I am pleased to have had lunch with Ken Ring and exchanged many emails before providing you the transcript of this interview.
For more information about Kenneth Ring’s brilliant books and research, please check out his website. As a professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut, Ken Ring was able to build upon the work of Raymond Moody in scientifically structured studies of 102 near-death survivors. He is well-known for his ground-breaking research of investigating NDEs among blind persons in his book Mindsight. Ken Ring is the co-founder and past president of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) and is the founding editor of the Journal of Near-Death Studies. He has published several near-death experience related books, including Life at Death (1980), Heading Toward Omega (1984), The Omega Project: Near-Death Experiences, UFO Encounters, and Mind at Large (1992), and his most well-known and celebrated NDE book, Lessons from the Light (2000).
(Tricia Barker) In all your research, what about NDEs has surprised you the most?
(Ken Ring) Since I am a baseball fan, I’ll take the liberty of throwing you a curve ball. What has surprised me the most is the enduring fascination the public has had with NDEs. I believe Raymond Moody whose bestselling book, Life After Life, introduced the world to the NDE in 1975, once told me that he thought it would be just a passing fad. I got involved with my NDE work the next year, and here we (and I) are more than forty years later, and it’s still in the public eye. Amazing. Some kind of fad.
(TB) What’s the most impressive veridical NDE you’ve come across?
(KR) Actually, if any readers are really interested in this question, they should consult the recent book entitled The Self Does Not Die: Verified Paranormal Phenomena from Near-Death Experiences by Titus Rivas, et al. There are scads of such cases there.
Here, I’ll just mention one I investigated years ago at Hartford Hospital. The story in brief goes like this: A nurse was interviewing a patient who had had an NDE. She claimed that during her NDE, she floated out of her body until she was above the hospital. She happened look down and noticed a single red shoe on the roof.
As it happened, a resident physician and a skeptic was present during the interview. He decided to show that the woman had been hallucinating.
“I’ll be right back,” he said. He was going up to inspect the roof.
Some minutes later, he returned (I like to imagine “red-faced) with the red shoe.
For years, when I was lecturing on NDEs and recounting this story, at the end I held up a red shoe and announced dramatically: “And here’s the shoe!”
Gasps from the audience. “Not really,” I confessed, “this is just a red shoe I happened to find on the side of road”. Laughter, a few boos.
(TB) Your book “Mindsight” that you wrote with Sharon Cooper talks about the NDEs of people blind from birth. Can you share some of your findings on those cases?
Well, actually, since it’s the details of these cases that are so fascinating, I’d really recommend that people interested in this subject simply read chapter three in my book, Lessons from the Light, where I discuss this research in accessible non-technical language.
But, briefly, one of my most interesting cases was that of a woman named Vicki whom I was able to meet and interview in her home in Seattle, the beginning of a treasured friendship.
Vicki (whose last name was Umipeg when I knew her) was very articulate and you can probably find her somewhere on YouTube where she tells her story. Here I can give only the barest details. (This might be the link to Vicki’s story).
Vicki was born blind, but had two NDEs about which she said “Those two experiences were the only time I could ever relate to seeing, and to what light was, because I experienced it. I was able to see.”
She went on to describe a number of objects in her immediate visual field (including aspects of her own body) before having a classic Moody-type NDE in an otherworldly environment, which she could also describe in visual terms. Furthermore, she had these experiences before Moody published his book in 1975.
How can people blind form birth actually see and what kind “seeing” is it, since it can’t possibly involve one’s eyes? Those are the questions I explore and try to answer in my books on the subject. This is a tease, but you don’t have to buy my any of books to find out. Just go to your library and find them there!
(TB) How has your research affected your life personally?
(KR) Well, it’s made me rich from my royalties. (I wish – just kidding.) For another, for many years, most of my friends were to be found among on the once nearly dead.
All right, if I must be serious for a moment, I would have to say that having spent so much time with near-death experiencers and writing extensively about NDEs, I know I have come to share many of their attitudes, beliefs and values. I also think this is the common experience of most, if not all, researchers like me who have been privileged to know or hear from hundreds of NDErs. You can’t help to see the world through their eyes.
(TB) What mystifies you the most about NDEs?
(KR) What still astounds me is the evidence from NDE research that people not only have life reviews but sometimes life previews. That is, in some cases, and I describe of number of such instances in my book, Heading Toward Omega, NDErs get glimpses of events that are to occur in their lives after their NDE, such as seeing the person they are going to marry – and these events then do indeed take place. It’s as if there is already a kind of trajectory of one’s life, and for a moment outside of time “during” an NDE, one can get flashes of what’s to come.
Think of it this way. You are a character in an author’s novel. As the character, you have no clue as to what your future holds. But suppose, all of a sudden, you were to enter the mind of the author and thereby see your fate – for example, that you will marry at 26, have three children, but then divorce after which your ex dies, leaving you to care for your kids.
It makes one wonder whether we all have a kind of life plan already in the works and though it may not be absolutely fixed in its details, it nevertheless may be a kind of blueprint for what we are likely to experience.
That’s certainly something to conjure with!
(TB) I believe there is a life plan in place for each of us. Robert Schwartz in Your Soul’s Plan writes beautifully about this topic. When God showed me a river during my near-death experience, I thought the river might a metaphor for the flow of life. I saw many souls that needed to be reminded to turn on their lights and live in the flow of light. Light can be a metaphor for higher learning, knowledge, connection to God/Unconditional Love, and connection to one’s purpose.
Fourteen years after my NDE, I was shocked to see that same river from one of the 7th floor classrooms where I teach at the Trinity River Campus for TCC. The river might be both a concrete place and a metaphor, but knowing that I was meant to be at this campus made my teaching experiences there all the more meaningful.
Also, as a young child, I knew that I would send light to the world through meditation during my final years on earth. I didn’t even know what transcendental meditation was at five years of age, but I understood the concept. When I run out of strength to write and speak, I can’t think of a more beautiful way to conclude my life than to simply pray for this world and send out my love energetically. There is so much pain on this planet that needs transformation. I know that you have helped many students in your classrooms simply by opening their minds to the topic of NDEs.
(TB) Why does it tend to take years for experiencers to fully integrate their experience?
(KR) Of course there are many reasons for this. I would refer readers to the books of PMH Atwater who has dealt with this issue extensively. She finds that it often takes about seven years. But consider: The NDE often turns the individual upside down and inside out, so to speak. It involves a radical transformation of the personality – that is, it goes to one’s roots and uproots them. Nothing is the same as it was. You can’t go back to being the person you were, but in order to become the person that the NDE seems to engender, it takes time. It is often painful (especially in terms of one’s relationships) and involves a complex maturational process that often does indeed take years. Talk to some NDErs; that’s the best way to understand what this process involves and why it takes so long.
(TB) What did you find are the negative effects or a downside to having an NDE?
(KR) If you have an NDE, you may suddenly become very psychic and find yourself privy to information about people that is disturbing. You may be aware of their thoughts and feelings. You may have foreknowledge of serious accidents, such as airplane crashes or space shuttle disasters. You may develop heightened sensitivities to chemicals or environmental pollutants. You may become a menace around electronic devices, which continue to malfunction in your presence, etc. You may be so changed that your friends and family have a difficult time relating to you. Oh, there are so many costs to having an NDE, but most NDErs would say, despite all that, they will always be grateful for their NDE because, God knows, it is the blessing beyond price.
(TB): I agree that the psychic flashes can be disruptive, especially if you don’t have spiritual guidance from someone who understands your experiences. Most people prove quite skeptical or simply want answers to their romantic or financial questions. I certainly didn’t find anyone right after my NDE who could help me make sense of random psychic phenomena.
Being intuitive can be a curse because ignorance often really is bliss. You don’t want to know that the guy sitting next to you on the bus should be in jail or that the person you are dating and think is an amazing human being is a lying to you or hiding significant parts of themselves. You might think you want to know, but it gets depressing to have the mysteries revealed too soon. For me, the psychic flashes seemed to simply show that I was outside of the natural flow of time. I think near-death experiencers relationship to time changes after their experience.
(TB) Have you found that NDEs in the U.S. the same or different compared to other countries?
(KR) That’s a simple question, but the answer to it is complex. “Other countries” is a very heterogeneous category! But since we haven’t got all day and since I am not conducting an academic seminar, let me just offer a simplistic analogy.
Consider the human body. Of course, there are thin ones, fat ones, beauties and monsters, coming in all manner of colors and these days fifty shades of gender. Nevertheless, the human body has the same underlying form and is instantly recognizable.
However, if you travel into different and diverse cultures, the outward appearance of the human body, in terms of clothing, decoration, hairstyle, etc., is enormously varied.
So it is with NDEs: the underlying form is often to be found, but there are marked cultural variations. In the U.S. and Western countries generally, we often find the classic Moody-type NDE. But outside of that geographical domain, variation is the rule. Every NDE seems to be an amalgam of the basic archetypal pattern of the NDE, the individual’s make-up and the culture in which he or she is embedded. In short, it ain’t the same everywhere.
(TB) What are some of your other interests outside of NDEs?
(KR) Oh, I have plenty of interests quite apart from NDEs. In fact, it was only after ceasing to be actively involved in NDE research and shooting off my mouth about it, beginning around the year 2000, that I was able to fully engage some of these passions. Classical music was one such. I even wrote a couple books about classical composers (and their muses) and worked one screenplay about one of them, Camille Saint-Saëns, which predictably went nowhere, but I had a ball working on it. About ten years ago, I became very interested in the issue of justice for the Palestinian people, traveled to the West Bank, and eventually collaborated with a Palestinian friend of mine on a book about the contemporary lives of Palestinians. (If you’re interested, it was called Letters from Palestine.) And then there is tennis – for more than the last decade, I have been a rabid Fedhead – that is, a fan and devoted follower of the incomparable Roger Federer.
But I still have interests in other phenomena related to NDEs. One, for example, is called terminal lucidity. It refers to a situation like this. Let’s say you have an aged relative – let’s make him your grandfather – who has had Alzheimer’s for years during which time he has never been able to speak. Whoever he was seems to have disappeared leaving only the shell of his body. But then, astonishingly, shortly before his death, his eyes brighten, he is able to talk about as lucidly as ever, and is able say how much he has always loved you, etc. He’s clearly back in his full and familiar personality.
You are amazed and thrilled – but then, he becomes unconscious and not long afterward dies.
What to make of this? Was he there all along and just not able to break through until the end? How is such a thing possible when his brain has suffered irreversible damage?
You’d be surprised how often this sort of thing occurs, even though until recently there hasn’t been much research on it. But I’ve been in touch with some of the leading researchers of terminal lucidity in this country and abroad and have a keen interest in their work. Heck, if I weren’t pushing 83 and hampered by the trials of creeping decrepitude, that’s what I’d be researching now!
(TB) Fascinating! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your ideas with me. Your book Lessons from the Light meant a great deal to me for many reasons, but one of the main reasons is that I found your work with the college population fascinating. I have told my NDE in many education settings, and your research gave NDErs greater credibility in academic settings. Thank you again for your time and wonderful, witty insights.
Learn more about Kenneth Ring
One of Ken Ring’s conclusions in Heading Toward Omega is that Near-death experiences may be part of an evolutionary thrust toward higher consciousness for all humanity. Thus they may foreshadow the birth of a new planetary consciousness as we head toward Omega, the final goal of human evolution.