Where do we go from here?
Have you ever had a near-death experience? Of course, each day in our lives we’re one day nearer to our deaths. That’s the nature of the human condition.
But those who’ve had what is now called a near-death experience (known as an NDE) have the sensation of having “died and gone to heaven,” and then return to life.
The term is frequently applied to those who may have flatlined during surgery, suffered a near-fatal heart attack or accident, or been struck by lightning, but somehow survived and recovered, often with intimations of what lies beyond.
Usually, these people were taken for dead by their doctors for a brief period before they regained consciousness. During that “dead time,” however, many NDEers went through an other-worldly experience, often involving the sense of traveling through a dark tunnel, being drawn toward a pure light, exiting into a colorful world, and communicating with angelic “light beings,” often including deceased relatives.
While in this place, nearly all say they feel intense love and acceptance, learn what the afterlife is like, and are either asked if they wish to return to their body or, in many cases, are told that they must return to fulfill their life’s purpose or a particular mission.
In nearly all cases, the experience results in major changes in the person’s attitude and behavior, often their career and sometimes their marriage. It also nearly always results in losing their fear of death.
It might be easy to write off the occasional NDE story as the product of an overactive imagination or hallucinatory experience — perhaps brought on by drugs during surgery or lack of oxygen to the brain, some claim — if such accounts were rare or experienced primarily by people already known to be lightly tethered to reality. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.
I recently attended a lecture by Bruce Greyson, M.D., professor emeritus of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia, who has spent 50 years collecting data from more than 1,000 ordinary people who share strikingly similar stories about their NDEs, including some with out-of-body experiences where the patients report seeing or hearing things they could not have physically observed.
In 1981, Greyson helped found an organization, the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS), and edited its peer-reviewed scholarly journal, the Journal of Near-Death Studies, for 25 years. He has himself published more than 100 articles describing his research.
When I heard him speak some weeks ago, he was addressing the annual convention of IANDS in Arlington, Virginia, before an audience of nearly 600 people.
I’ll admit a few of the other speakers at the conference, especially those hawking their books or offering to share their newfound “healing powers” for a price, seemed a bit on the shady side.
But I spoke with several attendees (those with yellow ribbons on their name tag were “experiencers”) who seemed very down to earth and shared unique experiences.
Some had what you might call the “traditional version” of a near-death experience; others had what they called “spiritually transformative” experiences while conscious — a daily-life experience that made them aware of a spiritual force in the world they had not previously sensed.
Most were attending the conference because it presented a safe place to meet others with whom they could share their stories and not be treated as if they were crazy. Instead, they would find people who could truly empathize, having had a similar experience themselves.
People came from all over the U.S., of all ages and backgrounds. Similarly, the experiencers studied by Greyson span the world, coming from many different cultures and nations, speaking many languages, yet telling stories with striking similarities.
In his 2021 book, After, Greyson summarizes many studies where he and others evaluate physical, brain-based explanations for NDEs and discover those can’t explain (or refute) the experiences. He also describes situations where inexplicable claims of out-of-body vision are evaluated and found to be accurate.
Most interesting to me: He says around 20 percent of people who come near death (whether in a hospital setting or otherwise) report having some sort of afterlife experience.
So, I’ve started to ask people I know if they have personally had such an experience or another inexplicable communication.
One friend confessed that a person her daughter had never met approached her at a conference and asked if her father had recently died. He had, she said, whereupon the fellow said he needed to convey a comforting message that her father wanted her to hear — a message containing facts it would have been difficult or impossible for someone outside the family to know. The stranger confessed that he doesn’t enjoy having this ability to be an intermediary, but it’s something he said he has no control over.
Other friends of mine (a nurse and a hospice chaplain) told me that seeing deceased relatives and engaging in conversations with them are frequently reported by hospital patients who are close to the end of life.
So, I would like to make a request. If you have had a near-death experience or an otherwise inexplicable spiritual encounter, or know of one from a close family member or friend, will you share those stories with us? We will not publicize the stories in your name if you don’t want us to. But I would like to gather more information about these phenomena with your help.
Please write to us either by mail or email, or submit your comments through our website. And please share your contact information so we can follow up with you if we have questions. Again, we will keep your personal information confidential.
I hope to hear from many of you. And I expect to follow up with a longer article about this topic in a future issue. Thank you.