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The Near-Death Experience

http://www.iands.org/nde.html
Copyright April 29, 2002, International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS). This text is used by permission from http://www.iands.org.

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    When the bleeding wouldn't stop, Bill knew he was dying. "I was going, but I felt totally at peace. There was a golden kind of light, brighter than the sun, but it didn't hurt my eyes. I never wanted anything as much as to go into that light, but something or somebody-it felt like my dad, who died when I was a kid-communicated to me, 'It isn't your time. You must go back to finish what you have to do in your life.' The next thing I knew, I was slammed back into my body. It felt like a wet sock, and the pain was just awful." 
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    For Marilyn, in the emergency room with a heart attack, the pain suddenly stopped. "All at once I just popped out of my body and floated up to the ceiling. I could see dust on top of the light fixtures, and I thought, 'Boy, somebody's going to catch it for this!' I could see doctors working on someone on the table, when all of a sudden I realized it was me-I mean, my body. I thought it was kind of silly they were working so hard. My family was waiting down the hall, and I wished my kids could stop crying; I wanted to let them know I was fine, but they couldn't hear me. Then it seemed I had to get back, that it was my job to take care of them, see them grow up okay." 
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    When the car stopped flipping, Kurt thought he had been thrown into outer space. "I was alone, all by myself out in the universe. I could hear noises, sort of like moans, and I could see these figures in the distance. They seemed to be people wearing some kind of robe, and they were faceless. They were in torment. I don't know why I think that, except it just seemed that way. They were helpless and gesturing to me to join them. Then I was realizing it would be like that forever. Something-I don't know what-was sending me a message, something about making a choice. I don't really remember it exactly. Being there was so horrible I can't even describe it. That was fourteen years ago, and I still can't figure out what I ever did to deserve it."
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    What Bill, Marilyn and Kurt have shared are near-death experiences. NDEs have occurred throughout history, in all parts of the world. It is even possible that experiences like these helped to create the world's ideas about heaven and hell, or at least about what may happen at or after death. 
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What is a Near-Death Experience (NDE)?

Although most people who have come close to death say they remember nothing, a third or more may later report that "something happened." That "something" might be a near-death experience, an NDE. 
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No two NDEs are identical, but within a group of experiences a pattern becomes evident. The pattern (and any single experience) includes one or more of these things: 

  • Feeling that the "self" has left the body and is hovering overhead. The person may later be able to describe who was where and what happened, sometimes in detail. 
  • Moving through a dark space or tunnel. 
  • Experiencing intensely powerful emotions, ranging from bliss to terror. 
  • 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. 
  • Receiving some variant of the message "It is not yet your time." 
  • Meeting others: may be deceased loved ones, recognized from life or not; sacred beings; unidentified entities and/or "beings of light"; sometimes symbols from one's own or other religious traditions. 
  • 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. 
  • Having a sense of understanding everything, of knowing how the universe works. 
  • Reaching a boundary-a cliff, fence, water, some kind of barrier that may not be crossed if one is to return to life. 
  • In some cases, entering a city or library. 
  • Rarely, receiving previously unknown information about one's life-i.e., adoption or hidden parentage, deceased siblings. 
  • Decision to return may be voluntary or involuntary. If voluntary, usually associated with unfinished responsibilities. 
  • Returning to the body. 
Most NDEs are pleasant, but others are deeply frightening. 
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The Experience

The near-death experience (NDE) is among the most powerful experiences that a person can have, one of a family of experiences which may occur with or without being close to death. It may permanently alter a person's perceptions of what is real and important. 
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    One most extraordinary aspect of NDEs is that the underlying pattern seems unaffected by a person's culture or belief system, religion, race, education, or any other known variable, although the way in which the NDE is described varies according to the person's background and vocabulary. There is no evidence that the type of experience is related to whether the person is conventionally religious or not, or has lived a "good" or "bad" life according to his/her society's standards (although an NDE often strongly affects how life is lived after the experience). 
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    An experience may include the feeling of being out of the physical body, moving through a darkness or tunnel, encountering the presences of deceased loved ones and other entities, and an indescribable light or menacing darkness. Many people say they have glimpsed the pattern and meaning of life and the universe, or have been given information beyond ordinary human capacities. For most people the experience is joyful beyond words, although others tell of unpleasant or terrifying experiences. When adequately understood every type of NDE reveals issues of deep significance to the life of the individual and to humankind in general. 
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Is It Real?

Medical technology may bring survivors, but science is not able to explain what happened in the process. Like all human experiences, the NDE no doubt has a biologically-based trigger; yet its impact is most often felt as a psychological or spiritual event. For people who believe that only physical events can be real, the NDE - or even the idea of such a thing - may be disturbing or seem ludicrous. 
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    Yet the phenomenon cannot be dismissed just because we cannot explain it. A 1982 Gallup Poll estimated that at least eight million adults in the US alone have had an NDE; the figure is now believed to be closer to thirteen million. Experiences have been reported through the centuries, from many cultures and religious traditions. 
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    Whatever the near-death experience is, it is neither recent nor local. Something happens, and it changes peoples lives. 
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What Does It Mean?

Many people believe that the NDE proves there is life after death in a literal sense. To others, more cautious, the experience is not "proof," but it suggests that some aspect of human consciousness may be independent of the body and may survive physical death. To others, the NDE defines a value system based on care for others, knowledge, and service. Whether one sees the meaning of the NDE as religious or secular, there is much to learn. 
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Commonalities

Research has shown that NDEs in Western civilization occur with similar frequency and content to people of both genders and of all ages, races, levels of education, socioeconomic levels, spiritual/religious affiliations (or non-affiliation), sexual orientations (gay/lesbian, bisexual, or heterosexual), and precipitating circumstances (illness, accident, suicide, medical procedure, etc.). Research in non-Western cultures has not been as extensive but suggests that beneath great variation in specific NDE content, certain universal or very common themes may be present, such as a border or boundary between dimensions or domains of existence and one or more supernatural entities or beings. 
 

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