After The Past-Life Regression: So, Who Am I?
Does It Matter If What You Saw Was Real?
Past-Life Characters As A Continuing Resource For The Present
A Typical Therapeutic View
Problems With Overidentification
A Past-Life Mission
A Past-Life Samurai, And The Legacy Of "No-Mind", "No-Ego"
After a vivid past-life regression, it is sometimes hard to know what to do with the past-life character who has just emerged from the shadows of your mind. Is this character real? Or just a dream? Was this person who you were, or is he or she only a fantasy reflection of who you are?
Does It Matter If What You Saw Was Real?
Many top-line therapists claim that it does not matter whether the past-life character you have just envisioned was a real historical personage or only a phantom of your subconscious, they claim that either way - as reality, or as an echo of your soul - the figure you have just experienced embodies your psychological truth, in one or more of its aspects. And they claim that that past-life character - fact or fantasy - and the insights gained from examining his or her life - real or imagined - can be used to unlock forces of present-life healing. In the same way that dream fiction can illuminate the inner terrain of the dreamerís real life, so they say, fake past-life memories may sometimes prove to be just as helpful as real past-life memories, for either way - by the road of literal truth or the road of metaphor - the subject will learn something important about himself.
Whereas I respect this concept very much, I do think it can make an important difference to the person who has just undergone a past-life regression, if he is able to know or sense that his past-life experience was real. For for many an individual, the past-life-regression experience goes far beyond just learning more about himself, it is a way of beginning to increase his belief in reincarnation, of fortifying his belief that there is life after death, and an immortal human soul. That belief has enormous power; and when oneís past-life regression is intellectually or emotionally convincing enough to help bring one to that belief, then the life-transforming power of the regression experience is sure to assume new dimensions. Basically, a huge shift in perspective, and an increased sense of connection and belonging in the universe, ought to result, opening new doors of love, health, strength and awareness for the "convert."
Of course, there are many other ways to develop oneís spiritual belief in this world, and having a convincing past-life regression probably ought not to be at the top of the list. For in my own view, a belief so mighty, so life-giving, ought not to depend upon oneís ability to find undeniable evidence of it in a single hypnotic journey; no, it ought, instead, to come from every sunrise, every birdís song, every ocean wave, every star-filled night, from a thousand moments of deep feeling, standing on the pulsing soul of the earth, beneath the immensity of the sky, when the belief in invisible things suddenly enters the heart, like a flood, accomplishing what mere facts cannot. Anyway, for most of us, when all is said and done, the past-life regression does not produce hard evidence of anything, just hints and emotions, and an offer to bond with something that is not without the risk of being mistaken.
But back to the stated topic: what to do with the character you have just seen in your regression?
Again, whatever the therapists may say, for most of us it does make a difference how much we believe in the reality of the past-life self we have just seen: for our way of relating to what we believe to be real, and what we believe to be imaginary, is usually very different. For some individuals, there will be no doubt. They will believe (or not believe). While for others - perhaps for most of us - there will be uncertainty, fluctuation, a back-and-forth struggle between believing and not believing, accepting and rejecting, internalizing and ignoring. (This is especially so, as the skeptical society we live in often wages ruthless warfare upon our intimate personal discoveries, constantly pulling us back towards its own points of view.) For many, the most fruitful way to deal with this uncertainty is to eliminate the distinction, in oneís mind, between literal truth and metaphorical truth, and to accept oneís experience as real on some level, though one cannot be sure on exactly what level. Accepting the experience as either a literal truth, or a "personal myth" which embodies a deep personal reality, is, perhaps, the most effective way for coping with the uncertainty, and putting oneís past-life vision to good use, instead of leaving it on hold, until one can find ways of jump-starting oneís belief in it. I go into this important issue in my book The Journey of Rainsnow. Here, however, I would like to emphasize the fact that "myth" is not so much fiction, as it is truth coming to us in another form; just as what we call "truth" here, on the earth, is often only the narrow perspective of a world that does not know itself and has lost its soul - a devitalizing myth of limitations, rather than an empowering myth of possibilities - a sterile myth growing on the edges of our hearts, rather than a living myth, growing out of the center of who we are. As Joseph Campbell wrote in The Hero With A Thousand Faces (p. 385): "Each [person] carries within himself the all; therefore it may be sought and discovered within. The differentiations of sex, age, and occupation are not essential to our character, but mere costumes which we wear for a time on the stage of the world. The image of man within is not to be confounded with the garments. We think of ourselves as Americans, children of the twentieth century, Occidentals, civilized Christians. We are virtuous or sinful. Yet such designations do not tell what it is to be man, they denote only the accidents of geography, birth-date, and income. What is the core of us? What is the basic character of our being?" He also said (p. 383) that the ceremonies of ancient tribes "serve[d] to translate the individualís life-crises into classic, impersonal forms. They disclose[d] him to himself, not as this personality or that, but as the warrior, the bride, the widow, the priest, the chieftan." As archetypes, in other words, beyond the precise details of any life, yet in spite of that - or perhaps because of it - capturing its essence. For Campbell, the myth contained the deepest truth, and losing oneself in the myth was a way of awakening to who you truly were.
Since the most likely scenario for eliminating doubt, whenever a complex issue is confronted, is to crush reality until only a simplified remnant of it remains to cling to, providing one with comfort at the price of accuracy, I find it most helpful to retain the doubt. I overcome doubtís paralyzing quality - its greatest drawback - by continuing to believe my past-life memory may be "real" (that increases its usefulness to me), without demanding that it be "real" (that effort would tear me away from its spiritual and psychological insights and opportunities, drawing me, instead, into a battle to defend it in the manner of a historian or a scientist). The possibility that some of my remembered past lives may only be "personal myths" does not undermine the power of these lives to me, for the vital energy that comes from knowing they could be real, as our world defines real, is reinforced by the vital energy that comes from knowing that there is truth in myth, as well - often more truth than there is in truth! Back To Top
Past-Life Characters As A Continuing Resource For The Present
But there is still so much more to say about this topic. Take my personal case. I have past-life memories (among may others) of being an Aztec warrior and a Cheyenne "wolf" - a warrior-scout. I believe those memories to be real. So now, what do I do with them? Do I let them dissolve who I am today, do I go back to being the Cheyenne warrior I was a century ago? Do I let my modern life become an appendage of an ancient one? Do I begin to disappear into who I was? Or do I push these lives back inside, say "Nice to meet you, thanks for dropping in, well, good-bye, you died and Iím alive, so - see Ďya!" How do I handle this?
Honestly, at first, it was somewhat confusing for me. A part of me was so mesmerized by these past-life characters I uncovered that I wanted to become them, and leave who I was in these modern times behind. Then I realized that I did not need to become them, I was them - only so changed, so poisoned by my modern culture, so lost and blinded by time and by the effects of my timeís very different energy. I was like a man, once strong, made sick and weak by a disease - the disease of my civilization. And I felt so sad to see myself this way, a shadow so far from my power and my beauty.
It was natural to want to go back to the ancient lives, to be who I was, but I could not. My face was different, my body; my people were gone, or no longer recognized me; I had lost my culture, my ties to my tribe and my land. And the battles that had meant everything to me were now nothing but words in history books, words that were like earth thrown over something that was once alive. Even so, at times, I canít deny that my past-life selves swallowed me up. One day, feeling unbalanced and out of place as I was walking in the city streets, I suddenly found that I could see myself as the Aztec warrior I once was, much shorter and much stronger than I am now, dressed in jaguar skins. I felt lower, closer to the earth, more balanced and solid; I could feel my steps connecting with the earth, gathering energy and power from it with every stride I took; and so I let myself go on for a while this way, with my past-life self "up front", filling my present-life self with my ancient confidence and strength. Even to the point where I felt utterly fearless (for one of the few times in my life), and knew in my heart that I was ready to die anytime, anywhere, because death was the center of my past-life world, I knew it so well from the sacrifices on the pyramids and the terrible wars I had been in. At that moment, this feeling was not floating in me, on top of my head like a daydream, it was all the way in, in every part of my body. Thank God, no one tried to rob me at that moment, because I would not have handed over my wallet, which is the sensible thing to do in such cases, but fought back, whether they had a knife or gun. As I relate in The Journey of Rainsnow, there were also times when an ancient Greek priestess came to the forefront of my being, seeming to turn herself on within my present-life self and helping to guide me through tarot readings which I had been called upon to give. At those moments, her ancient gift of prophecy helped to expand the powers of my modern mind.
In this way, my past-life selves proved able to surface and even "possess" me for brief periods of time in my present-day life, endowing me with some of their ancient attitudes and abilities. More commonly, however, my past-life selves remained within me as memories and maps of parts of myself I had never seen before, revealing to me my soulís beauty and vulnerability, its places of power and its weak spots. I came to understand that my past-life selves were manifestations of me in different times and places, as I faced different life-situations and circumstances - not entities to replace my present-life self, nor be replaced by my present-life self; just glimpses of the flowing river of me, a river that came from far away, and was still flowing.
Robert Frost once wrote the famous lines (from "The Road Not Taken"):
"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come backÖ"
In any single life, we miss so much of life, trapped by the role we must play, and the culture that makes our road. By becoming aware of our past lives, the tragedy of our limitations begins to fade, we see that the untraveled roads which break our hearts by being denied us, by being beyond us, wait for us in other times and places, where they are not "impossible": ready to be traveled by us still, or perhaps already having been traveled by us. This knowledge can do much to bring together the fragments we are forced to be in any one place and time, and make us whole again, complete. Back To Top
In my own case, as you see, the past-life characters I have been have remained as inner resources, able to be drawn up, like water from a deep well, to revitalize and strengthen me with lost traces of myself. Although I am most days my modern self, I will sometimes bring these past-life characters to the surface, and nourish myself with their attributes and/or perspectives, before letting them sink back into the depths of my soul, like precious memories which forever reside in one, yet do not obscure the sights and needs of the moment. One day, I would like to consolidate this relationship I have with my past-life selves by developing a wardrobe of ancient clothes, and dressing up as them on various days of the year, making a special effort to let their consciousness and sensibility rise to the surface and fill me. I would carry out a ceremony of fusion between my past-life and modern selves, meditating, and recapturing the ancient qualities I wished to preserve, and to restore from those lives, to my present one: a kind of spiritual recharging of my batteries, and recovery of my full self. In the same way that Mexicans give the "Day of the Dead" to the spirits and ghosts of their ancestors, leaving tables full of food for them, lighting candles, and strewing paths of flowers to their doorways, that the vanished might return for a moment and the living and dead be reunited, so I would create such days for my own internal ghosts, that we might sit together for a while, and grow from our moment of sacred sharing, of mutual mourning and loving. Back To Top
A Typical Therapeutic View
My ambition to relate to my past-life selves in a series of life-enriching ceremonies would probably be seen as rather extreme by many therapists. I think the prevailing therapeutic attitude is that the subject of a past-life regression should go over the "lessons" of his past life, learn more about his relationships, needs, fears, and possibilities, by analyzing his past-life stories, and then apply his new knowledge and insights with his modern-day consciousness, leaving the past life in the past. According to this view, the past-life characters ought not to be kept as separate entities or inner twins - ought not to be retained as distinct personality forces within the soul, in the manner of the identity fragments so common in Multiple Personality Disorder - but should, instead, be utilized by the modern self for its own purposes and growth, digested, and absorbed. The past-life self should eventually lose its form, the same way as food loses its form as it is processed by the body, becoming a part of what has consumed it. What is valuable of the past-life self should, in this manner, become a part of oneís own modern-day flesh; while what is waste should be purged. Back To Top
But not all agree. It turns out that today some participants in the historical re-enactment movement - individuals who feel a particular connection to a specific period or event of the past, whether it be the American Civil War or the Middle Ages, and who consequently dress up in appropriate costumes and get together to role-play and re-create scenes from those bygone days - are actually past-life believers, who have determined to establish a more active and permanent link with their past-life selves. Healthy? Why not!? We all have nostalgia. We all miss things that once meant a lot to us, that are gone now, beyond our reach: a place we once lived, a love we lost. Why not feelings we had in another life? Back To Top
Problems With Overidentification
I think two things may be said about the tendency to link strongly with oneís past-life self, in place of "digesting" the past-life self. (1) Does the identification with the past-life self enrich, refresh, and in other ways enhance oneís connection to the present, or does it only pull one out of the present, locking one in a personality shell that is unable to relate in a fruitful way with the time one is in, now? Obviously, if one is using oneís past-life self as a kind of mental lifeboat with which to escape the challenges of the present, the identification with the past-life self could be considered to be unhealthy. (I am speaking of a prolonged or permanent escape from the present, not a temporary withdrawal for the purpose of re-energizing or expanding oneís consciousness.) I believe if we are alive now, it is to live now - to find a way of living now - not to "turn off" the now in order to try to live in the past. (Something that cannot really be done, even if we try.) I think (2), that another problem that could result from identifying strongly with a past-life self could be depression, confusion, and even self-hate. This would be in the case of past-life characters who either met a traumatic end (or lived a thoroughly wretched life), or else who were perpetrators of guilt-inducing crimes or abuses. (See "Past-Life Follow-Ups" for some thoughts on this subject.) Most often, where the past-life self is a kind of dark inner sun, radiating sorrow, guilt, or despair instead of pride, hope, or joy, intense healing work should be undertaken; and one should then make a special effort to not "drift away" with the past, or overidentify with it, but to root oneself firmly in the present, where one has the power to recreate oneself as one wishes to be. Take the case of a past-life Nazi. Rather than identifying too strongly with who he was (which will either sap his vitality with guilt, crushing him with the burden of what he did, or else compel him to resurrect the cruelty and arrogance of his Nazi personality in order to drive the guilt away so that he may live), the past-life Nazi, after drawing the appropriate lessons from his past, should make a special effort to focus on the present, and to live right in the present, which is the only way he can begin to change his cosmic record, to generate new karma, to undo what he did (to his own soul), to become who he aspires to be and transform the darkness into light. (While it would be very important for him to pray for his past-life victims, his healing/redemption work should not be fixated on the past, but should be mainly aimed at interacting, in a positive way, with people in the here and now, as a citizen of the present.)
Mystic philosophers say that the human soul is in the process of evolution. Drawing an analogy with biological evolution as described by Darwin, it seems that men are descended from fish, amphibians, reptiles, rodents and apes; but is it helpful for men to become obsessed with the fact that they were once reptiles? It is useful to know, perhaps, but if one spends all oneís time living with oneís reptile-self, might it not get in the way of being a man? In the same way, why give all of oneís attention to what one was, on a lower rung of the ladder of oneís spiritual evolution? Give just enough attention to that sad chapter of oneís personal history to know how to keep climbing up the ladder without falling down, but do not lose yourself, become fixated or frozen on a lower version, a lower possibility of yourself. Live in the present, and free yourself of the past. Back To Top
A Past-Life Mission
In my case, I cannot deny that the past continues to exert a huge influence over me. I even feel that is has imparted a mission to me, a sacred life purpose which I must fulfill in the present. (See The Journey of Rainsnow.) But, in this case, I find my past-life "drives" to be compatible with the present, able to be adapted to a modern form; just as I find the work my past life has "dumped" on me to be something that is needed by the present, not just some obsolete agenda. Indeed, even before I knew of my past, this purpose was always moving me from within, in a modern way, not carrying me along as its prisoner, but reacting, from inside me, with the new time and circumstances that surrounded it. I feel that my past lives have enriched me, vitalized me, and increased my connection with the present, rather than undermining it. And I am satisfied that my relationship with my past-life selves is one that not only is a way of honoring and cherishing who I once was, but also of empowering who I am, and can become. Back To Top
A Past-Life Samurai, And The Legacy Of "No-Mind", "No-Ego"
Yet, even so, at times, I am confronted by a strange paradox. While I have bonded strongly with several Native American lives, which are helping to propel me from the past, without swallowing up my present, I cannot neglect the Zen Buddhist outlook which I learned in a long-past life as a Japanese samurai. In the world of the Japanese warrior, in the world of the Japanese artist (see Zen and Japanese Culture, DT Suzuki), the inner object of the man was to achieve the state of consciousness known as mushen ("no-mind") or munen ("no-thought"), a form of being beyond the ego, based upon "emptiness" (sunyata, or ku). It was a state of mind characterized by muga ("egolessness") - a lack of attachment to oneís accomplishments and personal identity - as well as by detachment from outcomes, and the turbulent emotions that often swirl about the business of achieving outcomes (including, even, the preservation of life). This emptiness - this egolessness - was a way of overcoming the psychological obstacles that often stand in the way of life and action; a way of opening up the cluttered, "busy" space inside oneself, and making room to receive the energy of the universe; a way of learning to flow like a river that is what it is, without trying to be anything. Although this mentality seems suspect to the Western perspective, where it is believed we must struggle to be who we want to be, and to reach a higher place, the Zen Buddhist perspective is that we will arrive to that "higher place" not by struggling to get there, but by letting go of that which keeps us from recognizing that we are already there, if we will only stop getting in the way! Not to mention the fact that what we today see as a "higher place" is often only a mirage of our ignorance, a product of the noise of our minds, and the distractions before our eyes, which we need to clear away if we are to ever find the true "higher place", which is lost in our effort to get there before knowing what it is. As the famous example goes, keep stirring a dirty pool of water, and it will remain forever opaque, and unfathomable. But be silent, be still - let the waters be - and slowly, the dirt will begin to settle and sink, until you will finally be able to see through the water, all the way to the bottom of the pool. Truth comes from being with something without prematurely forcing it into a shape or trying to change it.
For the samurai, this detachment from his identity, his personality, his separate existence, apart from the universe, was often a key aspect of his mental training to be a warrior. It is what allowed him to face death without fearing it; to move his sword with the fluidity of being fully connected to the universe, with no resistance or interference to the unfolding of the situation which seemed to be coming from his own mind.
A few rare times, in this life, I have experienced that amazing moment of the egoís disappearance, in which I seemed to become an awareness that was beyond me, coming through me but not attached to me, using my eyes to see (but it was not "me" who was doing the seeing). The moments were brief, but powerful, in some ways like dying (ceasing to exist as "me"), in other ways like being born (fusing with, and becoming a part of, something infinitely greater than "me"). Strange, how losing what is most precious to us can sometimes enrich us beyond measure, by revealing a far greater treasure which it previous blocked from our view.
Naturally, the question arises: if "no-mind" - if "egolessness" - is the true way of becoming alive, then what role can a past-life identity possibly play in our present-day life? If our aim ought to be to transcend our ego, ceasing to cling even to the person who we (think we) are in the present - the person who we know so well right now - how much less, it seems, should we cling to the person who we were a thousand years ago! And yet - if I had not developed a strong connection with this ancient Japanese life from my past, I most likely, as a modern Westerner, would never even have given this perspective a second thought. It is very likely a result of the process of not "overcoming" or "letting go" of my past-life samurai self that I came to be enriched by his understanding, his inner discipline, his relationship with Zen, and his perspective on life!
To be quite honest, I have not worked out this problem yet, not fully determined who or what should be using my eyes to look out of my head.
For now, I think I am still in a phase of my life where concrete identities provide me with energy, strength and bearings: and I am, therefore, in a process of integrating, and forming working relationships between, my various identities - present and past-life - as a means of deepening and increasing the fruitfulness of my contact and interaction with my own times, in the here and now. Whether, in the future, I will ever make a greater effort to travel the Zen Buddhist/Taoist path of surrendering my personality-attachments to become, more directly, a force exuded by the universe, remains to be seen.
I hope that this article, based largely upon my own experiences, but only as a way of sharing my ideas more effectively, has proven of use to you. May each one of you find personally satisfying ways of utilizing your past-life knowledge to give greater meaning and vitality to the life you are living right now! Back To Top
Past-Life Regression Contents