I was once at a workshop about managing grief through yoga practice. I remember a girl in the back piping up and saying, “Sometimes you just need to discover that it’s pain from a past life, so you can just let it go and know it’s not really yours.”
I thought she was nuts. I thought, Okay, even if you do believe that to be true, don’t say it in front of 50 people who will now think you are crazy.
That was a couple of years ago. And guess what I found myself saying to my two best friends last night over a glass of wine? “Sometimes you just need to discover that it’s pain from a past life, so you can just let it go and know it’s not really yours.”
Everyone has something I like to call a Hippie Boundary. We all have a degree of openness to spirituality: perhaps we are open to the idea of God, ghosts, energy healing, or fairies. We all also have a degree of closed-ness: we stop short at believing in God, ghosts, energy healing, or fairies. We also all believe our Hippie Boundary is in exactly the right place. Anyone who agrees with us is sane but sensitive, and anyone who believes beyond our own boundary is plain old crazy.
Of course, these boundaries shift over time, especially as you allow yourself to slip down the rabbit hole of spiritual inquiry. I once told a friend: “Cristina, if I ever become a ‘crystal person,’ just put me out of my misery, okay?” And, yup, I now have a few big ol’ rocks around my house I use for meditation and clearing energy. Not enough to classify me as a crystal person, but enough to say that I sort of believe in crystals now. Cristina, thankfully, still loves me, and never said a word.
A good and bad thing about open-mindedness is that your Hippie Boundary will get pushed constantly. Even when you think it’s securely in place, it moves. And that’s healthy, though of course we must keep our Bullshit Detectors on at all times, especially when someone is asking us for money or encouraging us to get on a spaceship with them to return to our true home on an Alien planet.
Because, of course, we don’t really know anything. Everything is possible. The most innovative and brilliant people in Western science are now saying that indeed, we live in a holographic world in which linear space-time is a made up concept and different dimensions could be happening all at once (see, for example, here). Those scientists probably don’t even need a Hippie Boundary, because they are not Hippies. They are scientists. And that is some far-out stuff, man.
Spiritual traditions all over the world have suggested that reincarnation is the true explanation for the afterlife, and recently an intuitive healer told me some stuff about my past lives that just felt so uncannily true I had to believe her. I’ve never felt like I had a good grasp on what I really think happens after death. Heaven? Probably not. Hell? Unlikely. So I’m down to two possibilities for the afterlife:
Now, I am not a scientist. I am a yoga teacher. I’m working with intuition and thought here, so do with it what you like. But here’s three reasons I’m leaning towards Possibility #2:
1. Newton’s first law of thermodynamics is that no matter is ever created or destroyed. If that’s true, new humans have to be made out of something. Sperm, blood, guts, bones, sure, but what else? If there’s any energy or reality in the ‘soul’ or in ‘consciousness’ it can’t just appear, it has to come from something else. Why not another soul? Earth is a very efficient system, and there’s no true waste in nature. If Mother Nature can recycle, she will. Following that reasoning: If you have too many babies, some of their souls will have to come from trees and things rather than from the limited supply of human life that already exists. So, save a tree: Use birth control.
2. If our consciousness can exist in other bodies, at other times, AND our understanding of linear space-time is an illusion, then … well, maybe past lives aren’t in the past at all. What if they are all happening all at once? What if, when we wake up from a dream that we are being killed, we actually were just killed in some other life, and the jolt of the transformation is what wakes us?
This thought thread may take me too far down the Hippie Highway (yup, there’s a highway too), but I like having my mind blown. It’s why I became a yoga teacher.
3. If reincarnation is real, then your soul, your existence, is more meaningful than just little old you. It’s bigger than your ego. You don’t just come from your parents, you come from a source that connects you to other people, to trees, snakes, spiders, and kittens, living and dead. You are here as a part of an energetic and literal ecosystem. The pain and grief you experience in this life is not about the minutiae of your troubled childhood or your long list of ex-boyfriends. Your experience isn’t nearly as individual as you think it is; if there’s any meaning anywhere, it must be meaning that we share.
This feels a lot less lonely to me than Possibility #1 (nothing). And in a world where, really, we don’t understand anything, we might as well choose to believe something that makes us better, more involved, more compassionate members of the human community.
Until, of course, our souls become altogether too dense on a small planet and we implode with our own gravity. But ’til then, there are more than enough questions to keep us around searching.