In early June, I attended the Afterlife Awareness Conference in Portland, Oregon. In it’s fourth year, with 450 attendees, the event was a resounding success. If you couldn’t attend, but are curious about what went on, here are some of the highlights.
Presenters included scientists, shamans, chaplains, hospice staff, academics, alternative health care practitioners, and mediums (you can see event photos and list of presenters here). There were so many exciting ideas and conversations that it’s hard to know how describe it all, but these are a few of the speakers and topics that caught my interest.
Near Death Experiences
Dr. Raymond Moody has documented thousands of Near Death Experiences (NDE’s) in the last 50 years, and is the inspiration for my research project on facilitated after-death communication. His latest research explores the paradigmatic framework through which we consider NDE’s.
NDE experiencers describe a series of similar phenomenon, all of which happen outside of linear time and three-dimensional space: they see the walls of the room soften and change shape, they experience their awareness in one place but can see their bodies in another, they experience a life review not chronologically but holographically, etc.
In his presentation, Moody argued that because these experiences don’t follow the laws of Newtonian physics, the scientific method, and classical logic, they can’t be studied or evaluated through those lenses. They just won’t make sense. It’s like claiming that a German-speaking person is illiterate because he fails a test that is written in English.
If we are to really understand NDE’s, we need to meet them on their own terms. Moody, who is a professor of philosophy as well as a psychiatrist, has developed a model for evaluating what classical logic doesn’t have the capacity to address. It’s part of a larger project to step beyond the limitations of the Western worldview to see what becomes visible through a wider lens, and to see how that may help us better understand NDE’s and other anomalous experiences.
You can visit Moody’s website here to learn more about his groundbreaking work over the last 5 decades.
Shared Death Experiences
Raymond Moody’s book Glimpses of Eternity describes the well-documented phenomena of Shared Death Experiences (SDE’s).
In an SDE, a healthy person sitting at the bedside of someone who is dying experiences the same things that a NDE experiencer does when they die and are revived. They feel themselves travelling with the dying person through a tunnel, they meet beings of light together, and they experience the dying person’s life review. At some point, however, they are told that they can’t go any farther, and are sent back while the dying person continues on.
SDE’s essentially dissolve the argument that NDE’s are the result of oxygen deprivation in a dying brain because they happen to perfectly healthy people (including many doctors and nurses). More importantly, however, they bring enormous relief and healing because the SDE experiencer comes back knowing that their loved one is not “gone” or “lost” but has just crossed into another dimension.
William Peters of the Shared Crossings Project gave what was, for me, the most exciting presentation of the conference, describing a protocol he and his colleagues have developed for training people to have SDE’s. They work with pairs of people, one who is dying and one caregiver, teaching them about SDE’s and giving them guideposts and practices to be more likely experience one.
The research is still in its infancy, but the results are spectacular. Many of the participants have not died yet, and so it’s not clear that they necessarily have SDE’s. Even without that, however, they experiences a great diminishment of grief and anxiety by learning the map of the dying process, and knowing that someone will be there to support them as they make that journey. For a few, the decrease in stress even shows up as a quantitative improvement in their blood markers and other medical indicators! The wisdom teachings all say that learning to meet death well helps you to live better, and it appears to be true.
If you are interested in SDE’s, this video interview with Ramond Moody is a great introduction to them.
Martha Atkins, PhD didn’t speak at the conference, but she was one of the many inspiring people I met. I’d love to see her speak at next year’s event about her research on deathbed phenomena.
Cross culturally, medical personnel and caregivers report consistently similar experiences from attending dying people. Towards the end, dying people begin to see things that are not visible to most others in the room. They describe these as visits from loved ones who have died before and who have returned to help them cross over. They can often be observed having long and involved conversations with these visitors, and the experiences bring great comfort to the dying people.
Martha has an excellent TED talk describing deathbed phenomena, and encouraging people to learn more about them so that they can understand what’s happening as someone they love is dying.
There were a number of very talented mediums at the conference, and I saw them deliver many readings that were jaw-dropping in their specificity and accuracy. One of the most exciting ones, however, was a replication of Dr Gary Schwartz’s mediumship experiments.
In these experiments, Gary had leading mediums (including Suzane Northrop, who was at the conference) read for a person sitting silently behind a curtain under controlled laboratory conditions.
The mediums didn’t meet the people, got no information about them, and were asked to give what’s called an “evidential reading” where they provided verifiable facts rather than emotional messages. The results of the research were astounding, and are published in Gary’s book The Truth About Medium: Extraordinary Experiments with Remarkable Psychics
At the conference, Gary set up the same sort of conditions, and Suzanne did blind readings on two audience members. She’s a fast talking New Yorker, and must have rattled off 70 or 80 pieces of very specific information for these people in the space of a few minutes.
Suzane said things like: your father comes from a large farming family, you have Nordic or Scandinavian blood, there were two yellow labs in your mother’s family, a brother or brother-in-law on your mother’s side committed suicide, your father died quickly from an impact accident and you didn’t have enough time to say good-bye, a male child with an M name, Michael or Mark or Mathew, who is very close to you who died recently, etc.
The results were incredible, with both people reporting that her accuracy was at least 90%, which is comparable to the results described in Gary’s book. I also took part in a small group reading with a medium where each of the 15 people present got a detailed, accurate, and deeply meaningful reading, without the reader knowing a thing about them in advance.
Overall, I was really impressed with the quality of the presentations, the clarity and groundedness of the participants, and the organization and volunteer effort required to pull it all off. It was great to be part of a group of people not afraid to ask questions about unusual experiences, and to use those questions to help bring healing and relief to the difficulties we face around death.