Over on Takuin’s blog, he responded to a question on the afterlife. He said he didn’t know. Then that he never would know nor would anyone else.
I responded: “…to say you don’t know is honest. But to then suggest it can’t be known and no one will ever know is just belief, no more or less than those who believe in an afterlife. I quite appreciate there are many who make a big story about this and there is a lot of nonsense. It’s also a very personal experience, so those with the experience may not differentiate between what arises and what they’ve brought to it. But there is ample evidence of people having such experiences and assisting people making the transition.”
Takuin asked “how am I to find out?” “So……where do I begin?”
On this blog, I try to focus on what I’ve learned rather than specific experiences. But in this case, it seems personal is the best way to answer.
I’ll begin where I began. Several decades ago, I found myself in a circumstance I could not understand. Every day I was faced with people having the worst experiences of their life. Ridiculous challenges kept arising. While I understood the ideas of karma, I didn’t understand how a person like me (laughs) could have generated such things. Was I creating this? Was there supposed to be a lesson here? I mulled such thoughts frequently at the time.
I began to have brief visual flashes of something troubling. They came to seem like memories, much as remembering being 8 years old. But they were older and seemed both familiar and like someone else’s. Over time, I became willing to look more and began to see pieces of scenes, then whole scenes. Then the larger sense of the life circumstances; what I faced and the choices I made. It was clearly me, but in a different “meat suit” and with different circumstances.
It became apparent that I was remembering my last lifetime, particularly the difficult parts that had not been fully resolved. These were the things that had carried forward into this life. They related to my marriage, children, work, and more. It explained my circumstances and inclinations profoundly and intimately. I was living the alternative to a choice I’d deeply regretted in that life. I realized that the point here was to resolve the experience rather than fight it and carry it forward yet again. Note that memory is associative. So memories will arise that are most related to current circumstances, especially emotionally (energetically).
The greatest thing this brought me was a sense of understanding about my life. Over time, I followed the threads of the prior life back to their source in still earlier lives and came to recall about a half-dozen or so. Aside from the understanding and things I couldn’t possibly imagine, several obscure details came up that were historically verifiable, like a book I’d once written. At some point, I realized I’d lost the fear of death (although transcendence would have contributed).
That satisfied my concerns that had started the process and it fell to the background of my life. Then occasional people or circumstances would arise that would bring new memories. Slowly, it continued to fill out.
There was a further barrier to overcome to see past the last decent in the cycles of time. After that, the long cycles of time and my own lives became clear. They disagreed with the standard understanding of Yugas but I found Yukteswar’s (Yoganandas master) math aligned. Going back to the last golden age or into the future was more distorted due to the higher consciousness of the time. (We experience everything from where we are now) Even the memory nodes are different then; intentional rather than difficulty based.
I made some points about validating and revisionist memory on Coming Back to Past Lives. Up to this point, I’d only experienced them in a linear way. In this article, I quote Vasishtha’s story on other variations in What’s After and Before. (I’ve never experienced it that way) Then the mesh and nodes of connections between lives became seen, then all lives happening at once. I talked about that in The past.
The process continued into experiences of the mechanics of time; how it arises, unfolds and rolls up into a singularity. And how the soul is a point of awareness aware of itself in a sea of alert existence, and so forth.
Takuin’s original question was on the afterlife; what might be considered between lives. But it’s really just the flow of life through various states.
More recently, a couple of close friends died and I ended up supporting their transition in “crossing over”. I wrote On Death on the process I observed after this. For once, there was a practical use for all this.
There’s also an article on Vasishtha’s observations in After Death.
As to the question of how, Patanjali outlines this in the Yoga Sutras.
3:16 From Samyama on the three transformations (characteristic, temporal quality, and state) comes knowledge of the past and future.
3:18 From perception of impressions (sanskaras) comes knowledge of previous births.
3:22 Karma returns both quickly and slowly. From Samyama on that, or from premonitions, comes knowledge of death.
Really, these describe what I was doing without realizing it.
It would seem this all arose for me due to my drive to understand my life. It seems to arise for different reasons for different people. But one certainly has to be open to it and prepared to face what we’ve done in the distant past. I found it rewarding, especially once I moved past that.
It’s certainly not anything necessary for the spiritual journey for most people. Anything unresolved now can be resolved now as well. All the markers or nodes exist in this life too. I wouldn’t recommend chasing past lives in itself.
Equally, our continuity through lives can be found in the simple experience of our unbounded being.
As don Miguel Ruiz says in The Four Agreements, “Don’t believe me. But learn to listen… what I’m telling you is just a story… it is true just for me. But if you learn to listen you will understand what I am trying to communicate.“
I hope that answers your question, Takuin.