PureInsight | January 5, 2001
The challenge to explore this phenomenon was taken up by the Swiss-born American psychiatrist Elisabeth K¨¹bler-Ross, renowned for her pioneering work with dying patients. She drew public attention to the fact that something quite out of the ordinary happens to a person on the verge of death. And a psychiatry professor, George Ritchie, who during his nine-minute 'death' had found himself in the presence of Christ in a heavenly realm, wrote a book entitled 'Return from Tomorrow'. This inspired Raymond Moody, an American, whose book 'Life after Life' (published in 1975) quickly became a best seller, advertising itself as 'actual case histories that reveal there is life after death' (although Moody himself said 'I am not trying to prove there is life after death. Nor do I think that a 'proof' of this is presently possible').
'Life after Life' is based on 150 accounts, and from these accounts Moody extracted the fifteen most frequent elements. He labelled these in the sequence in which they tended to occur as follows: ineffability, hearing the news, feelings of peace and quiet, the noise, the dark tunnel, out of the body, meeting others, the being of light, the review, the border or limit, coming back, telling others, effects on lives, new views of death, and, finally, corroboration. This next account, a descriptive summary by Kenneth Ring, puts flesh on the bones of these elements.
The 'typical' NDE
The experience begins with a feeling of easeful peace and a sense of well-being, which soon culminates in a sense of overwhelming joy and happiness. This ecstatic tone, although fluctuating in intensity from case to case, tends to persist as a constant emotional ground as other features of the experience begin to unfold. At this point, the person is aware that he feels no pain nor does he have any other bodily sensations. Everything is quiet. These cues may suggest to him that he is either in the process of dying or has already 'died'.
He may then be aware of a transitory buzzing or wind-like sound, but, in any event, he finds himself looking down on his physical body, as though viewing it from some external vantage point. At this time, he finds that he can see and hear perfectly; indeed, his vision and hearing tend to be more acute than usual. He is aware of the actions and conversations taking place in the physical environment, in relation to which he finds himself in the role of a passive, detached spectator. All this seems very real - even quite natural - to him; it does not seem at all like a dream or an hallucination. His mental state is one of clarity and alertness.
At some point, he may find himself in a state of dual awareness. While he continues to be able to perceive the physical scene around him, he may also become aware of 'another reality' and feel himself being drawn into it. He drifts or is ushered into a dark void or tunnel and feels as though he is floating through it. Although he may feel lonely for a time, the experience here is predominantly peaceful and serene. All is extremely quiet and the individual is aware only of his mind and of the feeling of floating.
All at once, he becomes sensitive to, but does not see, a presence. The presence, who may be heard to speak or who may instead 'merely' induce thoughts into the individual's mind, stimulates him to review his life and asks him to decide whether he wants to live or die. This stock-taking may be facilitated by a rapid and vivid visual playback of episodes from the person's life. At this stage, he has no awareness of time or space, and the concepts themselves are meaningless. Neither is he any longer identified with his body. Only the mind is present and it is weighing - logically and rationally - the alternatives that confront him at this threshold separating life from death: to go further into this experience or to return to earthly life. Usually the individual decides to return on the basis, not of his own preference, but of the perceived needs of his loved ones, whom his death would necessarily leave behind. Once the decision is made, the experience tends to be abruptly terminated.
Sometimes, however, the decisional crisis occurs later or is altogether absent, and the individual undergoes further experiences. He may, for example, continue to float through the dark void toward a magnetic and brilliant golden light, from which emanates a 'world of light' and preternatural beauty, to be (temporarily) reunited with deceased loved ones, before being told, in effect, that it is not yet his time and that he has to return to life.
In any event, whether the individual chooses or is commanded to return to his earthly body and worldly commitments, he does return. Typically, however, he has no recollection how he has effected his 're-entry' for at this point he tends to lose all awareness. Very occasionally, however, the individual may remember 'returning to his body' with a jolt or an agonizing wrenching sensation. He may even suspect that he re-enters 'through the head'.
Afterward, when he is able to recount his experience, he finds that there are simply no words adequate to convey the feelings and quality of awareness he remembers. He may also be or become reticent about discussing it with others, either because he feels no one will really be able to understand it or because he fears he will be disbelieved or ridiculed.
From 'Heading Toward Omega' by Kenneth Ring.
Since the publication of 'Life at Death' in 1980 Kenneth Ring has found himself very much involved in near-death studies, helping found the International Association for Near Death Studies. His research seems to agree in most respects with the large study of the death bed observations of doctors and nurses carried out by Karlis Osis:
35,540 death-bed observations
The study was based on a large questionnaire survey; ten thousand questionnaires covering various aspects of death-bed observations were sent out, half of them to physicians and the other half to nurses. Detailed analyses were conducted on the 640 questionnaires that were returned. The respondents who returned these questionnaires claimed 35,540 death-bed observations.
Osis found that about 10% of dying patients appeared to be conscious in the hour preceding death. Surprisingly enough, fear was not the dominant emotion in these individuals, according to the physicians and nurses in the sample. They indicated that discomfort, pain and even indifference were more frequent. It was estimated that about one in twenty dying persons showed signs of elation. A surprising finding in this research was the high incidence of visions with a predominantly non-human content. They were approximately ten times more frequent than one would expect in a comparable group of persons in normal health. Some of these visions were more or less in accordance with traditional religious concepts and represented heaven, paradise, or the Eternal City; others were secular images of indescribable beauty, such as landscapes with gorgeous vegetation and exotic birds. According to the authors, more of these visions were characterised by brilliant colours and bore a close resemblance to psychedelic experiences induced by mescaline or LSD. Less frequent were horrifying visions of devils and hell or other frightening experiences, such as being buried alive.
From 'The Human Encounter with Death' by Stanislav Grof
and Joan Halifax.
Music in NDEs
About 50% of people hear music during their NDE, and mostly 'music with a beautiful, floating sound', according to Dr Joel Funk, who is a professor of psychology at Plymouth State College, New Hampshire, USA. Dr Funk played various kinds of music to 60 people who had had NDEs and found that they identified New Age style synthesised music as nearest to what they had heard during their NDE. 'Some people burst into tears when they recognise the music of their NDEs,' says Dr Funk.
Steve Roach of Tucson, Arizona, had an NDE after a bike crash and heard 'the most intensely beautiful music you could ever imagine' and decided 'to dedicate my life to re-creating the exact same sound.' The result is a record entitled 'Structures from Silence'. 'Many people contact me after hearing my recordings to tell me that they've heard the exact same music during their NDEs,' says Roach (see the Resources chapter, under Videos and Tapes).