hasidic Judaism believes in reincarnation. Besides the story of Elijah, other Biblical accounts of heavenly trips are there. It is written that Enoch walked so well with God that he was taken to heaven alive by God. Jacob experienced a vision of stairs that were ascending to heaven. Up to today, Jews continue to ascend to heaven in the near death accounts that have been given.
Impacts of Near Death Experiences
Irrespective of the nature of the experience, the victims’ lives normally get significantly altered because of going through near death experience. Alcoholics have stopped taking alcohol after going through near death experience; hardened criminals have changed and resorted to being nice to people. Atheists have embraced the existence of a supreme being. These people become less materialistic and more loving. These people tend to see the good in all people. They do not see the negative side of the others, being always positive towards the others. They act quite naive and are prone to being easily coned by cone men who take advantage of their trust. High rates of divorce have been reported amongst those people who experience near death visions. This is as result of the change in behavior and priorities of these people (Atwater).
At work places, they have had problems because they tend to shift their attention to other interests that are not beneficial to their employees. It takes at least seven years for the afterlife survivors to integrate the experience into comprehension. These people are generally known to change mostly to the positive especially in their personality. They come to appreciate life and its purpose, and come back with a conviction of making other people happy.
Near death experience is indeed subjective experiences, but they can also be real in terms of tangible earthly reality. Scientists around the globe are still curious enough, looking for funds to conduct a more detailed study on veridical perception in people who experience near death visions. Most people testify that their near death experiences have changed their lives significantly. Some changes happened immediately while others were gradual over a period. People who have gone through near death visions need some time to integrate the experience. The time that different people do need for this varies; some need a short time while the others need a much longer time. People who came through distressing near death experiences may feel highly challenged to comprehend the significance of their experiences.
Research accounts that those who have had near death experiences be it pleasurable or distressing, later on come to appreciate them as beneficial. They hold such experiences so high, because they believe that such was the most shaping point for their lives.