People who have survived an accident, illness or other physical trauma sometimes report stories of near-death experiences (NDEs) in which their consciousness seemed to separate from their bodies. Many NDE survivors describe seeming to float above their bodies, or journeying to distant places in the physical world. Other people have told stories of visiting different planes or being whisked up a tunnel to a white light before they found themselves back in their bodies. Accounts of near-death experiences often share broad similarities, regardless of someone’s cultural and religious background, upbringing, or whether he or she maintained any spiritual practices before the experience. The ways people describe and interpret their NDEs are influenced by their personal experiences and beliefs: many Christians have taken their NDEs as reassurance that they’re going to Heaven, for example. However, even for people who don’t ascribe to a specific notion of the afterlife, NDEs provide a powerful argument for the persistence of the individual after physical death. And one thing people who have had NDEs can agree on is that these are usually profoundly meaningful, life-changing experiences.
Stories of near-death experiences usually start with an accident or other medical emergency: people have had NDEs after being seriously wounded in an accident, having a heart attack or stroke, or experiencing complications during surgery. As the name suggests, a near-death experience can occur when a person comes close to death or has been pronounced dead by a physician. (Death is medically defined as the cessation of measurable activity in the brain.) People have woken up in their bodies after a near-death experience and been told that they had been medically dead for as much as a couple of hours! Although the medical study of NDEs is in its infancy, the anecdotal evidence suggests that NDEs may occur in situations where the brain is severely deprived of oxygen, for instance if someone is choking or experiencing a stroke.
Most common of all the near death experience stories that I read was that of being pulled down a tunnel to a bright light: people find themselves floating in a black space, or sometimes above their own bodies. They may be aware they were in medical trouble or even that they’d died, but feel little or no concern over the fact. People will often perceive themselves as bodiless, although some have reported seeing their astral bodies or a silver cord connecting their soul to their physical bodies. A feeling of omniscience, or the ability to see everything at once, is another feature of NDEs: many survivors have asserted they were able to see what was happening to their physical bodies even as their disembodied point of view was traveling down the tunnel. Especially interesting is that many survivors’ account have been later matched to medical records of what occurred and been found to be accurate.
Near death stories also sometimes contain descriptions of encounters with various entities. Several have described meeting a being of light that they equated with God, their guardian angel, or their spirit guide. Many report meeting deceased relatives along the way, and survivor Ken Mullens describes an encounter with a “radiant being” that he realized he was related to after he communicated with it telepathically. Survivors’ descriptions of traveling down this tunnel of light have been overwhelmingly positive and have included feelings of unconditional love, perfection and joy during the journey; many have said it feels like “coming home”.
Travel within the physical plane is also possible in a near-death experience. Much like astral projection, during an NDE people have been able to travel to different places just by willing it. One man experienced a separation while in a coma, teleported himself to Scotland, and found himself hovering above a cliff in a storm, able to hear the thunder and feel the salt spray from the ocean. Survivors have also traveled to distant places around and even outside the universe during an NDE. Artist Mellen-Thomas Benedict had a profound NDE when he was suffering terminal cancer, in which he was visited by a being of light which appeared to him as a composite of Jesus, Buddha and Krishna. The being told him that all human beings were connected and that there is no evil, only a lack of love which distorts people’s actions. With its guidance, Benedict went on a cosmic journey through the universe in which many different creations and intelligent species were shown him before he finally woke up in his body. His hospice nurse had found him, apparently dead, half an hour before. He woke up feeling completely healthy, and when he went for a medical screening about three months later, his cancer was gone.
As the thousands of survivor testimonials attest, a near-death experience can have a lifelong impact on the person who comes through it. Many survivors such as Benedict and Mullens have dedicated themselves to inspiring others via the messages and experiences they came back with. Mullens says he realized after his NDE that it was his mission to write and speak to people about it to help them conquer their fear of death. He also credits his NDE with helping him live a more open-minded, happier life: “It changed my whole outlook on life, my whole outlook on people, and changed me from being a bigoted type of person to being more broad-minded… as a Christian I felt my faith was the only faith, and this experience made that view just ludicrous.” He adds, “I think I had to die to learn to live.” Many near-death experiences are described in ways that sound very similar to dream herb experiences and other lucid dreaming experiences, making one wonder whether the death experience and the dream experience might not be somehow similar.