It was with tremendous fascination that I read Dr Raymond Moody’s first book, Life After Life, stories of near-death-experiences (NDE’s). Published in the mid-seventies, this book was absolutely ground-breaking, in society, but also in my own life. It started me down the path to exploring the truths about the afterlife. These initial (for me) truths were provided by those who had experienced death and come back to tell about it. Dr Moody had documented hundreds, if not thousands, of peoples’ NDE’s. The utter consistency of these experiences was compelling. I had no doubt whatsoever about the veracity of their reports. Thus began a life-long interest in NDE’s. Although I would not describe myself as obsessed with these accounts, I did avidly read them whenever I encountered them.
So when I heard about a subsequent book written by Raymond Moody, I had to check it out! His new book, Glimpses of Eternity: Sharing a Loved One’s Passage from this Life to the Next, 2010, narrows its vision to one aspect of NDE’s, people who experience part of someone else’s NDE. Almost always this is a loved one accompanying the person who is dying. As the person’s body expires, sometimes there are mystical elements associated with this transition.
Again, as with his first book, Dr Moody is collecting stories of what he has come to call “shared death experiences”. And he documents the common elements of these experiences. No one person has experienced all seven of the common elements, but “. . . a person having a shared death experience will most likely have a few of them–or perhaps even only one.” (p 76).
These seven elements are: change of geometry, mystical light, music and music sounds, out-of-body experience, co-living a life review, encountering unworldly or “heavenly” realms, mist at death. Moody expands on each of these, sharing many stories of people who experienced these various things.
In addition to telling many stories of shared death experiences, Moody also discusses this phenomenon in historical literature. He supposes these experiences (including NDE’s) have occurred all through history, but only recently has there been an effort to document them in any sort of systematic way.
One fascinating conclusion Dr Moody has come to through this study of shared death experiences is that they offer much more concrete proof of an afterlife than do NDE’s. There were many who, upon being exposed to the phenomena of NDE’s, were quick to explain them away as “. . . hallucinations, a phenomenon tossed up by biochemical and electrical failures in the dying brain.” (p 72). He discusses this as a safety net for those unable to accept something so radically different from their accepted belief system.
“However, shared death experiences do not offer any such safety net. . . . these people were not dying or even sick, an obvious fact that throws a major monkey wrench into the standard way of debating this highly important issue.” (p 72,73). In addition, NDE’s could be explained away as being one person’s experience, and thus subjective. Shared death experiences, on the other hand, were shared experiences, and not so easily shuffled aside.
Moody admits to being mystified by these experiences he has collected and documented. “There is no settled language to explain these experiences. But nonetheless they exist. It is as if the other side somehow opens up and invites us to take a closer look.” (p 73). Being mystified is not a negative, in Moody’s eyes. “I think it is good for mankind to have a hearty dose of the unexplained.” (p 165). These experiences are life-changing for those who undergo them. And while there is an inbuilt mechanism demanding explanations, it is good for us to have mystery in our lives. “We are a long way from explaining shared death experiences, a lack of explanation that I find a good thing. What the world needs now is an unexplainable mystery, one that offers great hope.” (p 166).
This mystery encourages us to surrender ourselves to the ineffable. Moody quotes Joseph Campbell, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” (p 164). And Carl Jung, “The seat of faith . . . is not consciousness but spontaneous religious experience, which brings the individual’s faith into immediate relation with God.” (p 165).
This is a fascinating little book, worth a read by anyone even remotely interested in the afterlife, the spiritual dimension to which we all are heading sooner or later!