What does a near death experience FEEL like?
Updated: Dec 7, 2020
Jeffrey Guss, M.D. (Photo by JGP)
Unity. Transcendenc. Paradoxical. Eternal.
These were a few words chosen to reveal how subjects felt after undergoing a psilocybin-induced drug state during a clinical research trial at New York University Hospital. The research was supervised by Jeffrey Guss, MD, researcher, and psychologist, as part of a cancer treatment clinical trial research experiment. Those words were how the participants most often described the sensation of “hooking up” with the core universe as they separated from their sense of an earth-bound ego.
I’m not into the drug culture so I wasn’t especially interested in a discussion about psilocybin ("magic mushroom") treatments, even though I am a late-stage cancer survivor. My brother died an opiod-related death, and so I keep the devil at arm’s length. However, the lecture was presented as part of a death-and-dying research panel, and I discovered that this research actually does have great promise or bearing on death-and-dying research. Why?
The metaphysical state reported by the trippers has identical properties to the experience described by survivors of Neath Death Experiences (NDEs). After his presentation, I begged a few more moments of Dr. Guss’ time to better acquaint myself with his work and his philosophy. In particular, I wanted to weave his theory with that of Williams Richards, who has done clinical research with entheogens and human volunteers, so I might better explain the similarities here, to you.
A Near Death Experience, by definition, shares these qualities with the cancer research subjects:
Paradoxical survival – realization one is dead (or unconscious, in the experience of the drug-induced subject), yet reports of never feeling so “alive” or “enlightened” before
Transcendence – a feeling of being outside of the constraints of time, of cause-and-effect, or even of evolution or eternity
Truth – more than an emotion, the “truth” of the experience or existence is recognized as a spiritual truth, an absolute known, “as undeniable as the existence of Love and Beauty”
Unity – a recognition of the connection of the internal to a greater external; acceptance that there is a godhead or soul residing within which is connected to a source, and there is a sense of “homecoming” versus separation from the physical body
Otherness – a realization that there was a “before” in terms of existence prior to the present experience of life, and the center is not defined by this single life experience, but by a larger collective experience
Regret – re-entry is most often with a pang of regret to return, in part to difficulties in expressing what happened with language (“I lived for a moment again where there was only “both/and” — in an inclusive, not exclusive world that is defined by either/or”).
I found it interesting that the psilocybin experience could be enhanced by introduction of geometric patterns, gothic arches, and gemstones and precious metals – the very designs, symbols and items we used to surround our own dead with centuries ago.
Another paradox: A depressing eurphoria
Even though there is often difficulty during “re-entry”, including depression oftentimes experienced by those who had a near death experience, the survivors of both experiences (drug induced or near death) also report feeling more at home in the universe. And while they may feel more isolated from their previous lives (many later report interpersonal difficulties with partners due to the fact they have “too radically changed” in outlook due to the experience), they nonetheless often report feeling less preoccupied with physical pain or mental anxieties regarding daily living. Oftentimes, there may even be spontaneous healing of some affliction, or a “healing influence” as Dr. Guss explained.
When asked his feelings about his own research, he replied, “it is not about the drug, but about the trip. That is the value to science and mankind.”
Is this information or perspective helpful to you in your own search for understanding? Let me know what YOU think!