Neurologist’s Near-Death Experience Changes His Understanding of Consciousness

Neurologist’s Near-Death Experience Changes His Understanding of Consciousness
Maria Han

Neuropathologist Dr. Peter Cummings was convinced everything about consciousness, including profound near-death experiences (NDEs), could be explained by science and was rooted in the brain—until he had an NDE of his own.

Cummings was a career-oriented man who was doing well in his job as a doctor and as an assistant professor at Boston University School of Medicine Dept of Anatomy and Neurobiology.
“At the time [it] was really enjoyable to live for that kind of stuff in that world,” said Cummings in a video posted on the International Association for Near-Death Studies.

A trip to Costa Rica for his wife’s 50th birthday changed his outlook completely. While there, he decided to go whitewater rafting with his wife and son.

Cummings was always afraid of the water, though not sure why. He often practiced holding his breath because he felt that one day it would come in handy.

“I used to get really bored in school and one of the things I would do is I would hold my breath. See how long I could hold my breath and then try to beat that record. And I always thought someday I’m going to need this,” recalled Cummings.

“I always found excuses to not be in the water, because I just always felt like I was going to drown,” said Cummings.

He came close that day in Costa Rica when the raft he and his family were in flipped. He bounced along in the water for a while, until he was pulled under by the current.

“There was a point where I was drowning. And I knew it,” said Cummings.

He was surprised at how calm he felt in the face of death.

“I thought about the autopsies I‘d done on people who had drowned. This is supposed to be a very peaceful way to die. And then I’m thinking well, ’What the heck is taking so long?'”

At the bottom of the river, Cummings experienced something neuroscience probably would have called a hallucination.

“At that point, everything stopped and I was next to this huge boulder and all the bubbles had stopped. And I moved my hand through the bubbles and they all just sort of moved around my hand in this very weird way. And then there was this bright light,” he said.

Then he felt “an incredible feeling of love.” He heard a voice speak to him.

“I got really emotional not because it’s upsetting but because I’m in that moment of that beauty. And I knew my family was going to be okay. And the voice said ”they don’t need you, they’re going to be fine,'” he recalled.

Somehow, he also knew that his wife and son had already been pulled out of the water. They really were alright.

Then his science brain entered the conversation.

“You’re just hypoxic. Hold your breath. You have to beat your record. And at that point, the light just sort of vanished,” he said.

Cummings was pulled out of the water and slowly he told himself to relax so that he could regain his breath. That night at their hotel, Cummings, who has always been vigilant of his heart rate, checked his Apple watch and found that while underwater, his heart had stopped.

“I remember looking at my Apple watch because I’m kind of a health freak and I’m kind of obsessed with my heart rate. I looked at my Apple Watch and I had eight minutes of unrecorded heart rate in that time period,” said Cummings.

Electronic devices are not 100 percent accurate and they record heartbeats at intervals, but Cummings believes that in those eight minutes, there was a period when he had no heartbeat.

After the near-death experience, Cummings found that his intensive academic life was not what he wanted anymore.

“I became very uncomfortable with my career pursuit. Those things weren’t important to me anymore. I say I’ve written a couple of very bad novels. And I couldn’t identify with that any of those things,” said Cummings.

Sensing that he wasn’t suited for his life in Boston anymore, he and his family moved back to Maine, where he grew up.

The experience turned Cummings into a more thoughtful doctor. As a pathologist, he spoke to many family members of the deceased.

“The number one question I’ve always been asked is ‘Did they suffer?’ And as a physician, you always say ‘No, of course not.’ But I always felt like a liar. Because I don’t know,” said Cummings.

And after his near-death experience, he knew what it was like to die.

“I wish I could talk to those people again and say, look, this is beautiful. Even under these horrible circumstances, but horrible circumstance is a second. The process after that is incredible. And there’s nothing to worry about,” shared Cummings.

In medicine, death is the end. But Cummings now felt that death was not something to avoid talking about.

“We’ve made it so sterile and kept behind this curtain. That we don’t get a chance to really experience and celebrate the transformation that is happening,” he said.

After the incident, Cummings shared that it not only changed his perspective on his job, it “really helped me come to grips with who I am as a husband and a father, a human place on the planet.”

Cummings’ change after his near-death experience is not a solitary one.

Dr. Bruce Greyson has done extensive research on near-death experiences (NDEs) and his observations told him that these experiences often change the person who changed them for the better.

“Dr. Greyson has followed up on cases over the course of decades and found that in about 95 percent of the cases, it remains as though the NDE just happened,” Mr. Greyson told The Epoch Times in 2015.

“In one case, a man was an alcoholic and he was abusive toward his wife. After an NDE, he became an all-around good Samaritan. He didn’t drink, he was good to his wife, he helped others. For example, he rushed to New Orleans to join efforts following Hurricane Katrina,” described Dr. Greyson.

Maria Han is an arts and beyond science writer.
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