Although the phenomenon was known already much longer, it just got much more attention in the past years, whereby it also got its name “Near-Death-Experience” (or NDE and previously called Bijna Dood Ervaring of BDE). An important reason for also scientific attention was the publication of an article in the scientific magazine “The Lancet” on the research results of Pim van Lommel in 10 hospitals. Later on he published his book “Consciousness Beyond Life, The Science of the Near-Death Experience”, which got a lot of attention. Together with some others he initiated in 1988 the establishment of the Foundation “Merkawah”, which later on continued under the name of “Netwerk Nabij-de doodErvaringen” (www.netwerknde.nl).
What is a Near-death-experience?
A near-death-experience (NDE) is a combination of impressions during a special consciousness situation, which results from a period of clinical-death, a serious illness, an almost fatal fatale situation or a dying process.
A NDE may also occur at extreme stress, during an existential crisis or with deep meditation and even spontaneously in very extraordinary situations.
It is a pervasive life lesson, which permanently changes the life of someone who has a Near-Death experience.
It seems as if a secret door opens, which gives access to a new world …
• where you want to stay forever
• where time and distance don’t play a role
• where the past and future can be looked at
• where you feel complete and whole and
• where infinite knowledge and unconditional love are experienced
The changes in the life of someone with a Near-Death experience are in particular caused by the insight that love and attention for yourself, for others and nature are important preconditions in life.
After a Near-Death experience one realizes that everybody and everything is connected with one another, that each thought influences yourself and others, and that our consciousness continues to exist after the bodily death.
When do you speak of a Near-Death-Experience?
Over the past 50 years probably some 25 million people worldwide experienced a Near-Death-Experience. In The Netherlands maybe some hundred thousands of people.
The NDE occurs in all kind of situations, in all layers of society, with all types of people, with all religions, in all cultures and at all ages.
We speak of a NDE when during such experience at least three of the following aspects are present:
• The feeling of comfort and peace
• No pain anymore
• The realization of being dead
• Experience of leaving the body
• The feeling of moving in a dark space, often called a ‘tunnel’ with at the end a clear light
• Seeing an other unearthly environment with beautiful colors and sometimes music
• Meeting and communicating with deceased persons
• Contact with a beaming, though not blinding light
• A deep communication, usually in a sphere of unconditional love and acceptation
• Backwards and forward overlooking ones life
• Time and distance don’t exist
• Seeing a “border”, behind which no return is possible anymore
• Returning in the body, often with the awareness of a destination in life
Materialistically oriented scientists still ever try to impose that near-death experiences “can not exist” considering the attached article by Jim van der Heijden.
Possible consequences of a near-death experience
• Self acceptance and a changed self-image
• Compassion with others
• Appreciation of life
• No fear anymore for death and belief in an afterlife
• Decreased church-going with increased religious feelings
• Increased spirituality
• More self-confidence
• Decreased interest for material profit or status
• A feeling of God’s presence
• Tensions, which may lead to psychic problems, like depressions, nostalgic feelings and loneliness
• Having problems for a longer period with acceptance and integration of newly acquired life views
• The changed view is for people after a NDE not based anymore on belief, but on a certain knowing
• People who had a NDE often become changed
• People who had a NDE experience that not only all acting, each act, but also each thought is an energy field, which influences their environment and themself
• In addition to that there is no time or distance during a NDE
• After the NDE this feeling may continue
• After a NDE people may get a higher intuition
• They may long for the blissful existence they discovered in their NDE
At the 25th jubilee of Merkawah in 2013 Pim van Lommel held a lecture, in which he looked back at the developments around Near-Death-Experiences. Because that lecture presents a good picture I included a summary from the jubilee issue of the magazine ‘Terugkeer” .
|25 years Foundation Merkawah, and what has changed during that time in the vision on Near-Death-Experiences
As Foundation Merkawah now exists 25 years it probably is a good moment to look back at the starting years of our foundation, and to see what has changed since then in the scientific views, the recognition and acceptance of near-death-experiences (NDE) in The Netherlands.
A near-death-experience still ever invokes incredulous reactions or critical questions from many people, and even more from physicians and other academics. A NDE certainly is an overwhelming confrontation with boundless dimensions of our consciousness, and as long you haven’t experienced a NDE yourself you generally have no idea of the impact and radical consequences of such experience. The existing world view is completely turned upside down. And that counts also for the results of scientific research on NDE, in which the never proven assumption of physical science is disputed that consciousness would just be the product of a function of our brain.
My own interest in NDE started when I read a booklet of George Ritchie in 1986, entitled “Return form Tomorrow”, in which he extensively writes about his NDE, which he had in 1943 as medical student during the nine minutes he was declared dead by a physician due to complications of a double pneumonia. Antibiotics were not yet amply available at that time. In 1969 I had already earlier heard a story about a NDE from a patient, whoa was successfully reanimated, but the term NDE didn’t still exist then, and I also had heard never before that people could have memories of the period of their cardiac arrest. During my medical study I always had learned that something like that was not possible at all.
Due to all the stories I heard now my scientific curiosity had really been aroused. Because eventually it is according to our medical insights not possible to experience consciousness during a cardiac arrest, thus when you are unconscious after the falling away of the blood pressure and the respiration. Some people, however, who survived a life threatening crisis like a cardiac arrest, mentioned an extraordinary experience of their consciousness.
A NDE is the recollection mentioned of all impressions during such special consciousness situation, with some specific elements, like experiencing a tunnel, the light, a life review, the meeting of deceased loved ones, the perception of your own reanimation (leaving the body), or the conscious return into the body. This special consciousness situation may occur at a cardiac arrest, thus during a period of clinical death, but also at severe illness, at brain damage with coma resulting from a traffic accident, during general anesthesia with severe complications during an operation, at shock due to loss of blood, for instance during or after a child-birth, at near-drowning (often children), or during the dying process (a passage of life experience). However, sometimes too at a depression, during meditation, or without a clear cause! It is thus not necessary to have brain damage in order to experience a NDE. Moreover, such experience has always a transformative nature, amongst others the fear for death disappears, one gets a different view of what really matters in life, and an increased intuitive sensitiveness is experienced.
Establishing of Merkawah and first prospective study
Until 1988 there had only been retrospective research at people with a NDE in the past, with a large selection of patients due to this, and it also turned out to be almost impossible to accurately trace back after tens of years all medical circumstances. So we started in 1988 in The Netherlands a prospective study in ten Dutch hospitals with 344 subsequent patients who had survived a cardiac arrest, thus with a clearly objectifiable and critical medical situation, already in a still reversible dying phase. A prospective study means that patients are asked within some days if they are able to remember anything from the period of their cardiac arrest, thus from their period of unconsciousness. And all medical and other data were accurately registered. Also a longitudinal or long-term study on life changes was executed by means of interviews after two and eight years with all patients with a NDE, and with a control group of patients without a NDE, with the question whether changes were caused by a cardiac arrest or by the NDE. This too had never been investigated in a prospective approach.
The study was initiated an coordinated by the board of the Foundation Merkawah. The design of the study was in particular done by Vincent Meijers with the help of Ruud van Wees; the organization of the cooperation of the various hospitals, and the clinical interviews and medical data of patients who survived their cardiac arrest, were coordinated by me and partly implemented.
The interviews after two years with all patients with a NDE who were still alive, and at the control group, were done under supervision of Vincent Meijers and Ruud van Wees, while the interviews after eight years were done by Ingrid Elfferich. The statistical processing of all data was supervised by Ruud van Wees. The eventual article in The Lancet was written by me in cooperation with Ruud van Wees. (see belop the heading of that article)
Due to the enormous effort of may volunteers in the ten hospitals, and of volunteers under the inspiring guidance of Vincent Meijers and Ruud van Wees for the later interviews, it became possible to finalize this study within ten years.
Our Dutch study was eventually published in December 2001 in the Lancet. It is still ever the largest prospective study on NDE, the only NDE-study with statistical calculations, while it is still ever the most cited scientific study on NDE. Moreover, Merkawah started under good supervision of Ina Vonk to organize meetings twice a year for people who experienced a NDE. Those meetings are also accessible for interested people, aid workers, and family. Ina also opened a telephone line for requests for help and information, and the quarterly magazine Terugkeer was started.
It took years before some more recognition commenced for people with a NDE in The Netherlands, especially in the healthcare sector, and unfortunately there is still ever far too little knowledge on the NDE phenomenon among aid workers like physicians, nursing-staff, psychologists and psychiatrists. This notwithstanding the many scientific articles and books that were published over the past 25 years, and the many radio- and tv-programmes. Because a majority of people involved in consciousness research like neuroscientists, psychologists and philosophers stick to the opinion that consciousness can be explained in a materialistic and reductionist way. It is their opinion that consciousness is nothing more than matter, and that our subjective experience, our consciousness is purely personal and differs from the consciousness of someone else, or is just an illusion. According to these scientists consciousness stems completely from the matter of our brains, and thus our behavor, and our free will, would inescapably be only the result from the chemical and electrical functioning of brain cells.
The present science usually still assumes a reality, that is only based upon physically perceivable data. It should, however, also be realized that in addition to objective, sensory perception, also subjective aspects like thoughts, feelings, inspiration and intuition play a role. Current scientifically ‘objective’ techniques are not capable to measure or verify the ‘subjective’ content of consciousness. What can be measured are just the measurable chemical, electrical or magnetic activity changes within the brains (Pet-scan, EEG, MEG), and changes in the blood supply of the brains (fMRI), and these are so called correlations or coherence, and thus don’t say anything about the fact whether the measured activity is the cause or just the result of consciousness. Direct proof how neurons or neuronal networks possibly might be able to produce the subjective essence of our thoughts and feelings is currently still ever completely lacking.
Book “Consciousness Beyond Life, The Science of the Near-Death Experience”
Under very much different circumstances, at all ages, and in all times and cultures experiences of an expanded or non-local consciousness independent of this state of wakefulness have been mentioned, like during a critical medical situation (a NDE), during an acute situation of a seemingly inescapable death (a ‘death agony’ experience), during meditation or total relaxation (mystical, enlightened experience or experience of unity), during changed states of consciousness like during regression, hypnosis, isolation, at severe depression or the use of consciousness expanding drugs like LSD or DMT. Currently identical experiences are mentioned during the dying phase, the so called end-of-life experiences. Experiences of family members around the deathbed and immediately after the death of a loved one are currently also called ‘shared death experiences’ (or empathical NDE). The mutual connectedness with this infinite consciousness also explains experiences around and after the passing away, like apparitions elsewhere at the moment of passing away, so called peri-mortal experiences, or contacts with the consciousness of deceased persons, the so called post-mortal experiences. This type of experiences often occur during the night, though it is not a dream but some form of contact during a dreamless deep sleep.
A NDE is a radical experience, which falls outside our normal expectation pattern, for which no real answers exist to tell the truth, and for which generally is no possibility to discuss in our western world, because our generally accepted and materialistic science has no plausible explanation. A NDE always contains an experience of an expanded and infinite consciousness during our life, and such experience provides a surprisingly new insight in life and death, but it is no scientific proof of an afterlife. However, our vision on death changes almost fundamentally by the nearly inescapable conclusion that consciousness survives at the physical death in another dimension, in an invisible, immaterial world, in which past, present, and future are enclosed.
There are still more questions than answers, but based upon all theoretical aspects of the rather frequently reported experience of the continuity of our consciousness, we ought to seriously consider the possibility that the death, just like birth, might just be just a passage to another state of consciousness. The death is then just the end of our physical aspect. Research on NDE gives us, again, not the irrefutable scientific proof of this conclusion, as people with a NDE died not definitely, they came back to consciousness. All of them were, however, very near to death, already in a fortunately still reversible dying process, and with total collapse of all brain functions. It is thus verified that consciousness can be experienced independent of our body, with a not-anymore functioning brain. And this conclusion radically changes our human view, and has an impact on actual medical and ethical questions.
We also need to learn to realize, that we perceive the world in a wrong way, because we are insufficiently aware that the world, in the way we perceive it, solely derives its subjective truth from our consciousness. Because our consciousness determines how we perceive the world. We need to change our consciousness in order to change our world, to change our way of living. Summarized this is the insight, that we may obtain by being open to the meaning of NDE, by listening toe people who are willing to share their NDE with us.
It remains enormously important that Foundation Merkawah will remain active also in the 25 years to come in providing information on NDEs, particularly in the healthcare, and in accompanying people with a NDE to accept and integrate their NDE, which often is experienced as a trauma, in their further life.
Since the actual characteristics of Near-Death Experiences get ever more attention and recognition that invoke reactions from the in materialism rooted science and shows also the question up what this means for the religions. The materialistic science, which especially tries to explain the phenomenon (away) with physical arguments (see for instance this article by Jim Van der Heijden ‘Bijnadooddoeners: onkundige “verklaringen” van de bijna-doodervaring’) will ever more experience difficulties with that, as more results from scientific research are coming available.
Also the often radical impact on the religious views of people with a NDE have an influence on their church involvement and on religions more in general.
During a discussion among a number of NDE-researchers amongst others the question was put on the table which impact it was expected to have on society when would be proven, that consciousness survives after the physical death. That resulted in the following reactions:
|Pim van Lommel: This is an open question, which can not simply be answered. That would take many pages, and asks too much time to carefully be answered. But the changes in life view, in what is really important in life, and on the fear for death is precisely what all people with a NDE can learn us. That is thus a summarized answer to this question.
Penny Sartori: I don’t think that consciousness ‘survives death’, but that it is eternal and existed already always, we only don’t realize that, because our brain filters this out from our every day’s consciousness. We can only fully experience this consciousness when the filter function of the brain is halted of starts to malfunction.
Bruce Greyson: Societies wherever in the world who currently already accept that consciousness survives the physical death, don’t seem to differ very much from societies, which believe that consciousness ends with the death. I think that our view on society and our role in the universe are more related to our personal and cultural heritage than to our convictions concerning an afterlife.
Janice Holden: For me the question of consciousness survival is not the most important issue. The most important result of the research for me is related to what NDE’ers themselves tell us: that how we deal with others is literally the same as how we deal with ourselves. The world would look quite different when that principle would become the guideline for all our actions.
Ernst Rodin: If there ever would come such proof, which I doubt, society would change. But considering the inclination of the human race to distort facts depending on the needs people think to have, assumptions in this respect are not that useful as far as I am concerned.
Short biographical data on above foreign researchers
After reading the impressive book of Penny Sartori, written from her practical experience as nurse and after her doctorate research, “Levensvreugde na BDE’s. Wat bijna-doodervaringen ons kunnen leren” (The Wisdom of Near-Death Experiences) I couldn’t neglect to copy some pages to include here. It is the last part of her Conclusion in chapter 10, in which she emphasizes that our science – and in this case the healthcare – is unilaterally focused on the physical aspect of our health and ignores the spiritual side of our being. The present insights of NDE’s can no longer be neglected or explained away. Listening to the experiences of NDE’s learns us, that death is not a frightening thing…. “During a NDE the is an overwhelming awareness that everything is mutually interconnected. Together with the message of the life review this makes clear how the way we deal with others eventually has its impact on ourselves. This is in compliance with the ‘golden rule’, which is the core of each religion and spiritual teaching: treat others the way you want to be treated yourself.”
I also include here a presentation of Stan Machielsens, chairman of the Flemish sister association Limen (IANDS Vlaanderen) during the jubilee meeting of Merkawah.
|Is a new challenge to be expected?
From: Terugkeer 24(3-4), jubilee issue: 25 years Merkawah
The discovery of the NDE
In Europe the Dutch physician J.V. Teunissen published his booklet: “Paradijselijke Visioenen” (1) in the year 1971. He describes the out-of-body experiences from his practice, in addition to various experiences he looked up in literature, which often belong to a far away past. And in 1976 the professor Steven De Batselier from Louvain published his book with the fancy title: “De extatische mens” (2). He describes there his out-of-body experience of 1970, how he digested that and which transformative power it contains for the involved person and maybe also for society.
The IANDS associations
As the phenomenon became more known, it was discovered that people go through a difficult period when speaking about their experience. The are generally encountered by frowning eyebrows from family and friends, while the physician in charge often makes a wrong diagnosis and thus prescribes a wrong medication! In other words: they are totally alone in digesting these radical experience and giving it a place in their life. Many start wisely to become silent. They realize that their experience deviates that much from what is considered as normal, that they maybe seen as abnormal! Thus they too are completely alone in digesting the experience. Accompaniment and support by helping to realize that they are not alone in this experience turned out to be of priceless value! And is still ever a life issue!
However, also in scientific respect it didn’t remain without consequences, and also the implications in relation to religions ask our attention, on which we will elaborate briefly here after.
NDE and science
Another cardiologist, Pim Van Lommel, followed the same track in The Netherlands. He starts after confrontation with the phenomenon together with some competent assistants an extensive study in various clinics. The result was published in the famous professional magazine “The Lancet” which lead to an enormous publicity. Almost 20 years later his study leads to a scientifically founded book: “Consciousness beyond Life” (4).
NDE and religion
The distinction stems from what we call “cultural influences”. And these occur as soon as the “principal person” has passed away. In this way all kinds of scriptures on the life of Christ commenced and led to the question of the authenticity of the texts. Moreover, big discussions were held on the human an godly nature of Christ and the holy Trinity. That tried to establish these doctrines during the Council of Nicaea in 325. However, later on this text would lead to a schism between Orthodox and Roman christians. And so followed still many separations. Notwithstanding all the anomalies a social value does result, as described amongst others by the French writer and philosopher Emmanuel Mounier or the professor Louis Janssens from Louvain in his book: “Personalisme en Democratisering”.(7)
A similar scenario occurs in the Islam.
Cultural habits that inevitably start to develop after the beginning phase of a religion lead in addition to a positive experience also to misunderstandings, because these are unjustfully dogmatized and obscure the core of the message. And here definitely is a challenge for the IANDS-associations.
The NDE in perspective
There are, however, reasons to assume that the course of the past is just a prologue of what still has to come. That assumption is based on the fact that the NDE is the expression of and aligns with a deeply rooted human and transcendental or metaphysical feeling. That feeling is founded on our experiences of friendship, love, goodness and beauty. They exceed us and have something like being everlasting. It are indirect referrals to being sort of “not from this earth”. And don’t underestimate the human feeling! That sensing also translates itself towards a religious consciousness: by far the majority of humanity beliefs in an afterlife. Plato concluded this already 2,400 years ago (8). There is, however, an essential difference between the religious consciousness, including the religions themselves, and the NDE. The religious consciousness and the religions are based on a belief in these values, while the experience of the NDE consists of a deep reality value in which “believing” is replaced by “knowing”! This is one of the reasons why many a NDE-er is so shocked and realizes that he should put everything in another perspective.
A second challenge for the coming decades is to integrate the value of the NDE in the society. We know that our negative characteristics, because they are part of the evolution process, are enormously magnified by the increasing technical possibilities and may have catastrophic, uncontrollable consequences. Because of that it is necessary to deploy all means – also the good aspects of the technological evolution – to develop a society in which appreciation and love have a preeminent position. In other words a society in which ethics are the utmost references. An initial confronting start is the book of Bob Coppes: “In harmonie met het Licht” (9).
A third challenge is the to start the confrontation with the large religions and other world philosophies
The fast evolving communication technology breaks cultures open, which are in search of a new balance. We overrule nature but don’t control it. A new world consciousness is being formed: will the NDE-heritage be able to make its imprint on that? The ever continuing stream of daily NDE’s proofs the power of The Light, hidden in every being. Together we are all the confirmation of The Light each time we succeed to express our mutual appreciation in all our coming and going. But when we fail to do so it will have its consequences…
The Light approaches us with a tiny bit of humor, since that is contained within each NDE: it confirms the relativity of our efforts and therefore encourages us for the 25 years to come. We go for it …
Finally, I still add an article by Titus Rivas on what Near-Death-Experiences may mean for someone’s philosophy of life.
Near-Death-Experiences and philosophy of life
At least a couple dozens of books were published the past decades of people who had a experienced near-death-experience. In most of the case the author doesn’t limit himself to a description of his or her experience. Usually the reader is also treated on the widened philosophy of life from the lessons which the NDE-er drew from that experience. For instance on the way the physical reality is structured, on higher beings, on time, or on the nature of the afterlife. The insights are based, when it is good, on the own NDE and thus not just together dreamed up.
Contrary world views
In most cases there is no good reason to doubt the honesty of the NDE-er. Nevertheless near-death experiences may vary quite a lot in this respect. So there are NDE’s from various kinds of orthodox believers which content wise are similar to their respective religious doctrines. They may for instance have met a being that they recognized as Jesus Christ or have seen pictures of some kind of a hell full of groaning sinners. Does that mean then that the doctrine of their religion is more believable due to the content of their near-death-experience? Not at all, then the NDE’s of believers may be totally contrary to each other.
Something like that counts too for concrete questions like reincarnation. One NDE-er may be presented that incarnation doesn’t exist, and a second that seeming memories of previous incarnations may in fact concern ‘parallel lifes’, while a third just gets a view in incarnations which he or she definitely has lived themself.
As regards the philosophy of life message is concerned not all NDE’s can be even true, since they contradict one another just too much. In itself that is not too amazing when you, like myself, assume a model in which NE’s are kind of a mix of (a) dream pictures, originating from an unconscious mind of the NDE-er and maybe also influenced by cultural visions, (b) paranormal experiences, like clairvoyant perceptions and contact with deceased persons, and maybe also (c) visions of an intersubjective, rich multi-faceted afterlife which as manifestation strongly may adjust to individual convictions (Rivas, 2007). Within this model it is indeed possible to contact during the experience other clinical dead patients, deceased persons and eventual higher beings, but the form, that the meeting gets will often adjust itself according to someone’s personal visions.
What we may learn from NDE’s
What does this mean for the philosophy of life’s value of the message from separate NDE’s? I think we should in this respect make a difference between:
* the implications of the philosophy of life’s view of the paranormal experiences around NDE’s,
* the changes in values and norms, which somebody preserves from the NDE, and
* the individual philosophy of life conclusions, which the patient relates to his or her NDE.
Near-death experiences may separate from their individual message for instance refer to an afterlife – especially when they occur during a cardiac arrest, which may be concluded because the patient separate from his physical senses perceived specific events which occurred during his clinical death.
There have also changes in the value pattern of NDE-ers been concluded which do not seem to be depending on the specific content of their near-death experience. You may think of declining a one-sided materialistic style of life, or adhering to values of love and compassion, personal development, and acquiring knowledge or wisdom.
Private versus universal philosophy of life conclusions
Within the individual philosophy of life conclusions, which the patient connects with the NDE, you may subsequently still differentiate between private conclusions, which are only shared by a limited number of (groups of) NDE-ers (like: “Jesus Christ sits on the opposite side of the throne, he wears a red cloak and you may recognize him from his wound signs”) and universal conclusions (Rivas, 2010) that almost generally are drawn (like: “We are here on earth to learn, to develop, in order to learn to love ourself, and to mean something for others”). I think it is of little use to connect private philosophy of life conclusions with NDE’s. When you still don’t have an islamic world view, there is for instance no reason to become all of a sudden muslim because of someone’s islamitic colored NDE. And when you adhere to linear reincarnation, it is rather unfounded to throw such conviction away because a NDE-er states that only parallel lifes exist.
Near-death experiences may in other words definitely provide important insights, but they don’t form a good reason for just adhering to a specific philosophy of life system, that would go much beyond general statements like: “there is a spiritual afterlife” or “we are here amongst others to develop ourselves more”.
So stories about near-death experiences are definitely of importance for our philosphy of life, but they don’t dismiss us from own (philosophical) thinking, scientific research or the continuation of our personal inward journey. Paradoxically as it is that fits well with a universal value, which repeatedly can be found in reports of NDE’s: the desire for knowledge!
– Rivas, T. (2007). Hallucinaties of meer? Terugkeer, 18(1), 16.
– Rivas, T. (2010). Heeft het aardse leven zin? Terugkeer, 21(1), 12-14.
This article was initially published in 2013 in Terugkeer 24 (3-4), jubilee issue (25 years Merkawah), pages 52-53.