The images for this post were taken at random from a Google search for ‘afterlife’ and ‘reincarnation’. They are revealing insofar as they represent visually our belief systems.
George Anderson has my respect and my admiration for the work that he does; he is probably the world’s greatest living medium. I read his book We Don’t Die and expected to feel tremendous excitement about the life of perfect peace that awaits me after death. No matter how inspirational and lovely his vision of the afterlife appears, I simply can’t believe everything is so perfect and luminous, not only because I have a different approach to survival of consciousness, but because the world he describes is foreign and frightening to a human who defines herself through struggle and spiritual engagement that is often painful.
I read constantly, every day, the research on and related to the survival topic. I believe this is necessary for a writer on this subject to be taken seriously. However, in the end, what I study must match my intuitive experience of life and consciousness for it to become incorporated into my understanding of how life works. I have rejected the theory that consciousness is a result of brain processes not only because no one has proven it to be true, but because it doesn’t match my experience of conscious awareness and memory.
I think that we need to return to our experiences as children to answer our questions, or we need to incorporate them into our overall life philosophy along with the research. When I return to my childhood understanding of life and death, I realize that as I child I understood intuitively the realities that I am now attempting to both remember and recreate. The glorious visions of the afterlife that many religions and some mediums promote as our final destination do not make sense with my childhood wisdom. The afterlife is not static, consistently positive and life-affirming, free of negativity or an eternal resting place for the weary soul. I doubt that it looks much different from the current reality you and I are living.
As a society (Western, in general), we do not take children seriously. With a few notable exceptions, such as Dr. Ian Stevenson’s work with children who remember past lives, we ignore what children say, remember, and how they experience death and rebirth. What I remember and what most children I know experience is nothing like Mr. Anderson’s trouble-free afterlife. In fact, although I don’t dispute that there could be a comforting zone between lives, much of what we experience before and after this life is fairly mundane and occasionally, terribly painful. If we truly listened to our children as they recount scenes from a life already lived, we would learn more about life than through the reading of countless books. To read and absorb information is one thing, but to watch reincarnation in action in your own child is an existential awakening like no other.
The following is a brief list of what children know that adults ignore, suppress or ridicule:
1: The living creature doesn’t die with the body.
When I was a child, I remember knowing that a dead body had no identity as the person or pet that I had loved. The first death that I recall was that of my rat, Sir Bell. Sir Bell died, as rats are wont to do, after a few months with us. I saw his body one morning, and I knew that Sir Bell had left. The stiff little carcass in the rat house was not my pet. Yes, I was sad, because I couldn’t hold, pet or play with him anymore, but not because Sir Bell had died in his body, but because my rat didn’t HAVE a body anymore. I knew the difference completely, at age four.
Even though my parents desperately attempted to keep me away from death (probably because I had had several brushes with death myself by age 5), I managed to glimpse it anyway. More recently, when we lost Kenny the Sphinx, I had a similar experience that reminded me of my long-ago lost pets. Kenny was the most adored feline on the planet, and when he succumbed to heart disease in July of 2010, I was terrified of seeing his body. I suppose that I had forgotten the earlier lessons of childhood; but when I did see what was left of him, it was immediately, instinctively apparent to me that Kenny was not in that cold cat body. He simply was NOT there; that didn’t mean that he wasn’t ANYWHERE, but that I was looking at lifeless flesh, not Kenny. On many occasions, our other cats will play and chase Kenny around the house. Their behavior is clearly, for anyone who understands cat behavior—playful, and they are playing with Kenny where he used to hang out.
Can I prove that my two living cats are playing with the spirit of Kenny? Of course I can’t; but over two and a half years of watching this behavior, I am very comfortable affirming that Nod and Bingo are playing with the Kenny without the body. Every time I saw the dead body of an animal as a child, I knew without anyone telling me that the spirit of that creature no longer resided in that flesh. I could not have explained where the spirit went, or even what a spirit was; but I knew that my pets were not alive only in my head or in my memories of them. My sadness and frustration was about not being able to find them, not about losing them forever. This was in contradiction to what my parents taught me about death. They maintained that we—everything that we are, including anything like a soul, in addition to our consciousness—dissolved into the earth recycled itself through another life cycle. My parents were not religious; there was no afterlife for them. They also did not expand their spirituality to include survival of a spirit.
What I knew was intrinsic to me, learned through experiences I could not consciously recall.
2: You don’t have to stay with your body all of the time. You can leave and come back.
As I have written about before on soulbank, I left my body during surgery when I was five years old. I was up near the ceiling and saw, quite contrary to my wishes, that I had a mask over my face. Before this surgery, a nurse asked if I wanted the needle or the mask to put me to sleep. I had been adamant that I wanted no mask over my face. She had agreed. The nurse had lied to me. I don’t remember anger over this, but I was planning on bringing this up later. I experienced no internal contradiction over the fact that I was two places at once. I knew that the little girl on the table was me, but the ‘real’ me was up near the ceiling; of that there was no doubt. To this day, the strongest lesson from that experience was the fact that my identity and consciousness were in no way connected to that body on the table. I was not afraid of that fact, nor anxious in any way about the fate of the girl below. I was safe up on the ceiling and very calm.
Later, I did bring up the mask issue to my doctor, to the nurses, to anyone who would listen. Beyond a few strange looks, they never addressed my concerns. In fact, everything I said to anyone regarding that incident was written off as a hallucination. After that incident, I would occasionally glimpse people and images that others couldn’t see, as if I had been granted temporary access to another world. Every single time I attempted to explain who I was seeing, I was told that I had an overly active imagination, that I was prone to fantasy, or that I was getting sick. Sometimes, the adults would accuse me of manipulating reality for my own entertainment, or as an aggressive game that no one else could play. I learned to shut up whenever I saw, felt, heard or experienced anything out of the ordinary. What a sad lesson.
3: Most adults and most of your peers will think you’re crazy or odd if you say anything about perceiving animals or people who supposedly aren’t there.
The adjective that everyone used to describe me—both family members and friends—was “weird”. That epithet clung to me like a dark cloud. I could never shake the accusations that I “made stuff up,” “lived in a fantasy world,” “created reality,” or “had a vivid imagination.” Every single time I attempted to communicate how I saw the world, I was shot down. If I felt that a passed relative or friend had communicated with me, I was told that I was engaging in wish fulfillment. Unless you have lived through this yourself, you can’t know how painful it is to see the world differently and be told that you are stupid, crazy or deluded.
Much of what was leveled at me was based in fear and ignorance. My memories of a past life were so vivid that much of my behavior as a young child was driven by them. To this day, I have phobias and behaviors that are traceable to a past life. At this point, I don’t care if I can “prove” that to anyone; it’s simply a part of my reality that I have to accept, just as I have to accept my experiences as a child, a teen and an adult as part of who I am. There is no difference. I certainly didn’t choose to be involved in drugs and prostitution as an ideal past incarnation, but we don’t always get to choose, or maybe we never do; in any case, I remember—I will always remember—the shame and sadness of that life, a life that I have spent 47 years attempting to reconcile with my current life. Anyone who tells me that past lives don’t exist has not spent her entire life attempting to overcome the last one. I don’t care what the scientists say, or the academics, or the average Joe: my evidence for reincarnation is, quite simply, who I am.
4: Children come into the world with baggage.
Genetics and heredity do not explain what most parents experience with their children: they come into the world with complex emotions, inexplicable behaviors, preferences, personalities and desires that often confound and confuse their bewildered parents. Almost every parent would say that their child was unique in ways that were not explicable by random combinations of genes. No one has been able to prove that what makes us who we are in terms of personality, memories, identity, sense of self, values, beliefs, attitudes or ideas can be reduced to genetic codes. Where is the code for an intense fear of substance abuse in a four year old?
When I first looked into my nephew’s eyes, I saw a world weariness and a sadness that was centuries old. This was not the infant as blank slate, which was in fact what I was expecting before I looked into his eyes. What I saw, what my sister saw, was a soul that had already lived many times before, and was back for another round. We used to joke that he cried so intensely and with such emotional pain because he couldn’t believe he was a baby again, that he was ‘back’ again. It really isn’t a joke; not to those of us who still remember the long-ago struggles of our lives. It’s easy to laugh, but what is more heart-wrenching than seeing your baby and your toddler struggle with traumas that you had no hand in creating and can’t fix?
So: when mediums write about the afterlife as glorious and trouble free, or when religion paints Heaven as a place of eternal repose and joy, forgive me for remaining skeptical. My experience tells me that life is one, giant recycle bin where consciousness expresses itself over and over again in different bodies. It’s common and constant. We think it’s such a big deal to be born or to die, but consciousness neither comes into being nor goes out; it simply changes venue.
This is neither comforting nor upsetting to me. It just is. Even though I welcome struggle and transcendence, I certainly do not welcome the ugly realities of inhabiting a body that is riddled with disease or addictions. I don’t look forward to a life whose pains and pleasures I cannot predict or even understand right now. Maybe there is a ‘life between lives’ that is pure bliss, but I don’t remember experiencing it. Eastern religions teach that eventually, the cycle of birth and death is overcome and Nirvana awaits; for me, that is wishful thinking. There are infinite lives, in infinite time periods, in infinite circumstances, that one can move through. There is no ‘before’ or ‘after’ when you are discussing consciousness and identity, so ‘coming from’ Heaven or ‘returning to’ Heaven is a meaningless concept.
Listen to your children when they tell you stories of who they were ‘before’. Attentive parents understand the difference between children’s creative fantasy play and real memories. They are essentially different modes of expression. If you are struggling with this as a parent, please go here: http://www.childpastlives.org/
If you are struggling with this issue as an adult, well, that’s the point. It’s all part of your journey.
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