1) What is an NDE? The term "NDE" is an abbreviation for the near-death experience, an event usually triggered by a life- threatening traumatic experience that has a significantly notice- able impact on the individual's outlook on life. The NDE has been compared to a kind of spiritual awakening or a mystical ex- perience.
2) What is usually reported in an NDE account? Although no indi- vidual NDE report is precisely the same as another, there are many similarities. The basic gist of the experience resembles the following:
A person faces some physically life-threatening event, be it an illness, accident, etc. From this point, all the agony and limi- tations of being mortal seem to cease and the individual experi- ences a related phenomenon to the NDE -- something called the "out of body experience" (OBE). The experiencer usually reports leaving his or her corporeal form in what often defined as his or her "true form," which may actually be shapeless. The individual is sometimes confused since he or she has not yet adjusted to be- ing in such a state. One often notes feeling as though his or her senses are enhanced as reports claim the experiencer seems to be able to see over vast distances and can hear even the slight- est sound. Before the individual has too much of a chance to get used to the state, a dark tunnel is often reported to close about the form of the individual. He or she then travels at what is de- scribed as remarkable speeds through the tunnel towards a bright light at what appears to be the tunnel's end. This light is of- ten described as being extremely bright, but since one lacks physical optical sensors in this state, there is no discomfort to look; in fact, NDErs often note they have no desire to turn their attention away from it. A feeling of serenity, peace, and an ex- treme sensation of love seems to emanate from the light, which is often described as being a functional entity of some sort -- many make it out to be what is referred to by the religious as God. The light communicates telepathically with the experiencer and calms him or her. NDErs often reiterate how much it feels like they have returned somewhere they have been before instead of em- igrating to a new location. The light may then bring to the in- dividual's attention his or her life review, which is kind of like a re-cap of his or her entire history from every viewpoint. In other words, everything the person did or said that may have had an impact on another being for good or ill becomes subject to a kind of role reversal. The experiencer feels the effects of his or her own actions. This life review seems to be the cata- lyst for many experiencers changing their attitudes and behaviour once they resume a physical state. After the life review, unless the light explains to the individual that "their time has not yet come" (in such cases, there are no choices offered -- the person gets sent back to the physical realm), it generally asks the ex- periencer if he or she would rather stay in this home-like realm or return to their physical existence. The individual may notice a barrier between his or her present location and what is often referred to as "the other side," just like the recent Aerosmith song title. The simplest thought about one's friends, pets, sib- lings, parents, children, etc. seems to give the light all the answer it needs. Before the experiencer may even be able to re- alize that he or she has responded with an answer, a physical sensation may be felt for the first time since before the experi- ence started as they enter their body and resume consciousness (albeit briefly, depending on the situation).
The details of the experience may differ tremendously -- not all experiences are reported as pleasant. Some may be down-right horrific. The barrier may be described as a wall, bushes, a gap, a treeline, etc.; but it maintains its function to separate the experiencer from some other realm. Deceased familiar beings may be recognized. The light may display future events for the expe- riencer in a kind of precognitive vision. Each account has its own unique features, but many follow this general pattern.
3) How long does this experience last? No one is ever really certain how to test the experience for time length. The experi- encers have great difficulty estimating how much time the event spanned for they claim it was temporally nonlinear. It is ex- tremely difficult, if not outright impossible, to translate a nonlinear experience into a linear time-line, although it usually is described as such simply so others who have not had the expe- rience may understand what is being said to them. However, it should be noted that those who have had an NDE emphatically ex- press that even though they may describe it so others may compre- hend their recollections, this type of event is not experienced as it is described. NDErs typically have an astounding amount of difficulty relating their experiences to others in terms of time and emotional sensations they detected, particularly the love and peace they felt (experiencers usually classify such feelings as "like nothing ever experienced on Earth").
4) Who can have NDEs? Anyone can have a near-death experience since those who have reported having one have been of either sex, of varying ages, multiple religious affiliations (including the lack of religious participation), and of various geographic loca- tions. It has been estimated that roughly eight million adult Americans have had an NDE. The most common estimate is that about one in three persons who come close to death has some kind of an NDE. It should be noted, however, that not everyone who has a close call with death reports the experience.
5) Could this experience simply be a biological reaction? NDErs whole-heartedly believe in the authenticity of the experience, although skeptics do raise some good arguments for the biological perspective. Those who attribute the experience to a deep-rooted biological reaction to some intense physical trauma suggest that the experience is housed within the oldest regions of one's brain. A great physical strain provokes the brain to shut down to a very basic level of consciousness, resembling a dream-like state, but at a higher degree of intensity so to better cope with (perhaps even completely escape from) the physical distress. EEG scans may prove useless because the brain is operating at such a basic level to escape detection.
6) Could this experience be some kind of psychological hallucina- tion or fantasy? Although the experience does have some profound psychological effects on the individual, such a perspective is often dismissed because of its intensity and the similarities across cultures with numerous people. Explaining the NDE as a kind of mass hallucination seems to be lacking in argumentative substance. There have been numerous accounts mentioning how those who have been physically incapable of adequate (or any) perception report various accurate depictions after their NDE. For example, one report tells of a woman who revealed she had an NDE while under the supervision at a hospital. Her story was considered preposterous fiction until she asked one of the staff about a tennis shoe on the outside ledge of an adjacent hallway. Out of curiosity, a staff member investigated the site she de- scribed and returned with the item of which the woman spoke. Each detail was accurate, even though there was no possible way the woman could have known there was a shoe on the ledge. Be- cause of actual physical discoveries that NDErs may notice and mention to others after the experience, the psychological per- spective has some competition with those who believe the experi- ence to be authentic.
7) What are the after-effects of an NDE? Like the experience it- self, there are several noted after-effects that are deemed typi- cal. For example, he or she feels as though they have changed both spiritually and physically and often report a drastic change in behaviour. One's goals often change (and along with that, a career switch is often the result). NDErs claim to be more spir- itual, although not necessarily religious. They claim to have a better sense of humor. Almost all mention that they are no longer afraid of death. They may note that they have become less attached to things, particularly material objects. The NDEr may describe themselves as becoming empathic and is not able to de- tect the emotions of others, particularly if the emotions are in- tense (such as a great sadness, depression, anger, or joy). Some me NDErs, not all, mention that they have become disruptively sensitive to electronic devices, perhaps to the point where such objects will cease to function around them. Some experiencers report possessing paranormal capabilities such as telepathy (the ability to read the thoughts of others and to be able to project their thoughts to others for the sake of near-instantaneous com- munication), astral projection (the ability to have OBEs at will), the ability to heal others with varying effectiveness, and precognition (the ability to see into the future). Some even re- port being capable of psychic reading, the ability to see events in other people's lives by physically touching some item with which the individual came into bodily contact. All NDErs tend to be much more selfless and emphasize the universality and inter- connectedness of everything within existence.
8) Are NDEs are recent phenomenon? No. Literature throughout the ages and over varying cultures have been tattooed with NDE- like descriptions and accounts. Plato's REPUBLIC, Dante's DIVINE COMEDY, and medieval literature investigated by Carol Zaleski all possess descriptions resembling the NDE.
9) What literature is available for one interested in learning more about NDEs? The following list is far from comprehensive and complete, but these are good places to start for basic read- ings:
Atwater, P.M.H. BEYOND THE LIGHT
Blackmore, Susan. DYING TO LIVE. Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1993.
Eadie, Betty J. EMBRACED BY THE LIGHT. Placerville, CA: Gold Leaf Press, 1992
Moody, Raymond A., Jr. LIFE AFTER LIFE. New York: Bantam, 1975.
Morse, Melvin. CLOSER TO THE LIGHT. New York: Villard, 1990.
Ring, Kenneth. HEADING TOWARD OMEGA: IN SEARCH OF THE MEANING OF THE NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE. New York: Quill, 1985.
Rinpoche, Sogyal. THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING ISBN 0-06-250834-2
Zaleski, Carol. OTHERWORLD JOURNEYS. New York: Oxford Universi- ty Press, 1989.
The International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS) promotes research and communication, has archives of NDEs, holds annual conferences, and can be reached at
P.O. Box 502
East Windsor Hill, CT 06028