“At first focus on your breathing, and use your imagination! Don’t be concerned with what might be imagination or fantasy or metaphor or symbol or actual memory or some combination of all of these, things like in a dream; it doesn’t matter. Whatever comes into your mind is fine.”
This is how Dr. Brian Weiss, one of the leading advocates of past life regression therapy normally starts his sessions. What gives some credibility to his work is the fact that he is a renowned professional psychiatrist and that initially he was skeptical about past lives. However, as one reviewer of his famous book: Many Lives, Many Masters pointed out:
“Dr Weiss has conducted his research without scientific protocols or peer review, yet as a ‘scientist,’ Dr Weiss should have the skills and resources necessary to have conducted his ‘investigation’ properly and scientifically. The fact that he chose not to has, I believe, discredited his book as a work of fairy tale-like fiction. ”
Well, if he starts his past-life regression sessions by asking his patients to use their imagination, then I’m not surprised that he can’t offer evidence for reincarnation. But can anybody else prove that past lives are real? There was another prominent American psychiatrist, Dr. Ian Stevenson who came closest.
Stevenson spent 40 years of his life collecting thousands of cases of alleged past-life memories. He dedicated his whole life to his work, and investigated every case with the zeal of a religious believer and the scrutiny of a police investigator. However, his critics pointed out many unfortunate mistakes and obvious shortcomings about his findings.
The first was with his attitude itself. Although Stevenson claimed he was skeptical and objective, it turned out that he was influenced by his mother, a devotee of theosophy. This means that he already had a pre-conceived idea of reincarnation, and he only wished to confirm it through his research.
It seems that he indeed had this unscientific attitude and fell for the well-known confirmation bias. He only dealt with cases that proved his theory, everything else he threw away. Any evidence that could disprove the reality of past lives didn’t concern him at all.
The same confirmation bias can be observed regarding his subjects too. The children he interviewed and investigated initially were from India and Sri Lanka, where the belief in reincarnation is so widespread that it’s not even questioned. From this I get the feeling as if two persons already believing in something tried to convince the outside world about their beliefs.
This may also explain why Dr Stevenson was not as professional as a true scientist should have been. Coincidence, faulty investigation, deception, and other normal explanations are available, without having to rely on paranormal experiences. For example, he worked with some interpreters who were later found to be fraudulent, but still relied on translators afterwards.
Another telling detail about the validity of his findings is that the majority of his subjects were children. I think I don’t have to go explain how children like to make stuff up, especially when they are encouraged by their parents, win their attention for being special and receive positive acknowledgment. They have very vivid fantasies and they’re prone to mix reality with fiction.
Even Stevenson himself admitted that the evidence is not flawless and it certainly does not compel a belief in past lives. He has provided evidence, but no compelling evidence for reincarnation. Those who want to believe will believe anyway, but for the serious seeker this is not enough.
If you still want to believe in past-lives, please watch two of my episodes about why this is actually dangerous and can make you stuck on your spiritual path. The first is titled “Belief is the barrier”, the second “The truth about reincarnation”. But what if you don’t just believe, you had some direct experience? What if you spontaneously remember your past life, or you took part in a successful past-life regression therapy?
First-hand experience certainly seems more compelling than a lonely scientist collecting fantastical stories from foreign children in rural India. As you know, anecdotal evidence is no evidence at all. But remembering your own past life? That’s something truly different. But please take my word of caution before you rush into premature conclusions, because even your own mind can easily deceive you.
First of all, let me ask you: Did you already believe in reincarnation before your past-life memory appeared? Psychologist Robert Baker demonstrated that belief in reincarnation is the greatest predictor of whether a subject would have a past-life memory while under past life regression hypnotherapy.
Second, how do you know without a shadow of a doubt that what you experienced was really from a past life? Even if you can’t explain your visions otherwise, it can all be just a glitch of the mind, because so many things happen unconsciously that you’re not even aware of.
Most of the time, they are simply hidden memories which when recalled under hypnosis strike you as new. Hypnosis is in fact an efficient way to awaken long-forgotten memories by accessing the subconscious parts of the mind. Every past-life regression session starts by an induction, and then the subject is asked to travel back in time to early childhood, and then as far as the womb.
I also learned hypnosis, and I also created such a recorded session called the Real Rebirth Meditation. But I don’t guide you farther back into your previous life, rather I help you re-experience your birth. I could have continued my studies with past-life hypnotherapy, but I decided not to, because even then, I was skeptical about the subject.
Besides being a hidden memory, your past-life experience can simply be a work of fiction. In scientific language, confabulation is an unconscious process of creating a narrative that the narrator believes is true but that is demonstrably false. In simple terms, many people probably don’t lie about their past-life memories, they just convince themselves that what is fiction is in fact reality.
We also can’t go beside the effects of hypnosis on the subconscious mind. It’s well-known that under hypnosis, patients become highly suggestible and suspend their critical thinking faculties. It also doesn’t help that therapists working in this field almost always ask leading questions, thereby intentionally or unintentionally manipulating the perceived reality of the subject. Those who turn to past-life regression already believe in it, and they already want to experience something. Thus, even before going under hypnosis, they are already biased.
But the biggest issue with past-life memories is not that they are unreliable, unscientific and unproven. My biggest problem is that it’s just another clever way to deny death. Because if you had a past life, it’s logical that you’ll have a future life, as well. It’s just another comforting belief that after all, life doesn’t end with death. It’s just another crutch you can rely on without having to face the thought of your mortality.
If I still didn’t convince you to stop pursuing your past-life memories, let me leave you with this last question: Is it really your memories that make you who you are?
If you want to know more about death from a spiritual but down to earth perspective, you should read my book: The Power of Death. Click on the link below, and get it now! I’m deadly serious.