Near-death and the passage in between

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By 2018-01-07

By Dilshani Palugaswewa
Ceylon Today Features

Call it a myth or a phenomenon some people blindly believe, Near-Death Experiences (NDE) are in fact a real thing. Most doctors and scientists turn to the page of skepticism where NDEs are concerned and have always dismissed it as hallucinations because for them, it goes beyond scientific evidence.

What exactly is a Near-Death Experience?
It is typically explained as an out-of-body experience that one recounts later in consciousness, of a time they should have been medically unaware of or clinically dead. These experiences however, are encountered by both; people who aren't close to death, who are in coma or critical condition and some who are about to die. It has been described by patients who've had such an experience, of sometimes having a powerful sense of separation from their physical body overlooking it from a height. They recount later exact events and commands given by doctors handling the situation, even at times when a flatline has moved across the monitor.

The take-away most people have from a NDE is an unshakeable belief of a tunnel beyond that casts permanent changes to their lives. The psychological mark left on most are intense yet peaceful, however, some are left with a scarred memory of a dark place. It's hard to determine the correlation with religion or if there's any at all, as people from all walks of life have reportedly had similar experiences but it is said to stem from some kind of spiritual belief that one has, emotionally connecting them to the other side.

Patients have described meeting deceased family members or conversing with strange figures they didn't know. However,on some accounts people who couldn't be any further from spiritual grounds with a tenacious understanding of science, have faced this mystic reality making it harder to answer questions like 'how' and 'why' and understanding if there is any purpose.

Enlightened perspective on life
Some people have had extensive recoveries from fatal illnesses and serious injuries that crippled their physical bodies. One famous NDE story is of Anita Moorjani, who had end-stage cancer. One morning in 2006 she failed to wake up, as she had slipped into a deep coma. Doctors weren't hopeful for the outcome of the next 36 hours and practically told her family to prepare for the worst since her organs were packing up.

Inexplicably, Anita saw and heard the conversations between her husband and the doctors which took place around 40 feet down a hallway. She also saw her brother on a plane, having heard the dreadful news, flying down to see her. Both things were later confirmed. Doctors were quite surprised as she started to recover rapidly, gaining consciousness. Once she was stable, they started tracking down the lymph nodes they saw when she entered the hospital.

Tests that were conducted on her admission to the hospital had shown swollen lymph nodes and tumors the size of lemons extending from the base of her skull all the way down to her lower abdomen, but doctors found no trace of them afterwards. They did back-to-back tests to discover any cancer activity which were all in vain. They were unable to understand what had happened and how it followed with a 100% recovery.


Adding on to these miraculous occurrences, is the enlightened perspective on life most come back with, and sometimes a knowledge of facts that they previously didn't know. Like in the case of a man, who was surprised to see a picture of his dead father-in-law for the first time as he claimed that he had seen the man in a NDE before he had even met his wife. In another instance, a three-year-old boy who underwent a two-hour emergency appendix operation recounted later, of his visit to heaven.
He narrated the encounter that he had with family members who had passed away, including a baby sister that his mother had lost when she miscarried. Neither of his parents had ever mentioned the miscarriage to him. Still, piling on to these astonishing facts of rare occurrences, are accounts of people returning with an understanding of quantum physics which they didn't have before.

Unfortunately, some who've experienced the other side of a NDE, have much different perspectives and stories of horror to give an account of, as they'd been drawn to darker spaces, where they were transported to hostile environments. Some tell stories of being thrown into depths of hell and getting annihilated and tortured by demons, with reptiles in the surrounding and voices of screaming masses echoing. They're left traumatized for life, and have a harder time comprehending such manifestations.

Cultural and religious beliefs
Here in Sri Lanka a survey conducted at the Colombo North Teaching Hospital, assessed the prevalence of NDEs and their association in a multi-religious population by selecting a group of patients at random using the Greyson NDE scale and clinical assessment. In conversation with one of the four researchers who carried out the study, Dr. Miyuru Chandradasa - a full-time academic staff member of the Department of Psychiatry, University of Kelaniya attached to Latrobe Hospital and Monash University in Australia, demystified his findings.

When asked of his stance on the subject he explained, "Scientists, especially psychiatrists have researched in this area for decades. There are theories that try to explain the reason for these experiences. For example, patients who are faced with critical medical conditions may have a deprived oxygen supply to the brain (hypoxia) and this lack of oxygen could lead to neurotransmitter changes and potentially to visual imagery.

Subsequently, the recovering patient would try to find a meaning for these experiences and his interpretation would depend on his or her cultural and religious beliefs. As a devoted Theravada Buddhist and as a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I may have two different views on near-death experiences. As professionals we do our best not to cause friction between these views."
Further expounding his analysis on the link between religion and such occurrences he stated, "We found that people of theistic religions tend to report more NDEs compared to patients from non-theistic faiths, who were essentially Buddhists. None of the patients identified themselves as atheists.

However, my belief is that the atheists who participated in the study may have identified themselves by their religion of birth. The Buddhists who believe in rebirth and past lives may consider death as not an end. Therefore, their interpretation of these experiences may be different to people who believe that death is the end of their existence." Both case scenarios were reported from some participants of the study; being taken by dark forces and seeing deities of various faiths.

Medical professionals are mind-boggled with these anecdotes and have pushed for variegated research, forcing them to find a scientific explanation. However, after many trials of inducing and injecting, in an attempt to get desired results to pin the verdict on the effect drugs have on the brain and body, they still have no solid proof that the factors are indeed the result of science.
So, can all this be taken as proof of the existence of an afterlife and the supernatural? Will science be able to ever substantiate these occurrences? Can the whole nine yards be explained by the simple fact that death itself is a process, hence making the happenings a plausible binary situation, which could go either way?

I guess, it will take a while before the lines blur between science and the "radiant tunnel," if it does at all, to unravel the immensity of the unimaginable. As of now, it's safe to say that everything is not what it seems!

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