Alex in one of the PAS investigators and in the Research Team.

Researching Near-Death Experiences (NDEs)

   The topic of Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) has been appearing more and more in recent scientific publications and in the media. One explanation of this can be the fact that we are now living longer due to the ever increasing technological advancements man has made in the medical world. A person, who at one point would not have survived death, can now be brought back to lead a healthy life. Along with the continuation of life, near-death experiencers are returning with stories and accounts of what they have experienced while being clinically dead. Some of these stories and accounts include; out-of-body experiences (OBEs), visions of bright lights, a renewed sense of love, meetings with departed loved ones and friends, veridical details of the outside world during the NDE, and various other unexplainable phenomena.

   Since NDEs have gained popularity in our culture, they have in turn, caused more and more people to speak up about their NDEs, whereas before, people chose to remain silent for fear of being ridiculed and labeled insane. Many near-death experiencers also reported that when they shared their experience with doctors or nurses, it was dismissed as a hallucination and the profound experience was minimized. Perhaps it was the fact that a NDE has been estimated to be reported by at least a third of the people who come close to death or about 5% of the U.S. population, that has caught the attention of researchers. NDEs have been discussed in one way or another throughout our history but it wasnt until the mid seventies that they began to be studied in a systematic manner. Researchers and theologians such as Raymond Moody, Kenneth Ring, Michael Sabom, James Whinnery, Elizabeth Kuber-Ross, Robert Monroe, Bruce Greyson, and many others, have started paving the way for further research, where science might help shed some light on this controversial subject. With our culture being more open and accepting of the idea of NDEs and more people speaking up regarding the subject, a shift in interest towards NDEs has begun.

What are Near Death Experiences (NDEs)?

   A Near-death experience is a profound psychological subjective experience that typically occurs to individuals who are close to death or in situations of intense physical or emotional danger. These experiences can also include transcendental and mystical elements. NDEs usually include a person who is either clinically dead, near death, or in a situation where death is likely or expected. The term near-death experience (NDE) was coined in 1975 in the book Life After Life by Raymond Moody, MD. Moody describes the common characteristics generally associated with NDEs to include:

Hearing the news - Hearing doctors or others pronounce one dead

Feeling extremely pleasant feelings/sensations during the early stages.

The noise - Various auditory sensations such as bells tingling, majestic music, loud ringing, buzzing noise, whirling noise, clicking, roaring, banging, swooshing sounds etc.

The dark tunnel - Encountering some kind of darkness, passing through a black tunnel, black hole or void often accompanied by a feeling or sensation of movement or acceleration and wind may be heard or felt.

Out of the body - Having an out-of-body experience where one can view the physical body from a point outside of itself. Witnessing all that goes on around the "vacated" body while out, and details that are both seen and heard are later accurately verified.

Meeting others - Awareness of other spiritual beings, relatives, friends, and feeling that they have come to protect or guide. Conversation can ensue; information or a message may be given.

The being of light - A light of incredible brilliance, with the possibility of seeing people, animals, plants, lush outdoors, and even cities within the light that can be comparable to heaven.

The life review - Seeing a panoramic review of the life just lived, from birth to death or in reverse order, sometimes reliving the life rather than a dispassionate viewing. This is usually accompanied by a feeling or need to assess loss or gains during the life to determine what was learned or not learned.

The border or limit - Encountering a fence, a large body of water, a line, etc. which at times include a warning that if one crosses the border that they cannot return.

Coming back - A reluctance to return to the earth plane and then realizing that either their job on earth is not finished or a mission must yet be accomplished before they can return to stay.

Telling others - Wanting to tell others and sharing the profound experience. Usually feelings of frustration arise when talking with relatives, ministers, peers, because of the lack of sympathy felt and lack of understanding found when telling others.

NDEs, Treatment, and the Future

Although most NDEs are regarded as a positive experience, adjustment to the old way of life may be difficult at first and therapy may be needed to help with all the life changes mentioned in the aftereffects. The way a psychotherapist responds will be extremely important in the emotional stability of the person and can have great influence on whether the NDE is accepted and becomes a seed for spiritual growth or if it is seen as a bizarre experience that should not be shared. Patients can also benefit from referral to the near-death support groups that exist in many cities. Overall, the fact is that NDEs are happening, have been happening, and will continue to do so, and as psychology evolves it needs to keep in mind the role that NDEs play in peoples lives so experiencers can receive proper treatment, instead of the events being dismissed like in the past by our medical profession. -- Alex


Atwater, P. M. H. (1988). Coming back to life: The after-effects of the near-death experience. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company.

Cardeńa, E., Lynn, S. J., & Krippner, S. (2000). Varieties of anomalous experience: examining the scientific evidence. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Gallup, G., & Proctor, W. (1982). Adventures in immortality: A look beyond the hreshold of death. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Moody, R. A. (1975). Life after life. Covington, GA: Mockingbird Books.

Ring, K. (1984). Heading toward omega: In search of the meaning of the near-death experience. New York: Morrow.

Sabom, M. (1982). Recollections of death: A medical investigation. New York: Harper & Row.

Researching Near-Death Experiences (NDEs): Part 2

   In last months article I covered the characteristics usually found in the classic NDE described in the book Life After Life by Raymond Moody, MD. This article focuses on the other less common NDEs.

Distressing NDEs

   Although they are very uncommon, reports of distressing NDEs (dNDEs) have also been found. Most NDEs that are reported are regarded as a positive and pleasurable experience but in the distressing NDE, people report feeling distress and emotional painful feelings, such as fear, anger, horror, isolation, etc. Greyson and Bush (1996) classified 50 reports of distressing dNDEs into three types:

a) dNDEs that are reported the most include the same characteristics as the regular NDE. These characteristics include the out-of-body experience and the rapid movement through a tunnel or void toward a light. The difference is that since the person does not control the situation, they experience the features as frightening.

b) A less common type of dNDE includes having awareness of becoming nonexistence or of being completely alone forever in an absolute void. Other characteristics can include the person receiving a convincing message that the real world including oneself, never really existed.

c) An even more uncommon type of dNDE includes hellish imagery such as an ugly or foreboding landscape, demonic beings, loud and annoying noises, frightening animals, and other beings in extreme distress. Rarely does the person feel themselves personally tormented by the beings.

d) The least common type of dNDE reported by Rommel (2000), is characterized by the person feeling that they are being negatively judged by a Higher Power during their life review which is similarly found in the pleasurable NDE. The difference is that in the distressing NDE, the person only feels negatively judged.

   Atwater (1988) reports on 4 encounters of dNDEs, all of which fall under one of the four types of dNDEs identified. The only thing that Atwater found to be the same in these cases, besides suffering from heart ailments and the hospital floor they shared, was that all 4 individuals seemed to have some kind of suppressed guilt. The dNDE that they experienced only enhanced the guilt that they already had and all admitted that in their dNDE they had met what they feared most while they were dying. All were also convinced that there was a hell. Despite the negative experience, some were able to transform the experience into a positive one by taking steps to improve their attitudes and outlook on the world. Its speculated that perhaps so few accounts of dNDE are reported since there may be reluctance to describe the existence of a hell and that it is an indicator about how their lives were lived.

Suicides and NDEs

   Most reports of suicide attempts describe having a positive NDE although a few have reported having a dNDE. These people return with a new sense of life and purpose and usually do not attempt suicide again versus others who did not have a NDE and often times, try to commit suicide again (Atwater, 1988).

Veridical NDEs

   A veridical NDE is one in which experiencers acquire verifiable information that could not have obtained by any normal means.Ring and Cooper (1997) reported on 31 cases of blind individuals, some blind from birth, who experienced veridical NDEs and reported accurate visual perceptions of objects. One of the strongest cases of veridical NDEs is an account mentioned in Sabomfs Light and death: One doctorfs fascinating account of near-death experiences (1998). In this case, a woman named Pam Reynolds a rare operation to remove a giant basilar artery aneurysm in her brain that was life threatening. The size and location of the aneurysm prevented the removal by standard medical procedures so she was referred to a doctor who had experience in a rare surgical procedure called hypothermic cardiac arrest or "standstill".

   This procedure allowed Pam's aneurysm to be removed with a reasonable chance of success. This operation required that Pam's body temperature be lowered to 60 degrees, that her heartbeat and breathing stop, that her brain waves flatten, and that the blood be drained from her head. Her eyes were also taped shut and molded speakers were inserted into her ears to emit 100-decibel clicks and block out any other auditory stimulation. The procedure required the neurosurgeon to open her scalp, cut the skull open with a special pneumatic saw, and open the dura mater to expose the brain. While Pam was "clinically dead" she experienced a NDE in which she was able to make observations which were later verified to be very accurate. She was able to describe the unique surgical instruments and procedures used and report conversations that took place while she was under. The following is Pam Reynolds' account of her NDE in her own words:

   The next thing I recall was the sound: It was a Natural "D." As I listened to the sound, I felt it was pulling me out of the top of my head. The further out of my body I got, the more clear the tone became. I had the impression it was like a road, a frequency that you go on ... I remember seeing several things in the operating room when I was looking down. It was the most aware that I think that I have ever been in my entire life ...I was metaphorically sitting on [the doctor's] shoulder. It was not like normal vision. It was brighter and more focused and clearer than normal vision ... There was so much in the operating room that I didn't recognize, and so many people. I thought the way they had my head shaved was very peculiar. I expected them to take all of the hair, but they did not...

   The saw-thing that I hated the sound of looked like an electric toothbrush and it had a dent in it, a groove at the top where the saw appeared to go into the handle, but it didn't ... And the saw had interchangeable blades, too, but these blades were in what looked like a socket wrench case ... I heard the saw crank up. I didn't see them use it on my head, but I think I heard it being used on something. It was humming at a relatively high pitch and then all of a sudden it went Brrrrrrrrr! like that. Someone said something about my veins and arteries being very small. I believe it was a female voice and that it was Dr. Murray, but I'm not sure. She was the cardiologist. I remember thinking that I should have told her about that ... I remember the heart-lung machine. I didn't like the respirator ... I remember a lot of tools and instruments that I did not readily recognize.

   There was a sensation like being pulled, but not against your will. I was going on my own accord because I wanted to go. I have different metaphors to try to explain this. It was like the Wizard of Oz - being taken up in a tornado vortex, only you're not spinning around like you've got vertigo. You're very focused and you have a place to go. The feeling was like going up in an elevator real fast. And there was a sensation, but it wasn't a bodily, physical sensation. It was like a tunnel but it wasn't a tunnel. At some point very early in the tunnel vortex I became aware of my grandmother calling me. But I didn't hear her call me with my ears ... It was a clearer hearing than with my ears. I trust that sense more than I trust my own ears. The feeling was that she wanted me to come to her, so I continued with no fear down the shaft. It's a dark shaft that I went through, and at the very end there was this very little tiny pinpoint of light that kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. The light was incredibly bright, like sitting in the middle of a light bulb. It was so bright that I put my hands in front of my face fully expecting to see them and I could not. But I knew they were there. Not from a sense of touch. Again, it's terribly hard to explain, but I knew they were there...

   I noticed that as I began to discern different figures in the light - and they were all covered with light, they were light, and had light permeating all around them - they began to form shapes I could recognize and understand. I could see that one of them was my grandmother. I don't know if it was reality or a projection, but I would know my grandmother, the sound of her, anytime, anywhere.

   Everyone I saw, looking back on it, fit perfectly into my understanding of what that person looked like at their best during their lives. I recognized a lot of people. My uncle Gene was there. So was my great-great-Aunt Maggie, who was really a cousin. On Papa's side of the family, my grandfather was there ... They were specifically taking care of me, looking after me. They would not permit me to go further ... It was communicated to me - that's the best way I know how to say it, because they didn't speak like I'm speaking - that if I went all the way into the light something would happen to me physically. They would be unable to put this me back into the body me, like I had gone too far and they couldn't reconnect. So they wouldn't let me go anywhere or do anything.

   I wanted to go into the light, but I also wanted to come back. I had children to be reared. It was like watching a movie on fast-forward on your VCR: You get the general idea, but the individual freeze-frames are not slow enough to get detail. Then they [deceased relatives] were feeding me. They were not doing this through my mouth, like with food, but they were nourishing me with something. The only way I know how to put it is something sparkly. Sparkles is the image that I get. I definitely recall the sensation of being nurtured and being fed and being made strong. I know it sounds funny, because obviously it wasn't a physical thing, but inside the experience I felt physically strong, ready for whatever.

   My grandmother didn't take me back through the tunnel, or even send me back or ask me to go. She just looked up at me. I expected to go with her, but it was communicated to me that she just didn't think she would do that. My uncle said he would do it. He's the one who took me back through the end of the tunnel. Everything was fine. I did want to go. But then I got to the end of it and saw the thing, my body. I didn't want to get into it ... It looked terrible, like a train wreck. It looked like what it was: dead. I believe it was covered. It scared me and I didn't want to look at it.

   It was communicated to me that it was like jumping into a swimming pool. No problem, just jump right into the swimming pool. I didn't want to, but I guess I was late or something because he [the uncle] pushed me. I felt a definite repelling and at the same time a pulling from the body. The body was pulling and the tunnel was pushing ... It was like diving into a pool of ice water ... It hurt! When I came back, they were playing Hotel California and the line was "You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave." I mentioned [later] to Dr. Brown that that was incredibly insensitive and he told me that I needed to sleep more. [laughter] When I regained consciousness, I was still on the respirator.


Atwater, P. M. H. (1988). Coming back to life: The after-effects of the near-death experience. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company.

Greyson, B. & Bush, N. E. (1996). "Distressing near-death experiences" in Bailey, L. W. & Yates, J. (Eds.). The Near-Death Experience: A Reader. New York: Routledge.

Ring, K., & Cooper, S. (1997). Dialogue with Kenneth Ring. In E. E. Valarino (Ed.), On the other side of life: Exploring the phenomenon of the near-death experience. (pp. 85-160). New York: Insight/Plenum.

Rommel, B. (2000). Blessing in Disguise: Another Side of the Near-Death Experience. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn.

Sabom, M. (1998). Light and death: One doctors fascinating account of near-death experiences. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


My Near Death Experience

By Leslie M.

This strange occurrence happened to me around Xmas of 89. My mother had just passed away, and I went to work that night anyway. To make a long story short, a co-worker of mine and I had just closed the photo studio for the night. I remember it was the first night of rain and his car stalled in the middle of the street on Melrose Blvd. So we got out of the car to push it out the way. When all of a sudden a white Isuzu trooper came out of nowhere at top speed. My co-worker yelled my name but it was too late. I was airborne into the twilight zone, literally!!! Because wherever I was, it was definitely a different planet of existence and I wasn't alone. No, I don't recall seeing loved ones who have passed away nor did I recall being guided by a light, but what I do recall is being in a room with lots of people waiting to be judged!? That appeared to be the first of it some sort of purgatory if you will. My near death experience is similar to the ones found in the book blessing in disguise and the movie The Hideaway, starring Jeff Goldblum. After my NDE I started having prophetic visions and dreams, strange paranormal experiences, and so much more!!! In the past I would never tell anyone other than my ex-wife about what I was experiencing because of the fear of being ridiculed but now I don't care because my spiritual development is much more advanced than it was seventeen years ago. I say this with all the seriousness I can muster up!!! It was a long and hard journey for me to get to the spiritual stability I'm at today and I still don't know nothing. LOL. You see, knowledge is infinite and the truth is stranger than fiction. This is my story in a nutshell. -- The Mighty Lion.