What is it like to die?
That is a question which humanity has been asking itself ever since there have been humans. Over ,he past few years, I have had the opportunity to raise this question before a sizable number of audiences. These groups have ranged from classes in psychology, philosophy, and sociology through church organizations, television audiences, and civic clubs to professional societies of medicine. On the basis of this exposure, I can safely say that this topic excites the most powerful of feelings from people of many emotional types and walks of life.
Yet, despite all this interest it remains true that it as very difficult for most of us to talk about death. There are at least two reasons for this. One of them is primarily psychological and cultural: The subject of death is taboo. We feel, perhaps only subconsciously, that to be in contact with death in any way, even indirectly, somehow confronts us with the prospect of our own deaths, draws our own deaths closer and makes them more real and thinkable. For example, most medical students, myself included, have found that even the remote encounter with death which occurs upon one’s first visit to the anatomical laboratories when entering medical school can evoke strong feelings of uneasiness. In my own case, the reason for this response now seems quite obvious. It has occurred to me in retrospect that it wasn’t entirely concern for the person whose remains I saw there, although that feeling certainly figured, too. What I was seeing on that table was a symbol of my own mortality. In some way, if only pre-consciously, the thought must have been in my mind, “That will happen to me, too.”
Likewise, talking about death can be seen on the psychological level as another way of approaching it indirectly. No doubt many people have the feeling that to talk about death at all is in effect to conjure it up mentally, to bring it closer in such a way that one has to face up to the inevitability of one’s own eventual demise. So, to spare ourselves this psychological trauma, we decide just to try to avoid the topic as much as possible.
The second reason it is difficult to discuss death is more complicated, as it is rooted in the very nature of language itself. For the most part, the words of human language allude to things of which we have experience through our own physical senses. Death, though, is something which lies beyond the conscious experience of most of us because most of us have never been through it. if we are to talk about death at all, then, we must avoid both social taboos and the deep-seated linguistic dilemmas which derive from our own inexperience. What we often end up doing is talking in euphemistic
analogies. We compare death or dying with more pleasant things in our experience, things with which we are familiar.
Perhaps the most common analogy of this type is the comparison between death and sleep. Dying, we tell ourselves, is like going to sleep. This figure of speech occurs very commonly in everyday thought and language, as well as in the literature of many cultures and many ages. It was apparently quite common even in the time of the ancient Greeks. In The Iliad, for example, Homer calls sleep “death’s sister,” and Plato, in his dialogue The Apology, put the following words into the mouth of his teacher, Socrates, who has just been sentenced to death by an Athenian jury. [Now, if death is only a dreamless sleep,] it must be a marvelous gain. I suppose that if anyone were told to pick out the night on which he slept so soundly as not even to dream, and then to compare it with all the other nights and days of his life, and then were told to say, after due consideration, how many better and happier days and nights than this he had spent in the course of his life-well, I think that . . . [anyone] would find these days and nights easy to count in comparison with the rest. If death is like this, then, I call it gain, because the whole of time, if you look at it in this way, can be regarded as no more than one single night.
This same analogy is embedded in our own contemporary language. Consider the phrase “to put to sleep.” If you present your dog to a veterinarian with the instruction to put him to sleep, you would normally mean something very different than you would upon taking your wife or husband to an anesthesiologist with the same words. Others prefer a different, but related analogy. Dying, they say, is like forgetting. When one dies, one forgets all one’s woes; all one’s painful and troubling memories are obliterated. As old and as widespread as they may be, however, both the “sleeping” and the “forgetting” analogies are ultimately inadequate in so far as comforting us is concerned. Each is a different way of making the same assertion. Even though they tell us so in a somewhat more palatable way, both say, in effect, that death is simply the annihilation of conscious experience, forever. If this is so, then death really doesn’t have any of the desirable features of sleeping and forgetting. Sleeping is a positive, desirable experience in life because waking follows it. A restful night’s sleep makes the waking hours following it more pleasant and productive. If waking did not follow it, the benefits of sleep would not be possible. Similarly, annihilation of all conscious experience implies not only the obliteration of all painful memories; but of all pleasant ones, too. So upon analysis, neither analogy is close enough to give us any real comfort or hope in facing death. There is another view, however, which disavows notion that death is annihilation of consciousness. According to this other, perhaps more ancient tradition, some aspect of the human being survives even after the physical body ceases to function and is ultimately destroyed. This persistent aspect has been called by many names, among them psyche, soul, mind, spirit, self, being, and consciousness. 3y whatever name it is called, the notion that one passes into another realm of existence upon physical death is among the most venerable of human beliefs. There is a graveyard in Turkey which was used by Neanderthal men approximately 100,000 years ago. There, fossilized imprints have enabled archaeologists to discover that these ancient men buried their dead in biers of flowers, indicating that they perhaps saw death as an occasion of celebration-as a transition of the dead from this world to the next. Indeed, graves from very early sites all over the earth give evidence of the belief in human survival of bodily death. In short, we are faced with two contrasting answers to our original question about the nature of Death, both of ancient derivation, yet both widely held even today. Some say that death is annihilation of consciousness; others say with equal confidence at death is the passage of the soul or mind into another dimension of reality. In what follows I do not wish in any way to dismiss either answer. I simply wish to give a report on a search which I have personally undertaken.
During the past few years I have encountered large number of persons who were involved in what I shall call “near-death experiences.” I have met these persons in many ways. At first it was by coincidence. In 1965, when I was an undergraduate student studying philosophy at the University of Virginia, I met a man who was a clinical professor of psychiatry in the School of Medicine. I was struck from the beginning with his warmth, kindliness and humor. It came as a great surprise when I later learned a very interesting fact about him, namely, that he had been dead-not just once but on two occasions, about ten minutes apart-and that he had given a most fantastic account of what happened to him while he was “dead.” I later hear.:. him relate his story to a small group of interested students. At the time, I was most impressed, but since I had little background from which to judge; such experiences, I “filed it away,” both in my mind and in the form of a tape recording of his talk.
Some years later, after I had received my Ph.D. in philosophy, I was teaching in a university in eastern North Carolina.. In one course I had m y students read Plato’s Phaedo, a work in which immortality is among the subjects discussed. In my lectures I had been emphasizing the other doctrines which Plato presents there and had not focused upon the discussion of life after death. After class one day a student stopped by to see me. He asked whether we might discuss the subject of immortality. He had an interest in the subject because his grandmother had “died” during an operation and had recounted a very amazing experience. I asked him to tell me about it, and much to my surprise, he related almost the same series of events which I had heard the psychiatry professor describe some years before.
At this time my search for cases became a bit more active, and I began to include readings on the subject of human survival of biological death in my philosophy courses. However, I was careful not to mention the two death experiences in my courses. I adopted, in effect, a wait-and-see attitude. If such reports were fairly common, I thought, I would probably hear of more if I just brought up the general topic of survival in philosophical discussions, expressed a sympathetic attitude toward the question, and waited. To my amazement, I found that in almost every class of thirty or so students, at least one student would come to me afterwards and relate a personal near death experience.
What has amazed me since the beginning of my interest are the great similarities in the reports, despite the fact that they come from people of highly varied religious, social, and educational backgrounds. By the time I entered medical school in 1972, I had collected a sizable number of these experiences and I began mentioning the informal study I had been doing to some of my medical acquaintances. Eventually, a friend of mine talked me into giving a report to a medical society, and other public talks followed.
Again, I found that after every talk someone would come up to tell me of an experience of his own.
As I became more widely known for this interest, doctors began to refer to me persons whom they had resuscitated and who reported unusual experiences. Still others have written to me with reports after newspaper articles about my studies appeared.
At the present time, I know of approximately 150 cases of this phenomenon. The experiences which I have studied fall into three distinct categories:
*(1) The experiences of persons who were resuscitated after having been thought, adjudged, or pronounced clinically dead by their doctors.
*(2) The experiences of persons who, in the course of accidents or severe injury or illness, came very close to physical death.
*(3) The experiences of persons who, as they died, told them to other people who were present. Later, these other people reported the content of the death experience to me.
From the vast amount of material that could be derived from 150 cases, selection obviously has occurred. Some of it has been purposeful. For example, although I have found reports of the third type to complement and to agree very well with experiences of the first two types, I have for the most part dropped them from consideration for two reasons. First, it helps to reduce the number of cases studied to a more manageable level, and second, it enables me to stick as close as possible to firsthand reports. Thus, I have interviewed in great detail some fifty persons upon whose experiences I am able to report. Of these, the cases of the first type (those in which an apparent clinical death actually occurs) are certainly more dramatic than those of the second type (in which only a close brush with death occurs).
Indeed, whenever I have given public talks on this phenomenon, the “death” episodes have invariably drawn most of the interest. Accounts in the press have sometimes been written so as to suggest they are the only type of case with which I have dealt.
However, in selecting the cases to be presented in this book, I have avoided the temptation to dwell only on those cases in which a “death” event took place. For, as will become obvious, cases of the second type are not different from, but rather form a continuum with, cases of the first type. Also, though the near-death experiences themselves are remarkably similar, both the circumstances surrounding them and the persons describing them vary widely. Accordingly, I have tried to give a sample of experiences which adequately reflects this variation. With these qualifications in mind, let us now turn to a consideration of what ma happen, as far as I have been able to discover, during the experience of dying.
The Experience Of Dying
Despite the wide variation in the circumstances surrounding close calls with death and in the types of persons undergoing them, it remains true that there is a striking similarity among the accounts of the experiences themselves. In fact, the similarities among various reports are so great that one can easily pick out about fifteen separate elements which recur again and again in the mass of narratives that I have collected. On the basis of these points of likeness, let me now construct a brief, theoretically “ideal” or “complete” experience which embodies all of the common elements, in the order in which it is typical for them to occur.
A man is dying and, as he reaches the point of greatest physical distress, he hears himself pronounced dead by his doctor. He begins to hear an uncomfortable noise, a loud ringing or buzzing, and at the same time feels himself moving very rapidly through a long dark tunnel. After this, he suddenly finds himself outside o f his own physical body, but still in the immediate physical environment, and he sees his own body from a distance, as though he is a spectator. He watches the resuscitation attempt from this unusual vantage point and is in a state of emotional upheaval.
After a while, he collects himself and becomes more accustomed to his odd condition. He notices that he still has a “body,” but one o f a very different nature and with very different powers from the physical body he has left behind. Soon other things begin to happen. Others come to meet and to help him. He glimpses the spirits of relatives and friends who have already died, and a loving, warm spirit o f a kind he has never encountered before-a being of light-appears before him. This being asks him a question, non verbally, to wake him evaluate his life and helps him along by showing him a panoramic, instantaneous playback of the major events of his life. At some point he finds himself approaching some sort of barrier or border, apparently representing the limit between earthly life and the next life. Yet, he finds that he must go, back to the earth, that the time for his death has not yet come. At this point he resists, for by now he is taken up with his experiences in the afterlife and does not want to return. He is overwhelmed by intense feelings of joy, love, and peace. Despite. his attitude, though, he somehow reunites with his physical body and lives. Later he tries to tell others, but he has trouble doing so. In the first place, he can find no human words adequate- to describe these unearthly episodes. He also finds that others scoff, so he stops telling other people. Still, the experience affects his life profoundly, especially his views about death and its relationship to life.
It is important to bear in mind that the above narrative is not meant to be a representation of any one person’s experience. Rather, it is a “model,” a composite of the common elements found in very many stories. I introduce it here only to give a preliminary general idea, of what a person who is gyring may experience. Since it is an abstraction rather than an actual account, in the present chapter I will discuss in detail each common element, found in very many examples.
Before doing that, however, a few facts need to be set out in order to put the remainder of my exposition of the experience of dying into the proper framework.
(1) Despite the striking similarities among various accounts, no two of them are precisely identical (though a few come remarkably close to it).
(2) I have found no one person who reports every single component of the composite experience Very many have reported most of them -hat is, eight
or more of the fifteen or so) and a ‘ :;v have reported up to twelve.
(3) There is no one element of the composite experience which every single person has reported to me, which crops up in every narrative. Nonetheless, a few of these elements come fairly close to being universal.
(4) There is not one component of my abstract model which has appeared in only one account. Each element has shown up in many separate stories.
(5) The order in which a dying person goes through the various stages briefly delineated above may vary from that given in my “theoretical model.” To give one example, various persons have reported seeing the ”being of light” before, or at the same time, they left their physical bodies, and not as in the “model,” some time afterward. However, the order in which the stages occur in the model is a very typical order, and wide variations are unusual.
(6) How far into the hypothetical complete experience a dying person gets seems to depend on whether or not the person actually underwent an, apparent clinical death, and if so, on how long he was in this state. In general, persons who were “dead” seem to report more florid, complete experiences than those who only came close to death, and those who were ”dead” for a longer period go deeper than those who were “dead” for a shorter time.
(7) I have talked to a few people who were pronounced dead, resuscitated, and came back reporting none of these common elements. Indeed, they say that they don’t remember anything at all about their “deaths.” Interestingly enough, I have talked with several persons who were actually adjudged clinically dead on separate occasions years apart, and reported experiencing nothing on one of the occasions, but having had quite involved experiences on the other.
(8) It must be emphasized that I am writing primarily about reports, accounts, or narratives, which other persons have given to me verbally during interviews. Thus, when I remark that a given element of the abstract, ”complete” experience does not occur in a given account, I do not mean necessarily to imply that it did not happen to the person involved. I only mean that this person did not tell me that it did occur, or that it does not definitely come out in his account that he experienced it. Within this framework, then, let us look at some of the common stages and events of the experiences of dying.
The general understanding we have of language depends upon the existence of a broad community of common experience in which almost all of us participate. This fact creates an important difficulty which complicates all of the discussion which is to follow. The events which those who have come near death have lived through lie outside our community of experience, so one might well expect that they would have some linguistic difficulties in expressing what happened to them. In fact, this is precisely the case. The persons involved uniformly characterize their experiences as ineffable, that is, “inexpressible.” Many people have made remarks to the effect that, “There are just no words to express what I. am trying to say,” or “They just don’t make adjectives and superlatives to describe this.” One woman put this to me very succinctly when she said:
“Now, there is a real problem for me as I’m trying to tell you this, because all the words I know are three-dimensional. As I was going through this, I kept thinking, “Well, when I was taking geometry, they always told me there were only three dimensions, and I always just accepted that. But they were wrong. There are more.” And, of course, our world-the one we’re living in now is three-dimensional, but the next one definitely isn’t. And that’s why it’s so hard to tell you this. I have to describe it to you in words that are three-dimensional. That’s as close as I can get to it, but it’s not really adequate. I can’t really give you a complete picture.”
Hearing The News
Numerous people have told of hearing their doctors or other spectators in effect pronounce them dead. One woman related to me that, ”I was in the hospital, but they didn’t know :hat was wrong with me. So Dr. James, my doctor, sent me downstairs to the radiologist for liver scan so they could find out. First, they tested this drug they were going to use on my arm, since I had a lot of drug allergies. But there ..-as no reaction, so they went ahead. When they used it this time, I arrested on them. I heard the radiologist who was working on me go over to the telephone, and I heard very clearly as he dialed it. I heard him say, “Dr. James, I’ve killed your patient, Mrs. Martin.” And I knew I wasn’t dead. I tried to move or to let them know, but I couldn’t. When they were trying to resuscitate me, I could hear them telling how many c.c.’s of something to give me, but I didn’t feel the needles going in. I felt nothing at all when they touched me.” In another case, a woman who had previously had several episodes of heart trouble was seized with a heart attack, during which she nearly lost her life.
She says, Suddenly, I was gripped by squeezing chest pains, just as though an iron band had been clamped quickly around the middle part of my chest and tightened. My husband and a friend of ours heard me fall and came running in to help me. I found myself in a deep blackness, and through it I heard my husband, as if he were at a great distance, saying, “This is it, this time!” And my thoughts were, “Yes, it is.” A young man who was thought dead following an automobile accident says, ”I heard a woman who was there say, `Is he dead?’ and someone else said, `Yeah, he’s dead’.” Reports of this type accord quite well with what the doctors and others present remember. For example, one doctor told me, A woman patient of mine had a cardiac arrest just before another surgeon and I were to operate on her. I was right there, and I saw her pupils dilate.
We tried for some time to resuscitate her, but weren’t having any success, so I thought she was gone. I told the other doctor who was working with me, ”Let’s try one more time and then we’ll give up.” This time, we got her heart beating, and she came around. Later I asked her what she remembered of her ”death.” She said she didn’t remember much about it, except that she did hear me say, “Let’s try one more time and then we’ll give up.”
Feelings of Peace and Quiet
Many people describe extremely pleasant feelings and sensations during the early stages of their experiences. After a severe head injury, one man’s vital signs were undetectable. As he says, At the point of injury there was a momentary flash of pain, but then all the pain vanished. I had the feeling of floating in a dark space. The day was bitterly cold, yet while I was in than blackness all I felt was warmth and the most extreme comfort I have ever experienced . . . 1 remember thinking, “I must be dead.” A woman who was resuscitated after a heart attack remarks, I began to experience the most wonderful feelings. I couldn’t feel a thing in the world except peace, comfort, ease-just quietness. I felt that all my troubles were gone, and I thought to myself, “Well how quiet and peaceful, and I don’t hurt at all.” Another man recalls, I just had a nice, great feeling of solitude and peace . . . . It was beautiful, and I was at such peace in my mind. A man who “died” after wounds suffered in Vietnam says that as he was hit he felt A great attitude of relief. There was no pain, and I’ve never felt so relaxed. I was at ease and it was all good.
In many cases, various unusual auditory sensations are reported to occur at or near death. Sometimes these are extremely unpleasant. A man who “died” for twenty minutes during an abdominal operation describes “a really bad buzzing noise coming from inside my head. It made me very uncomfortable …. I’ll never forget that noise.” Another woman tells how as she lost consciousness she heard “a loud ringing. It could be described as a buzzing. And I was in a sort of whirling state.” I have also heard this annoying sensation describe as a loud click, a roaring, a banging, and as a “whistling sound, like the wind.” In other cases the auditory effects seem to take more pleasant musical form. For example, a man who was revived after having been pronounce dead on arrival at the hospital recounts that during his death experience, I would hear what seemed to be bells tingling, a long way off, as if drifting through the wind. They sounded like Japanese wind bells …. That was the only sound I could hear at times.
A young woman who nearly died from internal bleeding associated with a blood clotting disorder says that at the moment she collapsed, “I began to hear music of some sort, a majestic, really beautiful sort of music.”
The Dark Tunnel
Often concurrently with the occurrence of the noise, people have the sensation of being pulled very rapidly through a dark space of some kin Many different words are used to describe t space. I have heard this space described as a cave, a well, a trough, an enclosure, a tunnel, a funnel, a vacuum, a void, a sewer, a valley, and a cylinder. Although people use different terminology here, it is clear that. they are all trying to express some one idea. Let us look at two accounts in which the tunnel” figures prominently.
This happened to me when I was a little boy of nine years old. That was twenty-seven years ago, but it was so striking that I have never forgotten it. One afternoon I became very sick, and they rushed me to the nearest hospital. When I arrived they decided they were going to have to put me to sleep, but why I don’t know, because I was too young. Back in those days they used ether. They gave it to me by putting a cloth over my nose, and when they did, I was told afterwards, my heart stopped beating. I didn’t know at that time that that was exactly what happened to me, but anyway when this happened I had an experience. Well, the first thing that happened now I am going to describe it just the way I felt-was that I had this ringing noise brrrrrnnnnng-brrrrrnnnnng-brrrrmnnnng, very rhythmic. Then I was moving through this-you’re going to think this is weird-through this long dark place. It seemed like a sewer or something. I just can’t describe it to you. I was moving, beating all the time with this noise, this ringing noise.
Another informant states: I had a very bad allergic reaction to a local anesthetic, and I just quit breathing – I had a respiratory arrest. The first thing that happened – it was real quick – was that I went through this dark, black vacuum at super speed. You could compare it to a tunnel, I guess. I felt like I was riding on a roller coaster train at an amusement park, going through this tunnel at a tremendous speed.
During a severe illness, a man came so near death that his pupils dilated and his body was growing cold. He says, I was in an utterly black, dark void. It is very difficult to explain, but I felt as if I were moving in a vacuum, just through blackness. Yet, I was quite conscious. It was like being in a cylinder which had no air in it. It was a feeling of limbo; of being half-way here, and half-way somewhere else.
A man who “died” several times after severe burns and fall injuries says, I stayed in shock for about a week, and during that time all of a sudden I just escaped into this dark void. It seemed that I stayed there for a long time just floating and tumbling through space …. I was so taken up with this void that I just didn’t think of anything else. Before the time of his experience, which took place when he was a child, one man had had a fear of the dark. Yet, when his heart stopped beating from internal injuries incurred in a bicycle accident, I had the feeling that I was moving through a deep, very dark valley. The darkness was so deep and impenetrable that I could see absolutely nothing but this was the most wonderful, worry free experience you can imagine.
In another case, a woman had had peritonitis, and relates, My doctor had already called my brother and sister in to see me for the last time. The nurse gave me a shot to help me die more easily. The things around me in the hospital began to get further and further away. As they receded, I entered head first into a narrow and very, very dark passageway. I seemed to just fit inside of it. I began to slide down, down, down.
One woman, who was near death following a traffic accident, drew a parallel from a television show.
There was a feeling of utter peace and quiet, no fear at all, and I found myself in a tunnel-a tunnel of concentric circles. Shortly after that, I saw a T.V. program called The Time Tunnel, where people go back in time through this spiraling tunnel. Well, that’s the closest thing to it that I can think of. A man who came very near death drew a somewhat different parallel, one from his religious background. He says, Suddenly, I was in a very dark, very deep valley. It was as though there was a pathway, almost a road, through the valley, and I was going down the path …. Later, after I was well, the thought came to me, “Well, now I know what the Bible means by `the valley of the shadow of death,’ because I’ve been there.”
Out Of The Body
It is a truism that most of us, most of the time, identify ourselves with our physical bodies. We grant, of course, that we have “minds,” too. But to most people our “minds” seem much more ephemeral than our bodies. The ”mind,” after all, might be no more than the effect of the electrical and chemical activity which takes place in the” brain, which is a part of the physical body. For many people it is an impossible task even to conceive of what it would be like to exist in any other way than in the physical body to which they are accustomed.
Prior to their experiences, the persons I have: interviewed were not, as a group, any different from the average person with respect to this attitude. That is why, after his rapid passage through the dark tunnel, a dying person often has such an overwhelming surprise. For, at this point he may find himself looking upon his own physical body from a point outside of it, as though he were “a spectator” or “a third person in the room” or watching figures and events “onstage in a play” or “in a movie.” Let us look now at portions of some accounts in which these uncanny out-of-the-body epodes are described.
I was seventeen years old and my brother and I were working at an amusement park. One afternoon, we decided to go swimming, and there were quite a few of the other young people who went in with us. Someone said, “Let’s swim across the lake.” I had done that on numerous occasions, but that day for some reason, I went down, almost in the middle of the lake …. I kept bobbling up and down, and all of a sudden, it felt as though I were away from my body, away from everybody, in space by myself. Although I was stable, staying at the same level, I saw my body in the water about three or four feet away, bobbling up and down. I viewed my body from the back and slightly to the right side. I still felt as though I had an entire body form, even while I was outside my body. I had an airy feeling that’s almost indescribable. I felt like a feather.
A woman recalls, About a year ago, I was admitted to the hospital with heart trouble, and the next morning, lying in the hospital bed, I began to have a very severe pain in my chest. I pushed the button beside the bed to call for the nurses, and they came in and started working on me. I was quite uncomfortable lying on my back so I turned over, and as I did I quit breathing and my heart stopped beating. Just then, I heard the nurses shout, “Code pink! Code pink!” As they were saying this, I could feel myself moving out of my body and sliding down between the mattress and the rail on the side of the bed -actually it seemed as if I went through the rail-on down to the floor. Then, I started rising upward, slowly. On my way up, I saw more nurses come running into the room-there must have been a dozen of them. My doctor happened to be making his rounds in the hospital so they called him and I saw him come in, too. I thought, “I wonder what he’s doing here.” I drifted on up past the light fixture – I saw it from the side and very distinctly – and then I stopped, floating right below the ceiling, looking down. I felt almost as though I were a piece of paper that someone had blown up to the ceiling.
I watched them reviving me from up there! My body was lying down there stretched out on e bed, in plain view, and they were all standing around it. I heard one nurse say, “Oh, my God! She’s gone!”, while another one leaned down o give me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. I was looking at the back of her head while she did this. I’ll never forget the way her hair looked; it was cut kind of short. Just then, I saw them roll this machine in there, and they put the she a on my chest. When they did, I saw my whole body just jump right up off the bed, and I he I every bone in my body crack and pop. It was the most awful thing!
As I saw them below beating on my chest a rubbing my arms and legs, I thought, “Why are they going to so much trouble? I’m just fine now.” A young informant states, It was about two years ago, and I had just turned nineteen. I was driving a friend of mine home in my car, and as I got to this particular intersection downtown, I stopped and looked both ways, but I didn’t see a thing coming. I walked on out into the intersection and as I did heard my friend yell at the top of his voice. When I looked I saw a blinding light, the headlights of a car that was speeding towards us. I heard this awful sound-the side of the car being crushed in-and there was just an instant during-which I seemed to be going through a darkness, an enclosed space. It was very quick. Then, I was sort of floating about five feet above the street, about five yards away from the car, I’d say, and I heard the echo of the crash dying away. I saw people come running up and crowding around the car, and I saw my friend get out of the car, obviously in shock. I could see my own body in the wreckage among all those people, and could see them trying to get it out. My legs were all twisted and there was blood all over the place.
As one might well imagine, some unparalleled thoughts and feelings run through the minds of persons who find themselves in this predicament. :Many people find the notion of being out of their bodies so unthinkable that, even as they are experiencing it, they feel conceptually quite confused about the whole thing and do not link it with death for a considerable time. They wonder what is happening to them; why can they sudden; e themselves from a distance, as though a spectator: Emotional responses to this strange state vary widely. Most people report, at first, a desperate desire to get back into their bodies but they do not have the faintest idea about how to proceed. Others recall that they were very afraid, almost panicky. Some, however, report more positive reaction:: o their plight, as in this account: I became very seriously ill, and the doctor put me in the hospital. This one morning a solid gray mist gathered around me, and I left my body. I had a floating sensation as I felt myself get out of my body, and – I looked back and could see myself on the bed below and there was no fear. It was quiet - very peaceful and serene I was not in the least bit upset or frightened. was just a tranquil feeling, and it was some thing which I didn’t dread. I felt that maybe I was dying, and I felt that if I did not get back to my body, I would be dead, gone.
Just as strikingly variable are the attitudes which different persons take to the bodies which they have left behind. It is common for a person to port feelings of concern for his body. One young woman, who was a nursing student at the time of her experience, expresses an understandable fear.
This is sort of funny, I know, but in nursing school they had tried to drill it into us that we ought to donate our bodies to science. Well, all through this, as I watched them trying to start my breathing again, I kept thinking, “I don’t want them to use that body as a cadaver.”
I have heard two other persons express exactly this same concern when they found themselves out of their bodies. Interestingly enough, both of them were also in the medical profession – one a physician, the other a nurse. In another case, this concern took the form of regret. A man’s heart stopped beating following a fall in which his body was badly mangled, and he recalls, At one time-now, I know I was lying on the bed there – but I could actually see the bed and the doctor working on me. I couldn’t understand it, but I looked at my own body lying there on the bed. And I felt real bad when I looked at my body and saw how badly it was messed up.
Several persons have told me of having feelings of unfamiliarity toward their bodies, as in this rather striking passage. Boy, I sure didn’t realize that I looked like that! You know, I’m only used to seeing myself in pictures or from the front in a mirror, and both Of those look flat. But all of a sudden there I-or any body-was and I could see it. I could definitely see it, full view, from about five feet away. It took me a few moments to recognize myself. In one account, this feeling of unfamiliarity took a rather extreme and humorous form. One man, a physician, tells how during his clinical “death” he was beside the bed looking at his own cadaver, which by then had turned the ash gray color consumed by bodies after death. Desperate and confused, he was trying to decide what to do. He tentatively decided just to go away, as he was feeling very uneasy. As a youngster he had been ghost stories by his grandfather and, paradoxically, he “didn’t like being around this thing that looked like a dead body-even if it was me!” At the other extreme, some have told me that they had no particular feelings at all toward their bodies. One woman, for example, had a heart attack and felt certain she was dying. She felt herself being pulled through darkness out of her body moving rapidly away. She says, I didn’t look back at my body at all. Oh, I knew it was there, all right, and I could’ve seen it had I looked. But I didn’t want to look, not in the least, because I knew that I had done my best in my life, and I was turning my attention now to this other realm of things. I felt that to look back at my body would be to look back at the past, and I was determined not to do that. Similarly, a girl whose out-of-body experience took place after a wreck in which she sustained severe injuries says, I could see my own body all tangled up in the car amongst all the people who had gathered around, but, you know, I had no feelings for it whatsoever. It was like it was a completely different human, or maybe even just an object …. I knew it was my body but I had no feelings for it. Despite the eeriness of the disembodied state, the situation has been thrust upon the dying person so suddenly that it may take some time before the significance of what he is experiencing dawns upon him. He may be out of his body for some time, desperately trying to sort out all the things that are happening to him and that are racing through his mind, before he realizes that he is dying, or even dead. When this realization comes, it may arrive with powerful emotional force, and provoke startling thoughts. One woman remembers thinking, “Oh, I’m dead! How lovely!” A man states that the thought came to him, “This must be what they call ’death’.” Even when this realization comes, it may be accompanied by bafflement and even a certain refusal to accept one’s state. One man, for example, remembers reflecting upon the Biblical promise of “three score and ten” years, and protesting that he had had just barely one score.” A young woman gave a very impressive account of such feelings when she told me that, I thought I was dead, and I wasn’t sorry that I was dead, but I just couldn’t figure out where I was supposed to go. My thought and my consciousness were just like they are in life, but I just couldn’t figure all this out. I kept thinking, “Where am I going to go? What am I going to do?” and “My God, I’m dead! I can’t believe it!” Because you never really believe, I don’t think, fully that you’re going to die. It’s always something that’s going to happen to the other person, and although you know it you really never believe it deep down …. And so I decided I was just going to wait until all the excitement died down and they carried my body away, and try to see if I could figure out where to go from there.
In one or two cases I have studied, dying persons whose souls, minds, consciousnesses (or whatever” you want to label them) were released from their bodies say that they didn’t feel that, after release they were in any kind of “body” at all. They felt as though they were “pure” consciousness. One man relates that during his experience he felt as though he were “able to see everything around me -including my whole body as it lay on the bed without occupying any space,” that is, as if he were a point of consciousness. A few others say that they can’t really remember whether or not they were in any kind of “body” after getting out of their physical one, because they were so taken u with the events around them.
Far and away the majority of my subjects, how ever, report that they did find themselves in an other body upon release from the physical one. Immediately, though, we are into an area with which it is extremely difficult to deal. This “new body” is one of the two or three aspects of death experiences in which the inadequacy of human language presents the greatest obstacles. Almost everyone who has told me of this “body” has at some point become frustrated and said, “I can’t describe it,” or made some remark to the same effect. Nonetheless, the accounts of this body bear a strong resemblance to one another. Thus, although different individuals use different words and draw different analogies, these varying modes of expression do seem to fall very much within the same arena. The various reports are also in very decided agreement about the general properties and characteristics of the new body. So, to adopt a term for it which will sum up its properties fairly well, and which has been used by a couple of my subjects, I shall henceforth call it the ”spiritual body.”
Dying persons are likely first to become aware of their spiritual bodies in the guise of their limitations. They find, when out of their physical bodies, that although they may try desperately to tell others of their plight, no one seems to hear them. This is illustrated very well in this excerpt from the story of a woman who suffered a respiratory arrest and was carried to the emergency room, where a resuscitation attempt was made. I saw them resuscitating me. It was really strange. I wasn’t very high; it was almost like I was on a pedestal, but not above them to any great extent, just maybe looking over them. I tried talking to them but nobody could hear me, nobody would listen to me.
To complicate the fact that he is apparently inaudible to people around him, the person in a spiritual body soon finds that he is also invisible to others. The medical personnel or others congregating around his physical body may look straight towards where he is, in his spiritual body, without giving the slightest sign of ever seeing him. His spiritual body also lacks solidity; physical objects in the environment appear to move through it with ease, and he is unable to get a grip on any object or person he tries to touch.
The doctors and nurses were pounding on my body to try to get IV’s started and to get me back, and I kept trying to tell them, “Leave me alone. All I want is to be left alone. Quit pounding on me.” But they didn’t hear me. So I tried to move their hands to keep them from beating on my body, but nothing would happen. I couldn’t get anywhere. It was like-I don’t really know what happened, but I couldn’t move their hands. It looked like I was touching their hands and I tried to move them-yet when I would give it the stroke, their hands were still there. I don’t know whether my hand was going through it, around it, or what. I didn’t feel any pressure against their hands when I was trying to move them. Or, people were walking up from all directions to get to the wreck. I could see them, and I was in middle of a very narrow walkway. Anyway, as they came by they wouldn’t seem to notice me. They would just keep walking with their eyes straight ahead. As they came real close, I would try to turn around, to get out of their way, but they would just walk through me. Further, it is invariably reported that this spiritual body is also weightless.
Most first notice this when, as in some of the excerpts given above, they find themselves floating right up to the ceiling of the room, or into the air. Many describe a “floating sensation,” “a feeling of weightlessness,” or a “drifting feeling” in association with their new bodies.
Normally, while in our physical bodies we have many modes of perception which tell us where our bodies and their various parts are in space at any given moment and whether they are moving. Vision and the sense of equilibrium are important in this respect, of course, but there is another related sense. Kinesthesia is our sense of motion or tension in our tendons, joints, and muscles. We are not usually aware of the sensations coming to us through our kinesthetic sense because our perception of it has become dulled
through almost constant use. I suspect, however, that if it were suddenly to be cut off, one would immediately notice its absence. And, in fact, quite a few persons have commented to me that they were aware of the lack of the physical sensations of body weight, movement, and position sense while in their spiritual bodies. These characteristics of the spiritual body which at first seem to be limitations can, with equal validity, be looked upon as the absence of limitations. Think of it this way: A person in the spiritual body is in a privileged position in relation to the other persons around him. He can see and hear them, but they can’t see or hear him. (Many a spy would consider this an enviable condition.) Likewise, though the doorknob seems to go through his hand when he touches it, it really doesn’t matter anyway, because he soon finds that he can just go through the door. Travel, once one gets the hang of it, is apparently exceptionally easy in this state. Physical objects present no barrier, and moment from one place to another can be extremely rapid, almost instantaneous.
Furthermore, despite its lack of perceptibility people in physical bodies, all who have experienced it are in agreement that the spiritual body is nonetheless something, impossible to describe though it may be. It is agreed that the spiritual body has a form or shape (sometimes a globular or an amorphous cloud, but also sometimes essentially the same shape as the physical body) and even parts (projections or surfaces analogous to arms, legs, a head, etc.). Even when its shape is reported as being generally roundish in configuration, it is often said to have ends, a definite top and bottom, and even the “parts” just mentioned.
I have heard this new body described in many different terms, but one may readily see that much the same idea is being formulated in each case. Words and phrases which have been used by various subjects include a mist, a cloud, smoke-like, a vapor, transparent, a cloud of colors, wispy, an energy pattern and others which express similar meanings.
Finally, almost everyone remarks upon the timelessness of this out-of-body state. Many say that although they must describe their interlude in the spiritual body in temporal terms (since human language is temporal), time was not really an element of their experience as it is in physical life. Here are passages from five interviews in which some of these fantastic aspects of existence in the spiritual body are reported first hand.
(1) I lost control of my car on a curve, and the car left the road and went into the air, and I remember seeing the blue sky and saw that the car was going down into a ditch. At the time the car left the road, I said to myself “I’m in an accident.” At that point, I kind of lost my sense of time, and I lost my physical reality as far as my body is concerned-I lost touch with my body.
My being or my self or my spirit, or whatever you would like to label it-I could sort of feel it rise out of me, out through my head. And it wasn’t anything that hurt, it was just sort of like a lifting and it being above me . . [My "being"] felt as if it had a density to it, almost, but not a physical density-kind of like, I don’t know, waves or something, I guess: Nothing really physical, almost as if it were charged, if you’d like to call it that. But it felt as if it had something to it . . . . It was small, and it felt as if it were sort of circular, with no rigid outlines to it. You could liken it to a cloud . . . . It almost seemed as if it were in its own encasement …. As it went out of my body, it seemed that a large end left first, and the small end last …. It was a very light feeling-very. There was no strain on my [physical] body; the feeling was totally separate. My body had no weight …. The most striking point of the whole experience was the moment when my being was suspended above the front part of my head. It was almost like it was trying to decide whether it wanted to leave or to stay. It seemed then as. though time were standing still. At the first and the last of the accident, everything moved so fast, but at this one particular time, sort of in between, as my being was suspended above me and the car was going over the embankment, it seemed that it took the car a long time to get there, and in that time I really wasn’t too involved with the car or the accident or my own body-only with my mind …. My being had no physical characteristics, but I have to describe it with physical terms. I could describe it in so many ways, in so many words, but none of them would be exactly right. It’s so hard to describe.
Finally, the car did hit the ground and it rolled or, but my only injuries were a sprained neck A bruised foot.
(2) [When I came out of the physical body] it s like I did come out of my body and go into something else. I didn’t think I was just nothing. was another body . . . but not another regular man body. It’s a little bit different. It was not exactly like a human body, but it wasn’t any big glob of matter, either. It had form to it, but no colors. And I know I still had something you could call hands.
I can’t describe it. I was more fascinated with everything around me-seeing my own body there, and all-so I didn’t think about the type body I was in. And all this seemed to go so quickly. Time wasn’t really an element-and yet it was. Things seem to go faster after you get out of your body.
(3) I remember being wheeled into the operating room and the next few hours were the critical period. During that time, I kept getting and out of my physical body, and I could see from directly above. But, while I did, I was still in a body-not a physical body, but something I can best describe as an energy pattern. If I had to put it into words, I would say that it was transparent, a spiritual as opposed to a material being. Yet, it definitely had different parts.
(4) When my heart stopped beating . . . I felt like I was a round ball and almost maybe like I might have been a little sphere-like a BB-on the inside of this round ball. I just can’t describe it to you.
(5) I was out of my body looking at it from about ten yards away, but I was still thinking, just like in physical life. And where I was thinking was about at my normal bodily height. I wasn’t in a body, as such. I could feel something, some kind of a-like a capsule, or something, like a clear form. I couldn’t really see it; it was like it was transparent, but not really. It was like I was just there-an energy, maybe, sort of like just a little ball of energy. And I really wasn’t aware of any bodily sensation-temperature, or anything like that.
In their accounts, others have briefly mentioned the likeness of shape between their physical bodies; and their new ones. One woman told me that while’ out of her body, “I still felt an entire body form,` legs, arms, everything-even while I was weight less.” A lady who watched the resuscitation attempt on her body from a point just below the ceiling says, “I was still in a body. I was stretched out and looking down. I moved my legs and noticed that one of them felt warmer than the other, one.” Just as movement is unimpeded in this spiritual ` state, so, some recall, is thought. Over and over, I’ have been told that once they became accustomed to their new situation, people undergoing this experience began to think more lucidly and rapidly than in physical existence. For example, one man told me that while he was “dead,” Things that are not possible now, are then. Your mind is so clear. It’s so nice. My mind just took everything down and worked everything out for me the first time, without having to go through it more than once. After a while everything I was experiencing got to where it meant something to me in some way.
Perception in the new body is both like and unlike perception in the physical body. In some ways, the spiritual form is more limited. As we saw, kinesthesia, as such, is absent. In a couple of instances, persons have reported that they had no sensation of temperature, while in most cases feelings of comfortable “warmth” are reported. No one among all of my cases has reported any odors or tastes while out of their physical bodies. On the other hand, senses which correspond to the physical senses of vision and of hearing are very definitely intact in the spiritual body, and seem actually heightened and more perfect than they are in physical life. One man says that while he was “dead” his vision seemed incredibly more powerful and, in his words, “I just can’t understand how I could see so far.” A. woman who recalled this experience notes, “It seemed as if this spiritual sense had no limitations, as if I could look anywhere and everywhere.” This phenomenon is described very graphically in this portion of an interview with a woman who was out of her body following an accident. There was a lot of action going on, and people running around the ambulance. And whenever I would look at a person to wonder what they were thinking, it was like a zoom-up, exactly like through a zoom lens, and I was there. But it seemed that part of me-I’ll call it my mind-was still where I had been, several yards away from my body. When I wanted to see someone at a distance, it seemed like part of me, kind of like a tracer, would go to that person. And it seemed to me at the time that if something happened anyplace in the world that I could just be there.
“Hearing” in the spiritual state can apparently be called so only by analogy, and most say that they do not really hear physical voices or sounds. Rather, they seem to pick up the thoughts of persons around them, and, as we shall see later, this same kind of direct transfer of thoughts can play an important role in the late stages of death experiences.
As one lady put it, I could see people all around, and I could understand what they were saying. I didn’t hear them, audibly, like I’m hearing you. It was more like knowing what they were thinking, exactly what they were thinking, but only in my mind, not in their actual vocabulary. I would catch it the second before they opened their mouths to speak.
Finally, on the basis of one unique and very interesting report, it would appear that even severe damage to the physical body in no way adversely affects the spiritual one. In this case, a man lost the better part of his leg in the accident that resulted in his clinical death. He knew this, because he saw his damaged body clearly, from a distance, as the doctor worked on it. Yet, while he was out of his body,
by : Fran Homesa
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org