There is clearly a human self here, and although we have a human identity, that’s not our most basic identity. We are that which any experience – including that of our human self and of being a human self – happens within and as.
So even if something carries on between lives, whatever we want to call it (e.g. incarnating being), that too is a temporary identity. It’s not what we really are. It’s not our most basic identity.
At one level, we are this human self. At another, we may be a being that keeps on incarnating for a while. And at a more basic level, we are that which all of this, and any temporary experience, happens within and as.
This may sound a bit abstract, or far-fetched, or mystical. But it’s something we can discover and explore here and now. The quickest ways to have a taste may be through the headless experiments (for some), or the Big Mind process (seems to work more consistently and for more people).
This is pretty obvious, but I’ll mention it again since I was reminded of the topic.
Sometimes, images of past lives may come up in a healing session or spontaneously, either from ourselves or someone else who then tells us about it.
And these past lives can be seen as metaphors for something going on in us here and now. We can use them as pointers or questions. Can I find the dynamic here and now, in me or my own life?
The other side to past lives is whether they exist or not. Is there a continuity or thread through a series of lives? This is more a question for science. (Leslie Kean has just written a book about this.)
There is yet another side to this. If there is some continuity through lives, that is a continuity of conditioning and imprints. Said a little too simplisticly, it’s not who or what we are. We are what any content of experience happens within and as, including this life and any past lives.
So past lives can be used as a pointer or metaphor for what’s going on here and now. It can be studied scientifically. And this or past lives are not really what we are.
I have some images that could be taken as images of past lives, and also from a disembodied state before my current incarnation. More recently, two separate vortex healers have had images come up during sessions with me that had them wonder if it had to do with my past lives.
I am very aware that all of these are images, perhaps with some charge associated with them. That doesn’t mean they are actual memories. And it doesn’t really matter that much to me. What matters is what these images of possible past lives mean to me now. In what way do they resonate with me? What in me do they speak to or point to?
For instance, the two vortex healers both had a sense of a soldier energy in me, someone who has been in a war. One also had images of a medieval battle. All of that very much resonates with me. It fits the primal survival fear that I have experienced off and on for some years now. The survival fear that surfaced when I – stupidly? bravely? inevitably? – asked God or life to show me what’s left. (The primal dread and terror surfaced one or two weeks after that prayer, stayed at an intense and overwhelming level for about nine months, and then lessened a bit.) It doesn’t mean I have had past lives as a soldier, but those images fit perfectly my experience of this dread and fear. It’s what I imagine a soldier in and after war easily can experience.
I don’t have much interest in reincarnation in a conventional sense. I see it as (a) so far unfounded in science, (b) a good projection object, and (c) equally well explained otherwise.
Going a bit further, here are some ways of looking at it:
There is the conventional view, where an entity of sorts (AKA soul) passes from one life to another. This is certainly (in theory) possible. And although this soul is “me” as this human self is it, neither is what I am (that which all happens within and as, including human self and a possible soul).
The information a real past life may be picked up in another way. For instance, some suggest elements from past lives are reorganized into current lives but not in a “one to one” fashion (Jac O’Keefe). Other suggest that souls mentor babies and pass on memories of their past lives that way (Lorna Byrne). It’s also possible that the information about real past lives are passed on in another way, either in a way well known or less known or understood by us today.
Whatever else is going on, there is an element of projection here. We imagine something in the past or future, and also imagine time and space that this takes place within, and take it as real or not. And all of those images are happening here and now. (We can also say that a form of “reincarnation” is happening over small time spans. Patterns are “reborn” anew here and now. And this too requires ideas of time and space etc.)
It’s a good topic for research and scientific studies. No matter what we find, it will help us learn more about the world. (Either what happens – if anything – after death, and also about culture and how we relate to our fears and hopes.)
When I look for reincarnation, or rebirth, in my own experience, here is one thing I find:
Images and thoughts are reborn here. There is an image in my mind of a cat I used to know. It comes up again. And although it’s quite similar in content, it’s a new image. It’s reborn.
The tendency to take certain images and thoughts as true is also reborn. Mind identifies with an image or thought, for instance my father sacrificed for me. It’s gone from conscious awareness. Then the image and identification is back. It’s reborn.
And that’s happening in society as well. Images and thoughts are reborn in different and sometimes new individuals. As a baby learns how to live in society, images and thoughts from parents and others are reborn in her or his mind. And a part of this process is to watch which images and thoughts are typically identified with, and which are not, and then do the same. These tendencies for identification are also reborn in the new human. And this happens not only in childhood, but also when we grow up. It’s an integral part of learning to function as a human being in society.
So rebirth happens in these two ways. First, images and thoughts are reborn here in my mind, as are tendencies to take some images and thoughts as true. And both of these are also reborn throughout society, passed on from human to human.
I did a session with Barry yesterday, and it went – for the first time – back to images from a previous life.
It’s a reminder that as long as something comes up and feels unresolved, I can work with it.
It doesn’t matter where I tell myself it comes from, whether my thoughts say it’s a story about this life, a dream, images of past lives, scenarios about my future life, someone else’s life, mythology, religion, an origin story, a fairy tale, a book or movie. Whatever feels unresolved about it is the same, and it reflects something that’s here now – in my life, in my world.
So in all of these cases, if it feels unresolved to me I can explore it in any number of different ways – journeying, opening to the emotions, ho’oponopono, tonglen, The Work, Big Mind process, prayer, bearing witness, and so on.
All of the traditions that came out of India – Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism – center on the idea of reincarnation. This is just as fundamental to Indian mythological thinking as our idea of Judgment, Heaven, and Hell is to our tradition. The notion is that the soul – what I will call the reincarnating monad – puts on bodies and takes them off, over and over again, as a person puts on and removes clothing.
– Joseph Campbell
There is an appearance of a human self here. There may also be the appearance of a soul – an alive presence, personal and impersonal, infinitely wise and kind (and this soul may reincarnate in other bodies after this one, or not). And there is identification with (or as) this human self, with this soul, or a softening and release of this identification. It’s all reality appearing as a human self, a soul, identification or softening/absence of identification. It’s all the play of reality.
I have been drawn to war movies (Band of Brothers, The Pacific) over the last couple of weeks, and mentioned it to a friend. They are sobering, helps me contact that quiet undercurrent of dread I have experienced lately, and helps me put things in perspective. She suggested it could have to do with past lives and I said perhaps, and was also a little puzzled. How would it be useful to think it had to do with past lives?
Of course, it can be helpful to play with ideas of past lives – through active imagination, dreams, regression therapy, apparent memories or any other way. It helps me unfold and notice what’s here.
Thoughts, mental images, desires, and emotions arise from hidden recesses of the mind, influenced by physiological processes of our bodies and experiences in this lifetime and possibly past lifetimes.
– Alan Wallace, Mind in the Balance, p. 65
Often, books are valuable as much for the questions they stimulate as what they explicitly say.
In this case, his mentioning of reincarnation stands out as an apparent superstition in an otherwise more scientific approach.
As any other story, it is a projection of what is here now.
A story is projected into the past, present or future. An idea of a past, future and even present life is projected and appears solid and substantial out there. Can I notice it as just an image, a mental field creation happening here now?
Qualities and dynamics are projected into the past, present and future. Maybe a life of blessings or of hardships, and details about each. Can I find it here now? See how it plays itself out? Feel it? Welcome it?
And among these is the dynamics of rebirth itself. In what way is rebirth happening here now? Can I notice that my stories are being reborn here now? My images of myself are continuously being recreated here now. Continuously maintained, fueled, enhanced, rehearsed, elaborated, in different ways.
(Whether those stories align with data and consensus reality or not, and appear to reflect something in the wider world, they are still also a projection of something here now. I couldn’t see it out there if it wasn’t also right here.)
And as any other story, it is a guide of temporary and practical value (or not). Helpful in some situations. Less helpful in other. When I use it for myself, what effects does it have? Does it help me take responsibility for my actions here now? If so, it may be quite helpful. Does it bring stress and tensions? If so, it may be less helpful.
And finally, as any other story, it is a question.
I may have images of past lives (for me, a life as a Russian intellectual in the 1850s and 60s, and a Taoist master in Xian in the 900s? during the Tang dynasty) but did those lives really happen? If they did, was something associated with those lives reborn in this one? If so, what is that something? And if something is reborn, is there an “I” in that something? If I can’t find an I here, anchored in this human life, would there be one then?
And it is also a question for us collectively. A question we can do studies and research on. And that research may well be worth doing, especially since its findings may help us open up our current science based world view.
So the story of reincarnation, as any other story, is a projection, a guide and a question.
Reincarnation holds a particular fascination for many. After all, if I am someone, then what will happen to this someone after death, and what – if anything – was it up to before this birth?
And as usual, it can be very helpful to see what is going on here now.
What I find is that any fantasies I may have about these things (have to create them intentionally since I am not very interested in it!), mirror something here now. That is the case whether someone else tells me about past/future lives, or it comes up for myself in dreams, regression therapy or some other way.
The characteristics and dynamics of those stories mirror something here now. And also, when I take stories about past and future lives as real, I take stories alive here now and tell myself they are (a) about the past or future, and (b) are about something substantial and real. I project characteristics and dynamics out into those stories, and I project a mental field activity out in the past/future and as substantial and real.
In general, stories about reincarnation mirrors how we – and content of experience in general – continually dies as what it was and is reborn as something else. In that sense, the process of reincarnation is happening here now, always.
And more in particular, whatever I imagine into past or future lives – who I was, what life I lived and so on – also mirrors something here now. Typically, it mirrors my fears (shadow) or my hopes. Qualities and characteristics present here now, which I am not completely aware of so can more easily see out there in someone else, in the past or future. (Usually things that are here, but do not fit my conscious self-image, who I am in the world.)
So it can be very useful to work with imaginations around reincarnation, and I find that I can do it in any of the ways I work with anything else.
I can dialog with figures – who I was or others in that life. Who are they? What do they want? What do they need? What do they want to tell me? How can I help them? How can they help me? What can I learn from them? How do I relate to them? How can I relate to them in a more skillful way? How can I notice them more in my own life, or bring them more out? What is a healthy expression of the qualities I see in them?
I can do tong-len with these figures, especially the ones that suffer.
I can find the figures that appear as demons to me (troublesome) and go through the feeding the demons process.
I can allow the experience that comes up, as it is, including any resistance to it. I can find myself as that which already holds and allows all of it. And I can do it with kindness and compassion for my human self who may have trouble dealing with it.
I can find any beliefs I have around particular stories about past lives, and inquire into them. What happens when I hold onto those beliefs? Who am I without them? What is the grain of truth in their reversals?
I can explore it through the sense fields. When I activate stories about past or future lives, what do I find in the different sense fields? What do I find in the mental field? Can I see it all happening within and as this timeless present, as activities in the mental field – sometimes combining with sensations and other sense fields?