Many challenging relationship dynamics are caused by imprinting from our early childhoods. And while it is very important to address our childhood wounds, it isn’t the whole picture.
First off, let’s start with a very important disclaimer: I don’t know how the universe works. If you find anyone who claims to, I suggest running the other way. The more deeply I dive into the psychological/emotional/spiritual world, the less capable I feel of fully comprehending what is going on. There is a great mystery at the heart of all things that can be felt but not known.
In that vein, I do not pretend to know how death and incarnation work, though I suspect when we have memories that feel related to a past life, we are likely tapping into a potentially infinite number of stories that are not “mine” or “yours,” but rather “ours” as a collective. In practice, it doesn’t really matter if your “past life memory” is a bonafide depiction of something that happened to “you” (if you even have a “you”ness that carries across lives), because by working with archetypes from the collective unconscious, we can find a layer of meaning and organization for our experience.
We all carry stories, archetypes, and myths in our bodies that predate our personal existence. Think the Bible, Greek mythology, tarot, astrology: these stories are ancient, and they affect all of our lives in pre-cognitive ways we cannot fully comprehend with the rational mind. We play out the foundational stories with people in our lives, mistaking these giant archetypal forces for our personal wills, agendas, and even fates.
Yet, so much of our lives isn’t really about us—it is about something much larger than us moving through us. It is about the song and the story of creation being spelled out over and over again in every possible iteration of love story imaginable. Love can be potent, spell-bound, entrapping, liberating, gentle, aggressive, star-crossed, close, distant, intimate, powerful, destructive, and more . . .
What the Mind Forgets, the Body Still Remembers
In somatic psychology, the concept of implicit memory (or body memory) plays a large part in the work of unraveling deeply held traumas. The quintessential book The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk says it all just in the title: the body still remembers what the mind forgets. We see this truth when we are dealing with traumas from the beginning, or even before the beginning, of our lives: pre- and peri-natal trauma, birth trauma, and early childhood trauma.
This early period of our lives is incredibly formative. While we cannot logically articulate as adults what we learned during these years of our life, simply look at a baby to see just how much information they are taking in and learning about their environment at all times to understand just how impactful this era is on our psyche.
Yet, while our mind may forget, the body remembers. I can attest to the power of the body’s memory. I suffered a chronic illness for many year before finally uncovering repressed implicit memories in my body from childhood, which ultimately freed me of the physical pain I had been carrying around for years.
Working in the realm of past lives is simply an extension of our implicit memory. Our bodies are made of the blood and bones of our ancestors before us, and if you go back far enough, of the entire human race. Memories from our foremothers and forefathers are transmitted to us just as readily as our DNA is (as the field of epigenetics is showing us). There are eons of collective experiences stored inside every one of our bodies, waiting to be seen, felt, and liberated.
Past Life Healing Meditation
Here I’d like to share a practice for connecting with past lives in a focused way to help you have a broader context for a challenging relationship dynamic in your life. For a lot of people, this usually evokes a romantic partnership that feels incomplete in some way. If you really want to get right down into the trenches, focus on your relationship with your mother or father.
You can use this practice to unpack complex feelings in the here-and-now, somatically, in your body. It serves as a good example for staying grounded and contained within your body while allowing psychic information to come in. Further, this practice helps build universal wisdom as we begin to see and understand larger patterns at play in relationship.
1. Create a Safe Container
The first thing I’d like you to do is create a container for this work. Bring to mind a particular ally in uncovering past life information (this could be a grandparent, animal, plant, spirit being, etc.). Use the first one that comes to mind. Ask your ally to help you retrieve the information you are looking for. Be specific. I would suggest something along the lines of: “I want to uncover the ancient stories that keep me locked into these relational patterns with so-and-so.”
Then, be really clear why you want this information. Is it to further spin out about it? Or is it to release and heal? I only recommend this practice for the latter agenda. Otherwise, receiving this kind of information is only going to make you more confused, agitated, and clinging to the details of the story for fulfillment. Again, I would suggest something like, “I only wish to be shown the information I need to be shown to understand my situation better and to heal these bonds.”
The point here is: be clear with what you want, or else you may open yourself up to anything and everything. If you think about all memory and wisdom being an ocean, all we need here is a cup’s worth. It is way easier to examine and make sense of a cup’s worth of the ocean because you can hold it up and examine what’s inside more closely. All you need will be there because every part contains the whole. This is the value of containment—we create a specific intent and space for information to flow into, or to be kept at bay, accordingly.
2. Look for Memories, Not Movie Reels
Once you have your ally and your intention for containment, do something that makes you slightly zone/trance out. For me, I find long drives in remote places work well. Or swimming in water. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Maybe it’s dancing to trance music. Occupying your body in some way might be an easier choice than seated meditation. Up to you. Find what works. There’s no “better” option here.
When you find a good activity, go for it: simply let your mind wander. While you are letting your mind wander, focus on your mind’s eye: the space inside of your mind where you can see images appear when you call them to mind—like your childhood home or your pet dog.
Here’s a helpful tip to hold onto during this process: look for memories, don’t look for movie reels. We are led to believe we are going to have some kind of movie reel version of our past lives playing through our head, but it doesn’t need to happen that way.
Think of memories you have from this life. For example, think of yourself in third grade. Does a movie reel of every experience you ever had in third grade play out in your mind’s eye? Likely not. Instead, you might see a single moment in time, or maybe a couple of moments in time, accompanied by a deep knowing and remembrance in your body of the larger accompanying narrative. This is the key to uncovering your body’s wisdom and stored memories.
This process is exactly like remembering anything else. The key is to trust yourself, especially if the memories don’t pop out at you and flood you with emotion. Maybe you simply see a hand draped over the edge of a chair, or a child resting in a meadow. Allow the story of who/what/when to bubble up from your intuitive depths. Then trust what comes.
3. Let the Meaning Come
Hold what comes as information, not doctrine. If possible, try not to ascribe too much meaning to what you are shown. Stories this vast and trans-lifetime are meant to be taken somewhat impersonally—remember, this isn’t about you, but about larger myths moving through you. Over time, it might become clear to you how your past lives inform your present life, and create certain relational dynamics and patterns with the person you chose to do the practice with. I know it did for me.
When I first did this practice, I chose to focus on a relationship that was causing me a lot of distress. I felt very strongly that I was meant to be with this man, and I could not possibly understand why things were not aligning for us. Years passed and I still had the same level of conviction that we were destined for each other even though our stars seemed very crossed. I finally decided to ask to be shown our past lives together out of sheer desperation in hopes to better understand what had led up to the utter agony I was feeling without end.
I petitioned a plant spirit I had a relationship with and asked to be shown only enough information to be able to mend the breaks in the relationship. I was specific with this intent because I did not want to overwhelm myself with information, nor did I want to give myself a chance to create an even larger narrative of the importance of the vast history we had between us and why it all meant we needed to be together in this lifetime.
That night I had a vivid dream in a cathedral in Spain in the 1400s. In the dream, the man I was inquiring about and I were baby twins born to a young mother in distress (she happened to also be someone I know from this lifetime, as these things go). One of us had to die because there were not enough resources for both of us to survive during the birth. My twin baby brother died while I survived. I spent that life mourning the loss of my brother and feeling guilty that he had died and I had lived.
When I awoke the next morning it was not immediately clear to me what the dream had meant. It took me a few hours to realize the dream was in response to my petition to see the distant past. Another dream and waking memories followed in the succeeding days and months during quiet moments of lull, each giving me more insight and nuance into the complexity of the relationship I felt with this man. In some ways he felt like my long-lost twin, in others I felt like his estranged mother, or his betrayed and forlorn lover.
Eventually, I had woven a rich tapestry of narrative—each piece of the story adding meaning to the totality of my feelings in this lifetime. It felt complete. I could now see how the threads that I saw in our relationship in this lifetime interwove and repeated themselves from our past lives: betrayal, abandonment, religious fervor, severance, deception. It was a back-and-forth game, like tug-of-war: in one life, I would abandon him, in the next, he would abandon me. We both played both sides of the board—taking turns in the position of power and weakness, relating to each other as mother and son, sister and brother, lovers, enemies, friends.
I had set out to heal our bond, yet now that I saw it in its complexity it felt irreparably tangled—like a ball of yarn not worth the effort of trying to unknot. There was just no way I was getting to the bottom of this. Yet, I felt better off for having tried.
Once I saw how large and complicated the web of relational knots we had between us really was, I acutely felt the utter futility of trying to address and resolve every single one.
I realized that if I wanted our relationship to work, the only way to do so was in the here-and-now. By giving voice to the stories of the past, I felt free of their burden. All that was necessary was simply allowing them to be seen, felt, and heard. Then, they liberated me from their bind. As soon as I gave them meaning, they lost it. In surrendering to the story, I was then free of it.
I don’t know why we create the stories we do, or why they need to be told. Yet, my body knows. She knows that these stories have potency, and that they give life the juice it needs to flow. She knows that if we don’t consciously create and tell our stories, they will take ahold and tell themselves anyways without our input. And, she knows that all good stories change every time the storyteller tells them—that the power of the storyteller to change her fate lies in the very telling of her tale itself.
You may be wondering what came of the man I knew from all my lives. I am too. And, I am hoping that if we meet again someday, this time we’ll have a new story to tell.
Learn more about somatic therapy and shamanic healing arts here.