I sat up and opened my eyes – which I wasn’t supposed to do. More evidence the hypnosis wasn’t working. “I don’t think it’s working.”
My friend, Venus, the psychic who was doing the past life regression, spoke. “It’s working, lie back down.” And the odd thing, I noticed even then, was there was a slight startle in her voice. Later, she, and another friend of mine who was in the room, told me my eyes were “wide and unseeing.” “I’ve never had that happen,” Venus would say. “Not once has someone sat up like that and looked at me while under.”
Leave it to me.
But I’d watched too much TV. According to what I’d seen, I should be in a trance or ready to squawk like a chicken if only asked. Instead, I was aware of everything and just felt profoundly, deeply relaxed, so much so that random things kept appearing in my mind unbidden. Still, I did as requested and lay back down – after all, if this state was in fact the goal, why spend the entire time wondering if it was working? Don’t get in your own way, just say what pops into your head.
“Look down,” Venus said. “Do you see your feet?” I did. “Are you wearing shoes?” I was. “What do your shoes look like?” 1940s t-strap heels. “Where are you?” I looked up. A massive green lawn shot up from the sidewalk to a distant stone mansion. Inches before me was an imposing wrought iron fence. Suddenly a flood of emotion and understanding whipped through me. Sadness and jealousy and betrayal. I had tears in my eyes before I could assign words to what I was experiencing. At last, “The man I love is in there with his wife. But he loves me. It should be me in there.”
This session was long ago, but I remember it vividly. That day there were other lives I visited as well: an older German man, a man in ancient Egypt, a girl in the South. Houses and streets and towns were intricately detailed, each person with history and so much at stake, as if every world I dipped into was a developed story already written within my mind. Did it work? Was any of it real, or just stories brought forth by a storyteller’s mind? The fact of the fleshed complexity to each person and place led me to believe that from a past life or not, these places had already existed in my mind before I willed them to consciousness.
Years and years later, there was still one life I wanted to explore, one I never visited in that regression, but knew about from a dream I’d had when I was young. The dream was simple: I was a little girl, running through the forest with her brother (someone I knew was my actual, present-life brother), during a war. The ground was covered in fallen leaves. The sky was a dirty, bone white. We came upon a soldier, and though I couldn’t see his face, I knew he would help. About a year later, my mom took my friends and me to a psychic, which was all painted as an evening of fun, though I knew my mother believed in it more than she let on. After a while, the woman took my hand and informed me that my brother and I had been brother and sister in a past life, and that she saw us in a war, running through a forest. And, she said, “You met a soldier.” I was floored. “I dreamt that,” I told her. She – naturally – wasn’t surprised. The soldier, she explained, was about to come back into my life.
The dream stuck with me. Just recently I learned you could ask to visit a certain life, so this time I enlisted the help of my friend Marla, a psychic who also does past life regressions. Immediately she asked me to go to this time period, which I’ve always believed to be WWI, to the child I was in the dream. I saw the forest, though from a different angle, from outside the forest. A stone road. It was Belgium, I knew. “Where is your family?” she asked. “Behind the barn.” She asked me how long I lived, and I told her I died around age 30. “How did you die?” “Typhoid,” I said without thinking, and then my conscious elbowed its way in long enough for me to wonder how one got typhoid, and if typhoid even existed in Belgium during this time. Try as hard as I could though, I wasn’t getting more on this person. “Behind the barn,” was all I could think. “We’ll come back later,” she said, and after dipping into a few other times we indeed returned, at the end of the session. By this point, my eyes, I noticed, were moving uncontrollably and rapidly, as they do in deep REM sleep – something Marla even later commented on. Even if I consciously tried, I could never make my eyes move that fast.
“What do you see?” she asked. I saw a little girl. “That’s me, but I’m 7 or 8 here.” “What year is it?” “1893,” I said, and laughed. Did the math even work? I had no idea – I’ve never been good with math. “Where do you live?” “In the house behind the barn.” Again, there was the “behind the barn” detail, one my mind seemed fixated on. Something, I understood, happened to my parents in that house behind the barn, and I distantly knew they’d been killed, just as I knew I wasn’t ready to go there just yet. And the math? After the session we realized that yes, a 7 or 8-year-old girl in 1893 would’ve been around 30 in WWI, exactly the time I thought she died – and then we also read that typhoid was indeed a disastrous problem then.
Whether or not past lives even exist, I remain affected by what I conjured within seconds, how my subconscious seemed to have information not only ready but worked out, as if entire worlds lurk within my mind. A friend once told me that in my writing, I foreshadow before I know what I’m foreshadowing. She said this after reading a partial draft of something I was working on, one in which the loose ends dangled obviously. “What does the scent of jasmine mean here?” she asked. “I don’t know,” I answered. “I’ll know when I write it.” And it’s true. Often, when writing, something just comes out – details I figure I’ll flesh out later, at the end of the chapter or book or even in subsequent drafts. And when I finally figure out what something means, I often have that a-ha moment, as if I’m a reader of my own work. “I can’t believe that just happened,” I’ve actually said about parts in my writing.
Michelangelo said about sculpting, “Every block of stone has a statue inside and it’s the task of the sculptor to discover it.” It’s different, of course, but I’ve always thought of that when editing. Somewhere in all the words, in all the possibilities, there is a form I just need to reach. And when I stumble upon clues to that form, or when suddenly things come together in a way I’d not seen, I wonder – could that shape have been there from the start? Could it be that my conscious was simply trying to step back enough to let something within my subconscious through? This is something I try to remember when writing and stuck: walk away and do something else. Once I stop trying to force it, the answer slips in, just as in hypnosis when I was so relaxed that my mind’s tendency to edit simply stepped back, and in doing so thoughts and visions come forth in unexpected ways. Let go, and let in.
That life where I was the jealous mistress, standing before mansion – that particular scene eventually wound its way into my novel. Sometimes I wonder – did it simply inspire? Or could it be that, in some form or another, the story for my novel existed in my mind long before I consciously put it to paper? I have no idea, but since it’s said that the subconscious forms 95% of our minds, I know that with that amount of unmapped territory, just about anything is possible.