PureInsight | January 5, 2001
Not surprisingly, one of the results of these joyous and timeless experiences is that the great majority of subjects, whatever they may have believed before, become unassailably convinced that there is life after death. For many, this is simply a result of the conviction acquired during their NDE that their soul, or essence, can in effect be felt as separate from the body, and is a part of an infinite essence. Elisabeth K¨¹bler-Ross tells a dramatic story of survival after death. A patient of hers, Mary Schwartz, appeared to her in fully materialised form ten and a half months after she had died:
K¨¹bler-Ross visited by a dead patient
She said to K¨¹bler-Ross, who has told this story to lecture audiences, 'Dr. Ross, I want to take two minutes of your time. Can we walk to your office?' K¨¹bler-Ross began to conduct 'reality testing' on herself as they went to the office to assure herself that she wasn't hallucinating.
As they reached the office, Mary opened the door and entered. K¨¹bler-Ross sat at her desk. Mary closed the door, walked over and stood in front of the desk. She said 'I came back to thank you and Rennie Gaines (a minister who was in attendance when Mary was dying) for helping me to die, but my major reason is to tell you not to stop this work now. The time is not right.' K¨¹bler-Ross had been feeling frustrated and had considered stopping her work with the dying because of the opposition she had encountered among her colleagues. And now an apparition was telling her what was going on in her own mind. At that point, as K¨¹bler-Ross described it to one audience, 'I did something shrewd in my desperation to obtain proof that this was real.' She lied to Mary Schwartz, saying she needed a note to send to Rennie Gaines. Actually, she planned to keep the note herself to compare signatures.
So she handed Mary a pencil and piece of paper, and asked if she would write a note for him. Mary appeared to be full of love, K¨¹bler-Ross said, and she smiled as though she knew why her former doctor really wanted the note. She said 'Of course,' wrote the message, signed her name, moved back from the desk, looked at K¨¹bler-Ross, and asked, 'You promise you'll not give up this work?' K¨¹bler-Ross promised. Then Mary walked to the door, opened it, walked out and closed the door behind her. K¨¹bler-Ross ran immediately to the door, opened it, but saw only an empty corridor. Nevertheless, this incident convinced K¨¹bler-Ross of the reality of life after death.
From 'A Practical Guide to Death and Dying' by John White.
After this, K¨¹bler-Ross resumed her work with the dying with renewed vigour.
Many of those who have had NDEs have found, upon recovery, that the spiritual side of their lives has become important to them, whether or not they had previously been conventionally religious. In some people this change was expressed modestly, casually almost - as related by this next woman whose NDE had been the result of a car crash which had actually killed her two young sons:
Letting the universe take charge
Without knowing the purpose, the boys died and were allowed to go on. And I died, but only symbolically - to my former way of life - and had to return. Does any of this make sense? When I revived, my life took on a different meaning, a commitment. I'm still a practical, level-headed person, but whereas before I was dogmatic and argumentative, now I let the universe take charge of my life. I don't have to be in charge, I just have to be.
From 'Acquainted with the Night' by Allegra Taylor.
Imbued with all the ardour of new converts, some have felt disappointed by what they have perceived to be the empty formalities of church services. Jayne Smith, in her NDE, felt that she had entered into a paradise of bright light and a flowery meadow saturated with colours she had never seen before. Afterwards she went consciously in search of religious fellowship:
God is about joy
When you've experienced total unconditional love, and then you are back in this world and can't find it anywhere, it leaves a kind of empty feeling. I was raised Episcopalian. Before my experience, religion and God seemed such a long ago and far away thing; everything happened 2,000 years ago. But after my Near-Death Experience, I couldn't wait to go back to church.
So I went to church and heard a sermon on smoking and drinking. I found it a terrible let-down. I went other times, but the sermons weren't on anything that matters. I know God is about joy and I kept waiting for some minister to tap into love and joy and celebration, and to tell his congregation 'you are love'. Because that's what we are, I'm dead sure.
From 'Otherworld Journeys' by Carol Zaleski.
Even many of those who did not put any kind of religious label on their feelings after their NDE discovered that life as they knew it had been transformed for them. A decreased fear of death leads to feelings of enhanced health, well-being, tranquility and zest for life. The changes in life goals and values, which many view as a spiritual rebirth, include a renewed sense of individual purpose, an increase in compassion, an ability to be more loving, a desire for more wisdom, and the wish to develop their faculties and talents in order to be able to be of service to others. One woman, who took an overdose of anti-depressants, maintains that the significance of her NDE can be judged by its transforming after-effects:
NDE after a suicide attempt
The part of my story that's important is not so much the experience. What matters is how my life changed as a result. Just prior to the experience, I did my usual thing and ended up in a psychiatric hospital for about a month. And now I'm working in one. I'm the helper instead of the one being helped.
I don't drink or do drugs anymore. I just had my second year anniversary with AA. And I'm helping other people with their addictions and their feelings. And that's just amazing! If there's anything I didn't do, it was deal with my emotions. I didn't live in reality. I didn't accept life as it was. I didn't take responsibility for me. I was into blaming a lot of people.
So it's almost like my whole philosophy of life has changed.
Prior to the experience I didn't feel like I should be alive. After the experience I knew I was supposed to be alive. It was a vague feeling, but I knew.
I believe the experience was given to me to help me get on the right road, to help me see I am valuable and I should be helping people. And that's what I'm doing through my AA involvement and through my job. I'm reaching out a lot more than I did. I was really self-centered, and I'm growing out of that.
From 'Otherworld Journeys' by Carol Zaleski.
The following statements are also typical of this change:
Accepting others and showing feelings
Now I find that everyone I meet, I like. I very rarely meet someone I don't like. And that's because I accept them right away as someone I like. I don't judge people. And people respond to me in the same way and I think that they can feel this in me. I'm a very demonstrative person in showing my feelings. I haven't always been. I was with my children. But since I had that experience I kiss everyone I meet. It's just a natural thing, an expression of love.
One interviewee also stresses a more loving and healing relationships with others:
Insight into others
My joy comes from another's smile. I also notice that I reach out and touch people more, I seem to make people feel better. I know this - that when there's a family problem, everyone turns to me. I have more insight into other people. It's very difficult for me to lose my temper anymore. I can see the pain in other people's eyes. That's why they hurt other people because they really don't understand. The most important thing that we have are our relationships with other people. It all comes down to caring and compassion and love for your fellow man. Love is the answer. It's the answer to everything.
Both above extracts from 'Heading Toward Omega' by Kenneth Ring.
The president of the British branch of the International Association for Near-Death Experiences (see the Resources chapter), Dr Peter Fenwick, works as a consultant neuropsychiatrist at the Institute of Psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital in London. The results of his survey of more than 300 Near-Death Experiences bore out much of the previous evidence. Of his sample, 38% felt more spiritual, 42% felt joy, 30% peace, 15% fear, and 10% a sense of loss. Half were convinced of survival after death; a third felt they had become more psychically sensitive; a third felt they had become better people; and a third felt they were more socially conscious. (Results reported in the Guardian, Oct. 12th 1990.)
We feel that people who have had positive NDEs would make very good recruits for any future midwifery service for the dying, since they have lost their own fear of death and in many cases report a strong urge to work with the dying, as described by another of Kenneth Ring's interviewees:
Everything went into place and I just knew what I had to do. It was as simple as that. And I had this urge - and I don't know where it came from - but I knew that I had to help people who were terminally ill. I read articles that just sort of came to me, and I said, 'That's it!' And it kept happening. And so it's been growing ever since. It's a nice feeling to work with them. You love them. I know sometimes when I go see someone, I go out of the room and I cry. I cry with them because you feel so bad, but you love them and you want to help them.
From 'Heading Toward Omega' by Kenneth Ring.