A young man was skating on the local reservoir and fell through the ice. As he approached hypothermia, he could hardly move. He went down in silence his lifeless arms floating above his head. He then stopped feeling afraid of death and of there being no afterlife and actually started to feel warm.
Feeling at peace and physically comfortable, he felt he was being drawn backwards down a long, dark tube, sucked past a wall of spongy black cotton. Over his shoulder, he saw what looked like the sun having a soft yellow glow. Dr Moody and other researchers into this type of experience call it the `near death experience’ (NDE).
The afterlife is wanted but people fear the unknown
Although hardly anyone speaks of death in terms of an afterlife, they do often avoid speaking the word `death’ directly and instead use euphemisms such as `passed away’, `gone ’, or `no longer with us’. Some are even ready to spend lots of money to try to postpone death or ask that a specialist organisation keep their corpse in a deeply frozen state in case one day it is possible for them to revive it. The thought of our own body disintegrating after we die may feel too much to bear.
However, according to hospice staff and others who provide end-of-life care, dying people sometimes sense another realm beyond our material world.
The afterlife and the ‘near death experience’
Reports of the inner experiences of many people whose lives were in peril show noticeable similarities although each is unique.
A composite picture gathered from many similar accounts envisages a person who is very near death and actually hears his doctor pronounce his death. A ringing or similar noise is heard and he feels himself going along something like a dark tunnel. He starts to notice his own body separate from himself although nearby. In a state of emotional upheaval, he can see the medical staff attempt to bring his body back to life.
Soon however he calms down as the new condition of afterlife starts to become familiar. He realises he still has a body albeit one very different from the previous one left behind. He can see people coming to contact him who he recognises as the spirits of dead family members and friends.
A warm spirit of light appears and this being communicates in some non-verbal manner to get him to think about his past life and he sees the significant events of his life as it were played back to him.
A barrier or border appears which he takes to signify a limit between the material and spirit life. He understands the time has not yet come for him to pass the barrier and he must return to earthly life. He does not want to go back, being delighted with this new experience of joy and peace.
But he is re-joined to his physical body and is alive again in the world. He attempts to describe his experience to others but no words seem adequate and when he meets cynicism he stops telling other people. Yet the experience has a deep impact on his life particularly on his views on death and its significance to how we lead our lives.
The NDE is like neither a dream nor a so-called hallucination because there seems to be a common pattern seen by many people.
Swedenborg’s extraordinary experiences of afterlife
These accounts are in line with the reports of Emanuel Swedenborg given in a huge volume of meticulously written up testimony regarding his own unusual personal experiences. His visions spanned the last 27 years of his life. He discovered he could see, hear and feel in a non-physical afterlife dimension that he termed `the spiritual world’.
He claimed an extraordinary gift – of not only seeing spirits and hearing their voices speaking but also being seen and heard as to his own spirit even whilst also present with others in the material world.
He insisted that what he saw and heard in the spirit world came to him not in dreams but in `the highest state of wakefulness’. He claimed to be able to converse with spirits and learn an astonishing amount about the afterlife and the laws according to which it operates, from living experience as well as instruction. He described these extraordinary visions and spiritual laws in many of his published books.
Time in the afterlife
Those people reporting on their NDE’s say that subjective time does not match earthly time as observed by nurses and medics. This parallels Swedenborg’s account of time in the afterlife. In the spiritual world like here on earth, things are said to happen in progressive sequence. There, the passing of time reflects our state of mind rather than any objective criteria in the physical universe such as the working of a clock.
We are all familiar with time dragging when we are bored and flying past when we are fully absorbed in something. Swedenborg said the angel people do not have any concept of clock time, though they are conscious of the changing and succession of states of life. Likewise, many mystics have reported this experience of timelessness.
Bodily sensation in the afterlife
Those having a NDE were still physically alive even though they reported out of body experiences. This would often involve the person seeming to rise in the air and looking down in the hospital on the medical team working on their physical body. Such an experience suggests that the spirit of a person can be independent of the physical body yet still having conscious sensation.
This ties in with Swedenborg’s report that in the spiritual world, we live in a spirit body after having left our physical body behind. The spirit people told him that they enjoy the same senses as they enjoyed whilst alive in the physical world; for example, they see as before, and they hear and speak as before, only now using their spirit body.
Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems