ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When Dan Mahony fell almost six years ago and hurt his spinal cord, the accident opened a new path for the retired 70-year-old.
Besides putting him in a wheelchair, it inspired him to research and write a book about what people who’ve had near-death experiences have to say about the afterlife.
Although the former research psychologist, addiction counselor and music teacher knows his fall wasn’t a near-death experience, he says, “I’ve often wondered if I’ve been intervened with.”
That’s because the morning after his October 2008 tumble, he woke up with the idea for what became the 286-page book, “I Was Still Me: Our Existence After Life.”
The book was self-published in 2011 under the name Will Rike, an homage to Wilhelm Reich, an Austrian psychoanalyst who published influential books and essays in the 1930s.
“I’ve provided 20 details of life after life,” says Mahony, originally from Yonkers, N.Y. He came to Albuquerque in 2004 after he and his wife lived for 10 years in County Kerry, Ireland, teaching and playing music. He now lives in the Northeast Heights with her and their Maltipoo, Poochini.
Usually, he said during a recent interview in his living room, his website sees five downloads a day, but during a 10-day period in June, he got about 200 downloads daily.
A possible reason: several books on the subject are bestsellers. “Heaven Is For Real,” about a boy’s trip to heaven and back, was recently made into a feature film.
It was No. 2 on The New York Times Bestsellers list on June 8 in the combined print and ebook nonfiction category. And “Proof Of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into the Afterlife” was at No. 25 the same week.
Mahony says he came up with two key findings about near-death experiences (NDEs): First, “Each person will be differently affected.” And second, “The afterlife is our home. It’s where we’re from.”
To research the topic, he relied on two websites where people who’ve had NDEs can fill out and upload surveys that ask them to describe those experiences.
One is the Near Death Experience Research Foundation, whose website says that about 5 percent of people in the United States have had an NDE, defined in a research article as “the reported memory of all impressions during a special state of consciousness (awareness of being dead) including specific elements such as out-of-body experience, pleasant feelings, seeing a tunnel, communication with a brilliant light, seeing deceased relatives, having a life review and coming to a boundary.”
Its 64-question survey asks the circumstances of the experience; it probes whether it involved seeing or feeling darkness, a void, a tunnel or light, and whether it had a pleasant tone or distressing imagery, among other questions.
The other organization Mahony used data from was the International Association For Near Death Studies, a networking center devoted to exploring NDEs; its members include researchers, academics and members of the general public from around the world. It also has a questionnaire whose results are public; site users can use the data as they choose.
“They both have large archives,” Mahony says. “They’ve been around more than a dozen years.”
He analyzed data from 460 reports of the 20,000 posted on both sites combined, using social science methodology to randomize his pool so it is statistically significant to 95 percent confidence level, he says.
He loves talking about his findings, which he wrote about after three years of analyzing the data sample. He found that about 20 percent of people were accompanied to the afterlife by guides.
He uses the term “visitor” to refer to the person having an NDE, who is sent back, often by the guide, to his or her physical life. “Most visitors did not want to come back – almost all of them,” he says. “That was a big one.”
While in the afterlife, he adds, about one in five people encountered relatives. Only 10 percent went through a white light, although most reported seeing it and heading toward it. Many also talked about seeing “indescribable beauty, being able to see at 360 degrees, and experiencing thinking that’s much sharper and faster,” Mahony says.
A database of academic journals shows that dozens of articles have been published on the subject of near-death experiences, and some of them mirror his findings.
In an article printed in 2004 in the Academy of Religion and Psychical Research, the author conducted research with 3,000 people, 277 of them children, and found that people who’d had NDEs described them as fitting into four types.
For adults, the most common was the “heaven-like experience,” which includes reassuring religious figures, beings or light, heaven-like scenarios and loving family reunions with those who had previously died. Almost half the adults in the study – 47 percent – reported this type, as did 19 percent of the children.
Another type was the “non-experience,” manifest by “a living darkness, a loving nothingness, a friendly voice.” This was the kind most popular with children – more that three in four kids reported this type, as did one in five adults.
In the “Transcendent Experience,” which 18 percent of adults and 2 percent of children have, a person sees scenes beyond his or her frame of reference.
The least common type is the “hell-like experience,” which features “hauntings from one’s past, or encounters with a stark limbo, a hellish purgatory or a threatening voice.”
Additionally, an article published in 2012 in the Annals of Neuroscience noted that other research papers reported that people who have NDEs regularly report seeing white light, traveling through a tunnel, and enjoying a sense of peace.
It also reported that people tended to forget the details of their experience over time, and it concluded: “Whether these are only hallucinations or a proof of afterlife will remain debatable until more data is communicable.”
Mahony says that working on his book left him feeling like he’d been through his own version of an NDE. “I’m beginning to go through the transformation very slowly,” he says thoughtfully, his New York accent noticeable.
Of those who’ve had an NDE, he says: “They report that after it, they’re changed. I’ve decided that I’ve been, too. My heart opens up a bit. The writing of the book caused it.”
This transformation doesn’t involve tunnels or light, but, “I’m not so angry at the Republicans or the Democrats,” he says, and, “It’s very hard for me to watch the news anymore, and I was a news junkie at one time.”
Now, having spent so much time researching NDE’s, he’s concludes: “This life is kind of a boot-camp that we go through, and then we graduate – some sort of growth camp. We’re all human beings trying to get this job done.”
He’s halfway done with a sequel, “Love and Learn: More Reliable Afterlife Details.” The title comes from what someone gleaned about why people have a physical life while going through the light during an NDE.
He’ll use the same sample as in the first book, and write about commonalities he didn’t already talk about. Self-published like the first one, he expects it will be done by the end of the year, because, he says, “The whole idea is to get this reliable picture of the afterlife.”