- Twenty-five years ago Raymond Moody's Life After Life created a worldwide change in our understanding of death. Dr. Moody's research has rippled throughout the world and has helped in no small part to form our modem expectations of what we will experience after death — the tunnel, the white light, the presence of long-dead loved ones waiting for us on the "other side." Keep in mind that twenty-five years ago this was not common imagery to associate with the experience of dying. Dr. Moody inspired a first generation of researchers dedicated to a scientific understanding of human consciousness and death, researchers who have in turn created a new science of near-death studies. Bruce Greyson, professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia, has said that "a whole new world" opened up following the publication of Moody's research. This change in our collective worldview has been so profound that it is hard to remember the cultural conditions that existed before 1975, when the book was first published.
- Prior to the publication of Life After Life, the term near-death experience1 did not even exist. Physicians called it "the Lazarus Syndrome," implying that it was the result of medical pathology. Patients didn't call near-death experiences2 anything, often thinking that they were mentally ill or had had hallucinations from drugs or a lack of oxygen to the brain. Once Dr. Moody took the time to actually listen to people who had survived heart attacks and so learned about their near-death experiences3, our society had a sort of collective "aha" and began to realize that something very spiritual happens to us when we die. Although George Gallup has estimated that 5 percent of the general population has had a near-death experience4, people were afraid to talk about them for fear of being ridiculed. Far too often they themselves doubted the validity of what had happened to them.
- Life After Life was hugely successful because it addressed two major problems in twentieth-century Western Civilization: (1) the loss of collective societal myths having to do with death and dying, and (2) the systematic devaluation of anything to do with the spiritual side of humans. Dr. Moody's work reminded us that we are at our very core spiritual beings, and the fact that a loving light greets us when we die is proof of that. When we die, our own lives are evaluated and interpreted not according to how much money we made or our status and prestige but according to the love we shared with others throughout our life. At a time when church attendance and participation in the traditional organized religions was reaching an all-time low, Life After Life rekindled an understanding of the importance of spirituality in our daily lives.
- It is fitting that Life After Life was originally introduced by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the pioneering researcher on death and dying. Although for tens of thousands of years humans accepted death as a natural part of life, a brutal revolution in our attitudes concerning death occurred at the turn of the last century. Death became unnatural, dirty, medicalized, and hidden from the public view. Whereas most people died at home in the 1800s, by the mid-twentieth century most people died in hospitals. The aggressive end-of-life interventions medical science made possible resulted in the dying person giving up dignity and control over his or her life. By the latter part of the 1900s, even the American Medical Association concluded that dying patients were subjected to humiliating and unnecessary medical interventions that robbed the dying process of any dignity.
- In 1965, when Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote her book On Death and Dying, death was something that was not discussed. Dying patients were subjected to the "loving lie." They were not told the truth about their medical situation, as others felt that the truth was too traumatic and would rob them of hope. Social scientists have, of course, documented that dying patients always knew they were going to die anyway. The loving lie only served to insulate the medical profession and society from the facts of death.
- Dr. Kubler-Ross dared to actually talk to dying patients about their feelings. This generated enormous hostility from the medical staff at her hospital in Chicago. For example, one nurse angrily asked her if she enjoyed telling patients they had only a few weeks to live. Dr. Kubler-Ross found out that such patients already knew they had only a few weeks to live and were suffering from the loneliness and isolation that our societal fear of death caused them. Although Dr. Kubler-Ross has gone on to make her own contributions to the spiritual understanding of what happens when we die, in her first book she discussed only the emotional stages of death. These included denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Our society was astonished to learn even these common-sense observations. Establishing that dying people had any feelings at all seemed to anger and outrage a healthcare establishment dedicated to saving lives, not facilitating death. In the mid-sixties, although there was a sexual and political revolution in the United States, death as a topic was not discussed, and dying visions and deathbed spirituality as topics were forbidden.
- It took another decade before the climate was ready for Life After Life. Dr. Kubler-Ross had introduced the "shocking" concept that dying people had predictable feelings about death and often even accepted it. Ten years later, Dr. Moody explained why. Instead of death simply being the extinction of life, he documented that it is a spiritually dynamic time with life-transforming insights. These same insights have transformed our society as well. One indicator of the impact of Life After Life is the enormous number of books with similar titles that followed it. These include Life Before Life, Life at Death, Life Between Life, and my favorite, Elvis After Death. Life After Life has become a cultural icon because it responded to the spiritual impoverishment of our society at the time.
- It is ironic that the same medical technology that contributed to the degrading and humiliating conditions of dying patients allowed us to successfully resuscitate people so that they could report their near-death experiences5. By the early 1970s medical technology had advanced to the point where successful resuscitation from cardiac arrest was commonplace. Although there have always been stories describing a life after death6, prior to the modern era it was rare to survive clinical death. Modem intensive-care medicine and rapid-response medic teams have made the cheating of death routine. Dr. Moody was the first to recognize that these same patients could contribute to our understanding of the last few minutes of life.
- Dr. Moody's influence on a first, and now a second, generation of scientists was just as important as the book itself. A thousand years ago a book such as Life After Life would not have been needed, as everyone was familiar with the spiritual aspects of dying. In 1975 it was not enough to document that the dying have visions of another life; it was also necessary to prove that these visions were real and not simply hallucinations of the dying mind. Twenty-five years later, virtually every conscious researcher and medical scientist in this field agrees that these experiences are a real and natural part of the dying process.
- The first generation of near-death researchers included Dr. Ken Ring, professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut; Dr. Bruce Greyson, professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia; and neuropsychiatrist Peter Fenwick of the British Royal College of Psychiatrists. They used formal scientific investigative techniques and essentially reached the same conclusions as Dr. Moody. These and numerous other researchers documented that the experiences are real, not the result of hallucinations or brain pathology.
- Their work led in turn to a second generation of scientists such as myself. We did a controlled clinical study of near-death experiences7 in children at Seattle Children's Hospital and again documented that these experiences are a real part of the dying process and not caused by drugs or a lack of oxygen to the brain. These children, too young to fear death or to know what a near-death experience8 is, told the same stories as the adults tell in Life After Life.
- Even more significantly, Dr. James Whinnery of the National Warfare Institute developed an experimental technique in which near-death experiences9 could be induced in a controlled environment. He studied fighter pilots who were brought to the point of near death by being placed in a gigantic centrifuge. The purpose of his study was to understand the G-forces that fighter pilots are subjected to while flying high-speed jets. He also learned that these same fighter pilots had near-death experiences10 when subjected to the stresses of the centrifuge. It is fascinating to realize that Dr. Moody, a psychiatrist from Georgia; Dr. Whinnery, a flight surgeon for the Air Force; and I, a pediatrician from Seattle, each working independently, reached the same conclusions about near-death experiences11.
- When Dr. Moody's book was first published, medical scientists laughed and dismissed near-death experiences12 as hallucinations. Twenty-five years later, science is on Dr. Moody's side. I do not know of a single mainstream scientific researcher who has not reached similar conclusions. There have been three major reviews of near-death experiences13 in the scientific literature of the past seven years, and all agree with Dr. Moody's initial findings. The skeptics and hostile intellectual climate that pioneers such as Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and Raymond Moody had to endure have now led to the current situation in which there are dozens of articles in mainstream scientific journals on near-death experiences14. Dr. Moody has created the current climate where hundreds of graduate students are getting their advanced degrees studying near-death experiences15. More than half of the medical schools in the country now teach courses on the spiritual aspects of dying.
- Today, no one has to feel ridiculed or mentally ill simply because they have been fortunate enough to have had a near-death experience16. Life After Life documented that near-death experiences17 can positively transform those who have them. The inner anger and type A personalities that lead to heart attacks in the first place seem to melt away from exposure to the spiritual light they see at death.
- The International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS), an organization dedicated to counseling and support for persons who have had the experience, took these experiences, and that message, and built an international organization that has contributed to the transformation of our society. IANDS actively contributes to and encourages scientific research. There are hundreds of IANDS chapters in the United States and hundreds more worldwide. Again, it was Raymond Moody and Life After Life that directly resulted in the formation of this organization.
- Raymond Moody himself has remained a pioneer for the past twenty-five years. Usually scientists who make the sort of extraordinary contribution he made with Life After Life rest on their laurels, spending the rest of their career refining and promoting their original insights. And while Dr. Moody has deservedly been rewarded with the Bigelow Chair of Consciousness Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and certainly does a bit of that, he also teaches courses for graduate students and freshman on near-death experiences18 and on what is known scientifically about life after death19.
- But Dr. Moody's career since Life After Life has primarily been marked by continued explorations into consciousness research. He remains on the cutting edge of scientific research and will always be about twenty-five years ahead of the rest of us.
- In 1995, for example, he developed a technique for inducing the near-death experience20 without actually having to come close to death. He uses the technique to facilitate the ability to contact dead relatives and loved tines. While researching the origins of the near-death experience21 in ancient Greece, Dr. Moody rediscovered the use of a meditative chamber called the psychomanteum that ancient Greek physicians used successfully in their healing rituals. He built his own "Theater of the Mind," as he called his modern psychomanteum, and successfully tested it in hundreds of clinical trials. There are now more than a dozen operating psychomanteums in the United States. The psychomanteum has even been independently discovered by Russian physicist Ivan Dmitriev and successfully used by Russian psychiatrist Olga Kharitidi to induce out-of-body22 perceptions and past-life experiences.
- Since his rediscovery of the psychomanteum, Dr. Moody has continued to explore ways to harness the power of the near-death experience23 in our daily lives. He once asked me, "Why should we wait until we die to have this remarkably transformative experience?"
- He is currently working on methods of inducing the experience through specific meditative techniques that do not require the specialized equipment of the psychomanteum. Intriguingly enough, humor is often an important part of his current research in understanding and inducing spiritual experiences.
- On a personal note, Dr. Moody is directly responsible for any contributions that I have made in near-death research. I first met Dr. Moody when I was doing a fellowship in brain research at the University of Washington. I was primarily interested in the effects of radiation and anticancer drugs on the brain. I had just published an article on near-death experiences24 in children based on cases I encountered when I was moonlighting as a critical-care physician.
- Our research team at Seattle Children's Hospital saw near-death research as an interesting sidelight to our otherwise busy medical careers. I had no long-term interest in the field and mostly published my first papers on near-death studies simply to get another solid scientific paper on my resume. I considered the experiences to be "fascinomas," meaning they were interesting but ultimately of no importance.
- My meeting with Dr. Moody changed all of that. He had read my initial papers on children's near-death experiences25 and wanted to meet me. We spent three straight days talking nonstop about near-death experiences26. I vividly remember being called to the hospital to resuscitate a critically injured patient during this time period. Dr. Moody accompanied me to the hospital and we continued our discussion at whatever breaks in the action that came while I was attending to the patient, and then all the way home again.
- He inspired me to think critically about the experiences and their implication for understanding the nature of human consciousness. The fact that dying comatose brains can be conscious and aware of their surroundings, as well as interact with another spiritual reality, has profound implications for our understanding of how the human brain works. He predicted that my near-death research would make my reputation as a neuroscientist, not the promising cancer research I was so involved in at the time.
- Joseph Campbell wrote that the image of death is the beginning of mythology. In turn, it is our myths that make us feel part of the society of the living, as well as heir to the legacy of the dead who came long before we were here and will be here long after we are gone. Humankind's myths give meaning to individual lives and help us to interpret events, such as death, that cannot be readily understood by "normal" means.
- Modern society had abandoned the traditional relationship between death and society that had existed for tens of thousands of years. Even modern funeral practices reflect this, with the advent of the irrational embalming of the dead, which only began about a hundred years ago. Our society suffers from our lack of connection to each other and our collective lack of meaning in our lives. Homelessness, depression, drug abuse, alcoholism, road rage, and gun violence all have at their roots a lack of spiritual wisdom.
- Raymond Moody's Life After Life reconnected us with a timeless wisdom about death. We do not simply die; death is far more complicated than that. We die conscious, with an expanded awareness of this reality coupled with a greater understanding of our lives. By understanding near-death experiences27 we connect ourselves with the wisdom of the tribal shamans, the insights of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and the origins of the great religions of the world. Dr. Moody's Life After Life reconnects us with our own spirituality, lying dormant within us. His book gives us the spiritual tools to understand our own lives. It is a timeless book, one that will be just as vital twenty-five years from now as it was twenty-five years ago.
… Melvin Morse, M.D.
For Melvin Morse, see Link (Defunct).
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
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