My last three articles were about NDEs – Near Death Experiences. These amazing experiences have been reported by millions of people from around the world. Some believe they are the result of an abnormal brain during a medical crisis such as a heart attack. Others believe they are glimpses of the “other side.” I have read thousands of cases and have interviewed up to fifty people who report having an NDE. What is an NDE?
No two NDEs are exactly the same. But according to researchers there are some common elements such as an out-of-body experience, going through some kind of tunnel, being greeted on the other side by deceased relatives or ancestors, feelings of incredible peace, meeting an all-loving powerful Being of Light, re-experiencing all one’s life in a flash, and life changing after-effects. One such after-effect is the complete loss of all fear of death.
In the last article I focussed on the life review. This is when the NDE-er’s life flashes before them. They re-experience their past in great detail. It’s a little like watching a movie. But one difference is the NDE-er re-lives all their feelings as well. Every emotion they had plus the emotions of those around them are re-experienced at the same time. This includes all the happiness and joy they felt in life. But it also includes all the pain they caused others.
NDE-ers say there’s no judgement on the other side. However, experiencing the pain of those they hurt is a form of judgement. NDE-ers judge themselves. Then when they recover they will call up their friends and relatives and apologize for the hurt they caused. They try to make amends. This is one of the after-effects of the NDE.
Another after-effect is a change in values. Before their NDE some experiencers were very materialistic. They were climbing up the ladder of success. Their focus in life was getting that upcoming promotion or making more money. After their NDE they shifted to more positive values. For example, they now believe relationships are more important than making more money. Spending time with family takes on greater significance. Also, helping others becomes a central focus. They may even quit a high-paying job to do something more meaningful. Some changed careers and entered one of the helping professions. Or they may volunteer as a phone counsellor or work at a local food bank. Being compassionate and putting love into action was their new focus.
Some found their church was too exclusive, or too judgemental. They might change churches, or even change their religion. They may drop out of organized religion entirely. On the other hand, some who were never very religious will join a church, temple, another faith community, or a spiritual fellowship. They want to live out their newfound spiritual values in a meaningful way. A connected community is now very important.
Researchers noticed another significant after-effect of the NDE. A belief in some kind of higher power. It may not be the God of organized religion, but they now believe in some form of higher power in the universe. As one NDE-er said, “behind the clock, there’s a clockmaker.” And finally, with almost no exceptions, NDE-ers say they do not believe there is life after death; they “know” there is life after death. We do not die. We just “change rooms” and return home to our spiritual family.
Do NDEs have anything in common with recovery programs? That’s a good question.
NDE-ers want to make amends once they return to normal life. They want to improve their lives and be more compassionate. Making amends is also very important in any twelve-step program like AA. Steps eight and nine say, “we made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all… [and] made direct amends wherever possible.” Why the emphasis on making amends? Because in recovery if we keep carrying all that baggage we will likely relapse. This goes for trauma survivors as well.
As an abuse survivor and a recovering addict, I confess to hurting my family and friends. Sadly, many who have been abused become abusive. Hurt people hurt others. If we don’t process our pain, we will project it. We will dump it on others. Through the program I processed the heavy baggage I carried around on my shoulders. I carried a lot of blame, shame, guilt, and anger. This processing set me free. I was helped by my fellow addicts in recovery. I was helped by my faith community, by my spiritual practices, by therapy, and by my higher power. I could not have done this on my own. We journey together.
There are many similarities between NDEs and recovery. Both NDE-ers and addicts realize the importance of making amends. Both realize the importance of helping others. AA promotes connecting with a higher power. NDE-ers also connect with a higher power. They have different names for this power. Some calling it an angel, guardian spirit, the Christ, or “the being of Light.” One NDE-er simply called it, the “Source.”
Why so many similarities between recovery programs and NDEs? Maybe that’s because both come from the same place and both lead to the same end. Both lead to healing. Both teach the importance of love and making amends. We need this kind of healing in our families, our communities, our country, and in the world. Maybe you see the need to start making amends with your family, a friend, or a co-worker. In the meantime, keep praying for peace. Megweetch. Mahsi Cho.
—Darrell Taylor is a retired mental health professional who has lived in the NWT and Nunavut for 20 years. He is originally from Ontario and is a member of the North Bay/Mattawa Algonquins.