by David Ritchey, Ph.D.
In the following paper, David Ritchey, as does Rabia Clark in the next article, discusses the “false memory syndrome” and its relevance to past-life therapists. Among other things, Ritchey reviews the history and definitions of false memory syndrome, the arguments “pro” and “con” that circulate around it, and the possible states of consciousness that are involved. Like Clark, Ritchey ends with a warning for caution in our interpretations of “past lives.”
While this paper is specifically directed toward those who work with memories of “other lives” (a term I will use henceforth in lieu of “past lives,” so as not to limit too narrowly the boundaries of my thesis), the dynamics involved apply as well to other transpersonal experiences. I will, therefore, be using the terms “other lives” and “transpersonal experiences” interchangeably.
The “Recovered Repressed Memory” or “False Memory” syndrome controversy is likely to go down in history as the controversy which defined psychotherapeutic dynamics in the 1990s. This issue is causing unprecedented conflict between psychotherapists and their clients, between these clients and their families, between the clients’ families and psychotherapists, and between psychotherapist and psychotherapist. It has also brought into the mainstream of our vocabulary such terms as “adult children,” “codependency,” “abuse survivor/victim,” “perpetrator,” and “retractor.”
It all began around the turn of the century when Sigmund Freud observed that a number of his female patients were claiming to have been victims of incest perpetrated by their fathers. Initially, Freud took the stance that childhood sexual abuse was a major cause of adult neurosis, but later renounced this position and argued that incest reports were nothing more than neurotic fantasies. Because of Freud’s tremendous influence on the development of psychotherapy, particularly in the United States, stories of childhood sexual abuse were generally disbelieved until the 1970s when feminist therapists and others in the feminist movement insisted that they be taken seriously. Since then, many influential writers have taken the position that Freud was “right the first time.” Many disastrous consequences of childhood sexual abuse have since been identified, including Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly Multiple Personality Disorder), a condition popularized by three books, The Three Faces of Eve (Thigpen & Cleckley, 1957), Sybil (Schreiber, 1973), and The Minds of Billy Milligan (Keyes, 1982).
During the 1980s, the incest-survivor movement found a natural ally in the twelve-step recovery movement for other conditions, and something akin to a merger between the two occurred. “Multiple Personality Disorder” and/or “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” caused by childhood sexual abuse (and, later, by Satanic/ritual abuse) became the hot diagnosis, and “regression therapy” for the recovery of repressed memories became a trendy new psychotherapeutic tool. Anybody who disputed claims of childhood sexual abuse was judged to be “in denial” and/or “siding with the perpetrator.”
In the early 1990s, individuals who had recovered repressed memories began instituting lawsuits against those whom they believed to have been “perpetrators,” and the debate about the validity of such memories began in earnest. In 1992, the False Memory Syndrome Foundation was formed to support individuals who claimed to have been falsely accused. The alleged perpetrators, protesting innocence, then began instituting lawsuits of their own against those therapists whom they claimed had instilled false memories in the alleged victims.
To date, such lawsuits have been directed against therapists who have been working with recovered memories of supposed childhood sexual abuse and/or Satanic ritual abuse, but it may be only a matter of time before similar legal actions are taken against therapists who work with recovered memories of “transpersonal experiences” (such as past-life experiences, near-death experiences, spirit or demonic possession experiences, and alien abduction experiences).
At issue are several questions: The nature of memory itself, the human response to trauma, and whether or not past traumatic experiences can be repressed, only to re-emerge at a later date (and, if so, how?). The “reality” of transpersonal experiences, like the “reality” of most abuse cases, cannot be “proven” on the basis of anecdotal accounts the sole “confirmation” of which is hypnotically retrieved, no matter how many anecdotes may be amassed. In a court of law, the question that is asked again and again is “Where is the tangible proof?” Without such tangible proof, at least some transpersonal psychotherapists are inevitably scheduled for their day in court, and it would behoove us all to learn as much as we can about this controversy before we become directly embroiled in it.
The Nature of the Controversy
Most of the literature dealing with the Recovered Repressed Memory/False Memory Syndrome controversy deals with purported memories of events in this lifetime and this (“objective”/“consensual”) reality. If there is any one thing on which both sides in the controversy agree, it is that transpersonal experiences should not be taken seriously. Those who argue for the creation of false memories point to memories of transpersonal experiences to prove their case. Those who argue for the accuracy of recovered memories criticize their opponents for trivializing the very serious debate about childhood sexual abuse by introducing the “obviously” foolish nonsense of stories about transpersonal experiences.
Much of what follows on the subject of memory will, of necessity, be couched in the language of this lifetime and this reality, but the information is every bit as applicable to memories of other lifetimes and/or other realities. The common thread that runs through all of these “memories” is that they are usually (but not always) recovered while the individual is in an “alternate state of consciousness” (albeit not always recognized as such), often during “regression therapy.”
Much of the controversy seems to revolve around issues of semantics, with countless thousands of words being expended by each side criticizing the other side’s use of terms. For example, I once read a lengthy paper in which it was argued that, because there is no such thing as a “False Memory Syndrome,” there is no such thing as a false memory. Almost the entire text of that paper was devoted to proving that, whatever is going on, the dynamics involved don’t meet the criteria necessary to label it a “syndrome.” Such reasoning seems to be appropriate only in the context of a high school debating society. I prefer to avoid obfuscation and much needless expenditure of energy by attempting to focus on the processes rather than on the labels and, where labels are required, to choose those that are as value-neutral as possible.
With this in mind, whenever I am speaking for myself or others who take a middle of the road position, I try to avoid the use of the value-loaded and confusion-engendering terms “False Memory Syndrome” and “Recovered Repressed Memories.” An example of such confusion is this: If what is “recovered” is false, then it is neither “recovered” nor a “memory”; and if it is not a “memory,” it is presumably a “fantasy” which has just been “created” rather than “recovered.” Another example is this: There are a number of different theoretical labels for the process by which “memories” purportedly become “hidden”; among these are “suppression,” “repression,” and “dissociation.” However, the dividing lines between them are not clear, and the mechanisms by which they operate are not well understood, much as some “experts” would like to claim otherwise. Thus these terms become close to meaningless.
My preference is to use the term “Retrieved Rememberings” when speaking about this subject. The word “Rememberings” is useful in that it emphasizes the active processing aspects of memory rather than the tangible, objective, “thing” aspects. The word “Retrieved” has two meanings: 1) “to call to mind again” and 2) “to discover and bring in.” The first meaning should satisfy those in the “Recovered Repressed Memory” camp, and the second should satisfy those in the “False Memory Syndrome” camp, but the term itself is, in reality, a value-neutral one.
There are two strongly opposing views on these issues: That of the “True Believers” and that of the “Hard-Core Debunkers;” and there is a third, more moderate ground between them. Gorki (1993) has made a useful analysis and comparison of the views of all of these positions. In what follows I track his reasoning.
First, to delineate one of the polarities, let us take a look at the arguments of the “True Believers” (those who insist on the accuracy of these “Retrieved Rememberings”). The primary arguments that the True Believers put forth are these:
- “False Memories” cannot be created.
- We must accept as authentic all memories of abuse retrieved in therapy (even without corroboration).
- Anyone taking issue with this position sides against the victim and protects the perpetrator (either wittingly or unwittingly).
- Acknowledging false or distorted memories condones abusers and enables continuation of abuse.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have the arguments of the “Hard Core Debunkers” (who favor the “False Memory Syndrome” interpretation), which are as follows:
- “False Memories” of abuse are created in the therapeutic setting.
- There are no such things as “Recovered Repressed Memories” (according to some extremists). There are only fantasies, or confabulations at best.
- Memories are to be accepted as authentic only if they are corroborated by other sources.
Bridging these two extremes, we have the arguments of the “Middle of the Roaders” (who see some validity in the positions of both of the opposing camps), which can be summarized as:
- Abuse survivors can and sometimes do forget or repress memories of traumatic events.
- False or distorted memories can be created in certain individuals by unskilled use of various clinical techniques.
- A particular client can have both authentic repressed memories and false or distorted memories.
- It is difficult for both the client and the therapist to distinguish between authentic repressed memories and false or distorted memories.
- Therapists must remain aware of the difference in motives of survivors and perpetrators: Survivors seek recovery by validation of beliefs of abuse; perpetrators seek to avoid discovery and deny the occurrence of abuse.
- Therapists must choose clinical techniques and safeguards carefully to avoid creating false or distorted memories.
- This controversy should not be used as an excuse for backsliding into denial of the serious problem of childhood abuse.
- When exploring these issues, we must use careful scientific inquiry rather than emotional reasoning.
The Mechanisms of Memory
In order better to understand the positions of the two strongly opposing camps, we need to understand how each views the mechanisms of memory. Both camps are generally agreed that there are three stages involved in the process of human memory (Gorki, 1993): 1) The acquisition stage which involves the perception of the original event and the placing of information into the storage system of the brain; 2) the retention stage which involves the storage of the information while the conscious mind attends to other matters; and 3) the retrieval stage which involves the subsequent accessing of the information from the storage system. Beyond these basics, there is little else on which the two camps agree.
The “True Believers” argue that (Gorki, 1993):
- The acquisition, retention, and retrieval processes are different for memories of traumatic events than they are for memories of non-traumatic events.
- In the acquisition stage, there is 100% storage of all sensory input and every bit of it can be retrieved through guided imagery or hypnosis.
- In the retention stage, information is stored as if it were on an audio- or video-tape; the accuracy and integrity of this information can be preserved indefinitely.
- In the retrieval stage, an entire gestalt of the stored information spontaneously returns entirely intact.
- Therapeutic processes do not create or destroy memory — they simply focus it and fine-tune it.
The “Hard Core Debunkers”, on the other hand, argue that (Gorki,1993):
- The acquisition, retention, and retrieval processes are the same for memories of traumatic events as they are for memories of non-traumatic events.
- In the acquisition stage, only what is consciously perceived and attended to can enter the storage system of the brain.
- In the retention stage, the accuracy and integrity of the stored information degenerate with time.
- In the retrieval stage, the stored information is reconstructed, not recalled. The accuracy and integrity of retrieved information can be affected both by internal processes (i.e. merging of two different memories) and by external processes (i.e. suggestions and leading questions).
The arguments of both camps about the mechanisms of memory tend to be rather extreme in their “all-or-nothing” character. “Middle of the Roaders” assert that most independent thinkers will allow for the possibility that:
- some events (including traumatic events) are remembered on an ongoing basis.
- some events (including traumatic events) are forgotten and then remembered at a later date.
- some events are remembered accurately (whether the memory was on-going or retrieved).
- some events are remembered inaccurately (whether the memory was on-going or retrieved).
- some non-events (fantasies) are held in the mind as if they were real historical events.
- some real historical events are held in the mind as if they were nonevents (fantasies).
- some clients are unable accurately to distinguish some non-events (fantasies) from some real historical events in their own minds.
- some therapists are unable accurately to distinguish some nonevents (fantasies) from some real historical events in the minds of some of their clients.
Theoretical Arguments versus Clinical Experience
Semantics, as I have already mentioned, has proven to be a major “red herring” in this debate. The argument about the definition of the term “syndrome,” which I have previously mentioned, is only a minor example. An even more impressive morass is encountered when the dialectic focuses on the terms “suppression,” “repression,” and “dissociation”: Whether such processes even exist and, if so, which one (if any) is operant, and when. I’ll attempt to avoid these terms as much as possible and stay within the framework of my position, which as I have stated, is that what is relevant is that these “rememberings” are “retrieved” while the “rememberer” is in an “alternate state of consciousness.”
The whole concept of “alternate states of consciousness” is also fraught with semantic perils in that the term is associated with various other terms; “trance” and “hypnosis” are two which have historically provided fodder for endless nit-picking debates. “Alternate states of consciousness,” as I will use the term here, simply means “other-than-Beta-consciousness,” Beta consciousness being “normal-waking-consciousness,” or that state of consciousness which is dominated by Beta (13-30 cycles per second) EEG brainwave patterns. I will use the terms “alternate state of consciousness” and “other-than-Beta-consciousness” interchangeably, with the understanding that they are loose and general terms. However, I recognize that any attempt further to define, qualify, or quantify these terms would lead to an inescapable theoretical and terminological quagmire, one that has already claimed innumerable victims.
Setting aside issues of theory and terminology, we can assert unequivocally that there are numerous alternate-state-of-consciousness phenomena experienced by clients in a clinical hypnotherapy setting that have a profound impact on both perception and memory. Among these are: 1) Positive Hallucinations (the perception of something which does not exist in consensual reality); 2) Negative Hallucinations (the failure to perceive something which does exist in consensual reality); 3) Amnesia (loss of memory for one or more events or stimuli); 4) Hypermnesia (abnormally vivid or complete memory of historical events or stimuli); and 5) Post-hypnotic suggestion (after reorientation to normal waking consciousness, having amnesia for, but responding to, cues or stimuli that were suggested while the client was in an alternate state of consciousness).
Amnesia, hypermnesia, and post-hypnotic suggestion are examples of state-bound learning and state-bound remembering. With this concept, first developed by Tart (1975), remembering is dependent on the recreation of the (alternate) state of consciousness in which the learning occurred. Simplistically (and, perhaps, putatively) we can assert that the alternate state of consciousness in which the learning occurred (and the remembering could, potentially, occur) involves a higher than “normal” proportion of EEG brainwaves in the Theta (4-8 cycles per second) range.
As I will discuss later, many children, while they are being abused, access an alternate state of consciousness as a way of escaping from the stress engendered by the abuse. In this case, the accessing of an alternate state of consciousness serves as a defense mechanism, and, in the jargon, is now labeled “dissociation” rather than “hypnosis.” Indications are, however, that the two different labels are describing alternate states of consciousness that are functioning very similarly, if not identically. Moreover, research has shown that young children, on a regular everyday basis, have a higher proportion of EEG brainwaves in the Theta range than do adults.
Those real historical childhood experiences, then, whether traumatic or not, that occurred when the child was in a Theta state, would be more subject to retrieval when the Theta state is recreated in adulthood.
Similarly, we know that children are especially prone to rememberings of other lives. It follows then, that those rememberings would also be more subject to retrieval when the Theta state is recreated in adulthood.
Conversely, hallucinatory phenomena (both positive and negative) are also stimulated by alternate states of consciousness, as is suggestibility (both auto- and hetero-). Accessing of the Theta state by a client can also set the stage for the creation of false or distorted perceptions and/or memories.
All of this presents us with something of a conundrum. Those who are facile at accessing alternate states of consciousness — and whom I will speak of as “Psychologically Sensitive Individuals,” a term coined by Ring (1992) — are both: 1) more able accurately to recall real historical events than the norm and 2) more likely to be suggestible and/or hallucinatory and therefore more subject to false or distorted memories than the norm.
We should take a moment here to look more closely at the nature of the psychologically sensitive individual. A psychologically sensitive virtuoso has the capacity for imaginative involvement, for vividness of mental imagery, which is so well developed that he or she is able to create imagery which is, subjectively, as “real” as actual stimuli occurring in consensual reality. That the mind can confuse an imagined stimulus with a physical stimulus — a phenomenon known as the “Perky Effect” — was proven in a classic experiment in perception conducted by psychologist C.W. Perky in 1910 (Baker, 1992). In the extreme case, a psychologically sensitive virtuoso in the appropriate alternate state of consciousness could be told that she or he will be touched with a lighted cigarette and, in actuality, be touched with a pencil eraser; nonetheless the person will react with pain and alarm and can develop a welt or blister at the point of contact.
Returning to the issue of remembering: It has been demonstrated that questions asked of a psychologically sensitive individual can initiate a powerful imaging process such that, if the same or similar questions are asked again, the images will be recalled as if they were vivid subjective memories of real events in consensual reality (Gardner, 1991). In short, then, the psychologically sensitive individual is likely to experience difficulty in differentiating imagery as an internal event from perception as an internal representation of an external event.
The Neurological Underpinnings of Psychological Sensitivity
Psychological sensitivity, or facility with accessing alternate states of consciousness seems to have a neurological basis which has been labeled “anomalous cerebral laterality.” Pioneering work in this area was done by the late Norman Geschwind (1985), a neurologist at Harvard Medical School. Functionally, anomalous cerebral laterality implies a greater than standard participation of the non-dominant (usually right) cerebral hemisphere in those functions that are normally under the purview of the dominant (usually left) cerebral hemisphere. Structurally, anomalous cerebral laterality involves an enlargement of portions of the right temporal lobe (specifically the planum temporale) relative to the left, an elongation of the right Sylvian fissure, and an enlargement of the corpus callosum.
According to Geschwind, these structural differences arise from an anomalous hormonal environment in utero and, in addition to causing neurological differences, are also associated with physiological and immunological differences. Those neurological differences associated with anomalous cerebral laterality include dyslexia, stuttering, attention deficit disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, schizophrenia, certain types of epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s disease. Associated physiological differences include birth defects such as cleft palate, harelip, wandering eye, and crossed eyes; chromosomal abnormalities; and hypopigmentation (blond hair, blue eyes, etc.). Associated immunological differences include atopic disorders such as allergies, asthma, and eczema; and auto-immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus erythematosus, and insulin-dependent diabetes. Other differences associated with anomalous cerebral laterality include: Twinning, sleep problems, low serotonin levels, and special talents (such as music, math, spatial relations, chess, and athletics). The primary markers for the likelihood of an individual having anomalous cerebral laterality are: 1) Left-handedness, 2) Right-handedness with left-handed first-degree relatives, 3) Right-handedness with developmental learning disorders, and 4) Right-handedness with first degree relatives having developmental learning disorders.
Geschwind’s primary interests were in the neurological, physiological, and immunological realms. He addressed the psychological realm (and alternate states of consciousness) only tangentially. There are, however, a number of aspects of anomalous cerebral laterality that point toward its playing a central role in facilitating alternate states of consciousness. Among these are: 1) An anomalously high level of non-dominant cerebral hemisphere involvement in cognitive tasks, 2) Learning style differences, 3) Certain types of epilepsy, 4) Low serotonin levels, and 5) Sleep disorders. My own research (Ritchey, 1994) has indicated a strong correlation between psychological sensitivity and anomalous cerebral laterality.
About Alternate States of Consciousness
As previously stated, I am using the term “alternate states of consciousness” loosely and simply equating it with “other-than-Beta-consciousness.” At the risk of being too specific and too simplistic (and perhaps of opening the door to an unnecessary — for our purposes — debate) I will suggest that brainwave patterns in the Alpha-Theta boundary range (about 7-8 cycles per second) may be of special interest. Within this framework, we can assert with certainty that 1) alternate states of consciousness are a frequent and entirely normal occurrence in everyday living; 2) an individual can access an alternate state of consciousness either spontaneously or volitionally; 3) an individual would not necessarily be aware of having accessed an alternate state of consciousness, especially if she or he did so spontaneously; and 4) the ability to access alternate states of consciousness can be learned but is circumscribed, to a greater or lesser extent, by an individual’s specific neurology.
There are many different manifestations of alternate states of consciousness. Some of the possible manifestations are referred to by some people as 1) “The meditative state” (which is sometimes considered to be indicative of “enlightenment”); 2) “The inspirational state” (which is sometimes considered to be indicative of creativity); 3) “Hypnosis or trance” (which are vague and controversial terms); 4) “Twilight sleep/hypnogogia” (which is a normal part of sleep architecture except when there is an overlap with Beta consciousness and might then be indicative of a sleep disorder); 5) “Dissociation” (which is sometimes considered indicative of psychopathology); 6) “Epilepsy/seizures” (specifically “temporal-lobe/partial complex,” which is indicative of neurological dysfunction); and 7) “Organic brain damage” (which is indicative of brain lesions).
There are many more similarities than there are differences among these various manifestations of other-than-Beta consciousness. Most of the differences are in the eye of the beholder. Except where there is proven organic brain damage, the perceived functional differences are likely to be much more relevant than the structural differences, if any in fact exist.
With the possible exception of cases of organic brain damage, facility at accessing alternate states of consciousness is likely to arise through learned behaviors. There are at least two learning pathways in childhood for achieving this facility (Hilgard, 1965). The first of these can be labeled the “approach pathway.” It is a consequence of encouragement in creative, philosophical, or imaginative pursuits, and involves “psychological absorption” or “imaginative involvement.” The second can be labeled the “avoidance pathway.” It evolves as a mechanism to escape from the stress of abuse and/or trauma and involves “dissociation” or “checking out.” It is worth noting here that the alternate states of consciousness accessed by these different pathways are not as different as one might think; “absorption by” one stimulus necessarily leads to “dissociation from” other stimuli. It would seem, then, that value judgments about the various manifestations of other-than-Beta-consciousness are appropriate only within the context of the individual’s personal cosmology.
We have already discussed the implications of alternate states of consciousness for perceptions and memories of childhood abuse experiences. Let us shift our attention now to discussing the implications for perceptions and memories of transpersonal experiences, including but not limited to “other life” experiences. “Transpersonal experiences” can be defined as experiences which occur beyond the personal, beyond the boundaries of the ego; they imply the existence of “mind” (as distinct from “brain”), of “spirit,” or of “soul.” Ten categories of transpersonal experiences are delineated by Stan and Christina Grof (1989). These are 1) Shamanic crisis, 2) Kundalini awakening, 3) Peak experience, 4) Return to center, 5) Psychic opening, 6) Near-death experience, 7) Past-life experience, 8) Spirit guides/channeling, 9) Close encounter/alien abduction, and 10) Possession states.
Transpersonal experiences are, in fact, closely correlated with a history of childhood abuse. Various researchers (Ring, 1992; Teicher, Glod, Surrey, & Swett, 1993) have demonstrated that 1) Children whose neurology is “wired up” anomalously are more likely to be abused than the norm; 2) Childhood abuse, itself, alters the course of the development of the brain’s limbic system and results in significant neuropsychiatric sequelae; and 3) Individuals who are prone to having transpersonal experiences are more likely than the norm to have been abused in childhood. All in all, a strong case can be made for a significant correlation between neurological anomalies and memories of transpersonal experiences as well as memories of childhood abuse.
Such a correlation, of necessity, leads us to the question: “Does this mean that transpersonal experiences are ‘all in the experiencer’s head’?” The only appropriate answer to this question is: “Yes and No”! This question arises out of a framework of Cartesian dualism, that is, something is either mind or matter. A framework which would be closer to the point would be the “New Age” maxim of “I create my own reality,” but even this is dualistic through and through. It implies that there is something “out there” that I (“in here”) can change by application of energy. The most accurate framework from which to look at this issue, and one that is fully supported by the tenets of quantum physics, would be that of “I am my own reality.” This assertion is based in being rather than in doing: Nothing is made, nothing is created, nothing is separate from me. In other words, “If it’s outside, it’s also all in your head…and vice-versa” (Dossey, 1994).
Now, it is over the “vice-versa” — “If it’s in your head, it’s also outside” — that those who pathologize and those who eulogize the transpersonal experiencer lock horns. What is being confronted here is a fundamental philosophical issue of the nature of “reality.” Is there one reality, or are there many? Is there a single consensual reality or are there multiple subjective realities? Are these transpersonal experiences “real,” or are they “hallucinations”?
And here we have one of the biggest “sucker plays” going. Asaad (1990) in his book Hallucinations in Clinical Psychiatry defines “hallucinations” as: “Perceptions that occur in the absence of corresponding stimuli in external [consensual] reality.” It’s “majority rule” all the way! If you say you have seen a UFO landing on the White House lawn and the majority say they haven’t, then you are deemed to be (positively) hallucinating; if you say you haven’t seen a UFO landing on the White House lawn and the majority say they have, then you are deemed to be (negatively) hallucinating. Our traditional pathologizing psychiatric model does not have a place for the psychologically sensitive individual, who has an extended range of perception and an ability to perceive into “alternate realities.” Conventional psychiatry’s definition of the term “hallucinations” simply precludes the possibility of the existence of “alternate realities.”
About Alternate Realities
Consensual reality, as we know it, is a local, differentiated reality grounded in the concepts of Newtonian physics. Quantum physics, however, offers us a model of another reality which is non-local, undifferentiated, and holographic in nature. In the quantum model, “primary reality” is conceived of as a conglomeration of frequencies, of wave forms, and of interference patterns; “matter” is nothing more than the manifestation of instantaneous interactions between energy fields at a single point in space. Bell’s theorem, a cornerstone of quantum mechanics, states that a pair of particles, originally in a unitary state, retain their inter-connectedness no matter how far they are separated in space and that they are able to communicate with each other instantaneously. This being so, either differentiated reality does not exist and it is meaningless to speak of matter as having any reality beyond the mind of the observer, or faster-than-light communication with the past and the future is possible.
This implies that everything in the universe that appears to exist independently is actually part of a single all-encompassing organic pattern and nothing is separate from that pattern or from anything else. There is no longer a clear distinction between what is and what happens, between the observer and the observed; they are all part of an interconnected whole. In the microcosm of the atom, we find that time, location, causality, and separateness cease to have any meaning.
Reality, in a quantum universe, is organized holographically. At the simplest level, this means that any piece of the whole, no matter how small, contains all of the information necessary to reproduce the whole in its entirety. When something is organized holographically, both location and time becomes meaningless: All information about the whole is distributed non-locally and non-temporally. The ability to perceive and interpret a reality organized along holographic principles, Pribram (1977) has suggested, is dependent on holographic functioning of the brain as a frequency analyzer. Bohm (1980) develops this position further by stating that the frequencies that the holographic brain analyzes to construct objective reality are ultimately projections from another dimension, a deeper order of reality that is beyond both space and time and in which all aspects of existence are intimately and meaningfully related to each other and to the whole. Bohm refers to this order as the enfolded or implicate order while referring to consensual reality as the unfolded or explicate order. The explicate order, he asserts, that which we perceive through our senses or with the aid of scientific instruments, represents only a small fragment of reality. It is a special form of, is contained within, and emerges from a more generalized totality of existence, the implicate order.
The implicate order provides us with a model for the non-local, the transpersonal, the universal mind. The essential characteristics of the transpersonal experience — the awareness of all boundaries being illusory, the lack of distinction between the part and the whole, and the certainty of the interconnectedness of all things — are reflections of the characteristics of a holographic reality. It is because of this essential unity, this essential “oneness,” that the brain cannot always distinguish between “reality” and “fantasy,” between what is “out there” and what is only believed to be “out there” — because ultimately there is no difference. All experiences, whether “real” or “imagined,” are reduced to the same common language of holographically-organized wave forms.
Remembering that everything in a holographic reality is non-local, then consciousness is everywhere, it is nowhere, it is elsewhere (and, we might add, since everything in a holographic reality is non-temporal, consciousness is everywhen, it is nowhen, it is elsewhen). Given that consciousness ranges throughout the totality of “all that is,” it is presumably possible, then, for it to experience all possible “alternate realities.” Under these circumstances, the differences between “reality” and “fantasy” become moot. While an object or an event may not manifest as part of the explicate order (consensual reality), it may very well possess a very high degree of “reality” in the implicate order.
To reiterate, brainwave patterns in the Alpha-Theta boundary area (about 7-8 cycles per second) seem to be conducive to the retrieval of childhood memories, the experiencing of other lives, transpersonal experiences in general, and the mind’s ranging into the implicate order. That holographic perception into the implicate order might be facilitated by brainwaves occurring in this pattern is given some additional credence by the observation that these brainwave patterns tend to be highly coherent. The concept of brainwave coherence is suggestive of quantum wave function coherence and of light wave coherence in holography. The existence of the “Schumann Resonance Frequency” at 7.8 cycles per second, as discussed by Bentov (1977), has further explanatory value. His essential premise is that individuals accessing the Alpha-Theta brainwave boundary may be entering into tuned resonance with the planetary system in such a way that a mutual exchange of energy occurs. In other words, the energy required for transpersonal experiences already exists within the environment and is accessed by an individual whose brain waves are showing the appropriate coherent pattern.
Recalling the importance of the right temporal lobe and the Sylvian fissure in instances of anomalous cerebral laterality, we get further insight from Morse’s (1990) statement that electrical stimulation of this portion of the brain produces experiences of “seeing God,” hearing beautiful music, connecting with dead friends and relatives, and experiencing panoramic life reviews. He also tells us that an area in the vicinity of the right Sylvian fissure is responsible for déjà vu experiences, precognitive dreams and intuitions, out-of-body experiences, and near-death experiences; some researchers have called it “the seat of the soul.”
Working with Other Lives in This Reality
As past-life therapists, we must be scrupulous in insuring that we do not, in any way, impose a belief in reincarnation upon our clients. The fact of the matter is that reincarnation has not been “scientifically” proven. We might even be well advised to avoid holding such a belief ourselves. In any case, neither therapist nor client need believe in reincarnation for past-life therapy to be effective.
The reasoning which I have presented above provides us with a model for establishing the veridicality of other lives as a manifestation of the implicate order made explicate. Note that I speak of “other lives” rather than “past lives.” My thesis has to do with the ability of the mind to range into all facets of “reality” without temporal or spatial limitations. While “other lives” can be accessed in this manner, those “other” lives are not necessarily “past” lives in that they are not necessarily specific and exclusive to the individual or to the consciousness that is doing the perceiving; they are not necessarily previous incarnations of that consciousness. They are simply “other” lives, the perception of which is, in theory, available to any individual who is able to enter the appropriate alternate state of consciousness and attune to them.
From a therapeutic perspective, it doesn’t much matter whether we are dealing with “past” lives or with “other” lives. In the subjective reality of the client, what is experienced is perceived as past, personal, and meaningful. It has the same full force of impact as it would if reincarnation were a scientifically proven fact. But the most appropriate position for the therapist to maintain is one of skepticism. I use this term with its original Greek meaning, that is, “the doctrine that true knowledge, or knowledge in a particular area, is uncertain.” It might be advisable for us to adopt the “as if” frame — that we have no way of knowing for certain about the veridicality of past lives, but, for therapeutic purposes, we can treat them “as if” they were past, personal, meaningful, and “real” — and to inform the client of our “as if” position. Such a position in no way devalues or denigrates the importance of the client’s rememberings and, if the subjective reality of the client’s experiences is appropriately validated, then therapeutic efficacy can be maintained while minimizing the likelihood of later unfortunate repercussions.
Three Cautionary Tales
In closing, I would like to present three vignettes of my own personal experiences in illustration of the Byzantine nature of the dynamics of this issue. In 1980, when I was still innocent of knowledge of past-life regressions, I was undergoing therapy with a relatively conventional pastoral counselor. He told me he believed we had encountered a block which seemed to center around something that might have occurred when I was about three years old. He informed me that he knew a bit about hypnosis and requested my permission to perform an age regression. Somewhere along the line, he made a “very serious mistake,” and suggested that I “go back to the time when the problem we are investigating first began.” I found myself as a minor leader in the Dutch reformation who was being burned at the stake for heresy. A major part of the death experience involved physical pain as the flames burned my genitals and the smoke seared my lungs. (The therapist suggested I find another therapist who was more metaphysically oriented.)
In 1987, a well-known regression therapist guided me to an incident at three years old in this present lifetime in which I was being sexually abused by a stranger. He forced me to perform oral sex on him while he fondled my genitals. Subsequent research on my part revealed that this incident, unquestionably, could not have occurred.
Finally, in 1989, another well-known regression therapist regressed me to three years old in this present lifetime and I found myself on an operating table undergoing surgery for a severe genital injury. The doctors also removed my tonsils while they were at it. I had previously had some conscious awareness of this event and subsequent research corroborated many of the details I experienced while regressed.
Here we have three different “causes” for the same event, all of which were experienced in an alternate state of consciousness, and all of which I “remember” today as “more real than real.” One “cause” is documentable and verifiable, one is interesting but unprovable, and one is a patently false memory (which just happened to coincide with the therapist’s beliefs at the time). Such a “memory” of sexual abuse, if the perpetrator were known to the rememberer, could lead to a lawsuit against the perpetrator and, ultimately, when the memory is shown to be false, to a lawsuit against the therapist.
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