At this time in my life, I have read what must be thousands of Near Death Experience reports. I've met, talked with, been friends with a number of people who have had Near Death Experiences. And through it all, I've wondered: why are they all different? Why do some people experience people as spheres of light, while others see walking human beings? Why do some go to green fields, some go to gardens, some go to cities, some arrive at "galaxies" of living lights, others go into scary places, and so on? Why do some NDEs end with the conclusion that God is the Catholic, or the Mormon, or the New Age one - assuming there is a God in the NDE at all? Why do descriptions of ultimate truth vary - from yes, there is reincarnation, to no there isn't; yes, all souls go to Heaven, to no, some souls are eternally cut off?
I sure don't have all the answers, but I think I know why some things vary so much among NDEs.
First of all, we need to realize that because we do not have a physical body with us during an NDE (the body may be lying on an operating room table, for example), what we see is non-physical. We aren't seeing physical photons. We aren't hearing physical sound waves. Instead, what we perceive is through our senses that are extra-physical, not based on the world of protons, electrons, and photons.
So what are we seeing, and how are we seeing it? I believe we are first spiritual beings, with built in spiritual perception. Given the (non-physical) evidence that we come from spirit and go out of the world as spirit, the spiritual is the reality; the physical is the temporary.
It seems to me that we perceive with our "spirits," which translates roughly to mind, emotion, intuition, "hearts," "inner perception" - our non-physical self that has consciousness, awareness, memory, expectations, intentions, outlooks, experiences, emotion, and desire. If that is the case, then almost by definition, our "self" would influence what we perceive.
Actually, we already know this from scientific experiments. For example, people who read an article about how smart and capable their group (racial group or gender group) are before taking a test will tend to perform better on the test. Or experiments showing that people give lower scores to job applicants of particular heritage or genders (determined by changing the name on identitcal applications). Or, just the way we suddenly start to notice certain words or objects if we've been recently thinking on a particular topic (e.g. suddenly noticing dogs when we're thinking of getting a dog). Many of us use music to regulate our moods, and by regulating our moods, we may accomplish things more quickly or easily (e.g. music for relaxing, music for exercising, music for getting chores done).
We also know that culture dramatically changes our understanding of symbols. Which flag brings on fervent patriotic feelings differs by which country we call home. Which military conquest pictures bring on pride or horror varies by our beliefs and our national identity. Images of Christmas can bring on feelings ranging from nostalgia and comfort, to sorrow and loneliness, to anger and isolation and feeling oppressed by a different culture.
So, when outside a body and without a concrete set of photons or sound wave to rely on, is it any surprise that what people see varies so spectacularly? To some extent, I think it fair to say that what we see are, in some sense, symbols. Where the symbols are more real than what we see in the physical world.
And since we are all unique and different, what we perceive will always be unique and different.
In Howard Storm's NDE, the beings of light told him they could appear as people. But Howard Storm, an artist, preferred to see them as beautiful lights.
But this brings up another point: What we see is also apparently a product of what other spirits wish to project.
Physical analogies include the remarkable ability of good actors to completely change our expectations of a character. I'm not talking about the typical guessable villain ("oh, I could tell he was going to be the bad guy"), though perhaps that's an example in and of itself of projecting an expectation. But stellar actors as well as con-men can convincingly portray or project something that can change into something else in the next moment.
For humans, clothing sets expectations. Our behavior changes (sometimes dramatically) when confronted by a person in a police uniform. We expect certain behaviors of people in medical uniforms. Or teenagers in certain outfits ranging from what we think is respectful and professional, to what we think is offensive. A person in dirty rags usually evokes a different respone than a crisply attired person, or someone walking around in expensive finery.
Surely spirits are able to do this, too! What happens then is that what anyone sees on the "other side" is an interaction of the person's spiritual perception, other spirits' external presentation, and the actual features of wherever the spirits actually are. (See also Deception, below.)
Did I say where spirits actually are? Yes....
The physical world is not all the same. Even on our tiny planet, conditions range from freezing cold, to burning hot. Even beneath the ground is dark, yes, but the materials are totally different from one place to another.
Suppose we talk only about spiritual differences. Even in a city, we find vastly different spiritual landscapes. Dark and dangerous neighborhoods where looking at a person in the "wrong way" can get a person killed. There are also areas where the rich live in well-kept and well-defended buildings, immaculate on the outside and unnapproachable for typical people. There are church pews where people gather, some to feel better about themselves, some out of obligation, or some out of genuine love for God and their fellows. There are parks where children laugh, and parks where dread and fear reign. There are vibrant little sections of town where people mingle and sympathize and go about daily life with friendly nods and a ready ear.
So why should the spiritual world, the underlying reality, be any different? In fact, without the trappings, the spiritual intention and tone is even more obvious. Gleaming marble facades no longer disguise an atmosphere of greed and avarice. Bricks no longer hide dens of despair and rage. But likewise, when we come to a place where unconditional love shines, that, too, is tangible and remarkable.
Arguably, where one goes is where one has practiced living. "Where your treasure is, there your heart is also." If we are used to cultivating fear and greed, where are we likely to go? If we are used to pouring love and understanding onto others, where are we likely to go?
That said, there's a lot of spiritual range to each one of us. In daily life we may traverse through realms of fear to realms of hope to realms of confusion just in the course of one TV broadcast. And if Earth is any guide, there can be a mixture of good and evil spirits hanging around the same places (even if in statistically predictable ratios). Thus, we may still encounter beings who seek to project a false image. Therein lies danger.
In one NDE I read recently, the writer describes seeing a smiling figure. But then another being confronts the first one, and the smiling figure becomes angry. The smiling figure was probably a deceptive spirit. (http://www.nderf.org/NDERF/NDE_Experiences/daniel_m_probable_nde.htm Daniel M Probable NDE)
In Howard Storm's NDE, he was first approached by beings who lured him away from his starting point, and took him deeper into darkness. Only then did they turn on him in a vicious and violent manner.
Oh yes, just as the physical world is awash in deception, I think so is the spiritual world.
Ben Swett described to me tearing away disguises of spirits he met.
I read somewhere that we need to look into the eyes of any spirit, as the evil ones' eyes will tend to glitter or glow red. Why red? I don't know; it probably has to do with cultural indoctrination as well as something to do with red being a longer wavelength (lower energy, lower vibrational) color, but that seems a fairly consistent description of negative intention.
There's another point to make.
Darkness, when talking about distance from the Light of all truth and love, may be considered a measure of falsehood and lack of love. In other words, where there is not the spiritual Light of truth, what is there instead is not-truth. If so ... bear with me a moment....
Anything that one learns or perceives in a realm that falls short of complete light will necessarily not be wholly true!
It may be a source of light. It may point toward light. It may help 95% of people grow toward God and love and truth.
However, just by being in a realm of darkness, there is no way that any thing or even any one will produce 100% truth, 100% love, 100% light.
So any teaching, even the most sublime, is likely to cast a shadow when it's in a lower realm. Any being, no matter how bright, will cause shadows to be cast, even if just by shining the light. And where there are shadows, there is deception and pain and suffering. Not until we get to highest Heaven will there be absolute comprehension and no falsehood at all.
So... caveat emptor. We live in a realm of light and shadow. Nothing here is perfect. No message can create totally accurate understanding in 100% of readers; in other words, all messages will create inaccurate understanding in some people.