Over at the Aciste website, a commenter has observed, “It seems to me a distressing NDE could be the same as the nightmares we have when we dream. The soul projecting its fears.”
This points to one of the basic questions about NDEs in general, and their relationship to dreams. If a distressing NDE could be the same as a nightmare, then by the same token one could say—as many people have–that a pleasant NDE is the same as a happy dream, perhaps the soul’s projecting its hopes.
The response in either case is that the commonality between dream and NDE is limited: both occur during a period of unconsciousness, and both involve imaginal content, that is, content that is not consciously made up, deliberately imagined. That’s pretty much where the similarity stops, for whereas dreaming is a routine and necessary part of sleep for everyone, most NDEs and similar episodes are once-in-a-lifetime events that occur to a minority of people. Whereas the content of dreams is idiosyncratic and personal, NDEs tend to follow a loose pattern of similar elements–out-of-body experience, movement through space, intense emotional quality, and so on. Further, even strongly felt dreams miss the intensity factor of NDEs by several magnitudes; they rarely remain in memory the way NDEs do, typically for a lifetime, and they are not marked by transcendent content. More needs to be said about the dream/NDE imaginal connection, but that must wait for a later post.
Another factor, more difficult to address, is the extent, if any, to which people’s imaginal life (whether dreaming or NDE-like) is a projection of their ordinary mode of functioning in daily life. There is a widespread assumption that a person who has a distressing NDE must either have a guilt-and-fear-ridden past or operate from a state of persisting negativity, controlled by fears and anxieties which are then reflected by the NDE. However, distressing NDEs do not necessarily typify the general psychological or emotional modality of the individuals reporting the experience, many of whom have found great difficulty in reconciling the circumstances of their lives, beliefs, and behaviors with the content of their NDE.
Similarly, on the other side of the NDE world, it is clear from thousands of detailed experience accounts that people who have reported extremely pleasant NDEs had often not been functioning from a positive emotional base that would be expected to attract affirming experiences. Many glorious NDEs have been reported after suicide attempts and/or by individuals who say (supported by family members) that they were angry, repressed, fearful or hostile individuals whose lives were subsequently transformed by the event. The element of randomness in NDE types has not even begun to be studied.
In short, although every type of human experience is felt and interpreted through the filters of an individual’s existing conceptual framework, temperament, and memories, it seems clear that the explanation for any NDE type of event will be a good deal more complex than projection or simple dreaming–as if any dreaming were simple!