Near-Death Experiences (NDEs)
World mythology, folklore, and spiritual literature abound in vivid accounts of the experiences associated with death and dying. Special sacred texts have been dedicated exclusively to descriptions and discussions of the posthumous journey of the soul, such as the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thödol), theEgyptian Book of the Dead (Pert Em Hru), the Aztec Codex Borgia, the Mayan Book of the Dead, and their European counterpart, Ars Moriendi (The Art of Dying) (Grof 1994, 2006b).
In the past, this eschatological mythology was discounted by
Western scholars as a product of fantasy and wishful thinking of primitive people who were unable to face the fact of impermanence and their own mortality. This situation changed dramatically after the publication of Raymond Moody’s international best-seller Life After Life, which brought scientific confirmation of these accounts and showed that an encounter with death can be a fantastic adventure in consciousness. Moody’s book was based on reports of 150 people who had experienced a close confrontation with death, or were actually pronounced clinically dead, but regained consciousness and lived to tell their stories (Moody 1975).
Moody reported that people who had near-death experiences
(NDEs) frequently witnessed a review of their entire lives in the form of a colorful, incredibly condensed replay occurring within only seconds of clock time. Consciousness often detached from the body and floated freely above the scene, observing it with curiosity and detached amusement, or traveled to distant locations. Many people described passing through a dark tunnel or funnel toward a divine light of supernatural brilliance and beauty.
This light was not physical in nature, but had distinctly personal characteristics. It was a Being of Light, radiating infinite, all-embracing love, forgiveness, and acceptance. In a personal exchange, often perceived as an audience with God, these individuals received lessons regarding existence and universal laws and had the opportunity to evaluate their past
by these new standards. Then they chose to return to ordinary reality and live their lives in a new way congruent with the principles they had learned.
Since their publication, Moody’s findings have been repeatedly confirmed by other researchers (Ring 1982, Ring 1985, Sabom 1982, Greyson and Flynn1984).
Most survivors emerge from their near-death experiences
profoundly changed. They have a universal and all-encompassing spiritual vision of reality, a new system of values, and a radically different general strategy of life. They have deep appreciation for being alive and feel kinship with all living beings and concern for the future of humanity and the planet.
However, the fact that the encounter with death has a great positive potential does not mean that this transformation is always easy. Near-death experiences very frequently lead to psychospiritual crises. A powerful NDE can radically undermine the worldview of the people involved, because it catapults them abruptly and without warning into a reality that is radically different. A car accident in the middle of rush-hour traffic or a heart attack during morning jogging can launch someone within a matter of seconds into a fantastic visionary adventure that tears his or her ordinary reality asunder. Following an NDE, people might need special counseling and support to be able to integrate these extraordinary experiences into their everyday life.
Unfortunately, the approach of the personnel in most medical facilities to NDE survivors leaves much to be desired, in spite of the fact that in the last few decades this phenomenon has received much attention in the professional literature, as well as in the mass media. Few survivors
of NDEs receive professional counseling that most of them sorely need. It is also not yet mandatory to include the reports of the patients’ NDEs in the medical folders, although it is well known that these experiences can
have profound impact on their emotional and psychosomatic condition. A comprehensive discussion of the problems related to NDEs can be found in my book The Ultimate Journey: Consciousness and the Mystery of Death (Grof 2006 b).