12 Universal Themes Found in Near-Death Experiences

Updated May 20, 2021
Patient having a near death experience

People who die, but are revived often have what is commonly called a near-death experience. Throughout these experiences, there are several common themes in their stories.

1. Floating Sensation

A floating sensation apart from your body is a common theme of a near-death experience (NDE). The person gradually becomes aware that they are floating outside their bodies. This sensation is known as out-of-body experience (OBE).

Patients who died on the operating table, but were resuscitated tell how they attempted to get the doctors' attention. Some report floating above the scene, while others wander off, having grown impatient. They describe being able to move through walls and door with ease.

Young woman levitating in autumn field

2. Looking Down at Their Bodies

Many near-death experiencers report looking down on their own bodies from where they were floating directly above. They may see their bodies on a surgical table undergoing a medical procedure and hear what the doctors are saying, or they might experience looking down on their dead bodies following an accident. When this happens, they report feeling a sense of confusion or dispassion, as well as a feeling of peace.

3. Witness to Their Own Death

There are countless stories about people hovering over their lifeless bodies, watching as medical personnel attempted to resuscitate them. Most are able to give details of the moments immediately following their deaths. They can accurately recount conversations between the medical workers and describe the various medical procedures performed on them.

These are things they couldn't possibly know. Many of the stories told have astounded those who were in attendance during the time of death. Even scientists can't explain this phenomenon with hallucination theories or the misfiring of neurons in the brain.

Man floating above his body

4. Invisible to Others

Many NDEs recall wandering about the hospital and visiting with family members in the waiting room, although their presence went undetected. Later, they're able to recite what was said during that time and describe the various activities their loved ones were doing - all verified by their families.

5. Moving Through a Tunnel of Light

Another common experience with a NDE is traveling through a tunnel of bright light. During this travel, experiencers may feel drawn toward the light, or they might notice sounds of singing, humming, or bells ringing. They often see other people in the tunnel, moving alongside them.

Spirit Woman Floating Into A Tunnel Of Light

6. Greeted by Loved Ones

The majority of reports of NDEs mention the presence of a deceased family member or angelic being standing by their deathbed who reassures them and calms their fears. In other stories, the "greeter" appears inside the tunnel or at the end of the tunnel when the person emerges into the brilliant white light. Still, some NDE stories retell how there were multitudes of people in the light who were also being greeted by their loved ones or angelic beings.

7. Sense of Freedom

Many near-death experiencers report a sense of freedom, joy, or lightness from no longer being bound to the human body. They also report noticing the absence of physical pain. They often enjoy swift movements to various destinations by merely thinking of the place and they are instantly there.

Young man sitting in deep meditation

8. Hellish NDE

Not everyone has a beautiful NDE, homecoming, or journey through a tunnel of light. In a few of the NDE stories, the experience was neither calm nor pleasant. In fact, some NDErs claim they went to hell. These NDE stories are often traumatic to the person and to those who learn of their experience.

One man, upon being revived, screamed that he'd seen the devil and was petrified. He went on to describe horrific scenes of great suffering and masses of tangled bodies being burned alive.

9. Impossible to Describe

Most of the people who experience a NDE and went through the tunnel of light tell about visiting with deceased loved ones and being able to touch them. NDErs claim the world they visited was more vibrant and real than their physical one.

Feelings of immense joy and happiness of being reunited with loved ones overwhelm them. The profound universal love they experienced during their NDE is more than they can bear; they become emotional when attempting to explain it. They find explaining the world they visited impossible to describe.

10. Love and Great Beauty--Heaven!

The lush scenes that NDErs talk about sound like paradise. They tell about how alive and vibrant the world they visited was. Even the colors are more brilliant, and some are not like any colors found in the physical world. They simply have no words to describe the hues. All manner of describing their experience fails to convey the magnitude and intensity of the world commonly called heaven. Who could ever want to leave it?

In addition to the visual beauty of that world, they talk about the choral and instrumental music that sometimes greets NDErs. Again, the sounds are unlike anything they've ever heard. Most NDErs say that the physical world pales in comparison to the one they visited. They anticipate their eventual return without any trepidation.

Young woman sleeping on a deck chair floating through the universe

11. Sudden Return to Body

Many of the NDE stories reveal that the return to their bodies was involuntary. However, some claim they were given the choice to return to their physical bodies while others were simply told it wasn't their time and that they must return.

They speak of having a sense of traveling very rapidly through space. Many recall seeing the earth as though in a science-fiction movie and approaching the planet from outer space. For most NDErs, there is a long-lasting sense of having journeyed a great distance from earth into a different dimension or realm of existence.

12. Life Changing

Those who are involuntarily sent back usually express great sadness and remorse over not being able to stay, yet the majority do re-adjust once back in their bodies. Still, most NDErs talk about how they felt more alive in the other world. Stories abound with how lives are changed after a NDE.

One woman quit her job and returned to college to pursue a career in medicine, while a former drug addict recovered and went on to help other addicts. Several wrote books, while others discovered new talents or psychic abilities.

Near-Death Experiences Defined

The common themes of near-death experiences (NDEs) were first described by Dr. Raymond Moody who coined the term and wrote about his finding in Life After Life and many other books on human consciousness surviving bodily death.

Over 13 million Americans claim to have near-death experience stories. Most were clinically dead, but revived only to return with tales of seeing a light at the end of a tunnel and journeying to a beautiful world filled with love and deceased loved ones.

Commonalities of Near-Death Experiences

There are many commonalities shared by those who have a near-death experience. All have a renewed sense of purpose upon their return to life and all agree that they no longer fear death.

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12 Universal Themes Found in Near-Death Experiences