Happy near-death experiences are considered positive. Why don’t I call unhappy ones negative?
Simple. Because “negative” suggests bad as opposed to good. And that is just plain misleading. It’s a characterization rather than a description.
A distressing NDE is emotionally painful, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It hurts, but hurting often leads to discovering the source of a problem and getting past it. Pain is a symptom, not an end. Worked with carefully, a horrifying NDE can lead to near-miraculous changes of understanding and attitudes with good outcomes. Not negative at all.
On the other hand, a blissful NDE feels great at the time, but if it leads afterward to ego-inflation and an attitude of superiority (which is not uncommon, at least temporarily), or to excessive risk-taking or abandonment of family responsibilities, then, although happy in the moment, it was not genuinely a positive experience but destructive.
Recommendation: Dump “negative.” Instead, use a more specific adjective that actually describes what the experience was like: distressing, frightening, scary, painful, empty, threatening, hellish. If you use a different word, send it in a comment; we’ll start a list of all the adjectives people use to describe their NDEs.
As you well know, Nan, I’ve been on a campaign for some time to promote this shift from “negative/positive” to “distressing/pleasurable.” I’m so glad you agree — at least regarding negative/distressing!
Now my next phase of this campaign regards “blissful/pleasurable.” Starting from the beginning, one way to characterize NDEs is by their predominant emotional tone. Distressing NDEs are dominated by distressing feelings such as confusion, torment, nothingness, fear, and/or guilt — and can range from mildly to profoundly distressing. Conversely, pleasurable NDEs are dominated by pleasurable feelings like peace, joy, and/or love — and also can range from mildly to profoundly pleasurable.
Just the other day, an NDEr told me of her experience during a car crash when she was out of her body for several seconds while her vehicle rolled over multiple times; when her vehicle came to rest, she was back in her body. While out of body, she felt profoundly peaceful, alert, and focused (on the vehicle) — definitely pleasurable but not “blissful.”
I recommend using the terms “pleasurable” and “distressing” with adjectives like “mildly” and “profoundly” to characterize the extremeness of the predominant emotional tone.
And as with the Taiji (yin/yang) symbol in which the “dark” side contains an element of “light” and vice versa, I think we’re wise to keep in mind that both pleasurable and distressing NDEs often have components or phases of the other emotional tone; “distressing” and “pleasurable” describe the predominant, not exclusive, emotional content.
I believe our challenge is to find terms that include all NDErs’ experiences — both in terms of quality and intensity.
Deacon Robert M. Pallotti, D.Min. says
I agree. Of course, the question remains why some have pleasant experiences and others have distressing experiences. It may be that such manifestations are possibilities always before. We can make life on earth pleasant or hellish via our choices. Apart from this I believe that each type of experience summons us to assume responsibility for our lives while recognizing what is real and what is illuision.
And a difficult NDE is a sure kick in the butt to start paying attention.
Dan Punzak says
An interesting word I came across but has been around for awhile that may apply is “noir.” In general, it means “dark.” Some films in which that star is very cynical are referred to as film noir. It is also used to describe some wines such as Pinot Noir. Perhaps these distressing experiences could be referred to as noir NDEs.
Dan, nice to hear from you! I hadn’t thought of ‘noir,’ but it works well, doesn’t it? Another alternative I found years ago–‘nadir,’ meaning the absolute depths. That also struck me as being a powerful term. Something fun to think about, the naming. I’ll try tossing them into the conversation, see what kind of response they deliver.
Nancy, please feel free to delete this post. This is only a test. I am not sure how to italicize and create bold text on your blog, and since there isn’t a “preview” option, the only way that I can find out if this works is to actually post something and see if it works. So…
Nan Bush says
And voila! Success. Whatever you did, congratulations.