Is it possible that death may not be a forgone conclusion to life?

Pew survey: 33% of American adults believe in reincarnation and 41% believe in psychic energy

A man sees a light at the end of the tunnel (Illustrative) (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A man sees a light at the end of the tunnel (Illustrative)
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
There are two sure things in life, the old adage goes: taxes and death. 
Taxes certainly aren’t going anywhere. But is it possible that death may not be a forgone conclusion to life?
It’s a question that has fascinated humanity since time immemorial and is only getting stronger. Hollywood would grind to a halt if plot lines revolving around post-life thrillers like The Sixth Sense and Ghost were removed from the table. 
Read related - Judaism and the afterlife: 'The truth has been hidden'
We love to speculate on what, if anything, is out there beyond what we can tangibly see. But taking it seriously? Mainstream thought may be comfortable watching it in the movies, but becomes uncomfortable when it gets too close to our reality.
A decade or two ago, someone who claimed to have remembered a past life, undergone a Near Death Experience (NDE) in which they left their body and had a ‘heavenly’ encounter, or contended that they made contact with someone who had passed from the land of the living would have been dismissed as a New Age dreamer, a kook or delusional.
Today? Well, if your neighbor suggests that she has had past lives or can communicate with the dead, it still may make you think twice before knocking on her door when you need to borrow a cup of sugar. 
Nevertheless, there is a noticeable change of thought going on. Once the domain of dark, mysterious séances and seamy carnival scams aimed at exploiting profit from desperate people who would believe anything if they thought they could make contact with a deceased loved one or return to a past life, the concept of the spirit world is gaining traction – and respectability.
According to a survey conducted in 2018 by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life under a category called “New Age Beliefs,” 33% of American adults believe in reincarnation and 41% believe in psychic energy – the ability to connect with the afterworld.
Millions of people claim to have experienced some kind of connection with the afterworld, whether via NDEs, past-life encounters or communication with the deceased. Extensive academic research has been conducted on NDEs, and universities offer courses on the spirit world.
Moreover, with death hovering over the coronavirus pandemic for the past year, more and more people are thinking about what may await on the other side. The six-part Netflix series Surviving Death has been a huge hit, exploring questions like what it means to die, and whether death is the end of our existence. The series interviewed scientists, mediums, paranormal experts and child psychiatrists to explore NDEs, seances and other after-death communications, and past-life recollections, some eerily by children.
The intense interest in existence beyond life has not escaped Israel. A slight scratch on the online surface will reveal a whole world of believers, questioners, therapists, hypnotists and mediums.
Sure, you can find the NIS 100-per-10-minutes medium who claims to be able to connect you to deceased loved ones (online during the pandemic), and who offers any number of shady propositions guaranteed to bring you back to a past life.
But you can also find real people who have suffered loss or trauma in their lifetimes and are passionate in their belief that they’ve seen the light and want to share their experiences and gifts with others who might also be suffering.
So sit back with a mug of chamomile tea, some soothing background music and most importantly an open mind, and let’s enter the world of some of the individuals who are balancing living in the present while attempting to deal with the past and the future.
The academic
Developmental psychologist Prof. Ofra Mayseless of the University of Haifa’s faculty of education is the founder of the three-year-old Center for the Study of Human Spirit.
Its goal, she explains from California, where she has been stranded with her daughter and grandchildren during the airport shutdown, “is to combine the world of academia and research with the endless, eternal landscapes of the spirit and the mind.”
“We aspire to expand and significantly increase our knowledge and understanding of the spiritual realm in human existence, and to use research to better the world and the well-being of people.”
A personal tragedy and consequent revelation sparked a lifelong journey for Mayesless that has included research and interviews of hundreds of cases of people who have had NDEs or visited past lives, using regression therapy and other methods.
Mayseless began her spiritual journey after her son, Ouri, was killed in a car accident in Alaska two decades ago.
“I asked major existential questions, like any parent who has lost a child, and I looked in all directions, researching spiritual traditions in Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity,” says Mayseless. “I also discovered there was so much scientific research that had already been done in near-death experiences, and using techniques like hypnosis and guided imagery to help people experience life before they were born.
“When I talk about it today, I don’t just say I believe in it… but that I know it. It’s a different cognitive experience. Modern science can disengage from belief or religion or spirituality and say, ‘Oh, that is just a belief.’ But what I feel is the same knowledge that science adheres to.
“I had an ‘ultimacy’ experience,” she recounts, referring to a psychological term to describe an experience of deep truth. “It’s an experience that you sense is real and know it’s not your imagination or a hallucination. And you ask for proof, for a sign, something that everybody who has gone on this journey has done.
“I’m a scientist, so if someone gets in touch with me and tells me my son sends his love or promises that someday we’ll be reunited, that’s not a sign. These are obvious things people can tell you. I had a much stricter demand,” says Mayseless, sometimes pausing between sentences.
The most she would say about her ultimacy is that some three months after her son’s death, she was contacted via phone by someone she had known years ago as a student with whom she had lost touch.
“She told me that for the last three or four days, she had been receiving information and didn’t know what to do with it. But every time she received a message, she was told by this entity or channel to call me and tell me. She waited for several days, but after the fourth time, she called me and asked, ‘I don’t know what this means, but do you really want to hear what I have to say?’
“She told me of an experience that there’s no way she could have known about, related to my son in some way. It was something I even didn’t remember at first, so it wasn’t something that I was thinking about and she could have somehow read my thoughts.
“After I heard that, I was very happy. I had received my sign. And then, of course, I asked for more,” she laughed.
“I had received small signs before, but now it was clear to me that everything I had experienced – vision, spiritual experiences – since my son’s death were real.”
When asked to elaborate and provide details of what she was told, she demurred, saying this was not the issue and she didn’t feel there was a need to convince anyone of her story.
“It suffices to say that very often people question and doubt the existence of a spiritual realm and ask for signs, and that each person gets the ‘signs’ that they need, and often more than one sign that convinces them. But what convinces one person may not convince the other. It is very personal.”
The therapist
Brigitte Kashtan is a psychotherapist and consultant in clinical psychology living in a small town in the North.
She immigrated to Israel from her native France in 1977 after finishing studies in philosophy and psychology in Paris.
“During that entire time, I was also reading all the books I could find on the meaning of living and dying,” she shares. “By age 19 I had reached the conclusion on my own that the only explanation that made sense to me was reincarnation.”
After making aliyah, Kashtan did a psychology internship at the University of Haifa and later worked for over 10 years in the city as the chief clinical psychologist at the Tirat Hacarmel Psychiatric Hospital.
She discovered regression therapy – which uses various techniques including hypnosis to bring people back to their childhood, birth or past lives – in 1974, when she picked up a copy of the book Taylor Caldwell’s Psychic Life by Jesse Stearn.
“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, there is a way to bring people to their past lives, and there is a kind of therapy that fits the philosophy I have adopted for myself. This is what I want to do with my life. So I had this sort of double life professionally. I did the official thing as a clinical psychologist, and in parallel, I went on researching these other topics.” 
She studied regression therapy for six years, but on the sly.
“I had to be very careful at work, where I was supervising a staff of 10 psychologists – I didn’t know how they or the hospital would react.”
Slowly, she started treating people beyond the classical psychotherapy she had been using, and used regression therapy to bring patients back to their childhood.
“I decided that I didn’t want to use hypnosis. When a patient comes out of it, even after remembering details of past lives, they forget everything, and tend not to believe it happened.”
Kashtan chose to employ other techniques, like meditation and guided therapy, to bring people to a relaxed state where they can achieve the same thing, but remain awake and keep their memories. 
“It takes them to an altered state of consciousness where they can access a cosmic library – something like an iCloud or a hard drive – full of doors that have answers behind them. Like, what is the cause of my phobia, or why do I have a difficult relationship with my son, or whatever. Most of the people I treat are able to get to the other side of the door.”
Kashtan says that she’s taken hundreds, if not thousands of people on their spiritual journeys and gives examples of two.
“I had a patient from Tiberias, she was also French, born to a Catholic family. She had married a Jewish man who decided to bring the family to Israel and she hated it. She didn’t learn Hebrew – which is probably why she had traveled to a French-speaking therapist in Haifa,” Kashtan chuckles.
“Among her symptoms were anorexia and asthma since she was 12 years old. She was also frightened that she had urges to harm her younger brother, even though she loved him dearly.
“For eight months, we did classical psychotherapy. She didn’t express any interest in regression therapy and I didn’t suggest it. But then she read a book in my library on past-life therapy and asked to try it.
“She went back to amazing past lives, and the first one helped explain all of her symptoms. She saw herself vividly as a 15-year-old Jewish girl from a good family. She was taken to a concentration camp where she tangibly saw things. ‘They’re doing horrible things to children,’ she said. She saw a young boy to whom she had become very attached get tortured. She heard the joyous music that was being played when she was told that, after a long time, she would be allowed to shower. And what came out, of course, was gas, and she suffocated. 
“She understood why she stopped eating when she was 12, and why she cried at each birthday… she knew she wouldn’t survive 15. And she understood why she had the urge to kill her brother – he was the boy being tortured and she wanted to end his suffering. And she was asthmatic because she died suffocating. It was extremely powerful for her.”
Kashtan claims to be the first clinical psychologist to use regression therapy in Israel. She was featured on TV shows in the 1990s, one time as the subject of a feature by the late Meni Pe’er.
“Once the word got out, other clinical psychologists approached me about studying with me, and I started to train clinical psychologists and social workers. Eventually it became very trendy, and places like the Reidman College for Complementary Medicine began to offer courses.”
Kashtan works with bereaved parents of fallen soldiers and other people who have lost loved ones. 
“In the course of treatment, when I have them in altered states of consciousness, they are often able to get in touch with their loved ones. For those more open, it can come in one session. For others it can take a while. I help people connect – with their own intuitive knowledge and to their intuitive abilities.
“I’m often asked if during regression therapy the patient is just imagining a past life or connecting with a deceased loved one. The criteria in this kind of therapy is called ‘identification.’ When someone asks me, ‘How will I know if it’s my imagination?’ I conduct a test. I ask them to imagine a scenario of a past life that might explain why they have their particular problem. Usually, they aren’t able to imagine anything.
“Don’t forget, we have all read books, seen movies and been places – from these there are countless scenarios that can be imagined. So what’s going to be experienced is not coming from nowhere. But when they start to cry and say things like ‘I see her face and hear the sound of her voice,’ for them it’s real.
The healer
Valerie Weissberg is a 58-year-old grandmother from Bat Shlomo, near Zichron Yaakov, who made aliyah from France in 1984.
“I wear two hats – I’m a health adviser in day care centers, and I’m a healer and facilitator (mitkasheret).”
Like Kashtan, she doesn’t use hypnosis, preferring meditation and guided imagery as tools to bring people to their past.
“The person is aware at all times. I see myself as helping people find their own connection channel.” 
Weissberg had her own near-death experience three years ago. She was at home with her husband and having a drink, which combined with the medication she was taking caused her to faint three times in succession.
“The third time, I left my body. I didn’t have a heartbeat or a pulse. My husband’s a Chinese healer and he told me afterward, ‘It felt like you left us.’
“When I left, I went into a tunnel, like many people experience. It was a feeling of intense happiness and serenity, and I remember thinking ‘Yesh! I’m going home.’
“There weren’t any voices or loved ones showing me the way. A lot of times, an old soul that has been through many incarnations knows the way. I didn’t need help to guide me.”
Instead of continuing through the tunnel to the light at the other side, Weissberg says she was returned to her body and woke up.
“My husband fell on me in tears and hysteria. The whole thing lasted about two minutes. An ambulance took me to the hospital and they did all the tests. I had very low blood pressure and high sugar level, but I was OK.”
Her experience threw Weissberg into a yearlong depression. 
“It was the hardest year of my life. I didn’t choose to come back. I didn’t want to be on the live side. I functioned but I felt dead inside and had thoughts of suicide. Eventually, I reconciled to the idea that this hadn’t been the time for me to leave. I asked myself, ‘What kind of life do you want to live from now on?’
“I had always been a happy person, and I decided to use the time I had been given to help other people to wake up and expose them to the world of past lives. Every afternoon, I treat people and connect to the spiritual world.”
Weissberg says she remembers dozens of her own past lives. 
“I could write a book about them,” she says.
“I was a shaman with a Native American tribe in North America. Another time I was a prostitute in the Wild West – I was part of a group that would travel via stagecoach from town to town. I hanged myself in that life,” she adds matter-of-factly, like she’s describing past jobs. 
Her interest in the afterlife was sparked when she was 10.
“My grandmother, who lived with us, had Alzheimer’s disease. I would sit with her every day. One time, when she was lucid, she asked me to help her die. Of course I didn’t, but I did go to the library and looked up death and came upon reincarnation. That’s when that world opened up to me.”
The connector
Some people who have been drawn into the world of NDEs and supernatural phenomena haven’t necessarily experienced it themselves, but instead, like Gil Bar-On, feel a natural affinity to the spirit world.
A 39-year-old spiritual-seeker from Pardess Hanna and a mentor for special-needs children at an alternative school, Bar-On suffered through a lonely and depressed youth with thoughts of suicide. He says he discovered a reason for hope and sense of belonging after reading Raymond Moody’s landmark 1975 book Life After Life, in which he interviewed 150 people who had undergone NDEs; and after he discovered the website and reading about NDEs.
“I always felt like I didn’t belong to this world, and that I came from a different place,” he says. “And after reading the descriptions of the afterlife in the book, I was sure that this was the home that I had always been looking for. I felt like I had more of a connection with the afterlife than with this life.
“The stories that really helped me deal with my suicidal thoughts and the wanting ‘to go home’ were the NDE stories of people who had committed suicide and were then brought back to life. What I learned was that we are all very much needed here and that without us, a hole is created that affects everyone around us. These were the stories that convinced me that life has a value and meaning, and that we all have a very important mission/purpose to do here on Earth.
“It became my religion. I realized that I’m here for a reason so I shouldn’t be wasting my time wanting to go home, that I should start living this life.”
Bar-On says he earned a degree in social work and later took a course in helping terminal patients and their families, but realized he couldn’t work in the field.
“I would have been too happy for them. I couldn’t go to their families and say, ‘How great that your loved one is going to the next world.’ When my aunt who I was close to passed away, I felt blissful and serene at her funeral, while at the same time, most of my family thought she was gone forever, and it saddened me deeply.”
Bar-On created a Facebook group some 10 years ago named “Afterlife and Near-Death Experiences” to provide a meeting place for Israelis who had undergone NDEs or wanted information on the afterlife and how to deal with grief from this life.
“In the beginning most of the posts were my own, and over time other people started sharing their experiences as well, and it became a home for many people who didn’t have a place to go before. 
“I wanted to help people understand that this life is not the end, and to help alleviate the fear and anxiety about dying.”
The group today has around 4,000 members (a third of whom have joined in the last year of corona), and discussion threads include everything from analyzing dreams to contacting deceased loved ones. Bar-On says that although most of the members have not had NDEs themselves, they’ve joined to give comfort and get support on their own life problems.
The survivor
One person who joined Bar On’s Facebook group who definitely has an NDE to share is 39-year-old Maayan Sabbag of Kfar Saba.
In 2008, the then-27-year-old Sabbag completed her studies in Chinese Medicine at the Reidman-Kinneret College and traveled to southwest China for an internship at a hospital in Chengdu in the Sichuan province.
After completing the course, she and a friend decided to visit a nature reserve 90 minutes away. When they arrived, they entered a restaurant and had just ordered some food when an 8.0-magnitude earthquake hit. It devastated Wenchuan County, killing some 70,000 people, and was felt as far as Beijing, 1,600 kilometers away.
“The roof of the restaurant fell on us, it pinned me under the rubble, smashed my jaw into a hundred pieces and I could barely swallow,” remembers the bubbly and eloquent Sabbag. “I was bleeding like crazy, but I couldn’t shout. It took a few hours for them to pull me out. I thought I was awake the whole time but I realized I was unconscious for some of it. Time was just missing.”
Even though she was told she shouldn’t move, Sabbag felt she had to get to a hospital. She and her friend trudged slowly to a nearby clinic, and just as they arrived, they experienced an aftershock and the clinic collapsed.
“It was destroyed before my eyes, my hopes were shredded,” recalls Sabbag. “They built a tent city and we slept there. Then it started raining. I was at my lowest point, no food or water for almost three days. I felt like I was dying. As my body was getting heavier, my soul was getting lighter.
“I heard a voice, and it was somebody asking me questions… things like ‘What is the thing you most regret not having done in your lifetime?’ The voice then said, ‘I want to save you but you will need to rescue yourself. Get up and start walking.’ In a second, I went from zero energy to 100% – it was like an electric jolt. 
“I wrote a note to my friend that I’m going to rescue myself, and the voice told me exactly what to do. ‘When the sun rises, the rain will stop, the doctors will tell you that you can’t walk to the nearest hospital, but I’ll be with you. Don’t listen to anybody else, just my voice.’ 
“The voice didn’t mention that the hospital was a 12-hour walk away, but it happened exactly like that. The doctors tried to stop us, saying that I would die on the way. Should I listen to them – flesh and blood – or the voice in my head?
“We started walking and we met a Chinese man, who after seeing the shape I was in, said, ‘I will help you.’ He put my arm around his and we walked like that for 12 hours. Many times I said I couldn’t continue and they should go on without me. But we managed to get to the hospital. They didn’t understand why I was still alive. I had lost five kilo in three days.
“They brought me in for surgery that lasted eight hours, after still not having eaten for days. They pumped me with medication, and at one point I remember them saying they were losing me. I heard voices, seemed like from far away, saying, ‘Come back, come back.’ It was so weird. I was between the clouds in a big empty space but very beautiful and full of love and serenity. I remember thinking, ‘This is home.’
“Then the same voice from before came to me and asked if I wanted to go back to my body or continue through the clouds. I said that I wasn’t finished, I’m studying medicine, and there are things I still want to do – I want to be a mother. I couldn’t imagine leaving the world without being a mother.
“The voice said that I could go back down to my body, but I was so far up, I had no energy left. A horse came to me and I got on and it galloped until I woke up. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and what had happened to me. But nobody took me seriously.
“That was why I embarked on this quest over the past 10 years. I had an overwhelming need to understand it. At the beginning I thought I was the victim of a tragic story. But it was really an amazingly inspirational and empowering story. It took me 10 years to go from traumatized victim to empowered person.”
Today Sabbag practices Chinese medicine, but also uses consciousness therapy to help people connect with their spirit world.
“I used to be afraid of death. Today I feel like all humans are my family and that I know everyone, that I can connect to people and feel and heal them… almost like a superpower.”
She also became a mother.
“I got pregnant two months after the earthquake, during my recovery and rehab [she had already been engaged when she was in China]. My body was so shattered and weak. I have three children now, and I feel like my oldest son is a miracle.”
The scientist
Prof. Shahar Arzy, director of the Computational Neuropsychiatry Lab (CNP Lab) at Hebrew University and the lead neurologist of the Neuropsychiatry Clinic at Hadassah Medical Center, has researched more than 100 people who have undergone NDEs.
“People see and experience many things. Some of them are things they really see, and some are like memories of a dream. A person wakes up and reconstructs, builds anew a collection of things that happened into one experience – complex, rich, colorful and beautiful. And it’s all internalized. That’s what our brains are experts at doing – building an experience, and that’s how we’re able to move on.”
Arzy tried to simplify his explanation for what causes NDEs for a scientifically challenged journalist.
“The brain develops from more basic to more developed mechanisms,” he explains. “Based on evolutionary reasons, the more basic, more essential mechanisms need a stronger, more secure blood supply. The higher brain activity structures were developed at a later time and therefore the blood supply came later.
“The out-of-body experience is related to the brain mechanism used to form the term called ‘embodiment’ – the feeling that ‘I am residing in a body.’ You could say, of course, that I am residing in my body, but it’s not obvious. In strokes, for example, people lost their feelings that their body, or their arms or legs, belong to themselves.”
According to Arzy, in NDEs, the mechanism controlling embodiment – called the temporal parietal junction (TPJ), which is located between two lobes of the brain – has been damaged, causing people to feel like they’re floating, or that they can see their body from below.
“When a patient is losing blood, the blood doesn’t reach the ends of the lobes where the TPJ is, and it doesn’t function properly to create embodiment,” Arzy says. “Most of these phenomena can be explained.”
Although he’s heard remarkable NDEs, Arzy says that scientifically none of it can be proven.
“Science has to be open-minded. You can’t say to someone, ‘I don’t believe you.’ For hundreds of years, there have been descriptions of out-of-body experiences. But for me, a connection between life and death is not something that I accept. When somebody is dead, somebody is dead.
“Fortunately, medicine today is so much more developed to resuscitate people, and more survive, so they can report on the experiences they had that are totally mental. But they didn’t come back from the dead.”
Regardless whether NDEs are real, one tangible result Arzy confirms is the change they have on the personality of the survivor.
“One of the things that very much characterizes this is that more than 50% of the people who have this experience report that after it occurred, they had very positive thoughts that continue to rise up – a different approach to the world, more social, nicer to people, more forgiving, more accepting of themselves and of the world.
“The last thing I want to do is to reduce the experience for the person who experiences it. If people become more aware of themselves, become better, more accepting and sensitive people because of the experience they went through, that’s great. The last thing I would want to do is negate that.”
The acceptance
One trait that characterizes most of the people who have had a life-changing out-of-world experience is an openness to unconventional thought, a leaning toward complementary healing and medicine, and a desire to help others heal themselves.
According to some of them, the ability to connect with the spirit world is not a special gift only they share, but instead, something everyone has the capacity for.
“I can do it whenever I want, but I only actually do it occasionally,” said Haifa U. professor Mayseless. “Everybody has the capacity – you too! It’s open for everybody, and it’s actually something we do all the time. But we don’t call it channeling or connecting.
“It’s more like intuition – knowing what we need to do in our life. We make changes without knowing where it came from, aside from knowing that it feels right. Where does the inspiration of artists or researchers come from? There’s a connection taking place there. 
“Or take coincidences. You had a premonition and didn’t get on that plane that crashed, or you felt there was something wrong with your car and you stopped and found the brakes were fraying.”
Sabbag, who survived the Chinese earthquake, provides a supplementary take.
“It’s when you run into a person you never met and feel like you know them, like you have a connection from the very beginning.”
Regardless whether those examples are bona-fide instances of connecting with the supernatural, the concept that we don’t know everything that’s going on out there, and that there’s some kind of synchronicity – call it kismet, karma or as a friend has labeled it, unis – is no longer a fringe belief one wouldn’t dare raise at a dinner party.
When random friends learned about this impending story, instead of scornfully dismissing it and questioning the time and space devoted to “science fiction,” responses were more along the lines of: “I can’t wait to read it, I’ve been fascinated with the subject for a long time.”
Mayseless, who at first was reluctant to share her beliefs with her colleagues, has seen a gradual acceptance and respect in academic circles. 
“A year after my spiritual journey started, I came out of the proverbial closet and started talking about it openly,” she says. “But I have a way of presenting it that is more palatable and less threatening. I talk about having experiences or experiencing phenomenon. You can’t object if someone says they felt something or experienced something. If it made a major change in their life, or changed their well-being, it’s hard to say to them, ‘No, that didn’t happen to you.’
“Somewhere around 75% of people in the world believe in something beyond, and that it has a connection to their life. You can’t just dismiss it. It’s like having a room of white elephants. You can move around and try and not bump into them… but they are there.”
Sabbag says she also feels a noticeable change in society’s reaction to the possibility of an afterlife.
“Suddenly it’s legitimate to talk about and not be laughed at. The Netflix series (Surviving Death) is a big hit, and suddenly Channel 13 on their main news program wants me to talk about my near-death experience. Wow, it’s so different now.”
“The whole subject is definitely more acceptable now,” adds clinical psychologist Kashtan. “People like Prof. Mayseless have made it an academic pursuit. But in Israel, we’re still years behind the US and Europe. There’s been so much research on near-death experiences, and more and more people of science have themselves gone through these experiences and their testimony adds to the credibility.”
DESPITE SO many different takes, techniques, views and experiences, what binds all of the people who believe they’ve had contact with the afterworld is just that – belief. And a feeling that they have a mission to improve this life for the people living it through sharing their experiences and helping others reach the same place. Whether the world at large believes them is not relevant, but according to Mayseless, more and more nonbelievers are at least listening with a less jaded ear.
“I’m not there to convince people that what I experienced really happened,” she says. “It’s enough for me that they think that because I experienced it, they respect my thoughts and talk to me not as if I had a hallucination and I should stop talking nonsense.”
And as Arzy described, the repercussions of undergoing such a powerful experience can ultimately create a positive ripple effect that reaches far and wide.
“Once someone has a spiritual experience like this – a near-death experience or connection to a past life – it can have a very positive effect on their lives,” says Mayseless. “Once you realize you have a spirit world, you’re part of something grand and wonderful, a part of generations that were and generations to come. It helps connect people and helps people reach something that’s pure and benevolent in themselves and the greater society.”
If that’s the outcome, then whether the spirit world experiences are imagined or real becomes secondary. There’s no way of proving whether the “afterlife” experiences described above actually confirm the existence of a reality beyond death. But one thing is clear: there’s also no way of proving that they don’t. 
Don’t try this at home
Just because someone believes in the spirit world doesn’t mean that they condone all forms of contact with it.
“I tried going to a channeler once, but it wasn’t such a good experience,” says Facebook group founder Gil Bar-On. “It was disappointing – most of what she said wasn’t accurate and true at all, and she predicted things that never happened to this day.
“I think that some are genuine, but it’s very rare. Most authentic channelers and mediums don’t take money for it – it’s not their profession. They’re usually shy and humble people. For me, it’s hard to accept that people will take money from people who are in grief. I recommend that people try to get in touch with loved ones on their own.”
Earthquake survivor Maayan Sabbag also doesn’t think it’s necessarily a desirable endeavor to connect to the dead. Regarding the segments of Netflix’s Surviving Death that involved a channeler who embodied the spirits of deceased loved ones, she said, “That was a bit hardcore for me, it was scary. To me it felt a little like dark magic. We’re Jewish and we shouldn’t touch those things.
“I do think we can contact people who are dead, but I don’t think we’re connecting with the actual person, but with the memory they’ve left up on the cloud, if you will. It’s a different perspective. We have memories, like a cloud, where we upload photos and images and all our memories. We can download or connect with this amazing data that’s out there. Something of a person still exists, but they’re not actually living – the soul has already left and is another body.”
Psychotherapist Brigitte Kashtan doesn’t recommend using mediums or initiating séances to contact the deceased.
“In a séance, any spirit can come – including spirits that didn’t reach the light,” she says. “The soul is supposed to go to a plane of healing and light. They’re not supposed to roam around houses and make noises. It’s usually not a good idea to make a séance and call for any spirit to come. It calls the souls who are not yet freed. If someone wants to get in touch with the soul of a deceased, do it gently in a spiritual way, for a healing purpose, not just out of curiosity.”
She also cautions against jumping into regression therapy without a very experienced professional.
“Regression therapy demands much more responsibility than any other therapy. The patient is in an altered state of consciousness. Some people land in past lives and the therapist has no idea how to deal with it, or bring them out. It can be very dangerous. Some people go to a workshop for 20 hours and decide to start using past-life therapy.
“I don’t agree to treat patients who display psychotic tendencies or take drugs. Thanks to the fact that I worked for 12 years in a psychiatric hospital, I can diagnose them on the phone. Treating someone with regression therapy who is psychotic or borderline puts them in great danger.”