Dr. Ken Ring's Suicide
Near-Death Experience Research
Dr. Kenneth Ring, in his book,
Life at Death,
analyzed the near-death experiences of 24
people who attempted suicide. Among them,
no one reported the tunnel phenomenon, or
saw a brilliant but comforting light, or
encountered a presence, or was temporarily
reunited with loved ones who had died, or
entered into a transcendent world of heavenly
beauty. Instead, the suicide-related NDE
tended to be truncated, aborted, and damped
down. It began with a feeling of relief
or peace and continued with a sense of bodily
detachment to the same degree as non-suicide-related
NDEs. But it tended to end, if it got this
far at all, with a feeling of confused drifting
in a dark or murky void a sort of
twilight zone. Dr. Ring's research strongly
suggests that the suicide-related NDE does
not reach completion; instead, it tends
simply to fade out before the transcendent
elements characteristic of non-suicide related
NDEs make their appearance. The following
are excerpts from Dr. Ring's research into
suicide from his book
Life at Death.
One young man tried to kill
himself by taking an assortment of pills - Librium,
Demerol, Valium, Dilantin. As a result of this ingestion,
he remained unconscious for four days. He remembers
finding himself in a gray area:
Young man: "The
only thing that I can remember about
this is just grayness. Like I was in
gray water or something. I couldn't
really see anything. I couldn't see
myself there, either. It was just like
my mind was there. And no body."
While the young man was
in this state, he said he felt good:
"Normally, I'm a very anxious, a very
nervous person - a lot of fears and
things like that. And during this, all
the fear was gone. I had no fear whatsoever.
Almost an adventurous feeling. Excitement."
Ring: "Did you want to stay in
"Yeah," the young man replied, "It was
a very good feeling."
He also was aware of music:
"I also heard music - different music."
Ring: "Tell me what it was like."
"It was usually like classical music; I
like classical music. It wasn't exactly
the music I've heard, but it was along that
Dr. Kenneth Ring:
"Do you recall how the music made you feel?"
"It made me relaxed. The fears went away
when I listened to it. Again, the feeling
of hope, that there's something better somewhere
He also reported that everything,
including the music, sounded "hollow and metallic
- echoey" and that these acoustical sensations
were associated with the watery grayness. He felt
the grayness going through him, filling him and
this felt good to him. After a while, he became
aware of a voice:
"I think [it was] a woman's voice, but (pause)
I didn't recognize the voice."
Dr. Kenneth Ring:
"Do you recall now what she said to you?"
"No. I just remember that it was a soothing
voice. I kind of remember that with the
grayness -- her voice kind of calling, my
moving toward it."
Dr. Kenneth Ring:
"This was a friendly voice, a reassuring
voice in some way?"
Dr. Kenneth Ring:
"And you felt drawn to it?"
"Yeah. Right. Like that was the place to
The young man tried to get
to where the voice was:
"It seemed like I kept trying to get
to where the voice was, but something
was holding me back. I know I wanted
to be there; I knew once I was there
everything would be fine. I was sure
of this. No question about it. But there
was still like something holding me
back from getting there."
During his experience he
had seen images of people he knew. These people
somehow seemed to represent the possibility of a
good life; they seemed to care. He described this
as "like playing back a recording of my life."
The issue was joined:
Young man: "It
felt like the woman's [voice] was stronger.
I wanted to get there but there was
just some part of me that wanted to
go back with these images."
Young man: "The
thing I remember most is a falling feeling.
Like I was coming down really fast and
then hit. And then I woke up with a
Young man: "When
I woke up, the first thing I thought
was Oh, God. Thank you. I made it, and
I was extremely happy.
(He had been
severely depressed before his suicide
I was just sitting there thinking about
it and I felt this - I don't know -
warmth filling my body. I was very happy,
very excited, but then (pause) it was
more than contented - it was rapture,
I guess. But I couldn't explain it to
anybody at the time. It was just beyond
This testimony sums up
the essential features of his experience. In the
course of his interview, he also indicated that
although he never clearly saw his physical body
on the bed, he did have a sense of bodily detachment
and felt he had no weight at all -- he was just
pure mind. Neither did he have any sense of time.
When he momentarily returned to body consciousness
(before drifting back into the grayness), he found
the sensory world greatly enhanced -- the colors
were clearer and more vibrant. The only thing scary
about his experience was his fear (which was eventually
vanquished) of returning to his body. His experience
in the grayness was decidedly pleasant and, judging
from its immediate aftereffect, very positive and
powerful in its emotional impact.
This particular experience
includes many features that are common with non-suicide
attempt experiences: drifting through a vast space,
feeling good, hearing music and a comforting voice,
hearing sounds magnified, seeing a series of flashbacks
of one's life, and so forth.
In Dr. Kenneth Ring's
study, he found that no one who had attempted suicide
reported that it was predominately unpleasant. The
only possible exception is that a few people did
describe some unsettling hallucinatory images, but
these appear to have been qualitatively different
from the feeling-tone of non-suicidal experiences.
Certainly, no one felt that he was either in or
was on his way to hell. This is not to say that
suicide attempts never lead to unpleasant experiences,
only that there is no strong evidence for this proposition
among the 24 suicide NDEs in Dr. Ring's study.
Dr. Ring draws six
conclusions from his study into suicide
near-death experiences and identifies five
stages of the NDE: (1) peace, (2)
body separation, (3) entering the
darknesss, (4) seeing the light, and (5)
entering the light:
The evidence bearing
on the qualitative aspects of suicide-induced
near-death experiences is clearly complex, but
it leads to a number of interesting conclusions:
the descriptions from our suicide attempters
tend, relative to other categories, to be
weakest in core experience elements: No recall
is greatest here, and when experiences do occur,
they do not penetrate beyond stage 3 (entering
the darkness or void).
there are, however, a number of factors that
make the suicide attempters noncomparable to
other respondents in such a way as to lower the
likelihood of the occurrence of core
therefore, the data on qualitive aspects of
suicide-related experiences are ambiguous and
nevertheless, some evidence suggests that
certain transcendent features associated with
the core experience may occur in suicide
attempts, although these features may manifest
themselves in distinc-tive ways.
when recall exists, the suicide-related death
experience tends to be reported as predominantly
the death experiences of a number of nonsuicide
attempters (and the opinion of one suicide
attempter) all implied that the consequences of
a successful suicidal act were likely to be
Can these six
conclusions themselves be interpreted to point
to a general conclusion? Probably not - our data
are simply too fragmentary and contaminated to
warrant any single conclusion. However, I want
to offer my own opinion here in the hope that it
might lead to further research that will
eliminate some of the ambiguity surrounding this
issue. If the offending factors could be
eliminated or sufficiently reduced to provide
comparability among conditions, I would
speculate that the initial stages of the core
experience would be invariant across modes of
near-death onset. I would also hypothesize,
however, that there would come a point when the
suicide-induced experience would begin to show a
distinctive qualitative difference. This would,
according to my view, come during the
decision-making phase, when there would be no
hint of transcendent glory (for example, the
light phenomenon) or of immediate reunion with
loved ones. If an individual were to pass beyond
this stage, either because he was, in some
sense, "permitted to" or because his suicide
attempt was successful, I am tempted to believe
that the admonitions expressed at the end of
this section might prove warranted. This aspect
of my opinion can, of course, never be evaluated
scientifically, but its other components could
be in an adequately designed study. If such an
investigation were undertaken, it might not only
be able to resolve some of the empirical issues,
but it would also furnish us with a more
extensive basis from which to extrapolate the
later stages of the core experience when it is
induced by suicide.