Anders Breivik
Something from Nothing

Distressing Near-Death Experiences

It's easy to forget, amid the hype: not all near-death experiences are about light and bliss. I've been reading a new ebook, Dancing Past the Dark: Distressing Near-Death Experiences by Nancy Evans Bush.

Bush herself had an experience of this kind when she was 28, in labour with her second child. She left her body and saw the hospital and town receding swiftly below her, then had the feeling of hurtling into space. The darkness was immense.

Then this happened:

A group of circles appeared ahead and slightly to my left, perhaps a half-dozen of them, moving toward me. Half black and half white, they clicked as they flew, snapping white-to-black, black-to-white, sending an authoritative message without words. Somehow its meaning was clear: "This is all there is. This is all there ever was. This is It. Anything else you remember is a joke. You are not real. You never were real. You never existed. Your life never existed. The world never existed. It was a game you were allowed to invent. There was never anything, or anyone. That's the joke - that it was all a joke."

The circles felt heckling but not evil, mocking, mechanistic, clicking without feeling. They seemed like messengers, certain of what they were saying, not ultimate authority themselves but with an authoritative message.

Bush argued passionately to prove them wrong, bringing up details of her family and her relationships, historical facts, the fact of other people's existence. But the circles kept up their mocking.

And then I was entirely alone. The circles had moved out of sight, and there was nothing left - the world unreal and gone, and with it my first baby, and this baby who would never be born, and all other babies. Everyone I knew and loved - (but how had I known them, if they were never real?) - gone, and hills, and robins. There was no world, no home, no babies, not even a self to go home to. I thought that no one could bear so much grief, but there seemed no end to it and no way out. Everyone, everything, gone, even God, and I was alone forever in the swimming twilight dark.

Coming to in a hospital bed, her first thought was: Calvin was right about predestination. She was one of the lost. That is what it would be like when she died. She struggled for the next few years, bringing up her two infant children and wondering 'how so much tiredness can exist in someone who does not exist'.

Twenty years later Bush answered an advertisement for a job as office manager at a non-profit start-up in the nearby University of Connecticut. By chance, this turned out to be the International Association for Near-Death Studies, and she has been closely involved with it ever since.

Where positive experiences are concerned it's challenging enough to come up with an explanation. But at least they are satisfying and life-affirming. What are we to think about something like this? And why would someone like Bush - a preacher's daughter with an active life in the church - be burdened in this way?

Within the spirituality movement a popular explanation is based on psychology. If you have a bad spiritual experience it's because there's something wrong with your personality: you're cold, rigid, unloving, fearful, mean. Bush is in a strong position to understand the absolute falsity of this equation, as there's no data to support it. (Curiously, researchers who resort to it never wonder whether a person who had a blissful NDE actually deserved it.)

The conventional wisdom is that one is rewarded for good behaviour and punished for bad. For fundamentalist Christians, it has as much to do with belief. But these ideas were already suspect in the positive experiences, and are further refuted by the negative ones. Even Christian saints had hellish experiences, as a description by Teresa of Avila makes clear. There's no correlation between beliefs and/or behaviour on the one hand and what one may experience in a near-death situation.

When Maurice Rawlings's book Beyond Death's Door about hellish experiences was first published it seemed obvious that he was biased by his fundamentalist Christian convictions. That weakened his credibility in the research community, and meant that the phenomenon was downplayed.

In the 1990s Bush collaborated with researcher Bruce Greyson on a survey. It took them nine years to gather information on fifty cases; that's not necessarily because they are more rare than the positive kind, more likely because people are deeply reluctant to open up about them. The impact on the experiencers had been appalling: several of were still in psychotherapy as long as twenty years later, Bush says.

The survey showed there was no universal 'distressing' experience; in fact, there was more variety than with the positive kind. Three types emerged. The most common was where the elements of the pleasurable kind were experienced as terrifying. Then there was Bush's type - of existing in a limitless, featureless void that creates feelings of emptiness and fatalistic despair A more rare category corresponds to some extent with the hell of the popular imagination - demons and hellfire, and so on.

Bush frankly admits that no one knows why some people have these experiences. But the effort of coming terms with her own has led her into a full and profound reflection on the issue, exploring a spirituality in which the experience of suffering has full expression.

Her thought ranges widely, but in essence it's about integration. She sees the meaningful outcome of suffering in transformation, what Jung calls 'individuation' - the ultimate stage of psychological or moral development (a moralistic view of suffering as punishment seemed to him too to be inadequate and misleading). Interestingly, Bush also recalls the psychic dismemberment of a shamanic initiate, a painful and apparently destructive process which again is conceived not a punishment but as a means of leading the apprentice towards his/her destiny (similar, she also suggests, to the religious significance of the crucifixion of Jesus).

I have to confess, I found the description of her experience so shocking that I too found myself searching for quick rational explanations - a process she rightly considers suspect. I thought for instance there might be some karmic element: the experiencer is being punished for something, if not in this life then in a previous one.

I wondered too about the mocking derision in the 'message' she was given, so similar to the kind of thing directed at believers by atheists and sceptics. By chance blogger Michael Prescott addressed this in a recent post, in which he summarised their point of view rather effectively as follows (I hope he won't mind me quoting it):

None of the key developments in your life was somehow meant for you. No one is looking out for you. No events in your past happened for a reason, and they aren't building up to any future purpose. The story of your life has no continuity and no destination - heck, it's not even a story - and there is nothing to strive for. You were not put here for a reason, you don't matter, and you're deluded if you think you have a "mission" in life. Face facts! You have no calling! The universe couldn't care less about you! Just give up!!!

It's easy to construct some narrative along the lines of a destructive atheist being made to experience, in a future existence, the effects of his/her corrosive mockery on other people. But such facile approaches won't do. However much we want a rational explanation for human suffering and evil - and however much we doubt the materialist explanation - we have eventually to face up to the fact of it, and deal with it in an interior way, not look for reasons to push it to the side. And to ask why a nice young Sunday school teacher would suddenly have her life blighted by an appalling 'truth' is perhaps not so different from asking why innocent people are brutalised by the powerful, why many suffer from poverty and unemployment, why little children are born with painful diseases and disfigurements, and so on.

I agree with Bush when she points out that we have a very skewed perspective on this. As she says, we live in a 'culture of unparalleled privilege at a time of almost obsessive flight from even minor inconvenience and discomfort. Even in a decade of unaccustomed economic hardship, technology and material progress are shielding us from the magnitude of deprivation and sheer physical pain that the majority of others, including our ancestors, have taken for granted.'

It sometimes seems as if contemporary spirituality, too, sees suffering as an irrelevance and an inconvenience. Over the years I've noticed that some of its most enthusiastic advocates are horribly shocked when bad things happen to them, and find that their enlightened attitudes and behaviour offer no protection. But they may gradually discover that dealing with the pain becomes itself a path to deeper understanding.

It's perhaps not well understood that a positive near-death experience itself is hardly free of challenges of this kind. As a veteran official of IANDS, Bush has long experience of dealing with NDEers, and dispenses with some popular misconceptions. The stereotype of the experiencer returning 'garlanded with saintliness and brimming with answers to life's questions' was always a myth, she points out. Audiences want to hear them talking about the spiritually uplifting stuff, but when they get together among themselves all they want to talk about are the life-problems - depression, domestic bust-ups, etc - that they too suffered as a result.

All this said, I'm personally left with a sense about the NDE phenomenon which the distressing variety does nothing to weaken: its apparently didactic nature. These aren't just random experiences that happen to individuals. They're shared with the rest of us. We don't feel the full impact, but they can draw us to ponder and investigate. It's as though there's a deliberate educational process going on.

In Bush's case, there's an intriguing clue embedded in the experience itself: the white and black circles.

YinYangSome six years afterwards, visiting a friend, she chanced to look into a book about Jungian symbols and was horrified to see the circles represented in an illustration - exactly as she remembered them. They were the classic yin and yang circles, each containing an element of the other. The message is inescapable: the light and the dark are part of each other.

Added to the curious synchronicity of her getting a job at a research organisation dedicated to investigating the near-death phenomenon - at a time when she did not even know there was such a thing - and the eventual production of a thoughtful exploration that can help others towards a deeper understanding, one is left with the reassuring feeling that this apparently random horror may have some positive purpose after all.


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Having already read Dancing Past the Dark, I really appreciate your insightful review, Robert. Not only do you appear to have read the book, but you've obviously done a bit of background research of your own.

A few things stand out for me when it comes to distressing near-death experiences and this book:
First, dNDE's are woefully under-reported. Blissful near-death experiencers are often shy about discussing their experience for fear of ridicule, but distressed experiencers almost never speak out. After all, who wants to tell the world that they died and went to Hell?

Even when terrifying experiences are reported, the experiencer is too often ignored by the "mainstream" NDE community, and condemned by many religious types.
Folks that are unfortunate enough to miss the Heavenly Revelation bus suffer miserably because of our this. After all, distressing and/or hellish experiences are just as "realer than real" as blissful experiences. Both types have the capacity to transform the fundamental soul of an individual.
Now, imagine walking through life in an deep existential depression, not wanting to live any more, yet da*n sure not wanting to die. Even suicide isn't an option.
Of course, no one wants to become obsessed with the Dark Side of NDE's, but completely ignoring the issue does a disservice to our understanding of the totality of spirituality. Even worse, by shifting our gaze away from something that may make us uncomfortable, we cruelly throw an entire class of spiritually affected people to the wolves. Not a very spiritually enlightened position IMO.

Finally, the synchronicity in Nancy Evans-Bush's experience is a story in itself. In this day and (new) age, it's hard to imagine growing into adulthood without being exposed to the ubiquitous Yin-Yang symbol. But in pre-hippie New England circa early 1960's, that is quite believable, and that was the case with Nancy. Talk about the collective unconscious!
And the odds of her tripping across a job at a nascent International Association of Near Death Studies absolutely screams of the hand of Providence. As I said in my review at Amazon - Carl Jung would've been proud.

My feeling is that Bush created her own 'Hell' because, I suspect, she was profoundly depressed at the time of her NDE. Have you ever tried to get through to, or change, the mental world of a profoundly depressed individual?

I read somewhere, can't remember where, off hand, that it's very important to deal with serious mental depression before death. This is because depression is a desease of the soul.

RD, I posted my response before I saw yours, and I believe we share a similar perception here. The phrase, 'Yin and Yang of the soul' springs to mind. 8)

Julie, Bush didn't say anything in the book (unless I missed it) about being depressed before the experience. Nor does this emerge as a factor in her survey of 50 experiencers.

I agree that something like this would seem obviously relevant if the correlation could be demonstrated. But if it isn't there...

I dunno Julie, you almost have to read the book to comment on it. The reason I say this is because it soon becomes clear that explanations involving attitude at the time of death, religious upbringing and even good and bad deeds performed in life seem almost irrelevant. A Mafia hit man has a blissful NDE, and a saintly loving Mother has a terrifying one. In one case, a man had a trascendent NDE and went around on the NDE speaker circuit expounding on the Loving Light that awaits everyone. Later, he had a terrifying one which he refused to accept. Problem is, after the first positive NDE he wasn't afraid of death, but after the second (negative) NDE he wanted to sue the hospital - and now he is terrified of dying.

Quick, dismissive explanations by positive spiritual "believers" sound like the same train of thought we hear from pseudo-sceptics concerning all paranormal experiences. A lot of "probably's", "likely's", "I've read somewhere's", and various straw man arguments.

The Yin and Yang of the soul may be a factor, but it's much more complicated than that.

Yes, I happily concede that you two might well be right. It's just that, having suffered in the past from severe clinical depression (which went undiagnised for quite some time - and is often confused with other symptoms/life issues) I couldn't help relating to the NDE experience described by Bush.

Years ago, during my bout of depression (shades of which I sometimes feel to this day) the existential distress I experienced could *exactly* be described in the following terms:

"This is all there is. This is all there ever was. This is It. Anything else you remember is a joke. You are not real. You never were real. You never existed. Your life never existed. The world never existed. It was a game you were allowed to invent. There was never anything, or anyone. That's the joke - that it was all a joke."

Anyway, that's my intutive take on the matter here under discussion . . . .

And, hey, you chaps! Don't be quite so quick to dismiss my intuitive insights. After all, isn't that exactly what the sceptics do. ;)

The Tibetan Book of the Dead and other tantric tracts talk about the Wrathful Deities--as well as other negative NDEs. I wonder if Nancy's experience isn't a form of that--albeit a post-modern one.
The Wrathful deities aren't meant to harm, ultimately, but meant to lead the experiencer to the realization that all is connected and all is mind, or consciousness.
Just a thought.

Julie, I understand your point better now. The comparison with severe depression is a good one. In fact I wondered whether the effects of an experience like this could be helped by some kind of medication.

I suspect not, though, if it comes as part of an episode that seems powerfully to confirm survival of consciousness.

For what it's worth, Robert, I don't think medication would help at all. I think depression is something that needs to be faced and masterd at the soul level (and, preferably, before we die).

I'm not speaking here of bi-polar depression; I know very little about that and certainly have no experience of it. But I feel that depression (or existential angst?) is something we all experience to some greater or lesser degree, and we each need to learn how to handle it.

Serious clinical depression is, in my experience, a complete lack os any sense of meaning: life appears little more than a cruel, tormenting joke. Medication such as Prozac simply numbs the emotional impact until the sufferer can achieve a different perspective - or flip the right way up again, as Colin Wilson would say. He also said, 'The outsider sees too far and too deep' - as did Dostoyevsky, in his own way. But I digress. 8)

"And, hey, you chaps! Don't be quite so quick to dismiss my intuitive insights. After all, isn't that exactly what the sceptics do. ;)"
Ouch! Okey dokey Julie, I guess there's a tit-for-tat here. Any explanation anyone offers can be dismissed as pseudo-sceptic style thinking, and dismissing such explanations as such can itself be a form of pseudo-sceptic thinking.
I know, 'round these parts them's fightin' words! Sorry. :-)

The point I ultimately would like to make is that the fear of studying distressing NDE's over the years has left a large hole in our understanding of the entire experience.

BTW, per your previous comment in an earlier thread, I see you've settled onto the fact that I'm a "chap" (Brit for guy, not cowboy leg protection?). BunnyCat would be pleased.

Hi Rob... great post... thx. Leaves me wondering whether we know enough about NDEs to draw these kinds of conclusions.

I mean, Sam Parnia says he doesn't encounters negative NDEs with his protocol... likewise Melvin Morse doesn't find them in children. What's going on? I'm not saying they are not real... just don't know how they fit in transformative-spiritual-experience lanscape.

Just thinking aloud, Robert, I can't see any reason why someone's prevailing attitude of mind shouldn't follow them into the next dimension. Surely a naturally fearful and/or negative personality will interpret the NDE according to their innate/acquired outlook on life? Ditto an optimistic and emotionally robust character?

If we see/interpret this world not as it is but rather as we are, then why not the next?

Re: Alex's comment about Melvin Morse's child studies. Perhaps, in accordance with my last comment here, the reason why children appear not to experience negative NDEs might be because children are, generally, more trusting - both about people and life itself - than are most adults? Hence they have more positive expectations?

Ps: Has anyone here read 'LIFE and how to survive it' by the psychiatrist Robin Skynner and John Cleese?

It offers a wonderful explanation as to how we base our future expectations on past experiences according to our level of mental health - which is average for most people, with only 20% at the top end and 20% at the bottom. Hence one might expect at least 20% of NDEs to be negative. But I think I might be getting ahead of myself here. 8)

Julie, spooky, I was just thinking about the whole mental health thing, in line with your earlier comments, and the Skynner-Cleese book popped into my head. Just before I saw your comment. I'd look it up but I haven't seen it my shelves for a long while, so must have given it away.

I agree with you about subjective state of mind affecting external reality, and you're right, that's a big theme in afterlife literature. Particularly, as it happens, in Post-Mortem Journal which came up earlier - Lawrence's intense emotional and sexual repressions caused him a lot of trouble initially - by his own account.

So there may be an element in this where NDEs are concerned, particularly in the initial stages. But I'm still resistant to interpreting the later stage - the encounter with the Light - in this way. That looks to me like a deliberate interaction, in which a message is being communicated, and the individual's personality/psychological state are not obvious factors, as also seems to be the case with Bush's NDE.

BunnyCat? :)

I'm with you, our Robert (seems we're sisters under the skin too.) 8))

As for 'BunnyCat'. . . . I didn't like to ask! 88}

(Only joshing our RD.) ;)

By the way, Robert, I've got an extra copy of the Skinner/Cleese book. I'll post it to you if you like - its no good to me as I've managed to collect three of them over the years. 8)

Os. Robert:

"But I'm still resistant to interpreting the later stage - the encounter with the Light - in this way. That looks to me like a deliberate interaction, in which a message is being communicated,"

I'm just wondering around in the dark here, as I havent read Bush's book, but could it be that the light simply cannot be seen if the mind/soul is in the wrong perspective as it were?

'Tis oft' said in mediumistic literature that souls sometimes have to be guided to the light. . . . . or something. 8)

Just another thought. 8)

Rabbitdawg, I believe you're onto something with "you almost have to read the book to comment on it." A good start for informed discussion!

That would explain how Robert's observations in this remarkable post get right to the heart of the subtlety and mysteriousness of all NDEs, but especially those that are so deeply disturbing. He is asking perceptive and not-so-obvious questions—for some of which there may never be simple answers.

Reading the book could help clear up some questions about distressing NDEs that can't really be answered by logical theorizing or conventional wisdom.

Matt, your observation about the “wrathful deities” is useful and helpful—provided, I think, we don’t literalize the ideas. Toward the end of Dancing Past the Dark there is a discussion of states of consciousness and symbolic language; it doesn’t begin to go deep enough but at least touches on these kinds of issues.

Julie, it is clear that depression has been the engine driving much of your understanding. I sympathize strongly, having had a lengthy bout of clinical depression myself—although it was more than 20 years *after* my NDE. Yes, there is much about depression that echoes the emotional states of some distressing NDEs. The thing is, there is no evidence whatsoever that depression played any part in the lives of all those people—or even most of those—who have reported a distressing NDE.

Now, I suppose one can suggest that depression might have been lurking underground, so to speak; but that would apply to anyone who has a full range of human emotional capability. Furthermore, it’s hard not to be struck by the sizable number of suicide attempters who have reported simply glorious NDEs rather than what one would expect if the argument about depression were truly persuasive. So, although your intuitive insights are on target for some instances of these events, I don’t see them as being generalized to the degree you suggest. It’s really imperative, I believe, that we get deeper than the quick assumptions.

Alex, I’m quite surprised by your suggestion that distressing NDEs may be of dubious heritage in the field. They’ve been acknowledged at least since 1978, with the publication of Maurice Rawlings’s evangelical books on the subject, and most substantially in Carol Zaleski’s Otherworld Journeys, with periodic mentions throughout the journal literature. Bruce Greyson and I published our descriptive study in the journal Psychiatry in 1992.

It’s not surprising that Parnia says he doesn’t encounter negative NDEs with his protocol, because no hospital-based studies involving cardiac arrest patients have produced such accounts. It is pretty much a given that folks with distressing NDEs do not typically talk about them for a long time afterward (longer than cardiac arrest patients are likely to survive). Also, the issue of trust with their disclosure is major. In fact, it was a hospital-based study participant who snapped, “I’ll be damned if I share my feelings about death and dying with anyone who makes 2-minute U-turns at the foot of my bed.” And that reluctance didn’t even involve anything terrifying!

Children do report distressing NDEs. Although Morse didn’t report any, he wasn’t looking, either. My first article about kids’ NDEs was in 1982, and it included mention of some distinctly disturbing elements. There are unpublished accounts from youngsters under 10 that are clearly classic distressing NDEs. You just don’t find them sitting out on the surface.

And as for your not knowing how these types of events fit into the transformative-spiritual-experience landscape—welcome to the party. It’s taken me thirty years to believe I had enough information to say anything.

The biggest hurdle with these NDEs, I think, is developing enough openness not to be demanding solid answers, or at least, not *fast*, solid answers.

Robert, I'm surprised Bush interpreted the classic Yin/Yang symbol as relating to her experience.
True she saw black and white circles but let me remind you of the words that went with them:

This is all there is. This is all there ever was. This is It. Anything else you remember is a joke. You are not real. You never were real. You never existed. Your life never existed. The world never existed. It was a game you were allowed to invent. There was never anything, or anyone. That's the joke - that it was all a joke."

Not much Yin/Yang there - it all seems totally Yin! (Or is it all Yang - I can't remember which is which)

Thinking more about this - maybe I've jumped to the wrong conclusion.

Perhaps Bush thought the correlation with the yin/yang symbol might be the fact that most people have positive experiences but she was one of the few who don't - hence ying/yang?

Maybe others can explain....

Thanks for the read, Robert, I enjoyed it. I agree it’s a side of NDE that we don’t hear often about and most of us don’t feel that sharing a negative experience, much less an “unusual” one, will help our situation at all. Some, like Bush, are brave enough to share it.

I wasn’t able to read more than the preview of the book, but many possible scenarios jumped to mind as I read about Bush’s account. I tend to agree with Julie in that Bush’s condition at the time probably had a bearing on her experience and her interpretation of the event. I don’t necessary think that seeing darkness and a bunch of yin-yang symbols that speak of nothingness could be called a positive experience, or even a negative one for that matter. Regardless, it was dark and she believed what was relayed to her, so Bush interpreted the experience as negative.

The problem that I see with the accuracy of NDE is that it usually occurs to someone who’s had no prior experience with it. Most have been previously instructed in good faith that these things don’t exist and yet, there they are… and the interpretation of the data they receive is purely an individual effort, based on prior knowledge and physical experiences. Of course there are rare cases of factual evidence brought through, but the consistency of NDE reports is what brings a sense of validity to them and most are overwhelmingly positive. Bush’s report and others of negative content are uncommon and are probably so for a good reason.

Unfortunately, for most of us, we won’t take the time to investigate and when we die, there will be no less confusion or variety of the experience. I do believe there are some who will find themselves in undesirable situations, but people are naturally fearful of things they don’t understand and I can’t dismiss the thought some of these (mostly) negative NDE experiences may be the result of simple misinterpretation.

Thank you, Nancy, for taking the time to post such information to help guide those of us who haven't read your book. In fact, I hadn't even heard of it until yesterday. Right now I'm working my way through the two recommendations I got from Robert in his last blog, but I will certainly get around to reading your book asap. 8)

Just one more thought - if I may be permitted andther stab in the dark: With regard to suicide: It occurs to me that when someone reaches the point of actual suicide I suspect they've gone *far* beyond depression and into a mental realm where they *really* don't care what happens to them; they are beyond fear. Surely this introduces another variable - that of having given up all hope and expectation in any direction? I'm put in mind of Frank Bruno's comment when interviewd on TV by Piers Morgan recently when he said he wasn't brave enough to commit suicide. And I believe him - counterintuitive as the notion may seem.

As for the childhood negative NDEs: Yes children too can suffer from depression and seriously negative expectations but, one might imagine, to a lesser extent (fewer in number) than adults. Therefore one might expect there to be some children who experience negative NDEs but possibly fewer than in adults. Are there any statistics on this to give any idea of the proprtions?

Dave H, I don't think Bush was *interpreting* here; the classic yin-yang circle was what she actually *saw* in her experience. It *was* the experience.

As you say, it seems meaningful on later reflection, when the challenge is to explain why an experience that others report as overwhelmingly positive was in her case overwhelmingly the opposite. That somehow seems more than just a coincidence.

Tim J, same sort of thing. I don't think we can make judgements about other people's subjective feelings. What Bush describes may not strike us, here and now, with the same kind of dread she says she felt. But remember she was suspended in space, a thin darkness that went on for ever and was entirely empty, and felt completely alone.

We know from positive experiences how profoundly affected people are by the messages they receive, accepting them as ultimate truth. I guess the same applies here.

Interesting that some of the comments here express the same kind of kick-back that I felt too while I was reading the book. I can't speak for others obviously, but I suspect there's a need to explain this stuff away, to find some narrative that assuages the discomfort it makes us feel. Pretty much what psi-sceptics do, in other words.

Julie, great offer, and I would take you up on it, but had already gone onto Amazon and bought an old copy for 1p. Thanks for the thought. :)

Ps. My comment about Frank Bruno was intended to convey the idea that if someone as outstandlngly courageous as Bruno believes he does not possess sufficient courage to take his own life, despite his crippling mental illness, then one can only assume that suicide occurs when someone has emotionally flat-lined totally and completely.

(And please excuse my sloppy spelling and grammar. I tend to think and type so quickly that I rarely dwell on the details.)


To clarify, I don’t question that what Nancy or the others experienced was very real and true to them. The “good reason” I’m referring to is that I think it’s necessary to consider the fact that most NDE reporters, like most of us who haven’t had these experiences, are not mediums.

It’s a difficult to impossible task for most of us to bring events that happen in spirit into the physical, even though most of us have these experiences every time we fall sleep. It’s like trying to pass a car through a keyhole. It’s possible, but slow and difficult. In order for us to receive a report about a NDE, the memory of the experience has pass through a brain, using the fragments pre-existing memories there and bring it to expression. What’s curious about NDE, is that it appears that the car can sometimes come crashing through the door!

Anyway, Nancy, thank you for taking the time to share some more info on this important subject. Also, thanks for gathering these NDE experiences for such an interesting perspective.

Seems like Bush could have been helped by a good dose of philosophy, namely Rene Descartes: I think therefore I am. Clearly, the circles couldn't have tormented her if she didn't exist. Further, I'm not at all sure that the yin-yang message is appropriate interpretation. Rather, it strikes me that the experience was trying to tell her that her black-and-white, heaven-or-hell Christian assumptions are a lie. Frankly, that strikes me as good news.

Tim writes:

"In order for us to receive a report about a NDE, the memory of the experience has pass through a brain, using the fragments pre-existing memories there and bring it to expression."

Beautifully and succinctly put, if I might say so. 8)

Jules writes:

"Further, I'm not at all sure that the yin-yang message is appropriate interpretation. Rather, it strikes me that the experience was trying to tell her that her black-and-white, heaven-or-hell Christian assumptions are a lie."

Did/does Nancy entertain 'black-and-white, heaven-or-hell Christian assumptions.'?

Again, unfortunately, I haven't read the book - hence my question.

From the article itself: "And why would someone like Bush - a preacher's daughter with an active life in the church - be burdened in this way?"

Duality is built into the very premise of Chrisitanity.

Julie, I have email contact with Nancy, and did so while she was finishing up her book. I guarantee you that she doesn't "entertain 'black-and-white, heaven-or-hell Christian assumptions". Heck, folks with that mentality are one of the things she has to do battle with when bringing up the issue of distressing NDE's.

I want to stress that Dancing Past the Dark is not depressing or scary, and it doesn't limit the content to distressing and hellish NDE's. DPD simply addresses an issue that has been simmering below the surface of spiritually and intellectually sane discussion for over 30 years, and brings a lot of information and insight into the light. The book also makes one of the strongest cases for the validity of NDE's in general that I've read since Chris Carter. You might say it makes blissful NDE's more "real".
This is one book that really does have to be read in order to be understood and discussed.

RD: Are you addressing me or Jule/Jules?

That aside, why are you so (apparently) angry? For myself, I have no personal investment in the NDE experience one way or another. In fact, my preferred after-life condition would be complete oblivion.

What I say here is what I feel, intuitively (from both experience and learning) and I really don't have an axe to grind on the subject.

We all follow Robert's blog as an opportunity to challenge both his and our own thoughs on the issues presented. If Robert wishes only those who have read the books he reviews to comment here then I'm sure he will say so.

What I can't understand is why you are so vehement in defence of the premise of this book, RD. 8/


Are you saying that Bush is no longer a Christian? Or are you saying that despite the fact that she is the daughter of a preacher, she was not a Christian when she had her NDE?

Regardless, I wasn't discussing the book; my comments were directed to Bush's experience as reported in the article.

Sorry about the name confusion -- Jule was a typo.

Ah geez, no Julie, I'm not angry in the least. That's the problem with the written word - the vocal intonation is missing. I guess that's what separates me from the professional writer. Apparently what I wrote (above) was totally misunderstood.

I may come across as "angry" because most of the folks I deal with on a day-to-day basis are incredibly closed minded. I live in the deep South, and there are a lot of spiritually sophisticated people here, but I don't interact with them very often. My refuge, for the most part, is the internet.

Perhaps I have developed a knee-jerk reactionary stance when it comes to certain issues, and for that, I apologize. It may be a little shrill, but it's not at all angry in the classic sense of the word. I wasn't aware that I came across that way, and I sincerely appreciate your bringing it to my attention.

Let me rephrase what I wrote:

From what I have read in Dancing Past the Dark, Nancy is not burdened with a black/white, right or wrong mentality. Growing up in a New England Pastor's household is not the same as growing up in a Southern Baptist household. I forget the name of the faith she ascribed to, but I know it was one of these types that emphases Heaven and barely addresses Hell.
Jule (not Julie:-) may have a point about Christianity in general, but my knee-jerk reaction was due to a concern over what I perceived as an attempt to explain the Yin-Yang experience Nancy had as "just" a manifestation of a dualistic faith. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't, but I am perhaps overly sensitive to what (unfortunately) sometimes appears to me as quick, dismissive explanations.

I'll try to tone the shrillness down in the future. :-)

It's okay, our RabbitDawg. I hear ya my friend! 8))


I wasn't trying to explain Bush's experience as "just" a manifestation of a dualistic faith. What I suggest is that her experience pointed out the ERROR of said dualistic faith. Whether Bush's particular brand of Christianity emphasizes hell or not is immaterial; Christianity is dualistic to the core. Dualism is the very foundation of Christianity. Had this same experience been reported by say, a Wiccan who accepts both Goddess and God, or by an Atheist, my interpretation would have been the same: seeing the world in black or white is a falsehood.

I am not sure why one would expect all NDE's to be positive, even if they are representative of a 'real' experience. The reason I say that is because reports of an afterlife through mediums are not all positive and 'fluffy' either.

There seem to me to be many reports of people being lost or afraid, at least in the early period after death. This sometimes appears to be related to their attitudes or behaviours in life but in others it does not.

Occasionally there seem to be clear suggestions that entities exist who take delight in causing discomfort and even suffering. Is it possible that is what the author suffered or something similar?

I really do think that the Tibetan Book of the Dead has much insight to offer on this topic; especially with regards to the different types of Bardo experiences and why they arise in the recently deceased. In fact, what this post describes is exactly what one would expect based on the TBotD.

I glad that Robert has called out the frequency and impact of negative NDEs. My own research and experiences caused me to believe that these were indeed under-reported and that the under-reporting is due, in most part, to a) unpleasantness doesn't sell and b) reluctance of experiencers to report a traumatic experience.

I expect that as positive NDEs gain more media prominence that the harsh impact on experiencers of negative NDEs will increase; the question being "what's wrong with me that I have a bad trip when so many are blessed by the light?"

IMO, we should be developing an open accounting and integration of the negative experiences as well as the positive for a variety of reasons, but if for only one, the well being of those who have undergone such.

Actually much of what she was told fits in with Buddhism - so much so when Buddha first revealed the 'secret' what we take for reality's actually underpinned by 'nothingness' or 'void' many of his students were supposed to've been so shocked some even committed suicide.

The truth is the 'void' could just as easily be called the 'plenuum' and even if it was only void it remains the case the world's still here and only our understanding of how it's here's changed.

But I can verify from my own personal zoo of 'mystical' experiences you don't have to nearly die to undergo what Nancy Bush underwent.

During one of mine I experienced the complete annihilation of EVERYTHING - the past the present AND the future.

I'd been try'n'o remember some 'secret' I'd known as a kid and when I suddenly recalled it was that nothing - not even space or darkness - should exist and suddenly it seemed like I was watching candles getting blown out as I witnessed countless universes winking out of existence, galaxies, stars, solar systems and planets and every individual who lived on them, had ever lived on them or would ever live on them.

Particularly distressing was having to experience the sensation my own kids' futures vanishing as if they'd never existed.

I mean it was a truly appalling experience: it felt as if I'd accidentally pushed some button I'd never known was there and as a result'd accidentally murdered everyone and everything including existence its very self until all that was left was this single dimensionless scintilla of consciousness.

Then after what seemed like countless eternities I finally became aware of something beginning to form around me until finally I was back to where I'd started.

But even when I finally overcame my fear to open my eyes everything around me seemed to be this faded grey ghost of the world I'd known until colour and solidness seemed to gradually bleed into it and I began to feel slightly human again.

It was the single worst experience I've ever had and I've experienced quite a few horrific ones let me tell you.

Even now I'm only putting this out there because it might help someone else who's undergone or will undergo something similar.

Hold your nerve - you can survive these things.

Robert and Nancy, thanks for this post. It's important and needs to be given attention. Never mind the taboo of the NDE in our culture, the dNDE touches on a taboo twice over! Also some very thoughtful comments above..

As some commentators have pointed out above re Buddhism and the Tibetan Book of the Dead, it's superficial and wrong-headed to see distressing NDEs as some kind of punishment. Frankly it's the obverse of seeing wonderful NDEs as some kind of reward, which is equally absurd. Reward for what, being born human?

In fact the mystical and shamanic literature is filled with accounts of horrifying and terrible experiences re the personal encounter with the supernatural/world of the spirits (call it what you will) and even the NECESSITY of such distressing encounters, as they are associated with the destruction of the ego and the birth of the spirit, and other similar associations such as the demons that stand guard before the true treasures of the underworld. No free lunches and all that.. Of course this is not to be taken literally, although to such an experiencer it is literally real (well it is real enough. Um this can get confusing)!

Now one may object that they are not NDEs, yet these shamanic/mystical experiences are on a shared continuum with the NDE. The lines overlap and are blurred as numerous scholars have pointed out (Ken Ring for example, plenty others).

For what it's worth as a young child of about 5, I had a distressing encounter with 'demons' (in my bedroom) and I was wide awake at the time and it was no NDE. I was a very healthy boy. I saw a disembodied monkey-man head gnashing its teeth at me and scary clowns, silhouettes on my curtains. I turned my head onto my pillow, crying and wimpering. Whenever I turned my head up, the monkey thing was there. And no it wasn't a bad dream, I was awake. I am certain of it. For when I eventually fell asleep and woke up in the morning, a thick white mist was everywhere in my room but rapidly dissipated. Now it was only when I started to read the more serious and detailed occult literature in my twenties, did I see how my experience (which could not have been a product of any conditioning) ticked off quite a few of the boxes re the 'supernatural encounter'. So frightening was that experience that it marked my entire childhood, and not in a good way. Yet as a child I also used to see translucent bubbles that used to float over gardens and parks, that nobody else could see. Once again at the time, I had no idea about BOLs etc. Other things as well.. At about 7 or so, I stopped seeing these kind of things.

As an adult of 25 in the midst of a serious even suicidal depression, I had a profoundly beautiful mystical experience (the only one I have had in my adult life), in which I realized everything that the mystics had to say about the universe, nature, humankind and God was true. Everything was diffused through and through with meaning and a vital life-force. What I had previously dismissed as mystical mumbo-jumbo and superstition (despite my childhood experiences. Chalk it up to a 'good education' which effectively buried all that), I now saw as the underlying reality. It was an experience that lasted several hours.

The point of my digression is that my wonderful adult experience was experienced by a man (who like all men and women) had done some pretty terrible things in my life up to that point, cruel, petty and cowardly. My truly innocent five year old self though experienced a 'demonic' encounter that frankly scarred me for years and maybe forever. Also my positive experience never changed me. In fact my behavior post 25 (I am now in my forties) has been far worse than anything I did in my early adulthood and I feel I have far less of an excuse. And I do have far less excuse!

In other words, human existence and experiences, so-called mundane and so-called supernatural (and we may be getting caught up in a false duality there but that's a whole other thing) are fraught with contradictions, conundrums and inexplicables that defy a black and white worldview. As Robert and Nancy point out, we mustn't risk getting caught up in exactly the kind of religious fundamentalist thinking that we decry in others.

All of which has now got me wondering why some people have paoitive LSD trip and others a negative one.

Aldous Huxley wrote 'The Doors of Perception' about his experiments with the hallucinogenic drug mescaline and gave us some very interesting insights into what are possibly NDE related dimensions.

It's funny how the one group of folks you can depend on to readily embrace distressing and Hellish NDE's are fundamentalist religious folks, yet they will reject the blissful, embracing NDE of an Atheist as a deception of Satan.

Then the love 'n rockets New Age kids come along and embrace blissful experiences, while dismissing terrifying experiences as not being "true" NDE's.

Poor little humans. Sometimes I guess we believe what we want to believe.

Perhaps what we believe is true?

I'm sure this is discountable by many people, but channeled sources (extraterrestrial earth observers, currently discarnate souls whatever) say that we don't change our viewpoint instantly when we slide through death, but retain the attitudes and expectations that we had while alive, and take a while to adjust to our new reality, during which period we can be unreachable, wrapped up in our own past.

In the current context, this could mean, in the first instance, that Bush had many doubts about her own value, which doubts followed her into near-death. This isn't karma, not punishment, nothing like that; it's simply a continuation of Earth reality, that needs to be shed before the new situation and surroundings can be recognized.

Such sources also say that souls which have been repeatedly through the process (speaking of reincarnation) move through death more easily, while ones to whom it is new don't, and don't have a "realistic" vision of what's happening to them.

If you believe it, this covers a lot of explanations for why peoples' experiences are so different, without bringing negative earthly concepts like punishment into it.

There are quite a few life after life, and lives between lives books that cover this concept, but of course I doubt that people who are hung up on the near-death experience would have either read or believed them.

Julie, My position is somewhere between "What I believe is true", and "Nobody knows what they're talking about" :-)

I've read many of those books, Michael, and my understanding tallies with yours. Given that the subconscious mind is more powerful than we generally imagine, it's hardly surprising that the NDE differs in personal accounts. We really don't know what's going on underneath.

As I've said here before, in Robert's last blog, I believe Anita Moorjani's account to be the most plausible 'healthy' NDE.

But, again as I said earlier here, I'd probably opt for eternal oblivion, given the choice. This is because I really don't fancy reincarnation. In may ways, I've been dealt a lucky hand this time around. Even so, my strength has been tested almost to the limit at times. I'd simply hate to cvome back with an unlucky hand! 88{

Mind you, for what it's worth, I've often been told that I'm an 'old soul'. So maybe I'm on the homeward stretch of the circuit . . . . or something. 8)

RD writes: "Julie, My position is somewhere between "What I believe is true", and "Nobody knows what they're talking about"

Yes, I visit that place often too! ;)

Ps. Riobert, are you beginning to feel as if your blog has been hi-jacked? LOL!


I had the same question. I agree that we can’t presuppose a good experience for everyone and yes, there are quite a few accounts of clearly negative experiences as relayed through mediums. Spatially, the area immediately surrounding the planet is teaming with discarnate entities of lower (darker) condition, for a variety of reasons. Spiritually, light-wise, the same area is rather dark and “foggy”. So, when someone reports seeing darkness immediately after embarking on their OBE or NDE, from my perspective, it’s to be expected. Encounter bad guys? Maybe, that depends. I think this is something most everyone will immediately experience when they OBE or transition. In most cases, particularly during an extended dying process, there’s at least one helping hand there that serves to steer us clear of the unpleasant possibilities.

Hi Tim,
Well your view is certainly supported by the literature.

I am put slightly in mind of an experience a friend of mine recounted: he visited a restaurant with two of his sisters. One left the restaurant describing it as pokey, dated and poorly lit. The other described it as private, quaint and intimate. Same restaurant lol.

Experiences that frighten us seem to me often to be somewhat subjective. I am not saying the experiences are terrifying but perhaps they are taken out of context or contain reflections of our own fears.

Has anyone(who has more than one near death experience0 had both negative and positive experience>

Robert, thank you for a thoughtful and provocative post.

I'll have to read Nancy's book (thanks for the link) to get the whole sense of her experience.

But, the thought occurred to me as I read here that the scary circles giving scary know-all messages were as much as chaff! A bit of a joke in themselves.

I mean that they themselves are the most powerful argument against there being nothing more than them. If there were truly nothing then there wouldn't be scary negating circles.

So what are they both hiding and hinting at?

Either all this NDE stuff is an artefact of our own dying consciousness (which I don't personally believe, and the science appears to militate against that thesis) or there's some other dimension out there in which a form of our personal consciousness exists.

You hit a possible nail on the head Robert when you mentioned your belief about the didactic nature of NDEs.

Sometimes the classroom is a pretty uncomfortable place to be. Though years later we often look back and can see the logic and the lessons that our discomfort imposed on us back then.

...and what a success Nancy has made of her life since her very frightening experience. Truly, her seeking and her insights and contributions have touched and inspired many. I don't know and perhaps shouldn't speculate, but wasn't her horrid NDE a sine qua non?

Phyllis asked:
Has anyonewho has more than one near death experience had both negative and positive experience?

Sure Phylis, in Dancing Past the Dark Nancy writes:

"A man in New England who for almost two decades had been on the near-death speaking circuit, telling groups about his light-filled NDE and exploring it's significance.
Then, in a second experience, he felt himself to be the prey of gigantic, brightly colored but sinister and threatening geometric forms that rushed at him with uncanny force and speed. Its effect was to "wipe out" the understandings he had ascribed to his earlier NDE, leaving him with a deep-seated pessimism and terror of dying.

The experience was so horrifying that he consulted an attorney about bringing a malpractice suit against his physician and the hospital. In Corbet's terms the experience decidedly "does not fit into a safe category"and must be repudiated. Hearing that certain drug reactions commonly include perceptions of visual forms, he found a way out: The second experience was "only a drug reaction". He has no interest in exploring this event or why his reaction was so different from the first, and no amount of reassurance based on his earlier radiant NDE has eased his fear or his rage. He remains very fearful of dying."

EabbitDawg - uh...that's my typing-challenged doppleganger. :D

Oi! Our Robert. I've just read the first couple of pages of chapter four in 'The Country Beyond'. Lawrence is talking about the significance of one's emotional state of mind when crossing over. Clearly, he believes that it's of paramount importance to the kind of experience that follows. If one believes the authenticity of Jane Sherwood's work then I can't see how it can be doubted that we each set the scene, as it were, for what we find on the other side.

For someone as hugely intelligent, intellectual and emotionally complex as Lawrence, it must have been a nightmare of the first order. 88{

BTW, thank you for introducing me to this work. I like Jane Sherwood's style and approach very much and feel that she's a kindred spirit.

"We read to know we're not alone," as one of C.S. Lewis' students once said. 8)

"Alex, I’m quite surprised by your suggestion that distressing NDEs may be of dubious heritage in the field."

What I was trying to say with, "I just don't know how [distressing NDEs] fit in transformative-spiritual-experience lanscape" is that it might be interesting to have a broader look at these experiences rather than just looking at them through the NDE lens.

Maybe you can join me on Skeptiko so we can discuss this and other topics from your excellent book :)

I think she didn't understood. The spirits were trying to communicate her the TAO. They were trying to make her see that the only underlying reality is the one of herself as a seed of "self" (an advanced occultist concept, the one that is beyond duality, the ABRAXAS).

Those spirits or guides were trying to destroy her with the harsh truth of reality so that she could gain the Illumination (or maybe just for fun). The reason she felt so bad about it was that her insistence on clinging herself to the "illusion" that is this duality perception.

The truth behind the message is clear, only you exist, anything else is an illusion that you get yourself into. So the conclusion is that you are in control of the reality/illusion if you are aware that only yourself really exist. The reason they used the ying/yang was because it represents haw reality is not duality but unity in perception or for Kybalionic means that the opposites are just part of one underlying thing.

Well, that's only my opinion though.

I don't usually post here, but I feel compelled to point out something. Be careful of Alex Tsakiris. I think that the man is a liar. I think that post number 103 is excellent evidence of Tsakiris lying:

Let's refresh - For the past couple of years, at least, Tsakiris has regularly been criticized by people, both on his message boards and on his Skeptiko podcast, for failing to acknowledge that there is a significant difference between materialism and atheism; even critics who are non-atheist and/or non-materialist have made this point. Many of those critics have claimed to be atheists and non-materialists, themselves - at the same time. There are atheists who regularly post on his message boards who have posted, many times, that they do not believe that the mind = the brain. Tsakiris even interviewed one on Skeptiko, named Graham Nicholls, and they talked about this very subject. Now, after all of that, in post 103 Tsakiris acts like he has never heard of an atheist who does not believe that mind = brain. Tsakiris asks for an example, as if he has never heard of such a thing. I think that this is a clear lie. Be careful when dealing with this guy.

Bush's vision of the flickering black and white circles reminds me of the checkerboard flooring i saw once, twisting and turning, in some cosmic reach, evoking laughing jesters and fecund meaninglessness.

i like that archetype, routinely ignored in lodge after lodge, of this tenuous latticework beneath our feet ready to spill us into rude awakening, a trickster laughing in our face. this or that. us & them. slippery dualism.

All the nonsense written id rather be shot in a battlefield

At one point in time we will be all entlightened.bless you all.Hundreds of years to wait.

Its easy. The message she got, is the truth, but its only horrible to the ego. Only the ego needs something to hold on to, to identify with it. If you take it away, the ego loses itself and "dies"... and this dying process can feel like pure horror. Conciousness itself just is... it is nothing and everything at the same time, in a timeless state. We are all one, from the same source, and we are not the body, nor the thought. We are the perceiving awareness behind it all. So yes, its true... theres no Phil, there was never and there will never be. Someone just gave this body a name and believed in it. And because of that, i learned to believe in it to... but its as real as everything else... the whole world is just an interpretation of the mind. ic doxycycline hyclate 100 mg wsw [url=]buy doxycycline[/url] doxycycline hyclate vs monohydrate

Very good post. I am experiencing a few of these issues as well.

Hello,is anyone still here? ;)

Just stumbled on this post, I have a couple of links for Nancy, concerning the Void, that might prove helpful on her personal path and answer some questions for her.

First is from Tom Kenyon's Hathor's. Altho I normally run away FAST from channeled material, these writings have some of the ring of Truth, and besides the Hathors write some stunning-sounding music ;) From

"One of the greatest difficulties for embodied beings is the transition state of consciousness you call death. This is due to the fact that all perceptual markers, including the five senses, disappear. If a person identifies solely with his/her material existence, he or she will find this transition state to be most difficult. This is because what she or he identified with no longer exists.

Although the physical world continues on, there is no input into consciousness from the five senses. It is as if the world has vanished and the body along with it. The great I Am, the central feature of transcendent consciousness, no longer receives information from the body, the five senses, or the external world. This can be deeply disturbing and disorienting for someone who has not directly experienced the other realms of his or her being.

...the death realm has a void point, and its dominant features are stillness (silence) and darkness. All possibilities exist within the Void, but no actuality is in existence. It is like the acorn of an oak tree. The oak, the giant tree itself, is potentially within the acorn, but it does not yet exist.

So when you find yourself in the Void, which you will recognize by the fact that you are utterly alone in darkness and utter stillness, know that you are in the central nexus of your creative powers.

What you choose to create next will determine the course of your destiny and what worlds you will inhabit or realms of existence you will reside in. This is a critical juncture.

Many persons frightened by the darkness move to the light prematurely. And what they do not realize is that in their yearning they create the light. A portal opens before them, like a tunnel, and they can move into this tunnel of light, encountering those they have known before, thereby entering back into embodiment or other vibratory realms of existence without having fully understood the consequences. This is certainly one option open to you, and one that is often taken.

Another option, however, is to remain at the void point, residing in the Void itself, becoming aware of your Self as pure consciousness—transcendent to all phenomena.

If you reside in this state of awareness long enough without the need to create something, you will discover your identity as the great I Am. And from this point of awareness you can choose the circumstances of your embodiment. You can choose the worlds you will inhabit or the realms of consciousness where you will reside. "

There is also a magician (a "real" one ;) who has made the Void the basis of her work. Her website is

Hope this helps - if I can find Nancy's email will be sending this info to her that way as well, since it looks like no-one has read this page for a while ;)

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