Stories from the Otherside

"What lies behind us and what lies before us, is of little value beside what lies within us."

Stories from the Lands of Light:
17 Stages of the Near Death Experience

Inner Traditions/ Bear & Company

“I look upon death to be as necessary to the constitution as sleep.
We shall rise refreshed in the morning.”

Benjamin Franklin

            While it is clear that the near-death experience is universal, there are many stages that one may experience between the earthly life and a life in the Paradise realms. Below is a list of seventeen steps most often reported in NDEs. In this chapter we take a look at these stages through the personal accounts of those who have crossed over to the Otherside and returned.

17 Stages of the Near Death Experience

  1. The Soul finds themselves outside of their body looking down at their lifeless form
  2. The Soul observes events nearby that they could not otherwise have known
  3. The Soul hears a whooshing noise and sees a spiraling dark tunnel
  4. The Soul is caught up in this tunnel and pulled upward
  5. At the end of the tunnel the Soul beholds a dazzling Being of light
  6. The Soul experiences a rapid Life Review
  7. The Soul feels supreme compassion from this Being of light as they realize the error of  their ways and the connectedness of us all
  8. The Soul meets loved ones who have crossed over before him
  9. The Soul is allowed or prevented from making a more prolonged visit to the Otherside
  10. The Soul is shown some of the territory of Heaven
  11. The Soul hears a celestial music that seems to permeate these Inner Realms
  12. The Soul beholds a Crystal City of Light
  13. The Soul meets with an angelic Council of Elders
  14. The Soul receives a revelation or profound teaching
  15. The Soul is then given the chance to return to Earth
  16. If the Soul does not wish to return, it is shown the impact their death will have on others if they should cut their life short, thereby encouraging the Soul’s return
  17. The Soul realizes that it must finish its original Contract and agrees to come back

The Tunnel of Darkness and the Welcoming Party

Meeting the Being of LightWhen a Soul leaves its body, it often finds itself watching over its own physical death with a mixture of curiosity, detachment, or concern. Some people recall floating above their bodies, watching doctors and nurses scrambling to save their lives. Some report standing outside of their bodies, trying to figure out why no one seems to be able to hear them. Then, shortly afterwards, the Soul hears the sound of a rushing wind, sometimes described as a whooshing sound or a chime. This seems to signal the appearance of a transport system into the Chikhai Bardo, the intermediate realm between this world and the next.

Almost immediately a spiral of energy envelops the Soul and he or she is propelled through a tunnel often described as having a dark-grayish atmosphere. Some report sensing other people or animals moving around them, seen in their peripheral vision. These may be beings who have died at the same time and are making their own transitions, or perhaps the tunnel is like a wormhole or elevator that transports the Soul through the various regions of the Astral plane just like moving upward on a glass elevator. Some believe that the grayish atmosphere that surrounds this transport system, is really a fog of dense thought-forms that surround the Earth, a fog composed of all the centuries of negative emotions that we have created. As the Soul is pulled up, it sometime senses other spirits residing in this fog.

At the end of the tunnel the Soul sees a brilliant beam of light. Tibetan Buddhists call this the Primary Clear Light, also known as the Divine Body of Truth or Dharma-Kaya seen at the moment of death. This brilliant light is actually a reflection of the person’s own angelic Self who has come to greet them. It is the pure white Fire Being of our Angelic Twin, a subject we shall take up shortly. Since few people recognize this as their Higher Self, they return from their NDE to report that this radiant being is either an Angel or a spiritual teacher like Jesus. Directly afterwards, the Soul emerges from this tunnel into a misty landscape. This is the first intermediate Bardo and it is described as being filled with celestial music and prismatic light. At this point the Soul is often met by friends, waiting for its arrival. These Souls are part of the welcoming party that have somehow been alerted that the newly deceased is arriving in Heaven. Here is an account from a 53 year-old woman whose near-death experience was caused by a vascular tumor lodged at the base of her brain.

The more I approached the light, the more I began to see people I recognized. I was impressed by the fact that these people had a marvelous look about them. My grandmother didn’t look like an old woman; she was radiant. Everyone looked young, healthy, and strong.  I can say that they were of the light, as if they were wearing clothing made of light, and as if they themselves were made of light. I was not allowed to go very far – they were keeping me close to them. I wanted to know more about the music, about the sound of a waterfall, about the birdsongs I was hearing, and I wanted to know why they wouldn’t let me go farther.[1]

            Here is another account of a Soul’s arrival that also includes a Life Review.

I came out of this tunnel into a realm of soft, brilliant love and light. The love was everywhere. It surrounded me and seemed to soak through into my very being. At some point I was shown, or saw, the events of my life. They were in a kind of vast panorama. All of this is really just indescribable. People I knew who had died were there with me in the light, a friend who had died in college, my grandfather, and a great-aunt, among others. They were happy, beaming.[2]

Meeting the Being of Light

Master of lightNext, the Soul beholds a brilliant Being of Light who emanates an all-encompassing love. Some NDEs believe this Being of Light to be Jesus, Mary or even Buddha.  Others think it is an Angel. In India, some have claimed it was Yama-Raja, or Lord Yama, the Hindu Lord of the Dead, said to greet the Soul on the Otherside.  While it is certainly possible that this is Jesus, Mary or even Buddha, it is also possible that our belief systems have caused us to interpret this luminous figure in one particular way or another, and that in truth, there is a deeper explanation of who they really are.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead tells us that this Secondary Clear Light is the Soul’s Angelic Twin who has come to meet the lower personality self.  This is the BA or White Fire Being that eternally resides in the higher realms, even while some part of the Soul like the more earthly KA, has partaken of its journey in the realms of illusion. We will speak more about this Angelic Twin in the next section. If the Soul recognizes this Being as itself, then it is immediately liberated from the Wheel of Life, Death and Rebirth. This is a critical moment, for the recognition of this eternal Twin can catapult us into Paradise. However, this rarely happens because of our own feelings of unworthiness, as well as the programming of our religious dogma. Our inability to perceive clearly is due to our impure emotional and mental states that have become heavily polluted in the human condition. So if the Soul does not recognize its Angelic Twin, then it passes onto the next stage of the journey.[3]

This wisdom is actually a profound revelation, for it reveals something about the depth of who we really are. If we are, in fact, these pure angelic beings who eternally reside in the celestial kingdoms, then this means that one day we shall all return to this place of remembrance. All of our many lifetimes are simply ways that we are entertaining ourselves and learning throughout time. When we hear the profound awe that Souls experience when they first encounter this Being of Light, and the unconditional love that it projects to its less-than-perfect human self, then this realization puts an entirely new spin on the idea of a Life Review. In essence, our divine Self is saying, “How did we do? Did we bring back some wisdom from our journey?”

If we did, then these experiences are acquired by the Soul and stored in the Causal Body, which holds the memories of all the good that we have ever done. The Causal Body is similar to the Soul’s recording Journal, held by the Angelic Twin or pure White Fire Being that already resides in Paradise. It is linked to the individual Soul, Jiva, or Tuza, who also has at its heart the tri-fold flame of the Creator where the Atman or Isvara dwells. The Atman or Isvara is the spirit of God that indwells the province of the heart, and allows us to exists. When the individual Soul or Tuza, is able to raise its vibration to meet this higher state of Christ consciousness, then we are liberated from the Wheel of Rebirth, and can step outside of time and space. At this point in the near-death experience, all returning Souls are bathed in an outflow of unconditional love from their Higher Self, enveloping the returning personality self (called the KA in ancient Egypt), in a deep sense of peace. Here is an excerpt from one of these encounters. In this account Alice was rushed to the hospital in a coma, and her Soul watched from above as the doctors scrambled to save her life.

luminious beingThen I was aware of an Immense Presence coming toward me, bathed in white, shimmering light that glowed and at times sparkled like diamonds. Everything else seen, the colors, beings, faded into the distance as the Light Being permeated everything. I was being addressed by an overwhelming presence. Even though I felt unworthy, I was being lifted into that which I could embrace. The joy and ecstasy were intoxicating. It was explained that I could remain there if I wanted; it was a choice I could make.[4]

This next description comes from Dannion Brinkley in his first of three near-death experiences. In this first encounter he describes what mystics have called the Shining Body, the  astral form, or the Nuri Sarup that emanates a radiant light from within.

hands of lightI looked at my hand. It was translucent and shimmering and moved with fluidity, like the water in the ocean. I looked down at my chest. It too, had the translucence and flow of fine silk in a light breeze. The Being of Light stood directly in front of me. As I gazed into its essence I could see prisms of color, as though it were composed of thousands of tiny diamonds, each emitting the colors of the rainbow.[5]

Like many other near-death experiencers, Dannion reported seeing rainbows. These are repeatedly mentioned by the Tibetan texts as well. They remind us of the Norse legends of a Rainbow Bridge said to connect the realms of Heaven and Earth. In Norse mythology this bridge links Middle Earth or Midgard with the higher worlds. It is part of the Tree of Life called Yggdrasil, the Tree that connects all dimensions.

The Life Review

In the presence of this great Being of Light the Soul then beholds the events of its former life. These events flash before its eyes. Tibetans call this “the Mirror of Karma.”[6] Some have described this Life Review as a holographic movie, as if they are suddenly watching their life on a large television screen. Events not remembered for decades are suddenly there in instantaneous minutia, highlighting key points of each life. As the Soul watches, they can feel the emotions of all those that their life affected, feeling keenly how their deeds have inflicted joy or pain on others. This creates a profound sense of clarity about the merit of the life they have just lived. Could they have made other choices? Could they have done better? Here is a condensed excerpt from a Soul experiencing a Life Review.

Being of Light green angelWhen the light appeared, the first thing he said to me was, “What do you have to show me that you’ve done with your life?”… And that’s when these flashbacks started. I thought, “Gee, what is going on?” because all of a sudden, I was back early in my childhood. And from then on, it was like I was walking from the time of my very early life, on through each year of my life, right up to the present…

The scenes were just like you walked outside and saw them, completely three dimensional, and in color. And they moved… It was like the little girl I saw was somebody else, in a movie, one little girl among all the other children out there playing on the playground. Yet, it was me…

Now I didn’t actually see the light as I was going through the flashbacks. He disappeared as soon as he asked me what I had done, and the flashbacks started, and yet I knew that he was there with me the whole time, that he carried me back… because I felt his presence, and because he made comments here and there. He was trying to show me something in each one of these flashbacks.

All through this, he kept stressing the importance of love… He showed me some instances where I had been selfish to my sister, but then just as many times where I had really shown love to her… He pointed out to me that I should try to do things for other people, to try my best. There wasn’t any accusation in any of this, though. When he came across times when I had been selfish, his attitude was only that I had been learning from them too.[7]

Such a Life Review is profoundly transformational, for it allows the Soul to see its life against the yardstick of love.  Interestingly enough, it is the Soul who judges itself most harshly during these Life Reviews, and those who return to life on Earth, often make powerful changes once they are back, choosing paths of greater service. Here is an excerpt from a woman who died when her Fallopian tube ruptured during an ectopic pregnancy. Her review begins as she stands before the Being of Light.

This Presence could see into my mind, and there was no way I could hide any thoughts. Gently I was encouraged to understand how my mistakes had hurt others by experiencing what others had felt as a result of my actions. I was confused, as it all seemed so strange. The word death was never mentioned, yet somehow I came to understand that I was in that place of spirits where the newly dead move on to.[8]

Here is a second Life Review from a man who died of cardiac arrest after a traffic accident.

I was in a light of love and this light was alive. It was speaking to me. I was shown my whole life, everything good and bad that I had done. My life passed by at high speed before my eyes in great detail and I was shown, as an overlay, the hands of a clock moving backward at dizzying speed. No one was judging me. It was I, myself, who was judging all of my actions.[9]

Here is yet another.

Rainbow ball of lightI first was out of my body, above the building, and I could see my body lying there. Then I became aware of the light – just light – being all around me. Then it seemed there was a display all around me, and everything in my life just went by for review, you might say. I was really very, very ashamed of a lot of the things that I experienced because it seemed that I had a different knowledge, that the light was showing me what was wrong, what I did wrong. And it was very real.

It seemed like a flashback, or memory, or whatever was directed primarily at ascertaining the extent of my life. It was like there was a judgment being made and then, all of a sudden, the light became dimmer, and there was a conversation, not in words, but in thoughts. When I would see something, when I would experience a past event, it was like I was seeing it through eyes with omnipotent knowledge, guiding me, and helping me to see.

That’s the part of it that has stuck with me because it showed me not only what I had done, but even how what I had done had affected other people. And it wasn’t like I was looking at a movie projector because I could feel these things, there was feeling and particularly, since I was with this knowledge…. I found out that not even your thoughts are lost… Every thought was there…. Your thoughts are not lost…[10]

Considering the power of these Life Reviews, we can understand now why the great Mystery Schools required each of their students to do a Philosophic Will or Life Review as part of the preparation for entering training. If each of us did a Life Review every day of our lives, what a difference it would make when we pass over to the Otherside!

Landscapes of Light

Many NDEs never go further into the realms of Heaven than the Life Review. They only make it to the first Bardo plane. Afterwards they are returned to their bodies to continue their lives on Earth. However, some are allowed to travel farther and then the Soul returns with stories of dazzling Cities of Light. It also seems that the deeper one penetrates into these realms the more substantial they become. Often these radiant crystal vistas seem to invoke a deep sense of recognition, as if the Soul has been there many times before. Here is an account from a woman who returned after just days in a coma.

Summerland landscapeI found myself in a place of such beauty and peace. It was timeless and spaceless. I was aware of delicate and shifting hues of colors with their accompanying rainbows of “sound,” though there was no noise in this sound. It might have felt like wind and bells, were it earthly. I became aware of other loving, caring beings hovering near me. Their presence was so welcoming and nurturing. They appeared formless in the way that I was accustomed by now to seeing things. I don’t know how to describe them. I was aware of some bearded male figures in white robes in a semi-circle around me. The atmosphere became blended, as though made of translucent clouds. I watched as these clouds, and their delicate shifting colors, moved through and around us.[11]

Here is another account from a woman who died of an asthma attack and returned.

When I came out of the tunnel, I was in a pearly, misty place… It was then that I thought, I’ve died… At that instant I was in a different level. Here, all was soft gold, including me… All of life’s fears and worries seemed so unimportant, so absolutely nothing to worry about, and all behind me stretched infinity, that all the people I’d ever known, knew now, and even would know were there, all made out of this golden “light,” all made of the same stuff, and so truly, we are all one. I saw this like a liquid golden ocean out of which each person rose, made of the ocean, in their own individual shape, but all one originally, basically many loved ones were there, and endless joy.[12]

    This next account comes from Dannion Brinkley who describes his movement as he is pulled upwards into the realms of light and begins to travel across the Summerland.

We began to move upward. I could hear a hum as my body began to vibrate at a higher rate of speed. We moved up from one level to the next, like an airplane climbing gently into the sky. We were surrounded by a shimmering mist, cool and thick, like fog off the ocean. Around us I could see energy fields that looked like prisms of light. Some of this energy flowed like great rivers, while some eddied like tiny streams. I even saw lakes and small pools of it. (Up close these were clearly fields of energy, but from a distance they resembled rivers and lakes, the way you would see them from an airplane).

Through the mist I could see mountains the color of deep blue velvet. There were no sharp peaks and craggy slopes with jagged edges in this mountain range. The mountains were gentle, with rounded peaks and lush crevices that were a deeper blue. On the mountainside were lights. Through the mist they looked like houses turning on their lights at twilight. There were many such lights and I could tell by the way we swooped down and accelerated that we were headed directly for them.[13]

This next account comes from a woman who died in surgery and suddenly found herself outside her body in the landscape of a beautiful realm.

blue lotusThe grass is greener than anything seen on earth, it has a special light or glow. The colors are beyond description. The light is brighter than anything possible to imagine. In this place I saw people that I knew [who] had died. There were no words spoken, but it was as if I knew what they were thinking, and at the same time I knew, that they knew, what I was thinking. I felt a peace that passed all understanding. I felt as if I wanted to stay there forever, but someone, I felt it was my guardian angel, said, “You have to go back, as you have not yet finished your term.”[14]

This next excerpt comes from a woman mourning the death of her aunt. When she suddenly died herself, she got to meet her aunt on the Otherside, giving her a powerful sense of closure.

I know that mountains and valleys, rivers and lakes, trees and flowers, are more real there than here, and best of all, our loved ones live to love and welcome us home when we are called upon to change to a higher life.[15]

This last story comes from Arthur, a NDE who was a staunch materialist as a young man. This changed however on a road trip in 1932. Arthur’s friend was driving the car when it suddenly skidded over a three-foot-high ridge of oiled gravel outside of Los Angeles. The car flipped over in a series of violent somersaults, and Arthur and his friend were catapulted through the cloth roof of the car before it smashed into a ditch. The driver escaped without injuries, but Arthur found himself in the beauty of the Far Country.

Gradually the earth scene faded away, and through it looked a bright, new beautiful world – beautiful beyond imagination! For half a minute I could see both worlds at once. Finally, when the earth was all gone, I stood in a glory that could only be heaven. In the background were two beautiful, round-topped mountains, similar to Fujiyama in Japan. The tops were snowcapped, and the slopes were adorned with foliage of indescribable beauty. The mountains appeared to be about fifteen miles away, yet I could see individual flowers growing on their slopes. I estimated my vision to be about one hundred times better than on City of Lightearth.[16]

To the left was a shimmering lake containing a different kind of water – clear, golden, radiant, and alluring. It seemed to be alive. The whole landscape was carpeted with grass so vivid, clear and green, that it defies description. To the right was a grove of large, luxuriant trees, composed of the same clear material that seemed to make up everything… Then I noticed that the landscape was gradually becoming familiar. It seemed as if I had been here before. I remembered what was on the other side of the mountains. Then, with a sudden burst of joy, I realized that this was my real home! Back on earth I had been a visitor, a misfit, and a homesick stranger. With a sigh of relief, I said to myself, “Thank God I’m back again. This time I’ll stay!”[17]

NEXT… The Crystal City of Light


[1] Jean Jacques Charbonier, M.D. Seven Reasons to Believe in the Afterlife: A Doctor Reviews the Case of Consciousness After Death, (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2012), 20-21.

[2] Lundahl, and Widdison, 175-176.

[3] The Tibetan Book of the Dead, 10.

[4] P.M.H. Atwater, Beyond the Light, (Secaucus, New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group, 1994). 153.

[5] Brinkley, Saved by the Light, 8.

[6] Raymond Moody, M.D., Reflections on Life After Life, (Carmel, New York: Guidepost Publishing, 1977), 170.

[7] Moody, 50.

[8] Parnia, 60-61.

[9] Charbonier, 82.

[10] Moody, Reflections on Life After Life, 68.

[11] Atwater, 53.

[12] Parnia, 64.

[13] Brinkley, Saved By the Light, 25-26.

[14] Lundahl and Widdison, Ph.D., 249.

[15] Lundahl and Widdison, 175.

[16] Lamas believe there are five kinds of eyes, apart from normal human eyes. These are the Eyes of Instinct, Celestial Eyes, Eyes of Truth, Divine Eyes, and Eyes of Wisdom of the Buddhas. These five types of eyes may have to do with the vision of each of the five subtle energy bodies (astral, causal, mental, spiritual and Soul bodies), for all of these five types have capabilities far beyond those of normal human eyes. REF: The Tibetan Book of the Dead, 92.

[17] Atwater, 49-50.

Tricia McCannon: Mysteries Expert

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