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Death and the Near-Death Experience

Near-death experiencers unanimously report losing their fear of death upon return. Many actually look forward to their own death, a time when they can return to the beautiful realm they experienced. The NDE changes people’s ideas of death forever. This is true even for many people who only read about the NDE. Some experiencers were not even aware they died at the time of their NDE. This demonstrates how insignificant death is really is. It reveals that death is only a very brief transition from the physical to the spiritual – like walking through a door. It has also been described by some experiencers to be similar to the process of waking up from a dream the dream being the physical world.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. When is death really death?
  3. The classifications of death
  4. Perhaps the best case of a person surviving death
  5. NDEs are not exactly identical but common elements can be found
  6. Common aspects found in NDEs
  7. Unusual facts about NDEs
  8. NDE researchers’ comment on the NDE
  9. Near-death experiencers comment on death

1. Introduction

One unanimous aspect involving people who have NDEs is that they know absolutely there is life after death. They no longer believe in an afterlife. They know there is an afterlife. The idea that near-death accounts provide this knowledge has nothing to do with faith. Faith implies the possibility of doubt. Knowledge implies certainty. NDEs are based on solid knowledge and facts – not faith. If a million astronauts go to Mars and return to Earth saying that there’s Martians living there, it is then that I would know for sure that there’s Martians living on Mars. In the same way, millions of people have returned from death saying that there is life after death. Can millions of people experiencing the same thing all be wrong? Isn’t it easier to believe they are right? For this reason, the only rational conclusion is that there is life after death. Faith and skepticism then becomes irrational.

2. When is death really death?

The term “near-death” is a misnomer because the evidence suggests that people actually journey beyond death during near-death experiences. Philosophically, to say that such experiences are “near-death” is like saying a woman is “near-pregnant.” Either a woman is pregnant or they are not. Philosophically, it would seem that a person is either dead or they aren’t.

The medical definition of “death” has been debated for centuries depending on the culture, social conditions, and the role of the medical profession. The newest definition (i.e., “brain death”) may not yet be adequate for encompassing all of death’s meanings. There is no consensus within the scientific community concerning when conscious life begins. In the same way, there is no consensus within the scientific community concerning when physical life ends. Determining the precise time of death is, in fact, medically and scientifically impossible according to cardiologist Dr. Michael Sabom who states, “It used to be thought that the point of death was a single moment in time. But it is now thought that death is a process, not a single moment.”

But because doctors need something to go by, they have come up with various legal and social definitions over the years for the sake of finality. Here are the terms we’re most familiar with:

3. The classifications of death

The Classifications of Death

  1. Heart-Lung Failure: This was the traditional definition of death until advances in medical technology made it possible for people to survive this condition.
  2. Clinical Death: The patient’s breathing and heartbeat stops but they might still be able to be resuscitated with CPR or other means, depending on why the vital signs ceased and under what conditions it occurred
  3. Lower brain death: The brain stem controlling the automatic functions of the body stops working. The length of time which the brain stem must be inactive before a person is declared legally dead varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Complicating the issue, the same person can be considered legally dead if about to become an organ donor, but legally alive if not.
  4. Higher Brain Death: The brain stem still functions, keeping the heart, lungs and digestive system working, but the sensing, thinking part of the brain has shut down. When such a “person” is dead, the body might still be functioning. But for all practical intents and purposes, there is no ethical reason to keep the body alive.
  5. Whole Brain Death: Both lower and higher brain functions have ceased. This definition was first developed by the ad hoc committee at Harvard Medical School in 1968. In 1980, hospitals were permitted to begin using it as a determination of death in patients. But even though a person might suffer from whole brain death, they can still have a heartbeat which only ends due to the failure of the lungs. If the lungs are forced to keep breathing, such people can continue to digest food, excrete waste, and even bear children. Whether or not such people are “dead” is currently up for political debate.
  6. Biological Death: This is when permanent cellular damage occurs to the brain due to a lack of oxygen. By definition, this process is irreversible and final. By definition only, nobody has ever returned to life from this condition.
  7. Metaphysical Death: This occurs when the silver cord breaks during an NDE. The silver cord is the “umbilical” which connects the physical body to the spirit body. Once this cord is broken, returning to the physical body is impossible.

Whichever definition science ultimately agrees on will influence how people are treated in hospitals, how people get organs for transplant, whether women have abortions, and when doctors perform stem-cell research – not to mention the implications within religious, philosophical and metaphysical circles.

4. Perhaps the best case of a person surviving death

Pam Reynolds met all the criteria for surviving whole brain death. While in this state, she experienced an extraordinary NDE. Because her death was not final, it cannot be said that she survived “biological” death. However, her case provides an excellent example of how there is nothing “near” about the so-called “near-death” experience.

Pam’s extraordinary NDE occurred while undergoing a rare surgical procedure to remove a brain aneurysm. The procedure required her to be:

  1. Put unconscious using an anesthetic.
  2. Her body temperature lowered to 60 degrees.
  3. Her heart and breathing stopped.
  4. Her brain waves allowed to flatten
  5. The blood drained from her head.

While in this condition, she floated out of her body and watched the doctors operate on her lifeless body. Later, she was able to describe the surgical instruments, the conversation, and the procedures performed during her surgery.

5. NDEs are not exactly identical but common elements can be found

Some skeptics claim NDEs are not real afterlife experiences because they are not identical. On the other hand, other skeptics claim NDEs are not real afterlife experiences because they are “hard-wired” in the brain which explains the similarities. Which is true? In my opinion, neither. Here is why:

a. No Experience on Earth is Exactly Identical

Think of the near-death experience as you would any Earth experience. Everyone’s perspective is unique from everyone else. Yet, there are similarities to Earthly experiences. People go to work, go to school, live in homes, have sex, eat, sleep, practice religion, travel, visit family and friends, etc. Despite these similarities, no two Earth experiences are identical.

b. No Near-Death Experience is Exactly Identical

Some people travel back in time, meet a worshipped religious figure, travel the universe, view their past lives, meet future children, etc. Everyone has a unique perspective. Yet, common aspects can be found in NDEs.

6. Common aspects found in NDEs

Within a number of NDEs a pattern becomes evident. This pattern can be found in children’s NDEs as well. The pattern (and any single experience) includes one or more of these things:

(1) Feeling that the “self” has left the body and is hovering overhead. Sometimes a “silver cord” is seen connected to the body. Sometimes the person may later be able to describe who was where and what happened, sometimes in detail. Some people who were born blind can see while out of their body.

(2) Moving through a dark space or tunnel and having a sense of timelessness. Sometimes the Earth can be seen from outer space.

(3) Experiencing intensely powerful emotions, ranging from bliss to terror. Sometimes heavenly music is heard.

(4) Encountering a light. It is usually described as golden, or white, and as being magnetic and loving; occasionally it is perceived as a reflection of the fires of hell.

(5) Receiving some variant of the message, “It is not yet your time” from a heavenly being by means of mental telepathy.

(6) Meeting others; may be deceased loved ones, recognized from life or not; sacred beings; pets; guides; angels; orbs; unidentified entities and/or “Beings of Light”; sometimes symbols from one’s own or other religious traditions.

(7) A life review, seeing and re-experiencing major and trivial events of one’s life, sometimes from the perspective of the other people involved, and coming to some conclusion about the adequacy of that life and what changes are needed.

(8) Having a sense of understanding everything, of knowing how the universe works.

(9) Reaching a boundary – a cliff, fence, water, some kind of barrier that may not be crossed if one is to return to life.

(10) In some cases, entering a city or library or receiving station.

(11) Rarely, receiving previously unknown information about one’s life – i.e., adoption or hidden parentage, deceased siblings. Some bring back scientific discoveries. Some bring back knowledge concerning the future. Some bring back knowledge of past lives. Some bring back information concerning astrology.

(12) Decision to return may be voluntary or involuntary. If voluntary, it usually associated with unfinished responsibilities.

(13) Returning to life and to the body. Afterward, an increase in spirituality may be found. Often, dramatic changes within the person are discovered.

(14) Some interesting facts concerning NDEs are: A group of people can die together and share the same NDE. Some NDEs have occurred when the brain is verified to be dead. NDEs have been occurring throughout recorded history. They happen to people of all backgrounds (see below).

(15) Most near-death experiences are pleasant, but others are deeply frightening. For additional information about frightening near-death experiences, contact the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) for a special publication.

7. Unusual facts about NDEs

(1) Many Hollywood stars have reported experiencing an NDE.
(2) A group of people can die together and share the same NDE.
(3) A woman born blind was able to see during her NDE.
(4) Many people see deceased pets in heaven and communicate with them telepathically.
(5) One man in particular had thousands of NDE-like experiences.
(6) A man observed events on Earth occurring hundreds of miles away from his body.
(7) Infants and children have NDEs that are similar to adult NDEs.
(8) Scientific discoveries are brought back from NDEs.
(9) One man was dead for three days and returned to life.
(10) A man traveled back into time and lived in the past.
(11) Some people discover reincarnation during an NDE.
(12) One woman had an NDE due to a sexual orgasm.
(13) One woman saw all three of her bodies: physical, soul, spirit.
(14) A woman saw her children’s’ future.
(15) One woman met a man during her NDE who was her future son yet unborn.
(16) A woman saw her baby in heaven during her NDE – a baby that was previously miscarried.
(17) A woman saw the “Angel of Death” during her NDE.
(18) One particular child saw an angel turn into a mermaid during her NDE.
(19) A man saw Jesus on a cross in heaven. Another man traveled back in time to witness the actual crucifixion of Jesus. Another man traveled back into time and momentarily lived in the minds of Jesus and his disciples. All three of these occurred during an NDE.
(20) A man saw the Being of Light change into many different religious characters such as Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, etc.
(21) NDEs happen to people of all backgrounds:

8. NDE researchers’ comment on the NDE

“One of the near-death experience truths is that each person integrates their near-death experience into their own pre-existing belief system.” (Jody Long)

“There are so many different descriptions of NDEs because there are so many different perceptions, perspectives, beliefs, biases, backgrounds, and afterlife realms to fit them.” (Kevin Williams)

Childhood NDEs are similar to adult NDEs.” (P.M.H. Atwater)

People born blind have NDEs which are similar to sighted people. However, people born blind see for the first time in their lives during their NDEs, but they do not retain their sight when they return to their bodies. (Dr. Kenneth Ring)

“Our life on Earth can be thought of as one channel on a radio. At death, it is as if someone spins the dial on the radio to a different channel. The previous channel is still there, but we are now experiencing a different channel. That is all death is – a change to another channel. We go to that particular channel where our speed of vibration fits a particular channel on the radio dial.” (P.M.H. Atwater)

“There exists a point of no return during the NDE and once this barrier is crossed, returning to our body is impossible.” (Dr. Kenneth Ring)

“All physical and mental handicaps are corrected immediately after death.” (Dr. Kenneth Ring)

9. Near-death experiencers comment on death

“If I lived a billion years more, in my body or yours, there’s not a single experience on Earth that could ever be as good as being dead. Nothing.” (Dr. Dianne Morrissey)

“Death makes us more alive. We are more dead now while alive on Earth than we are when we are physically dead.” (P.M.H. Atwater)

“Death is just a body problem.” (Chuck Griswold)

“Life does not end when we die. Death is a rebirth into a spirit world of light and love, a transition from the physical to the spiritual that is no more frightening or painful than passing between rooms through an open doorway. It is a joyful homecoming to our natural home.” (Betty Eadie)

“Death means losing your physical body. Nothing else is lost.” (P.M.H. Atwater)

“Death is leaving your physical body and facing God. We then become pure Mind. Our minds become naked in that our thoughts are there for all to understand perfectly.” (Dr. George Ritchie)

“Birth is a sleep and a forgetting. Death is an awakening and a remembering.” (Josiane Antonette)

“Birth in the physical is death in the spiritual. Death in the physical is the birth in the spiritual.” (Edgar Cayce)

“Death is a process similar to waking up from a dream.” (John Star)

“Death is like falling asleep or like waking up. We leave one state of consciousness and enter another.” (Joni Maggi)

“Death means dying to the physical world. It also means being born into the spirit world. When we are born into this physical world, we fall asleep and forget who we really are. When we are born into the spirit world, we awaken and remember who we really are.” (Edgar Cayce)

“Death is actually a rebirth into a greater life of understanding and knowledge that stretches forward and backward in time.” (John Star)

“Life and death are one, and only those who will consider the experience as one may come to understand or comprehend what peace indeed means.” (Edgar Cayce)

“The memory of an NDE is more real than the memory of what one did yesterday.” (Dr. Rene Turner)

“I knew with total certainty that everything was evolving exactly the way it should and that the ultimate destiny for every living being is to return to the Source, the Light, Pure Love.” (Juliet Nightingale)

“Immediately after death, the connection to our humanity begins to wear off and an experience of being light as air, extremely happy and in love begins to happen.” (Karen Schaeffer)

“The Being of Light can be called Jesus, Buddha, Yahweh, the Great Spirit, our Higher Self, etc. which can be a feedback of our own religious perspective. The name of the Light Being does not matter. Only the recognition of absolute love and truth is important.” (Mellen-Thomas Benedict)

“In the light of God, there are no opinions, conclusions or beliefs – only being. It is being in a state of total harmonic perfection.” (John Star)

“From the light we come to Earth and to the light we will return.” (Josiane Antonette)

“The only thing we take with us at death is the love we have given away while on Earth.” (Laurelynn Martin)

“Death means breaking through the barrier of space and time.” (Beverly Brodsky)

“Our senses and our sense of awareness are tremendously greater when we are outside of our physical body.” (Thomas Sawyer)

“The last to be overcome is death, and the knowledge of life is the knowledge of death.” (Edgar Cayce)

“You grow to heaven. You don’t go to heaven.” (Edgar Cayce)

“Time stops when we die. Past, present and future become the eternal now.” (Dr. Gerard Landry)

“When children die, they are not children after death. They appear to be as they would in the prime of their life.” (Ruth Montgomery)

“There is nothing worth worrying about – not even death.” (Joni Maggi)

“Getting back into your body from an NDE is like jumping into a swimming pool.” (Pam Reynolds)

“Death is one of the most important lessons that must be learned by those who are affected by it.” (Karen Schaeffer)

“Death, as the end of life, is an illusion. Death is only a change from one state of existence to another. After death, you take with you what you are, not what you own. When you die, everything you have said, thought, or done will be known by all. There are no secrets in the afterlife. You will eventually know the motivation of others who have touched your life. You will be judged as you judge others. Your prosecutor will be yourself. Communication in the spiritual world is telepathic. Your thoughts are answered as rapidly as your mind can send and receive them. Souls with like thoughts are drawn to each other in the afterlife. Souls with evil thoughts avoid the light because they are too ashamed to have their life revealed. Hell is a state of being we create by being away from God until we choose to return to him. It is a state totally devoid of love. That which controls you in the physical world (such as an addiction) will control you in the spiritual world. We can help a deceased loved one’s spiritual transition through prayer. Prayer helps because our connection of love with that person. Grief for a deceased loved one is like the pain felt by mothers who experience “the empty nest syndrome.” It is only a temporary loss, because they have only gone to their next stage of life.” (Sandra Rogers)

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Why the Fear of Death Is Irrational

Someone with death anxiety emailed to me the following question, “I am terribly afraid of death right now. I don’t really know why. I’ve never been afraid before. With so many different NDE versions, all claiming to be the one answer, how could any of them really be?” This article addresses this concern.

Each person’s NDE testimony is their own personal experience of a reality that is far more dynamic than physical reality. Detectives know that if you ask several eyewitnesses of a robbery, for example, you will not get exactly the same story and some may even be contradictory or erroneous for various reasons. The reasons why near-death experiences are so different from each other are the same reasons why experiences in this world are different (although there are a large amount of similarities). I have a web page that gives a more in depth discussion on why NDEs are different.

The question as it exists today is whether the NDE is an actual afterlife experience or dying brains mass hallucinating tunnels, light, and being told it isn’t time yet. Looking at this from a scientific view, which is somewhat limiting, the only conclusion is that there is no scientific evidence that NDEs are actual afterlife experiences. Perhaps it is impossible to obtain scientific proof short of someone bringing back from an NDE the sandal of Jesus, for example.

Even if researchers scientifically confirm that people are actually seeing and hearing things far from their physical bodies, this only proves, in my opinion, that conscious awareness can expand from the body to witness remote events. It is not evidence that consciousness can survive death. And even if doctors began performing “flatline experiments” like in the movie “Flatliners” (where would doctors voluntarily undergo clinical and brain death and be revived to recount their NDE) and scientifically verify that the experiencer was conscious while brain dead and observed events far from their body, I still don’t think this will be enough to call it “scientific proof” of an afterlife. The fact is the NDE of Pam Reynolds is probably the closest anyone has ever come to providing such proof.

Here is a good website by The Campaign for Philosophical Freedom that gives good reasons why the scientific establishment of today, who ignores the evidence for survival, resembles the Church leaders who ignored the evidence that the world is round.

(By the way, the website just mentioned is an excellent source for information on the scientific effort to verify the survival of consciousness after death. There motto is: “Scientific proof of survival after death has existed for over a century. The Campaign for Philosophical Freedom is working to increase public awareness of the existence of scientific proof that we all survive the death of our physical bodies irrespective of religious beliefs.”)

Here is another excellent article by The Campaign concerning how quantum physics has proven the existence of a multi-dimensional reality.

And then there is Victor Zammit’s outstanding website A Lawyer Argues For The Afterlife which presents very good evidence.

Although there may never be evidence that satisfies the minds of orthodox scientism, I believe very strong evidence will be discovered that will convince most people that consciousness survives bodily death.

This aside, the circumstantial evidence in favor of survival after death is so overwhelming that the proverbial ball is really in the skeptic’s court. We don’t have to explain anything. Millions of people having NDEs can’t be all wrong. It is the skeptics who must come up with proof that it is only a brain thing. So far, all the skeptics’ arguments do not fit the scientific facts.

I have the following web pages that list some of the most fascinating evidence from NDEs that suggest they are much more than only a brain thing. Here they are:

NDEs and ScienceNDEs and Quantum TheoryNDE Afterlife EvidenceSkeptic’s Corner

Personally, I am convinced that our consciousness survives bodily death. This is my belief which is based on a mountain of circumstantial evidence (see above). Not much faith is required when the circumstantial evidence is there. NDErs don’t need any scientific or circumstantial evidence to believe in an afterlife because they actually experienced it. I have never been to France but I know it exists because of what I have read and seen on TV. Perhaps it is the scientific method that needs questioned here.

As for the fear of death, it is completely natural and valuable to have because it is part of our “fight or flight” mechanism that has evolved over millions of years to help humans to be at the top of the food chain. However, there is an affliction called “death anxiety” that some people have that can interfere with their life. This can be treated the same way that all anxieties are treated, that is, with medicine. There is a wealth of websites on death anxiety and they are worth visiting.

Of course, everyone is tremendously afraid of pain and suffering. Everyone is afraid of death to some degree, but some people have death anxiety so bad that they have trouble functioning in life. It wouldn’t hurt to tell your doctor about it also.

Also, the overwhelming opinion of those who have died and had an NDE is that death is not painful. I have reports from people who were shot, run over, drowned, drug overdose, committed suicide, illness, burns, etc.. and the overwhelming opinion is that trauma to the body immediately causes your brain to produce morphine-like chemicals that eliminates the pain. And NDErs generally say that any pain they had was very brief. There are even NDEs where a person is yanked from their body before the trauma happens so they don’t feel a thing. Read Norman Paulsen’s NDE. This phenomenon is not uncommon. It is my opinion that this phenomenon happens to people in deadly plane crashes and other very traumatic catastrophes.

But even philosophically, having an unnatural fear of death is not rational. This is because there are only 2 options when it comes to death and both of them are good.

Option #1:  There is no survival after death.

If this option is true, then at best you will have an NDE that ultimately results in oblivion – the end of everything. And is this option so bad? Suppose at death there is no NDE but absolute oblivion. Then, you won’t be around to fear it. It would be the “blessed end of everything.” This option only means that there is nothing gained after death. It is irrational, I think, to be sorrowful about something we were not given, in this case life after death. I think of life after death as being “the icing on the cake”. We should probably live our lives if we were going to die tomorrow anyway. And if it is the blessed end of everything, then we won’t be around to think about it. It is just that there is nothing gained and nothing lost.

Option #2:  There is survival after death.

If there is survival after death, then we can have our cake and eat it too. If there is survival, the question is whether life after death will be heavenly or hellish. I am convinced that the same principle found in life also applies to the afterlife. Life is what you make it. We can kill someone and end up in prison. Or we can do good things and live contently. I believe this principle applies to heaven and hell. So, if any fear is justifiable, it would be the fear of going to hell. But, if you are not a criminal why worry about it? It is not the just who fears the law.

In conclusion, here is the cost/benefit analysis of death:

No survival —-> nothing lost and nothing gained

Survival ——–> nothing lost and something gained

This means that death is a “win/win” situation. Either option is a winner. Granted, the option of survival after death would be preferred. So, by this formula, there is no rational reason to fear death.

Concerning the need to have “faith,” faith implies the possibility of doubt and a state of doubt can be miserable. Knowledge implies certainty. And when it comes to NDEs, it is based on solid knowledge and facts rather than faith. If a million astronauts go to Mars and say that there’s Martians living there, I would be inclined to believe them. If a million people experience death and then say there’s life after death, I would be inclined to believe them just the same.

This said, it is still a good idea to keep an open mind on this and remain a true skeptic (holding to the possibility that there isn’t life after death). Probably the important thing about NDEs is how their impact on society right now. The concept of unconditional love is certainly something the whole world should learn about. Everything else (religious, scientific, metaphysical dogma) is like debating “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin.” There is a lot of problems with dogma because, more often than not, they only create limits to an open mind.

For this reason, one can make the case that the only thing that is really important is loving others, loving life, and loving everything. Faith and knowledge can change, but love is worth keeping and cultivating. Even the Bible says that love is greater than faith. Having faith in religious dogma, instead of having a healthy skepticism, can lead to disaster, in my opinion. For example, that pastor named Paul Hill who was just executed for killing an abortion doctor. This guy was such a religious zealot that he turned into a devil.

My own religious experience has been one of constant evolution. I change my mind all the time. Being manic depressive, I mean this literally. The only thing that is constant is love. This is why I always council people to “follow your heart” because the head is subject to greater change in my opinion. Suppose a person believes there is no afterlife because of having a healthy skepticism. Such skepticism does not really change anything about life. Right now, it is this life that matters and it is love really makes the world go around. The problem is that some people are so sure there is no afterlife that they treat people badly. This kind of situation is probably the only real “sin.” But not believing in an afterlife shouldn’t change things.

A man named Don Morse wrote an excellent book about his death anxiety, NDE and research into the many theories and beliefs about the afterlife. It is entitled, Searching For Eternity and it is well worth reading.

In conclusion, here are some words of wisdom concerning the fear of death. Perhaps it will help.

“To fear death is nothing other than to think oneself wise when one is not. For it is to think one knows what one does not know. No one knows whether death may not even turn out to be one of the greatest blessings of human beings. And yet people fear it as if they knew for certain it is the greatest evil.” (Socrates)

“Nothing in life is to be feared, only understood.” (Madame Marie Curie)

“In the light of the near-death experience, death is nothing more than the illusion of separateness and finality, and those who can believe in this vision of death, like near-death experiencers themselves, lose all fear of it, for how can you fear that which does not exist?” (Dr. Ken Ring)