Thursday, 11 March 2021

Near-death experiences - do they tell us anything about the afterlife? Lent 2021, Day 23

Prompted by an article emailed to me by my brother about the work of psychiatrist Bruce Greyson [read it here], I'd like to examine near-death experiences (NDEs) as a biological and spiritual phenomenon.

These are commonly, though by no means universally reported by people who had been at or near clinical death. Both my mother and father-in-law claimed to have experienced something like this. My mother, who had suffered what was to be her first heart attack at the age of 58, talked about facing a strong light source and feeling of calm, but then the image of her garden on a sunny spring day brought out in her a powerful desire to be there, with her family, and this thought found her returning to consciousness.

[Before going further - coincidences hold the thing together. The night before getting my brother's email with the link, I was looking for a book from my childhood, about the World Land Speed Record. I remembered that electric-powered cars held the record for quite some time before petrol-engined cars became predominant, and wanted confirmation. I found the book, next to a translation into Polish of a book about reincarnation by a Raymond Moody. Turns out that Dr Moody, a psychologist and doctor of philosophy, had worked with Dr Greyson and was mentioned in the linked article. Not just that, but the same day, I got an email from the Bratislava office of credit-rating agency, Moody's, wanting to join the chamber. My brother's wife coincidentally, works for Moody's London office.]*

The reports mentioned in the article square with similar experiences I have read about over the decades, so I am not astonished by them. It's quite clear to me that, despite the scepticism that surrounds the subject, near-death experiences are quite common, though not universal. Prof Greyson's long-term research suggests that it is about one person in five brought back from clinical death or near-clinical death has a recollection on such a phenomenon occurring. The question is not whether they happen or not, but rather what they mean.

It may well be that NDEs are a phenomenon that has evolved in the human brain to sweeten the moment of demise - and that it has absolutely nothing to do with going to Heaven or being about to reincarnate; the spiritual dimension being something that science cannot ascribe to it.

Are NDEs related, as the more sceptical neuroscientists looking at the phenomenon claim, related to REM sleep? Memories of dreams, like NDEs, are stored in the brain for many years suggesting that it's a brain thing rather than a heaven thing. Wouldn't necessarily disagree - science and spirituality can coexit! Reading through the descriptions of NDEs reported to Prof Greyson, it's clear that they are related but qualitatively different to the regular experience encountered when falling asleep. The moments of passing from one state to the other fascinate me; I try to observe what's happening in my mind as it processes the day's events on the cusp of sleep. I find myself contemplating some issue, trying to unravel it, and then discovering that, though familiar to me, it did not actually happen. At this stage, with this going on, I fall asleep. This is the subconscious seeping into the conscious; it feels real - but isn't connected to reality. Or is it seeping from a parallel universe? Trying to think about this phenomenon too analytically at the time may bring me back to the fully wakeful state - otherwise, I just drop off into sleep quickly.  

Back to dreams, back to REM sleep. A dream I had about 15 years ago (now I can see the value of keeping them all in a daily diary!) involves me hovering above a body in a hospital bed in the wee small hours; the hospital, 1950s modern, spacious, bright; a nurse is standing by the foot of the bed, looking at her chart as she does her rounds. She is thinking - "Mr. Martin - you will not make it to the morning." I am about ten feet above this scene and reading her thoughts, and thinking that it's rather indiscreet and insensitive of her to think this in my presence. Floating higher, outside the night-time hospital, I can see a long, low (two, three-story building), white tiled, big windows, set among a forest of pine and silver birch, the hospital grounds illuminated by lights from corridor windows. I wake up. It all seemed familiar, fitting.

Was I Mr. Martin in a past life? Is is as simple as that? Was I recalling his death?

Halfway through Lent! Another 23 days to go.

* Spooky moody postscript... When my brother read this post, he was listening to a song by... The Moody Blues. The song, Tuesday Afternoon, was triggered by a song on a CD that Moni sent him, Derya Yıldırım & Grup Şimşek - Kürk. Marek noticed the similarity and put on the Moody Blues - and then read this post!

This time last year:
Build your own religion - choosing your rites and rituals

This time three years ago:
From the origins of conscious life to us and beyond

This time six years ago:
Underground connection, Świętokrzyska

This time nine years ago:
Nikkor 45mm f2.8 pancake lens tested

This time 10 years ago:
Old Town, another prospect

This time 11 years ago:
W-wa Śródmieście - commuters' staging post

This time 12 years ago:
Filthy ul. Poloneza

This time 13 years ago:
A sight that heralds the coming of spring

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