Philosophical Assumptions Underlying Past-Life Therapy

by Hazel Denning

The effectiveness of past-life therapy grows out of its philosophical underpinnings as a plant grows out of rich and nourishing soil. To understand its potential for change and healing without grasping the significance of the underlying assumptions would be like trying to understand how

psychoanalysis works without postulating the existence of unconscious motivation and psychic determinism. In a sense, past-life therapy is an extension of these principles: that which happens later depends on the groundwork set earlier with the enrichment of transpersonal and spiritual factors. Psychoanalysis subjected itself to grave limitations by its myopia regarding the spiritual nature of man. It limited itself by considering birth to bethe cut-off point of psychic determinism.

Past-life therapy remedies these truncations and restores the total nature and scope of the human being. The first and underlying assumption in past-life work is that each individual possesses an inner wisdom that is dependable and can be recovered when a technique is used to assist him to contact it and to act in a constructive manner upon what he has come to understand. In this way, regression therapy introduces a new and significant dimension to psychotherapy. It provides a modus operandi for successfully assisting the client, in an altered state, to communicate with the unconscious, the “inner self,”in order to produce in detail a history of his personal lifetimes.

What are these memories that the client recovers in an altered state? This question opens up the second assumption that past lives do exist. For most therapists, as well as for clients, the reincarnation hypothesis is the most logical explanation for the experience, since it not only provides a framework which explains problems but gives clients a structure in which to formulate a pragmatic philosophy that gives purpose and meaning to life, something needed and often not easily available with more materialistic hypotheses. It must be pointed out, however, that reincarnation is not the only possible hypothesis. Though the term “past-life therapy” implies a previous physical existence which automatically links it with reincarnation philosophy and karma, the two have not been accepted as identical concepts. Many past-life therapists believe there are other explanations for the apparent recall of a previous physical existence, though they are often convinced by the weight of the clinical evidence after they have applied the technique over a period of time.

Some material is obviously a metaphor for present life patterns, but in a psychotherapeutic context, memories or metaphors seem equally effective. Following the assumption of the existence of past lives, the regression therapist gradually builds up a body of evidence that supports the concept that man is a spiritual being, inhabiting a physical body for the purpose of spiritual evolvement or unfoldment, and that love and spiritual expression are ultimate goals. This theme constantly emerges during the recovery of past-life memories.

Based on this concept of man’s spiritual nature is the next basic assumption, that digression from the goal of spiritual unfoldment brings a constant succession of painful events as the individual seeks to balance his own scales. In this model we are all our own judge and jury, rather than being condemned by some other agent or force. This is not simple speculation. Clients in an altered state become keenly aware of the laws or principles which, when violated, bring their own negative consequences. In the physical world, the law of cause and effect is recognized and accepted. In past-life therapy there is evidence that this same law is primary to human behavior. Hate sows the seeds of its own negative events. Like a magnet, our thoughts and feelings attract experiences appropriate to the mental patterns we hold. These patterns are constructed at a subconscious level but continuously manifest at the conscious and physical levels.

Past-life therapy creates the condition in which clients are able to discover their own identity and the meaning and purpose of the problems they themselves have attracted. They enter an altered state of consciousness in which they have unlimited capacity to explore their motivations. This is true in all aspects of past-life explorations, but insight is generated with special clarity when patients return to the time period just prior to conception in the current body and examine the purpose of the coming earth life. In contrast to our often desperate clinging to life once we get here, a surprising number of individuals report distress at having to face another earth sojourn, saying they do not want to go through the discomforts and problems they encounter in another body. Though such individuals often have no prior experience with regression, when asked why they choose to come back when no one is forcing them, the consistent reply is that they want to grow spiritually and that the earth is the classroom where one learns the necessary lessons. There is constant validation that we bear the knowledge in our depths that we are on a journey of consciousness and everything we do has both predeterminants and goals.

Regression experiences consistently indicate that life goes on in purposefully determined patterns, interrupted intermittently by birth and death experiences. Evidence points to individual responsibility for every act, and problems and pain are experienced when there is a digression from this law. Even games have rules and cannot be played successfully without an adherence to them. Past-life therapy exposes some inexorable rules for living which,when ignored,precipitate individual experiences of pain in varying degrees.

There are six laws or axioms which can be observed to manifest recurrently in past-life therapy. Though these same principles are found in all major religions, they are seldom as dramatically evident or as clearly identifiable as in the regression period.

1. The primary axiom is the law of cause and effect as it was recognized and taught in antiquity. It is well understood in the material sciences, but its implications in the social sciences have been ignored.

2. The second is the law of responsibility. In the final analysis each individual is totally responsible for himself, and only for himself.

3. The third deals with a recognition of the rights of others. Since we as individuals operate in our own destiny patterns and experience whatever is required for our growth, we have no right to condemn, coerce, or criticize others.

4. The fourth axiom deals with a problem common to all individuals—pain. Whether pain is mental, physical, or emotional, it is a benevolent signal that something is wrong and that changes are necessary in order to restore harmony.

5. The fifth axiom is that there is no “good”or “bad.” The concept that everything is relative is the most difficult for most people to understand or accept. Every experience is an opportunity to learn and is a teaching device designed to keep us moving toward our goals.

6. The sixth axiom states that the soul—the spirit, the essence of a man—relentlessly strives for perfection. And what is perfection? Who can say? It appears to be the expression of unconditional love and service.

If there is any one concept that is clearly evident in the past-life process, it is the primary importance of canceling expectations for one’s self and sending love to one’s self. Only then can individuals achieve the autonomy to unselfishly love and serve others.

The philosophical assumptions underlying regression therapy suggest that it will be effective in a wide range of complaints and difficulties where exploration and transformation of core experiences in past lives can be used to bring relief in this one. Personal relationships are particularly responsive to this approach.

Another important and rewarding focus is on pervasive “trait guilt,”which often does not yield to current life exploration but may be tapped in other lifetimes. Other pervasive patterns, such as anger, also seem to be set long before this lifetime. Even more limited complaints, such as phobias and compulsions, often appear to have roots in past-life experiences. These sometimes yield to very limited exploration, while deep-rooted emotional patterns take longer.

Whatever area is explored results in a deepening of the client’s perspective, as though windows are opened onto a larger and more meaningful vista. Reducing conflict between individuals through regression is an especially effective and rewarding experience. Karmic connections, experiences with a person in the past, can become charged with unresolved negative energy. Often regression uncovers patterns of rage and resentment existing through many lifetimes between spouses who cannot seem to resolve their differences. In each life together they add indignities and insults, until in this lifetime their lives are a battlefield. Regression reveals not only the causes of the problems but the purpose of the two being together. Insight on the part of one spouse can change his attitude and responses so much that his partner responds in a positive manner, opening up the relationship for growth. As a rule it is not difficult to find the early patterns. The only deterrent to releasing unproductive patterns is usually the client, and therapeutic skill is often needed to help him accept the responsibility for his part in the interaction.

To illustrate a relationship pattern set in another lifetime we will examine a woman whose purpose in seeking regression work, in addition to the therapy she was already involved in, was to find a resolution of her marital conflict. Her psychologist’s impression that her relationships with her father and brother, which she had considered positive, were responsible for her difficulties with her husband had not been fruitful. Though she tried to stir up feelings of resentment for them, she could not shake the conviction that something else was unresolved. She went back to a lifetime where, as a Christian girl in Rome, her family was under suspicion. A young guard, her husband in this lifetime, had been placed in her home and the two became good friends. When her entire family was seized she counted on this guard to save them, but he had no power to do so.

All of the family was killed by the lions. She felt that her husband had come back to make up for having failed her in that past time, and that his unfailing acceptance of her and patience with her in whatever she did, which had always infuriated her before the regression, was evidence of this. She came to perceive their relationship in a new light and to appreciate his loving attitude. Nothaving to blame her father or brother any longer was a relief to her, and several years after this regression her marriage is still flourishing.

Other difficulties in a current relationship which carry an overlay of guilt can only be resolved when the guilt is understood and released. One client, married and with children, could not free herself from the feeling that her mother was always right and she was always wrong. As a consequence, she allowed herself to be exploited by her mother, and her resultant anger created a barrier between them. When she was told that her “inner mind” knew why she had these feelings about her mother, she reported an experience in a recent lifetime where, as a five-year-old child, she was riding with her mother in a wagon. She liked to watch the wheels go around, so she leaned over the edge of the wagon to see them better. Her mother warned her several times to get back in the wagon or she would fall, but she couldn’t resist looking at the wheels. Eventually her long hair got caught in the spokes and she was thrown out. She hit her head on a rock and died. Her last thought was that if she had obeyed her mother she would be all right, and from the beginning of this life she was an unusually obedient child.

Following this regression she was able to relate to her mother as another adult and to respect her own needs and rights, and a more appropriate relationship developed. Undoubtedly, this was part of a more comprehensive karmic pattern, but the recovery of that one lifetime was sufficient to bring the mother-daughter relationship into a better balance.

A more pervasive type of guilt, called “trait guilt,”is often so deep-seated that it does not respond to any current therapies, including psychoanalysis. This sort of guilt is entrenched in a past-life episode, carried in the unconscious mind through one or more physical experiences, and manifests in the current life from very early childhood, polluting the individual’s entire life experience. The assumption by the traditional therapist regarding this sort of guilt is that an early childhood trauma (in the current life) is responsible. However, past-life work often indicates that feelings of guilt have been brought in from other lives and are only triggered by some early childhood experience.

An example of “trait guilt” is a young woman who reported a life-long feeling that she would “burn in hell” and could never be forgiven. Her life in its objective aspect was happy and fulfilled, and she could find no reason for her feeling of doom. In past-life therapy she recovered an experience in which she had been a healer in a small village. One day a gravely ill infant was brought to her, but it was dying. Though she tried to refuse to work on it, the villagers insisted. When the child died, she was blamed, tried as a witch, and burned at the stake. She carried a heavy burden of guilt over this because,although she had believed she was doing God’s will, she had been told by the priest that she was the handmaiden of the devil and would “burn in hell”; thus the church recognized her as the devil’s servant. She died believing she was lost forever. When she was taken to a higher point of view to find the truth in the experience, she saw immediately that she had been right and the church had been wrong. This understanding was all that was required to relieve her of her chronic guilt.

It must be pointed out that even if the guilt is appropriate to the past-life behavior, which it often is, it still has to be released. The individual’s need to bring about punishment and suffering in lifetime after lifetime has to be concluded so that the soul can get on with its journey of consciousness. The process of canceling expectations that one should have behaved differently is often difficult, but facilitating such a process is one of the responsibilities of the regression therapist.

Sometimes the guilt is tied in with physical problems, which are carried through one or more lifetimes, and the guilt and physical difficulties are resolved together. The experience of a high school teacher illustrates this linking of guilt and physical trauma. This teacher could not recall a time when he had been able to breathe through his nose and his speech had a nasal sound. In addition to his post-nasal discharge he had a constant feeling that there was a “rock” behind his nose. Prescribed forms of medication gave him no more than temporary relief.

Exploration of his childhood exposed many frustrations and a feeling that he could never live up to the expectations of his environment. This was a classic case of a reaction to parental pressure manifesting as asthma, and working through these pressures almost completely cleared up his post-nasal drip, but the “rock” behind his nose remained to block his breathing.

In his fourth session he saw himself as a young man in a primitive culture who had stolen a horse and been caught and stoned out of the community. A rock had struck and broken his nose and he had bled to death, strangling in his own blood and dying in an agony of pain, rage, and resentment, While still in the altered state he looked at the connection between this experience, with its accompanying guilt, which had become entrenched at the time of his death, and his current nasal symptoms. He was able to release the emotions of that traumatic death and let go of his self-judgments of that time. Within forty-eight hours his nasal passages were entirely cleared and he felt the “rock” dissolving as the clearing occurred.

It would be unrealistic to leave the impression that all symptoms in this category are as readily removed as in this case. However, when clients are ready to deal with a problem and are strong enough to face whatever they are hiding, the results can be rewarding and even seem miraculous.

Guilt is a common emotion connected with a loss. The belief of the survivor that he is somehow responsible for the loss or death is a problem met by every therapist. Often the surviving individual has had the care of the deceased over a period of time and has harbored resentment, resulting in strong feelings of guilt. Past-life connections with that individual and the purpose of the relationship, when viewed and analyzed in regression, can remove the guilt.

The loss of children is one of the most difficult burdens for most people to handle. Here again, the past-life connection clarifies the reason for the child’s departure. But if, as so often happens, the individual discovers in a past lifetime that he was responsible—for example, in a war—of killing children, he then comes to understand that he actually attracted this experience to balancehis own scales and absolve his own guilt.

Guilt, resentment, and rage are emotions encountered by therapists in dealing with survivors. When grieving is prolonged and intense, there may be specific factors apart from the actual departure of the loved one. Regression techniques frequently find the primary cause of these emotions in a past lifetime. The rage over being abandoned, for example, may have its background in some life where the individual, often as a child, was separated from parental protection by a natural catastrophe and died.

In past-life recall most people discover that death is a positive experience, often a relief from intolerable burdens, and that life moves on continuously in an ever-upward spiral toward perfection and the overcoming of pain in all forms. Regression is a powerful tool for reducing the suffering and fear connected with the death experience.

Symptoms which are particularly responsive to past-life therapy are phobias, irrational fears, and compulsive behavior. Such sufferers can often be reconditioned by behavior modification techniques to handle their problems, but the symptoms are frequently found to be the result of a single traumatic experience and therefore are amongst the most responsive to past-life techniques. Often a single session can uncover the source of the problem. In this class can be found those clients who are terrified of water, because they have been drowning victims in the past. Fears of snakes, high places, etc., are often carried over from a past encounter with an object similar to that which elicits the fear today.

One particular case dealing with a fear of driving involved a young woman who developed a phobia while driving on a lonely stretch of highway. Her fear escalated to the point where she would often have to take an off-ramp and stop to pull herself together. Her gripping terror seemed totally irrational to her. In an altered state she went into a lifetime where she was a man, the only doctor in a rural area. She recalled driving over a bridge in a heavy storm when the bridge gave way and she (he) was drowned. This memory largely freed her of her fear, but she still panicked when she had to drive over a high overpass.

In the second regression the story changed. She remembered (as the doctor) insisting on taking the road to the dangerous bridge in order to defy a shrewish wife. The car stalled on the bridge, and when the doctor got out to examine it, it exploded and he was thrown into the river. In order to completely release the situation, this patient had to face and deal with the anger at his wife of that lifetime, about which he felt a great deal of guilt.

Regression work addresses distortions and fabrications as forms of evasion in the same manner as resistance. They are integral steps through the clearing process and should be accepted as such. This client originally distorted the event in order to maintain a good self image, and she had to be willing to let this go. The fears carried over from that traumatic death with its accompanying anger at the wife, and the client’s shame over her anger, were triggered into conscious awareness by her journey on the highway, which simulated the same country setting and emotional state of mind as in her previous lifetime. This was a deeper pattern involving a more extended development of a karmic pattern and took longer to work through because both fear and anger had to be faced and released. A four-year follow-up has shown this client to be free of symptoms.

In all these instances, the client’s problems and suffering were intimately linked with their progress on the spiritual journey. The thrust toward growth and actualization provided the energy for their transformation and healing. Without such a philosophical base, the recovery of past-life events would have little significance.

Originally printed in the The International Journal of Regression Therapy, V. 23, 2015, p 9-15.