A Spiritual Look at Near-Death Experiences

Man having out of body experience.

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A near-death experience (NDE) is an event that happens when a dying person's soul goes out of his or her body and travels through time and space, gaining powerful new spiritual insights in the process and then returning to his or her physical body and recovering. An NDE may occur either when a person is approaching death (suffering from a life-threatening condition that is worsening) or already clinically dead (after their heartbeats and breathing have stopped). Most seem to occur after people die clinically but then are later revived through CPR.

What Happens During a Near-Death Experience?

People who have had near-death experiences often report experiencing features that form a common pattern among the millions of people throughout history who have reported near-death experiences. Scientists investigating near-death experiences have found that the pattern of what usually happens during them is consistent worldwide and among people of all different ages, cultural backgrounds, and religious beliefs, according to the International Association for Near-Death Studies.

Leaving the Body

People often describe their souls (the conscious part of themselves) leaving their bodies and floating upward. Actor Peter Sellers, who had a near-death experience after a heart attack, reported:

“I felt myself leave my body. I just floated out of my physical form and I saw them cart my body away to the hospital. I went with it ... I wasn't frightened or anything like that because I was fine, and it was my body that was in trouble.”

While having an NDE, people can see their physical bodies below, and they can watch everything that happens to their bodies, such as doctors and nurses working and family members grieving. After they return to life, they can vividly describe details of what happened around their bodies, even though they were physically unconscious.

Traveling Through a Tunnel

A tunnel appears in the air and draws the souls of people into it, propelling them forward quickly. Despite the great speed at which they’re traveling, however, people report that they’re not afraid, but peaceful and curious while going through the tunnel.

Perceiving Changes in Time and Space

Those who go through near-death experiences say that they’re aware of profound changes in both time and space while they’re out of their bodies. They often report that they can sense time and space occurring all at once, rather than separately as it does on Earth. “Space and time are illusions that hold us to the physical realm; in the spirit realm, all is present simultaneously,” said Beverly Brodsky (who had an NDE after a motorcycle accident) in the book Lessons from the Light: What We Can Learn from the Near-Death Experience, by Kenneth Ring and Evelyn Elsaesser Valarino.

Encountering a Light of Love

People report meeting a powerful spiritual being who appears in the form of a brilliant light. Although the light that the being generates is brighter than any that people have seen on Earth, it doesn't hurt them to look at the light, and they don't feel uncomfortable in its presence. To the contrary, people say that the being of light radiates love, which leads them to feel at peace about the journey they're going through. People sometimes think of the being of light as a manifestation of God, and sometimes as an angel. They often report feeling intense emotions while enveloped in the light. One person quoted in the book Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences by Jeffrey Long, MD reflects: "A beautiful light drew me to itself; the light still touches me with awe, and tears come immediately."

Meeting Angels and Deceased People

Angels and people who have died but knew the person having the near-death experience in some way while alive (such as family members or friends) often greet that person shortly after the brilliant light appears. They all recognize each other, even without seeing each other physically.

Tennis player Laurelynn Martin recounts in her book Searching for Home:

"I became aware of many spirits. They surrounded, embraced and supported my journey with their gentleness, knowledge, and guidance. I felt one of them approach from my right upper side. This familiar presence came forward and my feelings changed to sheer joy when I discovered my 30-year-old brother-in-law, the one who had died seven months earlier from cancer. My essence moved to meet his essence. I couldn't see with my eyes or hear with my ears, yet I instinctively knew that it was "Wills.'"

Sometimes, people meet a spirit who knows about them, but whom they don't know because the person passed away before they were born.

Undergoing a Life Review

People usually see a panoramic movie of their lives replayed for them, featuring every experience they had on Earth simultaneously, yet in a form that they can understand well. During this life review, people can recognize how their choices affected themselves and other people. A person quoted in Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences states: "Every second from birth until death you will see and feel, and [you will] experience your emotions and others that you hurt, and feel their pain and emotions. What this is for is so you can see what kind of person you were and how you treated others from another vantage point, and you will be harder on yourself than anyone to judge you."

Heaven and Hell

When people perceive that they're in the process of entering heaven, they report feeling blissful, and they don't want to leave even if they have unfinished work to do on Earth. However, the people who find themselves approaching hell during their near-death experiences report feeling terrified and urgently want to return to Earth to change their lives.

Sensing Sights, Sounds, Smells, Textures, and Tastes Vividly

Despite the fact that their physical bodies are unconscious, people who have NDEs report being able to see, hear, smell, feel, and taste more vividly than they ever could on Earth. After returning, they often describe colors or music that are unlike anything they've encountered on Earth.

Gaining New Spiritual Insights

During NDEs, people often learn information that helps them understand what had previously been mysterious to them. One person said in Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences that "all the secrets of the universe, all knowledge of all time, everything" became understandable during the NDE.

Learning That It’s Not Time to Die Permanently

Somehow, the people who go through NDEs figure out that it's not their time to die permanently. Either a spiritual being informs them that they have unfinished work they need to complete on Earth, or they come to a boundary in their travels and must decide whether to stay in the afterlife or return to life on Earth.

Returning to the Physical Body

Near-death experiences end when people's souls re-enter their physical bodies. Then they're resuscitated, and recover from whatever illness or injury had caused them to approach death or clinically die.

Living Transformed Lives

After a near-death experience, many people decide to live differently than they did prior to going through that experience. People who have returned from near-death experiences to their earthly lives are usually more kind, less materialistic, and more generous people than they were before, according to the groundbreaking NDE book Life After Life by Raymond A. Moody, MD.