by Chet B. Snow, Ph.D.
There is no doubt that the concept of “rescripting,” or client intervention within the regression therapy process to alter seemingly “fixed” past life events and/or attitudes, is both controversial and exciting. Borrowed from the lexicon of hypnotherapy where such intervention into “real” or “imagined” events from the client’s current childhood is commonplace and often quite effective in leading to symptom removal, rescripting takes on new philosophical dimensions when applied to a past-life scenario. It seems to call into question such fundamental human issues as free will, karma, or the law of “cause and effect,” and even the chronological order of time itself. With such important matters involved, it is not surprising that this technique evokes strong reactions, both pro and con, from past-life therapists. Without pretending to discuss exhaustively, let alone resolve, these basic questions in this brief forum, I want to present some personal observations about the use of rescripting as a therapeutic device, drawing on personal experiences both as a regression subject and as a therapist.
My first contact with the use of rescripting in a past-life context occurred “accidentally” some years ago, during advanced hypnotherapy training. As part of our preparation for certification, each of our class of about a dozen students was required to perform a (standard, current lifetime) hypnotic regression demonstration. Lacking a partner, one of the class—I’ll call him Jim—asked the instructor to serve as his subject.
The instructor, Jeff, readily agreed. The “problem” to be worked on concerned Jeff s frequent, inexplicable surges of anger and frustration while driving his rather antiquated and not-so-reliable automobile. Each time the car would refuse to start on cold mornings or stall out in traffic, Jeff found himself in a rage which was quite out of character. Normally he was a rather “cool” kind of guy, not easily perturbed. In fact, he explained that this situation had occurred just that morning and was therefore fresh in his mind. It seemed like an excellent case for a hypnotic regression. I should add that during previous sessions Jeff had informed us of his personal disbelief in the idea of reincarnation and of his dislike of past-life therapy.
After a brief hypnotic induction, all was going fine in the regression until inexperienced Jim asked the fatal open-ended question, “What is the origin behind these angry outbursts?” He then followed this by instructing Jeff to regress immediately to that original situation. He expected to find some repressed incident involving automobile traffic from Jeff s adolescence.
Jeff paused momentarily and then, in a surprised and emotion-filled voice, began describing his situation as a German soldier in the Libyan desert with Rommel’s Afrikacorps. A tank driver, he found himself trapped inside a disabled, burning tank as British artillery shells exploded all around. As the tank lurched to a grinding halt, the soldier, obviously Jeff in his most recent past life, desperately tried to restart and move it and, when that failed, to escape—but the hatch was blocked. In a near panic he found himself cursing and clawing at the control panel, until the enemy artillery gunner found his range and ended the life in a violent explosion.
A couple of us who were familiar with past-life regressions had recognized what was going on and were, by this time, helping the thoroughly astonished student therapist get “Jeff” through the traumatic death incident and out of that mangled body. After he had made the transition to spirit and was in a much calmer, more detached position, Jim, the “therapist,” decided to apply what we had learned of rescripting in order to remove the incident and its consequences from Jeff s emotional makeup. He gave the standard suggestions that the part of Jeff holding on to this violent, frustrating scenario could now release it by changing the “memory” and altering the incident to a happier conclusion. As I recall, Jim specifically suggested that the tank could be made to start and move, thereby avoiding the fatal shell and allowing “Jeff” time to unblock the hatch and escape.
However, to our surprise—for it was contrary to what we had been taught regarding acceptance of positive suggestions by hypnotic subjects in trance—“Jeff” in his spirit body steadfastly refused the rescripting! Although he didn’t deny that he could alter the circumstances, he rather stated: “No, it was supposed to end that way; that was the way I planned it.”
At this point I suggested to Jim that he accept Jeff’s viewpoint and ask him if he could release the fear and anger associated with the German tank death incident, explaining that he had no need to carry it over into current-life driving situations. Jeff readily accepted these ideas and allowed Jim to move him back up to the present, swiftly and easily. When Jeff emerged from hypnosis he continued to deny that the incident represented memories from another lifetime, although he could not explain his reluctance to accept the rescripting suggestions. I noticed that he never again mentioned getting angry while driving.
For a long time I accepted this incident as demonstrating that rescripting was not viable within past-life therapy. Consequently, I ignored it except in cases clearly dealing with current-life problems.
About two years ago, however, as the result of discussions with other APRT therapists who use the technique, I began to question my initial conclusions and to wonder if there might not be occasions, after all, when rescripting could bring positive benefits within a past-life context. This change occurred as I began to rethink my own beliefs about the concepts of healing, karma, and chronological or linear time.
Although I would not say that I feel I understand such immense philosophical issues at all completely, I do find compelling evidence for the notion that linear time is at best a construct, something existing only within a relationship to the material or created universe. Apparently the human mind, as distinct from the physical brain, is capable of states of consciousness which can transcend linear time, allowing us to attain awareness of a reality where neither time nor space, as we understand them, exist. Ancient wisdom, handed down in various religious and philosophical traditions, describes this state as the “true” reality and our sequential time-space as “maya” or illusory. Therefore, at some level of existence which can be reached by our consciousness in so-called “altered states,” all experience is happening concurrently or at the same time. When, in therapy, we attain that level of consciousness, even if imperfectly, we can experience the reality of “past lives” and “future lives” just as vividly as everyday, ordinary, current-life events.
What does this rather abstract idea of the nature of reality have to do with rescripting?
In my opinion, it depends on how and when the technique is used within the therapeutic situation. As mentioned earlier, rescripting occurs when a client, in an altered state of consciousness, intervenes at a critical point in his or her recalled experience and acts to change that experience in such a way as to eliminate conflict and achieve durable growth. In standard hypnotherapy the experience recalled is assumed to occur within the current lifetime. In regression therapy the experience recalled may occur at any of several levels: within a past life, between physical lifetimes, during the perinatal stage of development, during the current life and even in a future existence. Clearly, regression therapy indicates that the recall of human experiences goes beyond personal or biographical events into the domain known as the transpersonal.
Successful rescripting implies reaching a level of mind which lies beyond chronological and consequential time-space boundaries. That is to say, it goes beyond the ordinary workings of karma, or cause and effect, within human experience, and reaches a state often expressed as “race.” I would argue that true healing—of mind, body, or spirit—occurs most powerfully at this transpersonal level, when it can be reached. At this level all experience is apparently viewed by the mind as simultaneous, and therefore rescripting is not changing a fixed past (or future) but a cognitive reordering of individual awareness of events. Out of this reordering, transformation can occur as victory replaces defeat in the individual’s consciousness.
Thus, when and how rescripting intervenes in the therapeutic process are essential elements in its successful application. For example, in my opinion, it would clearly be inappropriate to apply rescripting techniques before the past-life experience (or other recalled experience) has been reviewed to its original conclusion. Rescripting an entire past-life experience, in effect erasing that lifetime, would also, in my opinion, be counterproductive, for every lifetime has been chosen for a purpose. Finally, it is obvious that if while regressed the client rejects a proposed rescripting, as Jeff did, the technique should be abandoned and an acceptable alternate technique found to achieve desired goals.
When, then, might rescripting be applicable and profitable in past-life therapy?
Although it may be presumptuous of me, for the case involves myself as the regressed subject. I think that my personal regression with Dr. Hazel Denning represents a good illustration of where I feel rescripting could help. A partial transcript of this session accompanies this commentary. For this reason I will confine my remarks here to the use of rescripting as it came up in the session.
In this session, performed as part of a research experiment involving measuring brain-wave patterns of both therapists and subjects during past-life regressions, Dr. Denning and I chose a “real life” personal problem so as to maximize the realism of the regression situation. As I had never worked with her before, it was a marvelous opportunity for me personally as well. I had once before recalled this particular past life in a private session with Dr. Helen Wambach, so it was not entirely unfamiliar.
As can be seen from the transcript, the issue of rescripting came up toward the end of the session, after I had been taken beyond what was a rather tragic and squalid death during the French Revolution. At that point, therefore, I was already beyond that past-life persona and reviewing that life experience from the perspective of the spiritual self or “higher self.” This is where a potential rescripting would logically take place.
Upon hearing Dr. Denning’s statements about the permanent nature of those past-life events, my higher self reacted by questioning her assumptions. A skilled therapist, she immediately followed the lead of my higher self, thereby allowing the opening of a dialogue between the higher self and the past-life persona. This, in turn, led to the rescripting of a key incident in that lifetime: the denial of sacred burial for “my” agnostic father by an offended priest. This event apparently represented a turning point for that lifetime, for afterwards that persona had become a rabid revolutionary whose acts ultimately led to an untimely death accompanied by the sentiment, “It’s not fair,” a feeling at the root of the current-life problem.
The rescripting of that key event, again as directed by the higher self, had some interesting consequences which, in my opinion, must rate the nature of simultaneous reality. First, the rescripting changed neither the persona’s political opinions nor the objective “exterior” political events (i.e., the deaths caused by the French Revolution in the town of Angers).
However, it did seem to change the past-life persona s attitude towards his political “enemies” turning him away from a personal vendetta and cycle of violence and bloodshed. Similarly, although the French persona reported dying at about the same age after the rescripting (again little external change was brought about), in the rescripted version instead of being hanged he died of accidental drowning. Although described in his case as an accident, drowning was the identical mode of death which this French past-life persona had himself meted out to his erstwhile victims in the original version of this experience! (This information came from the earlier regression to this lifetime that I had done with Dr. Wambach in 1983. It had been totally forgotten by my conscious mind and was recalled only when I looked through those regressions this year!)
Of course, the most important evidence for a viable rescripting experience during regression therapy must be found in the attainment of stated therapeutic goals: personal growth and a durable alleviation of symptoms in the current-life personality. I do not presume to judge for myself my personal growth as a result of this session. I’ll leave that to my higher self when the time comes to walk through “God’s other door” (to quote Edgar Cayce). I can truthfully say, however, that to my delight most of my personal problems involving feelings of anger at unjustified fate, and a strong phobia against creative writing (the French revolutionary was a journalist and misused his craft to the detriment of his innocent victims), have disappeared since this session in May 1987. The very appearance of this article is convincing evidence, to me at least, that something has changed for the better!
My positive personal experience with rescripting has been reflected in some of the regression sessions I have conducted as a therapist. One case stands out as an illustration. This client, a French woman of about 50, who is a biomedical research assistant, came to me for a variety of personal problems, including uncontrollable procrastination—she put everything off until the last moment and then had to scramble to try and meet her experiment deadlines. Our first session interview also unearthed the fact that she was inexplicably terrified of the new director of the research laboratory where she worked. Just the sight of him sent her into a panic. Her work was obviously suffering, as the panic reaction only intensified her tardiness.
A good subject, she regressed swiftly to a past life as a male Italian page in the 15th or 16th centuries. Apparently from a not-so-wealthy noble family, the page had long despaired of ever gaining the riding skills required to become a knight, until one of the daughters of the local duke took a fancy to him and helped him get the proper lessons. In gratitude he sought to become her champion. Unfortunately, in one of his first tournaments he was opposed by an older, more experienced, rival who was apparently jealous of his upstart attentions to the high-born maiden. Feeling woefully unprepared, the young page put off the encounter as long as he could, but at last he had to fight his opponent. Of course, during the jousting competition that followed, his callowness led him to miss the other squire’s shield and he fell off his horse. Trusting that he had time to regain his own weapons, he turned his back on the other man, whereupon he ended up being run thru as he turned around to face his adversary anew. Death was not instantaneous and he had time to dwell on his rival’s gloating stare before leaving his body.
At this point my client insisted on the terrorizing effect of the baneful glare from the other man’s eyes as the page’s last vision. As soon as she was out of the body, her higher self was evoked to comment on parallels between that lifetime and her current experiences. She immediately remarked that she recognized that the eyes were identical with those of her new medical supervisor. She identified him as the page’s rival. She also commented on how the page had known he was not adequately prepared for the battle but had felt he had no choice, due to his code of honor. Much of her current procrastination problem stemmed from similar feelings of inadequate preparation in her research work. This was now compounded by the appearance of her former antagonist as her boss. (Investigation of another lifetime revealed that she had once been a biochemist of some renown but that she had never achieved the recognition she felt her training and work merited, thereby exacerbating the problem due to a feeling that even work and preparation were not rewarded).
At this point I asked her higher self if she would be willing to rescript the jousting incident, giving the page better training and more self confidence before the competition. I explained my feeling that she might learn as much from looking at what it would take to make preparations for a success as from the aftermath of a failure. After a moment’s hesitation, the higher self, unlike Jeff, readily agreed.
In the rescripting, the more confident page took the field with his lady’s handkerchief tucked in his sleeve. When the two adversaries met face to face, my client told me (afterwards) that she felt “a surge of inner strength and power” come over the page. This time he knocked the other man off his horse. According to tradition, that represented victory and the promise of knighthood. She told me the page then had an overwhelming sense of generosity vis-à-vis his beaten foe, something she had never felt possible in her (current) life. As I moved the page forward to the end of that (rescripted) lifetime, it turned out that this liberal feeling had been lasting and had led him to realize that his feelings toward the young daughter were due more to pride and ambition than to love. Thus he had shortly thereafter ridden away, leaving the girl to his rival. His own death had been on a battlefield some time later.
Again, many of the same elements noted in my own regression seem to be present here. Only one key incident had to be rescripted. Changes in material events seemed minimal compared to the shift in attitude and understanding evoked by my client. Interestingly, this new attitude led the page (and hence my client) to recognize that pride and ambition had been part of the past-life shortcomings. These were more readily given up in victory than in the trauma of violent defeat. Obviously a lesson had been learned, after which “grace” could replace karma in the person’s experience. Although I did not see this client for a long enough period to state categorically that she conquered her procrastination, she did tell me that from that day on, her relationship with the new medical director improved. She even hinted that, although they never discussed it, his attitude toward her—previously rather suspicious and negative—seemed to have changed as well. Such a change in attitude by both parties is a sure sign of transpersonal healing.
The generally positive outcomes of the personal experiences related here do not mean that I now regard past-life rescripting as a panacea to be applied routinely in all cases. Clearly, many past-life regression sessions do not achieve the transpersonal level where intervention by the higher self can occur. Even in many sessions involving the higher self, rescripting may be inappropriate, as when Jeff refused to change his Libyan desert death experience. Obviously it should never be required of a client, regardless of symptoms. Its use requires both caution and skill on the part of the regression therapist, so as to avoid potential pitfalls.
Further, I would agree that insofar as we experience physical lifetimes in this time-space construct, we are subject to the causal laws of karma, including that of cause and effect. In my opinion, rescripting, when judiciously applied, does not pre-empt the learning of necessary karmic lessons. Instead, it may complement the laws of karma and enable individuals to transform their soul-level consciousness and experience by turning the defeats of past-life personae into spiritual victories, capable of future emulation.