The Out-of-body aspect of Near Death Experience

by © 1998 P. M. H. Atwater, Lh.D.

In this column, I want to address the out-of-body aspect of the near- death experience. The reason is because of a letter I received from Ron Bachman of Enola, Pennsylvania. His letter goes like this:

"I have recently become a member of IANDS, and have of late devoted considerable time to reading IANDS publications, current and some back issues, as well as numerous books and articles on NDE's that I have obtained from my local library and bookstores. I am fascinated with the subject of the NDE, but perplexed by my inability to come to a conclusion on one aspect of the NDE, namely the verifiability of the out-of-body component.

"The implications of a true out-of-body condition is understandably enormous. The suggestion, of course, is that in this state one may possess a sense of non-local visual consciousness, that allows the experiencer to later identify and describe objects and events that ordinary visual senses would not allow. Non-local auditory and/or thought communication senses are often available as well.

"The out-of-body condition is significant, as it is the only NDE compo nent that is verifiable, and, as such, in my opinion, lays credence to the dependability of the more subjective components as well.

"While Raymond Moody, Melvin Morse, and others have provided a considerable number of corroborated examples of near-death associated out-of-body conditions, I have read of very few verified examples of willed or induced OBEs. Since the term out-of-body is applied to both, I would assume that if an NDE survivor, having had an out-of-body component, was later able to describe a 'visual' sense of viewing his or her body, detail resuscitation attempts, and reveal the dial settings of operating room instruments, etc., then someone having had a OBE should be able to describe out-of-body conditions as well.

"Due to the after-the-fact" nature of NDE data, it has been challenged by some as to its reliability. Data from laboratory studies of OBEs, how ever, overcome that objection, as well as provide more reliable indices in a controlled environment.

"Since NDE studies have been ongoing for many years, and since this is such an obvious suggestion, I am sure OBE studies have been done. I suspect that since I have not yet read of such studies, the results were not very positive. If this is the case, I am inclined to believe:

1) Perhaps Susan Blackmore is correct in her assertion that all out of-body sensations are internal, i.e., fabrications of the mind; or

2) The out-of-body component of the NDE, and the OBE, are somehow different, and should, therefore, be phrased differently."

First of all, Ron, allow me to correct a statement you made saying that the out-of-body component of the near-death experience was the only verifiable aspect. Not so! Messages of various types, revelations, family secrets laid bare, information the experiencer absolutely could not have known before - pop up during the phenomenon, perhaps during that part where the individual is met by loved ones who have died before, maybe while he or she is talking with an angel, often as part of the past-life review or during "meetings" with otherworldly beings. Don't jump to conclusions about which aspect of the near-death experience is more verifiable or more important than another, as you would be making a judgment that does not apply.

I cannot speak to laboratory experiments that are designed to induce out-of-body experiences, but I can say that for nearly a decade before my own three near-death episodes I taught people how to do what we then calle "astral travel." Hundreds were successful; only a few were unable to make the grade. Verification was always immediate: I either called people by telephone and had them check details given; or someone would hop in a car, drive to the place, and phone back to relay the news. After years of this, I came to regard astral or out-of-body traveling as a reliable and dependable tool a person could use to make life more efficient and productive.

In 1978 I began to research the near-death phenomenon (both the experience and its aftereffects). Twenty years of such effort have convinced me that a near-death experience is much more intense, more complex and all-encompassing, than any out-of-body experience. . . even if the near-death scenario itself consists only of a single out-of-body flight. Please refer to the Chapter on "The Initial Experience" in my book BEYOND THE LIGHT, and especially the case of Ernest Hemingway, the famous novelist. Brief experiences can be and often are enough to change an individual's entire life.

The near-death phenomenon is a complex dynamic that cannot be easily labeled or understood in terms typical of parapsychological studies. It is distinctly different by patterning, impact, and the cascade of aftereffects which follow - both psychological and physiological. Because of this fact, I would classify the near-death experience under the genre of transformations of consciousness.

As concerns the out-of-body component to the experience, I know of no such event that could have been verified that wasn't. Those who state otherwise, are simply those who refuse to accept verifications made by others.

Here are a few that were verified in my case load:

*** Margaret Fields Kean (BEYOND THE LIGHT, Avon paperback version, pages 83-88). She was shown during her near-death episode that she was to become a healer. Immediately upon reviving, she began to heal people around her in the surgical ward that needed healing, including a white boy burned black who was in a windowless isolation room. She clearly saw and felt herself leave her body, pass through the walls of that room, and sit on the edge of the boy's bed. The boy could see her as readily as she could see him. She introduced herself and proceeded to counsel him about his fears of dying and leaving his parents. After he smiled and said thank you, she returned to her body. Months later, barely out of a wheel chair, Margaret attended a large horse show where her daughter was competing. As the announcer blared over the microphone that her daughter had won first place, two people scurried over to where she was sitting. They were the parents of the burned boy, and had been searching for her ever since their son died. Their son told them all about Margaret, her name, about her family, and what she had told him about death; and they wanted to thank her for what she did for him. Because of her, he died peacefully and they were able to accept his death. There is no way Margaret could have known anyone was in that room for the door was closed and no mention was ever made by nurses or staff of the boy, nor could Margaret, having just survived major leg surgery, ever have negotiated the distance. Margaret never attempted to contact the boy Ôs parents, yet they knew her by name, knew she raised horses and competed at horse shows, and they were able to quote, word-for-word, everything she told their son. Margaret's daughter, who was there, confirmed this meeting.

*** Lynn, full name withheld (JOURNAL OF NEAR-DEATH STUDIES, Vol. 15, No. 1, Fall 1996, pages 7-10). At the age of 13, and during open-heart surgery, Lynn left her body and viewed her surgery from a point above and to one side of the doctors' heads. She was surprised to see that one of the doctors was a black man. Previously, she had been introduced to the operating team, and they were all of the white race. She had never seen a black doctor before and couldn't help staring at him. When later released from the hospital, she asked her cardiologist who the black doctor was. He said that the black doctor had been called in at the last moment because one of the members of the operating team had suddenly taken ill. Her cardiologist asked Lynn if the man had dropped by to see her, if that's how she knew about him. She said, "No, I saw him during surgery." With that, her cardiologist stopped smiling and told her to go home and forget everything. Lynn was unconscious when she was wheeled into the operating room. There is no way she could have known about the last-minute switch, or that one of her new physicians was black. Her mother verified this affair.

Christine Longaker, author of FACING DEATH AND FINDING HOPE (Doubleday, New York City, 1997, page 188) tells about a man who "died" at the accident scene, left his body, and was hovering around the mangled metal when he witnessed a woman in the stalled traffic, unable to see what was going on, pray for those who might be injured. He was immediately attracted to her prayers and found that they gave him strength. After many months of surgery and rehabilitation, he located the name and address of the woman in traffic who prayed and went to visit her to personally say thanks. He was able to locate her because he saw her license plate number when he drew near to draw strength from her prayers. The woman was totally shocked by his visit, for she did not know about him nor was there any way he could have known about her, much less her license plate number. He was considered dead on arrival at the hospital, but revived after resuscitation attempts.

(By the way, in my study of children, they are much more likely than adult experiencers to talk about what they call "prayer beams" - that energy they see exuding from people in prayer. Some talk about how sparkly it is, others say it's golden or bright white; but the vast majority describe these prayer beams as "rainbows.")

I think these few examples are enough to establish that what is seen during the out-of-body component to the near-death experience is factual and in most cases can be and often is verified.

It is true that all attempts to influence what might be seen in a surgical room while a patient is "out-of-body" have failed utterly. I believe the reason for this is because the particular methods used (i.e., flashing digital signs constantly repeating nonsense phrases) are too abstract. If you study near-death accounts carefully, you will notice that whatever is seen during out-of-body states either was emotionally important to the individual involved or appealed to that person in an emotional manner. In other words, the key to influencing imagery and increasing the possibility of verifiable recall is emotions.