Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics
I was fortunate enough to attend the 2013 IANDS conference in Arlington, Virginia on the Labor Day weekend. The emphasis was more on the actual experiences than on research this year, and initially I was a little bit disappointed about that. My educational background is in science, so that’s the kind of conference that I’m used to. Quite honestly, I could not have imagined what an IANDS conference is actually like. It’s a pretty amazing experience.
There were some good research talks and panel discussions to satisfy my desire to learn more about NDE studies. Ryan Foster gave a presentation on the possible benefits of learning about NDE’s in regards to coping with grief. Jan Holden gave a talk about research demonstrating the effectiveness of NDEs, deathbed visions and after-death communications as a source of comfort for the bereaved. There was a workshop on the various models of consciousness that featured Robert Mays, Suzanne Mays, Kenneth Arnette and Eben Alexander. I particularly enjoyed a panel discussion with Eben Alexander, Tony Cicoria, Pam Kircher, and Mary Neal in which the four physicians shared insights on how their own NDEs had affected their medical practices.
As much as I enjoyed the science based lectures, it surprised me how much more I got out of listening to talks by the various experiencers at the conference. I just wasn’t expecting to be so affected by such material. I’m an NDEr, so I’ve been there and done that. What could they tell me about my own experience that I don’t already know? As it turns out, quite a bit.
The difficulty with NDEs is that you have to make sense of them when you get back here. You have this really BIG experience that can’t be explained with words, and words are all you have to sort it all out with. It’s not an easy task to integrate an NDE. I’m not even sure it is a task which can ever be completed. It’s more of an ongoing process, a work in progress. And it really helps to see how others have approached the same issues.
Eben Alexander was one of the keynote speakers at the conference. Even though I didn’t find his NDE itself as compelling as some of the others I heard, he did make it much easier for me to actually sit down and listen to such accounts. His book is the only one I’ve read that gives a first-hand NDE account. Usually I just read books by researchers, not experiencers. But because I was impressed by Dr Alexander’s knowledge of the literature on consciousness, I did read his story. It kind of broke the ice as far as such things went, and I’m glad it did. I learned something about NDEs – and more importantly, about myself – from every one of the NDErs brave enough to tell their story at the conference.
As much as I enjoyed the formal presentations by NDErs such as Eben Alexander, Anita Moorjani, Jeffery Olsen and Mary Neal, I think what really makes IANDS conferences special is the opportunity to share experiences in the Experiencer Room. The Experiencer Room is set up with a moderator/host who sets the topic of discussion and then lets everyone get involved. My favorite talks were hosted by Nancy Evans Bush, author of Dancing Past the Dark. I found it immensely helpful to take part in discussions about distressing NDEs, because that is something I’ve personally experienced.
When people say that attending an IANDS conference can be life-changing, they are not exaggerating the experience. It gives NDErs a chance to connect with others and find themselves in the process. I couldn’t talk about my NDEs before the IANDS conference, not even the good ones. But I had no difficulty opening up about even my very distressing experience at the conference because I knew that was the one place people would understand me. Being able to talk about something like that after years of trying to bury it was truly liberating.
Someone at the conference mentioned that he had “found his tribe”. I totally agree with that statement. Attending an IANDS conference is a lot like finally going home.