The topic of reincarnation is a contentious one, with many contrasting beliefs and opinions. Aoife Loughnane investigates.
One of the best-known instances of reincarnation involves the claims of the family of James Linegar. As a toddler, he began experiencing nightmares. Fascinated with aeroplanes, he would cry out during these night terrors, “aeroplane on fire, little man can’t get out.”
His parents took him to counsellor Carol Bowman, where more details emerged. James relayed that the plane, a “Corsair” was shot down by the Japanese while also adding in the word “Natoma”, and referring to himself as “Jack Larson.”
After extensive research, his parents discovered that the aircraft carrier USS Natoma Bay had operated in the Pacific Ocean during World War II and was shot down on 3 March 1945. James pointed to a map of Iwo Jima near Chichi Jima and told his father, “that is where my plane was shot down.”
Another eerie detail also surfaced- James had three G.I. Joe dolls called Walter, Leon and Billie – the names of three pilots who served with Larson in the VC-81.
While some would say that this is evidence that we have all existed before, in a different body, living a different life, we must admit that this story doesn’t offer anything solid to support the claim.
Reincarnation is a philosophical or religious concept that a part of a living being is reborn in a different physical body or form after death. This concept is ingrained in some religious beliefs and not in others.
So how can we find out if we have inhabited another physical body prior to the one we do now?
Hypnotherapy and regression therapy are two of the methods used to uncover supposedly suppressed memories from past lives.
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Katherina Kavungu is a Dublin-based certified hypnotherapist (Dip Hyp) and regression therapist (Dip RTh). Her other qualifications include; Life Between Lives Therapist (Ct LBL), Quantum Healing Hypnosis Therapy™ Practitioner, Trauma & Family Constellations Practitioner and Spirit Release Practitioner.
She explains hypnotherapy as “a therapeutic method where you work with the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind hold information from this lifetime, and in my opinion, previous lifetimes.”
Kavungu claims that past life lessons live on within the subconscious part of our minds and that the struggles and problems that we face in our current life all stem from unresolved issues from when we existed before.
So how does it work?
Kavungu “brings [the client] into a relaxed state, where I can have access to their subconscious and I ask them to go back to the root cause of whatever their problem is and where they have experienced it already.”
Phobias and fears
Tapping into past life memories, it is claimed, may also unlock the reason behind irrational fears, or phobias, and explain why you suffer with certain areas of your health.
“We can use it to solve problems in our current life. It could be an unexplained fear, people feel stuck, or if they have problems with anger,” she says.
“People are unsure of where it’s coming from, so I use hypnosis to access their subconscious mind, and we find the answers there,” she adds.
Kavungu is not particularly interested in the details of these past lives. “I won’t argue with the subconscious mind of a person. I work at whatever time-frame their mind is at. From there, if we can release pain and process trauma then that’s the goal.”
Kavungu’s prices vary; a one to two hour session of hypnotherapy is €60 an hour, with the first session lasting two hours. Past life therapy sessions run from two and a half to three hours at a cost of €150.
Ed Parkinson of Eckankar Ireland relies on dreams instead of regression therapy to unlock past life memories. Eckankar is a new age religion founded in the US in the 20th century and currently led by Harold Kemp, with reincarnation is one of the aspects of their teachings.
“Dreams are our easiest way of accessing our past lives,” he says. “We may have a dream where we are clearly in a different time in history. The dreams we have of past lives are opened to us because they relate to something in our outer life at the current time.”
Kavungu says that she has been asked before if people get ‘stuck’ when they are put under hypnosis. “Regression is like daydreaming. You cannot get stuck, as you do not get stuck when you’re dreaming at night; you wake up. Regression works in the same way.”
She explains that due to the fact that patients are in a therapeutic setting, it means that they are in control, and they can come out of the trance themselves if they wish.
“The trance state allows them to express themselves because their awareness is much more open. Due to this expanded awareness we, for some reason, have access to information that we do not in our normal daily life,” she says.
However, Ed Parkinson disagrees with the use of regression therapy. “The danger in accessing past lives can be where we use past life regression via hypnosis or similar methods,” he says.
“Regression and hypnosis can open up past lives which are not necessarily relevant to our current life and bring issues from those lives into this one. We may become unbalanced as a result of connecting with unrelated lives,” he says.
However there is a risk that false memories and experiences could be created. Even psychotherapists worry about this happening when talking to clients about childhood experiences.
So much so, that concerned psychiatrists and psychologists set up the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. They claim that because of the reconstructive nature of memory, some memories may be distorted through influences such as “the incorporation of new information.”
The foundation says the only way they believe that we can know if our memories are true is by external corroboration.
Reincarnation and religion are intrinsically linked. Buddhists believe that the soul reincarnates, even if not always in a human form.
Christianity on the other hand, believes that we have one life and when we die, our souls pass over into Heaven where they are at peace, although this belief is often seen as controversial.
Ed Parkinson explains what reincarnation means in Eckankar. “Each person is Soul, a particle of God sent to earth to gain spiritual experience. His goal is spiritual freedom in this lifetime, after which he becomes a co-worker with God, both here and in the next world. Karma and reincarnation are primary beliefs,” he says.
They believe that people we have emotional connections with in this life were in some way carried over from our previous existences.
“We have all lived previously as humans. We likely had lives with the people we know well in this current life, such as our family, school mates and work colleagues.”
Parkinson says our past life experiences can affect our present day lives. “We have made mistakes and progress in our goal towards happiness in previous lives,” he says.
“Reincarnation is the answer to why in this life we have our own unique blend of talents, skills, likes, dislikes, challenges, etc.”
The topic of reincarnation is without doubt a contentious one. While many firmly believe in its existence, others are not as certain.
American writer and academic Jesse Bering has wrote about his scepticism in the Scientific American journal. Bering said that he was like people who had “eyes that roll over to the back of your head whenever you hear words like “reincarnation” or “parapsychology”.” It took the work of the late Professor Ian Stevenson to make him question this scepticism.
Stevenson specialized in studying children’s past life memories and conducted several studies about children who had detailed memories of their past lives that were confirmed as genuine. However his methods remain controversial. Some consider his conclusions the result of confirmation bias.
Bering had previously said, “why do we wonder where our mind goes when the body is dead? Shouldn’t it be obvious that the mind is dead too?” He believes that “karma has nothing to do with reincarnation, but rather the process is a mechanical soul-rebirthing process, not a moralistic one.”
However there are a few issues with reincarnation that are difficult to ignore.
Although practicing Buddhist, academic Alan Lickerman does not believe in reincarnation. He is concerned that “we have, as of yet, no way to verify it prospectively in an objective manner and we have no mechanism to explain how reincarnation might occur.”
Lickerman says that although there may be facts that it seems a person could simply not know, there is no way to actually prove that they were someone else in a former life.
As he says that our lives are in constant motion, he makes the point that taking a snapshot of them at a specific point cannot capture our true selves because “an actual snapshot of a flowing river represents its one true shape.”
Lickerman does not necessarily question if reincarnation is possible but more what exactly it is that gets reincarnated?
So have we all been here before?
The arguments made on both sides convey just how divisive subject that reincarnation is. It is without doubt that there is solid belief in the idea that we have existed before, in a different body and living a different life.
However, one must also look at the cold hard facts: the subconscious mind is a very powerful thing and memories that come to the fore during regression and hypnotherapy must be questioned.
Reincarnation is a clearly a controversial subject that raises more questions than it does answers. While it is your choice whether you choose to believe in past lives, the idea that we have all been here before will no doubt continue to perplex and fascinate.