Raymond Moody and Features of Near Death Experiences
Let’s take a closer look at a typical near death experience! What pattern of perceptions, feelings and cognitive (1) experiences does someone coming close to death or in a situation of physical or emotional crisis, experience?
Similarities shared by near death experiences
In another article (2), we mentioned that the person to first study this phenomenon has been Raymond Moody. In his “Book Life after Life” (1975) he presents approximately 50 cases of people who had been resuscitated after having been “thought, adjudged, or pronounced clinically dead by their doctors” or of persons who, in the course of accidents or severe injury or illness, came very close to physical death. He found that although the 2 groups’ circumstances were obviously diverse, just like the people undergoing them (different social, religious, educational background, different ages …), nevertheless the experiences recalled by those involved in these events were unusually similar. In other words, although NDEs differ and each NDE is unique, all these experiences share many similarities. When one examines an 'ideal' experience, a model of the common characteristics found in many experiences, a series of approximately 15 recurring features can be found.
Raymond Moody’s narrative of an ideal NDE
At the beginning of his book, Raymond Moody provided the readers with an 'ideal' or 'complete' NDE, based upon all the common features. He emphasized that this experience was not a narrative of one person's experience, but rather a 'model', or a composite of the common features found in many accounts. It was meant to provide the readers with an understanding of the experience before each of the different features were explained in more detail. This is a very good summary of the common features of the NDE phenomenon.
The narrative reads like this:
A man is dying and, as he reaches the point of greatest physical distress, he hears himself pronounced dead by his doctor. He begins to hear an uncomfortable noise, a loud ringing or buzzing, and at the same time feels himself moving very rapidly through a long dark tunnel.
After this, he suddenly finds himself outside of his own physical body, but still in the immediate physical environment, and he sees his own body from a distance, as though he is a spectator. He watches the resuscitation attempt from his unusual vantage point and is in a state of emotional upheaval. After a while, he collects himself and becomes more accustomed to his odd condition.
He notices that he still has a 'body', but one of a very different nature and with very different powers from the physical body he has left behind.
Soon other things begin to happen. Others come to meet and to help him. He glimpses the spirits of relatives and friends who have already died, and a loving warm spirit of a kind he has never encountered before- a being of light- appears before him.
This being asks him a question, non verbally, to make him evaluate his life and helps him by showing him a panoramic, instantaneous playback he major events of his life.
At some point he finds himself approaching some sort of barrier or border, apparently representing the limit between earthly life and the next life.
Yet, he finds that he must go back to the earth, that the time for his death has not yet come.
At this point he resists, for by now he is taken up with his experiences in the afterlife and does not want to return.
He is overwhelmed by intense feelings of joy, love, and peace.
Despite his attitude, though, he somehow reunites with his physical body and lives.
Later he tries to tell others, but he has trouble doing so. In the first place, he can find no human words adequate to describe these unearthly episodes. He also finds that others scoff, so he stops telling other people.
Still, the experience affects his life profoundly, especially his views about death and its relationship to life.
Near death experiences: number of features
In his book Raymond Moody explains that, despite the striking similarities:
(A) no two experiences were identical;
(B) no one had ever reported all the components of the model experience;
(C) most people who had these experiences did not tend to have so many of the above features. In fact they may only have recalled a limited number such as 5 or 6 of the 15 NDE features;
(D) there was no single element which was described in every experience (although some came close to being universal);
(E) no single component of the composite experience appeared in only one account;
(F) the order of the stages a person went through may have varied from what had been described in the model experience, for instance: “various persons have reported seeing the being of light before or at the same time as they left their physical bodies” or somebody may have had an out of body experience at the beginning of their near death experience while another person may have had seen a light at the beginning and have had an out of body experience at the end. However, the order in which the stages occurred in the model experience is quite typical and important differences were not observed;
(G) in general, those who were “dead” tended to have more thorough experiences than those who were only near death. Also, the longer the period of time they were dead for, the deeper the experiences.
Given the above and in order to distinguish these experiences from other mental states so as to be able to study them appropriately, it is noteworthy to mention that researchers have devised research scales (3). If you want to know more, visit the near death experiences section of our web site (4)
(1) Cognitive experiences: refer to experiences dealing with cognition, in other words to the mental process of knowing, formulating judgments, reasoning, perceiving and being aware.