The Near Death Experience and Its Frightening Aspects


The NDE: In Search of an Explanation

The Near Death Experience (NDE) represents a challenge to the modern scientific materialistic worldview. The basic question science needs to answer is how a brain that is ‘dying’ due to cardiac arrest, and therefore lack of oxygen, can produce vivid and extraordinary experiences like those reported by survivors of such situations. It seems illogical that a brain in the process of shutting down can create the most vivid and intense experience of your life.

Theories abound. For instance, Susan Blackmore explains the tunnel and light effect as due to hyperactivity in the visual cortex at the point of death, with more cells firing in the center of the visual cortex giving the appearance of light that, as the process proceeds, gets bigger and bigger.1 Combine that with the possible release of endorphins to explain the pleasurable nature of the experience, and DMT to explain the hallucinations and you might have a working theory to explain the broad scope of phenomena that occur during an NDE. DMT release at the time of death, although speculative, is where scientific materialists have the biggest edge. That’s because the hyperactive firing of cells in the visual cortex to explain the tunnel and light plus the release of endorphins to explain the physical pleasure of the experience cannot account for the rich content of NDEs. Near-Death Experiencers (NDErs) don’t just travel to a light and experience profound love. They meat deceased relatives, sometimes religious figures. They have deep conversations with these beings, learn the meaning of their earthly lives and travel to paradisiacal realms of intense beauty. The experience is described as being more vivid and real than experiences had on Earth.

Although the phenomenology of the DMT experience differs on some levels to that of NDEs, there is no doubt that DMT experiences can be strikingly similar to NDEs. DMT users have reported leaving their bodies (having a classical out-of-body experience), traveling through space, other dimensions, tunnels, meeting beings of light, a union with Light and feeling connected with the universe, etc.… What many people learn from their DMT experience—that we are all part of one Universal consciousness which splits itself into the multitude of realms and beings in existence—is precisely what is learned by many who experience union with the Light in NDEs. I plan to write a future paper on this very topic—to show that nearly all (maybe all) aspects of the NDE can be found in DMT trip reports.

There are differences, as I mentioned. The complex fractals and geometry of DMT reports are not reported much in NDEs. However, these aspects of the DMT experience seem to occur at a less intense stage of the trip—before “breakthrough”. It is only if you can smoke or ingest enough DMT that you go past this part of the experience and are shot out of your body to experience other dimensions. So it could be that during the Near-Death Experience, so much DMT is released in the brain (DMT is an endogenous chemical) that you bypass the geometric stage altogether. Also, the types of beings encountered on DMT are much more varied than in NDEs typically.

On the other side, one aspect missing in large part from DMT trips, but found often in NDEs is being told by a being on the other side that “it’s not your time [to die]” and “you have to go back”, or being given the choice to stay or go back.

Anyway, now is not the time to dwell on the similarities and differences in phenomenology between the two experiences, only to state that the similarities outweigh the differences and both are experiences of a seeming transcendent reality. This gives much fuel to reductionist materialists who would like to point their finger at chemicals in the brain and call it explained.

There are nagging problems with such a view though. The first is that only a small percentage (17%) of those who have a close brush with death experience an NDE.2 If the release of DMT at the time of cardiac arrest or other life threatening event is an innate mechanism of the brain, then we would expect a much higher percentage of people to report these experiences. One possible explanation is to say that most people just don’t remember their NDE. This is a known feature of some NDEs anyway for certain things to be shown to them but blocked from memory when they return. They remember being shown something but are informed that they are not allowed to bring that knowledge back with them. Furthermore, if the overall spiritual narrative is correct and we are eternal pieces of God living a human experience, then this blocking of memory is inherently interwoven in the experience of life. We don’t remember existing as the sum of all creation. We don’t remember being in another dimension before we were born. Such memories would impede the experience of life on Earth. The drama of life wouldn’t matter if we knew what it was all about. But not knowing—being cut off from those memories—makes this life seem all the more real. It’s all we know, so all the little petty dramas that play out in our lives are experienced as real and important. That’s how it’s supposed to be. You’re supposed to play the game and be caught up in it.

Another problem with finger wagging at chemicals in the brain is that chemicals in the brain can facilitate aspects of consciousness—endorphins help you feel good, other chemicals help you think clearly, become more alert, etc.…–but it’s not clear how they could produce the content of conscious thought or perception. Why does one DMT user see a talking snake, while another experiences an ecstatic union with all of creation? If DMT produced the exact same set of visions in all users, then it would be easy to conclude that DMT caused those visions. However, the visions and experiences are completely varied from user to user, so all we can really say is that DMT facilitates the experience of a visionary, transcendent experience—just like a set of brain chemicals might facilitate your ability to think clearly and reason, or facilitate imagination and creativity, but not determine the content of those thoughts or visions.

Then there are the paranormal aspects of the NDE.3 There are cases where people perceived in an out-of-body state intricate details of their [surgical/resuscitation] operation which they could not have known unless they were actually perceiving from a position outside of their bodies. Moreover, there are cases where people perceive things happening at a distance, like in another room of the hospital while in an out-of-body state. These perceptions are later verified as correct. Here is where all brain-based theories go out the window completely and we have to start thinking seriously about the possibility of the mind being able to exist apart from a physical body.

So, in light of these paranormal aspects of NDEs, it makes more sense to say that a huge DMT release could facilitate the mind’s release from its bodily orientation and into transcendent realms beyond the body. Suffice it to say, at this point, that’s only a theoretical hypothesis—as far as I know chopping up dead peoples’ brains to look for the presence of DMT is not something that has been pursued. However, researchers have found increased DMT levels in rat brains after inducing cardiac arrest, so we do have evidence that this may in fact be the case.4

Frightening Aspects of the NDE

Reading hundreds of reports of Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) took me away from organized religion, specifically Christianity. Don’t get me wrong—I can get down with Jesus. I’m cool with Love your neighbor as yourself, he who is without sin cast the first stone, and all that jazz. But what I can’t and will never be down with is that there is a judgmental God in heaven who will throw you into the pits of hell if you don’t repent for every little sin or don’t accept Jesus into your heart; so that even if you have done many many good things in your life, if you haven’t asked for forgiveness for all your sins or haven’t accepted Jesus, you’re going straight to hell for eternity. That, in my humble opinion, is bullshit.

I remember struggling with ‘sin’ for a while. It wasn’t that I was a terrible person. Of course not. I wasn’t a saintly person either, but somewhere in between like most people. But I was struggling with my own nature. Jesus said lusting after a woman was itself a sin—a sinful thought. Well, there goes masturbation. And like any young man, I failed to keep this sin at bay a lot! It sounds funny today when I think about it, but when you take the Bible literally it can cause a lot of angst. Nonetheless, during my Christian phase in life I was sure to repent, begging Jesus for forgiveness for my innate sinful desires. Christianity, in its fundamentalist strain, teaches us that we are born ‘bad’—sinful by our very nature. We are lucky Jesus died for us on the cross, otherwise we might all be doomed to hell. That or we would have to sacrifice a lot of animals for forgiveness and that would get tough in this day and age!

There are other ways of envisioning the figure of Jesus. One such way is that Jesus, like the Buddha or other religious figures, showed us our potential if we follow the path of Love. In this view, we are all “sons of God” but don’t realize it. If we can elevate our consciousness to that level to realize and live within the divinity within, we are all capable of extraordinary feats and powers such as those demonstrated by Jesus and other great spiritual figures.

I remember well the day I finally gave up worrying and agonizing over my ‘sins’ and told God in my mind that I was done! I just wasn’t going to worry about it anymore and if I died and God thought I should go to hell, then so be it. I was going to be me and stop worrying about every little sinful thought. As long as I wasn’t hurting anyone else, I saw no problem. If God thought otherwise then I’d go to hell—whatever; I just didn’t care anymore. I left all thoughts of God, Jesus, Christianity and sin behind and just went on living my life as I wanted to. Not more than a few months afterwards I had two very powerful dreams. In both I was viewing something dying. One was a fish on my bedroom floor. I looked into its eyes as it was dying and identified with its sorrow. I wanted to help but couldn’t. All I could do was watch it suffer in its final moments. I later learned that this can symbolize big changes, new beginnings, and becoming more spiritual in life. Sure enough, not long after these dreams I discovered the research on NDEs and it completely changed my perspective on death and the afterlife.

There is truth in every religion, but there is also a lot of fluff that doesn’t really matter and may not be true at all. Organized religions are human creations and the doctrines and writings are bound to be corrupted for various ends by fallible human beings.

Near-Death Experiences and the mystical strains of all religions teach us what really matters. The NDE, for instance, teaches us that God is what most religions proclaim it to be—Pure Love. God is not judgmental, does not condemn entire sections of humanity to eternal damnation for such pitiful reasons as failing to repent for your sins on time or not accepting Jesus as the savior of humanity. Nor does God condemn anyone to any particular fate. It is we who condemn ourselves if that is the path we so choose. However, God is always there—beaming with Pure Love, ready to embrace us in his light and welcome us home anytime we want to embrace his/her/it’s love. We are God afterall—the light of our soul a drop in the ocean of the Light of God. How could we not be loved?

It is curious, but not surprising, that not all NDEs are pleasant experiences of heavenly realms, love, and light. Dualism is the mark of experience. Hot does not exist without cold, doctors do not exist without sick people, pleasure does not exist without pain. How satisfying would food be if we never experienced the pangs of hunger? It doesn’t take much dwelling on that question to conclude that the joy of eating would be greatly diminished if we never experienced hunger. Can good exist without evil? We can certainly imagine getting rid of all evil and existing in a realm where everyone is happy and radiant. But how much more blissful would that heaven be if we entered it after a period of suffering? It’s the same question as how much more enjoyable it is to eat when we are starving as opposed to when we are full.

To really appreciate and relish the good, we need the opposite. Should the afterlife really be different than life on Earth? The afterlife is a continuation of life beyond Earth in higher dimensions of mind. It is not inherently some ultimate state of being—Buddhahood or the Godhead. That dimension of experience is there of course, but it is not where we will stay for any significant amount of time. Before long, we will be off on other adventures on Earth, other planets, or in the higher dimensions of the mental realm. So all I’m saying is that it should not surprise us to find that there exists both good and evil in the afterlife.

Back to the topic of orthodox religion and the idea of a judgmental God who throws us into hell if we are bad. As I mentioned, this is not the message of NDEs as a whole. Curiously, though, there are some NDEs which do bring the experiencers to this kind of conclusion—not many but there are some. Kate D attempted suicide after a lifetime of abuse and pain.5 She had an experience in which she found herself in an elegant courtroom as the defendant in a trial, presumably to determine her fate—heaven or hell. She felt that the judge was God and the prosecutor was your iconic figure of Lucifer—handsome, smartly dressed, but ruthless and hateful with fiery grey eyes. He was there to testify to her litany of sins; indeed, he had brought boxes and boxes of files dealing with her sins into the courtroom. She acted as her own defense attorney, which seems a little unfair. I mean, come on! You’re going up against Satan—the most cunning, intelligent, evil being there is. At least give the girl a third-tier angel to vouch for all the good she did in Life! Of course this whole experience was a construction for her learning; not an actual trial for the fate of her soul. The very idea of such a thing is, in fact, comical.

At the beginning of the trial Kate was livid with God. She was so pissed at God! She lashed out, “Where were you? The first time I was molested I was four years old. Violently molested, held down against my will and violated! Four! Where were you then?” God, the judge in this experience, asked her to look in his eyes, and when she did she saw the experience from his point of view. She saw the wrenching pain in his heart and saw that he had endured the experience with her, bearing the brunt of the pain for her to prevent her complete demise, and sending his love and comfort to her 4 year old little body. He showed that he had always been there throughout her life, but she let the darkness define her instead of his truth and light.

Lucifer/Satan told the judge that she had killed many people in her life. She rightly objected that she surely had not killed many people. If she had, she would be a serial killer and locked up in prison by now. But then God gave her lesson on how hurting others is like taking sunlight away from a seed. It diminishes their capacity to grow and be happy. She experienced herself dying a little inside each time she was abused. God showed her that he was always there if she had sought him out. Instead she hated herself, thought she was worthless, and let the darkness consume her.

At the end of her experience the courtroom melted away and she was back in her blood-soaked bed from cutting her arm. After icing the arm to stop the blood, she asked Jesus for forgiveness for all her wrongs and for him to come into her heart. She faded back into the courtroom where Jesus informed her that she was forgiven and that he would live in her heart from this day forward and pinned a blood-stained note to the boxes of sin that read ‘forgiven’.

That’s a very powerful spiritual experience, and accordingly she now believes in Jesus, Satan, heaven and hell. She has also changed her life around, eliminating people who were a negative influence and trying to help others live a fuller life.

Gerry L had a similar NDE.6 He was a big time drug dealer to the Hollywood scene when he got mixed up with some Fentanyl which he thought was China White heroin. He overdosed and blacked out only to find himself in a surreal park-like setting where he saw family and friends looking young and radiant. It was a happy place indeed. On one side of the park he saw an off-white wall that stretched along one side of the park. Approaching it he noticed a door in the wall that was slightly ajar, so he went in to take a peek. Big mistake! He found himself in a courtroom. Oh, shit. This again. At least he had a defense attorney who he describes as his Guardian Angel. He doesn’t describe Lucifer being there to prosecute, but instead refers to a ‘prosecuting Angel’—as if an Angel would be tasked with the job of arguing that a person was bad enough to deserve hell. The judges, interestingly, were not God himself this time but three strict Puritan Elder types dressed in black with white collars and black hats. Actually, that sounds way worse than God as judge.

God was at the trial evidently—not in the form of a wise sage, but as a ‘living light’ in a tunnel behind the judges. God informed Gerry that if he could just survive the trial he would merge with the Light and experience Heaven. He had an experience of this Light as the source of all existence and with it came a feeling of joy beyond any orgasm or drug experience he had ever had. But then the vision faded and it was time for the trial to begin. Family and friends were called up to the witness stand by the prosecuting Angel where they testified to all the bad deeds he had committed in his life. His defense attorney Angel tried his best to object and yell ‘hearsay’, but kept getting overruled by the judges. Oh, the deck seemed stacked against him and it was obviously not a fair trial!

The judge’s final verdict was an interesting one though. They told him, “Dying’s too good for you. You have to go back!” And boom! He woke up in the hospital looking up at a nurse. This experience made him aware of the pain he had caused others even when he thought he was a super nice guy. So he knew he had to go back and make things right as it were. He feels he was sent back to clean up his Karma.

So you see in both instances of courtroom judgment, the verdict is not heaven or hell. Instead, the experience serves a purpose. In the case of Kate, she learned of God’s love in the face of evil acts perpetrated against her. She learned to forgive and accept love into her heart. She learned how small actions can hurt others and, most importantly, she learned to not give in to the darkness, but instead seek the light. Hope and forgiveness were the resounding messages in her experience. Gerry, on the other hand, just needed to realize how he had hurt people and come back to make things right and be a better person.

We should not view these experiences as a literal trial to determine the fate of one’s soul in the afterlife—condemnation to hell or allowance into heaven. They are what they are—learning experiences designed to teach us about ourselves and our faults and how we can learn to view our experiences in a different light and live our lives better.

Even if we did accept the notion of an eternal heaven or hell in the afterlife, we would have to ask ourselves: What is the purpose? Would there be any purpose to an eternal hell or an eternal heaven? I think not. An experience of hell is only valuable if we can learn from it and make better choices as a result. An experience of heaven is valuable in that it teaches us to cherish the good. But eternal existence in either of these states seems superfluous. God desires experience, and experience needs drama, dualism, light and dark.

So now we can move on to the real ‘hellish’ near death experiences where experiencers go to a dark place with evil spirits. Onya M overdosed in a suicide attempt and found herself in a dark void.7 Then she began to hear voices in the blackness which got louder and louder. Next she began to feel like beings (angry and tortured souls) were pulling her down. As she was pulled down in the darkness, she felt cold. The beings started ripping and tearing at her as she felt their feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. She thought that all she wanted was to go back and then woke up into physical reality.

Kim M also had such an experience.8 She describes being in a dark place where she could feel claws and teeth tearing at her skin. She heard screaming and the sounds of animals, or devils. She was being eaten and torn to pieces, experiencing unimaginable pain.

These experiences tie in well with Howard Storm’s NDE, in which he was led into the darkness by beings that told him to follow them after he found himself out-of-body in the hospital room.9 These beings, too, began to tear off his flesh and eat him. The difference this time, though, was that Howard had the intuition to pray to God. He began to recite phrases “from the Twenty-third Psalm, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ the Lord’s Prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, and ‘God Bless America,’ and whatever other churchly sounding phrases came to mind.” To his astonishment, the evil beings began backing away as if he had thrown boiling water on them. Apparently they wanted nothing to do with goodness and love. He finally yelled out, “Jesus save me”. Subsequently a light appeared and he talked to Jesus and the NDE turned into a joyous one.

This has happened to others as well. They have been saved after calling out to God. It doesn’t have to be Jesus. Love is really all that matters. Telepathy is the norm in these higher dimensions. The energy of your thoughts can be felt by all around you. If you’re fighting and struggling, that’s food for the fodder. However, if you think loving thoughts, evil will tuck its tail and run and the energy of that love will draw you towards the Light. Any loving thought will do. Love is what connects you to the Light. At first the evil spirits (whether objective or creations of your own mind) may just get angry and try to make you stop and believe that there is no God and your situation is hopeless. But if you keep hope and persist in focusing on loving memories/thoughts, the experience will shift to a positive NDE.

But even that isn’t full-proof as some NDErs have called out to God and not been saved, at least not immediately.10 Hmmm…the plot thickens. First of all, it’s important to keep in mind that NDErs come back to their bodies. We don’t know what would happen if they stayed in the afterlife. So, just because God was called upon and didn’t immediately show up doesn’t mean that wouldn’t have eventually happened if they didn’t come back to their body. But if focusing on love or sincerely calling out to God doesn’t work—and that’s a big IF in my opinion—then I would propose that this hellish experience is part of a spiritually purifying process and that you should surrender to it. Let go. Stop fighting and let the experience play out without struggle. ‘Thy will be done’ as they say in Christianity. Or, as I would say, ‘Fuck it. I guess this is my fate.’ Eventually I think it will resolve and transform into a rebirth of the soul into love and light. 

The question of why most people who almost die have positive NDEs, but probably somewhere in the 10-15% range have negative experiences (estimates range from 1 to 22%) is a hard one to answer.11 And I don’t think it’s a matter of bad people experience hellish NDEs, while good people experience positive ones. Saints can have hellish experiences, while felons can have positive experiences.12 People say life isn’t fair. Now you’re telling me that even the afterlife isn’t fair! Son of a…

We can’t be so simple minded as to think this has anything to do with fairness or what you ‘deserve’. As with all experience, it must have to do with what is needed or desired on some level of your being. We have to remember that whatever beings exist, good or bad, are ultimately aspects of yourself—as you are a split off piece of God. So at essence you are God and have created all things/beings in existence.

The friar, priest, and mystic St. Padre Pio had many experiences of what he perceived were attacks by demonic forces. He experienced being tortured by these demons in various ways and actually developed physical bruises to show for it on occasion.13 We can speculate all day as to why he might have conjured up evil spirits to fight him. Was it to prove to himself that he was holy? I don’t know, but I do surmise that those experiences served some purpose for his life and spiritual journey.

St. Theresa of Avila left her body on many occasions while deep in prayer. She had experiences of hell in which the “sufferings were so intolerable that, though in my life I have endured the severest sufferings of this kind … none of them is of the smallest account by comparison with what I felt then, to say nothing of the knowledge that they would be endless and never ceasing […] it is the soul itself that is tearing itself to pieces […] I felt, I think, as if I were being both burned and dismembered;”14

Interestingly, she came to view these experiences as beneficial to her spiritual development. She described it as a kind of purification process. As Christopher Bache explained, “Through them [frightening, hellish experiences] something negative was being lifted from her soul. By submitting to them and following them wherever they took her, she found that her experiences of mystical union deepened.”15 So even though while in the experience it was horrific and seemed like it would last forever, it was really a purification process through which negative aspects of herself were purged. It’s very reminiscent of the psychologist Stanislav Grof’s work with LSD and later holotropic breathwork psychotherapy. His patients went through stages including hell-like experiences, a purifying fire, and finally ego-death and rebirth resulting in experiences of redemption, forgiveness, profound love, and cosmic unity.16 So that’s all to say that these negative experiences of being ripped apart could be the beginning stage of a process which leads to mystical union with the divine Light.

Besides the experience of being in a dark place with perceived tortured or evil souls tearing you to shreds, others have reported witnessing more stereotypical hells with flames and demonic beings torturing people. This could also be a purifying experience, or an experience one thinks they deserve, or even an experience some might be attracted to. After all, there is a thing called sadomasochism; some people enjoy it! The NDEr Sarah saw such a hellish realm in her NDE.17 She was sucked in via a doorway in the classic tunnel experience and, while floating above the scene was “fascinated by the seemingly infinite varieties of pain and anguish that was being inflicted on the inhabitants of this realm”.  In this realm she saw devils torturing people and people torturing each other. However, she felt that no one had put them there or was keeping them there. In her opinion, the only thing keeping them there was “their belief in the agony they continued to suffer.” She left this realm through the doorway she had entered and looked into another doorway and saw a realm of lost souls “with their heads down, completely engrossed in their own depressed self-pitying thoughts, unaware that anyone else was around them.” After looking into another doorway and seeing a heavenly realm she eventually went into the Light and experienced bliss and happiness. She says she learned that she is eternal and even though she would experience many forms of death, she has nothing to fear “only more to experience and I am the one that ultimately chooses what I experience.”

And that’s just it. If we are God at our deepest level, then we have each chosen to experience the life that we now live. We have chosen these experiences, good or bad as they may be, for some purpose even if we can’t understand that purpose now. At some point after death all will be revealed and we will understand the purpose of our lives on the Earth plane, as well as the purpose of any experiences we have in other dimensions.

Many NDErs report undergoing a life review in which they view all of their experiences in life simultaneously, like a panoramic view of your whole life.18 Specific experiences can be zoomed in on and can be viewed from multiple perspectives. For instance, if you said something mean to someone you can experience that moment from your point of view at the time, but also you can experience how the other person felt and how it affected them. It’s as if you jump into their consciousness—you become them and experience from their point of view. In some sense, this may be deemed a hellish part of the NDE. If you’ve hurt a lot of people you will feel the suffering you caused and understand it at a much deeper level during the life review stage. But it’s not meant as punishment. It’s a learning experience to teach you how your actions affected others. And it works the other way around too. You can experience the joy and happiness you created in others as well.

Before we leave this topic, another interesting “hell” experience was that of Van I who found himself in a seemingly endless hallway with many doors.19 Behind each door was a person experiencing punishment in the form of what they loved or hated in life. So, behind one door was a man who was glutinous in life being force fed food constantly. Behind another door was a man who loved sex in life strapped to a chair with three naked women dancing around teasing him. As he couldn’t touch the women or have sex with them, this must have been some torture!

This was all explained to him by Satan of course, who caught up with him in the hallway and answered his questions. Reminiscent of Kate’s experience discussed earlier, Satan appeared as a well-manicured handsome gentleman in a tailored suit. Van didn’t know who he was at first, but Satan made sure to ask him if he knew who he was before proclaiming that he was indeed the Satan of legend. Well, Van ran like hell and eventually came to the end of the hallway and was pulled through by God, who appeared to him as a man in a white realm. God again made sure he knew where he just was—in hell with Satan. But no worries now as God had saved him because he didn’t want him to die yet. He sat with God for some time asking questions and getting answers. Finally God told him he wanted him to go to college and not stop until he told him to. Then he was back in his body.

The whole thing feels like a setup to me. It’s an experience constructed by his higher self (God) for some purpose or another. What he experienced was a constructed reality to send a message that would benefit him in his life. He mentions that he cleaned up his life in many ways—stopped caring about getting rich, stopped treating people badly, and got married and had kids instead of messing around with lots of women.

We should not take experiences like these literally as the ultimate truth. God is not a bearded old man and Satan, as the personification of evil, is not a handsome, well-manicured guy—although they can appear that way in dreams, visionary experiences, or NDEs. They can take on whatever forms they like. The hell he experienced may be real or it may simply be a construction for his own learning.

Experiencing hell was apparently what it took to clean up his act. Maybe it is true that if you are overly obsessed with something in life, you may take that energy with you after death and be tortured by it in the afterlife. I don’t know. But what I do know is that the idea of hell as punishment does not make sense. As a learning experience, as a purging process, or purification I can understand. But as punishment from an angry God, especially eternal punishment, we have to ask: What is the purpose? So God can get revenge? If you think like this, I think you haven’t understood the nature of God. True Love, True Goodness does not come from doing good because you fear the consequences if you don’t. True Goodness comes from the heart, as a genuine desire to help others because you genuinely care about them—not for any reward, or for fear of going to hell if you don’t.

In Van’s experience, the experience of being in hell was a temporary one to teach him a lesson, or it was an impetus to help him change his life around. What I find curious is why hell would be used for such purposes instead of the more common negative life review which can include possible futures based on the choices a person makes. In short, people are shown how their life and the lives of their loved ones will turn out depending on the choices they make.20 Then they come back and change how they live their lives, not based on a fear of something, but based on a true desire to make life better for themselves and those around them because they love them.

To wrap this up, the key to heaven, in my opinion, is Forgiveness. Specifically, being able to forgive others, as well as yourself, and let go of negative emotions and guilt. Harboring negative emotions/thoughts may draw you towards hellish realms. Some people get addicted to the pain, guilt or self-pitying thoughts and can’t let go. This may create a negative experience in the afterlife. However, it is something that you have created and not a state that has to continue. On the other side, people who seem just plain evil, like someone who enjoys torturing others in this life may very well experience a hellish realm where they are tortured in the afterlife. Not because they have to, but because they are drawn to it. There is a connection between opposites, like victim and torturer. It’s as if the two opposites are really One. Past-life therapist Roger Woolger explains this connection which he found through his work as a psychotherapist,

“Almost invariably a victim’s thoughts like ‘How could he do this to me?’ or ‘I’ll get back at him’ produce violent images of causing that pain to another. Or else the torturer becomes deeply identified with his victim’s agonies to the extent of secretly imagining how it hurts. So in the play of lives the victim turns persecutor or the torturer, in his constant infliction of pain, needs to suffer the very thing he inflicts.”21

The way out of this cycle is forgiveness and release of negative energy. Surrender, forgive, and release the hate. That is the way to Love.

It’s important to look closely at negative NDEs because it’s all too easy to throw them out as anomalies in an otherwise robust database of positive experiences. They are legitimate NDEs too and any theory that cannot account for them is not a complete theory of the experience. There is a shadow side to the divine. There is evil. The very fabric of creation depends upon it.

  9. Storm, Howard, My Descent Into Death. New York: Doubleday, 2005.
  11. ;
  13. Grosso, Michael, Smile of the Universe: Miracles in an Age of Disbelief. Anomalist Books, 2020.
  15. Ibid
  16. Ibid
  20. For an example:
  21. Woolger, Roger J., Other Lives, Other Selves. New York: Bantam, 1988.

Special thanks to Jody Long at for providing a list of experiences with distressing or frightening aspects.

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