Grief Counseling: An Indepth Overview of Near-Death Experiences (NDE)
With the advent of New Age, spiritual awakening has become the societal norm, with more and more cultures embracing the concept of alternative consciousness, in a bid to attain enlightenment and personal growth. One common spiritual phenomena reported widely since the last few decades is near death experience (NDE).
What Exactly Is a NDE?
A near death experience, abbreviated as NDE is a transcendental experience unique to an individual, which typically takes place just after a near brush with death. In a near-death episode, the person is either in coma( clinically dead), or feeling threatened in a situation where death is quite likely. These circumstances may include a serious injury from a car accident, bullet shock, childbirth, murder/rape, or suicide attempt. During NDE, the individual experiences feelings of detachment from physical self, levitation, and encounter with spiritual, otherworldly entities. People in trance states or in abject grief have often reported experiences similar to NDEs, even though they were not near death.
Two Types of NDE
Any near-death experiencer commonly reports either of the two types of experiences. One is pleasurable, and the other is distressing. Pleasurable NDE involves feelings of bliss, joy, fulfillment and spiritual awareness. On the other hand, distressing NDE brings feelings of terror, isolation, confusion, guilt and horror. This type is experienced by a smaller group of NDErs. Regardless of their actual type, NDErs almost always report that the experience was even more realistic and vivid than earthly events.
The Four Stages of Pleasurable Near-Death Experience
The pleasurable type of NDE is characterized by four phases that occur in a precise order for each and every individual who report this phenomenon. That being said, it’s important to note each NDE is different. It can include a random combination of phases and the phases may occur in any order. Sometimes, people report having experienced overlapping phases that seem to occur simultaneously.
Here is a discussion of four common phases observed in an NDE:
1.) Detached phase: This is the first phase, wherein the individual experiences dissociation from their physical body. During this time, they leave the earth realm to transcend into the third dimension. They report feeling light, detached and devoid of the five senses that dominate physical existence. They sometimes describe an unbelievable sense of freedom from guilt, pain, misery and of total well-being.
2.) Naturalistic phase: In this phase, people report being gradually aware of their surroundings. They get a better understanding of the surrounding reality and also report looking down on their bodies. They see and hear things just like they do in their physical self, but the only difference is that the perceptions are unusually clear and realistic. They often say they acquired superhuman powers, such as being able to walk through walls, float around, see through people and even understand the unspoken thoughts of people nearby.
3.) Supernatural phase: In this phase, people report passing into a tunnel and meeting entities and being in environments that are not common to the physical reality. They often meet deceased loved ones, spirit guides or non-physical beings like helpers. Communication at this stage is at the mental level and there are no discernible physical features in the entities they meet, yet they seem to recognize them easily.
Following this loving encounter, people are apparently drawn to a beautiful, bright light that is difficult to describe. It is all-encompassing, unconditionally loving, welcoming and yet not overpowering to the eyes. It pulls the person like a gentle magnet and makes them feel drenched in the zenith of bliss. People then try to enter the light, only to be stopped by a powerful ‘being’ who warns them from crossing the light and coaxes them to return back to their physical bodies. At this moment, many people describe experiencing a life review, wherein they see themselves for who they are, and realize their flaws, talents and the mistakes they have made in life so far.
Sometimes, they also get access to divine knowledge and profound mysteries of the Universe. Many people come back with future predictions that eventually turn out to be true! The best thing about the life review is that it is presented to the person in the form of miniature motion pictures that allow them to observe everything from a detached perspective, so that the feelings of sorrow, regret, guilt and misery are all toned down to a negligible extent. If anything, people feel uplifted and energized.
4.) Return: As the name suggests, the individual returns to their physical self. Some NDErs report arguing their return with The Light; they refuse to continue with their life on the physical realm and wish to stay around in the peaceful glow of the third-dimension. However, they are jolted back to their bodies whether or not they choose to return. When they do want to return, it’s usually because of a connection with living people, or a heightened desire to mend persistent issues.
Characteristics of Distressing NDE
The following are some common features of a distressing NDE:
-People report feeling powerless and non-existent. They feel as though as they are trapped in an eternal void with no one around.
-Sometimes, they experience being amid evil, demon beings, frightening, otherworldly creatures and scary noises. Often, they report being transported to hideous landscapes, which is a stark contrast from the beautiful, welcoming environment described in a pleasurable NDE.
-Few people have described feeling worthless and guilty during the life review stage. They feel negatively judged and insulted by the Higher Power.
-In rare cases of distressing NDE, people report having given up fighting or escaping the harsh circumstances of the other reality and asking for help from the Higher Power. When they do so, their experience immediately morphs into a pleasurable NDE.
-Then again, few NDErs have stated that their pleasurable experiences transformed into distressing ones.
How common are Near Death Experiences?
Thanks to medical advances, NDEs have been reported much more frequently in the last few decades. As public acceptance has increased, more and more people are willing to narrate their experiences. Depending on how rigidly NDE is described, studies have indicated that around 12-40% of people who have a close encounter with death later report having had an NDE.
Up to 200,000 Americans have claimed to have an NDE. According to a 2011 survery (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/225835846_Different_Kinds_of_Near-Death_Experience_A_Report_on_a_Survey_of_Near-Death_Experiences_in_Germany
) of 2000 people in Germany, around 4% had experienced an NDE. The 1992 Gallup poll by NDERF has stated that up to 774 individuals experience NDE in the United States alone.
Another 1982 Gallup poll revealed that among the 15% of Americans who reported an NDE, around 9% people had the typical out-of-body experience, 8% encountered spiritual entities, 11% said they entered a different dimension, and only 1% had disturbing experiences. These findings subsequently became published in “Adventures in Immortality” by the pollsters William Proctor and George Gallup Jr.
The possibility of having an NDE is independent of the person’s religion practice, economic background, life history, health status, sexuality and gender. Basically, it is an equal-opportunity phenomenon and it’s impossible to predict who will or won’t experience it, or whose NDE will be distressing or pleasurable.
How do near death experiences affect patients ?
Approximately 80% of NDErs claimed that their lives have been forever changed by what they experienced. In addition to returning with a profound spiritual outlook, as well as a renewed zest for life, people started observing psychological and physiological phenomena on a deeper scale. And this was true for teenagers, adults and child experiencers alike.
One common myth associated with NDE is that the experiencer has a heightened fear of death after the phenomenon. In fact, the result is just the opposite. NDErs lead a better quality of life, which is characterized by:
-An improved ability to fight present circumstances and have a better understanding of why things happen the way they do.
-A strengthened sense of self-confidence that arises from knowing one’s flaws and virtues. This feeling of true security provides bliss to the mind even in the face of utter chaos.
-A lowered fascination for material possessions, as the person finally realizes that true happiness doesn’t lie in accumulating a certain percentage every month, chugging drinks at the local bar or buying a bigger house.
-A higher than usual compassion, which extends to every being. NDErs have a deep-rooted gratitude for the little joys in life, and tend to forgive everything, as they finally understand the futility of chasing material comforts.
-An unusual love for solitude and silence, as people don’t need to rely on false objects of security to quieten their inner feeling of guilt or misery.
-Most importantly, people adopt a spiritual approach to life, as they know and believe that the spiritual realm is real and the material realm is a farce. This knowledge gives them a fresh perspective for all things in life, and they find it easier to cope up with daily hassles.
Has Medical Science Been Able to Explain Near Death Experiences?
According to 2011 study undertaken by Watt and Mobes at the University of Edinburgh,
near death experience is not a spiritual phenomenon, rather it is a physiological process that can be biologically explained. For example, the typical feeling of floating during NDE arises from the trauma of having had a close encounter with death. This has been linked with brain regions like parietal cortex and prefrontal cortex, the latter being involved in delusional beliefs observed in schizophrenia. Although the exact reason behind the feeling remains unknown, one probable explanation is that the person is trying to come to terms with the trauma of death.
A variety of theories have been put forward by medical researchers to explain the argument of meeting deceased loved ones during NDE. Parkinson’s patients (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ghost-stories-visits-from-the-deceased/) often hallucinate as a result of abnormal release of dopamine. In the same way, NDErs also undergo an abnormal release of another neurotransmitter, noradrenaline, which is mostly produced during trauma, and evokes the feeling of reliving moments from the present life, as well as auditory/visual hallucinations.
In 2003, The BBC reported a study by Dr. Sam Parnia at the Universty of Southampton which suggested the survival of consciousness even after clinical death (coma). This could be perceived as evidence of life after death.
A 2010 study of patients (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/04/100408-near-death-experiences-blood-carbon-dioxide/) with a history of cardiac attacks revealed that there might be a link between seeing the gleaming orb of light during NDE and the level of carbon dioxide in blood. 11 out of 52 cardiac patients studied claimed to have an NDE. Researchers concluded that the excess CO2 in blood had a significant impact on vision, which ultimately caused them to perceive the tunnel and the brilliant light.
The most common obstacle to substantial research on NDE lies in analyzing them experimentally. After all, this is one phenomenon that is reported only after it’s over, and there are no real-time evidences to testify the same.
All these scientific explanations raise several questions in our mind. If NDE is merely the outcome of our brain responding to trauma, why do the experiences follow a sequences that ultimately come down to the basic question of spirituality? Why do people report vivid events as if they occurred in precise order, despite being brain dead all the while? Why do they undergo a drastic and perennial transformation after returning back to their conscious state? And most importantly, how can a seemingly trivial, ‘biological phenomenon’ occur with equal probability for everyone, regardless of their medical history, mental health status, and so on?
Interestingly, advocates of near death experience confidently assert that this mystical phenomenon is not a casual by-product of the biological processes of the brain, rather it’s an actual life-changing event that is more realistic and empowering than anything they have ever experienced in the conscious state.