10 Common Characteristics of the Near-Death Experience
Far eclipsing dreams, meditative states, and drug-induced experiences, a near-death experience (NDE) is one of the most radical and life-altering states of consciousness available to human beings. Though these experiences differ from person to person, they also come with a surprising uniformity across lines of cultures, gender, class, sexual orientation, age, and religious/spiritual beliefs.
Many believe these similarities make NDEs so fascinating and worthy of serious study. In fact, starting with Raymond Moody's revolutionary 1975 book Life After Life, there have now been four decades of research into the phenomena of the NDE. Though researchers differ on what they consider to be the "core" components of an NDE, the following 10 characteristics are almost always present in some form or another:
- A feeling of separation from the body
An NDE typically begins with the knowledge that one has separated from their body. This is sometimes because the experiencer can actually see their body from a vantage point somewhere outside of it. Afterwards, they are able to describe what was going on around them and accurately recount the steps that were taken to resuscitate them. Other times a person may not see their body at all, but may still report feeling as if they have left it.
- Overwhelming peace
A sense of overwhelming peace, usually coupled with a feeling of immense love, is perhaps the most commonly reported characteristic of an NDE. It is this affective component of an NDE which is usually one of the most memorable and impactful on experiencers, regardless of which of the other nine components were present. It is important to note, however, that a small number of NDEs are experienced as distressing and terrifying instead of blissful.
- A sense of traveling
Upon finding themselves outside of their body, the experiencer usually, but not always, begins to travel through some sort of space at a very high speed. They may report zooming out into outer space, past planets and stars, or more commonly, through a black void. Sometimes this darkness is described as tunnel-like, and the experiencer feels as though they are moving through some sort of tube, hallway, funnel, or swirl of clouds. Other times, however, it is simply described as a vast, empty space.
- Encountering a light
As the experiencer moves through the tunnel or the dark void, they usually spot a tiny point of light in the distance. This light is at first described as being no bigger than the head of a pin, but it grows in size as the experiencer gets closer and closer to it. It almost always has an extremely attractive quality about it, and experiencers often want nothing more than to get closer and enter into this indescribably beautiful light.
- Encountering deceased loved ones
It is common for an experiencer to encounter deceased loved ones during an NDE, sometimes inside the light and sometimes before it. They may see family members and friends who have passed on before them, or even relatives that they had never known in life. Some experiencers report that they don't recognize the person who comes to meet them until much later, when they happen upon a photograph and realize that, for example, it was their great-grandfather.
- Encountering spiritual beings
Instead of -- or sometimes in addition to -- friends and family members, an experiencer may encounter spiritual beings. These beings are often described as being made of light and as exuding wisdom and love. More rarely, the experiencer encounters an identifiable religious figure, but it doesn't seem that devout Christians, for example, encounter Christ at much higher rates than non-Christians. Sometimes experiencers are surprised to see spiritual beings and imagery from outside of their culture or religion.
- Experiencing a life review
The life review, which often offers a detailed, panoramic view of a person's entire life, is one of the most impactful components of an NDE for many experiencers. Sometimes a life review simply takes one through their entire life up to the present moment in an objective manner. Usually, however, the emphasis of the life review seems to be on how the experiencer has treated other people throughout their life.
- Seeing an otherworldly landscape
Reported in only a small portion of NDEs, there is nevertheless an interesting trend in which the experiencer enters into a beautiful otherworldly landscape, usually after going through the light described above. This landscape is almost always described as having the greenest grass, the bluest waters, and all sorts of stunning flowers in colors that cannot be found in the living world. Everything in this landscape is said to be alive and full of energy.
- Receiving knowledge about life and the universe
At some point during an NDE it is common for one to feel as if they are being imparted with knowledge about life and the universe. It is as if they suddenly understand everything and receive the answers to all of their questions before the question even takes shape in their mind. The truth about existence often seems simple, and many people feel as if they have known it before but had simply forgotten it while living their earthly lives. The knowledge, however, immediately begins to slip away as soon as the experiencer returns to their body.
- Choosing or being told to return to the body
NDEs rarely end in the abrupt manner that you would expect if they were simply dreams or hallucinations. Rather, the experiencer either makes a conscious choice to return to their body, usually for the sake of loved ones, or they are sent back by some other being or force. Experiencers sometimes report being told that that must "go back," even if they want nothing less than to return to a sick or broken body. The transition back into the body is usually painful and uncomfortable.
These 10 common characteristics of an NDE rarely occur in the order described above, and, in fact, they rarely occur all together. A typical NDE will consist of three or four of these components, but some experiencers do get to run through the whole gamut, especially if their situation is particularly dire. Every experience is unique, but taken all together, NDEs seem to point toward something truly wondrous lying just beyond life.