Marcia rushed into my office not long ago blurting out, “Oh, a lot has been happening since I saw you last week. I was walking down the street yesterday when I was suddenly in a past life—in broad daylight!”
I was not greatly surprised at Marcia’s spontaneous regression. Such regressions are becoming more common in my experience. I believe the reason they are appearing is that we humans are now pushing back the boundaries of our consciousness, and the time boundary is one of the limits we are beginning to transcend. I see this as part of our evolution as we continue to emerge as humans. We are claiming more and more of ourselves, and the lives we have lived in the past are part of that unclaimed territory—until now.
Marcia’s spontaneous regression was dramatic. She found herself on a Southern plantation as a slave woman. She was, however, a troublemaker in the eyes of the plantation owner. She was tall and imposing, a majestic figure. As Hannah, she stood up and addressed the other women slaves while they were in the fields, reminding them of their dignity as human beings. One fearful woman, afraid they would all get into trouble, reported to the plantation owner that there was a rabble-rouser making trouble in the fields.
The owner descended upon Hannah as she spoke to the black women and had her bound in chains. The cruel master’s hired men then did a terrible thing. Obeying the owner, they cut out her tongue! My client relived the agony of that horrible experience in my office as we went back through the trauma. It had been too frightening to complete by herself on the sidewalk, so we worked through the emotional release in our session.
Hannah ran away and eventually found her way to safety with American Indians fleeing west on the historic Trail of Tears. However, she never lost her dignity. I then helped Marcia to look at this Hannah part of herself in this life and study the lessons she had learned as a slave who dared to stand tall. We both agreed that Hannah will be a comfort and strength to Marcia as long as she lives.
Marcia had been working with me in therapy on a regular basis for about a year. When she first came, we worked on the immediate issues in her life, then paid attention to dreams as they brought up issues from her early life that needed to be released—old pain and trauma, attitudes about herself from early decisions made as a child. When many of these issues from her personal unconscious had been dealt with, we found that past-life memories began to appear, such as the slave woman life. The recovery of the past-life material helped Marcia make sense of many of the influences she has felt in this life, as is often the case.
Advantages in Ongoing Therapy
I have cited Marcia’s case, with her permission, to make an important point. I believe past-life awareness is arriving, as we evolve, into higher levels of consciousness, and it needs to be dealt with in the course of ongoing psychotherapy as a natural, matter-of-fact aspect of therapy. Much of the current work in past-life therapy is done as a specialty, like heart surgery. The general practitioner therapist, however, will be facing it increasingly, and psychotherapists need to be prepared to deal with past-life work.
There are several advantages when past-life work is dealt with in the course of ongoing therapy. I will cite a few of those advantages.
1) Clients in psychotherapy often take months or even years to build up sufficient trust and courage to face some of their most difficult memories. I worked with one client for nearly two years of intense emotional work before a childhood incest came to the surface. Many people are fragile and heavily defended and are not ready to deal with traumatic past-life material without the careful building of a trusting relationship.
Jung spoke of the importance of creating a temenos, a safe and protected sacred space in which the therapy client can open his or her inmost self. It usually takes time to create a temenos, and the degree of safety for doing deep therapeutic work depends on the quality of the climate developed.
2) I believe in the wisdom of the psyche to present past-life material when the time is right and the person is ready to absorb and integrate the information. Working with a client over a period of time allows this timing to follow a natural flow. I have had clients tell me after months of therapy, “I think I’m ready to do a regression now.” Their inner clock lets them know the time is right, and it is my conviction that when we listen to that timing, the regression has a better chance of success. On occasion, their inner clock goes off when they are nowhere near a therapy session, and we have a spontaneous regression taking place.
Let me illustrate the power of timing in past-life work. I had worked with one young woman off and on for four years. She would work on an issue for several months, then go away and live out her learnings for a time, and return for more therapy at a later time. Over the course of the four years, Susan always wondered why she wasn’t developing an ongoing relationship with a man. A marriage announcement from a former boy friend precipitated the issue again, and Susan came to see me to work on her feelings of disappointment and frustration.
I suggested that Susan close her eyes, go inside with her breath, and talk to her higher self about the concern. She got quiet, and after a few minutes asked, “Higher Self, what stands in the way of my having a relationship with a man?” What she heard was: “You are afraid to indicate interest in a man for fear he will laugh at you.” I suggested that she ask when she had been laughed at in the past to create that fear. When Susan asked that question, suddenly she was in a past life. She found herself in a scene in old New England. She was being dunked publicly in deep water. She was a woman about thirty or thirty-five years old. People were standing around laughing at her and cheering derisively.
“I was guilty of adultery,” she reported. “I was a married woman, but my husband had been chosen for me by my family. It was not a good match. The man I was in love with was not married, but he was of a higher station than I, like a teacher. We got caught. Since I was married, I was blamed for the affair. It was all my fault! So I was the only one punished. People were laughing and yelling, “Who does she think she is? Scum of the earth!!”
As Susan concluded her brief excursion into this past life as an adulteress, I suggested she ask her higher self if she had made a decision in that life that still affected her today. “I did,” she reported. “I decided that it was wrong for me to think I had the right to be with that man. I was unworthy, dirty. A good man wouldn’t be interested in me.”
Here was the decision that had held her back in relationships with men for many years. She was then free to change that decision and begin a new era in relating to men. This information became available in the course of time and due to the coincidence of her friends marriage to someone else. Her program of ongoing therapy made it possible for her to uncover this important truth. I do not believe she was ready to hear it before this time.
I repeat, clients in therapy can turn to past-life therapy when the timing feels right in the natural flow of their work, doing past-life work in the context on ongoing therapy.
The timing issue became clear on another occasion when a client touched on a past life in a therapy session but was not able to get completely into it. We put it aside, labeled “to be finished later.” When she felt ready to complete that life regression, we returned to it some weeks later.
3) The third reason for using past-life work within ongoing psychotherapy is that follow-up work can be done. In the often emotional aftermath of a regression session, the client is not always ready to do calm reflection on the meanings of the regression and its application to the present. In addition, the therapist who has come to know the client over a period of time can help the client to see the connections between the past-life material and present difficulties. This process of follow-up and integration can be more thoroughly done when the client comes back over a period of time.
There is another important reason to work with past lives as they come up in long range therapy. It has to do with two important realities about past-life work. The first reality is that a single past-life regression rarely resolves the important life issues, though that does happen sometimes: on occasion, a single regression is the one piece of information and the one experience required to clear up a personal issue. More often than not, it takes a series of regressions over a period of time to reveal a significant pattern of behavior and response. Two case illustrations of this type follow.
A second important reality about past-life work will be developed in the two case studies. It has to do with a Jungian concept: the reconciliation of opposites. There is a natural tendency in the psyche to balance things. Karma operates on this inner principle of balance. When something has been overemphasized in one life, karma tends to balance it in another or a series of others. Opposites tend to be reconciled, a law of life—or lives.
Case Study #1: “Katherine/Eskimo” A young woman approached me just before I was to begin a one-day workshop on past-life therapy. Katherine presented herself as shy, even reticent. She was intelligent but carried herself as though she expected a blow at any moment. She reported to me that she had experienced portions of three of her previous lives and that in each of the three she had been murdered. She seemed reluctant to explore another past life and find herself murdered yet again. She almost cringed as she spoke of it. I said, “My hunch is that somewhere back there is a murderer.” I was speculating on the basis of the law of reconciliation of opposites. Murder tends to balance murder. She seemed a bit surprised at my response, but the workshop began and we did not discuss it further.
In the course of the workshop, Katherine did a past-life regression. She found herself in a life as an Eskimo or member of some other far northern native group. In that group, it was not all right to be psychic. It seemed that some ancient shaman had betrayed the tribe in some way, and they were suspect of all psychic or supernatural phenomena. Katherine was a man in that tribe. His young son was very psychic and intelligent. The boy would report on his dreams and speak of non-physical realities as though they were real, as many children do in this culture. The father (Katherine in the present life) was deeply frightened by his son’s psychic bent, fearing that it would cause trouble amongst the members of the tribe and get him in trouble. To solve this problem, he took the boy with him on a hunt one day when the boy was about six years old. Using one of his sharp spears, he killed his beloved son and told the tribe the boy had been killed by a polar bear.
Katherine was horrified by this life’s story but heard from her Higher Self that she had paid her debt. The karma was balanced, and she did not need to be killed again. Katherine had not been in ongoing psychotherapy with me, but she had done a good deal of personal therapeutic work, which made it possible for her to see the pattern of murders in her past lives. Her story also illustrates the principle of the reconciliation of opposites in a clear way.
Case Study #2: This is an illustration of the reconciliation principle as it unfolded through ongoing psychotherapy. Sophie, age 37, married, mother of two children, came to me for therapy complaining of nightmares. Although she lived in an affluent, upper middle class suburb, worked professionally several days a week, and spent much time with her children, she said that she did not feel very integrated and felt a great responsibility for her family. She became emotional in that first session and kept repeating, “I’m dying of self-hatred!” Sophie’s dreams were especially helpful, and we worked a great deal with them in her therapy sessions. In the process of her dream work, she found many helpful resources within herself. Also, to Sophie’s great shock and surprise, she often fell into a past-life episode while working on a dream image. Sophie grew up in a narrowly fundamentalist Christian environment, and while she had outgrown some of that, she was still the carrier of much guilt and certainly did not believe in past lives. In the nearly two years I worked with her, Sophie experienced material from twelve past lives. It was the twelfth one that capped all the others and gave Sophie a new lease on life.
It was during our fourth session that Sophie’s first past-life episode came up. She was talking about her guilt feelings. “I was born feeling guilty,” she said. Then she added, “I must have been a prostitute to feel so guilty.” My ears perked up when I heard this statement from a woman with no background in past-lives belief. I asked her to close her eyes and repeat the comment. When she did, she was suddenly in a past life.
It was “Roman times,” she reported. She was a young woman in a long dress, bare feet, and rings on her toes. She was standing in the doorway of a tent at the edge of a large marketplace watching people. Her name was Mara. Then the scene jumped to a palace Sophie remembered from a dream. A wealthy man is lying on a couch across the room from her. She knows he wants intercourse with her. She doesn’t want to but since he owns her, she has no choice. “I can’t get away—I’ll be killed,” she realizes. The man was very rough with Mara, ignoring her sobs. He often beat her after intercourse. On this occasion he whipped her until she died from the beating. “I felt totally used and powerless.”
Powerlessness was a major theme in Sophie’s life. Claiming her legitimate power as a woman, a wife, or as a professional was difficult for her. She felt used by her husband, as he sought sexual release very often.
In that past life she had been poor. The rich man had noticed her in the marketplace. He had tempted her with comfort and luxury if she would come and live with him in his palace. She had consented. Then he enslaved her and she couldn’t get away. “I felt like a thing…felt like trash…totally victim…I learned hate.” In a later reflection on this life, she added, “I’m afraid of men. I feel I must do what they want or they’ll get angry, and it’s not okay to say “no.” I don’t like being a woman.”
This initial regression revealed the source of some of Sophie’s attitudes toward men and sex in this life. At the conclusion of that first regression Sophie forgave herself for not being perfect, but it was just a beginning.
Two weeks later, we were working on a dream, and in her active imagination Sophie suddenly found herself in a different past-life setting. This time she was a man who had become very angry with his wife and had beaten her to death in a fit of rage. His neighbors had chased him down the street and had stoned him to death. He died under a pile of rocks. In that life Sophie was both the victimizer and the victim of her own rage.
Six weeks later, as Sophie was working on yet another dream with active imagination, she found herself in a strange setting. She saw the ruins of a university building. I asked her to close her eyes and return to the dream setting. Sophie recognized herself as a medical student and later an honored doctor, a colleague of Galen, the famous Greek physician of the second century. One of her statements was: “In my deepest self, I really want to heal—myself and others.”
Three months later Sophie arrived feeling very angry. She had dreamed that her husband had left her because he wanted to date other women. We worked with the anger awhile, and she did some hitting and yelling. She felt angry at her mother, too, and said, “I hate you and all your damned religion.” When we attempted to go deeper into the source of the anger with active imagination, Sophie flashed back to a fourth past life. She was a young girl of fifteen in a European setting. On her way home from school one day, three boys from her school had grabbed her and held her down while one of them raped her. They laughed at her and ridiculed her. She felt ashamed and guilty. That life was short—again a victim.
In the eighth month of her therapy, Sophie attended a weekend workshop, which I co-led, and again experienced a past life. In this episode, Sophie was a pregnant woman in a village stormed by Roman soldiers. She was brutally killed, and her baby was torn from her body—a terrifying experience—again a victim.
A few days later, when Sophie appeared filled with anger which had been sparked by a dream, I suggested it might be time to look at the life in which she was the destroyer or the victimizer. She agreed and we did a formal regression. Sophie had to look at a really dark part of her personal shadow that day, and a part of the deep shadow of humankind. She recognized that she was a doctor in Holland, performing abortions on board a ship anchored near a major city. At first, he did the abortions as a service to those who could not legally have them performed. As time went on he became crazed and began mutilating his patients. Those that died, he simply threw overboard.
I asked Sophie later whether she was getting even—at a soul level—for being torn apart by Roman soldiers. She replied that she was. Our work went on.
After another two month interval, Sophie found another life in which she was the wife of a logger who was insured and unable to work. This life yielded no significant data.
Two more months and Sophie experienced a life in which she was a man living in Turkey. She sensed that he had been killed for doing something he had not done. A few weeks later we returned to the Turkish life and more details emerged. In that life the man was falsely charged for raping the wife of a ruler, was tortured and castrated. The anger and bitterness from that life had been repressed and carried through many lifetimes.
Three months after the last regression, two positive lives emerged. Sophie reported a dream with a large, luminous snake. When we tried to return to the dream through active imagination, she found herself in a tomb as a mummy, buried with her queen in an Egyptian setting. She moved back in time and saw that she had been the Queen’s most important woman servant. She possessed great power and was an important healer. Reflecting on that life she realized that “power is dangerous and can be misused.” She then made a crucial karmic decision to come back many times as a powerless woman. As a result of that decision she had repeatedly denied herself her rightful power.
Six weeks later, Sophie had a dream image of a person with the head of a bird. In active imagination, she returned to the strange figure, possibly the Egyptian god, Horus, and it took her back to her Egyptian life. “He says my life in Egypt was very important, and I need to see it vividly. I had a lot of wisdom and power then, and I need to get back to it,” Sophie reported.
One week later, we did a formal regression to return to Sophie’s Egyptian life, but it was a third life in Egypt this time, and her tenth past life to appear. In this life, she was a male priest, understudy to the high priest who was the Pharaoh’s spiritual advisor. The priest, Anset, loved a beautiful woman named Shasaput, who became the Pharaoh’s bride. He gave up being her secret lover and became true to his calling. Anset later became the high priest and fulfilled his role faithfully.
After another three months, Sophie relived the time she had been raped while being held down by her schoolmates. She learned that she chose that life. “I felt I deserved to be humiliated.”
By this time, Sophie had been seeing me in therapy for a year and nine months. She had become much stronger and more assertive about taking care of her own needs. She now felt better about herself as a professional woman and was more affirming of her own gifts and strengths. Her husband was still having trouble with his sexual urges and his fidelity, but she was no longer taking it personally. Her life was on a much more solid footing, but she still didn’t feel quite right. Then two more past-life memories came in rapid succession. They proved to be vitally important in her healing.
The re-living of her “rape life” had come just a month before Christmas. Early in January she reported an odd dream. She found herself in a mortuary and could see the ovens where people were cremated. On the walls were pictures of people who had been cremated there. Her attention was drawn to the picture of a young woman in her late twenties or early thirties, and pretty. I suggested that she do an active imagination and talk to the pretty woman.
When Sophie closed her eyes and became quiet, she found herself in a train station being herded into a train by Nazi soldiers. Then she found herself in surgery. She felt she was being suffocated and experienced tears and panic, exhibiting great emotion. Her body exhibited all the experiences she was going through. They were doing some kind of an operation on her. She died on the operating table. At the conclusion of this regression, Sophie’s Higher Self told her she needed to be her own rescuer and release her victim energy. She was told, “Lots of people went through the holocaust but were still free inside themselves. They did not become victims.” This was the fifth past life we had found in which Sophie had been a victim.
Two weeks later, Sophie had the crowning regression experience of the series. It was right after the first of the year. She told me she felt it was time to do a past-life regression to see what was unfinished in her psyche. Obviously, she felt close to some insight and had the courage to face it and see whether she could get something resolved. We scheduled a longer session to allow time for a formal regression.
Sophie asked her Higher Self to take her to the life she needed to see to do the next piece of her work. She found herself on a horse. She was male and was with other men on horseback surrounding a small walled city. They were Hittite warriors. “We have swords and maces. We’re getting an attack ready…Oh, God!” she screamed. This is horrible. It’s too awful to talk about. We’re mutilating women and children! Ripping them apart!” As Sophie described the details of this scene, she writhed in horror, and her face reflected the deep feeling she was experiencing.
She was Dagon, one of the leaders of the Hittite army that desecrated that little city. The men of the walled city had been away fighting another battle. The women, children, and older people were there undefended. There is something in me as I do this that knows it’s wrong. It’s wrong! Such a lust for power…we raped the women. We didn’t leave anybody alive…”When Dagon went forward in time to a point near his death, he was dying in a leper colony. “I feel terrible. This is a brutal place. I can’t get those people’s horror out of my mind. I almost fell on my sword once, but I didn’t. It would have been too good for me…I feel tortured. There’s no way I’ll ever pay for that!” When Dagon died, his spirit remained earthbound in that place for a long time. He was afraid to leave. “I’m afraid to be punished—I deserve to be punished!”
When Sophie consulted her higher self about the lesson of that life, she reported, “I’ve paid over and over. The debt is paid. I can still see the Light. I wanted power. Power over other people is not power. Since my Hittite life I have chosen powerlessness for many lives. Now I need to claim my power and use it right! I am to be a healer, to use God’s power.”
As Sophie forgave herself for the abuses of that Hittite warrior life, I brought a chalice of water and symbolically washed her face and sprinkled water on her head. She felt the ritual was important to signify the end of something.
Sophie came in a week later feeling triumphant. She reported that the last regression had been very important. “I feel clear, forgiven. I feel cleansed, at one with God and with others. It felt like a birth and a death—both together. I do feel that that aspect of my karma is finished. I feel free now not to be a victim anymore. I was draining my energy on a deep level. Now I’m free to move ahead on my journey. It’s like getting rid of a great big burden. I really feel excited about it. The debt’s paid. It’s like being born again. I’m at a new level of consciousness now. The changes feel real. I’ve had other counseling, but this feels inside out. It’s God in me. Everybody has God in them!” Her joy and delight with her feelings about herself were evident. She concluded, “I’ve always used my guilt to punish myself. Not this time. It was a release and a joy. Dealing only with this-life material would never have produced these results.” I recalled her words the first session, “I was born feeling guilty!”
Sophie began tapering off her sessions to every two weeks, with the intention of concluding soon. Her remarkable story illustrates the value of letting past-life work unfold in the context of an ongoing therapy relationship. Sophie’s work, of course, was not all past-life regressions. We worked with dreams and with her daily concerns in many sessions without reference to past-life material. When the past-life material did come, it usually was powerful and very helpful. And, ultimately, it was the past-life work that resolved her bad feelings about herself. Especially the pattern of victim and victimizer needed to emerge with clarity, and that took nearly two years of patient work. The opposites needed to be reconciled.
When we work with people in therapy at a deep level, they are inevitably led to their inner journey—their Spiritual journey. Dreamwork, especially, takes people to the inner journey. Once we set our feet on that path, we cannot go back. Then we must, sooner or later, deal with our karmic work, our past-life material, our soul decisions and how we have handled our lessons. Under ordinary circumstances and in most approaches to therapy, this material does not become available. I find that dreamwork and past-life work go hand in hand and belong together.
Past-life therapy works best in the context of ongoing psychotherapy, where it can unfold with time and be cradled in the arms of the trusting therapy relationship. Past-life regressions are being done in many settings today, but often the emotional components of the past life are left unresolved and the person is worse off than before. Furthermore many people doing regressions are not equipped to deal with the emotional work that comes up and do not intend to do so. I believe the safest place to do past-life work is in the context of ongoing psychotherapy where the pain, the grief, and the shock can be dealt with and released.
When emotions are touched and brought to the surface but not dealt with, the result can be painful and disturbing. We can reveal to someone the images from their past lives. But if those images evoke pain, sadness, grief, rage, guilt or depression, are we prepared to help them release the feelings? If not, we may leave them worse off than before. Past-life therapy brings up the whole range of human feelings. Therapy implies healing, and we have not done the work of healing unless we deal with the inner emotional work awakened by the past-life images.