What is a Near-Death Experience?
A near-death experience, or NDE, is a profound psychological event that may occur to a person close to death or who is not near death but in a situation of physical or emotional crisis. Being in a life-threatening situation does not, by itself, constitute a near-death experience. It is the pattern of perceptions, creating a recognizable overall event, that has been called “near-death experience.”
Across thousands of years and in cultures around the world, people have described powerful experiences that follow this general pattern with its common features.
At its broadest, the experiences involve perceptions of movement through space, of light and darkness, a landscape, presences, intense emotion, and a conviction of having a new understanding of the nature of the universe.
An NDE may begin with an out-of-body experience—a very clear perception of being somehow separate from one’s physical body, possibly even hovering nearby and watching events going on around the body. An NDE typically includes a sense of moving, often at great speed and usually through a dark space, into a fantastic landscape and encountering beings that may be perceived as sacred figures, deceased family members or friends, or unknown entities.
A pinpoint of indescribable light may grow to surround the person in brilliant but not painful radiance; unlike physical light, it is not merely visual but is sensed as being an all-loving presence that many people define as the Supreme Being of their religious faith.
A near-death experience may include few or several of the common features. Many accounts of experiences include only one or two of the common features, but those were so powerful they created permanent changes in people’s lives.
The emotions of an NDE are intense and most commonly include peace, love and bliss, although a substantial minority are marked by terror, anxiety, or despair. Most people come away from the experience with an unshakable belief that they have learned something of immeasurable importance about the purpose of life.
Overall, the entire experience is ineffable—that is, it is beyond describing; even art and metaphor cannot capture it. The effects of an NDE are often life-changing, and its details will typically be remembered clearly for decades.
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