What is Life Like After Near Death Experience?

May 13, 2024
IONS Communications Team

Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Reaching a point of no return. Meeting “beings of light.” And then getting propelled back into this moment, into the here and now.

The above are commonly described events during Near-Death Experiences (NDEs). 

With the advancements in modern medicine, NDEs have become more familiar. It’s hard to know exactly how many people have experienced one since not everyone is willing to share about it. Estimations say about 10-20% of people who experience a cardiac arrest also experience an NDE. That would amount to about 5% of the general population. 

NDEs provide a fascinating window into the workings of consciousness. A whopping 80% of those who experienced an NDE claimed that their life was forever changed afterward. 

However, they can have side effects for the individual experiencing them. 

So, what are NDEs really about? What are the aftereffects? Do these experiences give insight into a reality beyond this, or are they purely imaginary? In this article, we’ll go on a quest to answer those questions. 

What happens during an NDE?

NDEs cannot be explained by classical science. The noetic or mystical quality of an NDE makes it a fascinating topic. 

If we’re open to it, an NDE can teach us the same thing as a traditional mystical experience. It can help advance our level of consciousness. If we see ourselves as multidimensional beings with a survival-based and a spiritual component, an NDE can help us live less from the fear-based, overthinking, survival-based part of us. Instead, we remember and embody the spiritual aspect of our humanness.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of characteristics commonly experienced during an NDE:

The light

Typically, NDErs (people who experience an NDE) describe encountering a beautiful light. This light is more of a living being, a field of consciousness, than the light we think of from a lightbulb or the sun. It has energy and intelligence and is often described as something otherworldly, as absolute love. 

Meeting the light can be preceded by traveling at what feels like the speed of light through a tunnel, then spotting the light at the end of it. 

People recount not just observing but getting absorbed by the light as they realize it’s not something separate from us; it IS us. Phrases like “I was home” and, “This is where I always was and always will be” are common. This light is also perceived as possessing a universal knowledge. 

It’s a primordial light, a light that needs to be experienced. It gives the inner knowing that we are all one. This sense of oneness is transformative and will often stay with the NDEr for the rest of their life.

An interesting thing to notice is that even atheists talk about that light. People who identify as religious may describe it as God or Source. 

Life review

Another common event during an NDE is to go through a life review. This life review, together with the light, may be why people often report a heightened sense of compassion and altruism when returning from an NDE. 

During a life review, we feel other people’s emotions and how our actions have affected every person we’ve ever interacted with! It’s like reliving life from the moment we were born. And we’re not just faced with the consequences of our actions. We’re also made aware of how every single word, thought, and feeling we have had affected others. 

It’s a role reversal that gives the embodied the knowledge that we are all one. We understand that we are the very people we have hurt. 

After an NDE, people report taking this life review to heart and start anticipating the effects their actions and words will have on others, thinking, “How do I want to see this scene in my life review?” 

Knowing about the life review can make it easier to forgive others, as they’ll experience the consequences of their actions toward us. That’s why an NDE brings invaluable teachings – not just to those who experience it but to everyone. In an interview with psychologist Jeffrey Mishlove, NDE researcher Kenneth Ring said, “An NDE is given not just to those who have the experience, but to ALL of us to learn from.”

Encounters with light beings

Another commonly described event is encounters with light or spiritual beings. These beings can appear as non-physical and can be perceived as highly intelligent. They often tell the NDEr that they need to go back to life. 

Out-of-body experiences

For example, experiencers have reported seeing their bodies from the outside. They have accurately described the doctor’s reactions or tools used in the operating room – this includes blind NDErs! Worldwide, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of testimonials like this. These anecdotes provide strong evidence that consciousness is separate from the brain. 

NDErs who have “met” deceased relatives or friends can also be counted in this category. Children have described meeting people in NDEs who coincide with a relative that passed away before the child was born, and that they could not logically know about. Experiencers have even met people on the other side of whose death they were unaware. This rules out expectation as an explanation. 

Learn more about the persuasiveness of empirical evidence suggesting life after death. And how strong indicators of different noetic phenomena are for the survival of consciousness.

Are NDEs real? 

A valid question is whether NDEs are “real,” as in describing an ontological reality, or if they’re some kind of hallucination when the body and mind are under the stress of being close to death. While not the main focus of this article, we’ll cover it briefly to better understand the effects of an NDE.

It’s easy to brush off NDEs as a product of a person’s imagination. It makes sense to think of them as dreams colored by our ideas and fears around death.

But that doesn’t explain the fact that people from different countries, cultures, and age groups tell remarkably similar stories – nor the fact that NDEs can go against someone’s preconceptions about life and death. 

In fact, many NDErs recall memories that contradict their cultural or religious beliefs. This is particularly remarkable in the case of atheists who see “light beings” or other non-physical entities, and come out of the experience suddenly believing in something bigger after a lifetime of skepticism. 

Some materialists argue that NDEs are mere hallucinations. But hallucinations wouldn’t have the life-changing effects we’ll cover in the next section – effects that often last for the entire life of the experiencer.

A limitation of NDEs is that they are subjective experiences. That being said, studies have been done where loved ones confirm drastic changes in the NDEr.

To learn more, IONS members can watch the ConnectIONS Live on NDEs, where MD Bruce Greyson explains more about NDEs and whether or not they’re “real.” Studies have shown that 95.6% of NDErs believe the experience was “real” – most of them describe it as “realer than real”. 

So, what are the aftereffects of NDEs? 

Positive effects

As stated above, NDEs can dramatically alter a person’s attitudes, beliefs, and values. NDEs often have a transformative effect on people, similar to after a mystical experience. 

People have reported losing their fear of death. They have also claimed an increased belief in life after death, a deepened connection with God, a newfound sense of purpose, higher self-esteem, and more compassion for others. These effects are similar to those described during deeply spiritual or mystical experiences or on psychedelics. 

Other positive effects include less stress about status and materialism, a desire to serve others, being more in touch with one’s feelings, and a greater appreciation for nature and life. Faith in life or spiritual beliefs can also increase after an NDE. 

Interestingly, NDErs often report becoming more spiritual but not more religious. They report, “I would feel at home in a church where all religions hold true.” They seem to connect with the underlying universality of religions – that they all convey the same Truth dressed in different costumes. Many NDErs also start to believe in reincarnation. 

NDErs can undergo a mindset shift where they begin to see the meaning in everything. Past hurtful events can be alchemized into lessons and learnings. They can forgive people they never thought they’d come to terms with. 

Negative effects

In the media, there’s a lot of talk about the positive effects of NDEs. This can put pressure on NDErs not to share any negative experiences. They can even feel like there’s something wrong with them. Experiencers can feel resistant to sharing what they’ve been through out of fear of being judged as “crazy.” 

A challenging aspect of the aftermath of the NDE is the change in beliefs that can occur. We mentioned the atheist suddenly becoming a believer. This can create friction with family members or friends, leading the NDEr to feel misunderstood or ridiculed. Seen from a larger perspective, these changes are often for the better, as they move the person closer to their own truth and connection to the source. 

Short-term, it can be painful because of the reactions of close ones. People have described their state of being after an NDE as “neither here, nor there.” They feel lost and like they can’t return to their old lives. NDErs have an above-average divorce rate, which can be explained by the challenge of reconciling the new perspective and beliefs with their old lifestyle and interests. 

There’s also the challenge of communicating something as ineffable as an NDE in words. It’s trying to put words on a mystical experience, or love – everything falls short of describing its essence. The NDEr can feel a need to share their experience for integration and to explain its life-changing impact but fail to do so, leading to anxiety and feeling isolated. 

Another adverse effect seen among NDErs is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD. People have reported flashbacks from the experience, disturbing dreams, feelings of being separate from others, and loss of interest in what they used to enjoy. That said, NDErs usually have milder symptoms than people with clinical PTSD. 

NDEs and mental conditions 

On the connection between NDEs and psychiatric conditions: A study among psychiatric patients who had come close to death showed that people who had an NDE experienced less psychological distress than those who hadn’t. It also seems like an NDE can help alleviate the distress from psychiatric disorders.

Overall, the effects of an NDE seem to be to shatter all the masks and roles a person has taken on in life that are not in alignment with their truth. Childhood trauma can surface for healing. They become more aligned with their essence and purpose than the persona they have curated for their whole life. We leave it to the readers to decide whether that’s positive or negative.

Developing noetic or psychic abilities 

A commonly reported aftereffect is increased intuitive or psychic abilities – also called noetic gifts. 

NDErs seem to be more in touch with the noetic realms. They can access information beyond the five senses or have premonitions about the future. They can experience a sudden onset of psychic gifts, like healing abilities. The physical senses can also intensify: colors feel more vivid, tastes more intense, and so on. 

They have also reported talking to animals and plants and having telepathic episodes. Some NDErs develop synesthesia (a mix of senses – such as smelling sounds or seeing tastes).

NDErs can also feel more present and alive and develop a childlike curiosity and desire for learning. They can tend to be so in the moment they ignore planning for the future. 

Physiologically, NDErs can reportedly become more sensitive to pharmaceuticals, certain foods, electricity, sounds, and light. They often shift to a cleaner diet. They can also start to look or feel younger! 

Another phenomenon is that NDErs can impact electric appliances. Some have reported that watches stop, light bulbs pop, or the TV changes channel by their mere presence! This is because the person’s electric field or energy body has amplified. One theory is that their kundalini, or life force, can force more freely. 

It’s worth mentioning that there haven’t been many studies on the physiological effect of NDEs. The only well-conducted study to date is on electrical sensitivity – and the results were merely suggestive. 

An NDE can change you forever – in seconds

NDEs are interesting to study because of their lasting transformative effects. It is, in general, very hard to change one’s life; this experience can, in seconds, transform someone’s attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors. People become more altruistic. Police and military officers change their lifelong professions because they suddenly can’t imagine hurting another being. They tend to switch careers to one where they can be of service and heal others instead.

People shift from seeing themselves as individuals to parts of something greater. 

And the effects of an NDE don’t fade with time. People in their 90s who had an experience as teenagers can still recall the event vividly as if it happened yesterday. 

There’s also a loss of fear of death. One could expect that this would make NDErs value life less. The opposite seems to be true: NDErs show a suicide rate far below average. Because when you lose your fear of death, you also lose your fear of life. 

Maybe the most healing learning from NDEs, that many people report, is that what happens after death isn’t to be feared. Many of us are governed by a crippling fear of death in our daily lives. Getting rid of that fear can open us up for the beauty and magic every moment has to offer.

Have you experienced an NDE? 

If you have experienced an NDE, the first thing to know is that it’s a completely normal event happening under abnormal circumstances. It’s also very normal to need to process such an intense event!

Here are some tips for integrating your NDE:

  • Share about your experience with trusted, non-judgmental people in your life.
  • Consider some form of therapy.
  • Join online groups with other NDErs.
  • Read books about NDEs.
  • Get in touch with IANDS – the International Association for Near-Death Studies.

There is still much to be studied from NDEs. Yet it’s clear those who experienced this phenomenon have profoundly changed their perspective on life and death. It leads to more questions, and potentially more peace of mind, that our consciousness survives beyond death.

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