THE ENIGMA OF
THE NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE

A Survivor’s Reflections on the Afterlife

by Timothy Wyllie


On a rainy afternoon in the Fall of 1973 I died.
I have written about my NDE in greater detail in my first book Dolphins
Extraterrestrials & Angels (1), so I’ll only relate some of the highlights which will
serve to illustrate the truly weird nature of a full-blown near death experience.
Every stage of the NDE defies accepted scientific and religious understanding.
Yet it all occurred exactly as I’m reporting it.

I’d been ill for some days; my lower back had given out, my lungs were
badly congested and I’d just fainted in my New York office. I was terminally
exhausted from months of overwork and I must have developed some form of
walking pneumonia. I’d reached a point I could carry on no longer. I felt I was on
my last legs but I had no thought of dying. I’d been ill before and had always
recovered. I had no idea of what was to happen.

It was raining hard when I got outside but I was too macho in the longsuffering
English way to catch a cab. So, supporting myself on railings and
anything else I could find, I pulled myself in a crouching limp painfully back the
twenty blocks to where I lived on East 49th Street.

As a water-person my only thought was of trying to relax my bones by
taking a bath. Within a minutes of lying back in the hot water and closing my
eyes, I felt I was being plucked up and out of my pain-racked body. A moment
later, looking down, I could see my body lying there in the tub some five or six
hundred feet below me. There was no panic whatsoever. I felt completely at
peace and totally fascinated at what was happening to me. My perceptual and
thought processes were far more lucid than anything I had ever previously felt.
My attention was taken by where I found myself. I was hovering highabove a valley
bordered by forested mountains. It was a beautiful verdant panorama untouched by
anything but a single silver rail running above the trees in the valley and curving up
towards me. On it rode what appeared to be a small monorail car moving fast in my
direction. As quick as a thought, I found myself inside the monorail cabin sitting on
a bench seat. Eight or ten other people sat comfortably side-by-side. A large black
man on the seat opposite me was quietly playing a trumpet. It came to me then that
we were all dying at the same time.

A bright, yet not blinding, light appeared to my left, at the end of the
cabin. There was a suggestion of a form within the light. A male voice came to
me, intimate, loving, and completely nonjudgmental. The voice confirmed for
me that I was indeed dying. However, the voice told me I was being given the
choice to continue with the journey, or to return to my previous life. I was then
told to my astonishment that I had completed what I’d come to do in this lifetime.
I was 33 years old. And I was free to choose my future with no hint whatsoever
of which path was favored by the Being of Light speaking in my mind.

After a few moments of extraordinary clarity I decided to return to life. On
making my choice the monorail cabin slowly dissolved until my whole visual
field was filled with row upon row of singing, boogying, celebrating angels.
I then found myself being escorted by who I later found out were my two
companion angels across a wide desert plain with mountains in the distance. In
the middle of the flat plain stood an enormous ornate structure. It was a
building; yet as I was drawn closer I could see it also seemed somehow to be alive.
I was then taken into this building and placed gently on what looked like
an operating table. I felt it cool under my body. Half-a-dozen small figures,
moving improbably rapidly, were skittering around the table. I became aware of
a taller female figure moving up behind me and then leaning close to my head
on my right hand side. I heard her telling me in a loving voice that what was
about to happen would be extremely painful (it was), but that it would also be
very brief. An instrument on a moveable arm swung over my body and
something extremely sharp lowered itself down and penetrated deep into my
solar plexus. And it was mercifully brief.

I have blocked out what occurred immediately following the operation
because the next I knew I was being shown around a place that was indescribably
beautiful, but which I was told I would not be able to remember. And I didn’t.
It was only many years later and while reading one of Robert Monroe’s
books on OOBEs (2), where he described a similar experience and concluded that
he was being shown Heaven. Somehow Monroe’s recognition resonated deeply
with me and although it ran completely counter to my belief system at the time,
I knew intuitively it was true.

When I was returned to my physical body, the bath water was no longer
hot, my lungs were clear of muck, and my back was thankfully healed and
straightened. But, most of all, I knew I had just been blessed with the most
profound spiritual experience I’d ever had, or could ever imagine happening.

A CHALLENGING PARADOX

Every near death experience I’ve read about, or heard of, is unique. There
are certain common features which can be broadly identified, but the experience
itself appears invariably tailored to the personality concerned.

Here is one of the most open-minded NDE researchers, Dr. Bruce Greyson,
expressing the some of the difficulties for a scientist trying to understand the
NDE. “No one physiological or psychological model by itself explains all the
common features of NDE. The paradoxical occurrence of heightened, lucid
awareness and logical thought processes during a period of impaired cerebral
perfusion raises particular perplexing questions for our current understanding of
consciousness and its relation to brain function. A clear sensorium and complex
perceptual processes during a period of apparent clinical death challenge the
concept that consciousness is localized exclusively in the brain.”
(3) It is just this paradox that makes the NDE so challenging for scientists to
wrap their minds around. The overlapping spiritual implications also don’t make
it an attractive research prospect for someone with a primarily materialist
conceptual framework. And unfortunately, as can happen when what might be
discovered would threaten current scientific dogma, NDE research has long been
pushed to the sidelines.

Until very recently, someone fortunate enough to have a Near Death
Experience and who might have insisted on the actual reality of what occurred in
the out-of-the-body state, would have been humored at best; at worst, they would
have been thought deluded, or crazy.

A neuroscientist might well have dismissed the NDE merely as an
hallucination caused by the lack of oxygen in a dying brain; a materialist would
have rejected the NDE on principle, because there can be nothing beyond the
physical reality; an emergency room doctor will have explained away the NDE
as a consequence of anesthetic drugs; a priest may have denied the NDE’s
reality, if the experience had not subscribed to his belief system; and for normal
people who’ve never had a near death experience, another person’s NDE often
sounds so crazy and so utterly improbable that it is almost impossible to
integrate it into everyday life as a real event. Even having a NDE is challenging
enough for a person to assimilate--it took me about seven years to integrate my
NDE--it is little wonder the phenomenon has remained a mystery so long.

Yet, over the previous three or four decades, the NDE has started to be
taken seriously as an authentic experience which takes place in a realm that
transcends physical matter. While the authenticity of the NDE must remain
implausible to the scientific materialist--and will likely continue so, because of
an NDEs inherent unrepeatability and its lack of objective verification--the pure
weight of anecdotal evidence is making the experience impossible to ignore.

The decision by some courageous scientists (4) to credit the NDE as an
authentic event and worthy of research has been a long time coming. When I
died in 1973 it was still two years before the publication of Raymond Moody’s Life
After Life;

(5) the first popular book to give credence to the NDE as a genuinely
transcendent experience. Dr. Moody himself has been quoted as saying: “I don't
mind saying that after talking with over a thousand people who have had these
experiences, and having experienced many times some of the really baffling and
unusual features of these experiences, it has given me great confidence that
there is a life after death.”
(6) As so much more information on NDEs is now currently available to the
public, it’s not my purpose here to review the research in detail, or to speculate
on the veracity of the NDE phenomenon. I admit to my bias. Having personally
experienced the grace and clarity of the afterlife state of consciousness, I have no
doubt of the authentic reality of what I went through.

If a skeptic were to ask me how could I be so sure that what I experienced
was real and not an hallucination, I’d try to explain that the reality was not only
as real as the keyboard at which I am now pecking, or the little cat who is trying
to sit on my lap, it was an order of magnitude more real than what we generally
accept as consensus reality.

The utter lucidity of the experience is one of the hardest features of the
NDE to get across to someone who hasn’t been there. The interchanges with the
Beings encountered--and there are almost always Beings to be met--are more
deeply meaningful than anything experienced in everyday life; as the
landscapes, the technology, and the architecture witnessed in the out-of-thebody
(OOBE) realm, will be exquisitely made, heartrendingly beautiful, and
everything perceived will be resonating with their own isness.

THE LIMITATIONS OF SCIENTIFIC MATERIALISM

I believe I am one of the few people who have had both a NDE as well as
some experience with Ketamine, DMT and other entheogens, and I can assure a
skeptic that however transcendent is an entheogenic experience, it will seldom
be more than a distant echo of a full-blown NDE.

Dr. Rick Strassman’s investigations of DMT
(7) and Dr. Karl Jansen’s explorations of Ketamine (8) as well as a few other
researchers, have suggested a variety of neurobiological triggers for an OOBE
or a NDE, but they haven’t been able to throw much light on the nature of the actual
experience itself. While obviously there must be a biochemical component to the near
death experience, this has led many scientists to the conclusion that these transcendent
experiences are caused by the triggering of certain brain chemicals and must
therefore be purely internal endogenous events.

The predisposition of the materialist to label transcendent experiences as
merely a consequence of brain activity misses an essential point that my
analogue demonstrates: a singer’s vocal chords are not the song, they facilitate
the song.

If a brain can be chemically or electrically stimulated to produce a few of
the sensations associated with an OOBE or a NDE, then surely a brain can be just
as validly thought of as the neurobiological facilitator of the out of the body
experience or the NDE, and not the cause of it.

The fundamental error of thinking that brain chemistry is the cause of a
near death experience, while imposed by the limitations of scientific
materialism, avoids entirely the profound spiritual implications of an authentic
near death experience. The error also permits professional skeptics to continue to
insist such experiences are simply the result of the brain’s electrochemical
functions.

It’s not hard to grasp the underlying psychological reason for this
blinkered position. There are the social politics of science which, when not
ridiculing the whole idea as absurd, simply dismisses research into NDEs or
OOBEs as peripheral to scientific advancement. The last humiliation a scientist
needs is to have his project held up in Congress as an example of wasted taxpayer
dollars. In the past, this has made grant money almost impossible to acquire and
the few bold scientists who are conducting research have had to do it on a
shoestring.

I suspect it is no coincidence the one researcher who seems to get the last
word on TV shows about NDEs has been Susan Blackmore.(9) Dr. Blackmore is
an English educated Harvard psychologist, self-confessed atheist and proud
skeptic (10) who has set out to try to reproduce an artificial NDE in the
laboratory. I’ve watched her a number of times on the telly claiming she’s
achieved this by direct stimulation of the brain, when all she has managed to
induce was something which could have been a tunnel with light at the other
end of it and some tingling sensations reported by the subject. Not exactly a near
death experience!

Although of course I would never wish death on anyone, but if a skeptic
like Susan Blackmore were fortunate enough to have an authentic NDE of her
own, she would understand how absurd her claims sound to those of us who have
had the experience.

In the unlikely possibility that science will give any credence to the reality
of the afterlife realms, they would be faced with undermining the very
foundations of scientific materialism, every bit as much as such an admittance
would force a revolution in religious beliefs. If the implications of what many
people report from an authentic near death experience are taken to heart, it
would entirely change our understanding of a what it means to be a human
being, as well as reintroducing a sense of wonder into most peoples’ otherwise
mundane existence.

One of the insights I’ve seen most treasured by those returning from the
afterlife can be simply summed up in the maxim: “They save the best till last.”

A VIEW FROM THE STREET

The Bio TV cable channel has recently been airing a documentary series
at a decently late hour on Sunday nights they call I Survived; Beyond and Back.
Each one-hour show features three people who have died and then returned to
life. Unlike other, earlier, TV documentaries that purport to investigate the near
death experience, Bio’s Beyond and Back allows the survivors to tell their stories
without the need to wheel in a skeptic at the end--invariably Susan Blackmore--
to create a balanced viewpoint! However, what this invariably did was to
invalidate the survivors’ experiences and reduce them to the insignificance of a
dream or an hallucination--a brain-fart by any other name.

The sad aspect of this all-too-common reductive bias, invariably cloaked in
the patronizing guise of one who knows better, is that a genuine NDE (11) will
undoubtedly be the single most profound experience of someone’s lifetime. It has
certainly been true for me 38 years later: I have never read or heard of a
survivor saying otherwise. It is frankly infuriating to hear such heartfelt and
overwhelmingly meaningful events being dismissed as hallucinations.

One of the survivors featured on Beyond and Back, a man in his sixties,
who had a profound NDE as a child in which he found himself in God’s Presence,
had innocently told his Roman Catholic priest about it. The priest asked the boy
whether he had met Jesus over the course of the NDE. When the child said no,
this so-called man of God announced it was the devil!

Yeah! Right! Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?

But it destroyed the poor kid. Only many years later when he read of
others having similar experiences, did he realize in what a tawdry fashion he
had been misled. As the guy joked on the show, if the devil was so absolutely
magnificent--I’m paraphrasing his struggle to describe the indescribable--then
forget about God. Once he was able to allow the fullness and authenticity of his
NDE to chase away the priest’s arrogant presumption he had become a changed
man.

I’ve been keeping my eye on NDE research since reading Raymond
Moody’s book Life After Life when it came out in the mid-1970s, and I have had
the chance to watch the process by which the authenticity of near death
experiences has now become far more generally accepted by the American public
than by the scientific community as a whole.

It is somewhat similar to how UFOs have been regarded these last 60
years. Whereas in that case, the military have been deliberately deceiving the
public about the existence of UFOs; in the case of NDEs, the scientific community
has been generally dismissive of them simply because their conceptual
framework won’t permit them to accept NDEs as real.

Yet, a 1980/81 survey has suggested that at least 15% of the American
population have had an NDE, and there are probably many more, as people are
often reluctant to talk about them. Given a few percentage points difference, the
proportion of the population having NDEs holds broadly true in different
cultures. Ornella Corazza’s book Near-Death Experiences: Exploring the mind-body
connection (12) takes advantage of the author’s fluency in the language to coax
the reticent Japanese into speaking openly about their NDEs. She has shown that
while there may be small cultural differences in the personalities encountered
during the experience, the essentials remain similar. Research in other countries
has demonstrated much the same.

Considering the profound spiritual insights permitted by a near death
experience, it’s surprising that NDEs appear so infrequently in the historical
record. Plato writes in The Republic of a soldier reporting on his NDE and telling of
his experience of the afterlife. Yet it is not clear whether Plato is treating the
soldier’s account as a myth; or if perhaps Plato too needed to present the
experience in ambiguous terms because the NDE ran counter to the accepted
religious dogma of his time.

There is, of course, a very good reason as to why until recently there are so
few firsthand accounts of NDEs in the historical literature: it’s the capacity of
modern medicine to revive those who would have previously died.

As the number of these NDEs reported coming out of hospital emergency
rooms have accumulated, and because it’s there that the conditions of a dying
body can be determined, more doctors started taking near death experiences
more seriously. This started a vogue in some operating theaters in which objects
or notes were hidden away in high places in the theater that could only be seen if
the patients were genuinely out of their bodies. This approach is seldom
successful because in those few moments of being out of the body feel so ecstatic
that someone’s experiments with hidden notes will not be the first thing on the
patient’s mind.

Yet, there are certainly enough reliable anecdotal reports in the medical
literature to verify for all but the most obdurate skeptics that a patient’s
consciousness can indeed exist outside the body. This semiofficial validation has
encouraged many of those who have had NDEs outside the medical system to
come forward and speak openly about their experiences.

THE SPIRITUAL WEIGHT OF POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE NDEs

The profound impact a near death experience inevitably has on the
survivors, as well as what has been revealed to them during their encounter, is
all so intensely personal it is not altogether surprising that the NDE has never
been given the attention it deserves.

Organized religions in general--with the exception of Tibetan Buddhism--
and Christianity in particular, all have different and distorted views of the
afterlife, each with its own concept, which becomes a dogma the religion then
holds on to for dear life. As with the priest who dismissed the boy’s NDE because it
didn’t include Jesus, each religion makes its own pitch to colonize the afterlife.
Mormons even believe they can poach on the souls of the dead, hoping to convert
them to their own idiosyncratic belief system. They seem all too sure their
impudence will be welcomed by the poor beleaguered souls! At the same time,
officials of the Church of the Latter Day Saints appear unaware of the spiritual
illegitimacy--quite apart from the downright rudeness of the imposition--of
baptizing souls without their having any choice in the matter.

I find it significant that many pagan belief systems have a far more
accurate and reliable accounting of the afterlife realms than all the promises of
heaven and the threats of hell that have been traditionally promoted by
Christianity. While much of the emphasis on heaven and hell has clearly been
the result of manipulative priestcraft, any survey of NDEs will turn up some
accounts of people who find themselves in the Underworld, and others who have
their hellish accounts of the afterlife.

I have focused here mainly on positive NDEs as the majority of the
accounts report--as mine did--the peaceful, loving, ecstatic, features of the
experience. Whether negative NDEs are equally common is hard to know
because such survivors are probably more reluctant to share the terror and
shame they felt. Of the hundred or so NDEs I have read of or heard about, only a
handful have been described as hellish.

There is no sugarcoating this pill. Just as a positive NDE is invariably the
most gloriously peaceful and supremely loving experience of a lifetime, so are the
accounts of the negative ones reported as the being the most absolutely
horrifying and terror-filled experience of their entire lives.

I wouldn’t want to minimize the terror conveyed by some reports, but the
negative accounts with which I am familiar appear to have functioned as
extreme wake-up-calls for the individuals involved. Their NDEs are intensely
meaningful to the survivors and on returning, from what I’ve seen, they have
set out to reassess their lives and change them for the better.

In examining both positive and negative near death experiences through
the lens of a survivor, I’m inclined to feel that the mise en scène of an NDE is, in
some unaccountable way, a manufactured reality. NDEs are adapted so
precisely to the individual’s needs, and the afterlife reality itself appears so
malleable, that the landscape can change in a single moment.

I have only mentioned angels briefly here and in relation to my own NDE,
but over the years I have come to understand the part they play in our lives. I
have no doubt angels become particularly active when we approach the afterlife
realms (13) and will have a part in shaping the reality according to what is
required for that individual’s learning.

If, as most esoteric traditions suggest, the Universe is best thought of as a
massive university, a living teaching machine created and maintained for,
among other purposes, the advancement of souls, then the NDE is a window into
the schoolroom. What the survivors learn in those timeless moments before
being returned to their physical vehicles will be precisely what they need to
hear, feel, and absorb, in order to fulfill the original purpose of their incarnation.

NDEs VIEWED THROUGH A SURVIVOR’S LENS

I’m completing this brief exploration of the NDE enigma with some of my
own observations on the mechanisms and the purpose of the near death
experience as I understand them.

Regardless of the few features of an NDE which can be emulated in the
laboratory by artificially stimulating the brain, a true near death experience is
clearly not simply a biochemical brain-fart, devoid of meaning or purpose. It is
quite the contrary once the content and the effects are taken into account. Any
person who has actually had an authentic NDE will likely consider their
experience purposeful, highly structured, and suffused with a depth of meaning
seldom if ever found in everyday life. No one can return from a NDE unchanged
which is why almost all experiencers radically alter their lives for the better as a
consequence.

One revealing feature of many peoples’ NDEs is the statement made by the
Being of Light, however that Being is recognized, or by one of their deceased
relatives--mothers and grandmothers often tend to feature here--or by
whomever seems to be in charge before returning the people to their bodies. They
are told that it is not their time yet; that they aren’t ready yet to move along.
There are many versions of this announcement but all of them appear to
demonstrate that whether we know it or not, there is a specific purpose to each
person’s lifetime. Just as I was told in my NDE that I had accomplished what I
came to do, the NDE makes it clear that each of us has a particular task or
function to fulfill over the course of a lifetime.

I certainly don’t claim to have been particularly good when I died, but
with what I was told in my NDE, I have since played with the thought that it
might give some substance to the cliché that the good die young, while the
wicked can seem to live on endlessly. Of course I’m not suggesting here that the
elderly are therefore inherently wicked, yet living to an extreme age may well
demonstrate how far those individuals have strayed from the true purpose.
It will come as no surprise to the spiritually inclined that life has a purpose
above and beyond the purely pragmatic, while it’ll remain a nonsensical idea to
those of a materialist or atheistic turn of mind. The concept that we might be
here for a purpose, or a reason specific to each individual, raises so many
awkward questions that to accept the deep truth of it will start to dissolve the
conventional dogma of both believer and disbeliever.

To admit the reality of the afterlife and accept that life has a purpose for
each of us, has to to lead to thoughts of reincarnation and questions about
predestination. It raises what it means to be responsible for ourselves and
whether there will be consequences for our actions of which we are unaware. It
may well be shocking for some people to discover when they die that they will be
assessed, and will assess themselves, on how well they have fulfilled their
purpose over the course of their lifetime. I did not have a life review before I was
returned to life, but the accounts of others who’ve had the review speak of
incidents in their life being replayed so they could reexperience them from both
their own points of view, but also from the viewpoints of other people involved.
They say that in doing this they had a chance to feel the hurt they’d inflicted on
others and learn from the experience.

Although it’s my understanding that a person’s afterlife review, which
occurs soon after physical death, is far more lenient and generous than we might
imagine, it seems that the prospect of a review is quite enough to deter many
from giving any serious credence to the afterlife. As most people have neither the
knowledge nor the inclination to examine their lives and come to terms with
their delinquencies, they can subconsciously judge themselves--or allow
themselves to be judged--to be far more iniquitous than they really are. In the
case of many religionists, for example, while they might be paying superficial
lip-service to their belief systems’ interpretation of the afterlife, they are likely to
have an uncomfortable surprise when they discover that mouthing the words
was not quite enough

Any religion which declares that “the good go to Heaven; and the bad to
hell,” misses the point of individual purpose by defining and imposing their own
interpretation of morality on their believers. The Christian fundamentalist who
murders an abortion doctor, or a fanatic Islamic suicide bomber who kills
unbelievers in Allah’s name, will discover how badly they had been duped.

A DOUBLE-EDGED QUANDARY FOR SCIENCE AND RELIGION

Another intriguing feature of the near death experience is its paradoxical
quality which places it right in the middle of the current discord between science
and religion. Dying and entering the afterlife realms clearly has a certain
mechanical quality: there are tunnels, unworldly vehicles, sentient balls of
light, magical staircases, buildings of one sort or another--there was my
monorail cabin and the structure standing on the plain in which I received my
healing. What each person experiences may be slightly different, but it is
evident that the potential structure and mechanism of an individual’s NDE
preexists the experience of it. This is confirmed by the broad similarity of the
basic stages of the experience. That my monorail cabin was already occupied by
other people when I arrived in it is an example of the preexistence of this realm,
and makes the case that it can’t be merely a personalized hallucination.

There is one fundamental reason why so much of modern science and
medicine fails to grasp the reality and significance of the near death experience.
It is the misconception that we are our physical vehicles. This is the conviction
which has blocked any further understanding of the NDE or associated out of the
body phenomena.

If we now view the near death experience from within the conceptual
framework of a shaman or a spiritual adept, they will speak of subtle energy
bodies--the emotional, mental and spiritual bodies--each with its own
intelligence. In an OOBE or NDE, we engage with one of these etheric bodies. The
intimacy of the connection between these vehicles is shown by the healing of my
physical body as a result of what occurred in the “operation” I underwent on my
etheric body during my near death experience.

Clearly the classic NDE has certain mechanistic elements which should
hold some interest to the scientifically-minded, yet there is no avoiding that for
most survivors, the NDE is primarily a profound religious experience, yet not
one that most conventional religions easily accept. While a person may
encounter an identifiable religious figure, what is said by that Being during the
NDE can sometimes be at odds with the dogma preached in that Being’s name.
This, of course, just adds to the confusion for both the scientist and
religionist, and as a consequence most have tended step away from the NDE and
concern themselves with less mysterious matters. It has been into this gap
between the disciplines that the near death experience has fallen.

AN ALIEN’S APPROACH TO THE NDE ENIGMA

A visitor from another world would find all these antics very strange
indeed. He would point to the many tens of millions of first-person accounts in
which NDEs are described as the most deeply significant experience of a person’s
life.

“These are perfectly normal people,” he would say, “not liars or freaks, but
regular citizens, young and old, and from every background. They’ve been been
returned to their bodies with an experiential knowledge of the reality of the
afterlife. Each one will have had a direct experience of that enigmatic state of
being whereby the consciousness can exist outside their physical body. Just how
much anecdotal evidence is needed to convince the serious scientist? ”

I hope the visitor would be amused at the Catch-22 that science finds itself
in: an NDE cannot be objectively real as it doesn’t satisfy science’s demands for
objective evidence. It is these very demands, though useful when brought to bear
on what can be measured, repeated, and tested, that become inapplicable when
applied to transcendent experiences.

“This is quite understandable,” he might say, if he was generous minded;
“it’s simply using the incorrect lens through which to study the NDE. Etheric
activity such as near death experiences and OOBEs require a different lens; they
reveal themselves through the application of an open mind and heart, through
intuitive understanding, trust, and common sense.”

“But that’s no proof!” Our materialist replies, a slight sneer in his tone.
“A different kind of proof, if you want to call it that,” I can hear the visitor
say, not rising to the bait. “An event for which there’s no objective evidence but
an anecdotal report requires a different way of assessing the reliability of data.
By all means remain neutrally agnostic about NDEs, but don’t dismiss them as
impossible just because your conceptual framework doesn’t allow for their
possibility. It’s not scientific!”

Not being thought scientific must have irritated the skeptic. “Perhaps
where you come from anecdotal stories count for something. Here, you can’t
trust people. They exaggerate, they distort stuff, they add details after the event.
No, my friend, memory is inherently unreliable.”

“So, because you think memory can’t be believed, you therefore dismiss
NDEs and the afterlife as an hallucination? You call that scientific? Where’s your
scientific curiosity, man?”

“I don’t dismiss the experience itself. People obviously have their NDEs--
whatever they are. It’s your interpretation of it I reject. All that afterlife business.
NDEs could just as likely be meme-driven hallucinations created by neurological
responses to stress...”

“And that’s the most straightforward theory you can come up with to
accounts for NDEs?! Is that really simpler than accepting that millions of people
are actually describing an authentic experience? I think I understand now what
you meant when you said humans were lacking in trust!”

I’ll cut short the dialogue here to summarize the visitor’s advice when our
scientific materialist finally asked what he could do to develop this different lens
for assessing the authenticity of anecdotal data.

The visitor first challenged the skeptic to seek out those who have had
NDEs and look into their eyes when they relate their experiences. If he would
listen with an open mind and simply trust what he heard and felt, the skeptic
will likely find himself unexpectedly moved by their accounts. The truth of his
emotional reaction can then potentially act as a trigger for his intuition.

“Your intuition,” the visitor told the skeptic, “it works like a muscle. If it’s
not used it will atrophy. You, who’ve been trained from an early age in the
scientific tradition, will have been taught to place your confidence in material
evidence. A worthy practice if what you’re studying is material in nature.

“As you know a number of scientific breakthroughs have originated as
intuitive leaps of understanding. So I suggest you sharpen your intuition by
listening closely to your inner promptings; open your heart and trust your
feelings; and when you study an issue for which no material evidence can ever
be produced, allow these to be your instruments.

“If you study the effects of a near death experience on the survivors and
you will get a real feeling for the NDE’s depth of authenticity from the
psychological and spiritual changes experienced by the survivors.

“If your Occam’s razor still persists in favoring delusion and hallucination
as the simplest explanation of the NDE, I suggest you ask yourself the following
questions.”

With that advice my off-world visitor appeared gradually to phase out
leaving his questions hanging in the air behind him.

Apart from a near death experience, what other incident or event occurs
over the course of a human lifetime, to people of all cultures and races, of both
sexes and of all ages, that would ever have such a profoundly transformative
impact on the survivor? If a NDE is merely an hallucination, it’s an
extraordinarily powerful one! And wouldn’t you find it occurring more often in
everyday life when people hallucinate under different circumstances?
What other incident would result a such a consistent loss of fear at the
prospect of death?

Where else could be gained such certain knowledge the afterlife realm is an
inescapable reality?

How else can such a deep conviction be acquired that life has a
transcendent purpose and meaning above and beyond worldly achievement?
Why is it almost everyone who has had a profound near death experience,
subsequently looks forward to the afterlife as a sublime culmination of a life well
lived?

A true understanding of the near death experience will only become clear
when each of us dies and finds ourselves in the afterlife realms. And perhaps it
was meant to be that way while humanity was growing up. It is such an
individualized and personal experience and so difficult to describe in its full
measure that the NDE will likely have to remain an enigma for most people, the
last great mystery of life. (14)

Those of us who have died and for one reason or another have been
returned will seldom be able to convince a skeptic, or even communicate to a
believer the true depth of the experience. And that is generally fine with us. We
know. We were there. We are the ones who have no doubt “they save the best till
last.”

Speaking personally, although my life is a supremely happy one, I do look
forward to when I can die again. This time I don’t think I’m going to choose to
return.

NOTES
1) Wyllie, Timothy. Dolphins, ETs & Angels. Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Company
1993

2) Monroe, Robert A. Journeys Out Of The Body. New York. Doubleday Anchor,
1972

---------. Far Journeys. New York. Main Street Books. 1985
3) Greyson, Bruce. Incidence and correlates of near-death experiences in a cardiac
care unit. General Hospital Psychiatry, 2003

4) Over the years I’ve had personal contact with these NDE researchers: Bruce
Greyson, Rick Strassman, Kenneth Ring and Ornella Corazza.

5) Raymond Moody, Life After Life: the investigation of a phenomenon--survival
of bodily death, San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001

6) Life After Life: Understanding the Near death Experience with Raymond Moody
M.D. Interview with Jeffrey Mishlove

7) Rick Strassman, DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor's Revolutionary Research
into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences. Strassman makes the case
for the DMT secreted in the pineal gland flooding the human brain at points of
extreme stress, or death.

8) I recommend Ketamine: Dreams and Realities by Karl Jansen M.D., Ph.D. for
an open-minded, yet ultimately inconclusive analysis of ketamine and how it
might relate to the NDE.

9) Blackmore, Susan. Dying to Live: Near-Death Experiences, Prometheus Books,
1993

10) If I seem to be spinning her pride in her skepticism, it is merely because she’s
not only a card-carrying Fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation
of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) but in 1991 she was awarded the CSICOP
Distinguished Skeptic Award. Who else would CSICOP pander to but another
skeptic? And a Fellow of their Committee, no less.

11) When I write of a “genuine,” or “authentic,” or a “full-blown” NDE, I’m
referring to the full sequence of events common to the deeper form of NDE.
Leaving the body; extreme feeling of peace and love (in some cases the opposite);
knowledge of being dead; enter the light; encountering a transcendent Being
Light/deceased relations and loved ones/angels/God; an intimate conversation
follows; there’s a deep desire to stay in what feels like a true home; then there is
being sent back.

Researcher Kenneth Ring has said that 60% of survivors experience the
first stage he defines as “feelings of peace and contentment” while only 10%
experience what he calls “entering the light.” These latter NDEs are those I label
as full-blown.

12) Corazza, Ornella. Near-Death Experiences: Exploring the mind-body
connection. London & New York: Routledge 2008

13) For my taste The Urantia Book has proved to provide the most reliable
information on the angelic involvement with the afterlife realms. They broadly
echo Tibetan Buddhism’s claim of the seven “Bardo Levels” experienced
subsequent to physical death, by also maintaining there are seven “Morontia
Levels.” They tell us first two levels function as “compensatory realms,” in
which we have the opportunity to experience what we’ve been unable to learn in
our mortal lifetimes. Angels appear to be present in all these transitions and
transactions.

14) The International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) website is an
excellent source for further information and for sharing NDEs.

Timothy Wyllie
February 2012
6,733 words

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