Nancy Evans Bush has released her long awaited book Dancing Past The Dark: Distressing Near-Death Experiences. I have recently finished reading this great book on frightening or distressing NDEs. It is so refreshing to see the frightening NDEs brought to the attention of the public.
It will be extremely helpful when health care professionals, psychotherapists, and clergy are able to help an individual deal with whatever the experience was, no matter what academics name it. (The difference is rather like telling a child there is nothing to cry about because he was stung by a wasp and not a hornet—the problem is the pain, not the label.) Bush, Page 105
I first met Nancy Evans Bush when I spoke at the IANDs Conference at The MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas in October 2006. Our paths crossed again at a meeting at The Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan in June 2008.
During this time I was blessed to be able to spend quality time with other researchers in the field of NDEs, at the invitation of The Fetzer Institute, and it was especially nice to be able to hear the first hand accounts of some of the people’s NDEs. Nancy was one of the people who shared their NDE with some of the group. Nancy’s NDE however was of the frightening kind.
A few weeks ago I got an email from Nancy and she mentioned that her book Dancing Past the Dark: Distressing Near-Death Experiences had now been published and asked if I would like to review it. I was really excited to read it as there is so little in the literature about the frightening NDEs in comparison with the pleasant NDEs.
I had come across two people in my research who described frightening NDEs; one was the prototypical NDE but interpreted in an unpleasant way and one was so frightening for the patient that I to terminate the interview as the mere recall of it was causing her so much distress.
I also vividly recall when I was a student nurse looking after a dying lady. This lady was petrified and every time a member of staff approached her bed she would try to cling on to them and dig her nails into their skin. She was begging us not to let her die, she said she had died before and it was a frightening thing. (I checked her notes and indeed she’d had a cardiac arrest several years previously.) At the time the other nurses and myself didn’t have any idea of why she was so terrified. It is only since studying NDEs that I can reflect back and suggest that when the lady had a cardiac arrest a few years previously, she may have had a frightening NDE. The case is one that also distressed us nurses as we felt useless when trying to support her.
Clearly more research needs to be done in order to understand the frightening NDEs and provide greater psychological support to those who experience them – frightening NDEs have been ignored for far too long!
In fact, because contemporary metaphysical thought has so strongly emphasized the belief (or certainly the hope) that only the light is real and has value, it has by and large denied or ignored the “dark night” aspects of spirituality. (Bush, page 123)
With a foreword written by Professor Bruce Greyson I was very excited to read this book and it did not disappoint me. This is a most needed thorough investigation into frightening NDEs.
In this honest look at frightening or unpleasant NDEs Nancy considers all aspects and possible explanations for the less commonly reported experiences which fail to comply with typical experiences of beings of light and beautiful landscapes. Nancy, herself having experienced a frightening NDE, draws on her own experience and her 30 years of research and considers these experiences from scientific, historical, psychological and theological as well as from a personal perspective.
Along with Professor Bruce Greyson, Nancy undertook one of the earliest analyses of the frightening NDEs which took 9 years to collect only 50 of such cases. She describes the difficulties of collecting the cases then further follow up which is testimony to how impacting these experiences are and how difficult they are for the experiencers to express especially when not conforming to the pleasant NDEs.
She highlights the biased, uninformed thinking that frightening NDEs must be due to the person being of immoral character, mean, hate filled and not loving God which has no data to support it. She rightly points out how frightening NDEs were simply not looked for and all measurement tools did not take them into account. This is one aspect that I found difficulty with when undertaking my own research so had to adapt the Greyson NDE Scale in order to accommodate the two frightening cases I encountered.
A most important aspect is Nancy’s comparison of the frightening NDE to shamanic initiation and her point that shamanic initiates would have recognized this stage but NDErs don’t as we have lost touch with fundamental spiritual aspects of the human psyche.
Not only does Nancy consider possible explanations for frightening NDEs from all perspectives but she also offers very practical and important information on how to deal with the experience and how to integrate it into their life post-NDE.
These three themes—the non-physical understood as psychologically real, acknowledgment of the existence of frightening non-physical realities, and the development of strategies for dealing with them—offer a perspective for exploring distressing near-death experiences. (Bush, Page 143)
Towards the end of the book Nancy has a section where she has compiled a comprehensive list of questions about the frightening NDEs which readers will find most helpful.
The appendix also has great examples of frightening NDEs along with advice for caregivers or loved ones of someone who has undergone such an experience.
The bottom line about distressing NDEs in general and the hellish ones in particular seems to be that hell, like heaven, is very real—as a product of the imaginal system that produces experience. It is not a place, not a destination, but a built-in range of ideas that are part of us, and that we must deal with. This concept is part of a much larger conversation involving the growing evidence that consciousness is not strictly located in the brain but has a much greater field, perhaps universe-wide. That being true, it seems likely that the better prepared we are for these kinds of experience, the happier will be the outcome. (Bush, page 200)
This is a most welcome addition to the literature on NDEs and is a must read for all health care workers and those who are likely to encounter NDErs.