MANY LIVES, MANY MASTER'S
THE TRUE STORY
of a prominent psychiatrist,
his young patient and the
past-life therapy that
changed both of their lives
by DR BRIAN WEISS
I know that there is a reason for everything. Perhaps at the moment that an event occurs we have neither the insight nor the foresight to comprehend the reason , but with time and patience it will come to light.
So it was with Catherine. I first met her in 1980 when she was twenty-seven years old. She had come to my office seeking help for her anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias. Although these symptoms had been with her since childhood , in the recent past they had become much worse. Every day she found herself more emotionally paralyzed and less able to function. She was terrified and understandably depressed.
In contrast to the chaos that was going on in her life at that time, my life was flowing smoothly. I had a good stable marriage, two young children, and a flourishing career.
From the beginning , my life seemed always to have been on a straight course . I had grown up in a loving home . Academic success had come easily , and by my sophomore year in college I had made the decision to become a psychiatrist.
I was graduated Phi Beta Kappa , magna cum laude , from Columbia University in New York in 1966 . I then went to the Yale University School of Medicine and received my M.D. degree in 1970 . Following an internship at the New York University-Bellevue Medical Center, I returned to Yale to complete my residency in psychiatry. Upon completion, I accepted a faculty position at the University of Pittsburgh. Two years later , I joined the faculty of the University of Miami, heading the psychopharmacology division. There I achieved national recognition in the fields of biological psychiatry and substance abuse. After four years at the university, I was promoted to the rank of Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the medical school , and I was appointed Chief of Psychiatry at a large university-affiliated hospital in Miami. By that time, I had already published thirty-seven scientific papers and book chapters in my field.
Years of disciplined study had trained my mind to think as a scientist and physician, molding me along the narrow paths of conservatism in my profession . I distrusted anything that could not be proved by traditional scientific methods. I was aware of some of the studies in parapsychology that were being conducted at major universities across the country , but they did not hold my attention. It all seemed too far fetched to me.
Then I met Catherine. For eighteen months I used conventional methods of therapy to help her overcome her symptoms. When nothing seemed to work, I tried hypnosis. In a series of trance states , Catherine recalled "past-life " memories that proved to be the causative factors of her symptoms. She also was able to act as a conduit for information from highly evolved "spirit entities," and through them she revealed many of the secrets of life and of death. In just a few short months, her symptoms disappeared, and she resumed her life, happier and more at peace than ever before.
Nothing in my background had prepared me for this. I was absolutely amazed when these events unfolded.
I do not have a scientific explanation for what happened. There is far too much about the human mind that is beyond our comprehension. Perhaps, under hypnosis, Catherine was able to focus in on the part of her subconscious mind that stored actual past-life memories, or perhaps she had tapped into what the psychoanalyst Carl Jung termed the collective unconscious, the energy source that surrounds us and contains the memories of the entire human race .
Scientists are beginning to seek these answers. We, 'as a society, have much to gain from research into the mysteries of the mind, the soul, the continuation of life after death, and the influence of our past-life experiences on our present behavior. Obviously , the ramifications are limitless, particularly in the fields of medicine, psychiatry, theology, and philosophy.
However, scientifically rigorous research in this area is in its infancy. Strides are being made to uncover this information, but the process is slow and is met with much resistance by scientists and lay people alike.
Throughout history , humankind has been resistant to change and to the acceptance of new ideas. Historical lore is replete with examples. When Galileo discovered the moons of Jupiter, the astronomers of that time refused to accept or even to look at these satellites because the existence of these moons conflicted with their accepted beliefs. So it is now with psychiatrists and other therapists, who refuse to examine and evaluate the considerable evidence being gathered about survival after bodily death and about past-life memories. Their eyes stay tightly shut.
This book is my small contribution to the ongoing research in the field of parapsychology, especially the branch dealing with our experiences before birth and after death. Every word that you will be reading is true. I have added nothing, and I have deleted only those parts that were repetitious. I have slightly changed Catherine's identity to ensure confidentiality.
It took me four years to write about what happened, four years to garner the courage to take the professional risk of revealing this unorthodox information.[thank you for doing so DC]
Suddenly one night while I was taking a shower , I felt compelled to put this experience down on paper. I had a strong feeling that the time was right, that I should not withhold the information any longer. The lessons I had learned were meant to be shared with others, not to be kept private . The knowledge had come through Catherine and now had to come through me . I knew that no possible consequence I might face could prove to be as devastating as not sharing the knowledge I had gained about immortality and the true meaning of life.
I rushed out of the shower and sat down at my desk with the stack of audio tapes I had made during my sessions with Catherine. In the wee hours of the morning, I thought of my old Hungarian grandfather who had died while I was still a teenager. Whenever I would tell him that I was afraid to take a risk , he would lovingly encourage me by repeating his favorite English expression : "Vat the hell, " he would say , "vat the hell,"
The first time I saw Catherine she was wearing a vivid crimson dress and was nervously leafing through a magazine in my waiting room. She was visibly out of breath. For the previous twenty minutes she had been pacing the corridor outside the Department of Psychiatry offices , trying to convince herself to keep her appointment with me and not ruN away.
I went out to the waiting room to greet her, and we shook hands.I noticed that hers were cold and damp, confirming her anxiety. Actually, it had taken her two months of courage gathering to make an appointment to see me even though she had been strongly advised to seek my help by two staff physicians, both of whom she trusted. Finally, she was here.
Catherine is an extraordinarily attractive woman, with medium length blond hair and hazel eyes. At that time , she worked as a laboratory technician in the hospital where I was Chief of Psychiatry, and she earned extra money modeling swimwear.
I ushered her into my office, past the couch and to a large leather chair. We sat across from each other, my semicircular desk separating us. Catherine leaned back in her chair, silent, not knowing where to begin. I waited, preferring that she choose the opening, but after a few minutes I began inquiring about her past. On that first visit we began to unravel who she was and why she had come to see me.
In answer to my questions, Catherine revealed the story of her life . She was the middle child , reared in a conservative Catholic family in a small Massachusetts town. Her brother, born three years earlier than she, was very athletic, and he enjoyed a freedom that she was never allowed. Her younger sister was the favorite of both parents.
When we started to talk about her symptoms, she became noticeably more tense and nervous. Her speech was rapid, and she leaned forward , resting her elbows on the desk . Her life had always been burdened with fears. She feared water, feared choking to the extent that she could not swallow pills, feared airplanes, feared the dark, and she was terrified of dying. In the recent past , her fears had begun to worsen. In order to feel safe , she often slept in the walk-in closet in her apartment. She suffered two to three hours of insomnia before being able to fall asleep. Once asleep, she would sleep lightly and fitfully, awakening frequently. The nightmares and sleepwalking episodes that had plagued her childhood were returning. As her fears and symptoms increasingly paralyzed her, she became more and more depressed.
As Catherine continued to talk, I could sense how deeply she was suffering. Over the years I had helped many patients like Catherine through the agonies of their fears , and I felt confident that I could help her, too. I decided we would begin by delving into her childhood, looking for the original sources of her problems. Usually this kind of insight helps to alleviate anxiety. If necessary , and if she could manage to swallow pills, I would offer her some mild anti-anxiety medications to make her more comfortable . This was standard textbook treatment for Catherine's symptoms , and I never hesitated to use tranquilizers, or even antidepressant medicines , to treat chronic, severe fears and anxieties. Now I use these medicines much more sparingly and only temporarily, if at all. No medicine can reach the real roots of these symptoms. My experiences with Catherine and others like her have proved this to me. Now I know there can be cures, not just the suppression or covering over of symptoms.
During the first session, I kept trying to gently nudge her back to her childhood. Because Catherine remembered amazingly few events from her early years, I made a mental note to consider hypnotherapy as a possible shortcut to overcome this repression. She could not remember any particularly traumatic moments in her childhood that would explain the epidemic of fears in her life.
As she strained and stretched her mind to remember, isolated memory fragments emerged. When she was about five years old, she had panicked when someone had pushed her off a diving board into a swimming pool. She said that even before that incident, however, she had never felt comfortable in water. When Catherine was eleven, her mother had become severely depressed. Her mother's strange withdrawal from the family necessitated visits to a psychiatrist with ensuing electroshock treatments. These treatments had made it difficult for her mother to remember things. This experience with her mother frightened Catherine, but, as her mother improved and became "herself" again, Catherine said that her fears dissipated. Her father had a long-standing history of alcohol abuse, and sometimes Catherine's brother had to retrieve their father from the local bar. Her father's increasing alcohol consumption led to his having frequent fights with her mother, who would then become moody and withdrawn. However, Catherine viewed this as an accepted family pattern.
Things were better outside the home. She dated in high school and mixed in easily with her friends , most of whom she had known for many years. However, she found it difficult to trust people , especially those outside her small circle of friends.
Her religion was simple and unquestioned . She was raised to believe in traditional Catholic ideology and practices, and she had never really doubted the truthfulness and validity of her faith . She believed that if you were a good Catholic and lived properly by observing the faith and it's rituals, you would be rewarded by going to heaven; if not, you would experience purgatory or hell. A patriarchal God and his Son made these final decisions. I later learned that Catherine did not believe in reincarnation; in fact, she knew very little about the concept, although she had read sparingly about the Hindus. Reincarnation was an idea contrary to her upbringing and understanding. She had never read any metaphysical or occult literature, having had no interest in it . She was secure in her beliefs.
After high school, Catherine completed a two-year technical program, emerging as a laboratory technician. Armed with a profession and encouraged by her brother's move to Tampa, Catherine landed a job in Miami at a large teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Miami School of Medicine. She moved to Miami in the spring of 1974, at the age of twenty-one.
Catherine's life in a small town had been easier than her life in Miami turned out to be, yet she was glad she had fled her family problems.
During her first year in Miami, Catherine met Stuart. Married, Jewish, and with two children , he was totally different from any other man she had ever dated. He was a successful physician, strong and aggressive . There was an irresistible chemistry between them , but their affair was rocky and tempestuous. Something about him drew out her passions and awakened her, as if she were charmed by him. At the time Catherine started therapy , her affair with Stuart was in its sixth year and very much alive, if not well . Catherine could not resist Stuart although he treated her poorly, and she was furious at his lies, broken promises, and manipulations.
Several months prior to her appointment with me, Catherine had required vocal cord surgery for a benign nodule. She had been anxious prior to the surgery but was absolutely terrified upon awakening in the recovery room . It took hours for the nursing staff to calm her. After her recovery in the hospital, she sought out Dr. Edward Poole. Ed was a kindly pediatrician whom Catherine had met while working in the hospital. They had both felt an instant rapport and had developed a close friendship. Catherine talked freely to Ed, telling him of her fears, her relationship with Stuart, and that she felt she was losing control over her life. He insisted that she make an appointment with me and only me, not with any of my associate psychiatrists. When Ed called to tell me about his referral, he explained that, for some reason, he thought only I could truly understand Catherine, even though the other psychiatrists also had excellent credentials and were skilled therapists. Catherine did not call me, however.
Eight weeks passed. In the crunch of my busy practice as head of the Department of Psychiatry , I had forgotten about Ed's call. Catherine's fears and phobias worsened. Dr. Frank Acker, Chief of Surgery , had known Catherine casually for years, and they often bantered good-naturedly when he visited the laboratory where she worked. He had noticed her recent unhappiness and sensed her tension . Several times he had meant to say something to her but had hesitated. One afternoon, Frank was driving to a smaller, out-of-the way hospital give a lecture. On the way, he saw Catherine driving to her home, which was close to that hospital, and impulsively waved her to the side of the road . " I want you to see Dr. Weiss now," he yelled through the window. "No delays." Although surgeons often act impulsively, even Frank was surprised at how emphatic he was.
Catherine's panic attacks and anxiety were increasing in frequency and duration. She began having two recurrent nightmares. In one, a bridge collapsed while she was driving across it. Her car plunged into the water below, and she was trapped and drowning. In the second dream , she was trapped in a pitch-black room , stumbling and falling over things, unable to find a way out. Finally, she came to see me.
At the time of my first session with Catherine , I had no idea that my life was about to turn upside down, that the frightened, confused woman across the desk from me would be the catalyst, and that I would never be the same again.
Eighteen months of intensive psychotherapy passed, with Catherine coming to see me once or twice a week. She was a good patient, verbal, capable of insights, and extremely eager to get well.
During that time , we explored her feelings, thoughts, and dreams. Her recognition of recurrent behavior patterns provided her with insight and understanding. She remembered many more significant details from her past, such as her merchant seaman father's absences from the home and his occasional violent outbursts after drinking too much. She understood much more about her turbulent relationship with Stuart, and she expressed anger more appropriately. I felt that she should have been much improved by now. Patient s almost always improve when they remember unpleasant influences from their past, when they learn to recognize and correct maladaptive behavior patterns, and when they develop insight and view their problems from a larger, more detached perspective. But Catherine had not improved.
Anxiety and panic attacks still tortured her. The vivid recurrent nightmare s continued , and she was still terrified of the dark, of water, and of being closed in. Her sleep was still fragmented and unrefreshing. She was experiencing heart palpitations. She continued to refuse any medicines , afraid of choking on the pills. I felt as if I had reached a wall, and that no matter what I did, that wall would remain so high that neither of us would be able to climb over it. But, with my sense of frustration came an added sense of determination. Somehow, I was going to help Catherine.
And then a strange thing happened . Although she was intensely afraid of flying and had to fortify herself with several drinks while she was on the plane, Catherine accompanied Stuart to a medical conference in Chicago in the spring of 1982. While there, she pressured him into visiting the Egyptian exhibit at the art museum, where they joined a guided tour.
Catherine had always had an interest in ancient Egyptian artifacts and reproductions of relics from that period. She was hardly a scholar and had never studied that time in history, but somehow the pieces seemed familiar to her.
When the guide began to describe some of the artifacts in the exhibit , she found herself correcting him . . . and she was right! The guide was surprised ; Catherine was stunned. How did she know these things? Why did she feel so strongly that she was right, so sure of herself that she corrected the guide in public? Perhaps the memories were forgotten from her childhood.
At her next appointment, she told me what had happened. Months earlier I had suggested hypnosis to Catherine, but she was afraid and she resisted. Because of her experience at the Egyptian exhibit, she now reluctantly agreed.
Hypnosis is an excellent tool to help a patient remember long-forgotten incidents. There is nothing mysterious about it. It is just a state of focused concentration. Under the instruction of a trained hypnotist, the patient's body relaxes, causing the memory to sharpen. I had hypnotized hundreds of patients and had found it helpful in reducing anxiety, eliminating phobias, changing bad habits, and aiding in the recall of repressed material. On occasion, I had been successful in regressing patients back to their early childhoods, even to when they were two or three years old, thus eliciting the memories of long-forgotten traumas that were disrupting their lives. I felt confident that hypnosis would help Catherine.
I instructed Catherine to lie on the couch with her eyes slightly closed and her head resting on a small pillow. At first we focused on her breathing . With each exhalation she released stored-up tension and anxiety ; with each inhalation she relaxed even more. After several minutes of this, I told her to visualize her muscles progressively relaxing, beginning with her facial muscles and jaw, then her neck and shoulders, her arms, back and stomach muscles, and finally her legs. She felt her entire body sinking deeper and deeper into the couch.
Then I instructed her to visualize a bright white light at the top of her head , inside her body. Later on, as I had the light spread slowly down her body, it completely relaxed every muscle, every nerve , every organ, all of her body, bringing her into a deeper and deeper state of relaxation and peace. She felt sleepier and sleepier , more and more peaceful and calm. Eventually, at my instruction, the light filled her body and surrounded her as well.
I counted backward slowly from ten to one. With each number, she entered a deeper level of relaxation. Her trance state deepened. She was able to concentrate on my voice and exclude all background noises . By the count of one , she was already in a moderately deep state of hypnosis . The entire process had taken about twenty minutes.
After a while I began to regress her , asking her to recall memories of progressively earlier ages. She was able to talk and to answer my questions while maintaining a deep level of hypnosis . She remembered a traumatic experience at the dentist that occurred when she was six years old. She vividly remembered the terrifying experience at age five when she was pushed from a diving board into a pool. She had gagged and choked then, swallowing some water, and while talking about it she began to gag in my office. I suggested to her that the experience was over, that she was out of the water. The gagging stopped, and she resumed her normal breathing . She was still in a deep trance.
At age three, the worst event of all had occurred. She remembered awakening in her dark bedroom and being aware that her father was in her room . He reeked of alcohol then, and she could smell it now. He touched her and rubbed her, even "down there." She was terrified and began to cry , so he covered her mouth with his rough hand. She could not breathe. In my office, on my couch, twenty-five years later , Catherine began to sob. I felt that we had the information now, the key to the lock. I was sure that her symptoms would improve quickly and dramatically. I softly suggested to her that the experience was over, that she was no longer in her bedroom but was resting quietly, still in a trance. The sobbing ended. I took her forward in time to her current age. I awakened her after I had instructed her, by posthypnotic suggestion, to remember all that she had told me. We spent the remainder of the session discussing her suddenly vivid memory of the trauma with her father. I tried to help her accept and integrate her "new" knowledge. She now understood her relationship with her father, his reactions to her, his aloofness, and her fear of him. She was still shaking when she left the office , but I knew the understanding she had gained was worth the momentary discomfort.
In the drama of uncovering her painful and deeply repressed memories, I had entirely forgotten to look for the possible childhood connection to her knowledge of the Egyptian artifacts. But at least she understood more about her past. She had remembered several terrifying events, and I expected a significant improvement in her symptoms.
Despite this new understanding, the next week she reported that her symptoms remained intact, as severe as ever. I was surprised. I could not understand what was wrong. Could something have happened earlier than age three? We had uncovered more than sufficient reasons for her fear of choking, of the water, of the dark , and of being trapped, and yet the piercing fears and symptoms, the uncontrolled anxiety, were all still devastating her waking moments. Her nightmares were as terrifying as before. I decided to regress her further.
While hypnotized, Catherine spoke in a slow and deliberate whisper. Because of this, I was able to write down her words verbatim and have quoted Catherine directly . (The ellipses represent pauses in her speech , not deletions of words nor editing on my part . However , some of the material that is repetitious is not included here.)
Slowly, I took Catherine back to the age of two , but she recalled no significant memories. I instructed her firmly and clearly: "Go back to the time from which your symptoms arise." I was totally unprepared for what came next.
"I see white steps leading up to a building , a big white building with pillars, open in front . There are no doorways . I'm wearing a long dress .. . a sack made of rough material . My hair is braided, long blond hair."
I was confused. I wasn't sure what was happening. I asked her what the year was, what her name was. "Aronda .. . I am eighteen . I see a marketplace in front of the building . There are baskets. . . . You carry the baskets on your shoulders. We live in a valley . . . . There is no water . The year is 1863 B.C. The area is barren, hot, and sandy. There is a well, no rivers. Water comes into the valley from the mountains. "
After she related more topographical details , I told her to go several years ahead in time and to tell me what she saw.
"There are trees and a stone road. I see a fire with cooking. My hair is blond. I'm wearing a long, coarse brown dress and sandals. I am twenty-five . I have a girl child whose name is Cleastra. . . . She's Rachel . [Rachel is presently her niece ; they have always had an extremely close relationship. ] It's very hot."
I was startled. My stomach knotted, and the room felt cold. Her visualizations and recall seemed so definite. She was not at all tentative . Names, dates, clothes, trees—all seen vividly ! What was going on here? How could the child she had then, be her niece now? I was even more confused. I had examined thousands of psychiatric patients, many under hypnosis, and I had never come across fantasies like this before, not even in dreams. I instructed her to go forward to the time of her death. I wasn't sure how to interview someone in the middle of such an explicit fantasy (or memory?), but I was on the lookout for traumatic events that might underlie current fears or symptoms. The events around the time of death could be particularly traumatic. Apparently a flood or tidal wave was devastating the village.
"There are big waves knocking down trees. There's no place to run. It's cold; the water is cold. I have to save my baby, but I cannot . . . just have to hold her tight. I drown; the water chokes me . I can't breathe , can't swallow . . . salty water. My baby is torn out of my arms. " Catherine was gasping and having difficulty breathing. Suddenly her body relaxed completely, and her breathing became deep and even.
"I see clouds. . . . My baby is with me . And others from my village. I see my brother."
She was resting; this lifetime had ended. She was still in a deep trance. I was stunned! Previous lifetimes? Reincarnation? My clinical mind told me that she was not fantasizing this material , that she was not making this up. Her thoughts, her expressions, the attention to particular details, all were different from her conscious state. The whole gamut of possible psychiatric diagnoses flashed through my mind, but her psychiatric state and her character structure did not explain these revelations. Schizophrenia ? No, she had never had any evidence of a cognitive or thinking disorder . She had never experienced any auditory hallucinations of hearing voices, visual hallucinations or visions while awake, or any other type of psychotic episodes. She was not delusional, nor was she out of touch with reality. She did not have multiple or split personalities. There was only one Catherine, and her conscious mind was totally aware of this. She had no sociopathic or antisocial tendencies. She was not an actress. She did not use drugs, nor did she ingest hallucinogenic substances. Her use of alcohol was minimal. She had no neurological or psychological illnesses that could explain this vivid , immediate experience while hypnotized.
These were memories of some sort , but from where? My gut reaction was that I had stumbled upon something I knew very little about, reincarnation and past-life memories. It couldn't be, I told myself; my scientifically trained mind resisted it. Yet here it was, happening right before my eyes. I couldn't explain it , but I couldn't deny the reality of it either.
"Go on," I said , a little unnerved but fascinated by what was happening . "Do you remember anything else?" She remembered fragments of two other lifetimes.
"I have on a dress with black lace , and there is black lace on my head. I have dark hair with gray in it. It's [ A.D.) 1756. I am Spanish. My name is Louisa and I'm fifty-six. I'm dancing; others are dancing, too . [Long pause] I'm sick ; I have a fever, cold sweats . . . . Lots of people are sick ; people are dying. . . . The doctors don't know it was from the water. " I took her ahead in time. "I recover, but my head still hurts; my eyes and head still hurt from the fever , from the water . . . . Many die."
Later she told me that she was a prostitute in that lifetime, but she had not relayed that information because she was embarrassed by it. Apparently, while hypnotized, Catherine could censor some of the memories she transmitted back to me.
Since Catherine had recognized her niece in an ancient lifetime, I impulsively asked her if I was present in any of her lifetimes. I was curious about my role, if any, in her remembrances. She responded quickly , in contrast to the previous very slow and deliberate recall.
"You are my teacher, sitting on a ledge . You teach us from books. You are old with gray hair . You're wearing a white dress [toga] with gold trim. . . . Your name is Diogenes. You teach us symbols, triangles. You are very wise , but I don't understand. The year is 1568 B.C." (This was approximately twelve-hundred years before the noted Greek Cynic philosopher Diogenes. The name was not an uncommon one.)
The first session had ended . Even more amazing ones were yet to come.
After Catherine left, and over the next several days, I pondered the details of the hypnotic regression. It was natural for me to ponder. Very few details emerging from even a "normal" therapy hour escaped my obsessive mental analysis , and this session was hardly "normal." In addition, I was very skeptical about life after death, reincarnation, out-of-body experiences, and related phenomena. After all, the logical part of me ruminated, this could be her fantasy. I wouldn't actually be able to prove any of her assertions or visualizations. But I was also aware, although much more dimly, of a further and less emotional thought. Keep an open mind, the thought said; true science begins with observation. Her "memories" might not be fantasy or imagination . There might be something more than meets the eye—or any of the other senses. Keep an open mind. Get more data.
I had another nagging thought. Would Catherine , prone to anxieties and fears to begin with, be too frightened to undergo hypnosis again? I decided not to call her. Let her digest the experience, too. I would wait until next week.
One week later , Catherine bounced into my office for her next hypnosis session. Beautiful to begin with , she was more radiant than ever. She happily announced that her lifelong fear of drowning had disappeared . Her fears of choking were somewhat diminished. Her sleep was no longer interrupted by the nightmare of a collapsing bridge. Although she had remembered the details of her past-life recall, she had not yet truly integrated the material.
The concepts of past lives and reincarnation were alien to her cosmology, and yet her memories were so vivid, the sights and sounds and smells so clear, the knowledge that she was there so powerful and immediate, that she felt she must have actually been there. She did not doubt this ; the experience was so overwhelming. Yet she was concerned about how this fit in with her upbringing and her beliefs.[I bet it did,but it looks like they both have handled it well DC]
During the week I had reviewed my textbook from a comparative religions course taken during my freshman year at Columbia. There were indeed references to reincarnation in the Old and the New Testaments. In A.D. 325 the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, along with his mother, Helena, had deleted references to reincarnation contained in the New Testament. The Second Council of Constantinople, meeting in A.D. 553, confirmed this action and declared the concept of reincarnation a heresy. Apparently, they thought this concept would weaken the growing power of the Church by giving humans too much time to seek their salvation. Yet the original references had been there; the early Church fathers had accepted the concept of reincarnation. The early Gnostics—Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Saint Jerome, and many others—believed that they had lived before and would again.
I, however, had never believed in reincarnation. Actually, I had never really spent much time thinking about it. Although my earlier religious training taught about some kind of vague existence of the "soul" after death, I was not convinced about this concept.
I was the oldest of four children , all spaced three years apart. We belonged to a conservative Jewish synagogue in Red Bank, a small town near the New Jersey seashore. I was the peacemaker and statesman in my family. My father was more involved with religion than the rest of us were. He took it very seriously, as he took all of life. His children's academic achievements were the greatest joys in his life. He was easily upset by household discord and would withdraw, leaving me to mediate. Although this turned out to be excellent preparatory training for a career in psychiatry, my childhood was heavier and more responsible than, in retrospect, I would have preferred. I emerged from it as a very serious young man, one who got used to taking on too much responsibility.
My mother was always expressing her love. No boundary stood in her way. A simpler person than my father, she used guilt, martyrdom, terminal embarrassment, and vicarious identification with her children as manipulative tools, all without a second thought . Yet she was rarely gloomy, and we could always count on her love and support.
My father had a good job as an industrial photographer, and although we always had plenty of food, money was very tight. My youngest brother, Peter, was born when I was nine. We had to divide six people into our small two-bedroom garden apartment.
Life in this small apartment was hectic and noisy, and I sought refuge in my books. I read endlessly when not playing baseball or basketball, my other childhood passions. I knew that education was my path out of the small town, comfortable as it was, and I was always first or second in my class.
By the time I received a full scholarship to Columbia University, I was a serious and studious young man. Academic success continued to come easily . I majored in chemistry and was graduated with honors. I decided to become a psychiatrist because the field combined my interest in science and my fascination with the workings of the human mind . In addition, a career in medicine would allow me to express my concern and compassion for other people. In the meantime, I had met Carole during a summer vacation at a Catskill Mountain hotel where I was working as a busboy and she was a guest. We both experienced an immediate attraction to each other and a strong sense of familiarity and comfort. We corresponded, dated, fell in love, and were engaged by my junior year at Columbia. She was both bright and beautiful. Everything seemed to be falling into place. Few young men worry about life and death and life after death, especially when things are flowing smoothly, and I was no exception. I was becoming a scientist and learning to think in a logical , dispassionate , "prove-it" kind of way.
Medical school and residency at Yale University further crystallized this scientific method. My research thesis was on brain chemistry and the role of neurotransmitters , which ate chemical messengers in the brain tissue.
I joined the new breed of biological psychiatrists, those merging the traditional psychiatric theories and techniques with the new science of brain chemistry. I wrote many scientific papers, lectured at local and national conferences, and became quite a hotshot in my field. I was a bit obsessive, intense, and inflexible , but these were useful traits in a physician . I felt totally prepared to treat any person who walked into my office for therapy.
Then Catherine became Aronda, a young girl who had lived in 1863 B.c Or was it the other way around ? And here she was again, happier than I had ever seen her.
I again worried that Catherine might be afraid to continue. However, she eagerly prepared for the hypnosis and went under quickly. "I am throwing wreaths of flowers on the water. This is a ceremony. My hair is blond and braided. I'm wearing a brown dress with gold , and sandals . Somebody has died , somebody in the Royal House .. . the mother. I am a servant with the Royal House, and I help with the food. We put the bodies in brine for thirty days. They dry out and the parts are taken out. I can smell it, smell the bodies."
She had spontaneously gone back to Aronda's lifetime , but to a different part of it, to when her duty was to prepare bodies after their death.
"In a separate building," Catherine continued, "I can see the bodies. We are wrapping bodies. The soul passes on. You take your belongings with you , to be prepared for the next and greater life." She was expressing what seemed like an Egyptian concept of death and the afterlife , different from any of our beliefs. In that religion, you could take it with you.
She left the lifetime and rested. She paused for several minutes before entering an apparently ancient time.
"I see ice, hanging in a cave . . . rocks . . . . " She vaguely described a dark and miserable place, and she was now visibly uncomfortable. Later she described what she had seen of herself. " I was ugly, dirty, and smelly. " She left for another time.
"There are some buildings and a cart with stone wheels. My hair is brown with a cloth on it. The cart has straw in it. I'm happy. My father is there. . . . He's hugging me. It's . . . it's Edward [the pediatrician who insisted she see me]. He's my father. We live in a valley with trees. There are olive and fig trees in the yard. People write on papers. There are funny marks on them, like letters. People are writing all day, making a library. It is 1536 B.C. The land is barren. My father's name is Perseus."
The year did not fit exactly, but I was sure she was in the same lifetime that she had reported during the previous week's session. I took her ahead in time, staying in that lifetime.
"My father knows you [meaning me]. You and he talk about crops, law, and government. He says you are very smart and I should listen to you." I took her further ahead in time . "He's [father] lying in a dark room. He's old and sick. It's cold. .. . I feel so empty. " She went ahead to her death. "Now I'm old and feeble . My daughter is there, near my bed. My husband is already dead. My daughter's husband is there, and their children. There are many people around."
Her death was peaceful this time. She was floating. Floating? This reminded me of Dr. Raymond Moody's studies of victims of near-death experiences . His subjects also remembered floating, then being pulled back to their bodies . I had read his book several years previously and now made a mental note to reread it. I wondered if Catherine could remember anything more after her death , but she could only say "I'm just floating." I awakened her and ended that session.
With a new insatiable hunger for any scientific papers that had been published on reincarnation , I hunted through the medical libraries. I studied the works of Ian Stevenson, M.D., a well-respected Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia, who has published extensively in the psychiatric literature. Dr. Stevenson has collected over two thousand examples of children with reincarnation-type memories and experiences. Many exhibited xenoglossy, the ability to speak a foreign language to which they were never exposed . His case reports are carefully complete, well-researched, and truly remarkable.
I read an excellent scientific overview by Edgar Mitchell. With great interest I examined the ESP data from Duke University, and the writings of Professor C.J . Ducasse of Brown University , and I intently analyzed the studies of Dr . Martin Ebon , Dr. Helen Wambach, Dr. Gertrude Schmeidler, Dr. Frederick Lenz, and Dr. Edith Fiore. The more I read, the more I wanted to read . I began to realize that even though I had considered myself well educated about every dimension of the mind , my education had been very limited. There are libraries filled with this research an d literature, and few people know about it . Much of this research was conducted, verified, and replicated by reputable clinicians and scientists. Could they all be mistaken or deceived? The evidence seemed to be overwhelmingly supportive , yet I still doubted. Overwhelming or not, I found it difficult to believe.
Both Catherine and I, in our own ways, had already been profoundly affected by the experience. Catherine was improving emotionally, and I was expanding the horizons of my mind. Catherine had been tormented by her fears for many years and was finally feeling some relief . Whether through actual memories or vivid fantasies, I had found a way to help her, and I was not going to stop now.
For a brief moment I thought about all of this as Catherine drifted into a trance at the beginning of the next session. Prior to the hypnotic induction , she had related a dream about a game being played on old stone steps, a game played with a checkerboard with holes in it. The dream had seemed especially vivid to her. I now told her to go back beyond the normal limits of space and time, to go back and see if her dream had roots in a previous reincarnation.
"I see steps leading up to a tower . . . overlooking the mountains, but also the sea . I am a boy . . . . My hair is blond . . . strange hair . My clothes are short, brown and white, made from animal skins. Some men are on top of the tower, looking out . . . guards. They are dirty. They play a game, like checkers, but not . The board is round, not square . They play with sharp , dagger like pieces , which fit into the holes. The pieces have animal heads on them . Kirustan [phonetic spelling] Territory? From the Netherlands , around 1473."
I asked her the name of the place in which she lived , and whether she could see or hear a year. "I'm in a seaport now ; the land goes down to the sea . There is a fortress . . . and water. I see a hut .. . my mother cooking in a clay pot . My name is Johan."
She was progressed to her death. At this point in our sessions, I was still looking for the single overwhelming traumatic event that could either cause or explain her current-life symptoms. Even if these remarkably explicit visualizations were fantasies, and I was unsure of this, what she believed or thought could still underlie her symptoms. After all, I had seen people traumatized by their dreams. Some could not remember whether a childhood trauma actually happened or occurred in a dream, yet the memory of that trauma still haunted their adult lives.
What I did not yet fully appreciate was that the steady day-in and day-out pounding of undermining influences, such as a parent's scathing criticisms, could cause even more psychological trauma than a single traumatic event. These damaging influences, because they blend into the everyday background of our lives, are even more difficult to remember and exorcise. A constantly criticized child can lose as much confidence and self-esteem as one who remembers being humiliated on one particular, horrifying day. A child whose family is impoverished and has very little food available on a day to day basis might eventually suffer from the same psychological problems as a child who experienced one major episode of accidental near-starvation. I would soon realize that the day-in and day-out pounding of negative forces had to be recognized and resolved with as much attention as that paid to the single, overwhelmingly traumatic event.
Catherine began to speak.
"There are boats, like canoes, brightly painted . Providence area. We have weapons, spears, slings, bows and arrows , but bigger. There are big, strange oars on the boat . . . everyone has to row . We may be lost ; it is dark. There are no lights . I am afraid. There are other boats with us [apparently a raiding party}. I'm afraid of the animals. We sleep on dirty , foul smelling animal skins. We are scouting. My shoes look funny, like sacks . . . ties at the ankles . . . from animal skins . [Long pause ] My face is hot from the fire. My people are killing the others , but I am not . I do not want to kill . My knife is in my hand."
Suddenly she began to gurgle and gasp for breath. She reported that an enemy fighter had grabbed her from behind , around the neck , and had slit her throat with his knife . She saw the face of her killer before she died. It was Stuart. He looked different then, but she knew it was he. Johan had died at the age of twenty-one.
She next found herself floating above her body, observing the scene below . She drifted up to the clouds, feeling perplexed and confused . Soon she felt herself being pulled into a "tiny, warm" space. She was about to be born.
"Somebody is holding me," she whispered slowly and dreamily, "someone who helped with the birth . She's wearing a green dress with a white apron . She has a white hat , folded back at the corners. The room has funny windows . . . many sections. The building is stone. My mother has long, dark hair. She wants to hold me. There's a funny . . . rough nightshirt on my mother. It hurts to rub against it . It feels good to be in the sun and to be warm again. . . . It's . . . it's the same mother I have now!"
During the previous session, I had instructed her to closely observe the significant people in these lifetimes to see whether she could identify them as significant people in her present lifetime as Catherine. According to most writers, groups of souls tend to reincarnate together again and again , working out their karma (debts owed to others and t o the self, lessons to be learned) over the span of many lifetimes.
In my attempt to understand this strange, spectacular drama that was unfolding, unbeknown to the rest of the world, in my quiet, dimly lighted office, I wanted to verify this information. I felt the need to apply the scientific method , which I had rigorously used over the past fifteen years in my research, to evaluate this most unusual material emerging from Catherine's lips.
Between sessions Catherine herself was becoming increasingly more psychic. She had intuitions about people and events that proved to be true. During the hypnosis, she had begun to anticipate my questions before I had a chance to ask them. Many of her dreams had a precognitive, or foretelling, bent.
On one occasion , when her parents came to visit her, her father expressed tremendous doubt about what was happening. To prove to him that it was true, she took him to the racetrack. There, right before his eyes, she proceeded to pick the winner of every race. He was stunned. Once she knew that she had proved her point, she took all of the money that she had won and gave it to the first poor street person she met on her way out of the track. She intuitively felt that the new spiritual powers she had gained should not be used for financial reward. For her, they had a much higher meaning. She told me that this experience was a little frightening to her, but she was so pleased with the progress she had made that she was eager to continue with the regressions. I was both shocked and fascinated by her psychic abilities, especially the episode at the racetrack. This was tangible proof. She had the winning ticket to every race. This was no coincidence. Something very odd was happening over these past several weeks, and I struggled to keep my perspective . I could not deny her psychic abilities . And if these abilities were real and could produce tangible proofs, could her recitations of past-life events also be true?
Now she returned to the lifetime in which she had just been born. This incarnation seemed to be more recent, but she could not identify a year. Her name was Elizabeth.
"I'm older now , with a brother and two sisters . I see the dinner table . . . . My father is there . . . he's Edward [the pediatrician, back for an encore performance as her father] . My mother and father are fighting again. The food is potatoes and beans. He's mad because the food is cold. They fight a lot. He's always drinking . .. . He hits my mother . [Catherine's voice was frightened , and she was trembling visibly.} He pushes the kids . He's not like he was before , not the same person. I don't like him. I wish he would go away. " She was speaking as a child would speak.
My questioning of her during these sessions was certainly very different from what I used in conventional psychotherapy. I acted more as a guide with Catherine, trying to review an entire lifetime in an hour or two, searching for traumatic events and harmful patterns that might explain her current day symptoms. Conventional therapy is conducted at a much more detailed and leisurely pace. Every word chosen by the patient is analyzed for nuances and hidden meanings. Every facial gesture, every bodily movement, every inflection of the voice is considered and evaluated . Every emotional reaction is carefully scrutinized . Behavior patterns are painstakingly pieced together. With Catherine , however, years could whir by in minutes. Catherine's sessions were like driving the Indy 500 at full throttle . . . and trying to pick out faces in the crowd.
I returned my attention to Catherine and asked her to advance in time.
"I'm married now . Our house has one big room. My husband has blond hair . I don't know him . [That is , he has not appeared in Catherine's present lifetime.] We have no children yet. . . . He's very nice to me. We love each other, and we're happy." Apparently she had successfully escaped from the oppression in her parental home . I asked if sh e could identify the area in which she lived.
"Brennington?" Catherine whispered hesitatingly . " I see books with funny old covers. The big one closes with a strap. It's the Bible . There are big fancy letters . . . Gaelic language."
Here she said some words I could not identify . Whether they were Gaelic or not, I have no idea.
"We live inland, not near the sea . County . . . Brennington? I see a farm with pigs and lambs. This is our farm. " She had gone ahead in time . "We have two boys. . . . The older is getting married . I can see the church steeple .. . a very old stone building. " Suddenly her head hurt , and Catherine was in pain, clutching her left temple area . She reported that she had fallen on the stone steps, but she recovered. She died of old age, in her bed at home with her family around.
She again floated out of her body after her death , but this time she was not perplexed or confused.
"I am aware of a bright light. It's wonderful; you get energy from this light." She was resting, after death, in between life - times. Minutes passed in silence . Suddenly she spoke, but not in the slow whisper she had always used previously. Her voice was now husky and loud, without hesitation.
"Our task is to learn , to become God-like through knowledge. We know so little. You are here to be my teacher. I have so much to learn. By knowledge we approach God , and then we can rest. Then we come back to teach and help others. "
I was speechless. Here was a lesson from after her death , from the in-between state . What was the source of this material? This did not sound at all like Catherine. She had never spoken like this, using these words, this phraseology. Even the tone of her voice was totally different.
At that moment I did not realize that although Catherine had uttered the words , she had not originated the thoughts . She was relaying what was being said to her. She later identified the Masters, highly evolved souls not presently in body , as the source. They could speak to me through her. Not only could Catherine be regressed to past lifetimes , but now she could channel knowledge from the beyond . Beautiful knowledge. I struggled to retain my objectivity.
A new dimension had been introduced. Catherine had never read the studies of Dr. Elisabeth Kiibler-Ross or Dr. Raymond Moody, who have both written about near-death experiences. She had never heard of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Yet she was relating similar experiences to those described in these writings. This was a proof of sorts. If only there were more facts, more tangible details I could verify. My skepticism fluctuated, yet remained. Maybe she had read about near-death research in a magazine article or had seen an interview on a television show. Although she denied any conscious remembrance of such an article or show, perhaps she retained a subconscious memory. But she went beyond these previous writings and transmitted a message back from this in-between state. If only I had more facts.
After she awakened , Catherine remembered the details of her past lives, as always. However, she could not remember anything that happened after her death as Elizabeth . In the future she would never remember any details of the in - between states. She could only remember the lifetimes. "By knowledge we approach God. " We were on our way .....
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