Nearly every thinking, literate person in the world has come across Dr. Brian Weiss’ bestseller Many Lives Many Masters – the gripping story of a young twenty something Catherine plagued by innumerable fears and a crippling depression. She comes across a gentle (skeptical) psychologist who attempts to lighten her load through the tried and tested technique of regression via hypnosis. However, the shock comes when Catherine is able to remember not only her troubled childhood and infancy, but also eighty-eight of her past lives.
Perhaps the compelling (somewhat sensationalist) language of Dr. Weiss made his work a masterpiece for the fact remains that there are numerous cases like those of Catherine. Right from Bollywood which has tortured us with ‘punnar janam’ stories down to the distant acquaintance that we all know who claims to have past life memories – the concept of reincarnation is certainly not new.
Past Life Regression (PLR) therapy has gained popularity amongst the leading psychoanalysts as an effective means of addressing various mental and psychosomatic issues. Spiritualists revere PLR therapy as it helps provide one with a higher sense of self, a fresher perspective on life and a sense of purpose. The ethics of such a practice is a matter of faith and personal opinion. However, the validity of the experience is another matter altogether. The rational minds refute it, but an interesting fact is that most of the pioneers of this field were dragged into it rather reluctantly. Ian Lawton stated that – “…nearly all of the early pioneers came to use PLR more or less by accident, or at least reluctantly, and were previously either Christian, agnostic or atheist. As a result, nearly all were profoundly skeptical of the results of their therapy at the outset, but gradually became convinced as their work progressed and they could no longer escape the obvious conclusion: that, as a therapeutic tool, PLR was able to produce dramatic, rapid and permanent improvements in certain clients who had spent years in conventional therapy with no significant improvement whatsoever…”
Essentially, in a PLR session, the psychoanalyst/healer induces a deep state of hypnosis by systematically relaxing each and every muscle in the client’s body. Once the desired state of relaxation is achieved, the healer takes the client back in time to relive a recent memory, and then a cherished childhood experience, and so on until one finally comes across an entirely unfamiliar memory. The intriguing fact is that our mind consciously chooses which memories it wishes to relive, it picks and sorts out those memories that hold answers to the problems that plague us in our current lifetime. For example, if a woman fears consuming solid food, the mind allows her to relive a memory that would hold answers such as a memory in which she choked to death on a fish bone. Reliving this memory would enable her to understand the root cause of her fear, and then be able to work effectively to eradicate it.
PLR therapy came into prominence in the 1950’s. No scientist has ever been able to deny the fact that more often that not, regression therapy of this kind helps heal the long suffering patient. But the validity of the memory recalled has always been a subject of debate. There have been cases in which patients have been able to recall dates and names that were crosschecked and subsequently found to be valid. Does this imply continuity and immortality of the human soul – forever unchanging in essence? Or could sideling it as a coincidence? Several clients have no clear notions of date, time or language of these memories. But is it fair that we disregard them as figments of an overactive imagination?
Skeptical specialists such as Melvin Harris and co. have argued that “…past lives revealed by regression are nothing more than authentic sounding narratives that the subconscious creates using a mixture of imagination and normally acquired information that has been forgotten…” This phenomenon has been referred to as Cryptomensia. He took certain PLR recordings of a female patient and highlighted the fact that the memories she believed to be authentic were actually reworked, convoluted images from books that she had read years ago and which her mind had unconsciously recreated.
Personally, having been plagued by depression for the most of my childhood, I have undergone regression therapy not once, but several times (with successful results). There were times when I could recall date, gender, names etc, but at other times my memories were dreamlike and vague. I am yet uncertain and undecided whether my memories were real or fabricated, but I can confidently say that it helped me (and thousands of others like me) put a lot of their life into perspective, to let go of old wounds. And marvel over the fact that our essence, our fundamental state of being always was, always is and always will be…