The Powerful Implications of Near Death Experiences - Ed Riess
Millions know what the human race is missing. They learned about the one thing which could mitigate all of these problems during their unexpected voyages.
“We’re all the same!” one told a TV audience. “We’re all part of this big-picture reality! If everyone knew it they’d stop fighting each other!”
These voyagers are the near-death experiencers you’ve heard and read about. Many tried tell others what they’d learned and eventually gave up. Many thought, “It’s pointless. “I must be the only one shown their life by a spirit.” It sounded too much like a Scrooge story.
But millions have had that life review. Re-experiencing their lives, they felt every bit of joy and pain they’d caused others. Good deeds rippled from person to person, and they experienced the joy it brought others at every step. The bad stuff was just the opposite. They felt the consequences of those actions, too, and for some it was hell. “Karma”; some thought. It was the ultimate rehabilitation. Transformation was unavoidable.
These millions have seen a piece of the puzzle that is invisible to the rest of us. They know that everyone is part of the same plan. They think that if people understood this, peace would exist by default.
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As the lucky husband of a near-death experiencer (NDEr), and as a student of these experiences for 30 years, I’ve found the preceding to be typical. NDErs are frustrated that, in this ‘age of enlightenment’, beliefs can be so wrong that we kill each other.
NDErs experience something that evidently answers fundamental questions about mankind – who we are (‘eternally existing conscious beings, somehow interconnected with each other’) and the reason we’re here (‘to learn and mature efficiently by living the intense experiences of earthly life’). At least; that’s what they seem to be saying in their anecdotal accounts through which one can hear them struggle to relate experiences that are beyond words. Whatever specific incidents they encounter they become transformed into tolerant, peaceful, global citizens (if they weren’t so enlightened, beforehand).
My wife learned these things moments after she dropped a gun that shot her in the chest. She was 23. Sixteen years later, as a single mother with two twelve-year-olds, she mentioned her experience to a counselor who gave her the phone number for an NDE support group. The phone number was mine. We met at a Perkins restaurant and she told me this story (paraphrased):
‘We lived in an old farmhouse that had ten-foot ceilings. One night, when my husband was working, I thought the doorknob on the back door had turned and called him for help. Nothing was found, so I told him to leave his .22 Ruger pistol with me. When I got home from work the next day, one of my girlfriends was in the house with her daughter and I was afraid her daughter might play with the gun. When I moved it to the dining room it slid out of the holster, hit the table, and shot me with a hollow-point bullet. I slid to the floor and told my girlfriend to call the life-squad number which had come in the mail the day before. I’d put it on the phone only because I had tried to throw it away three times (since I think stickers are tacky) but couldn’t because I couldn’t make my fingers let-go of it.
‘I passed-out but then suddenly was conscious again, without any pain, and saw my girlfriend trying to explain to a paramedic what had happened. She was crying so I tried to explain what happened but no one listened to me, which I thought was rude until I realized they couldn’t hear me. I could see my husband in another room with two policemen who were questioning him. He was insisting he’d been at work when I was shot. At that point I noticed my body on the floor and realized I didn’t have a body; that I seemed like a ball of light that was above everyone and that I could see into the whole house. I felt that I had no connection to my body. I felt peaceful, with no discomfort except for a feeling of sorrow or pity for the people worrying about me because it all seemed so unimportant. I also knew many things without knowing how I knew them – like I could move from one place to another by just willing it, and that I couldn’t leave my body until it died. I wanted it to die so I could leave. Then, just as I began to think about my husband being alone if I died I was suddenly back in my body and the pain was the worst I’d ever felt. It caused me to pass out.
‘I bled internally at a country hospital for over an hour before being transferred to Good Sam hospital in Cincinnati where a surgeon met us in the parking lot, cut my side and inserted chest tubes at which point I passed out again. I found out later that the bullet had gone through my liver, broken three ribs, put a hole in my lung and stopped in my shoulder.
‘I knew that my experience had been real because I later told my husband and my girlfriend what I’d heard and seen during that time and they confirmed all that I’d seen. They agreed that I couldn’t have witnessed most of what I had seen from the position of my body.
‘Before that time I’d been a very passive and religious person. After my experience I no longer felt less than others because I saw everyone as the same. I knew that people are supposed to be accepting and non-judgmental of each other.’
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My wife’s experience was not as deep or as profound as many, and yet she “got” the message that left her convinced of her ‘eternalness’ and the even-deeper conviction that we are here to take care of each other.
Because the effects of these experiences are so universal I think the inescapable conclusion is that this information could change the world if everyone were to learn what experiencers learned. Could that knowledge be the ‘convenient truth’ that will bring us together?
Let’s review things that are known about these experiences
NDEs have common aspects that are amazingly consistent. That makes them statistically significant. We’re certain that, at a minimum, some aspects are real since, when it has been possible to check on them, they’ve been verified. Confirmation of her observations convinced my wife of that. Observations of other experiencers have been similarly confirmed whenever it has been possible to check them for accuracy. Physiological conditions suspected of causing NDEs (indeed, even measurable continuation of brain function) have been proven unnecessary for them to occur. Unfathomable as these facts are, no hypothesis has been able to account for them. We are evidently comprised of more than molecules that make-up our physical bodies. It seems there is no better example of truth being stranger than fiction. For that reason NDErs have been reluctant to admit them. Thirty years ago everyone thought they were crazy. Today, serious researchers realize they’re not.
Perhaps the most important of experiencers’ claims are these: we are the same; death is not the end of consciousness; we’re all part of an invisible plan in which no one is more special than anyone else; everyone is here for the purpose of learning how to live with and take care of each other. If what they say is true we have a resource that could unify people, probably more surely than would an alien invasion.
The general public is aware of these experiences but knows little about them. NDE studies have been published in The Lancet and other journals but the general public hasn’t seen them. Curiosity-feeding dramatizations are what the public has seen; possibly leaving viewers less persuaded than the journal readers. Without fair exposure to verified aspects of NDEs the facts seem unbelievable. With fair exposure, the facts are undeniable, however ineffable they may be.
These millions of accounts address our most fundamental questions. If experiencers are correct, everyone is a part of the same big-picture. Knowledge of that should create a space, first for tolerance, and then for acceptance of others.
One of the best sources for NDE information is the International Association for Near Death Studies which has studied these facts and published a quarterly journal for decades. Find it at www.iands.org.
Now let’s address potential benefits of publicizing this information.
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The world is in crisis. History shows it has always been in crisis, but nowadays it’s a smaller world with portable nuclear bombs, and transport capabilities and fanatics that want to culturally cleanse the planet. Our increasing population requires more food, water, living space, and safe haven. As these become scarce, the opportunities and reasons for killing each other will only grow. The combination of growing world crises added to knowledge of our responsibilities which NDEs have shown, could provide the incentive that would successfully address these issues.
As for terrorists – we can’t keep nuclear weapons from them forever. Our stressed economy can’t keep increasing its defense expenditures. Without a means for changing their thinking, extremists will never recognize anything but their distorted beliefs and terrorism will never end. Up to now, we’ve been limited to intelligence for defense and only military options for fighting them. Since the truth of our greater reality would affect people of all cultures and in all countries, this information seems to be the only thing that will ultimately change our society.
If society doesn’t change we’ll forever live with palpable fear. It’s worst for those who frequent or live near public transportation, parks, shopping centers, tunnels, bridges, skyscrapers – even our churches, mosques and temples. We’ll add entire cities to that list if and when terrorists acquire just one nuclear weapon.
Newborns start life in an ever-more-dangerous world. Our great-grandchildren will, too, if we don’t evolve. Terrorists are winning now, even when they’re not attacking us. This is our new “normal”. Experts say we’ve been lucky. They’re surprised a large attack hasn’t been repeated. They also say terrorists love anniversaries; dates like nine-eleven, 2011. That date passed, but we were hit overseas.
Plans for using this information to achieve peace are not new. Leading academics began to follow research on NDEs when the medical profession learned to successfully resuscitate people. They seriously discussed ideas for using this information at a UN symposium in 2008 reasoning that such profound, implicative events could counteract dangerous beliefs.
These experiences are mystical experiences, but, they’re not the singular experiences that fostered religions and their endless schisms. Those incidents were not subjected to scientific peer-reviewed studies.
By contrast, there have been a great number of NDEs. In the early 1980’s a Gallup poll found there have been eight million survivors with NDE’s in the US, alone. They have very consistent characteristics that have been rigorously studied. They have statistical significance, making important the fact that they all teach the same principles of peace and understanding.
As already suggested, no matter what they’d believed before their experiences, NDErs will tell you they learned why we are here and how we’re supposed to live, and that for them violence toward others is unthinkable. It becomes impossible for those who’ve learned these things to believe women are inferior, that God instructs us to kill, or that a suicide-bomber gets rewarded in the afterlife.
Some NDErs speak of life elsewhere in the universe. That makes logical sense. Would the billions of stars in the billions of each galaxy exist for no reason? We stopped thinking “flat-earth” long ago; it’s time we stopped thinking “small”. We’re part of a far bigger plan than we’ve imagined. We have new evidence and we’d be stupid to ignore it. Not entirely surprisingly, near-death experiences also say there’s a universal intelligence far beyond the grasps of our finite minds.
Famous people have had these experiences, too. To name just a few, those admitting to that include Peter Sellers, Elizabeth Taylor, Tony Bennett, Donald Sutherland, Burt Reynolds, Nebraska Senator Robert Kerrey, Debra Winger, Chevy Chase, George Lucas, and Jordan’s King Hussein. Before you conclude they and other survivors were hallucinating, think about other paradigm changes – even recent ones – that enhanced our understanding of reality.
Galileo and Copernicus found our true position in the universe. Astrophysics tells us starlight traveled billions of years from galaxies billions of light years from us, and that makes our universe more than 6000 years old. Medical science discovered microorganisms, and surgeons learned to wash their hands. Scientists discovered invisible radiation – radio waves, ionizing radiation like X-rays, and photons in the spectrum below and above visible light. Physicists discovered relativity and quantum physics, finding subatomic behaviors as incomprehensible as NDEs. Biologists found that organisms evolve over time. Earth scientists discovered plate tectonics. It has always taken a while for man to believe in what he can measure but can’t see.
And, by the way, evolution is part of the ongoing paradigm shift. Even the Catholic Church accepts that it causes change, stating that evolutionary biology is consistent with creation. Evolution happens. It’s the reason we need a different flu shot every year. It also has made bedbugs harder to kill.
So, survivors started our newest paradigm shift. Consciousness can exist apart from the physical brain; does survive when brain and body functions are interrupted. And, note that attributes of “consciousness” include nothing less than “vivid and complex thinking, sensations, and memory formation under conditions in which current neuroscientific models of the mind deem them impossible, such as under general anesthesia, and in cardiac arrest.” 
Skeptics have responsibly suggested that physiological conditions such as visual cortex firings, a flood of endorphins, low blood oxygen, and even psychological conditions might produce these experiences. But, they don’t. As another leading researcher pointed-out those kinds of conditions produce “…disorganized and compromised cerebral function and impaired attention” [during which] “consciousness and memory formation would not be expected to occur.” 
As with other discoveries, the evidence filters through society and it’s eventually accepted. That can be accelerated if people realize its potential benefits and that we may be running out of time. We need to see if this resource can prevent genocides, end permanent feuds, make politicians responsible, and give the world some hope for its future. We can test that potential by starting a global conversation about our best scientific studies on these experiences. Once that is underway, experiencers who’ve lived these events (many of whom have kept them secret) could feed this conversation indefinitely. It could even start an unparalleled news-feeding frenzy. Perhaps we would finally grow-up.
More specifically, here’s how this information could produce positive results. Since terrorists are religious, they already believe we’re more than our physical bodies; that we have non-physical, spiritual components. They’re just missing the knowledge of our sameness, that we’re all in this together, interconnected within a single universal plan. Teach the terrorists that and we win, not by conquering or killing them – the usual goal of wars – but by making them partners. They will learn, through this paradigm-changing conversation that people with conflicting faiths are not “infidels” and that no divine being instructs them to kill.
Similarly, in the present Arab Spring and with events like the massacre in Norway, information about human interconnectedness could produce miracles. One effect could be prevention of additional Norway-like killings. It’s needed in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, and now especially Egypt and Libya – everywhere that special interests exploit uncertainty and desperation – to prevent citizens from becoming hostages of “true believers” and despots. Long-standing prejudices will end.
Change won’t stop there. For adolescents, life can suddenly make sense; feel purposeful. They’ll realize they shouldn’t wait until they’re adults to be responsible. Those feeling abandoned will know they’re important parts of this reality; that as such, they deserve respect and can respect themselves. Drive-by shootings, rapes, high school massacres, gang wars, bullying – for most, these crimes will be unthinkable. Kidnappers and people-traffickers will see their victims as the family members they essentially are.
This information will dovetail with the world’s increasing push for freedom. Governments will grant more rights, if only because they’d lose all support if they didn’t. Expect countries to reduce national security and military expense, and wars to become obsolete. Can you imagine all of that? The Beatles did.
In short: there could be progress with most problems that humans face. That should be our future. It could be our future; our combined futures.
This could be our “convenient truth” – proof of shared humanity in a shared reality – this decade’s greatest gift.
Unless this knowledge inhibits our free-will, and counters some unknown law of this inscrutable reality, we’ll realize these benefits. Let’s all commit to honest and open-minded investigation of this windfall phenomenon and participate in the conversation that might fast-track the advance of global civilization.
Ed Riess is a long time student of NDE and has studied extensively on the subject. He lives in Cincinnati and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org