Imagine you’re on the operating table, you’ve been put into a state of deep sleep and have some kind of surgery. All of a sudden, there are some strange singing bowl-like sounds. You become aware of vibrations, and suddenly you’re up and about, standing in the room. Looking around, everything seems brighter...more vibrant, and full of life. You turn around to get a better look, and the next thing you know, you see yourself right in front of you, lying on the table. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Near-Death Experiences!
NDE’s are one of the more curious phenomena of our life experiences here on earth, much like psychedelics, they take us out of the mundane world and into something mystical. People who have survived encounters nearing death, or even those who have technically died and been revived, seem to share similar lucid experiences that relate to going beyond their physical body, into another world, a world of light. The whole “light at the end of the tunnel” and ‘life flashing before your eyes’ originated from psychiatric research on the subject way back in the 70s, but the truth is, there’s a tremendous mystery here, one that today… hasn’t been solved.
Stories of strange and mystical experiences surrounding NDE's are not anything new. As far back as the sixth century, A.D. people were fascinated by similar stories in Pope Gregory’s “Dialogues” of Jesters and businessmen visiting the Christian Hell after having accidents. Why the hell and not heaven? Maybe the Jesters told terrible jokes or the businessman made shady deals. Idk.
Either way, individuals who come back from these early NDEs report similar experiences to what is currently being studied today, such as meeting other-dimensional beings or lost loved ones, along with a feeling of permanent transformation.
If people were writing about this kind of stuff in the 6th Century, it seems that our interest in NDEs has stayed pretty constant. However, as usual, the scientific community had largely written off the events as hallucinations until the late last century. One of the enormous icebreakers for this shift in mindset was the experiences of a woman named Barbara Harris in 1975. Nowadays, Barbara is a therapist specializing in the study of NDEs, a successful author, and was on the faculty of Rutgers University's Institute on Alcohol and Drug Studies for 12 years. Now Barbara certainly had more than her fair share in terms of experience, having not one, but two, profound NDE in a SINGLE week.
In a nutshell, she was born with a bad case of scoliosis -a crooked spine that she struggled with throughout her life. But in 1975, it became too much for her, and she was admitted for surgery to correct it. After a 5 hour operation, she was left in a full-body cast, unable to move on her own. Two days after surgery, her life support system began to fail, and she found it difficult to breathe, she lost consciousness as the support staff ran in to help her. I imagine it probably happened in slo-mo as well.
So that night, Barbara woke up in the middle of the night, standing in the hallway. After worrying, the nurses would be mad at her for standing up....(yeah, STANDING up...) she made her way back to her room and noticed she was floating level with a speaker that she remembered to be mounted on the ceiling.
She looked down and saw herself lying on the circle bed, and as she looked at the woman in the bed, she was overcome with a profound “knowing” that the person there wasn’t the real her. As if her soul was identifying her ego and understanding this, she was overcome with a deep sense of peace.
Then, Barabara felt this connection with her deceased Grandmother and began to be transported away. She became overwhelmed with a feeling that what was happening to her was more real than anything she had experienced in her life up to that point. She said that as she gave in to this belief, she felt a tremendous toxic energy release from her, and simultaneously was beginning to relive every moment she had had with her grandmother in the 19 years they shared on Earth.
Barbara emphasizes that she didn’t just remember stuff - she was reliving each moment of her life she spent with her grandmother. At a talk she gave in 2015, she recalls spending dinner with her grandmother when she was only three years old, with stunning detail. Play clip. It’s like they were sharing memories! After this journey through her past, she witnessed what she could only describe as a tunnel, and saw a light glowing. She felt herself expanding, and moved towards a droning noise -sounding kind of like a singing bowl until suddenly she was back in her physical body again.
Now, we won’t go into the details here, but about a week later, it happened again. A complication with her bed left her unable to breathe, and she entered another NDE. Ironically, despite being an atheist her whole life, Barbara’s complete inability to describe this energy she felt led her to later refer to it only as God. She often still says that “It wasn’t an old man with a long white beard. And it took me a long time to use the word, God.”
She describes that she experienced her past at breakneck speed, and with all of this information coming to her about her life, it allowed her to transform her experiences of herself and her life from self-judgment into love. As she understood her life through the lens of love, a mantra appeared in her head, “no wonder.” No wonder she was the way she was. She understood entirely now the impact her mother’s drug addiction and her father’s absence had on her childhood and how it shaped who she was today so strongly. She understood profoundly how her own mother’s pain and neglect from her childhood shaped her into someone who didn’t know how to love. The full story is moving and profound, and we’ll link her writings in the description below.
Now, there is one more exciting thing here. Before she returned to her body, she found herself behind the nurse’s station, talking about her. She overheard them talk about the nurse on duty who had to be sent home after feeling responsible for Barbara’s incident. She also taught that they were planning on lying to her about how long she would have to spend in a body cast so that she wouldn’t be even more stressed out.
So naturally, when she returned to her body, she explained that she was in the halls during that conversation, and they, of course, didn’t believe her. Amused and slightly irritated, she told them to call her nurse, let her know she was okay, and not lie to her about how long she would be in the body cast. The nurses were well how you would react? *play reaction scene from Airbender*
Now you may be wondering why we spent so long going on about one woman’s case, Especially since NDEs are surprisingly common. But the truth is, Barbara Harris’s experiences invigorated public interest in the subject of near-death experiences. All of a sudden, people started becoming more interested in the stories of others who underwent NDE. What intrigued people aside from the prospect of life after death was similar themes in all the accounts. Leaving one's unconscious body, entering a beautiful, eternal glowing light or relaxing darkness seemed to be universal aspects of the experience. People commonly described the presence of an all-loving being or consciousness, giving them insights into their own lives.
Now, of course, this is humanity we’re talking about, and scientists are often rigidly skeptical, so formal research. Still, continually denying the entire idea, finally got the funding required nearly twenty years after Barbara’s experiences to produce collaborative research on the phenomenon and make some scientific insights. They couldn’t ignore the sheer number of claims without looking into it at least a little. So they hired this guy named the hap who kidnapped some people, killed them, and then revived them repeatedly in a secret basement and recorded their experiences… wait… hold on… Our hidden spirituality of the OA episode script must have gotten mixed up in here… Oops! Instead, this initial wave of research *that wasn’t illegal* was shared in a Psychology Today article entitled, Bright Lights, Big Mystery, and as always, you can find links to this in the sources of this video.
From this wave of research, it was discovered that 95% of the world’s cultures mentioned an NDE in some form… A crazy number to think about! Further, nearly seventeen percent of critically ill patients across nine countries are reported to have undergone an NDE. So NDE’s aren’t extremely rare; they are quite common. However, I suppose that it’s also quite paradigm-shattering, for if we globally took this seriously, Atheism might disappear entirely, and the fields of Science would never be the same…
One contributor to that research, Doctor Melvin Morse, examined thousands of NDEs' reports to learn more about them. What’s curious about Dr. Morse’s analysis is that despite having no way of proving anything that happened from people’s news, the reports he studied were so similar that he painted a picture of what a typical NDE might look like. From Independent reports, Morse found that “full-blown” NDEs share the nine following features:
A sense of being dead: the sudden awareness that one has had a 'fatal" accident or not survived an operation.
Peace and painlessness: a feeling that the ties that bind one to the world have been cut.
An out-of-body experience: the sensation peering down on one's body and perhaps seeing the doctors and nurses trying to resuscitate them.
Tunnel experience: the sense of moving up or through a narrow passageway.
Encountering beings of light or ‘glowing ones’ at the end of the tunnel.
The presence of a God-like or omnipotent figure or force of some kind.
Life review: being shown one's life by the being of light.
Reluctance to return: the feeling of being comfortable and surrounded by the Light often described as "pure love."
Personality transformation: a psychological change involving loss of the fear of death, higher spiritualism, a sense of "connectedness" with the Earth, and greater zest for life.
This was painting an exciting picture for scientists, but there was still some skepticism, and some questions: Was the cultural significance of an NDE shaping what experiences people were having? How do we know that people are actually having an NDE and not just exaggerating a dream or other dissociative experience? Is being near death necessary to undergo what is being reported as NDE?
If being near death wasn’t necessary to undergo the phenomenon, patients should report them even when they were never in mortal danger. A researcher named Dr. Stevenson located the medical records of forty patients who reported an NDE and found that more than half of them were never actually close to dying. This was starting to support the idea that the fear of death was sparking a purely psychological response.
But Stevenson wasn’t satisfied, and so he found a group of 58 people who reported NDEs, and like last time, 30 of whom had not been near death. He interviewed them and discovered something they couldn’t ignore: “A significantly greater number of patients who were actually near death reported elements of the core experience--including the bright light--than those who were not.” It seems that genuinely being near death IS necessary to encounter the established phenomena. Ironically, in the scientists' attempts to show the experience purely as an experience of the mind, they ended up showing the opposite….. At this point, someone probably got a raise… orrrrr was fired.
By this point, science has failed to do what it so often excels at: simplifying the world and squashing questions. In that failure lies so much wonder and curiosity that has paradigm-shattering consequences for all of us. Think about it; if this experience is universal across almost all of the cultures of the world, it breaks down religious ideas like “my heaven or God is the only one,” revealing a more unified understanding of what is quite possibly the afterlife, shared by all.
But it’s more than just a culture shock. Recall Barbara Harris’s story earlier, at one point, she was transported to the physical world but outside of her body, and heard information that was otherwise secret to her, bewildering the nurses with her knowledge when she awoke. This is so far out there, and Barbara’s story is not an isolated event.
Back in 2008, something known as the Awareness during Resuscitation Program, AWARE for short, followed 2,000 heart attack patients across the globe and studied the amount of NDE’s that occurred among survivors. Some of these survivors reported an out of body awareness, and for one of them, the perception was confirmed to be accurate by hospital staff. A similar study in 2001 looked at the same patient’s experience. The researchers stated that "it didn’t appear consistent with hallucinatory or illusory experiences, as the recollections were compatible with real and verifiable rather than imagined events." In a nutshell...somehow, these people are aware of the world around them, even sometimes past the range of their physical body, despite showing all the signs of being clinically dead.Now, we’re way past our time limit here, but this stuff is just so impressive. Before we wrap things up, there’s one more important thing I must share with you! Despite the recent studies seemingly acknowledging some kind of experience, helping to affirm their existence, ancient Buddhist Texts refer to the ability to enter a near-death experience without physical threat to the body through…..you guessed it….. meditation!
Of course, in learning this, people at the Journal of Mindfulness went on a 3-year study with monks from different Buddhist Schools and monitored them during meditations. Amazingly, the monks were seemingly able to plan ahead of time and even how the NDE would manifest. Researchers confirmed that meditation-induced NDEs produced the same long term mystical enhancement in a person’s life. If you want to read the studies, you’ll find a link to them on our website!
So… what do you think is going on? Even today, mainstream science believes that an NDE is simply a psychological phenomenon where the brain is reliving its memories. It’s a convenient explanation, but it does not explain the commonness of descriptive experiences or the knowledge of events that are so far removed from someone going through the experience. It also conveniently ignores the correct skills of the Monks.
Honestly, I feel the day that we, as a society, accept NDE’s, is the day that we make leaps forward in our understanding of life, death, and the nature of consciousness. But in the meantime, if you are someone who wants to make leaps ahead in your journey, consider checking out our Seven-Day Transformation - nearly guaranteed to help you radically transform your life in only one week! You’ll find links below, and I hope to see you there!
Van Gordon, William; Shonin, Edo; Dunn, Thomas J.; Sheffield, David; Garcia-Campayo, Javier; Griffiths, Mark D. (2018-12-01). "Meditation-Induced Near-Death Experiences: a 3-Year Longitudinal Study". Mindfulness. 9 (6):1794–1806: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6244634/
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