The Buddha cautioned us to make observations and draw conclusions for ourselves rather than accept what others claim to be true—even the Buddha himself.
I don’t remember when I was first heard about reincarnation, but it always had more appeal than the concept of heaven or hell.
Of course, there is the other common view (these days) that after we die, we are simply dead. This is what Einstein and many other great minds concluded, and in terms of what the Buddha advised, probably makes the most sense.
Like everybody, I have wondered about life after death since I was a kid—but even more so since I lost my step-son to suicide when he was 16. The idea that he is simply gone is horrific, and the sense that he is not, pervasive. Call it wishful thinking if you like, but we all feel things in our hearts that, despite what the Buddha says, we believe, even if we can’t prove them.
After reading the two books “Many Lives, Many Masters” by Dr. Brian Weiss, and “Life Between Lives” by Michael Newton, both of which discuss proof of reincarnation, I was fascinated. Would it be possible for me, like the people in these two books, to be hypnotized and discover past lives? And if I was, would that serve as proof (enough) that true death does not exist?
If I knew that everyone I’ve ever loved had lived before and would live again, how would that change my feelings about death?
I got in touch with my long time therapist who happened to know, and recommend, a “past life regressionist”; a person who helps lead clients back through time via meditation to try and glimpse past lives.
I hemmed and hawed about whether to go see the regressionist for months. Would I be wasting my time and money? She wasn’t cheap and she was a good distance away. What did I hope to accomplish anyway? How was meeting with her much different from calling a psychic hotline?
But I couldn’t seem to get the idea out of my mind, so I gave her a call and set up a time.
When I arrived, I was greeted by a middle-aged woman in a non-descript business suit. Her office looked like a typical psychologists office; neutral colors, plant in the window, box of tissues and a dish of Jolly Ranchers on the table.
We sat down and she asked a few questions about me, notably happy to discover that I had a consistent meditation practice, as she felt that would facilitate my ability to be relaxed and open. She explained that she would lead me via guided visualizations into my unconscious mind.
I lay down on the couch, she turned on some new age-y music and we got to work.
At first I felt mildly ridiculous laying there, listening to her talk me through different scenarios like imagining I was in a favorite room, seeing what the walls of the room were made of, noticing what was outside the windows of this room and so on, but by the time she had me walking through a tunnel lined with photographs from my life, at the end of which was a door she suggested I open, I was in a deep trance.
I opened the door and she told me to look at my feet. When I looked down, I saw that they were bare, standing on a dusty path or road, darker skinned and more fine boned than my regular feet—the color of milky hot chocolate.
She had me look all around and see everything in great detail. I had a woven basket hanging on my arm and wore a rough textured brown dress. I touched my hair and it was dense and springy. I looked up and saw a tiny house—more of a shack or a shanty— and I slowly crept up the path and opened the door. I felt both as if I was intruding and as if I belonged there and had opened this door countless times.
Inside it was dark and close, just a single room. There was a fireplace with glowing embers in it to the left, and a palette on the floor covered in a dingy sheet or blanket.
There was a man sitting in a chair near the back wall. He was so black it was hard to distinguish him in the low light. He seemed to hum with anger, rocking back and forth, gripping the arm rests of the chair, bouncing his foot. I somehow understood instinctively that this man was my husband, and that we did not love each other.
From a great distance, I could hear the regressionist ask if I knew my name. The words “Miriam Jacobs” flashed instantly in my mind.
After I had described everything I could in that meager room, the regressionist asked if I could move forward in time to the day of my own death. I found myself on the same palette in the same tiny house I had just been standing in, with a young man now watching over me. This man, I knew, was my son.
I could feel his sadness as I lay there and I could also feel the frailty of my own body. Suddenly there was a great heaviness all over me, as if I’d been draped with a lead x-ray apron. Whatever was on me felt heavier and heavier, until I couldn’t breathe at all and I was choking and gasping for air.
For a long time after that there was nothing but darkness, and then I could hear the voice of the regressionist again, leading me back through the tunnel I had come in. When I opened my eyes, I felt a searing sadness and found that tears were flowing down over my face. The regressionist handed me a tissue, covered me in a blanket and told me to rest.
After my tears stopped and I was able to explain what happened, she didn’t seem surprised. She said many people travel to their most recent life the first time they go back, and that it sounded like I was an American slave, or someone who had recently been emancipated. What struck me was the visceral connection I felt to this woman I had conjured, or who was inside me, or of me, as if she had always been there and I had just now remembered her, like a dream, but with solidity and dimension.
I left with the name “Miriam Jacobs” tattoo’ed on my brain and the certainty that I had lived before.
When I got home, I immediately Googled my former self. Evidently, Miriam Jacobs was a common moniker for slaves which surprised me, as I thought it sounded Jewish or German. I found numerous African American women with both the same first and last name in the 1800’s, one of whom actually wrote a book about her life.
Could that have been me?
I was overwhelmed with a sense that my self, which I had formerly thought of as this self; tall, blonde, American, mother, yogi, writer etc. was actually much more elastic.
That I was a fiber in a web which had been cast over the past and the future, and that that web, as massive and complex as it was, was all spun from a single thread.
That the web of me was layered between the webs of others, endless others, and that we, all of us together, were spinning and creating, building this thing, weaving it and tending to it, dying and then being born again, picking it back up and using a different pattern to continue on, until all at once, in one brilliant flash, we will see the design, the perfect design we have spun, reaching out across the universe.
I still have no proof that we live many lives, but I have Miriam Jacobs.
She is as real to me as the reflection I see in the mirror. Discovering her changed me. It deepened me. It made me believe that I have many lives to come, that we all do, that we get as many chances to grow as we need, and that when we are done, we will be at peace.
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Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: ‘Dying Young’ by Katarina Silva