Dr. David Searls, a professor of genetics and science philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine said "Seeing death as the end of life is like seeing the horizon as the end of the ocean." i This image expresses the belief that there is more to the existence of the human spirit than our physical life on Earth.
Since the dawn of history, people have pondered the idea of what happens after death. The questions and beliefs surrounding ‘after death’ have profound implications for the values, faith and behaviour of most people.
This idea of ‘more to existence’ is manifest in recounts of near death experiences. I have chosen to examine Near Death Experiences (NDEs) as experienced by children for a simple reason : unlike adults, young children cannot consistently, over time, maintain the threads of a lie, and maintain affected behaviours. To my thinking, there is therefore an innate truth in NDE stories told by children over time. This truth adds credence to the recounts of adults. I intend to examine child NDEs to explore how similar and different childhood NDEs are, and how children deal with the experience.
2. What are Near Death Experiences ?
Near Death Experiences refer to a lucid awareness of one’s own consciousness, and often a greater universal consciousness, separate to the physical body, in a time when the body is technically dead or dying. As this experience is a profound experience infused with mystical elements, NDEs are seen as “a powerful event of consciousness…not a mental illness” ii. According to psychiatrist Dr Raymond Moody, those who experience true NDEs are rational and calm (sane) as opposed to those who are hysterical and delusional (mentally ill).iii NDEs are also not a modern phenomenon. NDEs have been recorded in the Bible, the Koran, the Tibetan Book of the Dead and in ancient writings of Plato. iv The difference from ancient times comes in the research being conducted, as well as the sharing of information across the world. Some NDEs are of a positive sensation of light and acceptance, while others are distressing sensations of darkness and rejection. NDEs have enormous transformational power, and consistently change the beliefs, behaviour and outlooks of those who experience them, usually in a positive manner. These experiences “may be called spiritually transformative, conversion, mystical, religious, or transpersonal experiences.” v
3. Unique characteristics/ elements of NDEs in children compared to adults. NDEs share a number of common characteristics or elements. Not all NDEs contain all the elements, but all NDEs contain several of the elements, similar even across different cultures. vi vii It is imagery specific to a culture / faith (e.g. Jesus for Christians) where the greatest differences are found.
Faith specific imagery is sometime referred to as ‘cultural expectation hallucination’. Dr. Atwater’s research shows that if specific faith references are removed, the basic near death experience is similar across the world viii. This has great significance for people of faith, as the implication is one of universal love and not of one particular faith being correct above all others. Those who are more fundamental in their faith reject NDEs on this basis.
To add credibility to this list of common NDE characteristics, several “mainstream” researchers from around the world have all arrived at the basically the same list. These include cardiologist Dr Pim van Lommel (Netherlands), psychiatrist Dr George Ritchie (USA), psychiatrist Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (Swiss-USA) and research-counselor Dr. PM Atwater (USA). All four of these researchers developed similar lists after extensive research from different scientific, medical and psychological perspectives.
The differences in the NDEs of children are small, but of great significance. These include ix x xi: a) The presence of a person / pet who communicates with the child, not...
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