What is the Soul – Part 1

“A child’s heart is broken by misfortunes we consider trivial. It identifies completely with each incident, being unable to see it against the backdrop of a whole, variable lifetime.” Huston Smith, The World’s Religions (p25).

Myth and Existence

Sometimes there is so much in a subject we have to try several different ways to approach it before we find one that allows for ease of explanation and has wide resonance. Understanding the dual nature of the soul and how it impacts our embodied existence on Earth is one of those subjects. This subject is too full to cover in one post, and probably in a thousand posts, but I am going to try to do the subject some justice in four.

For me, mythology is a natural starting point for this exploration since it represents the earliest stories we’ve told ourselves about existence.

In her book A Short History of Myth, Karen Armstrong says, “… all mythology speaks of another plane that exists alongside our own world, and that in some sense supports it. Belief in this invisible but more powerful reality, sometimes called the world of the gods, is a basic theme of mythology… it informed the mythology, ritual, and social organization of all societies before the advent of our scientific modernity, and continues to influence more traditional societies today”[1]

Thus, from the very earliest, we have evidence of some sort of knowledge of an existence that is categorically different from the Earthly, embodied, existence. Because we have been guided for centuries now by the philosophy of empiricism and the scientific method, we tend to have a hard time accepting a truth we cannot perceive. Thus, instead of seeing this very clear, repeated theme amongst human stories everywhere as evidence of a discarnate world, we look at it backwards.

We consider it a ‘peculiarity’ of the human brain and look to biological processes to help us understand something that has nothing to do with biology. It’s probably the biggest misinterpretation of how things work since we thought the Sun revolved around the Earth. We just don’t understand enough of this process to see it clearly from a scientific point of view.

One of the earliest lines from Armstrong’s book is, “The Neanderthal graves show that when these early people became conscious of their mortality, they created some sort of counter-narrative that enabled them to come to terms with it.”[2] Here the obvious implication is that the Neanderthals couldn’t possibly have had a true knowledge or understanding of an existence beyond the body

The arrogance of empiricism is obvious in this statement. Not that Karen Armstrong, herself, is arrogant, just that the statement itself hides an assumption we’ve taken for granted to such an extent that we don’t even recognize it as an assumption anymore. How do we know that the Neanderthals manufactured a counter-narrative? Perhaps they had a true understanding of the holistic experience of existence which they struggled to express using the tools and communication they were constrained to in a human body.

The truth is that we don’t know, we have no idea what they knew or understood – we can only assume their level of knowledge based on how we think about our own knowledge – a perception heavily influenced by empiricism and the scientific method.[3]

“It is highly significant that these myths and rituals of ascension go back to the earliest period of human history. It means that one of the essential yearnings of humanity is the desire to get ‘above’ the human state. As soon as human beings had completed the evolutionary process, they found that a longing for transcendence was built into their condition.” (27) A Short History of Myth, Karen Armstrong

But what if we were to flip this idea on its head? What if our mythological stories and the core of our spiritual beliefs do not express merely our ‘yearning’ for some greater narrative, but instead speaks to a deep, subconscious understanding of an underlying truth we can’t consciously make sense of?

In that respect, mythology and folklore could be viewed as the way our subconscious, soul-mind tries to bridge the gap between the long-view of our existence and our current, individualized, embodied, incarnation.

The Contrast – Our Soul Self

For the sake of argument, let’s allow ourselves to accept that this might be true; to consider a ‘long-view’ not just of humanity or society, but of our own, personal existence. Essentially, this would mean we live an incarnated or embodied life on a physical plane (Earth) and then transition through death to a disembodied existence, we then transition again through birth into another embodied life, and so on.

If we can allow for the possibility that we have a disembodied existence in addition to our embodied existence, we might wonder what this disembodied existence is like. In previous posts, I have referenced the Newton dialogues on the life-between-life experience. Although I would stop short of calling these ‘evidence’ because information garnered under hypnosis conditions can be highly suspect, they do offer an example of what a discarnate existence might be like in contrast to the embodied one.

“Dr Newton [“N” from now on]:,,,[4]Will you please describe to me the exact sensation you feel at the time of death? Subject [“S” from now on]: Like… a force…of some kind… pushing me up out of my body,,, I’m ejected out the top of my head. Dr N: What was pushed out? S: Well – me! Dr. N: Describe what “me” means. What does the thing that is you look like,,, S: (pause) Like a…pinpoint of light…radiating… Dr. N: How do you radiate light? S: From… my energy… I look sort of transparent white,,, Dr. N: And does this energy light stay the same after leaving my body? S: (pause) I seem to grow a little…as I move around. Dr. N: If your light expands, then what do you look like now? S: A…wispy…string…hanging”[5]

Contrasted with a “wispy string hanging” or a “radiating pinpoint of light energy,” the physical body must seem a heavy burden to carry. While it’s certainly probable that being a pinpoint of light comes with its own set of challenges, it’s unlikely that our string-self ever has the sniffles during allergy season, or has to throw-up or has to eat at all, or – by extension – poop.

Operating in a physical body must be an unfathomable experience for the disembodied. How would you describe what it’s like to have a body to a being that doesn’t have one?

Some people who champion the hypothesis of a disembodied existence refer to us as energetic beings or beings of conscious thought. Since even the heart of physics supports the idea that everything in the universe, including us, is made up of energy that seems plausible. Conscious thought could be one part of our existence that persists into a disembodied state. But, what about personality? Or imagination? Or memory? Are these qualities intimately tied to an embodied state or could they persist before and after death of the body?

My own experience with past life impacts and the field of past life regression in general suggest that some of these qualities at least carry over from body to body, which suggests they persist into a disembodied state. The Newton dialogues provide some examples that support this idea;

“S [different from before]: I’m hearing sounds. Dr. N: What sounds? S: An… echo… of music… musical tingling… wind chimes… vibrating with my movements… so relaxing.,,, I have a memory of scent and taste, too. Dr. N: Does this mean our physical senses stay with us after death? S: Yes, the memory of them…” (loc 313) – Journey of Souls, Michael Newton

The natural question that arises, of course, is – if memory persists through death – why don’t we remember our past life or life-between-life memories in the current life? It would certainly be a lot easier to accept the existence of a ‘soul’ if we did…

Next week we’ll talk about why we don’t remember our Soul’s existence apart from the body.

[1] A Short History of Myth; Armstrong, Karen; pg 4

[2] (1) A Short History of Myth, Karen Armstrong

[3] This is not, by the way, an argument that we should go back to the dark ages where we take everything on Faith.

[4] The original text is peppered with “…” ellipses, which makes it hard to use them to indicate that I’ve “skipped” some text not relevant to the discussion for the sake of brevity. Where I omitted text, therefore, I’ve used commas instead and kept the ellipses from the original text.

[5] (loc 180) Journey of Souls – Michael Newton

All Alone in the Moonlight – Thoughts on Memory

Please note – this post is not an attempt to persuade people into believing in reincarnation.  The post takes reincarnation as a given and moves on from there to answer the question below.

“A man breaking his journey between one place and another… sees a unicorn cross his path and disappear.  That in itself is startling, but there are precedents for mystical encounters of various kinds, or to be less extreme, a choice of persuasions to put it down to fancy; until – “My God,” says a second man, “I must be dreaming, I thought I saw a unicorn.”  At which point, a dimension is added that makes the experience as alarming as it will ever be.  A third witness… adds no further dimension but only spreads it thinner…the more witnesses there are the thinner it gets and the more reasonable it becomes until it is as thin as reality, the name we give to the common experience… “Look, look!” recites the crowd, “A horse with an arrow in it’s forehead!  It must have been mistaken for a deer.” – Guildenstern, from Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, by Tom Stoppard

 

If we truly have lived before – why don’t we remember our past lives?

A natural question that arises when contemplating reincarnation is why we don’t remember our past life experiences.  After all, it seems like it would be tremendously useful in our current life to refer back to pitfalls we’ve run into before or have a clear understanding of our ‘learning objectives’ for the current life.[1]  According to Michael Newton in his book Journey of Souls, “the true answers to the mystery of life after death remain locked behind a spiritual door for most people.  This is because we have built-in amnesia abour our soul identity which, on a conscious level, aids in the merging of the soul and human brain.”[2]   Newton’s subjects themselves opine on this question while under hypnosis, “[Dr N:] Why do you think you had no conscious memory about your life as Ross Feldon? [Subject:] …If people knew all about their past many might pay too much attention to it rather than trying out new approaches to the same problem.  The new life must be… taken seriously.”[3]  As compelling as this reasoning is, real-life experience suggests that it isn’t really true.  Newton himself acknowledges that there are “back door” ways to get at this information (ostensibly via hypnosis treatment with a trained past life regressionist).  Even without that “back door” way, however, many – maybe even most – people have mental brushes with their past lives – they just don’t always recognize them at the time (or ever).  In his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Carl Jung mentions, “…a curious experience…an ancient green carriage from the Black Forest drove past our house one day… When I saw it, I felt with great excitement: ‘That’s it!  Sure enough, that comes from MY times.’ It was as though I had recognized it because it was the same type as the one I had driven in myself… I cannot describe what was happening in me or what it was that affected me so strongly: a longing, a nostalgia, or a recognition…”[4]  I speak of my own experience with this kind of recognition in the post Through the Looking Glass.  To better investigate the puzzle of our inconsistent and incomplete ability to access past life memories, I decided to venture into a little more academic territory and check out a textbook on the subject.[5]

Inputs and Outputs

What we think of as ‘memory’ really describes two basic interactions that are meaningful to our lives; getting stuff ‘in’ to our brain and getting stuff out again.  Although exploring the question of past life memories primarily refers to the ‘getting stuff out’ process, an important piece of this puzzle is understanding how ‘stuff’ (for example, our past life memories) gets stored in the first place.  There are two recognized ways in which we ‘get stuff in’ – intentionally and incidentally.  That is to say, we can try to memorize things, like a phone number or information for a test, or we can store sensory information somewhat accidentally.  Most of our autobiographical memory is stored incidentally.  Only very rarely do we find ourselves living through a particular episode and thinking, I want to remember this moment and then actively attempting to do so.  As a result of this, our mind often picks up a mix of perceptual[6] and semantic[7] information about a given experience and writes that into storage.  Since it is incidental, various details about the experience may be present or missing – the mind may key in on something distinct and store it perfectly, but some other details may be just “filled in” at the time of encoding[8] or retrieval[9].  If this is what our memory is doing in the current life, presumably it is also likely to be how our brains were operating in a past life when that was, once, our ‘current’ life.

With situations or experiences that are often repeated in life, as our brain takes in info for storage it appears to organize the sensory data into some sort of higher-order structure.  One type of higher-order structure is called a schema.  Folk tales, for example, “ have an underlying, invariant organization… a story schema or story grammar… A range of studies ..[show] that material that fits with relevant story schema structure is well recalled, while material that violates the schema is poorly recalled.”[10]  One example of how a schema functions might be that there are certain common elements of particular types of stories.  For example, common characters might be; the princess, the prince, the evil queen, etc.   Another way the brain may organize stored information is by means of a script.  A script is more concerned with sequencing of particular activities, and “codes information concerning stereotyped events , such as what happens when we visit a restaurant or a doctor’s office.”[11]  You might have a stored script, for example,  for using an ATM which features walking up to the device, inserting your card, punching in numbers on a keypad or touch screen , making various selections, and retrieving money from the receptacle.  The script enables your mind to store key elements of a particular experience (usually the distinct ones), but information that is more common across multiple experiences and less meaningful may not be stored for each individual event and instead rely on the underlying structure of a script or schema as scaffolding for recall.[12] [13]

Now that we’ve laid some groundwork on how our memories (presumably including our past life memories when they were our present life memories) are stored in the first place, we can explore why we don’t actively “remember” our past lives in our current life.  There is some background we should cover here, too, before we go further.  There are several concepts associated with “getting stuff out” of memory that are relevant to this discussion.  Encountering an external stimulus may result in what is termed access of content in the memory, “Access does not imply that the contacted material will be recalled.  The term retrieval is used for the actual event of recollection.”[14]  Access appears to be the earliest in a series of steps required to retrieve memory content.  Once material is accessed it may or may not be retrieved.  The process of retrieval is broken down into recall and recognition with recognition being considered the ‘easier’ task.  “Under standard conditions, recognition performance is always higher than recall.  Recall is higher under deliberate [intentional]learning conditions… while recognition is higher under incidental…”[15]  As noted earlier, storage of autobiographical events is much more likely to be incidental than intentional.  “Recall is defined as the ability to remember some past content when no corresponding stimulus is present”[16]  For example, most of us can recall our phone number or address without an external trigger to aid us.  The other incidence of retrieval, recognition, is broken down into the concepts of familiarity and recollection.  “Familiarity is involved when you encounter something and sense you have seen it before… The sense of familiarity can be either strong or weak with a range of strengths in between.”[17]  Recollection, on the other hand, “involves recalling the context in which some person or information was encountered in the past.”[18] With recollection the information is either readily available to the conscious mind or not, there is no range.  Howes reports that “Familiarity appears to be established more quickly than recollection and is believed to reflect an earlier stage of processing.”[19]  Familiarity seems to be the process most often involved when we experience a past life memory.  We encounter some stimulus (shoes, a car, a particular style of clothing) that triggers an emotional response deep within us, but we cannot ‘recollect’ why we have such a strong reaction.

Get a Cue

We experience familiarity and recollection with our current life memories when we come into contact with an external stimulus that serves as a ‘cue.’  Howes notes that, “Probably the most influential development in memory research across the past half century… involves the notion of cues”[20] and goes on to explain, “It is now understood that the nature of your thoughts, at the moment when you try to recall a given episode, can make a difference concerning your success or failure in recollection… that is, we may be unable to recall a given episode when certain ideas or perceptions are present in awareness, and yet recall that same episode when different ideas are present.”[21]  This seems to correspond with how most past life memories (ignoring hypnosis) are triggered in the current life.  A stimulus is present and the individual is somewhat overcome with feeling – which the current life brain may or may not be able to make sense of in the moment.  Carl Jung mentions ‘nostalgia’ when talking about the gig above and also relates that he, “..had still another experience that harked back to the eighteenth century.  At the home of one of my aunts I had seen an eighteenth-century statuette…This statuette…had buckled shoes which in a strange way I recognized as my own.  I was convinced that these were shoes I had worn.  The conviction drove me wild with excitement… I could still feel those shoes on my feet, and yet I could not explain where this crazy feeling came from.  I could not understand this identity I felt with the eighteenth century.  Often in those days I would write the date 1786 instead of 1886, and each time this happened I was overcome by an inexplicable nostalgia.”[22]  In my post Through the Looking Glass, I mention having a very similar experience with an old car of my uncle’s.  I could not use the word ‘nostalgia’ to describe those feelings because, at that age, I don’t even think I understood the concept of nostalgia.  Rather, I would say I felt an intense and unexplainable ‘liking’ for the car, perhaps even a type of ‘love at first sight’ and a desire to ride in it.  I couldn’t make sense of what I was feeling given the context of my life so far.  Even so, the sentimentality stuck with me for many days and weeks afterwards.  Unfortunately, with no context to support the experience and hardly any further experiences with the car[23] it eventually sunk below my conscious awareness until it was triggered again after my past life regression session when I was looking at an online picture of Kay standing next to “her” car.  My uncle’s car had been the cue in my youth for the feelings of familiarity based on the past life experience and later the picture of Kay with the car had cued the memory of my experience with the car in my youth.[24]

Why aren’t  we bumping into cues all the time?

If all it takes to trigger a past-life memory is a cue, why doesn’t it happen more often?  There are several reasons why this could be.  For one, very common stimuli (apples, for example) are unlikely to serve as cues, even in our current life.  If we live this time around in a place where apples are decidedly uncommon, the first time we see one it may trigger a feeling of familiarity based on a past life.  However, this is only likely to be noticeable if apples were associated with a significant event in, or somehow central to, that past lifetime.  Even if an apple did engender a feeling of familiarity in this lifetime, we were likely pre-verbal when it happened and had no way to communicate that.  By the time we were old enough to speak, apples would have become commonplace enough for us that they would have either cued memories from this lifetime or, more likely, nothing at all.  With increasing globalization it may seem like – even if our past lives were a world away – we should be running into cues all the time.  It is true that the increased accessibility of other places and cultures may be offering up more stimuli that have the potential to cue past life memories.  On the other hand, as times change, the signs, symbols, and objects we interacted with as part of a previous space in history are likely to be less present.  It’s rare to see cars that are 60, 50, or even  40 years old on the road today.  From what I understand of cues they have to be fairly specific  – especially for more remote memories.  Even if we were to visit a county where the most recent past life had been lived, we are very unlikely to casually come across something from that time period that was also significant to our past lives.

So why – even when we do chance upon a ‘cue’ (as in my first experience with the car) does it not trigger a clear past life narrative “memory” and instead just evokes a generic, if strong, feeling of familiarity?  To answer this question, we have to back up a bit and revisit how memories are likely to be stored in the first place.  Taking the reincarnation concept as a given (as I mentioned at the start that this post does), we recognize that we don’t carry everything with us from life to life.  If nothing else, our previous bodies are left behind as if we are shedding a snake skin or cocoon.  We should not minimize that part of that human body was also a brain.  Much like our eyes are the instrument through which we take in images, our brain processes events and information that come in from the senses.  It is logical to suppose that when we leave the brain behind – we also lose all the higher order structuring (such as schemas and scripts) that the brain constructed during that lifetime.  Some of this logic can be loosely corroborated by research into why we don’t remember memories from our early childhood or infancy.  “There is… clear evidence [from experimental data] that infants form recognition memories.”[25]  However, autobiographical memories of a narrative sort appear to only start cementing into our storage a few years later.  “Pillemer (1992) examined the memories of 3.5  and  4.5 year–old children concerning the evacuation of a preschool due to a possible fire hazard…  Fifty-four percent of the younger children claimed, incorrectly, that they had been outside when they heard the fire alarm.  They also showed a poor grasp of causality related to the event and temporal factors.  The older children performed better on all these measures.  The author interpreted these data as suggesting that the weak memory function of young children may be due, in part, to the absence of the relevant higher-order structuring abilities.”[26] If the author of this study’s interpretation is correct then it further bolsters the argument that cognitive organization that aids in recall is developed, with growth and experience, in the corporeal brain.  Therefore any past life memories that came into the new life with us would essentially just be ‘loose content.’  To give an example of what this would be like, imagine a library where there was no organization to how books were shelved ( no numbering system, related books not even shelved together) and no inventory system where you could look up whether the library had a particular book and where it was located.  How would you ever find anything?  Finding a book on the subject you were interested in would become an incredibly chance event – which is exactly what appears to happen with past life memories.  We stumble on an unexpected cue that triggers intense feelings of familiarity, nostalgia, or some other emotion for no explainable reason.

The above is only half the answer, however.  There is an aspect of memory that isn’t really discussed in Howes’ book but, from my own reflection, is another important reason why we have such difficulty ‘remembering’ past life memories.  This is the concept of memory reinforcement.  If you’ve lived a moderate length of time you have probably had the experience of ‘reconciling’ memories with someone else.  It goes something like this – Person A says, “Do you remember the time when…?” and the other person says “Oh yeah <thinking> , I remember, that was when we did ‘x’” and the other person either agrees and compounds the memory with additional details, or they may something like, “no, it wasn’t – it was when we did ‘y’ – don’t you remember? and you were wearing that <insert clothing detail>.” And so on.  Basically, the two (or more) people who have a shared experience are reconciling their memories of the event.  Even if they don’t agree on the details they are reinforcing each other’s conviction that the episode, in fact, actually happened.  We almost never get reinforcement of our past life memories –even under hypnosis we are remembering events in a vacuum that is difficult to validate in any reliable way.  Some people are lucky enough(as I was) to find outside validation of information from a regression session – but even when that is the case it is an isolated experience that can often leave you wondering, is this just a coincidence or is it really true?  Thus we may come in direct contact with a past life reference and yet be the first dismiss any feelings of familiarity if we cannot readily explain them.

Returning to the idea that launched this post, the concept that we do not remember our past life memories because of “forced amnesia by design,” after study and reflection, I doubt that is really true (or, at least, not wholly true).  The advantages of not remembering our past lives mentioned in the introduction seem to be at least offset, if not completely outweighed, by the disadvantages.  Further, it seems that when we do encounter a memory ‘cue’ those memories can be accessed, even if it is a very primitive form of access.  If we were intended to not ‘carry the weight’ of those past life memories why would we be able to access them at all?  Finally, although we don’t recall specific context related to those memories in any kind of organized fashion, we are hardly immune to their existence.  Past life influences and patterns of behavior can wreak havoc all over our lives again and again without us even realizing what is happening.  Hopefully, in this post I have laid out some reasoning that may help explain why we do not remember our past lives, but I leave you to decide whether this is biology or by design.

In closing, I’d like to share a brief anecdote Howes relates of an amnesiac patient that I find particularly compelling and relevant in capturing the influence these ‘hidden’ past life memories can have on us, “individuals suffering from amnesiac syndrome show impairment in explicit memory[27], but they often demonstrate normal implicit memory.[28]  For instance, the French doctor Claparede reported that he had shaken hands with an amnesiac patient while concealing a pin, which pricked her.  When they met again, the patient had no recollection of having encountered the doctor before,but she refused to shake hands with him. (Claparede 1911).”[29]

[1] see post on choosing our parents, The Ring of Destiny

[2] JOS loc 57

[3] JOS loc 850

[4] Memories, Dreams, Reflections Loc 704

[5] I chose Human Memory: Structures and Images by Mary B. Howes.  As with all scientific research and conclusions (and anything in life, really) not all academics agree on a particular theory or conclusion.  However, the concepts I introduce in this post seemed (as presented in the reference material) to represent relatively basic mainstream ideas about how the brain’s memory function works.

[6] empirical / information related to what’s picked up by the senses

[7] information related to our interpreted meaning of a particular event

[8] encoding = storing a memory

[9] one mainstream branch of current memory theory is constructivism.  In short, the idea behind constructivism is that our memories are ‘constructed’ in storage and also ‘constructed’ upon retrieval.  That is – various components if a given memory are stored and processed in multiple locations in the brain and ‘re-constructed’ when we retrieve the memory versus retrieving a ‘whole’ memory.  Components of this philosophy appear to have been modified and elaborated on or served as launching pad for some of the more current theories mentioned in this posts such as the use of scripts and schemas.

[10] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006),  loc 5118

[11] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 5125

[12] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 5151 – also refer to footnote #9 on constructivism

[13] Aside from schemas and scripts there exist other higher-order structures that help us make sense of our world and therefore support our memries of various events.  I have stuck to the most relevant ones for this post here.  The others in no way contradict or undermine the case being made in this post.

[14] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 3131

[15] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 3369

[16] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 5553

[17] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 3380

[18] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 3380

[19] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 3386

[20] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 876

[21] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 566

[22] Memories, Dreams, Reflections C.G. Jung, Aniela Jaffe, Vintage; Reissue edition (January 26, 2011) loc 719

[23] being in the garage, a place we kids were not allowed to go, and under a dropcloth – not to mention that my uncle and I were not always on the best of terms, I did not have many chances to spend time with or even look at the car.  I do remember – while they lived in the house with the detached garage off the backyard and the access door standing open, I always retained a sortof low level awareness of it’s presence when I was in the yard.  The shape watched like a ghost, the form only partially visible, a khaki shrouded mystery.

[25] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 5547

[26] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 5559

[27] explicit memory refers to changes that occur in long term memory that result in material actually being recalled – Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), Loc 6606

[28] implicit memory involves changes that occur in long term memory that do NOT result in conscious recall – Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 6606

[29] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 6618

Through the looking glass (PLR p2)

This story begins quite some time ago – Actually half a century ago, but for me, it started maybe six or seven years ago.  I had a particularly hard time letting go of an old ex-boyfriend.  It was comical really.  Our actual relationship had been only 6 months. Granted, it had been a pretty weird break-up (he had told me that he still loved me, and he still wanted me, but he just couldn’t be with me any longer).  I had met my soulmate and married him.  Yet, five years later I was still thinking about this particular ex-boyfriend on a semi-regular basis even though we lived over a thousand miles apart.  Why couldn’t I let go?  Years before, a wise English teacher of mine from highschool had mentioned that perhaps there was a past life influnce at work here.  She said, “maybe you were together in a past life, but it’s not right for this lifetime.”  Although I have believed in reincarnation from a very young age (My mother tells me I first mentioned it around age 5) I certainly had doubts about specific past life influences.  No doubt this was a simple crush that I have become a bit obsessive about – I had a hard time accepting that it could be a real past life influence and that kept me from giving the idea any serious creedence for a long time.  Some five years later without feeling completely over this guy, though, I was ready to explore the idea.

I looked up past life practioners nearby and found one that wasn’t too expensive not far from home.  The woman operated out of her house which was in a somewhat dilapidated neightborhood.  As the sun set, and I approached a stranger’s house, alone, in the darkening evening, I admit to being a little nervous.  My fears were not assuaged by the cacophanous barking of multiple dogs coming from behind the door.  I am not really a dog person.  I don’t hate dogs, but due to two dog-related incidents in my childhood I confess that I am somewhat uncomfortable around them.  A middle-aged woman of slight build opened the door a crack and, upon confirming my identity, let me inside.  Her Rottweiler and German Shepherd barked and pawed wildly at the sliding doors outside.  I gulped as I noticed some of the paw prints on the window were well above my height.  “Do you mind if I let them in?” she asked.  “They’re super friendly, and wouldn’t hurt a fly.”  I bit back my retorts about flies being small enough to evade their enthusiastic bounding and managed to nod as she motioned for me to take a seat on the couch.  Thankfully, the dogs were much calmer once inside.  The Rottweiler, of course, came to sit on my feet.  Not atmy feet, on my feet.  Suffice it to say, it was not a very auspicious beginning to a relaxing Past Life Regression session.

We chatted for a few minutes about why I was there and what brought her to Past Life Regression therapy.  She walked me through the process a little bit.  Having been a veteran meditator, even at the time, I was curious about how this would go.  Introductory work concluded, she directed me to a small side bedroom, closing the dogs outside (Thank you!).  The bed was fairly snug around my frame, which at 5’4” is hardly towering, and the room was so small her chair barely fit between the desk and bed.  It created the mild effect of being at the dentist’s office, having her loom over me.  I hadn’t thought to bring a recorder (this was my first time doing something like this and I had no idea what to expect) so she offered to take some notes and I gladly accepted.  She began a relaxation sequence and I tried to let-go and sink into myself.  With past life regression, you are usually completely conscious (this was not something I knew at the time) and the therapist puts you into what’s considered a mildly hypnotic state.  I think because of all my own meditation work, it was maybe harder for me to ‘feel’ as if I was under hypnosis or in a trance (or, rather, to feel that this was in any way different than what I usually do).  She directed me to visualize that I was in a room with boxes and asked me to open one and see what I found in it.  That line of visualization went pretty much nowhere – I found a key in the box and said that I was a princess having a birthday party, but to me it just felt like I was making it up – it felt, honestly, a bit silly.  Perhaps sensing this, she tried to take me to another lifetime.  For awhile I just seemed to be drifting and I think we were both getting a little bit frustrated, but finally I got something – although it still felt so hazy as to just be an impression, a feeling, at first.  The therapist kept asking me to look at my shoes (every time we tried to hit a lifetime she would ask me to look at my shoes).  But, Suddenly the scene snapped into focus and I remember thinking, I don’t care about my stupid shoes, I just want to describe what I’m actually seeing.  So, I did.

In the reflection of a large dresser mirror, I saw “myself” in a dark dress with white polka dots – only I didn’t look myself.  I was with someone and we were involved.  Not in flagrante delicto, but passionately working our way in that general direction.  Then something happened – or rather, maybe, didn’t happen – and I saw us both sitting against a bed headboard; talking and smoking.   “Is this your ex-boyfriend?” the therapist probed, “Yes,” I returned, “it’s his face I see on this man, although I don’t look like me.”  She followed with more questions, “Did you have sex?” she asked.  “No… I… we didn’t… we stopped.”  She asked for more details, “He’s someone important.” I told her, “Like a General or something like that.  He’s married… he has a wife and children… but they are somewhere else.”  She asked if I was married, “No… I… had a fiancee… but he died… in an a..accident… there was an explosion or something… maybe a crash… I’m not sure.”  She talked to me more about where we were, “We’re in some kind of house.. or bed and breakfast or something…”  the décor was somewhat reminiscent of my host home when I studied abroad in England in the mid 90s.  “We’re on the second floor… out the window… there are cars…I can see cars out the window on the street… people are sortof watching”  The relationship was definitely clandestine and also clearly somewhat tortured.  I could feel in those moments a sense of hopelessness about it.  We loved each other, but it wouldn’t work, couldn’t work, because he had other commitments that he would never break.  My impressions in the moment were that this was because of his inherent moral compass rather than any external factors – although those were certainly complications.  The therapist tried to bring me forward (I’ve learned later that this is a practice they do) and asked me how I died in that lifetime, “I was sick… it was some kindof long sickness.” She also asked me whether there was anyone else and I indicated that there was someone later who identified as my current husband.  The details were somewhat more sparse at this stage and she started to pull me out.

On coming out, I wasn’t really sure what had happened – had I just made up the whole thing?  It had felt sortof real, but ‘re-living’ the memories wasn’t like watching a movie, clear and crisp, as I had expected it to be.  When the therapist had asked questions, I had reached for answers and they were there – but were they real?  I took the brief notes from her that were written on a 5×7 sheet of note paper and thanked her for the experience, still a bit muddy-headed about the whole thing.  As I was driving home, pieces began to fall into place regarding my old relationship.  My English teacher had had it reversed – the relationship between me and my ex-boyfriend  wasn’t wrong in this lifetime – it had been wrong in that one and we had just been unable to overcome it in this lifetime.  There was no reason why we were unable to be together in this lifetime.  Once, in fact, my ex-boyfriend told me a year or so after our break-up, “There was always something that didn’t feel quite right about our relationship.” and suddenly that made perfect sense.  The most wonderful fact of all, however, was that I suddenly felt something resolve deep inside me around our relationship.  It was as if all of my confused, romantic feelings towards him were exorcised and I could see him in a new, clean, light.  I felt a deep soul-level love for him as a person who had been very important to me, but I no longer felt any inclination to have any sortof relationship (even a friendship) with him in this lifetime.  It was amazing how immediate the relief was and that it has lasted even until this day.

I was so happy with the results of my past-life regression session on my current life that I no longer cared whether it had been a ‘real’ experience or not.  That’s why, when I suddenly came face-to-face with the woman in my remembering it literally knocked me off my feet….. (to be continued in Part 3)

Through the Looking Glass of Time (PLR p2)

This story begins quite some time ago – Actually half a century ago, but for me, it started maybe six or seven years ago.

I had a particularly hard time letting go of an old ex-boyfriend.  It was comical, really.  Our actual relationship had been only 6 months. Granted, it had been a pretty weird break-up (he had told me that he still loved me, and he still wanted me, but he just couldn’t be with me any longer).

I have met my soulmate since then and married him.  Yet, five years later I was still thinking about this particular ex-boyfriend on a semi-regular basis even though we lived over a thousand miles apart.  Why couldn’t I let go?

Years before, a wise English teacher of mine from highschool had mentioned that perhaps there was a past life influnce at work here.  She said, “maybe you were together in a past life, but it’s not right for this lifetime.”

Although I have believed in reincarnation from a very young age (My mother tells me I first mentioned it around age 5) I certainly had doubts about specific past life influences.

No doubt this was a simple crush that I had become a bit obsessive about – I had a hard time accepting that it could be a real past life influence and that kept me from giving the idea any serious creedence for a long time.  Some five years later without feeling completely over this guy, though, I was ready to explore the idea.

I looked up past life practioners nearby and found one that wasn’t too expensive and close to home.  The woman operated out of her house which was in a somewhat dilapidated neightborhood.

As the sun set, and I approached a stranger’s house, alone, in the darkening evening, I admit to being a little nervous.  My fears were not assuaged by the cacophanous barking of multiple dogs coming from behind the door.

I am not really a dog person.  I don’t hate dogs, but due to two very negative dog-related incidents in my childhood I confess that I am somewhat uncomfortable around them.

A middle-aged woman of slight build opened the door a crack and, upon confirming my identity, let me inside.  Her Rottweiler and German Shepherd barked and pawed wildly at the sliding doors outside.  I gulped as I noticed some of the paw prints on the window were well above my height.

“Do you mind if I let them in?” she asked.  “They’re super friendly, and wouldn’t hurt a fly.”  I bit back my retorts about flies being small enough to evade their enthusiastic bounding and managed to nod as she motioned for me to take a seat on the couch.

Thankfully, the dogs were much calmer once inside.  The Rottweiler, of course, came to sit on my feet.  Not at my feet, on my feet.  Suffice it to say, it was not a very auspicious beginning to a relaxing Past Life Regression session.

We chatted for a few minutes about why I was there and what brought her to Past Life Regression therapy.  She walked me through the process a little bit.  Having been a veteran meditator, even at the time, I was curious about how this would go.

Introductory work concluded, she directed me to a small side bedroom, closing the dogs outside (Thank you!).  The bed was fairly snug around my frame, which at 5’4” is hardly towering, and the room was so small her chair barely fit between the desk and bed.  It created the mild effect of being at the dentist’s office, having her loom over me.

I hadn’t thought to bring a recorder (this was my first time doing something like this and I had no idea what to expect) so she offered to take some notes and I gladly accepted.

She began a relaxation sequence and I tried to let-go and sink into myself.  With past life regression, you are usually completely conscious (this was not something I knew at the time) and the therapist puts you into what’s considered a mildly hypnotic state.

I think because of all my own meditation work, it was maybe harder for me to ‘feel’ as if I was under hypnosis or in a trance (or, rather, to feel that this was in any way different than what I usually do).  She directed me to visualize that I was in a room with boxes and asked me to open one and see what I found in it.

That line of visualization went pretty much nowhere – I found a key in the box and said that I was a princess having a birthday party, but to me it just felt like I was making it up – it felt, honestly, a bit silly.

Perhaps sensing this, she tried to take me to another lifetime.  For awhile I just seemed to be drifting and I think we were both getting a little bit frustrated, but finally I got something – although it still felt so hazy as to just be an impression, a feeling, at first.

The therapist kept asking me to look at my shoes (every time we tried to hit a lifetime she would ask me to look at my shoes).  But, suddenly the scene snapped into focus and I remember thinking, I don’t care about my stupid shoes, I just want to describe what I’m actually seeing.  So, I did.

In the reflection of a large dresser mirror, I saw “myself” in a dark dress with white polka dots – only I didn’t look myself.  I was with someone and we were involved.  Not in flagrante delicto, but passionately working our way in that general direction.  Then something happened – or rather, maybe, didn’t happen – and I saw us both sitting against a bed headboard; talking and smoking.

“Is this your ex-boyfriend?” the therapist probed, “Yes,” I returned, “it’s his face I see on this man, although I don’t look like me.”  She followed with more questions, “Did you have sex?” she asked.  “No… I… we didn’t… we stopped.”  She asked for more details, “He’s someone important.” I told her, “Like a General or something like that.  He’s married… he has a wife and children… but they are somewhere else.”

She asked if I was married, “No… I… had a fiancee… but he died… in an a..accident… there was an explosion or something… maybe a crash… I’m not sure.”  She talked to me more about where we were, “We’re in some kind of house.. or bed and breakfast or something…”  the décor was somewhat reminiscent of my host home when I studied abroad in England in the mid 90s.

“We’re on the second floor… out the window… there are cars…I can see cars out the window on the street… people are sortof watching”  The relationship was definitely clandestine and also clearly somewhat tortured.  I could feel in those moments a sense of hopelessness about it.  We loved each other, but it wouldn’t work, couldn’t work, because he had other commitments that he would never break.

My impressions in the moment were that this was because of his inherent moral compass rather than any external factors – although those were certainly complications.

The therapist tried to bring me forward (I’ve learned later that this is a practice they do) and asked me how I died in that lifetime, “I was sick… it was some kindof long sickness.” She also asked me whether there was anyone else and I indicated that there was someone later who I identified as my current husband.  The details were somewhat more sparse at this stage and she started to pull me out.

On coming out, I wasn’t really sure what had happened – had I just made up the whole thing?  It had felt sortof real, but ‘re-living’ the memories wasn’t like watching a movie, clear and crisp, as I had expected it to be.

When the therapist had asked questions, I had reached for answers and they were there – but were they real?  I took the brief notes from her that were written on a 5×7 sheet of note paper and thanked her for the experience, still a bit muddy-headed about the whole thing.

As I was driving home, pieces began to fall into place regarding my old relationship.  My English teacher had had it reversed – the relationship between me and my ex-boyfriend  wasn’t wrong in this lifetime – it had been wrong in that one and we had just been unable to overcome it in this lifetime.

There was no reason why we were unable to be together in this lifetime.  Once, in fact, my ex-boyfriend told me a year or so after our break-up, “There was always something that didn’t feel quite right about our relationship.” and suddenly that made perfect sense.

The most wonderful fact of all, however, was that I suddenly felt something resolve deep inside me around our relationship.  It was as if all of my confused, romantic feelings towards him were exorcised and I could see him in a new, clean, light.

I felt a deep soul-level love for him as a person who had been very important to me, but I no longer felt any inclination to have any sortof relationship (even a friendship) with him in this lifetime.  It was amazing how immediate the relief was and that it has lasted even until this day.

I was so happy with the results of my past-life regression session on my current life that I no longer cared whether it had been a ‘real’ experience or not.  That’s why, when I suddenly came face-to-face with the woman in my remembering it literally knocked me off my feet….. (to be continued in Part 3)

I can’t change the past, but it sure can change me (PLR p1)

“and then you had to bring up reincarnation over a couple of beers the other night… and now I’m serving time for mistakes made by another in another lifetime” – Indigo Girls, Galileo

This post is the first in a series of four about past lives.  This first one will be an introduction to Past Life regression and it’s relation to the Spiritual path.  There will be two that are narratives about a particular past-life regression experience of mine.  The other will explore the concept of the nature and reliability of memories in both this life and past lives and how that might impact a past-life regression experience (and, of course, our current lives)

Past life regression and the spiritual path

In other places on the blog I have referred to psychic development or energy work  as auxiliary skills that are helpful, but not necessary to actively walk the spiritual path.[1]  I feel differently about past life regression.  Our souls have much more to work through than can be experienced in one liftetime[2].  The unfortunate truth is that, if you have lived before – which frankly is likely – you are probably carrying some past-life emotional baggage.

I realize that most of us have plenty of emotional baggage from this lifetime, and the most significant pieces of that should be worked through first on the spiritual path.  However, sooner or later, if you are walking the spiritual path (and even if you are not) you are going to bump into some past life influence.  How do you know when this happens?  Past life influence often shows up as a more extreme liking or aversion to people, places, activities, or things than is warranted.  Some influences are remarkably subtle and only reveal themselves after a past-life regression session.  However, often it is something you do notice that prompts desperate people (of which I have been one) to seek out past life regression in hopes of finding some answers.   Like everything else, your particular feelings on the matter (of reincarnation or past lives) will influence how quickly you recognize a potential past life influence and do something about it.

Obviously these feelings can be ignored or treated as unimportant, but if they affect your life in a meaningful and distracting way – is there really any harm in checking for some past life influence?  I have sat for two past-life regression sessions a number of years apart related to two different issues and they initiated some of the most meaningful self-work I have done in this lifetime.  Some troublesome symptoms may disappear immediately, as happened in my case.  If the past life influence is very deeply entrenched, time may be required to process the full value of the session before the individual can begin working towards recovery and acceptance.  Of course, you should make your own choices about whether or not past life regression is a part of your spiritual path journey, but I believe that working through detrimental and inhibiting past life influences in the current life is critical to avoid the continuance  of karmic debt carrying that needs to be resolved in future lives.

Some of the things that have come up in my own regression sessions have been quite extraordinary – I will share the narrative of one of those experiences in this series.  It’s only natural that I would question the ‘reality’ of these memories.  Did I just make this story up?  I do believe it’s possible that the subconscious could invent stories to help us work through personal issues that we may not want to face as-they-are (much like Campbell or Bettelheim would argue that myths and fairytales allow the psyche to work through issues).  I think of the story “Life of Pii” as an example of this[3].  After much rumination, I have come to the conclusion that my past-life experiences have been authentic.  However, it’s important to hold any particular outcome with a Tai-Chi fist (see the post ‘Sink or Swim’ if you don’t know what I’m talking about here) and recognize the possibility that a ‘past-life memory’ may simply be a spontaneously generated subconscious narrative that helps resolve inner conflict.  Regardless, If going into a deeply meditative state allows your subconscious to weave a tale that explains and offers resolution to some deeply embedded issues in your psyche, it still seems like a worthwhile activity to explore.   And if you believe (as I do) that we have lived before and that the regression experience is authentic, delving into your past lives could help resolve internal fears and angers you have been holding onto for centuries.  How amazing and refreshing would that be?

 

[1] this is in no way to diminish the work of people in these disciplines

[2] If I were going to wildly speculate (meaning – take this with a grain of salt) maybe a long time ago we used to live really long lives in order to experience more within them, but perhaps we moved towards more and shorter lifetimes so that more experience could be obtained.  For example, even in one very long lifetime as, say, a man, important karmic lessons about carrying a child, giving birth, etc cannot be learned.

[3] <spoiler alert> at the end of the story in the epilogue it becomes clear that the bulk of the book is really an allegory for a much more gruesome reality.