2 Near-Death Experiences Suggest Death May Not Be So Scary After All
John Migliaccio was scuba diving off the New Jersey shore on a windy July day while home from college. The water was rough, and the visibility was so bad he couldn't see 3 feet in front of him. After about a half-hour, he started finding it hard to breathe—a sign that his air tank was getting empty.
He was about 100 yards out from the shore and, with the rough waves, was taking in a lot of saltwater. His throat was starting to burn, and he began to get dizzy because he was hyperventilating.
At that point, things got a bit hazy for John. He remembers feeling afraid that he was too exhausted to swim anymore, and then suddenly he was high above the ocean, looking down on a black body in the water.
John's near-death experience:
I felt absolute peace and tranquillity. I had nothing to worry about. Everything was going to be taken care of. I remember feeling at that point like it was all over, and I felt very peaceful.
I felt like I could rest—like I didn't have to swim anymore. It was like being in a pool, just floating in a pool. I was aware of beginning to float out with the wave and then not remembering anything after that. The last physical sensation I felt was floating back out with the waves and then I don't have any recall of anything after that physically. I just remember I felt peaceful. It was a feeling like I was surrendering. It was a relief. It was like I was letting go.
Two other divers were on the beach. They dragged me out of the water, but I wasn’t breathing. They opened up the jacket of my wet suit and they couldn't find a heartbeat. One guy started giving me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and another guy was on his knees pushing my heart.
I never thought about death before this. I was only 17 years old. What did I know?
But then you have that experience and don't feel afraid to die, if that is what dying is, if that's what my experience of dying would be. Because it wasn't bad. It was nice. It was peaceful. I felt like I would be carried along without having to do anything, without having to worry about anything.
I just had that feeling of darkness. It was comfortable. It was serenity. My life didn't pass in front of me. I didn't go to heaven, I didn't go to hell, I didn't go to limbo. I didn't go anyplace. I call it being at rest.
It's like a flower going very slowly down a stream in the springtime through meadows. It's the only way I can explain it. And it was sunny, bright, and peaceful, and there were birds chirping. I said: This isn't so bad if that's what it's like. It's not so bad, you know.
There were two immediate effects of this experience. First, I understood why I was still alive. Second, I no longer feared dying. I was not distressed as other members of my family when my grandfather died recently, and I think my consciousness will persist after death.
How your attitude toward death changes after dying.
My assessment of what near-death experiences (NDEs) mean for how the mind relates to the brain, and for what ultimately happens after death, are based on decades of research, but they are only my opinions of what the evidence shows.
Although I think I've got pretty good evidence to support my assessments, I know that some people may interpret that evidence differently, and that new evidence may show I'm wrong. But there is one thing about which I am certain, about which the evidence is overwhelming—and that is the effect of NDEs on people's attitudes, beliefs, and values.
If you take only one thing from this book, I would want you to appreciate the transformative power of these experiences to change people's lives.
When I've asked people who have had NDEs how they affected them, the first answer is almost always, as John said, that it changed their attitude toward death.
My research, and that of others, has found markedly lower anxiety about death1 in people like John than in people who came close to death without NDEs. The experiencers tend to have less fear of death and dying and are less likely to avoid the topic of death. On the contrary, they often talk about death as a gateway to another kind of life.
Among all the experiencers who have participated in my research, 86% said they had less fear of death since their NDEs. Even experiencers like John, who don't report visiting Heaven or seeing God in their NDEs, endorse the belief that there is no reason to fear death when it comes.
Sarah also described finding comfort in death after she hemorrhaged at age 23 during childbirth.
Sarah's near-death experience:
My experience will be with me always. I was not near death—I was dead, clinically dead, with medical evidence to prove the fact. Since then, dying has often been a source of comfort to me. I've learned to modify my lifestyle as I accepted my chronic illness. But I never, even during my worst time, have feared dying. This lack of fear, I feel, has enhanced a hundredfold my enjoyment of living.
When I was later diagnosed with cancer, during my surgery, and after, I never forgot what it felt like to be dead. My death did not hurt me but greatly enhanced my life. Knowing that I will be protected and welcomed, that dying is beautiful and completely peaceful, I have no fear. The warmth, the pull, the welcome embrace of those arms in the tunnel are with me always.
For me, there was no transition. I didn't see myself leave my body and float upward. I was just there, in the tunnel, at the end of the tunnel. Dying was beautiful, peaceful, and graceful. I have been dead. I know the truth. And I am not scared.
To hear more from Bruce Greyson, M.D., check out his recent conversation with mbg co-founder and co-CEO Jason Wachob on the mbg podcast.
Bruce Greyson, M.D. is Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the UVA School of Medicine. He served on the medical school faculty at the Universities of Michigan, Connecticut, and Virginia. He was a co-founder and President of the International Association for Near-Death Studies, and Editor of the Journal of Near-Death Studies, and author of the book After: A Doctor Explores What Near-Death Experiences Reveal about Life and Beyond. His award-winning research led him to become a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, and to be invited by the Dalai Lama to participate in a dialogue between Western scientists and Buddhist monks in India.