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Calling on past lives to solve the problems of the present

Alison Le, 31, bottom, Johann Ham, 39, center, and the Rev. Janette Sanchez, 55, begin to relax before entering a past life regression session at BOTI Studios in Anaheim, Cali., on April 21, 2018. RNS photo by Heather Adams

LOS ANGELES (RNS) — Alison Le sees a little boy running down a cobblestone street lined with brick buildings. She somehow knows he gets into trouble a lot. He’s lonely. He’s an orphan.

That little boy is Le, but not in this life. In this lifetime, Le is a 31-year-old woman living in Los Angeles.

Le is part of a Meetup group for past life regression, one of nearly 70 such gatherings available in and around Los Angeles for anyone who wants to take a hypnosis-aided trip into his or her previous existence.

In past life regression, participants view what they believe are memories from their past lives or incarnations. The practice is more than a century old and saw its biggest boom in the United States in the 1970s and early 1980s.

More closely related to the field of psychology than religion, practitioners nonetheless spend much of their time discussing the soul. With a strong spiritual-not-religious sentiment among young urbanites, the practice is gaining steam around Los Angeles.

Jeroen de Wit, who leads a past life regression group in Hollywood, points to a benefit for young people who reject traditional religious beliefs about life after death: understanding past lives, he said, makes death feel less permanent.

“I believe that my spirit, my soul goes on. I’m not afraid of oblivion in that sense. Am I worried about leaving my current physical body? Yes,” he said. “But I know that my soul goes on.”

Not long ago, Le heard about a Meetup group in Anaheim a few miles from Disneyland and traveled two hours to attend.

At BOTI Studios, a wellness center in a low-slung building on a busy thoroughfare, participants enter a dimly lit room set up with reclining chairs and meditation pillows.

The group’s leader, Karuna Chinchkhede, 47, begins by explaining how hypnosis works — it feels like that moment just before you fall asleep, she says — and explains what past life regression is. Then she instructs the attendees to focus on their breathing and her words.

Chinchkhede starts small, asking Le and the other participants to imagine activities such as walking down a hallway. Eventually, she asks them to imagine opening a door where they are now standing in a past life. Then she asks them to look around. “Is anyone with you or are you alone?”

She guides them through situations from daily life such as eating meals, asking the same questions each time, until she asks about their death and what they did in their final moments.

The participants don’t answer out loud. They simply mentally follow their past lives in each scenario, hoping to get a more complete look at those lives.

An engineer by day, Chinchkhede said she always wanted to help people but wasn’t sure how until she learned about past life regression.

Chinchkhede said she was a tree, a cliff and a dust particle in three former lives.

“Everything has consciousness,” she said. “Some things we really can’t explain with the very logical, rational mind. Maybe the reason lies somewhere else that we don’t even know.”

Chinchkhede’s description may sound like past life regression is associated with Asian religious doctrines about reincarnation, but it is strictly a Western phenomenon, said Courtney Bender, a religion professor at Columbia University.

“There’s an enormous variety of interest in reincarnation starting in the 19th century among American liberals, what we now call spiritually religious people,” Bender said.

Jeroen de Wit leads a past life regression Meetup on March 26, 2018, at Liberate Emporium Hollywood in Los Angeles, Cali. (RNS photo by Heather Adams)

Freudian psychoanalysis fed the notion that we could be enlightened by hidden memories of childhood. Bender thinks past life regression mirrors “the excitement that people had about healing themselves through knowing their past.”

“There’s so much we don’t know about our souls and our ability to heal ourselves,” said
Patricia S. McGivern, a hypnotist who has specialized in past life regression for two decades.

McGivern became interested in past life regression some years after she miscarried, she said, when she heard her unborn baby talking to her. She discovered other women with similar stories. She wrote about the topic in her 2009 book, “Angel Babies.”

McGivern came to believe that the baby was an incarnation of her father’s soul.

“We’re all souls choosing to come into this incarnation,” she said. As the soul of her fetus, she said, her father “chose not to come because it would propel me on my spiritual path.”

Revelations like that, McGivern said, are why past life regression can be such an emotional experience. “If I see people cry I often encourage them because I see it as ancient tears,” McGivern said.

Bender said that during past life regression, people often find the souls of someone they know in their current life. “It’s a way to sort of supercharge everyday relationships with acquaintances who you want to have some sort of intimacy with,” Bender said.

But how reliable are the memories conjured during past life regression?

Jim Tucker, director of the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, said researchers have found 2,500 worldwide cases, mostly from regions where reincarnation is a common religious belief, that are worthy of study.

Before the division’s researchers consider a case to be authentic, they verify names, places, facts and dates from a past life memory. And every case must come from a child.

“We focus on the children because adults have had a lot of opportunity to learn things” that could pollute their memories, Tucker said.

Tucker said many cases share a common theme of a person dying violently or unnaturally in a previous life. “There is something that has continued on after the previous person died and appears present in the child,” Tucker said. “There does seem to be this continuation taking place.”

“They do contribute evidence that there can be this continuation of consciousness after a person dies, and with that is an important question that all of us consider,” Tucker said.

Tucker said, however, that his division never relies on hypnosis, as the visions it induces are unreliable.

Calvin Banyan, 62, is a board-certified hypnotist and CEO at the Banyan Hypnosis Center in Plano, Texas. He has seen clients regress into a past life while under hypnosis, but believes a hypnotist shouldn’t purposely take a client there.

When patients are led to a past life to fix a problem in this one and there isn’t anything there, he said, the subconscious will try to make something up to “fill in the blanks.” Instead, Banyan said, people should work on their issues in this life.

Not everyone is convinced that past lives are worth looking into.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) doesn’t have an official statement on past life regression, but a former APA medical director called the practice “pure quackery.”

Gabriel Andrade, professor of ethics at Xavier University School of Medicine, Aruba, believes past life regression is problematic.

“During this mental state, the hypnotized person is vulnerable to get false memories from the hypnotist,” Andrade said, and these false memories can traumatize a person. Past life regression and its association with reincarnation veer too closely into religion.

“Doctors are entitled to their private religious beliefs, but they should keep them out of their medical practice,” he said.

For Le, the experience wasn’t an attempt to fix a problem in this life or about religion or medicine. Instead, she said, she was curious about opening doors she didn’t know were there. “I do want to try more, whatever the next step is.”

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Heather Adams

20 Comments

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  • May not be religion but it has the same absurd elements: immortal souls and ressurections. These are some of the Nones, I presume? I’ll stick with my crystals and pyramids, thank you.

  • Oh, it’s religion all right. It just doesn’t happen to be an organized religion. Religions — and religious tropes — can be, and often are, ad hoc, individualized affairs with no institutional backing or direction. That’s precisely what movements such as spiritualism are. 

  • There is a long list of ideas which were ever “gaining steam around Los Angeles”, no?

  • Jim and PsiCop et al; it’s obvious that you’ve given this matter some thought. Perhaps even done a bit of (or a lot of) study of material or evidence at hand. A suggestion. To the best of our ability we should set aside whatever we either love or hate. Shift into neutral. We’re not here to prove or disprove, support or challenge. We’re doing our best to find what is true and committing ourselves to follow or apply whatever we find. We must allow that we can’t prove or disprove unless we’re all in, free of “our truth,”and open to The truth. Truth has a way of being its own proof. Like a key that not only fits into the lock, but also, smoothly and every time, turns and opens it. There’s a lot of search going on these days, far too much of it an attempt to find confirmation of “our” truth, instead of dispassionately searching for “The” truth. I’m going to leave a “key” here for you to try. No one but you will know if you’ve tried it, and no one but you will know what you’ve found unless you choose to share. Salaam, Shalom. http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/PT/pt-42.html

  • Re: “Jim and PsiCop et al; it’s obvious that you’ve given this matter some thought. Perhaps even done a bit of (or a lot of) study of material or evidence at hand.” 

    Thank you for conceding I may actually have thought this out. As it turns out … I have! And so, too, have many other non-believers of various sorts.

    Re: “A suggestion. To the best of our ability we should set aside whatever we either love or hate.” 

    What, exactly, does “love or hate” have to do with it? 

    Re: “Shift into neutral.” 

    I generally don’t look at veracity as something I should be “neutral” toward. I support veracity, and condemn delusion and hallucination. 

    Re: “We’re not here to prove or disprove, support or challenge.” 

    Bully for you! What does that have to do with me? 

    Re: “We’re doing our best to find what is true and committing ourselves to follow or apply whatever we find.” 

    But, what if what you “find” is a confabulation? Are you prepared to understand what that means? Do you know the difference between subjective experience and objective reality? 

    Re: “We must allow that we can’t prove or disprove unless we’re all in, free of ‘our truth,’ and open to The truth.” 

    Things you can’t prove or disprove are not likely, at all, to be “the Truth.” Latching onto stuff without regard to an ability to verify it is a sure ticket to self-delusion. 

    Re: “Truth has a way of being its own proof.” 

    Uh, OK. Whatever. I guess. I mean … I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean, other than it’s intended to sound all profound and stuff. 

    Re: “There’s a lot of search going on these days, far too much of it an attempt to find confirmation of ‘our’ truth, instead of dispassionately searching for ‘The’ truth.” 

    I agree there’s entirely too much “searching” going on these days. Generally what people are “searching” for is emotional validation. They want to think they have “the Answers” and “the Truth” and think they’ll smash into it, someday, if they run around “searching” long enough. The problem is, it’s all a fool’s errand. And there’s a reason for that: 

    Emotional validation is, ultimately, impossible to achieve! 

    You see, anyone can feel any emotion s/he wants, any time s/he wants. It’s why people are so capricious. If someone “searches” for something to validate the feelings s/he has at any given moment, well, those feelings can change, which forces the person to look for a different kind of validation. But by then, one’s feelings might change again, sending one off on yet another chase for still another form of validation. And on and on and on it goes. 

    It’s a game no one can win, a race course with no finish line. 

    It’s better for people to not concern themselves with their own feelings, and instead, concern themselves with what’s objectively verifiable. Those are things which, once found, do not change. Concentrating on such things literally ends the wild goose chase of emotional validation, and brings stability to one’s life. 

    Re: “I’m going to leave a ‘key’ here for you to try. No one but you will know if you’ve tried it, and no one but you will know what you’ve found unless you choose to share. Salaam, Shalom. http://reference.bahai.org/ 

    Thanks for saving that little drop of Bahá’i for the end of your comment. I’ve heard all about the Báb and Baha’u’llah and their spectacularly-failed attempt at reforming Islam in the middle of the 19th century. I have no intention whatsoever of getting aboard that train-wreck. 

    Oh, and I wasn’t aware Bahá’i taught reincarnation … but then again, I’m not sure I really care all that much. 

  • “When patients are led to a past life to fix a problem in this one and there isn’t anything there, he said, the subconscious will try to make something up to “fill in the blanks.” Instead, Banyan said, people should work on their issues in this life.”

    I agree with the former medical director of the American Psychiatric Association, who said that the idea of past life regression is pure quackery. People would much rather escape into the fantasy how something in their past life, or something buried deep in their subconscious, has caused a current untenable condition, rather than take responsibility for the fact that their own bad choices was the cause of it.

    Our capacity for self-delusion is astounding!

  • and shelling out money to people to support our delusions. Every time I have heard of this, they were a great king, or princess never a starving orphan waiting at the garbage dump in their past life.

  • Many things you can call this: regression, reincarnation, quackery, manipulation, but one thing you can’t call it: Christianity. The Gospel tells us we live once and then die. Dragging in beliefs and practices that are hostile to orthodox Christianity does not grow one’s relationship with the risen Savior but undermines it.

  • I don’t hate but I call out and criticize bad ideas and superstition and religion is full of bad ideas. I only do so in appropriate forums such as this. I will defend to my grave freedom of religion and speech. I’ve received more than my share of condemnation and hate over my atheism.

  • Being a tree in a past life might explain why in her present life she’s always leaving.

  • It can also be oth3r people’s bad choices. We are each of us the endpoint of all of the history that has gone on before.

  • Past-lives pseudo-therapy can’t be more than placebo “imagination” therapy. A good decent understanding intelligent sincere trusting therapist probably could make any hare-brained quack therapy work to placebo degree.

    What’s the scientific proof of past-lives?

    What’s the scientific proof of the soul’s even existence?

    It’s Santa Claus-ism therapy and adventure imagination therapy.

    In the Scientology nutty practice, they do past-life trauma quack pseudo-therapy, and then they do secret exorcism of dead space alien souls, all to placebo good results at best.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2819054/

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/19/opinion/sunday/the-conversation-placebo.html?_r=0

    ….for a comparison.

  • I’ve given this more thought, and I believe that past lives DO have influence over the lives of those still around today. IF John D. Rockefeller had left me some of his money, I wouldn’t be in the financial predicament I’m in today!

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