Encounters with Light: Jung’s near-death experiences

May 2, 2024


Art Credit: Jano Tantongco, jano.tantongco@gmail.com


How can near-death experiences challenge and expand our understanding of consciousness and its connection to the transcendent?

Carl Jung’s near-death experience (NDE) during a heart attack profoundly influenced his psychological theories and personal philosophy. While unconscious, Jung perceived himself leaving his body and observing Earth from afar, enveloped in a glorious blue light. He encountered a temple-like structure within a meteoric stone and a mystical figure, experiences that resonated with his concepts of the collective unconscious and archetypal imagery. This transformative journey intensified his understanding of the psyche’s connection to universal consciousness and solidified his belief in life beyond physical existence. Upon reluctantly returning to his body, Jung felt constrained by the material world, reinforcing his dedication to exploring the depths of the human spirit and the continuity of consciousness after death. This profound experience deeply enriched his work and theories, leaving a lasting impact on both his professional contributions and personal worldview.

Understanding Near Death Experiences (NDEs) reveals profound insights into our psyche and existential concerns. Such experiences often occur during moments of clinical death or extreme physical crisis, and those who return describe vivid encounters and sensations that challenge everyday perceptions of reality. They report seeing light, meeting deceased relatives, or having out-of-body experiences, expanding our understanding of consciousness and transforming personal attitudes toward life and death.

Research in this area, though still evolving, supports the validity of these experiences by corroborating details reported during times when individuals were medically documented as unconscious. This verification strengthens the case for the realness of NDEs, pushing us to consider the non-physical dimensions of human consciousness. Intriguingly, these experiences are remarkably similar across different cultures, suggesting a universal aspect of how humans process the boundary between life and death.

Common elements of NDEs include feelings of peace, seeing bright lights, and rapid movement through space, often described as traveling through a tunnel. These shared features point to an underlying consistency in human experiences of the threshold between life and death. Cultural variations exist, for instance, in the figures or symbols encountered, which can reflect individual beliefs or societal values, yet the core experience remains strikingly similar worldwide.

The transformative effects of NDEs on individuals are profound and often lead to significant personal change. Many report a decreased fear of death, a renewed sense of purpose, and greater empathy and compassion towards others. These changes suggest that NDEs have a profoundly therapeutic effect, offering insights and emotional resolution that are otherwise difficult to achieve.

Historical and cultural parallels to NDEs, such as the ancient Greek rituals of Eleusis, indicate that humans have long sought to understand and integrate the mysteries of death into a broader spiritual and philosophical framework. These rituals, which also aimed to alleviate the fear of death, show the continuity of such existential inquiries throughout human history.

Psychologically, NDEs often lead to what can be described as a ‘relativization of the ego.’ This term refers to realizing that one’s ego, or self-concept, is a small part of a vast, interconnected universe. Such experiences challenge the primacy of the ego and encourage a more holistic view of one’s existence within the cosmos.

The implications for our understanding of consciousness are profound. Many researchers posit that consciousness is not confined to the physical body but may extend beyond it, a concept supported by anecdotal evidence from NDEs. This perspective invites a reevaluation of how consciousness is defined and understood in scientific and philosophical terms.

Exploring NDEs also opens discussions about the aftereffects of these experiences, which are often transformative. The changes reported—such as altered life priorities, increased spiritual awareness, and less materialistic attitudes—reflect a reorientation of values that can have far-reaching effects on individuals’ lives and communities.

Scientific and anecdotal evidence suggests that the psyche possesses a ‘religious function,’ an innate capacity to engage with and derive meaning from experiences that transcend ordinary understanding. This function is not about religion per se but the psyche’s ability to connect with transpersonal, or beyond the self, experiences.

Integrating insights from NDEs into everyday life presents challenges and opportunities. For many, these experiences provide a new lens to view life’s trials and tribulations, offering a renewed sense of purpose and a deeper appreciation for the mysterious breadth of human experience. This integration often requires reevaluating personal beliefs and a willingness to embrace a more expansive view of life and its possibilities.

These insights into NDEs invite us to consider the profound implications such experiences have for understanding the depth and resilience of the human spirit. They challenge us to broaden our perspectives on life, death, and the continuity of consciousness beyond the physical realm.

~ Joseph R. Lee


“I am the newest addition to a historic preservation crew, ‘improving’ temples and schools of a bygone people and culture in the Sierra Nevada mountains. These spaces are empty to the naked eye. Each night, spirits and creatures come to haunt us, to harass and molest us. We are not welcome here. I am not directly bothered; however, as we make our way deeper into the Sierra, the nights grow more dangerous as we sleep at the job site. Some members of the outfit, more senior than me, abandon the job. They face ridicule from the other bosses who choose to continue onward. As time passes, I am scared and question my allegiance to the Company and why I’m even here. A result of the nightly hauntings is the breakouts of severe acne on my colleagues’ faces. They are bruised, irritated, and increasingly unrecognizable as each day passes. I ask why this is happening. I only receive cryptic responses. No one tells me exactly what is upsetting us, exactly what it is we appear to be disturbing at a profound level. I feel increasingly trapped—a hostage of this Company’s mission. No one will come clean about what we are doing here. Frustration and fear grow over the life of the dream, to no resolve.”


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  1. KK

    Where are your “show notes”? You always reference them, but haven’t been included here, on iTunes, or Patreon for a long time. Thanks!

      • KK

        Sorry, I should’ve been more specific! I see the show notes, but there used to be a section in the episode description (aka show notes) called “References” that listed books, websites, and links referenced in the podcast. During an episode, like your most recent one, Lisa will often mention a book or other resource and add that “it’ll be included in the show notes.” Over time, the notes have expanded to include links to merch, dream school, social media, etc., but the actual References section has gone away. Thank you!

        • Joseph Lee

          Ah, we have not been as rigorous about posting a list of books we mention in each episode. Hopefully, we’ll have time to add that back in as our schedules open up a little.

          Thanks for flagging this.

  2. Mary F Butts

    I don’t know if I am missing something but I also have never been able to find where the show notes are located. When I go to the link above that Joseph posted I do not see them. Thank you.

  3. Joseph Lee

    Hi Mary,
    The show notes are the explanations for the episode I posted above.


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