Authors who have reported research into near-death experiences (NDE’s) invariably describe the “life review” as an integral part of the experience, along with many other elements. While researchers and writers in the area of NDE’s confirm that every near-death experience is different in its dimensions and intensity for everyone (no two are exactly the same), they consistently report on the high level of incidences of people experiencing a life review during their NDE. The character of the life review is typically individualised also.
The nature of the life review is richly described by Jeff Janssen, author of Your Life’s Ripple Effect: Discover How and Why Your Life Really Matters. Jeff has researched more than 3,500 NDE cases and reported in depth on their nature and their impact on the individual involved. He discusses his research findings and his book in a video podcast interview with Kirsty Salisbury. Jeff explains the nature of life reviews along a number of dimensions and provides illustrations of each dimension from actual near-death experiences. The dimensions include microscopic focus, panoramic view of the ripple effect of a person’s life and the resultant profound understanding experienced by the individual involved:
- Microscopic focus: Jeff describes the level of detail experienced by many people undergoing a life review during their near-death experience. He explains that the life review can encompass a person’s life from birth to the present day (or periods within) and entail highlighting every thought, word, action and feeling experienced by the individual involved over the span of the review. Not only does this involve vivid recall but what is also exposed is person’s reasons for acting (or re-acting) in the way they did. This microscopic view means that the individual involved cannot hide the real reasons through self-justifications, lack of self-insight or unfounded assumptions – the underpinning motivations and precursors are in the spotlight.
- Ripple effects: Not only are the individual’s words, actions and reasons exposed but also the impact that these have on individuals who are directly impacted by them. This is experienced in high definition – feeling the physical impact of a slap or punch, experiencing the pain, anguish, frustration and anger of another resulting from the focal individual’s words and actions. So not only do you experience your own thoughts and feelings but also those of people directly impacted. The ripple effect is disclosed through being able to observe what the impacted individual does as a result of the interaction with you – passing on their anger, resentment or other feelings to family members, co-workers and anyone else they interact with. Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr. Mary Neal in her book chapter, Death on the River, discusses her life review during her near death experience and explains that no event or words in her life were seen in isolation but starkly in terms of their “unseen ripple effects”. She saw the impact of her words and actions on others “dozens of times removed” from the immediate situation and understood that “every human interaction” has a far more significant effect than we can possibly imagine with our limited vision and insight. The effects of words and actions that express love and kindness towards another person appear in the life review as amplified feelings of joy, gratitude and appreciation by the recipients and others.
- Profound understanding: people who report having a life review during their near-death experience also report that if there are witnesses present who can see the life review (in all its high definition visuals, e.g. in shared death experiences), they do not judge the person having the review. Jeff confirms that this is true also of other beings who are seen by some people to be present, including the Supreme Being (or “God” for some people). There is no external judgment as the life review proceeds, only one’s own evaluation based on full information, understanding and insight that is engendered by the life review process. Kirsty and Jeff suggest that the life review serves to identify areas for learning and development – what they describe as “soul purpose”, e.g. to develop greater patience or empathy. The life review can also throw light on one’s life purpose and may even show the way forward by identifying a unique way to contribute to the welfare of the broader community and the world at large.
Choosing the effect you will have
There is little we can do about our past words, actions and omissions other than seek and/or give forgiveness – a forgiveness meditation can be helpful here. Research into life after a NDE and life review indicates that people affected by the experience tend to change their words and actions so that they will have a positive ripple effect in their interactions. Jeff describes these changes on his website and I have summarised them here:
- Focus on living a life of contribution and personal meaning
- Courage and fearlessness to live authentically
- Offering unconditional love
- Purposely living life to the full
- Peace, patience and joy.
- Being a victim and passive in the face of challenges
- Focus on materialistic values
- Hatred and envy of others
- Being stressed and overwhelmed
- Concern about what others think about them.
As a result of this changed orientation to a positive ripple effect in their lives, people left soul-destroying jobs, increased their connectedness with others (family, friends, colleagues) and ceased to gossip about or bad-mouth others. Some even chose to work with the dying in a hospice setting.
In his earlier book, 10 Life Changing Lessons from Heaven, Jeff identifies how we can increase the positive ripple effect from our words and actions – we can choose what kind of ripple effect we will have in the rest of our life. The lessons include learning, loving, trusting, and appreciating without limit while fearlessly pursuing a purposeful life in the service of others. These lessons from near-death experiences resonate strongly with what Frank Ostaseski describes as the “lessons from death and dying” – gleaned from providing end-of-life care to over a thousand people who have died in a hospice environment.
Throughout his book on the 10 lessons, Jeff offers exercises to make us think about what we need to change in our lives. He also offers a series of questions on his website that address each of the 10 lessons, including “accept non-judgmentally” and “appreciate regularly”. He encourages us to explore these with our friends or a community of care.
Even small acts of kindness have a positive flow on effect and cause ripples that may improve the quality of other peoples’ lives. One small example of this is the daily ritual of the “waving man”, Peter Van Beek, who waved to everyone who passed him in a car as he stood near a roundabout with a broad and welcoming smile – the positive ripple effect of this small action was reported recently on his death.
The challenge as Kirsty points out is to avoid being obsessed with our past life and things that we cannot change but to look ahead and change our words and actions while pursuing a life of purpose, meaning and contribution. As we grow in mindfulness through reflection, meditation and other mindfulness activities, we can develop the necessary self-awareness, insight, courage and fearlessness to make our life matter for others.
By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)
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