Over the past few months, a pattern has been emerging in the comments to these blog posts and in my emails. I have been seeing expressions of discomfort and even anger about this discussion of distressing NDEs, based on the idea that the NDEs represent institutional and/or cultural abuse. The vocabulary includes words such as “falsity,” “manipulation,” “intimidation,” “coercion,” “judgmentalism,” “control.” One respected reader wonders why the discussion even needs to be continued, why it gives the forces of oppression such attention rather than outright denunciation.
Let me say again: “For several months now, these blog posts have been steps on a journey to get down underneath all the preconceptions and assumptions, all the theories and doctrines, and ask, ‘What is bedrock?’ Is it possible to get beyond overlays of supposition to something so simple I am able to trust it? Can we begin to see near-death experiences through lenses other than doctrinal or disbelieving?”
To clarify why I say that dogmatics are the last step in the journey, please bear with me through what may seem a bit of tedium. Like lots of foundational stuff, these next three paragraphs may seem obvious, but they bear specifying.
A person having a near-death experience is registering a real experiential event; that is, it is very real as an experience, with related consequences. NDEs are internal, subjective, and involuntary, the product of the human imaginal system; they are not consciously “made up.” Their content may have observable connection to the person’s culture and beliefs, or it may be thoroughly unfamiliar and without precedent.
Because it occurs at a specific time moment in the life of a person, the instant the time moment passes, the NDE becomes not an experience but a memory. When the memory is put into words, the telling is not the original experience but is automatically organized as a story.
The NDE cannot be known to anyone else as it is remembered by the experiencer, who shapes the story according to the NDE’s original emotional tone and whatever interpretation the person may have perceived during the experience. Additional meanings may be added later, as the story is processed by the experiencer and those who hear it. Eventually, it will take its place either within a local system of cultural dogma or as an outlier having no recognized explanation.
These distinctions matter.
In other words, I see at least five stages in the life cycle of discussion about NDEs:
Experiencing – Reporting– Interpreting – Assigning meaning – Dogmatizing
The first three stages involve only the experiencer, who may participate in all five. Public opinion, especially the promulgation of any ideological or religious doctrine, enters with the final two stages and is limited to them.
My point in these last few posts has been simple, perhaps sometimes infuriatingly so: The existence of near-death experiences and their relatives is not cultural oppression; at their early stages, they are a universal human experience. I want to get as close as possible to an answer. That I do not expect a complete understanding is irrelevant; I need more than what is here now.
Saying that a distressing NDE is primarily an example of religious manipulation or an effort at institutional control puts a very big cart in front of this horse. The recent comments arise from elements of Dogmatism (stage 5) to which they quite rightly object, and read those conclusions, however flimsy or hurtful, back into the Experience (stage 1). Yet we get to dogmatisms only by going through the experience first, and in these blog posts I am parsing out the NDE itself and its very earliest stages. It is like finding the tiger in a photo of jungle leaves and flowers; the only way to find it may be by taking the picture apart one leaf at a time.
Any attempt to explain an NDE comes after the experience itself. NDEs do not originate as words and stories but as images and emotions, the raw materials of experience; they do not originate in religious dogma or cultural ideologies, though their interpretation typically ends there. The original NDE cannot be evaluated in terms of end stages. Manipulation, coercion, control—the whole range of power plays—are effects as much as are post-NDE psychic sensitivities or PTSD. For many of us, this is new information, and powerful. It takes time to soak in.
I put up the post about delogs not to be sensationalist, nor to be critical of shamanic visions in rural Buddhist folklore, nor to say anything about institutional religion. I was not making a post-modern statement about power or human shadow. I wanted readers to meet a close relative of Western NDEs, one with similarities and differences, one with an ancient heritage. It is one step on this journey.
[To be continued.]
The same question could be ask “Why keep discussing heavenly NDES?” Both are experiences that are life changing . Those that are non distressing often finds their lives is like “hell on Earth” by family, friends and co-workers but they usually found others to talk to and because they talked, shared with researchers, written books and now on television, it helped them understand more of a bigger picture. Is it only fair and right that we share the same stage?
Is it not also both about love and that we are all God’s beloved children?
When I had my experience I had no reference, no guidance, no soft spot for me to lean on. Accept a pastor who angrily said I needed to get right with Jesus. After that I stopped going to Church not because of what he said, but because I couldn’t bear listening to the teachings of hell, fire and brimstone and wrathful angry God that I knew was not truth. Couldn’t bear the people being taught fear.
My family didn’t want to hear me then or even to this day. Over 30 years ago.
Since a small child I loved God. Later come to love Jesus, his teachings about love. So when I had my distressing experience I was mortified,, bewildered and raw. My heart broken. To have had someone to talk to, another human being that had been further into their journey, would have meant more than all the gold in the world. Priceless. Because I would havehealed much sooner.
As it was I kept breathing, living, rejoicing in countless ways. But I also kept praying and cried out to God, “Why?” For over 30 years. Felt like oceans of tears.
Writing a bit of my experience is the only way I know to convey why it is important and needed for continued research for these type experiences. People who have had heavenly experiences seemingly forget or lack regard I have the same after affects and feel those who are smug, snobbish even “better” or “holier” than me and assume/said I must have been a bad person. That is flat out not true. Frankly, I think its sad . It is not loving. It is not being inclusive but it is acting judgementle. I am not the only one tthat has experienced this.
Nan has given a lot of time, effort and courage to do a lot of research and have listened to a lot of people’s tears to help her be able to write a book that, other than Rommer, other researchers touched on or lef it out.
It is not right or fair to any experiencer. Especially those who have had, or will have, distressing experiences. The statistics are likely low because they are DISTRESSED and fearful.
For those who do not want this researched, the reasons are unreasonable and worse it is selfish because you are not thinking about untold numbers who are in need of help and in despair. The right thing is for everyone join together and have the willingness to help by letting go of egos and fear for everyone’s sake.
We have come far for those that have had heavenly experiences to be able to discuss their experiences. Yet, regardless of which type experience people have we are all pioneers. Especially the Baby Boomers.
While still here, we need to set the best path possible for those who will follow.
Nan Bush says
Oh, gosh yes, so much isolation, so much pain and misunderstanding, so many people suffering from bad theology and hardened hearts! Thank you, Lin, for writing. Mind you, I’m not upset by people’s wondering why keep talking about it all; we’re all at different stages of understanding and interpretation. My job, as I understand it, is simply to keep plugging away, one step at a time, one little clarification at a time. If it comes a bit clearer to me, maybe it will seem clearer to some others also. Again, thanks.
I can speak for myself and speculate that most of those that read this blog are here because we are actively seeking out incidents and factual descriptions of distressing NDSs. My objection is certainly not with continuing the discussion or the specific content of negative NDEs, my objection is (to use Nan’s stages) the “assigning of meaning and dogmatizing” them in what appears to be an effort to direct and control the thoughts, beliefs and behaviors of the reader. I don’t appreciate the “assigning of meaning and dogmatizing of positive NDEs either.
I believe that the actual NDE experiences, spanning the full spectrum, have the ability to inform us in important and critical ways of the nature of reality, our experience in matter and time and the continuation of consciousness after the fact. Dogmatizing tells us nothing. In fact, for me, dogmatizing causes me to speculate as to the authenticity of the experience and suggests – to me – that the story is made up or embellished solely for reasons and motives of control. But that’s just me….
Nan Bush says
Thanks, Kathy! And I think dogmatizing causes a lot of us to think twice about authenticity!
Dave Woods says
I think a valuable thread would be “if you’ve had a distressing NDE, what did you learn from it? I guess there are those after having one who were confused and haunted by it for the rest of their lives, and those who were not. If not , why not?
The main drilled in fear is that physical death is the end of conscious existence. We live in fear of death. This is what makes us vulnerable to the “Hell Fire and Damnation” vultures, oh excuse me…..preachers.
My short but vivid experience didn’t scare me because I already had read about these experiences. It WAS a new sensation that’s for sure. I still remember and feel it as it was, even today.
Nan Bush says
Dave, I’m going to post the questions and see what kind of response we get. Valuable information!
In my experience, it is not easily “this” or “that”; it’s not easily boxed up, concretized or nailed down. Beyond simply acknowledging the INCOMPREHENSIBLE MYSTERY, it is difficult, if not impossible, for me, to find bedrock or even a single universal TRUTH. That, however, has not interfered with my incessant search.
Here are some of my enigmas.
I did not know of its existence until I found myself there, in the Void. The deepest, most infinite blackness, teeming and pregnant with potential. Somehow, I was not startled or afraid. For me It was a Bliss within a BLISS.
I experienced my I Am-ness in a “place” beyond scripts of time. The earth did not exist, Kathy, her husband, her daughters, her passions and her story did not exist. I was relieved. Since, it’s hard not to think of this physical/temporal existence as some sort of scripted/simulated reality. For what reason and to what end?
Standing at the edge of the Infinite Abyss, Accompanied by a Presence, in a state of uncommon Knowing, I was caused to see the pain and despair and suffering of those inhabiting Earth. And in that moment, and in that Presence and with that Knowing – I consented – I concurred – I said “Yes” to it All. Somehow, it was essential.
In the longest, darkest, night of the Soul; ground deeply into the darkest side of incomprehensible dread and despair, I found myself very close to an incredible-ineffable-seemingly benevolent and unquestionably infinite Power.
It is all so confusing, all so mysterious, all so yin and yang…………….
Nan Bush says
Glimpses. We sometimes get glimpses. It’s like physicist Richard Feynman’s fabled quote, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.” All mystery, with little bits of known stuff. You’re here because of what you experienced; I’m here because of what I didn’t. More mystery!
Dave Woods says
You came away from it knowing that you are, always have been, and always will be. That’s a plus. I’ve heard about loss of personality, identity, and everything one was attached to in physical life.
This bothers me because I love my Wife, and want never to be separated from her either in life or death. I never want to lose her spirit.
My kids, who I also love, are going to have to take their chances when I go. I gave them the means to get here, because they wanted to come and experience physical existence.
I gave them my best, in spite of all my mistakes, and learned from them as well. If there’s a way to be there for, and guide them from spirit, I’ll find a way to get to them. These, I guess, are my only concerns about dying.
Thank you for sharing.
In response to Dave Woods,
I, like you, am deeply devoted to my husband and children and from this perspective I could not bear the thought of those relationships ending and I don’t believe they do. I think what ends is the current context, the story and the characters and roles we each play in our collective, familial and individual experiences.
I think we enter into time much like we enter into a theater. We come for the experience of a story complete with relationships and traumas and dramas and defeats and accomplishments and education and entertainment and fates. Certainly it has a realness, but it isn’t Real. That is how I have interpreted my experience.
What is interesting upon reflection is that there are some movies and story lines that are too intense for me and I have to step out of the theater to gain perspective, I now wonder if that’s what happened. Did I step out of this global/temporal theater for a little perspective? 🙂
Still a mystery…….
Nan Bush says
Stepping out of the theater–what a vivid metaphor!
Herb Solely says
Nan, your work is much needed, and much appreciated. While reading your book I began to wonder just how much of the scary nature of some of these experiences can be attributed to the normal variability of individual reactions.
There was a portion of Eben Alexander’s experience that sounds very underworld, and I think would scare me more than it scared him. Had he panicked at that point, maybe everything from then on would have appeared fearful. Panic seems to work that way on this side of the veil anyway.
I was imagining people awaking in the back of a small plane in the midst of an aerobatic routine. Most would be terrified, some would be exhilarated. Those knowledgeable about such things might be more likely to be found in the exhilarated group. Some might overcome their terror and enjoy themselves. Some (most?) will never grow to enjoy such an experience. A few will hardly be able to get enough.
I suspect all extreme experience, aerobatics, NDEs’, rock climbing, psychedelic drugs, offer both exhilaration and terror. Indeed, the terror at times seems almost like an initiation, which you must endure and move beyond to reach the good stuff. Just the process of overcoming the terror can be exhilarating. Or maybe that is the point, or at least part of it.
A sick, sadistic theology must be at the heart of the problem. How much more terrifying the experience would be if the teevee were full of slick men with big hair telling the world that god is going to punish sinners with an eternity of aerobatics routines.
Nan Bush says
Brilliant! Slick men with big hair…oh, yes! Herb, thanks so much for this observation. It makes a ton of sense that normal variability of temperament and adrenalin-tolerance would factor into responses. Also, the laugh is big-time welcome!
Experiencing – Reporting– Interpreting – Assigning meaning – Dogmatizing
“Saying that a distressing NDE is primarily an example of religious manipulation or an effort at institutional control puts a very big cart in front of this horse…”
Nancy, one thing I have noticed in regard to individuals with very rigid and dogmatic ways of interpreting and understanding their religious beliefs is that – while they may be controlled by their dogmatic approach – their dogmatic approach gives them a sense of control in return.
Having once been very dogmatic myself, I am able to identify this rather easily.
I don’t think that dogmatizing occurs out of a mindset of wanting to lord power over others, but rather of wanting to reassure oneself and to gain control over something that had made us passive experiencers. I’ve had a few powerful religious experiences – and they all had the quality of making me a very, very passive participant. I was very powerless and the experience – and the entity/entities behind it – was/were very powerful. As Herb mentioned in his post, people have varying degrees of openness to experience. Dogmatizing (in my view) serves as something of a brake system. It is like an explaining away of what occurred as much (or more) than it is a real explanation of it – it lets one get through the daily business of living. Without this tidying up of our experiences, we could sit around and ponder them to no end! (and who of us who has had powerful experiences like these DOESN’T spend half our time routinely mulling them over for some missed clue?).
Consider Exhibit A: Christianity. The bible is filled with miraculous events and puzzling parables. When you read it without the filter of dogma already at hand, you can come away from its passages with any number of conclusions. You can drive yourself nuts trying to understand it… OR… you can embrace someone’s pre-canned dogma and read it through that, and then you can get on with the business of everyday life.
Dogma is about enabling us to feel we can control the weird and wonderful and miraculous and awesome so that we can do our 9-5 and sleep soundly at night. “Oh, that’s XYZ – I know ALL ABOUT THAT…”
I’m no fan of dogma and I agree that it is often used to control us, but I don’t think that was its original function. It was for us to have control over the numinous. After all, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” I felt like I was going to be obliterated by God in a vision I once had – just due to His immensity and power, not due to malevolence. I had to actually ask Him to stop the experience and let me alone for fear I was going to die.
There’s a big divide between being in the presence of the numinous and squabbling over it. But that’s what we do. We’re small and vulnerable. Small and vulnerable things look for comfort in whatever they can.
Nan Bush says
There’s a treasure of one-liners in your comment! You can with confidence look forward to seeing them quoted in future posts…attributed, of course.
It takes a lot of time and thought to recognize dogma as the result of human desire “to have control over the numinous.” I wholeheartedly agree, and that manipulation of believers has been a closely attendant effect of dogma, but not its cause.
Feel free to use whatever you’d like. Glad you liked the post. Thanks for running this blog. Like Rabbitdawg said, there aren’t very many places to discuss the issue of dNDEs and this is very important stuff to mull over!
Lin…wow… you said it all! What I can’t understand is why more people aren’t researching and discussing dNDE’s. There are tons of books, websites and forums out there providing information about radiant NDE’s, but only one book and one website exclusively deals with the distressing/hellish ones. That’s sad, for a number of reasons.
The failure to properly recognize the distressed side of The Vision detracts from the credibility of NDE research as a whole.
Skeptics accuse ‘believers’ of clinging to a fantasy of an Afterlife – a belief motivated by the fear of death. In other words, hardline skeptics think folks like Doctor’s Jeffrey Long, Pim van Lommel and Sam Parnia are closing their eyes to the evidence, and are believing what they want to believe. Picking and choosing their data.
Maybe the skeptics have a point. I would think that if a scientist wanted to get a complete picture of a phenomenon, they would want to look all all sides of the issue. What are these folks afraid of? Averting our gaze to distressing and hellish NDE’s is kinda like whistling through the graveyard.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure van Lommel and Parnia are excellent, professional doctors and scientists. I have the utmost regard for their methods. But like most NDE researchers, they tend to turn a blind eye to distressing experiences, or worse, they try to argue them away using the same arguments that pseudo-skeptics use to discredit all NDE’s.
Maybe one day Nancy will tell us about her go-round with Kenneth Ring’s interpretation of the class of dNDE that she had.
For me, the reason for discussing distressing NDE dogma is personal. Like a lot of folks, I am a recovering fundamentalist. The damage done by Fundamentalist doctrines (of any faith) is serious sh*t. It’s like multi-generational, unintentional child abuse. No loving parent wants to see their beloved child burn in hell for eternity. But if the parents believes it, the child must have it impressed on them at an early age, in no uncertain terms. Mental anguish motivated by love. Sick stuff.
Deep down inside, I don’t think most fundamentalist’s want to believe in an eternal hell, but they’re afraid to admit it. After all, even questioning the belief is enough to get ones mind “possessed by demons”. To me, this type of dogma is evil and it needs to be exposed. Shouted from the rooftops.
Discussing distressing experiences is giving the topic balance, and exposure to dogma is like a festering wound having a laser Light shined on it. I see a lot of that Light here.
Nan Bush says
What a spectacular group of comments! Thanks for being one of them.
Thanks for your comments Rabbitdawg, they make me feel less rabid on the subject. I was born into a very strict fundamentalist “fire & brimstone” compounded by an “end of days” the “second coming is at hand” household; I will be 59 next week and I have not managed to outlive the haunting effects of my religious upbringing under a demented, angry and horrific christian god. Just when I think I have put everything in its proper perspective I trip over an old religious message from my youth and realize that I haven’t advanced at all. The life in the rear view mirror is closer than it appears!
Herb Solely says
Nan, Thanks for the kind words above.
I still recall the nightmares I had throughout my childhood. They all went something like this: a score of 60 is required to get into Heaven but I only have 59, so I am cast out and fall endlessly into darkness and fear, awakening in panic and sweat, with no idea of what I did wrong or what I might do better. Might have been my first taste of depression. I can still feel the horror and hopelessness. Wonder how much further in life I could have gone without this great load of cosmological fear?
Thomas Paine had a lot figured out when he said “belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man.” How much cruelty throughout the ages has flowed from this idea that whatever we do to a person now is nothing compared to what God is likely to do to him later? What a gift to all the sadists in our mids! I bet the extreme skeptics are on some level motivated by this fear. If the implications of materialism are depressing, it is a small price to pay to keep the horrors of the inquisition away. I imagine a great mass of humanity silently rejoicing as the theological monster is beaten back into the shadows. Where the fundies of course wait to nurse it back to health and unleash it again. If materialism is dying, fundamentalism must not fill the void.
NDE’s are a great threat to the fundies. They seem to be attempting to stake out the distressing NDE’s as their own territory. For this reason alone negative NDE’s are most important to science and humanity and must be brought out of the shadows and drained of their venom. Since most people would rather live in hope than fear, anything that can be done to defuse the fear and allow hope to prosper is holy work.
Lisa Marie says
I just wanted to express & extend my love & care for especially those who have suffered through a distressing NDE. You are good people. Your experience is real & you should be respected for it. Ignore those who say you must be bad. Its their own fear speaking about themselves. Not you. They are deathly afraid of being punished for their perceived “sin.” So please fear not, for you too are loved & I know you’re good people! I believe (although I have NO way of knowing) you may have witnessed something, some place but its not you, its not a place where you’ll exist, its like a movie you watched. A movie that shares the feelings & experiences of others. You are loved. You were trusted & privledged to see the pain & fear of others. Maybe you’re more sensitive to the experiences of others than some. This is my personal belief and view on the distressing NDE of some at this point in time. Although I haven’t read the book you all speak of, I will look for it today @ Barnes And Noble.
Thanks for broaching this topic. As someone who believes in the afterlife now largely due to NDE reports, and as someone who has had enormously painful mystical unions since rekindling my belief in God, the fear that the suffering may never end overwhelms me. The internal torments are horrific and I fear if I ever commit suicide because my suffering is unbearable, it may be met with yet MORE suffering. I’m terrified every moment of my life.
Most mystics speak of ecstasies and bliss experienced alongside their journey through a sea of pain, but I only experience the “dark night of the spirit” and “dark night of the senses” with no meaningful release. I cannot share this experience with others because they will think I’m completely crazy or simply ill with depression, but it is part of the path of the mystic that I unwittingly unleashed once I promised to serve God. I despair horribly at not even having suicide or eventually euthanasia as an option. How could a loving God punish someone with unbearable suffering with more suffering or forced reincarnation? I have received some divine knowledge directly about the purpose of suffering in exchange fort his divine “gift”, but it doesn’t make up for the level of suffering I cannot continue to bear. This is not a God that I would choose to believe in, yet here it is, right in front of me! I just want it to end.
Nan Bush says
Kim, I will be responding to you by email, as this is too big an issue to take on in comments. Thank you for writing.
Nan Bush says