I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is. -Alan Watts
There’s a case to be made that past life regression is the most versatile therapy. Inside the often marginalized and misunderstood practice is an introduction to meditation and hypnotherapy, the Freudian psychology of family, sex, and death, Jungian perspectives on nature, symbols, mythology, and art, spirituality (however we may define it), philosophy, storytelling, family constellations, chronology, a nuanced examination of time as both linear and nonlinear, and a new understanding of mortality.
“Death is not the end” says the practice itself, “but another step on the path.” Often times during trainings and workshops we’ll move right past death, focusing our attention on the narratives that precede and follow. What if we zoom in on this moment and let our attention rest here? Broadly speaking, in eastern philosophies death is described as transformation – the breaking of the chrysalis and the departure from the husk. The interconnectedness of beginnings and endings is one of life’s most overused conventions. It hides in plain sight.
Of all the reasons to engage with past life regression, it seems to me that among the most universal (reflecting an embedded subtext in the promise of reincarnation itself) is a desire to know if it is possible to be reborn in our own lives. I’m deeply compassionate to this question – I find myself asking it too at any moment. I was a boy of 13 years old growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey in the early 90s while my father was experiencing great success leading regressions with individuals as a therapist, and training groups internationally. I gravitated to my dad’s work at a young age. Of the thousands of regressions I’ve guided, experienced, and witnessed, it is not the wealth of strange and beautiful stories that have emerged from the unconscious minds of so many courageous souls that echoes loudest now. It is the child-like, inarticulate nonverbal plea held somewhere in the body, yet orphaned in the self, seeking to be reintegrated and made new again.
Imagine passing through moments of “death” over and over again as men and women of all races, young and old, during war and peace, in ancient history and more recent decades, sincerely engaging with the narratives through the senses, activating the neurology and physiology of the positive states of release and relief throughout. After so long, one might naturally begin to rethink “death” as a portal or threshold we pass through. This does not devalue grief or sadness when it happens, nor does it subtract the need to honor our lives.
Our mental health ecosystem can be a rather harsh labyrinth. I professionally regard all modalities as tools available to us. Some tools will be right for some jobs. There is no universal prescription, no one-size-fits-all, no panacea. The spirituality inherent within the exercise is often associated with unhelpful new age tropes, but if you have existential questions in need of an adaptive therapeutic intervention, past life regression has you covered.
When leading trainings and experiences that explore the three modalities together, I’ll begin with a few simple metaphors to illuminate their nature and give reference points to the approach. These come, of course, with the caveats that meditation, hypnosis, and past life regression belong to no man or woman and that their definitions are rightfully many. No metaphor could ever be perfect. The intention is to simplify for the purposes of comparison.
Meditation as a glass of water. Simple, refreshing, and refreshingly simple. Contained, for 2 minutes or 20, or more. No past or future, just the wordless experience of right now. Like the glass is filled with water, the mind is filled with activity which with time (and practice) comes to rest and becomes still.
Then hypnosis as a swimming pool. A larger container. We can see the boundaries, and be part of the activity. We can explore the past or imagine the future – we can comfortably play in the shallow water or explore the deep end. We can swim fast or wade peacefully. It can be work or pleasure. Hypnosis would be the second and larger of three concentric circles.
And finally past life regression as an ocean. A source of life that is most often beautiful, and can also be unpredictable and treacherous. The waves, the rhythms of the water and the interplay of currents happen on levels we’re not entirely aware or in control of. (Like some psychedelic journeys or experiences of ecstatic states) it’s deep, majestic, reflective, and mysterious. We can lose the horizon and explore endlessly. Past life regression would be the third and largest of the concentric circles with these three modalities.
There was a point in my training where the mechanical likeness of guided meditation, hypnotherapy, regression, etc. stopped concerning me. Progressive relaxation, present moment-awareness, attention with the senses, guidance and visualization, pacing and leading, a voice, deep breaths… “The ingredients seem to be the same, so what are the actual differences between these things?” An incredulous teen-aged voice in me used to implore. It’s a good question, ultimately, and one I still respect as fundamentally connected to why we do what we do. For instance, if one meditates to feel better and that does not happen, meditation doesn’t work and/or some failure occurred and something went wrong. What makes the difference between meditation and hypnosis, and all other inner work – there in the depth of the nonverbals, behaving like gravity – is the intention.
“It is not more surprising to be born twice than once; everything in nature is resurrection.” –Voltaire
At events I lead regularly with The Alchemist’s Kitchen, The WOOM Center, Assemblage NYC, and other institutions throughout the city, I’ll often say “if the only thing that occurred during an experience of past life regression were that it leads us to rethink our unconscious fears of dying, that would be a hell of a lot.”
Psychology and philosophy often frame life as a continuous process of loss. Grief, like the wallpaper in death’s antechamber, will happen consciously or unconsciously through life as we say goodbye to former versions of ourselves. And physical death may be the only true goodbye. Past life regression, guided competently, offers a compassionate framework to work with the reflections and projections of this natural process that we are actualizing in our behavior.
I defer to the people I work with as the experts on yourselves. I would not tell you what is or is not a memory of a past lifetime. I guide safely from one side of the process to the other, and help with the interpretation of the images, symbols, and narratives. Taking what is useful and leaving the rest, we want to extract the most directly purposeful lesson or feeling. Only you could know what that is.
The story behind my curtain is the death of my father almost 8 years ago, when I inherited his work and my life as it is today began. It feels incongruous in moderate terms, and possibly disgraceful in the extreme that there were tremendous gifts in my father’s passing. Those gifts are a testimony to him and his ability to leave a wake of healing and magic in death as he did in life. My missing him every day is proportionate to my gratitude. Thinking of the suffering late in his life, I feel my engine drain. Then, remembering the months afterwards, the tributes and celebrations of his life, we both feel complete again.
I have questions about his death I’ve never felt able to ask because he was the only one who would know exactly what I meant, and only he would have the answers anyway. The questions have eroded over the years from their original words to muffled tones and finally vibrations in my body and voice. They hide in plain sight, beginning and ending simultaneously. They express themselves through me, like orphans seeking to be reunited with their parents and made whole again.
“The Mexican … is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it. True, there is as much fear in his attitude as in that of others, but at least death is not hidden away: he looks at it face to face, with impatience, disdain or irony.” –Octavio Paz, Labyrinth of Solitude
I’ve not been to Mexico yet. I’m a “gringo” by every definition I’m aware of. Everything I know about the country and the culture I’ve learned from a distance so far. The direct thematic links of the living and dead coexisting were pointed out to me. On repeated occasions, friends, students, and collaborators have told me stories of being there, describing the braid of past, present, and future in the air, the music, and the dirt.
I’ll be there for the first time in October, a few short weeks before the country celebrates the Day of the Dead, for Mystery School in Mexico, a 5 day retreat in which I’ll be leading and teaching the path from meditation through hypnosis to past life regression. Like the voodoo deep in the bones of New Orleans that can only truly be known when you’re there, I anticipate something indescribable.
Visit www.mysteryschoolinmexico.com to learn more about the upcoming retreat. Use discount code alchemyinmexico for a special rate.