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Death-Related Experiences
Record Type: Review   ID: 928

Lessons From the Light: What Can We Learn From the Near-Death Experience

Ring, Kenneth, & Valarino, Evelyn Elsaesser

Kenneth Ring, who at one point did not think he had anything more to say about near-death experiences (NDEs), has come up with a book on what may be the most important aspect: their life-changing aftereffects, and specifically, "how to make practical uses of the information about NDEs in our own lives" (p. 132). The bases for writing the book are his observations in over 20 years of NDE research of how immersing oneself in NDEs—talking to NDErs, listening to or reading about their stories, and reading reports about NDEs—can have a life-changing impact that is similar to some of the changes NDErs themselves go through. This is an experience Ken has had at firsthand. Although he has not had an NDE himself, he has not only interviewed many NDErs in depth, but he opened his home to NDErs for whatever length of time they needed to stay. It even became known as the Near-Death Hotel


In my informal studies, I have noted something similar can happen with any type of EHE, which can begin as any one of over 300 types of anomalous experiences I have identified. NDE researchers, including Ring, have themselves broadened the band of transformative experiences, noticing the great similarities between NDEs and kundalini awakening and UFO abductions. Thus, this book is extremely important for this Journal. Even though many types of EHEs are very different from others, and each is distinct in its own way, it is in the aftereffects, both potentiating and depotentiating, that they are very alike, including NDEs. But in a few types of EHEs, such as those initiated by experiences of conversion, kundalini awakening, mystical experience, the UFO abduction, the outer space experience—and perhaps more than any other—the near-death experience, the aftereffects are so pronounced that they serve as prototypes for some of the other types of EHEs, which can also be life-changing, but not as frequently nor in such a pronounced manner. Ring sums up the changes NDEs (and, in effect, other types of EHEs) can bring about in this sentence: "The NDE seems to unleash normally dormant aspects of the human potential for higher consciousness and to increase one’s capacity to relate more sensitively to other persons and the world at large" (p. 4).

In the first third of the book, Ring marshals the evidence attesting to the authenticity of NDEs. The most important, to his mind (and mine), is the pattern of aftereffects, which "show that whatever the nature of the NDE, it is real in its effects" (p. 124). Ring classes these aftereffects as psychological and behavioral changes, changes in consciousness and paranormal functioning, and physiological and neurological changes.

Two chapters are devoted to the life review, which he calls, in the words of an NDEr he interviewed extensively, "the ultimate teaching tool." In the life review, you relive not only everything you have done but also the impact on others of what you said and did. Ring points out that this role-reversal quality of the life review ultimately means standing in the shoes of the Other, and it is the experiential basis of the ethic of NDErs (and, I would add, people who have other types of EHEs), which is the Golden Rule. Ring describes several ways in which people can learn the lessons of the life review without having had the actual experience.

An important chapter is on self-acceptance, or, as he suggests, self-compassion, a nonjudgmental attitude toward self that enables one to also feel compassion, acceptance, and love for others. This is an outstanding lesson of NDEs, and Ring describes the various ways in which NDEs teach it, how it changes NDErs, and how readers can incorporate these teachings of the Light into their own lives by changing their attitude toward themselves. A dynamic is involved here, because once we are no longer identified with the judgmental/judged self, a more integral and authentic self emerges, with its own sense of inner direction. There is an increased sense of self-worth, self-confidence, and self-esteem. The courage to follow one’s inner direction also emerges. "The unceasing love of the Light will guide your way, unfailingly, and give you everything you require. The only thing necessary is to take the first decisive irreversible step into the world that leads to the path your own open heart has helped you to discern" (p. 196).

Next he describes the way in which an NDE changes the experiencer’s worldview, or as he describes it, "a distinctive filter that enables the NDEr to see and experience the ordinary world with heightened sensitivity and appreciation. As a result, self-compassion turned outward turns into compassion for others" (p. 199). In line with the book’s purpose, Ring concentrates on how non-NDErs can come to share the worldview of NDErs. He cites his Omega-project findings in which a control group tended to change along lines similar to those of NDErs. The controls were interested in NDEs, and simple exposure to information about NDEs was associated with increased sensitivity to environmental issues and concern for the planet, and 80% reported diminished fear of death and belief in life after death. Thus, as Ring aptly puts it, knowledge about NDEs can serve as a "benign virus." NDEs are contagious! Similarly, any type of EHE can lead to changes in identity and worldview, although few can affect others as dramatically as NDEs. I think the fact that NDEs tend to follow a similar pattern and increased public information about them has engendered a snowball effect that may have increased the likelihood that NDEs, probably the best known EHE, are increasingly effective in spreading their benign influence upon people’s compassion toward themselves, others, our planet, its environment, and all its life forms.

He also cites a survey Bruce Greyson made of the personal values of members of the International Association of Near-Death Studies, which includes NDErs as well as non-NDErs. Both groups gave similar responses in regard to self-actualization, altruism, spirituality, and being successful in life (both played down the importance of the latter). He also reports on his own more informal surveys of his NDE classes at the University of Connecticut, which included visits from NDErs and NDE researchers, who emphasized aftereffects, and two experiential classes in which students confronted their own deaths and did Ring’s life review exercise. He also assigned four books on NDEs, a book on survival of death, and Talbot’s The Holographic Universe. The latter presents a new paradigm amenable to NDEs, OBEs, life after death, and other EHEs. His survey confirmed the results of the other studies about the contagious nature of NDEs: "the same effects that NDErs tend to attribute to their experience these students indicated derived from their exposure to their course on NDEs" (p. 208). He also presents testimonies from individual nonexperiencers who changed simply from their immersion in various forms of information on NDEs. Finally, he presents a technique people may follow who want to deliberately emulate NDErs. It involves several hours of immersion in the NDE literature, including his book, and meditating on their lessons until one feels full. Then the person returns to daily life and tries to live as if he or she had the mind-set of an NDEr. Over time, this can be cultivated by reimmersion and return to the NDEr mind-set. He proposes that eventually these people, in turn, will be able to transmit the benign NDE virus to others. As an additional aid, he recommends journaling about participation in this project, its ups and downs, and its challenges and rewards, and especially, learning from the failures.

Another aftereffect of NDEs is the development of a gift of healing (over 50% of NDErs report this). Ring also observes that these same NDErs also appear to develop electrical sensitivities. Ring proposes that it is the Light that heals NDErs who, in turn, serve as "little ‘beings of light’ who continue to transmit to others some of those healing energies they themselves encountered while in the Light" (p. 223). He also relates some accounts of people who were not near death but who were feeling desolate because of life circumstances and how the healing Light also came to them. He notes that simply reading NDE accounts has been healing for some people. (Reading or listening to people’s accounts of many types of EHEs and how they were changed by them has certainly changed me to some extent.)

Ring’s most important observation, based on the testimony of many EHErs, but one, in particular (Gerald), is that all disease is the result of "the fear to love ourselves unconditionally as the Light does. If the Light does not blast away these fears, we need to do it!" (p. 245). By studying and pondering and taking to heart the words of NDErs, Ring feels we may also learn to heal ourselves first, and then others.

Another major aftereffect of NDEs is loss of fear of death. Over 80% of those who take courses on NDEs find they have a more positive view of death, and over 60% a decreased fear of death. NDErs themselves not only lose their fear of death but, to quote Tom Sawyer, "it’s got to be the most wonderful thing to look forward to, absolutely the most wonderful thing" (p. 249). Ring further points out that an even deeper insight conferred on some NDErs is, as one put it, "death is only experienced by survivors…there is no such thing as death per se" (p. 250). In my own NDE, a voice with absolutely undeniable authority said to me, "Nothing that ever lived could possibly die," as if by definition. Here again, Ring identifies the "benign virus." People who listen to, spend time with, and read the words of NDErs "begin to express beliefs and attitudes about death that are very similar to NDErs themselves" (p. 250)—if they are open to the message. He then provides quotations from non-NDErs whose attitudes toward death had changed in association with several contexts from knowledge gained about NDEs and life after death. The changes involved how they contemplate their own death and that of loved ones, contemplation of suicide (suicide prevention has been improved by people learning about NDEs), and confronting the grief of bereavement. He also presents some accounts of "a direct and obvious extension of the NDE itself," which are various forms of after-death communications.

Thus, Ring concludes that death is an illusion. But then he goes a step further—one that was a kind of epiphany (a type of EHE) for me as I read it, for the wonder of Life has become of great importance to me in recent years, even beyond its benign presence in my consciousness since childhood. He concludes: "There is only life" (p. 271). Life unbroken, since the beginning, in us, around us, everywhere. Even in stones and sand and dust, I am quite sure. There cannot be anything else.

In a chapter titled "Crossing Over to the Light," Ring describes the transition from dying to finding oneself very much alive. He observes that enough NDErs’ stories have become sufficiently known to begin to turn the tide of belief in life after death from skepticism to acceptance, another result of the benign virus. "As a result, the attention given to NDEs these days is not only bringing about a new view of death,…but is currently renewing a traditional belief in an afterlife that appeared to be heading toward extinction in the modern secular world" (p. 277). The point of emphasis, in this chapter, however, is to show readers how "to learn from NDErs about how to live, or…live better, with greater self-awareness, self-compassion, and concern for others. Live well, and death will take care of itself" (p. 282). Even though the Light is totally nonjudgmental, each one of us is responsible for the way he or she lives, and the life review, in particular, shows how we have to "get it right" sooner or later. It’s up to us.

The penultimate chapter is one that is only touched on in most of the NDE material I have read. Ring’s treatment is the most explicate. It is about the ultimate lessons of the Light, which are found in the accounts of NDErs who have gone beyond the Light and further than do the accounts most NDErs describe. Ring says, "without dying, they have gone all the way" (p. 283). This is indeed an awesome prospect, and my heart perception quickened as I turned to the first page of the last chapter. (I had read one account from this chapter before I read the book—skipping ahead, intrigued by its title, and it "blew my mind" (a phrase I only use because it fits so well). It rocked me for days after, and I’m just about to go back to those heights and depths again, reading that account many weeks later. It consists of only 20 pages, but it is DYNAMITE. Ring characterizes the descriptions these NDErs bring back of the LIGHT (my emphasis) beyond the Light as not "simply more lessons, but the treasures of the Light." To Ring (and to me) the accounts in this chapter indicate that these people had "a personal revelation from God," and having returned to life, they serve as his messengers, "so that we, too, can remember what already lies inscribed deep in the soul of each and every one of us" (p. 294).

In the final chapter, Ring provides additional resources to aid readers to deepen and internalize the NDE lessons presented in the previous chapters and publications, audiocassettes, videotapes, organizations, NDE support groups, conferences, Internet sources, and even names and addresses of NDErs who are willing to be contacted. He closes by cautioning that not to put into practice the lessons from the Light described in this book would be to waste "a precious gift, which can only be realized by using it" (p. 304).

If your time is limited and you can only read one book on NDEs, let Ring’s Lessons From the Light be it. Moreover, it should be read by everyone interested not only in near-death experiences but in any kind of exceptional human experience. The higher human potential these experiences are capable of bringing to life-changing consciousness in turn leads to ways of being in the world that are life potentiating to other humans, other life forms, and the planet as a whole. And they are precisely what is required if, as a species, we are to finally live our full destiny, which I believe is, each in our unique way, to become caretakers of planet Earth and everything that is on it, human and all other animals, plants, and minerals. All are sacred, and we must wake up to it as a species before it is too late.

This book itself can serve as a wonderful catalyst, charging the bodymindspirit of many, not only those who come to it already disposed to believe but those who tend to disbelieve or who are outright skeptics. I urge the believers to read it because it will teach them how to be more effective in making the dream a reality. To those who disbelieve, it will at least show them what the dream is that they are rejecting. If they persist in their denial, they should at least have become more conscious of what they are saying no to. I urge them to beware, for continued denial may lead to disturbed dreams as any repressed reality may do. But, this could occur whether they read this book or not, at least reading it might prepare them for anything that might happen.

Publisher Information:New York: Insight, 1998. Pp. xxii + 340; Appendix A. Bibliography on NDE Literature: 321-324; Appendix B. Resource Suggestions: 325-332; Chapnotes: 305-319.
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