Interpreting the worldwide spiritual awakening
People have long been having near-death experiences, now many believe they are part of a worldwide spiritual awakening
Are life-changing near-death experiences teaching us to live better lives?
When the Netflix show The OA hit screens last year with its dizzying tales of near-death experiences (NDEs) and inter-dimensional travel, it became an instant hit.
Telling the story of Prairie, a young woman held captive and experimented on by a scientist obsessed with NDEs, the show taps into our increasing desire to know more about what lies beyond the mortal world, and captured our growing fascination with whether NDEs can help us unravel the mysteries and very nature of consciousness itself.
Set to return with a hotly-anticipated second season in 2018, the show’s co-creator, co-writer and star, Brit Marling, was inspired by real-life NDE stories, something that, in recent years, have been on the increase.
With the advent of such mainstream shows, and scientific research into NDEs, people are far more willing to speak up about their experiences. Not only do many claim that NDEs have transformed their lives but that they are happening in increasing numbers as part of a worldwide spiritual awakening.
Dr Penny Sartori is an expert in NDEs and author of several books on the subject. Her latest, The Transformative Power of Near Death Experiences, focuses on how people’s lives have been positively transformed after an NDE.
What is an NDE?
A near-death experience most commonly occurs when someone has a close brush with death. Typically a person loses consciousness and enters a higher state of reality by way of a vision.
It can happen to anyone, at any age, and what you experience can vary greatly.
‘The most common perception of an NDE is of someone travelling through a dark tunnel towards a bright light up ahead,’ says Penny.
‘But my research has shown there’s far more to these experiences. Sometimes people hear a disembodied voice or meet a being of light, or find themselves in a beautiful garden. I’ve also interviewed people who’ve reported that they've visited crystal cities.’
Time also loses its meaning, with many believing their experience lasted hours, when only minutes have actually passed.
NDEs were first brought to the public’s attention in 1975 thanks to Raymond A. Moody Jr, a philosopher turned psychiatrist whose book Life After Life was based on interviews with 50 people who had experienced an NDE.
The first collection of its kind, its stories contributed to serious scientific study into
NDEs. But in the intervening years, cynicism abounded and their spiritual side was frequently ridiculed and largely dismissed.
Penny first became interested in NDEs over 20 years ago, while nursing in Intensive Care.
‘When I began my research in 1995, it was very difficult to find people who were willing to talk to me. NDEs are such overwhelming experiences and people were afraid of being laughed at or ignored,’ recalls Penny.
Now more people are willing to come forward and, since her book Near Death Experiences of Hospitalised Intensive Care Patients was published in 2008, she has received over 14,000 emails from people wanting to share their NDEs.
‘Ironically, science now appears to be coming full circle and studies are beginning to confirm the spiritual dimension.
‘There has been a renewed comprehension of NDEs and they are now being taken much more seriously. Consequently, people are feeling comfortable sharing their experiences publicly.
‘People used to call me morbid, but when you start to learn about death you really start to learn about life. Now we’re seeing a big shift in our society; people are looking for answers and meaning in their lives and are less afraid to be open. Added to that, medical technology has advanced massively so more people survive critical illness than would have done 20 years ago. It seems logical to predict that many more people will report an NDE.’
A profound transformation
Penny’s research has left her in no doubt that NDEs occur, but the big question is why?
During her research, she developed a theory that people's experiences during an NDE are part of our global evolution, as we begin to advance to a higher level of consciousness as a society.
This means that for many people their NDE has a transformative effect, which betters them and those around them.
‘Contrary to the beliefs of those who dismiss the NDE as an aberration of a dysfunctional brain, the experience does not end after
‘When you learn about death you really start to learn about life’
regaining consciousness,’ she says. ‘There are many changes associated with NDEs that can continue for the rest of a person’s life.
‘One of the most important questions we can ask is what is it about NDEs that makes them so powerful that they change the way people perceive and live their lives afterwards?
‘It is the transformative aspect of the NDE that is of greatest interest to me, because it has the potential to benefit so many people.’
To explore this topic in her new book, Penny interviewed a number of people from around the world who had experienced a transformative NDE. One of whom was its co-author, Kelly Walsh, 42, from Manchester, whose own NDE prompted her to seek out Penny.
After struggling with an eating disorder in her teens, and depression and anxiety in her twenties, at 33 Kelly’s marriage had broken down and she found herself living back at home with her parents.
Feeling lost and worthless, she took an overdose to try and end her life. It was while lying in her hospital bed, as doctors tried to flush the toxins out of her body, that she had the NDE that would ultimately transform her life.
‘It was dark, my eyes were closed, and I was feeling really anxious,’ remembers Kelly. ‘I had an awareness that there were spiritual beings around me trying to keep me calm. I couldn’t see them, but I could feel their presence in a powerful and loving way. They had a soothing, peaceful effect and I believe they were there to help support me with what I was about to experience.’
Kelly was transported on a journey and could feel herself going through what felt like ‘bumps’ in the universe that she didn’t know then were different dimensions. Her life flashed before her and she could see and feel the emotions of what she’d experienced in life up to that point in time.
‘It wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience, it felt like a test or battle to survive. I was travelling at what seemed like supersonic speed,’ she says.
‘After seven jolts, I felt as though the battle was over and a wave of relief surged over me. I was finally at peace and enveloped by unconditional love. It was the most incredible, joyful, loving feeling, and I wanted to stay there. It’s hard to put into words. Then, suddenly, someone or something spoke to me.
‘I cannot tell you exactly who or what it was, as I have no recollection, but it said: “You are strong and powerful. It isn’t your time. You still have a mission to carry out on earth. Humans have the capacity to heal physically, mentally,
emotionally and spiritually through love. Self-love is the most important of all.” In that moment, I realised we are all one, all connected.’
Caring and sharing
Kelly believes the message she was given was telling her that her mission in life was to help other people heal.
‘My NDE taught me that we are all one big global family. Regardless of colour, creed, gender, religious beliefs or other perceived differences, we are all loved equally and unconditionally. Our simple purpose is to work towards love,’ she says.
Kelly made a full recovery and was inspired to set up the Positivity Power Movement, an online community aimed at uniting people in positivity, and the charitable foundation
Love Care Share, which aims to make a positive difference to children affected by poverty and suffering.
‘I use my story as an example of the change that is possible,’ continues Kelly. ‘I'm meant to share my truth and collaborate with others, to make beautiful, lasting change on our planet.
‘Through the foundation, we plan to bring love, joy, happiness and positivity into children’s lives the world over, leaving a beautiful legacy.’
Kelly, however, isn’t alone in transforming her life since her NDE, as the book she has written with Penny proves.
‘While it's logical to conclude that anyone who survives a brush with death will be changed in some way, research shows it's the NDE itself that is responsible for the change,’ says Kelly.
‘Not only have the people in our book been transformed in positive ways in their wellbeing and health, but their new actions are all about the greater good; they are no longer the centre of their own world, but part of the bigger picture.
‘Studies into NDEs, and related phenomena, have consistently shown that we are part of an interconnected universe, and that consciousness continues beyond our earthly existence. This realisation has the power to inspire a shift in our understanding about life’s meaning.’
Is this evolution?
Of course, not everyone is in agreement with Penny and Kelly’s viewpoint.
Susan Blackmore is a British psychologist, and perhaps the best-known scientific skeptic when it comes to explanations for NDEs.
After having her own out-of-body experience as a young woman, she started investigating paranormal claims, and devoted much of her career to explaining them scientifically. Susan argues the stress of approaching death on the brain can trigger many of the phenomena associated with an NDE, though she is yet to discover why the sequence of events reported in NDEs seem to be universally common.
Meanwhile, science writer and founder of the Skeptics Society, Michael Shermer, said in a piece entitled Why A Near-Death Experience Isn’t Proof of Heaven for the Scientific America: ‘Because we do not have a natural explanation for mind and consciousness, people turn to supernatural explanations to fill the void.’
Yet, regardless of the skeptics, Penny, Kelly and others continue exploring NDEs and believe they have huge potential for human evolution.
‘During their NDE, many people realise that we are all connected and that our actions therefore impact on everyone we interact with,’ says Penny. ‘When they return to life, NDErs are often more loving, compassionate and tolerant towards others.
‘If everyone adopted these characteristics and considered how their actions impact on others, wouldn’t the world be a better place?’
‘One of the most important questions is what is it about NDEs that makes them so powerful that they change the way people perceive and live their lives afterwards,’ adds Penny.
‘Take Kelly for instance, how can an experience transform such suicidal thoughts into the complete opposite? How was she able to change her mindset so drastically?’ asks Penny.
‘I believe as more and more people engage with the message of the NDE, there will be great advances in our evolution as we begin to understand that ultimately our actions impact on ourselves. We will then begin to live from love and not fear.’