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A life review is a phenomenon widely reported as occurring during near-death experiences, in which a person rapidly sees much or the totality of his or her life history in chronological sequence and in extreme detail. It is often referred to by people having experienced this phenomenon as having their life "flash before their eyes". The life review is discussed in some detail by near-death experience scholars such as Raymond Moody, Kenneth Ring, and Barbara Rommer. A reformatory purpose seems commonly implicit in accounts, though not necessarily for earthly purpose, since return from a near-death experience may reportedly entail individual choice.
While experiencers, who number up to eight million in the United States alone, sometimes report that reviews took place in the company of otherworldly beings who shared the observation, they also say they felt unjudged during the process, leaving themselves their own strongest critics. Although rare, there are also a few accounts of life reviews or similar experiences without a near-death experience, such as during the simpler out-of-body experience or when under circumstances of intense threat or duress. Many scientists discount near-death experiences themselves and criticize their credibility. Furthermore, there is evidence suggesting cultural differences in the near-death experience,which is why some believe NDEs are hallucinary.
The perception of time appears to be subjective and has been described as from lasting less than a few seconds to instantaneous, though at least one experiencer described it as feeling like half a minute. Accounts differ as to what phase of a near-death experience a review might take place in.
Scope and clarity
Subjects frequently describe their experience as panoramic, 3-D or holographic. During a life review, the subject's perception is reported to include not only their own perspective in increased vividness, as if they were reliving a given episode itself, but that of all other parties they interact with at each point being reviewed. Betty Eadie's widely read account, in which she described the life as her best conception of hell, also described the life review as extending to ripples of one's life and acts out into further degrees of separation. Some believe this extension to have limitations.
The term 3D is employed to approximate the inclusion of different physical perspectives onto a scene; the intensity of a life review was described by one individual as enabling him to count every nearby mosquito; but equally common is the description of feeling the emotional experience of the other parties, including in one case virtually everyone in a room. While some accounts appear to describe scenes as selected, others more commonly narrate the experience as including things they had, probably naturally, long ago entirely forgotten, with "nothing left out." Experiencers commonly describe the intense vividness and detail as making them feel more alive than when normally conscious:
Most things were pleasant to see, some things made me very embarrassed. In fact, revulsion and guilt took away any good feelings, making me so very sorry for certain things I had said or done. I hadn't just seen what I had done, but I felt and knew the repercussions of my actions. I felt the injury or pain of those who suffered because of my selfish or inappropriate behavior.
The effect of a life review is often a strongly transformative experience. Experiencers describe them as extremely unpleasant from the perspective of the unhappiness they had inflicted on others, including feelings they had never dreamed of as resulting, and equally pleasant from the perspective of the good feeling they had brought to others' lives, extending to the littlest forgotten details. To some extent, this experience resembles purgatory. The Tibetan Buddhist understanding can be found in The Tibetan Book of The Dead, and is known as Bardo Thodol (the stage between life and afterlife).
Experiencers often report a sharp drop in materialistic outlook (both acquisitive and philosophical), an intensified compassion for others and sense of interconnectedness, newfound altruistic activities, personality changes (though occasionally entailing divorce), a new interest in self-education and spirituality, and so on. Dannion Brinkley as one instance described himself as putting off previously deep-rooted sociopathic traits ingrained from a difficult childhood through his work as a sniper in the Vietnam War. A frequent comment by experiencers is that they later strongly avoided unethical or inconsiderate actions because they wanted to avoid painfully reliving the receiving end of the action which they knew would await them.
The transformative effect is in fact so statistically uniform in comparison with other areas of demographic study that some near-death experience investigators point to it as much as to experiencer accounts' detail as evidence for the empirical reality of the phenomenon itself. Kenneth Ring's book Lessons from the Light includes numerous accounts of a near-death experience permitting people hitherto blind, including cases from birth, as enabled to see (and interpret) vision during the experience.
The spiritual teacher Meher Baba held that one engages in a life review process after dying, with the lessons learned from this review becoming part of one's intuition in subsequent incarnations:
"The truths absorbed by the mind in the life after death become in the next incarnation a part of the inborn wisdom. Developed intuition is consolidated and compressed understanding distilled through a multitude of diverse experiences gathered in previous lives."
- Mauro, James "Bright lights, big mystery". Psychology Today, July 1992
- All is Everything, Everything is One. Accessed 2011-02-06.
- Baba, Meher (1967). Discourses. 3. San Francisco: Sufism Reoriented. p. 64. ISBN 978-1-880619-09-4.
- Lessons from the Light (Kenneth Ring, Ph.D.; Evelyn Elsaesser Valarino): ISBN 0-9661327-8-5
- The big book of near-death experiences: the ultimate guide to what happens when we die (P.M.H. Atwater, L.H.D.): ISBN 978-1-57174-547-7
- Impact of the Near-Death Experience on Grief and Loss, Bruce Horacek, Ph.D. and IANDS, 2003, Grief and Loss