Our Past Lives

When I was young my Buddhist relatives on both sides of the family had led me to believe that reincarnation was a completely acceptable belief system, which of course it still is, however I was surprised by the amount of flack I caught from my fundamentalist second husband over the issue. Having one life is a basic tenet of Christianity. If one could come back again and again the need to claim Jesus as one's own personal savior would certainly seem less pressing. Nonetheless much of the world still believes in reincarnation.

At the airport a Hare Krishna once gave me a book on reincarnation. The explanation in the book was more of a description than an explanation. There was a drawing of a young person shedding their coat, with a caption explaining that was how simple casting off our body was. Our soul however, remained distinct and intact ready for the next life, based on our behavior in the present one. "Don't you want to go on?" The Hare Krishna questioned me. He earnestly had my best interests at heart.

"What happens if I go on?" I asked him, and he described briefly some wonders of Nirvana. Frankly I told him I would rather come back if I could be of service to someone. The idea of consorting in a mystical heroin trip, no matter how constantly exquisite and delightful, sounded painfully narcissistic.

My English professor in college claimed he could remember some of his past lives. He was quite impressed with Shirley McClaine's book "Dancing in the Light" for its ability to bring the idea of reincarnation to the soccer mom set. I was curious how it was that so many famous celebrities could remember being Cleopatra. I realize there was more than one Cleopatra, but everyone seems to be the one who ran around with Mark Antony and Caesar. Could it be the soul splits? Wistful thinking? Strange coincidence?

I had very strong de ja vue when I visited Europe. I had no trouble navigating Paris on foot, despite it's size. The trains caused no disorientation either. I suspected I had visited or lived there in a very recent former life. One of my friends told me that souls reincarnate almost immediately, usually in the same family groups. I questioned that belief because I have no memories of World War II. The patch of history is hard for me to imagine despite my research oriented mind. I have no trouble remembering the whole cast of characters in Tudor England, but mid 1900's are a blur. When I went to a psychic he confirmed my last life had ended about 1910 and I didn't come back until my birth in the 1960's.

I had a boyfriend in Hawaii who told me he thought he knew me in a former life. That got us started on a relationship of sorts. It was a difficult, not very fun relationship. He wasn't pleased with the way I looked and spent an inordinate amount of time complaining about my weight. I wondered what the point was of picking up where we left off. I certainly hope our karma is done. I don't wish to get berated on weight in the next life after this. Maybe we weren't even close in the life before anyhow. We meet so many people in one life. What if he had been the cashier at the grocery store in my former life? That doesn't seem to merit creating a love relationship in the next life does it?

I had another friend, who died an abrupt death from skin cancer at the young age of 50. He had been a house painter for much of his life, out in the sun in the tropics. After his death I had a very vivid dream. He came to me and told me we would meet again, and that I should not worry even if it were a thousand lifetimes, that he would find me and I would know him. I took some comfort from that thought. I did not dream of him again after that. If he has reincarnated he would be about 10 now. I would love to meet him, and I can wait too. Perhaps there was something he needed to work out before we could meet again.

My brother, who is Buddhist, tells me not to get too wrapped up in the past life thing. He says the reason we can't remember our past lives is because the importance is in the life we are having now. Certainly the only place of power or change is in the present. Even if I deserve my bad luck due to some evil I performed in the past, I can't change the past. I can only deal with the now with wide eyed compassion. I seek to understand the angry, the depressed, the down on their luck. Sometimes the reasons for their distress is their own obvious self destructing behaviors, other times the truth is not so clear. It's definitely more challenging than being a fundamentalist Christian. In that reality, all suffering is acceptable in this world because the world itself is "fallen". All reward from saying "Jesus Christ is my savior" will become apparent only after death. Can't argue with that logic.

When my son was born more than one sage in Hawai'I told me my son was an "old soul." I don't know if that's supposed to be good or bad. Does he keep coming back because he's bored? Is it to help other people? Is he very advanced or very slow? He certainly has a well balanced personality although he does not believe in reincarnation himself. I used to ask very young people what they could remember. A two year old once told me she had been a man in her previous life. She remembered being very tall. I never told her parents about our little conversations. As she got older she forgot all about them. I haven't asked a very young person in a long time what they remember. I think they watch too much TV to give me an unbiased answer.