By Amber R. Balk, Ph.D.
Near death experiences can range from subtle to extreme. Despite the varying degrees of intensity, they tend to commonly carry the potential for renewed appreciation and zest for life. This can occur whether there is actual life threat or even if it is simply perceived without physical threat.
When I was a grad student studying death and dying for my doctoral research, I watched countless interviews with terminally ill cancer patients. The interviews were raw and emotional, yet deep passion for life radiated from each of the interviewees. In fact, many of them admitted that they didn’t think they began to fully live until they became conscious of imminent death.
That’s an extreme example. I also have a less life threatening example. When I was 17, I hydroplaned on a busy and dangerous highway. Being an inexperienced driver, I did all the wrong things. I slammed on the brakes and overcorrected my steering, which sent me into two 360 degree tailspins. I remember staring with eerie calmness as cars sped toward me as my car faced the wrong direction. Time stretched; it was as though I could make out each fat raindrop as it smacked against the windshield, the frantic windshield wipers moving in slow motion. My only thought was, “Well, this is it…”
The next thing I knew, I found myself sitting safely on the shoulder of the highway, completely stopped, facing the correct direction, entirely unscathed. I have no idea how I got from point A to point B. I thought maybe I had died.
At that moment, I noticed my music playing. Heather Nova sang, “I know nothing, but I’m guessing when we die we’re not alone.” (You can listen to the whole song, “Not Only Human,” here.) The song catapulted me more fully into awareness of being alive, which I experienced as an intense wave of hysterical sobbing. Once I finally calmed down, I felt crystal clarity and a rush of renewed vitality.
The experience was jolting, but it catalyzed a time of illuminating my life priorities. Ultimately, I think that’s the purpose of near death experiences. In those moments we step a foot across the Threshold and temporarily feel our fullness. We come back to our constricted lives with a heightened sense of what we could be.
The near death experience is soul fuel for a life better lived.
This is one reason it is so crucial that we change our aversion to death. When we avoid and deny the inevitability of death, we deny ourselves great opportunities to expand and ease into more fullness.
It also helps to have community support to help bear witness to these transpersonal experiences. If you have a near death experience of any kind, hold your experience as sacred and protect it as such.
Transpersonal sessions and other types of psychospiritual support can help you integrate these intense experiences. Integration makes the gifts from the expansion become more accessible and propels you toward health and wholeness.
Celebrate almost dying by making the most of living! Recently, I visited a dear friend in the hospital. We caught a meaningful moment of synchronicity when I videoed my sister listening to music, dancing while my hospitalized friend recalled her recent near death experience aloud. Neither had awareness of what the other one was doing in that moment, but the near death experiencer later marveled at the coincidence– “That’s how I feel!” she exclaimed. “She is dancing the way I feel! I almost died!”
Amber R. Balk, Ph.D. is a transpersonal educator, writer, researcher, and independent consultant who combines diverse educational and professional backgrounds to provide well-rounded and unique individual and group psychospiritual services. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.