Recently, I have been doing more past-life regression under hypnosis with several clients who wanted to explore previous existences. This is always a fascinating area. Are these experiences of past lives real or imagined?
I always keep an open mind on past-life regression. I think it is quite possible that we do have a soul which travels from life to life learning and growing. I also think it is quite possible that this is not true. The older I get, the more I come to think how little we know. And one thing that is certainly difficult or possibly impossible to know is what happens to us after we die. Or what happened to ‘us’ before we were born. That is sort of the nature of life – it is the great ‘Be Here Now’ experience because we don’t have any knowledge of any other time or place that we might have been.
There is a school of thought that suggests that our past lives are coded through epigenetics into our DNA and thus passed on into our current lifetimes. There is another school of thought that suggests that our brains (or bodies) can communicate with the collective unconscious (or superconscious) which stores all the memories of all of our lifetimes. Another line of thought is that all of our multiple existences are all happening simultaneously and that Time is simply a construct that we use to make sense of things.
I don’t know.
And to me personally, it doesn’t really make much difference. If a person experiences a past-life under deep hypnosis, and it appears real in a way that is useful to that person, I think that is a useful experience. Even if it is only a metaphor from the unconscious mind that helps the person to learn and grow in some way, that is fine by me, too.
One client asked recently about how they could know if the experience perceived under hypnosis is ‘real’ or ‘just imagined’. It’s a good question, and I’ve included an edited version of my answer below.
I think it’s definitely useful to keep an element of scepticism about anything that comes up. There are people who will encourage you to accept everything that comes up as fact. My own opinion is that everything is coming up as a representation of our own unconscious mind. There may be a direct connection to events that have happened outside of this lifetime (and I certainly believe that is possible). The images and feelings that come up may also be simply our unconscious mind’s way of helping us to move through certain events and learnings – metaphors in a way.
In some cases of past-life regression, verifiable facts do emerge. The case of Bridie Murphey is a famous one. There are a bunch of references at this link: http://www.eternea.org/Past_Life_Recall_definition.aspx
If you can connect to a past life where facts are verifiable, that definitely makes the reality of the experiences stronger from an objective viewpoint. From the perspective of learning and living happily, I don’t know if it really makes any difference whether the experience is real or just a metaphor for something else that is going on deep in your unconscious mind.
On a more epistemological level, how can we know whether something is real or not? In your case, how would you know that the experience is ‘real’ or ‘imagined’? Would there be a different bodily sensation or a quality of image or… Or would you need to have verifiable historical facts that matched your past-life experiences?
To give a parallel example, I was doing some self-work recently, and the voice of God came through loud and clear. I had no doubt that I was perceiving the voice of God. What I also know is that all of my perceptions come through my senses (vision, hearing, bodily sensation, taste, smell, balance etc), so personally I don’t believe that I can distinguish between a ‘real’ voice of God and an imagined voice of God. Other people will definitely take a different point of view, especially if it fits in with their spiritual or cultural beliefs. For me, epistemologically, there is no way to tell the difference. For others, there is a clear difference.
So to summarize, I’d say that you need to determine whether 1) you need verifiable facts, or 2) whether you have some internal means of distinguishing between ‘real’ and ‘imagined’ , or 3) whether the difference between ‘real’ and ‘imagined’ is an important one.