NDEs, or Near-Death Experiences, have been recorded since ancient times. I had not known about them, however, until I read Dr. Raymond Moody’s small book Life After Life, published in 1975, in which he first defined the term. I had the honor to study with Dr. Moody in 2000 when he was giving a course sponsored by the Association for Research and Enlightenment, founded in Virginia Beach in 1931 by the American prophet Edgar Cayce. Since then I have read hundreds of books and articles on the subject, always fascinated by the similarity of what people experience, which often includes:
- A journey through darkness, usually toward an indescribable light
- Heightened awareness and the feeling one is in an alternate landscape
- Encounters with deceased loved ones, with spirit guides, and with angels, as well as with sacred figures like Jesus
- Having a life review in which they learn their impact on others
- Receiving knowledge about the universe and the purpose of life
Over the last thirty years there has been an increased frequency in the number of reported NDE events in the west. The stories have come from people in all walks of life and all ages, including children. Reasons vary but certainly one reason derives from our highly developed medical technology, which has enabled doctors and nurses to resuscitate people who would otherwise have died on the operating table from heart attacks and critical trauma. For a short period of time these people were clinically dead. Many of them reported seeing a light that was divine and being told they must return to their bodies because it was not yet time for them to leave their life on earth. What lends credence to their narratives is also the way in which they were able to describe what was going on in the operating theater as attempts were made to revive them. They would often mention watching it all happen from some other corner of the room.
Narratives of Near-Death Experiences
One of the most powerful narratives was experienced during WW2 by Dr. George Ritchie, described in his 1978 book Return from Tomorrow. It was meeting Ritchie that first brought NDEs to Dr. Moody’s attention. As a twenty-year-old soldier, ostensibly dead from fever, Ritchie had an astonishing vision of the afterlife that changed his life forever. Another physician, Dr. Eben Alexander, is a neurosurgeon who went to medical school at Duke University and spent fifteen years at Harvard-affiliated hospitals. He developed an anomaly in his own brain that was so rare and so destructive his recovery from a coma was deemed hopeless. As he relates in his 2012 book Proof of Heaven, he had a profound near-death experience that transformed his attitude toward medicine and healing.
Lynnclaire Dennis wrote a formative book called The Pattern about her NDE after a hot-air balloon accident in Switzerland that caused her to be carried up 17,000 feet. She heard and saw a complex structure: “It wasn’t an everyday sound that this system of embedded geospheres was ‘singing’. It was a universal ‘song’ that moved in a way that wove a single strand of light that I called ‘The Pattern’.” While she was still investigating her vision, she encountered Nechung Kuten of Tibet who is the spiritual advisor to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He told her The Pattern was a “terma” — a Tibetan word for “hidden treasure meant to be disclosed to the world at this time.” At his recommendation, Lynnclaire published her NDE and her geometric pattern drew the interest of scientists around the world.
Betty Eadie’s Embraced By The Light describes her experiences following surgery, when as a thirty-one-year-old wife and mother she was declared clinically dead. She writes that she traveled through the spirit realm learning about the laws of nature and the history of the universe. The angels and other spiritual beings explained to her the reasons why different individuals chose to be on the earth and to accomplish certain actions. Her vision includes insights into the question, “Why are we here?” Her story, along with Dr. Ritchie’s, is one of the most widely known NDEs.
So many descriptions exist. There are some websites offering lists of these in-depth. One is Dr. Eben Alexander’s own website Eternea. Another is among the most comprehensive and has over a thousand narratives: Near-Death Experiences and the Afterlife.