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To Die is Gain: The Experience of One’s Own Death by Johann Christoph Hampe

November 18, 2015

TDIGI used to discuss near death experiences with pupils., Do they prove that there is some sort of life after death. Are they the pathway towards the beatific vision?

This book faithfully records people’s encounters with these experiences and offers a tentative Christian theology concerning them. There are similarities with The Tibetan Book of the dead.

After a NDE people can accurately describe scenes in detail. They look down on their body at the scene of a road accident or on a hospital bed. They often see and hear things which would normally be impossible – nurses discussing their case, items on top of a high shelf. One man was climbing the Himalayas when the pegs came out and he fell until a rope held. During that time he saw his Sherpa stealing stuff from his bag (when confronted by this, the Sherpa faints) and later is wife leaves the house at a different time from usual, which she later confirms and explains.

Then they believe themselves to be walking down a corridor and greet people who walk straight past them.

Then, whilst supposedly unconscious, they see a sort of life review as if they are watching a film. Is this like a day of judgement in which we do the judging? But why does it go backwards as if the memory going back to its core and presumably then to nothingness? While the memory is winding down, especially as the life review often seems to be running, is this wishful thinking in the extreme last moment of life?

The final experience is travelling up some tunnel towards the light and deceased loved ones welcoming them.

For most people, this is a very positive experience but for some it is more like Hell and they travel with their backs to the light. These seemsto be the sort of person who resists change ‑ for a tone deaf person, a lovely piece of music would be hell, for a hateful or change‑resistant person heaven would be hell

A change of oxygen can evoke a floating sensation. Oxygen reduction can produce hallucinations which are maybe a defence mechanism to disassociate our self-hood from our dying body. Is it a compensation for dying, like we release pain‑killing endorphins when hurt?

Is there a consciousness which exists outside the brain?

People say their mind was clearer BEFORE they came back from the experience so it isn’t like a drug trip. Or were parts of the brain ‘killed off so that other parts could experience things more sharply?

Most people are changed by these experiences. They change to a caring job or resolve top live life to the full.

They don’t see what they expect, i.e. Muslims don’t see Muhammad and Christians Jesus &c.


I was frightfully nervous until was given the anaesthetic for the operation. For some time–I cannot remember any more for how long—I wasn’t conscious of anything. Suddenly there was a heavy blow, which I resisted with my whole inner self. It seemed to me that I was going to be torn apart. But just as suddenly, immediately after the blow, everything was quiet: I saw myself lying there. I looked down from a floating position and saw a sharply defined picture of the operating table on which I saw myself lying, the operation wound on the right hand side of my body, the doctor with an indefinable instrument in his hand. I observed all this quite clearly. I tried to prevent the operation. I heard the words which—as they told me later—I apparently cried out: ‘Stop! What are you doing?’

Drug addicts also report that they experienced a split between body and soul of this kind, especially under the influence of has But it does not seem to be dependent on narcotics. Children have experienced it, and adults who were in a completely ‘sober’ state. The liberation of the self in question seems to be aided not by any abnormal gift, but by certain mental conditions. It generally seems to be preceded by a clouding of the consciousness, however: The dizziness increased. But then my senses quickly cleared again. I was standing in the room and knew that I was separated from my body. My thoughts became acutely clear. I gave myself a complete account of my condition. I analysed my feelings and thoughts carefully, and was conscious of the fact that I was analysing them—I was even conscious of this consciousness itself. Although it was night, I saw everything clearly, but not quite in the way one perceives the day light when one is awake. . . I wasn’t wearing any clothes . .. I was standing up and was able to move, either walking or gliding over the floor. I saw my body quite clearly, lying stretched out on the bed on its back, like a corpse.

The person giving the account then describes his vain attempts to make his body move. Finally he woke up ‘by means of auto­suggestion’, ‘gradually and without any shock’, wrote down what he had gone through and then slept deeply for two hours.

Reports of this kind are by no means confined to periods in which spiritualism was widespread. They belong to the fundamen­tals of human experience and may well be only reported so seldom because they are so strange. For example, the Low German seventeenth-century mystic Hemme Hayen tells us: . . . I was lying in bed, in the morning; it was already bright daylight and I was already fully awake. My mind lay in deep contemplation and in the rapture I thereupon experienced, my new man, as if side by side at my bedside, departed from the old one, leaving me lying on the bed like a dead log. Turning round, I therefore saw my natural body lying dead. But I myself came once again into dazzling light.

This mystical experience coincides with the psychological knowledge of our own day. The modern reporter does not talk about a dead body and the persona gloriae , but it could well be that he saw the same thing. He saw an unscathed reality, which parted from a sick one. Reports given by the dying are close to mystical experience. In both cases it is a question of life and death. A down-to-earth person belonging to our own day, a policeman whom the doctors were able to revive, chose these simple words:

I was driving home late, after my evening spell of duty. Sud­denly I found myself among some people who were standing round a car that had been involved in an accident. A girl was busy pulling a body out of the car. None of the others was lifting a finger. I think they were all paralysed by the shock of what had happened. And I thought: Why are you standing stock-still among all these onlookers? Then I was finally able to see the face of the person who had been involved in the accident: it was my own. Now the girl was kneeling over my body and I stood beside her, paralysed by shock, and looked on helplessly. The girl pressed her mouth to mine and began artificial respiration. Then I suddenly saw nothing more. The next thing I was conscious of was opening my eyes in hospital.

There is apparently no time-limit for this personal schism in dying. An English account gives two hours: I was in a hotel in London. I woke up in the morning feeling slightly unwell (I have a weak heart) and immediately afterwards I fainted. To my great astonishment I soon found myself in the top part of the room, from where I could see my lifeless body, in bed, with its eyes closed. I tried unsuccessfully to re-enter my body, and concluded from this that I was dead. I began to won­der what the hotel people and my relatives and friends would say. I asked myself whether there would be an inquest and how my business affairs would now be settled. I had certainly lost neither my memory nor my self-consciousness. I saw my lifeless body as if it had been some separate object; I was able to look at my face. But I couldn’t leave the room. I felt as if I were chained up, confined to the corner where I was. After one or two hours I heard someone knock several times at the locked door; but I wasn’t able to give any sign of life. A short time afterwards, the hotel door-keeper appeared on the balcony, to which a fire escape led up. I saw how he entered the room, looked nervously at my body and then opened the door. Soon the hotel man­ageress and other people came in. A doctor arrived. I saw him shake his head as he listened to my heart and then forced a spoon between my lips. I lost consciousness and woke up in bed. All this lasted at least two hours.

The dissociated self is quite conscious of its freedom.

I was standing in the centre of the room and plainly saw my dead body lying on the cot. I started to leave the room and met one of the doctors. I wondered that he did not say something to me, but as he made no effort to stop me I went out into the street . . . and there met an old acquaintance, M. B. I attempted to strike him on the back by way of salutation, but my arm passed right through him. … I utterly failed to attract his attention. I distinctly saw him walk across the street and gaze at a miniature Ferris wheel in a window. . . I went up to the hospital to see the body. I passed through the door and gazed at myself for a time. I . . . heard the doctors discussing my case. One of the specialists wanted to try some experiment with a new electrical apparatus. The instruments were attached to my feet and I distinctly felt the sensation while standing in the centre of the room.

The reporter states that he possesses letters and telegrams show­ing that M.B. was in the town on that particular day, walked down that street, and looked at the little Ferris wheel in the window.

In the most severe phase of typhoid, the doctor A.S.W. was without pulse and perceptible heart-beat for an hour. He was declared dead. According to his own account, however, he himself believed that he was unconscious for a time, but then came to his senses again, as ‘his true self, but still within the body whose anatomical marvels he observed with a doctor’s interest. Then his account goes on: I realised my condition and reasoned calmly thus. . . . I have died . . . and yet I am as much a man as ever. . . I watched the interesting process of the separation of soul and body. . . . As I emerged, I saw two ladies sitting at my head. I measured the distances between the head of my cot and the knees of the lady opposite the head and concluded there was room for me to stand…. I seemed to be translucent, of a bluish cast and perfectly naked. I . . . saw my own dead body. I was surprised at the paleness of the face. I saw a number of persons sitting and standing about the body, and particularly noticed two women apparently kneeling by my left side…. I have since learned that they were my wife and my sister…. I now attempted to gain the attention of the people but found that they gave me no heed…. I concluded the matter by saying to myself: . . . They are watching what they think is I, but they are mistaken. That is not I. This is I and I am as much alive as ever.’

I turned and passed out at the open door .. . into the street. There I stopped and looked about me. I never saw that street more distinctly than I saw it then. I took notice of the redness of the soil and of the washes the rain had made.3°

In the accounts of some of the people who have gone through the process of dying, we find indications, on the other hand, that they now perceive their different, observing and reflecting self as being in a strange form. We heard in the last account that it was ‘transpar­ent, blueish in colour’. Other people find it difficult to discover an appropriate word. ‘I wasn’t wearing any clothes on my fluid body.’ Others claim that, as they kept watch in the room of the dead person, they saw from outside their ‘astral body’ above the corpse, according to an English account in the form of a deep purple cloud of smoke.

The reports are unanimous in saying that the escaped self was itself perceptible, but that it possessed no bodily appearance. ‘My hand went right through the middle’, we hear again and again. Doors offer no resistance, distances have little meaning. Gravity seems to be abolished. The exit of the self is experienced as libera­tion. There are patients who are able to describe the process of dying in all its phases.

We find another variant of our theme in the narrative of the English Presbyterian minister L.B. He had left his group when climbing a mountain and sat down exhausted on the edge of a precipice. According to his account he was suddenly attacked by paralysis, which was so severe and so sudden that he was not even able to throw away the match with which he wanted to light his cigar. It burnt his fingers. He noticed that his feet and hands were growing numb, then his knees and elbows, trunk, head; and finally the moment came when life ‘departed’. He thought that he was dead and was conscious ‘of floating in the air like a kind of balloon’.

`Looking down, I was astonished to recognize my own, deathly pale body. How curious, I said to myself, there is my body, in which I lived and which I called my self, as if the coat were the body and the body the soul …’ He saw the cigar in the corpse’s hand, and imagined what his friends would say when they found his body. Then he perceived that they had chosen a route to the top of the mountain which they had expressly agreed not to take. And he saw the guide stealing food out of his friends’ rucksacks. And then the minister recognized his wife. ‘Hallo’, he said, ‘there’s my wife going to Lungern, although she told me that she wouldn’t leave until tomorrow.’ Finally he felt himself being drawn down­wards into his body, fell into ‘confusion and chaos’, in complete contrast to his clarity before, and, when he became fully conscious, found that his friends had found him and ‘revived’ him. He reproached them with breaking their word, and the guide with stealing. The man thought it was the devil, forewent his fee and ran away. What B. had seen with regard to his wife also proved cor­rect.

I presently became conscious outside my physical body and saw it lying there … I could feel the terrible electricity passing through me, even as I stood some feet away from my physical body, which was in contact with the wire…. I could not move by my own volition. My arms, in the astral body, were held rigid—as if grasping a wire which was not there—just as my arms in the physical body were grasping a wire which was there….Amid this agony I could see the boys standing beside me, ‘ frightened dumb, but afraid to touch me (my physical body) lest they too became victims. In vain I shrieked to them to run for help, but they could neither see me in the astral body nor hear my pleas. Suddenly they seemed to gain their senses and began to shriek and jump about frantically.

There I stood, helpless, for several minutes, which to me were like so many years. Then, thank God, I could see people coming on the run toward the spot, from all over the neighbourhood, and I seemed to know that someone would get me out of my torment. There was M. climbing a fence almost a block away, and he was one of my best friends. Over the fence I saw him come, then rush toward the scene.

Two ladies from the nearby houses were coming. I knew them too. And there, a man and his son were running toward me—the man carrying a hatchet; he had rubber boots on. This man reached down to pick up my physical body, and as he did so, I seemed to bound right back into it again and was conscious there, as all the neighbours stood by, looking on. All were astonished at the fact that I ‘came back to life,’ as they said, and the examining physician who was called was likewise baffled.

The Swiss architect S.v.J. passed on a detailed interpretation of his experience of dying, to which I shall come back later. He was thrown out of his car on 16 September 1964, and lay in the road unconscious, with eighteen broken bones. He calls the phenome­non which concerns us here (the exit of the self) ‘a first intermezzo’ in the process of dying.
I hovered over the site of the accident and saw my lifeless, badly injured body lying there, exactly in the position which I later found described in the police report. I also clearly saw our car and the onlookers. Then I noticed a man who was attempting to bring me back to life. I was able to hear what the people were saying. The doctor was kneeling on the right hand side, giving me an injection. Two others were holding me from the other side and were pulling off my clothes. I saw how the doctor forced my mouth open with a spatula and tried artificial respira­tion, and I heard him say: ‘I can’t give him cardiac massage, his ribs are broken.’ Then he stood up and said—in funny Bernese German—`There’s nothing to be done. He’s dead.’ People wanted to move my body away from the side of the road and asked the soldiers where there was a blanket to cover my body. I wanted to laugh, and to say to them, ‘Don’t make such a scene, folks; I’m not quite dead yet.’ I found the whole thing rather funny, but it didn’t worry me at all. I actually found it amusing to be able to look on at people’s efforts. Then I saw someone in bathing trunks approaching, with a little bag in his hand. He talked to the doctor in standard German. He exchanged a few words with him, then knelt down beside me and did something to me. I was perfectly well able to fix the man’s face in my mind. And in fact a man came into my hospital ward a few weeks later … I got a shock, for I knew at once that I had already seen him somewhere at some time or other. He said that he was the doctor who had given me the life-saving cardiac injection—I myself would say the ‘devilish’ injection, because it was with the injec­tion that my sufferings began. I recognized him immediately and was even able to remember his voice quite well. We immediately became friends.

It was interesting to see this terrible scene, a man dying ‘down there’ after a car accident. What was especially interesting was that the man was myself and that I was able to observe myself exactly, from above, as an onlooker, without any emotion, quite calmly, in a heavenly, felicitous state, in ‘divine harmony’. It is very seldom that a person sees himself dying. But it is more interesting still that this should happen without excitement and with the contented feeling: at last I’m dying. This was my first four-dimensional experience. I hovered about ten feet above the site of my accident. My sensory organs functioned; my memory was able to register everything. I wasn’t conscious of any hin­drance.

For this informant (of whom we shall hear more later), the experience of dying becomes a religious one which changes him fundamentally and gives his life and thinking a new direction. He has to draw on the vocabulary of the east, to find order.

I believe that during this time … the silver cord still binding my astral body to my brain cakras became ever thinner and more elastic, like an astral umbilical cord. The moment approached when this silver thread was bound to snap like a rubber band under tension. This would have meant final death, following the clinical death which had long since taken place; that is to say, the whole process would have reached a threshold. Then there would no longer have been any possibility of a return from beyond.

I do not know how long it would have lasted before the silver cord snapped. According to earthly timekeeping, perhaps a few seconds or tenths of seconds remained, but in the fourth dimen­sion, time and three-dimensional space stop. So I experienced this brief period of a few minutes and seconds during my clinical death as several days or several weeks, because I had experienced so much in this short time.

Our accounts always talk about a directly t directly experienced closeness of the person’s seems to the dying person as just what it is; is he had heard them talk in life. It is the selec¬t the creative one, that seems to have the upper magination. The dying person’s life panorama the stirrup and the ground’, says the old ught, mercy I found’: the rider who fell to his his spoilt life again, and found grace. This is in line weith what the dying tell us. A pious tale from Denmark few words: an from the west coast of Jutland wanted to dive into the water while bathing; but he hit his head on a stone and was drowning, having lost consciousness. He rose to the went down again before he could be rescued. his whole life passed in front of him. First of al he felt completely deserted. Then he laid hold of God’s grace and was drawn out again, a new man.”

Again and again, people (especially those who can tell of a swift, violent death relate in astonishment with what extreme vividness as up before them. Many similar experiences, of a kind familiar to mountaineers, lie behind the account of the Austrian Hias Rebitsch. He was climbing the south face of the Goldkappel in South Tyrol, a rope-length ahead of his companions, secured by three pitons. An overhanging rock was still between him and his goal. he thought he had surmounted it, when a piton came loose and he fell  backwards into the abyss in a break-neck drop.

I still grasp completely what is happening, am fully conscious of what is going on round me: I am brought up short for a moment. I register: the first piton has gone. The second. I strike against the rock, scrape against it as I go down, want to resist, to claw at it. But a wild power dashes me inexorably down and down. Lost. Finished.

But now I am not frightened any more. Fear of death leaves me. All feeling, every perception is snuffed out. Only more emptiness, complete resignation within me and night round about me. I am not plummeting downwards any more either. I am sinking softly through space on a cloud, resigned, released. Have I already passed the gateway to the kingdom of shadows? Suddenly light and movement enter the darkness round me. Cloudy figures detach themselves from me and become clearer and clearer. A film flickers on to a screen inside me: I see myself in it again, see myself, only three years old, tottering to the grocer’s shop next door. In my hand I am clutching the penny that my mother had given me so that I could buy myself a few sweets. Then I see myself as an older child, see how my right leg is caught under a falling layer of planks. My grandfather is try­ing to raise the planks. Mother is cooling and stroking my crushed foot … More and more pictures out of my life flicker up and are shaken into confusion. The film snaps. Chains of light cut through the empty black background like lightning. Catherine wheels, raining sparks, flickering will o’ the wisps … Again I am standing in front of myself. I cannot recognize myself physically in this form, but I know that it is me. Sud­denly a cry out of the distance: ‘Hias!’ and again, `Hias! Hias!’ A call from within me? Suddenly sun-bathed rock and light and silence before me. My eyes have opened. The window into the past had been thrown open. Now it is shut again. And again the frightened cry. It comes from this world, from above … Now I become conscious for the first time that I have just survived a great fall, have returned from a long journey, back through my life, back from an earlier existence, have slipped into my skin again. I worked myself up the seventy feet with the help of the rope … The last piton had held.

It is by no means unusual for the dying person, after the cessation of bodily feeling, to be granted the liberating life panorama as he experiences the resolution of his most immediate conflicts as well. Like the rest of us, my friend H.S. suffered very much during the war from the fact that the post so often needed many weeks before it reached us in the front line. On the very day when his abdomen was torn to pieces, he had told us during the morning how weighed down by worry he was about his father, who was seriously ill, and his brother, of whom no-one knew whether he was dead or a prisoner. We were certain that my friend was dead and covered him with a tarpaulin. But then he woke up again, shortly before he died, and told us with the happiest of faces that he had met them all, his father was digging in the garden among the roses, and his brother was playing in the grass with their little sister and the dog. As he said this the snow fell on his face—the snow under which we were then forced to leave him.

Perhaps H.S. was only able to tell us the beginning of what he underwent in dying, the part which occupied his unconscious the most. We hear again and again that the comforting pictures sup­plied by the memory lead from the present progressively back­wards through the years, right to earliest childhood, as if the dying person in his approach to death now had to accomplish the re-entry into his birth.

Unconscious as I was, I saw, as if it had been in a film, several pictures out of my earlier life, which curiously enough ran backwards from the present to the past. First of all I saw the picture of my mother; she was smiling at me, although at that time she was in hospital with gall-bladder trouble. The certainty of her being restored to health was associated with my mother’s picture. As her image faded, my father was standing cheerfully in front of me. He was holding my hand and climbing a hill with me, in the place we came from. There were a lot of flowers right and left of the path. He pointed them out to me. The whole countryside was blooming and bathed in sunlight. I found a big stone and turned it over: it was weightless. On the back of it was a quantity of the most beautiful rock crystals. They were grouped together like a cathedral. I was delighted with them. As we went on, I was suddenly together with a lot of other children in a big flowery meadow. I could hear clear tones, sounding in a gentle rhythm. We danced together. Suddenly my brothers and sisters were round me. When they fell behind, the little girl I was friendly with came towards me. She died when she was six. Now she had light, shining hair. I was just as small as she was and the same age. In the last picture I felt as if I were about three years old. All at once I was lying in my cot. My grandmother’s thin, tender face was leaning over me, looking at me kindly. I knew immediately that it was my grandmother, although I had never been able to remember her. She was lit up by a broad sunbeam. At the same time I heard clear tones like a woman’s voice. It could have been my mother. She always sang a lot. But now I had regained my senses. I was sad and disappointed that now all these lovely pictures had disappeared.”

For us these are naively related stories, but I should hesitate to shrug them off as the reflexes of physical occurrences. We shall discuss this question later. Is the immensely complicated life of the human soul, the treasury of a person’s past, to be reduced in its final hour to a tale from a children’s story-book? Does it not seem more probable that the dying person becomes childish, like a senile old man, because the switches in his brain are breaking down, rather than that we at long last attain the Gospel’s high requirement and blessing, and become like little children—people, that is to say, who take existence as a pure, unearned gift, delighted by its incal­culable riches?

Then came the Light. A brilliant, white Light, blinding in its unearthly radiance. . .. It suffused my whole being, lifting me to the indescribable height of sublime ecstasy; complete at­onement with the Divine Essence, at the all-pervading con­sciousness of the Cosmic, of God.

Slowly began the return to my body and the world. Gradually I withdrew into my lifeless body. But the light remained, and, intuitively realizing, during this delicate operation, that it was of the utmost importance to retain as much as possible of its radiant life-giving vibrations, I concentrated my whole attention on it.

The experience of light and colour is not infrequently associated with music; we are even told of voices. Mrs F.L. was clinically dead for half an hour. Her heart was got going again by means of an adrenalin injection. When she opened her eyes she said:

I was a long way away. Did you call me back? … How it actually happened I don’t know any more. All at once I heard a fine, high-pitched humming. Or was it the colours round about me which radiated these sounds? I was floating in a long tunnel, which first of all seemed quite narrow and then got wider and wider, wider and wider still the further forward I floated. Above me it was dark red and in front of me a very dark blue which got lighter the higher I looked. I was moving forwards along this tunnel. The weightlessness was wonderful. I heard a voice a long way away. It was no longer the singing and humming of the colours; this voice called my name. I knew the voice, and I know too that I tried to remember whom the voice belonged to. While I was floating through the tunnel I couldn’t remember. But I know now. It was the voice of a person who died many years ago and whom I have often thought about. Then I heard foot­steps too, as if someone were going through a big tunnel, walk­ing noisily. The footsteps echoed behind me. I hurried forward, for I wanted to find the person who was calling me. I had to look for him somewhere where the dark blue grew towards me out of the opening of this funnel. The humming became higher and more beautiful. The merge into one another in a multicoloured play of a thousand nuances, and then to unfold again like a bunch of flowers. Every colour had a sound. And all these colours and sounds together produced a wonderful music which filled me and drew me for­wards .

We shall hear later how this woman was fetched back from this experience, returning to her body. She then lived another twelve hours. After that she died a second time, for ever. Light, colours, and music are the dominating experiences in dying. Compared with these, the experience of the spoken word is of secondary importance. Even in the last account a voice is only mentioned; we are not told what it said. The words were not remembered. And when, in giving an account of the life panorama, the narrator talks about meeting people, usually his nearest and dearest, or when we are told that he carried on conversations, the material we have never tells us what was actually said. In contrast we must point to the other, persistently recurring experience of weightless floating in a space which is not experienced as space at all. ‘I drifted in mar­vellously pervaded interim regions’ we heard from Paul Anton Keller. But he was ‘scarcely aware’, on the one hand, of the dimensions and character of this intermediate kingdom; and yet on the other hand he experienced it ‘with much more alert senses than it is given to dreamers and the mentally confused to do’. Yet again, the vision is apparently ‘remote’ from all the sensory organs.

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