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What is a Near-Death Experience?

An NDE or a Near-death Experience refers to a one-of-a-kind individual experience connected with death or imminent death. Researchers have suggested that these experiences share common characteristics throughout different contexts. In an optimistic scenario, such incidents might contain a spectrum of sensations consisting of feelings of levitation, detachment from the body, complete serenity, warmth, security, and an experience of absolute dissolution and the presence of blinding light. If negative, such incidents might include a sensation of anxiety, anguish, distress, and depression.

The explanations for such experiences differ from scientific to religious contexts. Neuro-Scientific research postulates that an NDE is primarily a subjective phenomenon. This phenomenon is a direct consequence of ‘disturbed bodily multi-sensory integration’ that usually occurs during or after a life-threatening event. In the spiritual context, some transcendental and religious beliefs about the presence of an afterlife have hinted at descriptions similar to NDEs.

According to a study in 2011 in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, approximately 9 million people have reported a Near-death Experience in the US. Most of these experiences resulted from a crucial injury that affected the brain or the body.


Common Elements

Researchers have found some common elements that denote Near-death Experiences. Bruce Greyson stipulates that the characteristic feature of an experience includes a feeling of being outside one’s physical body. Individuals might also experience visions of deceased relatives and religious entities and ascendancy from spatiotemporal boundaries.

Even though these experiences vary from person to person, many similar elements have been reported based on an individual’s cultural, philosophical, and religious context. A person’s interpretation of these near-death events corresponds with their beliefs regarding these contexts.

For instance, in a country like the US, where 46 percent of the population has faith in guardian angels, most people will identify them as angels or deceased loved ones, or they will be unidentified altogether. On the other hand, In Hinduism, most people will identify them as Divine or even Death mediums.

Some of the common attributes which can be associated with NDEs as per various reports are:

  • An awareness or state of being dead.
  • A feeling of well-being, painlessness, and peace. A state of experiencing positive emotions. A sense of being removed from the world.
  • An out-of-body experience usually translates into perceiving an individual’s body from an outside position. For instance, a patient observes medical professionals performing resuscitation efforts on them.
  • An experience of entering the darkness or a ‘tunnel experience.’ A feeling of moving up, or through, a staircase or a passageway.
  • A sudden movement towards a light source (or ‘Being of Light’) is generally communicated telepathically with another person.
  • A sudden realization of immense acceptance and unconditional love. Seeing ‘Beings of Light,’ ‘Beings dressed in white’ around oneself. Encountering a possibility of meeting with deceased loved ones.
  • An experience of euphoria for one’s surroundings.
  • Seeing one’s life flash before their eyes, commonly known as receiving a life review.
  • Approaching crossroads or a decision-making point by oneself. Being asked to return to one’s body, this feeling is generally accompanied by a reluctance to return.
  • Suddenly feeling like one is returning to their body.
  • A connection with one’s cultural beliefs affects some of the experiences felt in the NDE or one’s interpretation thereof.
  • Meeting ghosts in an afterlife surrounding.

Notably, an Out-of-body Experience (OBE) should not be confused with an NDE. An OBE is a part of the latter and can happen in various instances other than an NDE, such as when a person is about to die, fainting, in a deep sleep, or using alcohol or drugs. Most people have claimed to live through the experience of an OBE.


According to a study by Raymond Moody (psychiatrist MD, PhD), on around 150 patients who have experienced an NDE, this experience has nine distinct steps. These steps are as follows:

  • Feeling of peace and relief from pain and suffering.
  • Experiencing a relaxing sound or other-worldly music.
  • Brief consciousness of an individual’s spirit ascending above their body. One is able to view attempts at reviving them.
  • The spirit leaving the worldly realm and a rapid movement through a tunnel of light in the darkness of the universe.
  • Arrival at a heavenly place.
  • Meeting people of light, who are deceased friends and family, in a reunion setting.
  • Meeting their particular religious deity.
  • Going through a Life Review, where the person understands the good and evil they have done in their life and how it has affected them and others.
  • A return to their earthly body and life because either it’s not their time to die yet, or they were given a choice to return to their loved ones and family.

This experience may vary from person to person based on their individual experience. One is suggested that a person who has just experienced an NDE must be treated in a calm and understanding manner afterwards since they may be in potential confusion or shock with the experience.


These experiences are connected with a change in one’s personality and outlook on life. People experience a consistent set of values and belief changes with these NDEs. Additionally, they might find a greater appreciation for life, greater compassion for others, higher self-esteem, desire to learn, elevated spirituality, less concern for acquiring material wealth, greater ecological sensitivity and planetary concern, a heightened sense of purpose and self-understanding, no longer worrying about death, a feeling of being more intuitive, and a claim to have witnessed an afterlife. Not all these after-effects are beneficial for an individual. Some negative repercussions may include transformation in attitudes and behavior, resulting in psycho-spiritual and psychosocial problems.

Cross-cultural Aspects

Gregory Shushan found several similarities across time, place, and culture in these Near-death Experiences that cannot be explained by coincidence. Still, he also found some aspects specific to an individual’s culture. It has been postulated that Near-death Experiences and many of their constituents like the vision of God, the tunnel, judgment, or the life review are associated with religious and spiritual traditions. However, the core elements that make these experiences and their interpretations transcend borders and can be considered universal. Shushan stipulated that the central features of NDEs have been observed throughout history and in different cultures.

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