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The ‘Other’ Near Death Experience

I recently replied to a commenter on Boing Boing (under the story “The Science of Near-Death Experiences“) who had asked about so-called ‘negative near-death experiences’ – ie. NDEs which are marked by visions of hellish domains, darkness and so on. The experiences I cited in that comment were taken from Nancy Evans Bush’s chapter in The Handbook of Near Death Experiences, titled “Distressing Western Near-Death Experiences: Finding a Way Through the Abyss”.

Coincidentally, a couple of days later I noticed on the IANDS website the news that Nancy Evans Bush has an online blog, Dancing Past the Dark, and also is shopping around a book that she has written on negative NDEs – although that’s not a term she likes to use, because negative “suggests bad as opposed to good. And that is just plain misleading… A distressing NDE is emotionally painful, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It hurts, but hurting often leads to discovering the source of a problem and getting past it.”

These ‘other’ NDEs were for a long time ignored by the NDE research community, but are now finally starting to be recognized and discussed. This is an important development, not least for those who have experienced distressing NDEs and subsequently had to process what it means about them as a person. According to Nancy Evans Bush…

[I]f your NDE was frightening, or terrible, or convinced you that you’re going to hell when you die, or left you feeling guilty, you’re probably wondering what’s wrong with you. Does this mean you’re damned? Kicked out of heaven? A wicked, horrible person? Are your sins that terrible–or was that a psychotic episode? Again, the safe answer is, “Probably not.” The bad news is that you’re going to have to work harder than if you’d had a beautiful NDE to figure out the real meaning of the experience in your life.

Here is a most important fact: There is NO evidence that good people get good NDEs and bad people get bad ones. Yes, what is called the “conventional wisdom”–the folklore of just about everybody–tells us that people get what they deserve. But a quick look around tells us that the real world doesn’t work that way. Babies and little children and kindly, helping, delightful people were just as likely to be killed in the recent string of tornadoes as were the drug dealers and child abusers.

What 30 years of study tell us is that nobody knows why people get the NDEs they do. Saints have had terrible experiences, hellish experiences, glimpses of nightmarish scenarios. But they were still saints. People who are generally disapproved of–whoever is on your list of “mustn’ts”–have reported NDEs full of light and love and wisdom.

So what’s the point of being good if it doesn’t make a difference in whether you get punished? And why would you be treated that way if you’re not a bad person? For one thing, because maybe it’s not about punishment. Maybe it’s about learning something you wouldn’t have otherwise. And maybe the point of being “good” is because it’s a happier, more satisfying way to live.

Read more at Dancing Past the Dark.

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  1. The *other* NDE
    Thanks so much! This is the single best piece about the distressing “other” near-death experiences I’ve ever come upon–what a terrific job! Readership of the blog ( is growing slowly, which is gratifying. It’s a specialized subject, and not, shall we say, everyone’s cup of tea–and, of course, I’m not taking anything like a sensationalist approach that might attract people looking for kicks. All that said, your post gave “Dancing” a nice boost. Thanks! I’m enjoying browsing around over here.
    Nancy Evans Bush

    1. Thanks
      [quote=Nan Bush]Thanks so much! This is the single best piece about the distressing “other” near-death experiences I’ve ever come upon–what a terrific job! [/quote]

      Thanks Nancy, keep up the great work!

      1. No one ever said an NDE is
        No one ever said an NDE is some final, defining event etched in stone. It is probably just like other realities. It is a part – not a terminating statement. Why in the world would anyone conclude that an NDE was the be all and end all of someone’s life, or that a harrowing NDE means someone is going to have a harrowing afterlife? That would be the equivalent of saying that because someone had a terrifying experience their life will forever after be terrifying.

        I suppose it is the novelty of NDE’s still that colors perceptions about the gravity of them. It is still so difficult for many to wrap their heads around that they can’t think normally about them, and tend to isolate them as some salient of life and afterlife rather a part of a complex continuum. Why you mean a person can have a terrifying NDE and not be a candidate for purgatory? Who’d a thought it?

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