The cultural interest aroused by the NDEs
Since, in 1975, the American philosopher and physician Raymond A. Moody (born 1944) published his first book Life After Life, using the acronym NDE to refer specifically to the subjective experiences related by people who had found themselves in critical condition due to serious illnesses, traumatic events, or cardiac arrest, the interest in this kind of experiences has become a mass cultural phenomenon, especially (but not only) in the United States and in England. Before Moody, the Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1926-2004), who moved to New York in 1958, was particularly involved in the research on the experiences related to death in the terminally ill, especially in terms of not only physical, but also mental suffering. In her work in close contact with the terminally ill, she had had the opportunity to collect some testimonies of NDE, published in her 1969 book On Death and Dying: What the dying have to teach doctors, nurses, clergy, and their own families. It was precisely Kübler-Ross who wrote, in her foreword to the first edition of Moody's book (replaced, in recent editions, by that of Eben Alexander): «Since I have worked with terminally ill patients over the last two decades, I have become more and more preoccupied with looking into the phenomena of death itself. We have learned a lot about the process of dying, but we still have many questions with regard to the moment of death and to the experience our patients have when they are pronounced medically dead. It is research such as Dr. Moody presents in his book that will enlighten many and will confirm what we have been taught for two thousand yearsthat there is life after death».
Almost half a century has passed since these words were written: in the meantime, not only has Moody's book sold many millions of copies worldwide, but the same has also happened for books written by people who have experienced an NDE – famous is the case of Betty Eadie and her Embraced by the Light – whose authors have often become requested guests of talk shows, conventions and conferences. Meanwhile, the medical techniques of reviving and resuscitation have made substantial progress, as well explained by the British medical specialist Sam Parnia in his book Erasing Death: The Science That is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death, published in 2013. Precisely these advancements have made essential both a profound revision – on the medical level as well as on the legal and sociocultural one – of the very concept of death as a definitive and irreversible process, and an extension of the time limits required before being able to establish the irreversibility of the process itself: therefore, from an almost instantaneous event, as it was still considered at the time when Moody published his book, death has changed into a temporal process whose duration can be measured in hours and even in days, and whose definitive certification currently depends on the laws in force in the state in which this process occurs. The fact that, in a percentage increasing from decade to decade, patients who have actually been in conditions of clinical death – for example, as a result of cardiac arrest – are then brought back to life by means of resuscitation techniques, also increases the number of those who are able to tell about the psychic experiences in which their conscious Ego has been involved during a period that theoretically should be of full mental blackout. The cultural interest aroused by NDEs in different social groups is therefore not surprising at all.
In the introduction to his book, Moody wrote: «Let me say at the very beginning that... I am not trying to prove that there is life after death. Nor do I think that a "proof" of this is presently possible». However, the mass interest aroused by the NDEs derives from the fact that the scientific component of our Western culture, regardless of the fideistic conceptions based on the adherence to one or another religious denomination, had long since taken for granted the impossibility for the conscious Ego of having access to psychic experiences – and therefore of existing – once the conditions of clinical death of the organism have been ascertained: the NDEs prove, at least, that this is not true. Obviously, experiences similar to NDEs have been reported in human chronicles long before Moody wrote Life After Life: in the paragraph NDEs are not a recent phenomenon of the introductory page to the section on NDEs, I have already mentioned a significant episode reported by the Italian historian Ludovico Antonio Muratori in one of his works published in 1745. A text on the historical evidence of NDEs is Near-Death Experiences - A Historical Exploration from the Ancient World to the Present Day by Marisa St Clair (pseudonym of an English writer and lecturer specialized in astrologic, spiritual and paranormal topics). Another interesting book focusing on a historical perspective is Otherworld Journeys: Accounts of Near-Death Experience in Medieval and Modern Times (1987) by American Carol Zaleski, Harward graduate and Professor of World Religions at Smith College in Massachusetts: this book mainly deals with the interpretative visions of the afterlife (hell, purgatory and paradise) – from St. Paul to the Venerable Bede, passing through St. Patrick and St. Gregory the Great – and their elaboration in the context of Christian mythology.
In any case, systematic studies on NDEs only began in the second half of the last century, also as a consequence of the advances in resuscitation techniques and the spread of cultural interest in the testimonies relating to such experiences. It is appropriate to immediately underline the difference that exists between those whose conscious Ego has actually experienced a NDE – especially if this experience is one of the most engaging, complete and emotionally positive ones – and those who are interested in the NDEs and feel the need to be informed on them and to interpret them – in one way or another – without ever having directly experienced a single one: the former directly know at least one NDE, while the others have only heard of them, and while the number of the former is at most a few millions, the number of the latter is now hundreds of millions. It is also interesting to observe how it is not currently possible to voluntarily obtain a NDE: people can voluntarily decide to experience the effects of a certain psychedelic substance, acquiring it and taking a dose of it (even if sometimes the experienced effects do not correspond to those desired or expected), but they cannot decide to experience a NDE, regardless of whether their organism is in the critical conditions necessary for the phenomenon to occur. Therefore, even the NDEs are among those random events – such as paranormal phenomena – which are not subject, at least up to date, to the direct control of the human will: all the research carried out so far has not been able to determine a relationship between the orientation of the conscious Ego of the possible experimenters and the occurrence of a NDE.
The use of human reason in the evaluation of the NDEs
As often happens when there is insufficient reliable knowledge about the causes that determine a certain phenomenon, even in the case of NDEs various interpretative hypotheses have been advanced on the basis of what (little) we know about the brain functioning: being mere hypotheses, obviously they cannot have any real cognitive value until they are experimentally validated, however those who support them believe, in good faith, that they are reasonable, forgetting how insidious it is to naively rely on human reason, which is based more than anything else on the persuasion capacity determined by the culturally prevalent psychic programs. In the case of the NDEs, one of the questions to which particular importance has been attributed is whether these experiences – or at least some of them – can demonstrate that the existence of the conscious Ego (capable of experiencing alternative psychic dimensions) is possible independently of the brain functioning. Since some specialists, particularly physicians, have argued that this is what actually happens in some cases, many other scholars have hastened to present arguments – in their opinion convincing – to support the opposite view, namely that all NDEs are determined by the brain activity. Obviously, given that the NDEs are in themselves random phenomena that occur in a significant but still minority percentage of resuscitation cases, the arguments presented must be applicable to all the NDEs and to all the aspects that such experiences can present: but here the issue arises, given that the NDEs are still subjective experiences, whose narratives can be suspected of inaccuracy – if not even falsehood – in relation to all those elements that cannot be explained based on the presumed brain activity.
Anyway, let's try to shed some light on the basis of some indisputable elements, in the light of what is explained by Sam Parnia, M.D., internationally recognized expert in the field of resuscitation techniques, in his 2013 book Erasing Death - The Science That Is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death. Until the 1960s it was commonly taken for granted, within the scientific community, that in the condition of clinical death following cardiac arrest, brain activity quickly ceased due to the lack of oxygen supply to the brain: in fact death was defined as the condition in which the heart has stopped beating, there is no respiratory activity (as the lungs no longer work due to the interruption of oxygen delivery) and fixed dilated pupils show the lack of the reflexes activated by the brain stem, again due to a lack of oxygen delivery. Cardiac arrest is synonymous with death because the heart is the pump that, by circulating the blood, ensures the supply of oxygen to every part of the body. Obviously, when the heart stops beating, a process of cell deterioration begins, due to the lack of oxygen supply, which is not instantaneous, but lasts more or less long in the various parts of the body, also as a result of the environmental conditions (temperature, humidity, etc.) in which the process occurs, and of the countermeasures that the organism is able to implement to slow down the cells deterioration. For further details on this process, I recommend to read the Chapter 3 of Parnia's book: as far as the brain is concerned, when the oxygen delivery drops below a critical threshold level, this organ completely stops working within seconds. Therefore, although death as a result of cardiac arrest can today be considered as a reversible process, the greatest risk involved in resuscitation techniques is that of bringing a permanently damaged brain back to life.
In the best conditions of refrigeration and application of resuscitation techniques, the brain can currently be brought back to functioning conditions even four hours after a cardiac arrest, without having suffered permanent damage. However, it should be remembered that all brain functions stop in any case within a few minutes from the moment the heart stops beating. It is therefore necessary to distinguish between a condition in which the nerve cells and the brain neurons are in a state of slowing down the decomposition process, and their functions can be restored (a period that theoretically could reach a maximum of eight hours), and the condition of cerebral functioning necessary to determine a conscious experience (at most a few minutes after cardiac arrest). This is why those who suffer a cardiac arrest lose consciousness almost instantly. Therefore, those who want to attribute all NDEs to brain functioning must first of all demonstrate how it is possible that such experiences can also occur in cases of cardiac arrest. In fact, when experimenting with psychedelics such as ketamine or DMT, or when examining reports of NDE-like experiences that occurred in potentially critical conditions for the organism, in which the brain was nevertheless able to function (such as a fall during a climb, or an impact in a car accident), it is reasonable to trace the experience back to brain activity. Anesthetists, based on their specialist experience, may reasonably believe that some of the drugs used to anesthetize a patient undergoing surgery may result in an NDE, provided the brain is functioning. But in the cases of cardiac arrest no drugs are administered to the subjects to be resuscitated, who are usually in an unconscious state when someone begins to intervene on them with resuscitation techniques: these are therefore the cases of greatest interest for those who want to investigate the origin of the NDEs.
The process of deterioration of brain cells due to the anoxia following a cardiac arrest (or a more or less extensive stroke) is described in detail by Pim van Lommel, a well-known Dutch cardiologist born in 1943, in Chapter 8 of his book Consciousness Beyond Life - The Science of the Near-Death Experience (English edition of 2010), precisely entitled What happens in the brain when the heart suddenly stops: within a few seconds from the heartbeat stop, the functioning of both the cerebral cortex and the brainstem is interrupted, and consequently the affected persons finds themselves in a state of complete unconsciousness and absence of respiratory activity. If someone does not intervene with resuscitation techniques within a certain period, the brain neurons are permanently damaged: in his book van Lommel estimated this period in the order of 15 minutes, while it is currently believed that – in particularly favorable environmental conditions (low temperatures) – the onset of irreversible processes of cellular deterioration in the absence of CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) can be delayed up to more than four hours. In his aforementioned book, Parnia estimates that, under optimal conditions, neurons can be kept in a state of reversibility for up to eight hours after the interruption of the oxygen supply. Given that the brain is in a state of complete blackout during this period, how can it be reasonably assumed that a complex experience such as a NDE, and its memorization, could be determined by brain activity? Even those who advance and try to justify this hypothesis are forced to juggle with the times, in a more or less convincing way, but still without experimental evidence, because obviously – in accordance with what they claim – no conscious experience can be determined by a state of cerebral inactivity.
Therefore the NDEs could occur exclusively or before the blackout of the brain activity that determines the loss of consciousness, or after, that is, when the oxygen begins to be administered to the brain through the reactivation of the blood circulation. Any other hypothesis on the brain activity in conditions of anoxia is to be considered arbitrary, dogmatic and unproven, as it is in contrast with what we currently know about brain functioning. But as regards the localization of a NDE in the time that we normally perceive (since the experimenter has a completely different perception of time), it is appropriate to read the experiences of the NDEs of drowned people, such as the one told by admiral Francis Beaufort (1774-1857) relating to a drowning episode in which he himself was the protagonist in 1794 (the description of the experience is reported on the page Evidence of a metamorphosis): even in the absence of current CPR techniques, which aim to restore the oxygen supply to the brain in a very reduced percentage, the NDE takes over without interruption the normal psychic dynamics of breathlessness and struggle for survival deriving from the lack of air, causing a radical change in the consciously perceived psychic tunings, until the progressive restoration of blood circulation forces the conscious Ego to tune back into the normal psychic dynamics determined by the functioning of its organism. But also with regard to the complexity and the risks that the reactivation of the oxygenation process can entail for brain cells – even with the current CPR techniques, if not used with all the precautions they require – I recommend that you carefully read chapter 4 of the book of a specialist such as Dr. Sam Parnia, which explains very well how long, complicated and insidious the return to normal functioning of the brain can be, in relation to the duration of the period of anoxia. Therefore, it is advisable to proceed with conscious caution and carefully examine the available information and data before making hasty hypotheses regarding the dependence of all NDEs on brain activity.
The organism's conditions and the conscious Ego
Anyway, the foregoing considerations are not sufficient to prove incontrovertibly the continuity of the existence of the conscious Ego upon the death of the organism, mainly since the NDEs occur only in a minority of cases of those who have been brought back to life after having suffered a cardiac arrest: most of these patients remember nothing, as is to be expected in the light of what we know about the suspension of brain activity in such critical conditions. None of the most committed and competent researchers in the field of the NDEs has ever claimed that they constitute a scientific proof of the Ego's survival of the organism's death, although some of them are convinced of this matter. What we can say without a doubt is that, in critical circumstances for the organism, the conscious Ego can sometimes experience psychic syntonies belonging to a dimension other than that of human life: that dimension can be referred to as Spirit dimension in those cases where the experiences are in harmony with what the Ego feels to be its most authentic essence, in an environment permeated by a divine light from which an absolute, unconditional and perfect love radiates, which pervades the Ego giving it an ineffable bliss. In some cases, however, the conscious Ego is involved in negative, distressing, repulsive or even hellish psychic experiences, without being able to find the resources to escape from this condition that torments it and which does not correspond absolutely to what it feels to want. In any case, as we have already pointed out, there remains an element of randomness towards the occurrence of the NDEs, with which we anyhow have to deal, even taking into account the more or less intense desire of the conscious Ego – for those who feel it – to be able to access the Spirit dimension.
Already Raymond Moody, in his book Reflections on Life After Life (1977), reported that one of the questions frequently asked by someone from the audience in the various conferences and conventions he attended was: «I was dead and I have returned to life; yet I don't remember anything. What's wrong with me?». Failing to find a satisfactory answer, Moody put forward the somewhat naive hypothesis that in these cases the experiences could have been removed in the unconscious and consequently forgotten, without being able to give any understandable reason for such removal, as these are evidently experiences of such a high emotional impact and profound meaning, to be indelibly imprinted in the memory of those who had lived them. Moreover, Moody confirms that he did not find significant differences in the attitude towards life, religious orientation, gender, age or culture, between those who had experienced an NDE and those who did not remember anything. It could more reasonably be assumed that when the organism finds itself in conditions of clinical death or in circumstances that can have a fatal outcome – such as during a fall from a precipice – a mechanism can be triggered that frees the conscious Ego from its dependence on the brain functioning, and that this mechanism is activated early in those who experience an NDE, while has not yet been triggered in those who do not remember anything once they return to life. Not infrequently, when the NDErs are told that they can or should re-enter the body, some entity of the other dimension admits that there has been a mistake, and that the connection of the conscious Ego with the brain activity must be restored: the causes which trigger the mechanism of liberation of the conscious Ego could therefore be both organic and spiritual.
We cannot avoid the impression that our destiny is determined by something that escapes the control of the conscious Ego, who can only become conscious – at the best it can, in relation to the resources at its disposal – of what it happens to experience, both when it is connected to the human organism, and when it is possibly able to explore different dimensions. According to the testimonies of various NDEs, even among those who have managed to access the Spirit dimension, some have been forced to reconnect to their organism and to return to experience the human condition, despite having felt and expressed their intense desire not to want to go back. Evidently, as happens in human life, also in the other dimensions that the Eo can experience, its consciousness registers harmonies and dissonances which, in the end, constitute the quintessence of that evolutionary path that must lead the conscious Ego to reach a perfect syntony with its own authentic essence. At the end of that path, what the Ego desires, what the Ego gets and what the Ego experiences become just one and the same thing. These considerations also apply to the so-called distressing NDEs, on which it is worth reflecting in the light of the research that has been conducted on them since the end of the last century, especially thanks to the American scholar Barbara R. Rommer, M.D. and author of Blessing in Disguise: Another Side of the Near-Death Experience, published in 2000, and by Nancy Evans Bush, to whose experiences and book we have already referred in the page dedicated to Distressing NDEs. Already in this life the Ego, as its consciousness evolves through what has experienced, confronts the ambiguity and bipolarity of the psychic attunements that involve it, progressively differentiating itself from everything that the human psyche leads it to consider as real (due to her power), to get a better understanding of its truest essence.
Once the Ego has faced and overcome that transformation process that leads it to free itself from the condition of an automaton controlled and guided by the human psychic dynamics that dominate the organism and determine its behaviors and actions – forcing the conscious Ego to identify with its own psychic attunements and to defend them – it can discover in itself the reflection of that Spirit dimension which is experienced in many NDEs. The Spirit dimension is nothing else than the consciously experienced revelation of the authentic essence of the Ego, freed from the superstructures and conditioning determined by the organic life and sedimented in so many socio-cultural programs. The return of the conscious Ego to the organic life after a NDE often involves a transformation of the relationship between the Ego and its own organism: instead of feeling imprisoned in the latter, and dominated by the natural needs, instincts and drives that organic life involves – even if socially elaborated, transformed and mitigated by the acquired cultural programs – the conscious Ego often re-establishes a relationship of friendly collaboration with its own organism, which leads it to experience the organic life in a completely new perspective. First of all, in studying and understanding the complexity of the organism and its functioning in the context of the interactions and balances with every aspect of the natural world, the Ego is also fascinated by the mysterious and unfathomable beauty of Nature's creativity, as it manifests itself in this world, with what it can interpret as her lights and shadows. The Ego realizes how little evolved and unintelligent is the claim to demean or despise the organism in the name of a presumed dominating superiority of the spirit, at least as long as the Ego itself is subjected to the experience of organic life in this world.
However, the fact remains that in the dimension of organic life time flows in only one direction, and the Ego has to deal with the progressive deterioration of its organism – which it can keep under control within certain limits, at least until an advanced age – and with the terminal process of death, either by natural causes or as a consequence of violent (or self-destructive) actions determined by the psychic dynamics that determine a lot of human behaviors. The interest of the conscious Ego in the experiences it may eventually encounter once the phase of death is over, is well understandable, not only in the light of that mental and cultural tension that induces the Ego to imagine and prefigure its own future and to direct its activity in order to obtain certain results, but above all because the human condition – linked to the functioning of the organism – appears to it aleatory, uncertain and unstable as the time of this life goes forward, getting closer and closer to its term. In the best of cases, the Ego can continue to maintain its interest in those psychic and social aspects related to this organic life that most involve it, while getting ready for that radical change of dimension determined by the process of death, to face which it will eventually have to count on the assistance of spiritual entities, given that the help that can be offered by its human fellows can at best get the result of bringing it back into the dimension of organic life. Finally, those who want to continue to believe that with the death of the organism the very possibility of any form of continuation of existence by the Ego ceases, are obviously free to think so: they must however recognize that, just as the formation and development of their conscious Ego as a consequence of organic life have not depended on themselves, even the possible involvement of their Ego in other experiences in accessible dimensions after death may not depend on what they believe... or it could just make real what they believe!
Elements of objectivity present in many NDEs
Yet what is most surprising – as Moody pointed out in his first book, and as has later been confirmed by other researchers – is the consistency with which some particular aspects show themselves in most NDEs: this means that we can refer to a real and almost objective experience of the transfer of the conscious Ego into the Spirit dimension, which certainly presents individual elements that vary from case to case, but which – in the plurality of the tellings – allows us to identify specific aspects common to many experiences, such as the separation from the organism, the light, the love, the bliss, the spiritual presences, the life review, etc. It was thus possible to elaborate that standard theoretical model of NDE, which Moody already presented in the first pages of LIfe After Life, to which the author himself and other scholars have then referred, integrating it with other elements as the number of the NDE reports increased. We are therefore very far – at least as regards the Spirit dimension – from the subjective aleatory nature of the hallucinatory experiences or from other subjective forms of ideoplastic creation based on the imagination: the dimension of the Light, in the various aspects that distinguish it, manifests a reality of its own, to which the conscious Ego feels particularly attracted, but to which it attributes an autonomous and independent existence with respect to the individual mental elaboration with which it is perceived, not unlike what happens for the reality of this physical world. Obviously, we have no elements to establish what the subsequent experiences of the conscious Ego would be, once the threshold of no return, that marks the definitive conclusion of the life of that particular organism to which the Ego has been connected in its human experience, has been definitively crossed.
In the last half century, a culture of the NDEs has gradually developed, that relies precisely on the concordant and positive elements present in most of these experiences: the cultural fascination exercised on the conscious Ego of the vast majority of those who never had a NDE resides in the perspective of being able to directly experience, after the death of their organism, those elements that are objectively attributed to the Spirit dimension – on the basis of the testimonies of many of those who have experienced a NDE – and to which the Ego feels deeply attracted, precisely because the reality of the human condition has often forced it to endure psychic dynamics of a completely different kind. It seems clear to me, for instance, that if the need to feel loved were not inherent in the conscious Ego, the feeling of unconditioned, merciful and complete love that radiates from the divine Light would not exercise the attraction it does, to a greater extent the more the Ego – through its organism – had to undergo, in the course of human life, the experience of not feeling loved, or even of feeling rejected. We have already several times highlighted how the strangeness of the individual destiny determined by the conditions in which the organism is born and develops, and consequently by the resources at its disposal, is then reflected on the evolution of the conscious Ego, who often is so conditioned and ensnared by the needs of the organism, to completely identify with the psychic tunings that involve it until it can no longer even claim its own autonomous existence and essence. It is precisely the strong differences between the individual destinies of the humans that reflect on the conscious Ego, causing it to meditate on its authentic nature and to wonder if – once the Ego has detached itself from the psychic dynamics in which it is involved – it is not basically the same for all human beings, regardless of the personal destiny reserved for each individual organism.
The fact is that, as far as human life is concerned, it is precisely the fragmentation in a multiplicity of organisms that creates the premises for the singularity of the individual experience: each Ego is separate and distinct from the other Egos, not only by the features and resources of its own organism, but also by the experimentation of a range of psychic attunements that is proper to to and which differs from that of others. It is theoretically possible to imagine the Ego as an entity, characterized by pure consciousness, which transcends all the (temporary and mutable) individual experiences determined by the human psyche, and in some cases we may even be able to focus the mind on this condition, identifying ourselves with the cosmic consciousness: it is however an experience of a spiritual order, quite distinct from the ordinary psychic experiences that involve the conscious Ego in this life. Furthermore, as regards the process of understanding the experiences of others, it is impossible to know what another conscious Ego is really feeling, and above all how it is elaborating an interpretation of what it experiences based on the level of evolution it has reached. What we usually manage to experience – even with the best intentions, that is, when we really want to try to understand what another person's frame of mind is – is a condition of resonance with the psychic dynamics experienced by the other, interpreted however in the light of the essence of our conscious Ego. We can also feel the desire to alleviate the sufferings of others, because we interpret the psychic experiences that determine those sufferings as if we were the ones who experience them, while in reality another conscious Ego is experiencing them, which at most can try to enlighten us on its own experience. For consistency, we should also be able to identify with the psychic dynamics experienced by the conscious Ego of a criminal, those that induce its organism to act with violence and cruelty towards others. Ultimately, it is only with the transfer into the Spirit dimension that the conscious Ego manages to free itself from the conditionings and limits constituted by the connection with its own organism, experiencing a condition in which the empathy and mutual understanding resources can be considerably improved.
As I have already noted, since 1975, when Raymond Moody published his first book (Life After Life), a documentation of many thousands of NDE accounts has been collected, most of which occurred in a really critical condition for the organism, so much so that Sam Parnia has proposed to define them Actual-Death Experiences (ADE), precisely because the organism is actually in a condition of clinical death, even if this condition proves not to be irreversible. As such accounts increased, scholars were particularly struck by the similarity and coherence of the aspects relating to the ineffable feeling of bliss, harmony and belonging experienced by the conscious Ego in the Spirit dimension, to the presence of a personalized divine entity radiating light, love, benevolence and understanding, and to the intense desire of the conscious Ego to remain forever in that dimension, perceived as its own true home. Not infrequently the Ego, in the course of the NDEs, also experiences a form of perfect, complete and absolutely satisfying cosmic knowledge, of which, however, upon returning to the human condition, it could only retain the memory of the experience, but not of their contents or of the answers received. In most of these NDEs already in the initial phase, almost always coinciding with an experience of leaving the body and external observation from above (near the ceiling), of what the Ego recognizes as its own body (towards which it now experiences a feeling of detachment and indifference), the Ego experiences a condition of peace, tranquility and well-being, and above all it feels freed from all those physical torments caused by its connection with the organism. Only in a minority of cases does the initial phase present disturbing elements – due to the presence of malevolent entities that mock, deceive or torment the Ego, or to distressing feelings of void and eternal loneliness – which generally fade away when the Ego recognizes the presence of a light, even if very far away, or invokes the help of a divine entity coming to save it.
Frightening, distressing and hellish NDEs
Unfortunately this comforting, attractive and positive picture that initially seemed to characterize, albeit to varying degrees, all the NDEs the researchers were informed about, was disturbed by the testimonies relating to some negative, disturbing and distressing experiences throughout their duration. We have already seen how some elements relating to visions of infernal environments or the presence of demonic entities, more or less harassing or tormenting, may also be present in the early stages of some NDEs which then evolve positively, so that the conscious Ego, after having experienced a hostile and adverse – if not downright infernal – environment, can then access the welcoming Spirit dimension. But in all those cases in which the experience ends with the return to the organic life, before there can be an evolution towards the positive phase, and without the resources activated by the conscious Ego to escape the intense anguish induced by the experience (including the invocations to a saviour entity) have produced any effect, a significant interpretative and personal problem arises, given that the bipolarity that characterizes the human psyche seems to be present even in the afterlife. First of all, as it often happens with those tormented by some form of suffering, the conscious Ego can somehow feel guilty – and punished – for the mere fact of being afflicted: nowadays, as the information and investigations on the NDEs are so widespread, those who are aware of all the testimonies of positive and bright experiences can understandably wonder why they had instead to endure a frightening, distressing, or even hellish NDE. It is therefore interesting to know what has been ascertained so far regarding these negative experiences.
A book published in 2012, still very valid for the evaluation of distressing NDEs, is Dancing Past the Dark: Distressing Near-Death Experiences by Nancy Evans Bush, which I have already extensively talked about on the page dedicated to her experience. The author later published two other books: The Buddha in Hell and Other Alarms in 2016 and Reckoning - Discoveries after a traumatic NDE in 2020. The important aspects to keep in mind in relation to negative NDEs are essentially the following: 1) They are, to all intents and purposes, experiences that have the same requirements of reality and of involvement of the conscious Ego as positive NDEs, therefore they cannot be dismissed as hallucinatory experiences determined by the brain functioning, without this interpretation being extended also to positive NDEs, unless a substantial difference can be found in the factors that cause one or the other type of experience. 2) The research carried out shows that there is no evidence to support the conventional assumption according to which good people would be subject to positive NDEs, while the wicked and suicides would experience distressing ones: contrary to what one might believe, even excellent people have had very painful NDEs, while suicide attempters and felons have encountered love and bliss. 3) Although negative NDEs represent a clear minority of all NDEs (with a maximum estimate of 20% of cases), the research conducted up to date has failed to identify any factors that can make a person prone to experience a positive NDE or a distressing one (or having a complete blackout). 4) Unlike the positive NDEs, the negative ones do not show characteristic and coherent elements, but are much more random in their contents, and not infrequently the painful and distressing aspects seem to be attributable more to the psychic reactions that involve the conscious Ego of the experimenter than to the objective features of the contents themselves.
The attempt made by Nancy Evans Bush to interpret in a positive way – in relation to the evolution of the conscious Ego – both the distressing NDE experienced by herself at the age of 28, and other negative NDEs, presents in my opinion a not insignificant drawback. Taking into consideration the possibility that the conscious Ego, once freed from the organic condition of this life, may experience alternative dimensions that can reveal heavenly as well as hellish aspects, the scholar extends the bipolarity that characterizes the human psyche to these other dimensions: the Spirit dimension, in fact, is characterized precisely by the fact that it is not bipolar, and if it is taken for granted that every aspect of existence must also include its opposite, and therefore if there is a paradise there must also be a hell – as in fact happens in this life – even the Spirit dimension is relativized, denying value to the need of the conscious Ego to want to overcome the tension generated by the bipolarity of the human psyche. Just as in this life our own happiness can always be disturbed by the fact of knowing that while we are happy because life smiles at us, other human beings are suffering because so destiny imposes on them, without knowing the reason (and ourselves can never be sure that our today's happiness cannot change, tomorrow, into suffering and anguish), if the dimensions of the afterlife were also characterized by the same bipolarity, how could the conscious Ego feel happy in a possible paradise, knowing that his fellow man, or even a person well known to it, is suffering in a possible hell? And above all, on which entity, or on which organization, would that particular destiny depend which would lead to individually experiencing heaven for some and hell for others, without having offered a sufficiently clear and reliable frame of the personal choices that can determine the one or the other outcome?
The reasons that led Evans Bush and other scholars to look for a positive meaning even in painful or distressing NDEs are certainly understandable and more than justified in relation to the mental activity that determines the negative psychic attunements in which the conscious Ego is involved: on the other hand, it cannot be expected that at the age in which the author had her distressing NDE (28 years) her conscious Ego had already made considerable progress in the evolutionary path of critical separation from her psychic dynamics (actually, the scholar at that time did not even know the symbol of the yin-yang bipolarity), and therefore it is not surprising an interpretation of the experience that tends to highlight precisely the importance, for the conscious Ego, to deal with the bipolarity of the human psyche. However, the importance of the Spirit dimension lies precisely in the fact that, by accessing it, the conscious Ego feels freed from the tension generated by the bipolarity that characterizes the human psyche: in that dimension the Ego finds that rest, that peace, that bliss and that love to which it aspires, eventually to restore itself and to recharge the batteries – so to speak – between one exploration and another. So the problem that the conscious Ego must if ever face and solve is the ability of accessing the Spirit dimension, and the possibility that there be a correlation between the actions and behaviors determined by the choices made by the Ego during its human life and the difficulties encountered before being able to access the Spirit dimension. There is no doubt, in fact, that in the light of a very large number of NDE accounts examined, once the conscious Ego is irradiated by the light of the Spirit, it is neither judged nor condemned, but only helped to understand and to evaluate the implications and consequences of its human behaviors, its decisions and its own thoughts.
The strange condition in which the conscious Ego finds itself in the course of human life often leads it to have to deal with situations and dynamics that it neither understands nor is able to correctly evaluate, even though it has to bear the consequences of its decisions and actions. The natural and naive trust with which the Ego relies on its own psychic dynamics, in which it is involved and entangled and with which it often identifies, constantly exposes it to the risk of being deluded, deceived and disappointed, as a consequence of the relationship that exists between the events of this physical and organic reality and the psychic reactions that derive from it. The ability to control, at least in part, the complexity of these dynamics through knowledge and action costs the conscious Ego commitment and effort, and even in this case the results do not always correspond to its expectations. If this is the condition of exploration and jeopardy in which the Ego is involved – in one form or another, depending on our individual destiny – during this organic life, it is also important to reflect on the programs that determine the complexity of this weird game, and possibly on the powers of the programmers and the ways in which these powers are partly transferred to the human beings (or human automata) who take part in the same game. As long as the conscious Ego is forced to experience dimensions different from those of organic life, but in which it is subject to psychic tensions – sometimes intensified – similar to those it had to experience during this life, we cannot speak of liberation from the condition of subordination in which it finds itself towards the forces (or the entities) that manage the programs of this or other worlds. Only in the Spirit dimension can the Ego truly feel freed from the state of conditioning, tension, illusion and service to which it has become accustomed in its human condition. This is why those who have been able to experience – even if not permanently – the existence of their conscious Ego in that dimension, often celebrate it as a true homecoming.