‘When I reflect back on my research, I realise that we have been so busy trying to pathologise NDEs that we have missed a big point and that is the message that NDEs have for us all. Very often there is great wisdom in what NDEs have to say and by hearing what these people have to say, this is something we can all benefit from without having to nearly die.’ Penny Satori
Penny Sartori is an expert in Near-Death Experiences and undertook the UK’s first long-term prospective study. She became interested in NDEs in 1995 whilst working as an intensive care nurse caring for a dying patient who experience the phenomena. Being upset and feeling unable to understand his death she started to investigate NDEs looking for a better understanding of their cause and purpose. She recalls this experience as a life-changing event and it still remains her main motivation in continuing her research. The book collects many examples of NDEs explaining the circumstances when these episodes occur, the impact of the after effects and the critical questions that these experiences bring. Here follows an extract of ‘The Wisdom of Near-Death Experiences’, if you would like to know more about NDEs and Penny’s research, she will talking about her book at the Watkins Bookshop on Friday January 23rd.
What is an NDE?
Many readers may be quite familiar with the term ‘near-death experience’. Some may have never heard of it before, whereas there may be many readers who recognize this type of experience as actually having happened to them at some point in the past and have never understood it or told anyone what they experienced.
NDEs are not a new phenomenon; they have been reported throughout history. They feature in the Bible (2 Corinthians 12: 1–9), Plato’s Republic, in Roman times and are commonly described in medieval literature. Similar experiences have been recorded within different world cultures, such as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, along with experiences of Tibetan delogs. Works of art by Hieronymus Bosch (c1450–1516) an William Blake (1757–1827) depict images that parallel an NDE. In the early 1970s NDEs were reported and investigated by Dr Johan Hampe and Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. However, it wasn’t until Dr Raymon Moody classified and named them as ‘near-death experiences’ in 1975 that they became popularized when his book Life After Life became an international best-seller. Moody defined the NDE as an experience undergone while unconscious, occurring close to death, in which the person reports a set of components, described below.
Since the recognition of the NDE in the 1970s extensive research has been conducted and much has been written on the NDE. Pioneers in the field were Dr Raymond Moody, Professor Kenneth Ring, Professor Bruce Greyson, Dr Michael Sabom, Dr Melvin Morse, Nancy Evans- Bush, and P. M. H. Atwater in the USA and Professor Paul Badham and Dr Linda Badham, Dr Susan Blackmore and Dr Peter Fenwick and Elizabeth Fenwick, Dr Margot Grey and David Lorimer in the UK to name but a few. In the 1980s the International Association of Near- Death Studies (IANDS) was formed in the USA. Currently, in the UK, the Horizon Research Foundation performs a similar function and seeks a greater understanding of consciousness. Further research was undertaken in hospitals by Dr Michael Sabom, Dr Melvin Morse, Professor Janice Holden, Dr Madelaine Lawrence and Dr Maurice Rawlings. The past decade has seen the development of prospective hospital research undertaken by Dr Pim van Lommel in the Netherlands,Janet Schwaninger and Professor Bruce Greyson in the USA. In 1997 Dr Sam Parnia and I both embarked on similar research projects at the same time independently of each other in the UK.
Two recent high-profile cases have seen a surge of media interest in NDEs and created much debate. Anita Moorjani had an NDE when she was admitted to intensive care. At the time, she was suffering from advanced lymphoma and was expected to die. Her family had been prepared for the worst and her brother had flown to be at her bedside. As she got close to death, Anita went into a coma and experienced an NDE. Remarkably, she recovered from that acute phase of her illness and she now believes that her lymphoma has completely gone. Her experience has totally changed the way in which she lives her life and she now regularly speaks about her experience to audiences all over the world. Probably one of the most surprising of recent reports of an NDE has come from Dr Eben Alexander III.16 Not only is his NDE one of the deepest NDEs I have come across but the fact that he is a neurosurgeon and not afraid to talk publicly about his experience is highly unusual and very commendable. Dr Alexander contracted a rare form of meningitis and was a patient in intensive care, where he was in a drug-induced coma for seven days. A particularly fascinating aspect of his NDE transpired after it had occurred. During the NDE Eben was accompanied by a beautiful guardian angel with butterfly wings; this beautiful face was very vivid but he didn’t recognize it as anyone he knew. Dr Alexander was adopted and hadn’t met his birth family until the year before his NDE. His birth sisters explained that his younger sister Betsy had died. Four months after being discharged from intensive care they sent him a photograph of Betsy (whom he had never seen before) and he realized he was looking at the face that was on the butterfly wings during his NDE. His NDE was very extensive and, as he is a neurosurgeon, he tried to rationalize his experience in terms of neurophysiology. However, despite his medical training and extensive knowledge of the brain, he was unable to understand his NDE in terms of the current scientific beliefs about consciousness. Consequently, he is now convinced that the current belief that consciousness is created by the brain is incorrect. Having worked with many doctors over the years, I spoke to a few who confided that they had actually experienced an NDE. Most often the doctors would try to explain their NDE away or attribute it to one physiological factor or another and they would certainly never tell anyone else about their experience due to peer pressure and fear of ridicule. The fact that Dr Alexander has chosen to speak about his NDE publicly highlights just how powerful his NDE was in changing his mind about everything he had been taught about consciousness in medical school. In March 2013 I spoke at a conference in Marseille, France, organized by Sonia Barkallah of S17 Productions. There I met NDEr Rajaa Benamour, from Casablanca, Morocco. It was really fascinating talking with Rajaa but as my French is not very good I had to rely on a translator. She first explained that she was wearing dark sunglasses indoors because she had developed sensitivity to light as a result of her NDE and the lighting was really affecting her eyes.
The Wisdom of Near-Death Experiences is available on Watkins Publishing website.