It has been estimated that in the last fifty years, some 25 million people have had a near-death experience (NDE). You may have heard of the term, coined in 1975 by Dr. Raymond Moody in his NDE classic Life After Life. I have a lot of admiration for Dr. Moody and the research he and other NDE experts have done since then, but the term is not all encompassing. I’d heard of it but not really paid it much attention because I never considered it to be relevant to me. Had I realised its relevance it would have helped me in integrating my spiritual experiences sooner.
It is a myth that near-death experiences only happen to people who are injured, ill, dying or who have died and come back to life again, to speak of it. Yes, there is a higher incidence of reported cases of people who have been close to death, for example, cardiac arrest patients. This is because researchers and the media place an emphasis on near death cases. Studying the phenomenon in hospitals can be monitored more easily. And sharing a death story is more dramatic than someone who is sitting at home, on the couch in quietude, spontaneously entering a heavenly state.
To help people understand if they or a loved one have had such an experience I always like to ask: have you ever encountered an extraordinary light or had a spiritual experience that has never faded from memory. As crazy as it might sound to someone who hasn’t had the experience, have you met God? Have you been out-of-body? Have you communicated with someone who is dead and they with you? Have you met an angel or a religious figure? Have you ever had a life review? Did your experience change you in some way? Did it happen to you when you were not dying?
If you have answered yes to any of these, then you’re not alone. You’re not bonkers. Lots of people have had similar experiences. And there is support at hand. There are people who want to hear about your experience and help you deal with it. This is the phenomenon I am referring to and it is broad-ranging. It’s ordinarily termed the near-death experience, but there are lots of other terms used to describe it too, or parts of it, which can be quite confusing. If you would like to view these other terms associated with the NDE phenomenon, click here.
The NDE phenomenon has been experienced by people from all kinds of backgrounds, throughout the ages, and in many different circumstances; those suffering physical and psychological crisis, and those who are not. Being near-death is a strong trigger for the phenomenon but there are many other triggers too, like depression, meditation, prayer, sleeping, walking, talking, driving and other ordinary activities.
Nancy Clark had a powerful NDE (which she terms a near-death-like experience) while delivering a eulogy. She describes her remarkable experience in her book Hear His Voice. In her book Divine Moments: Ordinary People Having Spiritually Transformative Experiences she recounts the same kind of transformative experience had by ordinary people who didn’t come close to death. Kenneth Ring, Ph.D., a pioneering NDE researcher and author had this to say, in reviewing Divine Moments:
[T]he evidence suggests that there are many more such people – surely millions of them – who have had essentially the same kind of spiritual revelation in any number of ways, none of them associated with any near-death crisis, that the near-death experience affords.
Because of the inherent drama associated with near-death experiences, however, and the fact they have been studied by doctors and other professionals and featured so often on television, they have received a great deal of attention over the past 35 years or so, ever since Raymond Moody published his ground-breaking book on the subject, Life After Life. And because Moody labeled these episodes “near-death experiences”, those who had them could easily be identified by this term.
But the persons who have had the same kind of experience without its being triggered by the onset of death, because they have never had a similar label applied to them and are therefore much more difficult to identify, have largely been overlooked.
I’ve had numerous spiritually transformative experiences (STEs) over some twenty years. They’ve been really intense experiences. For years, I was in the wilderness with them, forging my own path. Then, I happened upon an NDE book at my local library. I was in my thirties, some eighteen years on from my first STE. Opening the book, I read a list of features typically associated with NDEs and surprisingly, I had experienced all of these, but one. It was a great relief knowing other people had similar experiences.
The outstanding NDE feature I hadn’t experienced was that I’d never been close to death and I’d never had the sense of being dead. For a couple of years, I felt confused by this and struggled to understand why NDE books only mentioned the experience happening to people who’d been near-death. Eventually, I realised experiencers like me were simply being overlooked by the authors, and you simply didn’t have to be close to death to experience it. Since then, I have published my book Where The Light Lives, to address this imbalance in NDE literature and to give a broader representation of the phenomenon.
The preeminent NDE research and support non-profit organisation, the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) has reported that one-quarter of NDE accounts submitted to its database is by experiencers who have not been close to death when experiencing the near-death phenomenon. It defines an NDE as follows:
A near-death experience, or NDE, is a profound psychological event that may occur to a person close to death or who is not near death but in a situation of physical or emotional crisis. Being in a life-threatening situation does not, by itself, constitute a near-death experience. It is the pattern of perceptions, creating a recognizable overall event, that has been called “near-death experience”.
-Excerpt from the International Association for Near-Death Studies website
World-renowned cardiologist, Dr. Pim van Lommel; his groundbreaking study of near-death experiences was published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, defines an NDE as follows:
In the past these experiences were often known under different names, such as visions or mystical, religious, or enlightenment experiences. In antiquity they were referred to as journeys to the underworld. The term near-death experience is confusing because the experiences are reported not just by people on the brink of death but also by those who are not in any physical or psychological danger.
-Excerpt from NDE expert, Dr. Pim van Lommel’s book Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near-Death Experience (pg. 8)
My term for describing the phenomenon would be the Awakening Consciousness Experience (ACE). It happens to people from all walks of life who are near-death and not near-death – but it’s the same phenomenon. Beyond being a phenomenon, its a natural process of spiritual awakening and one that will happen to everyone at some point in life, either in this life or another and certainly in death.
To assist experiencers with the integration process, including children, teenagers and their parents, who may not yet even realise that there are terms and support networks available to them, researchers need to speak more broadly within the community about the NDE phenomenon; that it is not just something that happens to people who are on the brink of death, and that it happens in different circumstances.
The bias that currently exists, whereby hospital NDEs are generally the only kinds of NDEs that are featured in journals, books, conferences and the media, in any meaningful way, impedes the integration process of people who have had NDEs/STEs in circumstances other than dying. It impedes the sharing of these experiences and the wisdom gained from them that could be given to all of us to grow from.
What NDEs are really about is a shift of consciousness, not just individually, for the experiencer but also for their family, communities and on a global scale. When collecting data on these experiences, the greater emphasis should be on what these experiences are here to teach us, about who we really are and what we are capable of.
Speculating excessively about what causes the experience to happen detracts from the gifts they present us with. We can all benefit from NDEs, NDLEs, STEs, or whatever name you’d like to give to a natural process of awakening consciousness. We don’t ponder endlessly why a flower opens its petals in spring though it really is quite a miraculous event. We accept that it does so naturally. It’s simply nature’s time; part of its natural make-up.
Powerful transformative experiences suggest a promising future for humankind. It is important, however, that the jewels of wisdom on offer from all kinds of experiencers are collected and shared, so we can all learn how to arrive there, and for experiencers to be helped in adjusting to their expanded worldview, so they can become the spiritual teachers, healers, carers, creators and innovators that our world needs.
I would love to hear from people who have spontaneously experienced the near-death phenomenon without being close to death. You may refer to it as something else. I would like to know what term suits you best. How do you sum up your consciousness experience(s)? Is there any wisdom you would like to share with us?