The long life after death
Even though most people avoid thinking about it, death, the moment when we take our leave of the physical world, belongs inseparably to our life here on earth. With every year, with every minute of our life, we get closer to the moment of dying. Worldwide, about 70 million people cross this threshold every year. The threshold to ... where? Who can vouch for it that there really is a life after this life? And if life really does continue – who could say how? And to where is this “journey” meant to take us?
Age-old traditions from the most diverse cultures show that we human beings have always been interested in this “big question”, and also that answers have been found, even ones that coincide in an astonishingly close manner. Whether one delves into the philosophies of the ancient Greeks, or Jewish and Christian mysticism, whether it is Tibetan or Indian Hinduism, the ancient Romans, Native Americans, Africa or Australia: one meets the conviction everywhere that the human being at death only leaves his body behind, while the soul continues to live on in a world beyond.
In the past centuries the “enlightened homo sapiens” has become increasingly more critical of religious traditions. “Matters of faith” were separated from the “real”, meaning rational, knowledge. The certainty of a continued life after death paled into insignificance, the substantial evidence of earlier cultures was no longer taken quite so seriously.
And today the opinion generally prevails that the conceptions about life after life are no more than comforting ideas. Man has difficulty coming to terms with his mortality and for this reason has always taken flight in religious imagery but in reality believes that our consciousness dies with the brain, with which it is inseparably linked. Without the body there is no human life.
Near-death experiences raise pressing questions
This materialistic conception of the human being is now becoming more and more unsound, however. On the one hand, among the broad public – one in three people believes in a life after death – on the other hand also in the community of scientists who are exceptionally sceptical in matters of faith. A major reason why the somehow simplistic equation “man is his body” is again being questioned by many researchers, are what are called “near-death experiences” (NDE), which have been documented for decades all over the world.
In close proximity to death people give matching accounts of events that lead to the conclusion that our consciousness does exist outside the body and therefore that conscious life is possible even after death.
NDEs not only occur frequently in society but similar occurrences are described by all, including children, and the descriptions harmonise with the religious traditions of ancient cultures. Apparently, there have been similar NDEs regardless of culture, religion or education. Does the idea that the human being merely sheds his physical body at the time of death perhaps hold more than just faith and consolation after all? Could this possibly be an empirical knowledge handed down to us from olden days?
What does a human being experience in dying?
Those affected consistently reported that at first they were overcome by a quite indescribable experience of heightened consciousness. A feeling of peace and calm flooded through them, physical pain and even disabilities disappeared. People who in their earthly life were blind, colour-blind or deaf, could see and hear. The “burden” of the sick body fell off, many experienced themselves outside their physical cloak and observed from “above” how their body was resuscitated or operated on. Afterwards they found themselves in a dark room or tunnel, at the end of which a light became visible and to which they felt powerfully attracted. Finally a wonderful, unearthly world opened to them, in magnificent colours, adorned with beautiful flowers and echoing with glorious music. Here they met deceased relatives or friends – and … a radiant light that came as unconditional love. They experienced a deeper, more comprehensive knowledge, an expanded consciousness, combined with a panoramic life review, in which in a single moment their entire life history on earth flashed in fine details before them, starting from birth, making them aware of all the good and bad decisions, all the used and all the missed opportunities. This review was often followed by a preview of what could be some of their future life. Finally they perceived a boundary and realised that they could only return to the physical body if this border was not crossed. What followed was the conscious return to the physical body, often associated with the pain and disappointment of having to leave this world beyond …
Depending on whether many of these experiences or perhaps only some “stages” are lived through, the researchers speak of “deep” or “complex” and less deep NDEs. Not every person therefore reports all these events, and not everyone experiences the nearness to death similarly. Some feel trapped, for example, in the dark tunnel; they are not able to reach the light and they describe their NDE as a “hell-like experience”. Others experience a life review, but are especially deeply affected by the bitter realisation of how many opportunities they missed due to carelessness, complacency or indolence.
What is common to all though, is that the events at the threshold to the beyond change them profoundly and with lasting effect. Scientific studies have shown that nearly all those affected had lost the fear of death after an NDE and are convinced of a life after death. But not only that: Henceforth spirituality and religiousness matter a lot to them, while forms of organised religion, such as affiliation with a church or religious community lose in value and respect.
After experiencing an expanded consciousness through the nearness to death, the people affected also, as a rule, manifest a continuously heightened intuitive capacity and sensitivity. This can range from a simple, clearer intuition and the purposeful memory of dreams to the perception of auras and other forms of clairvoyance. With some people, healing powers also become evident.
The first steps into the world beyond
A separate branch of science, Near-Death Studies, has been devoted for a relatively short time solely to all these phenomena, which are part of the first steps into the world beyond. Just over 40 years ago, in 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross explored in her book “On Death and Dying” the great social taboo of experiences at the deathbed. Shortly thereafter, in 1975, Raymond Moody published his international bestseller “Life After Life”, a summary study that revealed for the first time just how widespread the NDE phenomenon is and that the descriptions of those concerned were extensively similar. This publication was followed by three dozen further scientific studies that came to the same conclusions. But they all had one major drawback: They summarised only statements from people who had at some point had an NDE. The particulars of the medical circumstances that led to the experiences could no longer be checked: Had the ones concerned actually been clinically dead? Or what symptoms accompanied their experiences? What exactly were the circumstances under which the NDE occurred? The retrospective nature of these studies offered critics many targets.
But then – in the years 1988-1992 – the Dutch cardiologist and near-death researcher Dr. Pim van Lommel led the first prospective NDE study under controlled conditions: During this period he studied a total of 344 patients who had definitely been clinically dead, but were successfully resuscitated. People therefore, whose heart had stopped for an average of two minutes and who consequently had not exhibited any brain activity. When the heart stops beating, consciousness is lost within very few seconds: after 6.5 seconds the EEG shows signs of a lack of oxygen in the brain; after about 10 to 20 seconds, because of the complete absence of all electrical activity in the cerebral cortex, it shows a flatline.
But despite the total loss of their brain function, those patients also described the experience of a wider, clearer consciousness, as is typical for NDE. After he had also examined more closely in his controlled long-term study the many lasting personality changes after such experiences, Pim van Lommel published his work in 2001– and with it sparked heated debates around the world. For the conclusion to his studies was clear: Human consciousness cannot be bound to the brain or body!
A new, more comprehensive understanding of the human being has seemed badly needed ever since! This is all the more so since all the materialistic theories about the occurrence of NDEs have now been disproved without exception. It was, for instance, surmised that NDE was caused by a lack of oxygen in the brain, associated with abnormal brain activity and an increased secretion of endorphins, which was to explain the wonderful feelings of happiness. On closer examination this assumption does not fit at all, neither with the experiences of clear consciousness nor with memories of them. It also contradicts the fact that NDEs are just as possible in situations where there is demonstrably no starvation of oxygen to the brain. Other physiological theories (chemical reactions, electrical “short circuits” in the brain, drugs) as well as attempts at psychological explanations (from “hallucination” through “memory of birth” right to suspicions of “fraud”) all fell demonstrably short.
Even though from the point of view of the dyed-in-the-wool materialist scientists there are still reservations, NDE research has clearly demonstrated in the meantime that human consciousness is not tied to the brain and the material body.
Near-death experiences describe our first steps into a world beyond, in which we consciously continue to live without a physical body. But how can one imagine this world – and where does the human consciousness originate?
After the detachment of the body
With questions like these, the near-death research reaches its limitations. Pim van Lommel speaks of an “endless consciousness” in his new book “Consciousness Beyond Life” (out in July 2010, Harper Collins, New York) which is well worth reading. In it, he summarises key scientific evidence and among others also thoroughly refutes all materialistic NDE theories.
But what does "endless consciousness" actually mean?
To begin with, the concept points to the central fact, which is also evident in the accounts of old traditions of the most diverse cultures: that human consciousness is not bound by the limitations and the mortality of the physical body. With this realisation one already comes very close to the empirical knowledge handed down that our “immortal soul” continues to live after death. Or brain is not therefore the “seat” of consciousness, whose essence arises in a physically impenetrable reality beyond space and time.
This finding appears at first glance to contradict various results of brain research, which established that a strong link exists between brain function and consciousness. When there are disturbances in the brain activity – think for example of dementia – the person can no longer be “himself”. Must we not conclude from such observations that our consciousness is but the result of brain activity?
Not at all, as many researchers have become convinced. What these examples illustrate is merely the fact that there is a strong correlation between brain activity and consciousness. But there is not a single scientific evidence for the assumption that consciousness is the result of brain activity, hence that it arises from physical, bodily processes. Many facts even plainly contradict this assumption – especially the finding that the brain adapts itself to the needs of consciousness as much as possible. In young people most notably, certain brain regions can take over the loss or deficit of others. The John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore (USA) became famous for its radical brain operations on children with intractable epilepsy. A three-year-old girl had the entire left half of her brain removed because of a severe chronic inflammation – with great success. After a year the paralysis of one side of her body was gone, she could think clearly again and is today developing quite normally.
The brain functions thus follow the needs of consciousness. In other words, the brain does not generate consciousness, but it makes consciousness possible in the physical body. It is comparable to a transceiver: like a television set that is switched on to function, it receives signals from the consciousness and simultaneously it sends processed sensory impressions and impulses from the body to consciousness. The brain is thus an interface between the physical body and consciousness, which is non-physical in nature. With the advent of death this interface naturally loses its function, the brain dies with the body. But consciousness – and thus the real “inner man” or the “soul” – persists.
After the separation from the body, which is usually called the “dying process”, we therefore go on living in a world “beyond” space and time, as we know it. This ancient knowledge is once again made a burning issue by the conclusions from near-death research!
The “very own beyond” of every human being
But how do we actually live on in this beyond?
It is clear from the descriptions of NDE that every person experiences an expansion of his consciousness in some form, feels a close proximity to life, and a bond with all Creation. The narrowness and limitation of the physical world and also the indolent, purely self-centred thinking and related delusions fall away. Truth and the essential manifest in unvarnished clarity. Every person experiences his individuality and at the same time his importance within the great scheme of things.
One must assume that the final step across the “boundary”, which is mentioned time and again in NDE accounts, leads ultimately into a world beyond that corresponds exactly to the individual human being, therefore to his unique character. Otherwise where could the essence of our consciousness be better captured than in our inner world? After all, it is the images and emotions, memories and longings, which we carry within us, that make up our human nature. It is only the capacity of our inner core to experience that makes life worth living and it is always the internally conceived images that press outward to replica realisation.
Everyone lives in his own world and forms his personal life from this inner world. This is true in the physical life, where for example the personal environment is also a mirror of the character of an individual. It is even more valid for the life after life, where the outer world is likewise formed by the conscious inner world.
We may therefore assume that there is an enlightened world beyond our earthly space and time concepts, but that in this “beyond” the practical reality is individually formed for everyone under the influence of his consciousness. If one were to use religious terms, one could simply say: Man prepares heaven or hell himself – namely by the way he lives and is. And in approaching this process scientifically, we might refer to quantum physics. For here, too, it has been shown that only under the influence of our consciousness is the concrete reality formed from a general “state of possibilities”.
Hence, no new life begins for us after death, it is rather a continuation in a different manner, with other opportunities and possibilities to experience and develop, but formed by the same consciousness, the same inner world – in other words: by the same spirit. This word “spirit” describes our human core of being very well.
An analysis of the “life review” often described as occurring in NDE points out that beyond the earthly space and time the span of an earth life is no more than just a “moment” (although a drastically important one) in our total existence. The real life that we live as human spirits goes – in terms of time and place – far beyond.
The “time-lapse flashback”, which is (not only) experienced in near-death situations, also allows conclusions to be drawn about the meaning of life. Clearly all our thoughts and actions exert an influence; they operate constructively or also harm and destroy, whereby at the threshold of death all that our conscience is forever telling us becomes a certainty: whether something was good or not, whether we have proven ourselves as mature, loving human beings or whether we still have things to learn.
Learning and spiritually maturing – therein lies the profound meaning of our existence, without a doubt – through all the pleasant and unpleasant experiences gathered in this life and which we will continue to gather during the long life after death in the world beyond.
Where consciousness has its origin
An attempt to draw a great overall picture from the results of NDE research might suggest: Human consciousness as such does not have its origin in the physical world. The physical world – and therefore our physical body – is moulded under the influence of information of our consciousness. The earthly world is to a certain extent only the “reflection” or “copy” of a higher reality.
If we continue to think along those lines, there may of course be other “supernal” worlds, which in turn are again only the reflection of even more luminous, “more etherised” planes of existence. There is a lot of evidence for the existence of these planes of Creation, which lie above each other, and there are different designations for them in religious traditions and in a number of current spiritual teachings.
As the original plane of our human consciousness we can assume that the spiritual realm, which is itself a vibrant, radiant, enlightened world and is not subject to the cycle of coming into being and passing away; it is in the safe bosom of eternity as home of all mature human beings who have become fully conscious. Religious scriptures speak of a “Paradise” to which we shall return. Who does not carry within him the longing for an enlightened world full of love, which enhances an increasingly perceptive and poignant life?
Near-death experiences, even though they may only last very few minutes and describe merely the threshold, not the life in the beyond, do strengthen this longing for the light in a way that we can barely imagine. They remind and admonish us about that real life which in our everyday pursuit of advantages and pleasures we often pass by, although it is the real source of all love and joy.