The most common elements of a near-death experience
Not all near-death experiences (NDE) are alike, contrary to a popular belief. In the stereotypical NDE, the person clinically dies, enters a tunnel of light, is greeted by relatives or beings of light, is told that he or she is not ready to pass on, and is sent back to awaken back in this life.
That particular NDE scenario has been reported many times, but it by no means happens for every experiencer.
However, there are components of the NDE that are part of the experience for a majority, or at least a good percentage, of people who have reported them.
Noted NDE researcher P.M.H. Atwater has cataloged many of those components in a "Common Aspects Analysis", and Kevin Williams has further analyzed them based on an examination of 50 NDEs profiled on the Near-Death Experiences and the Afterlife website. Williams admits that his is not a scientific or exhaustive study, but it does provide an interesting view of the reported phenomenon.
Here are the top 10 characteristics, according to Williams:
A Feeling of Overwhelming Love
In 69% of the cases, people felt that they were in the presence of an overwhelming love. In some instances, the source of the feeling seems to be non-specific, as if it is just part of the atmosphere of the "place." Other times, this feeling comes from the beings met there.
Sometimes they are religious figures (see "God" below) or nondescript beings of light, and sometimes they are relatives who have passed on previously.
The ability to communicate with the people or entities through a kind of mental telepathy was reported by 65% of the experiences. In other words, the communication was non-verbal and seemed to take place on a level of consciousness rather than physically.
The review of one's life was common in 62% of the cases. While some witnessed the review from beginning to end, others saw it in reverse order, from present day back to the beginning. And while for some it appeared to be a "highlights reel," others felt like they were witness to every event and detail of their lives.
Meeting a figure that appeared to be God or some divine being was reported by 56% of experiences. Interestingly, 75% of people who consider themselves atheists reported these divine figures.
This might go hand-in-hand with the first characteristic, "a feeling of overwhelming love," but while that feeling comes from an external source, the experiencers also feel their own internal ecstasy - the tremendous joy of being in this place, free of their bodies and earthly troubles, and in the presence of loving beings. This was experienced by 56%.
Many times (46%) experiencers felt that they were in the presence of unlimited knowledge, and sometimes even received some or all of this knowledge as if the wisdom and secrets of the universe were shared with them. Unfortunately, they never seem to be able to retain this knowledge upon awakening, yet they carry with them the memory that this vast knowledge does exist.
There doesn't appear to be just one place in the afterlife, according to 46% of reports in which experiencers say they traveled through or were made aware of different levels or realms. Some were even shown - even experienced - what they thought was Hell, a place a great anguish.
Told Not Ready
Just less than half (46%) of NDE experiencers say that their time in the afterlife came to a kind of barrier where a decision had to be made: to stay in the afterlife or return to life on Earth. In some cases, the decision was made for them by the beings there and they were told that they must go back, often because they have unfinished business. Others, however, are given a choice and are very often reluctant to return, even if they are told they have a mission to complete.
Shown the Future
In 44% of the cases, people were given the knowledge of future events.
They could be future world events, or they could be events specific to the life of the person. Such knowledge perhaps helps in the decision whether or not to return to the earthly existence.
Although the "tunnel of light" has become almost a trademark of the near-death experience, only 42% of people in Williams' study reported it. Other feelings include feeling out of the body, rushing toward a powerful light, moving rapidly through a passageway or up a staircase.
A Debate Without Resolution
Most people who experience the NDE cannot be convinced that what they went through was not real, and it is proof for them that there is life after death. Materialist science, by contrast, claims that these experiences are mere hallucinations, caused by lack of oxygen to the brain and other neurobiological effects. And although researchers have been able to duplicate or simulate some aspects of the near-death experience in the laboratory, it cannot rule out the possibility that the experiences are real.
The bottom line is we don't know -- and possibly cannot know with 100% percent certainty until we die... and stay there. Then the question becomes: Can we somehow tell people back on Earth?