At one point in my life, through a bizarre collection of circumstances, I found myself estranged from virtually all of my family. The circumstances make a good story in an “OMG they didn’t” kind of way, but they’re really not important right now. What is important is that for the first time in my life I found myself without anyone to say, “You shouldn’t be doing that, Bodie.” The natural result, of course, was that I did all sorts of things I had long wanted to do, but had not done for fear of familial censure.
One thing I did was buy a deck of Tarot cards and a book to explain them to me (it turned out to be a book by a woman who believed intuition was more important than book larnin’ in readin’ the cards, so I spent a fair amount of time throwing cards and talking to myself about them. It was fun–and informative. I turned out to be surprisingly good at it.
Another thing I did was check into the whole “past-life” thing. I had a friend who swore she’d been reincarnated numerous times. I had my doubts, but the idea intrigued me, so I went online and had a past-life report done by someone who claimed to be using Edgar Cayce’s methods. That report said I was working off some seriously bad karma–“Holocaust” was the word they used. Well, I thought, that explains a lot.
Then I happened upon a lovely little square book. Its title was set in Bitstream Oz Handicraft font, and it had an intricate, textured tapestry design on half of the cover. I opened it up. A CD was in a little envelope glued inside the back cover. It was a set of past-life regression exercises. Seduced by the beautiful design (this is an occupational hazard for people like me), I bought the book and took it home.
I read a little bit. The word “Holocaust” didn’t crop up, so I plucked up my courage, popped the CD into my boom box, laid myself down on the sofa, and did the first exercise. It was a journey in guided imagery.
To call what I experienced “memories” is to give them too much substance; they were images, that’s all: In one I played under an arbor with other children. In another I stood in a hallway looking at chairs hung, Shaker style. In yet another I stood in a barn in a ragged red dress, barefooted, a bucket of milk in one hand.
The book had suggested that I keep a journal of my experiences, so the next morning I dropped Patrick off at school and then took a blank journal and headed for Jazzy Bagels. I ordered my favorite–an spinach and asiago cheese bagel with chive cream cheese, toasted, and a large mocha–then lurked by the fireplace until one of the coffee nerds parked in the comfy chairs gave up and left. I swooped and got it, opened my journal, took a bite of bagel and a sip of mocha, dug my pen out of my purse, and sat, tapping it on the journal page.
I felt foolish–I hadn’t had any “experience.” I had just gotten a few visual images, hardly worth recording. But there I was, at the coffee store with my journal and no book to read. I took another bite of bagel and started to record the first image. I started the first sentence with no idea where it was going to wind up. And yet somehow it finished, and I started another without even thinking about it.
And something happened that I’ve never experienced before. I slipped into something like a trance. The image began to spool, like a movie, and I simply recorded what played out. I wrote as fast as I could, starting each sentence as an act of faith, letting it spool across the page as the image unwound in my head.
When I was finished, I had a story–a terrible, sad, evocative, vivid story. I had forgotten my bagel and mocha, and the lunch crowd was coming in. I closed my journal, gulped down the rest of my bagel, and left.
I did the exercise again that night, and the next day captured the story hiding in the second image. By the time I wearied of the experiment I had a whole series of stories of women, each facing death in some way. The stories are like nothing else I’ve written. The women in them range in age, era, and social status. Each faces a life-and-death decision. Most of them–in fact, all of them–end up dead. One spends most of the story as a ghost.
I never got beyond the first exercise; someday I’ll pop the CD into the boom box again, lie down on the couch, and do Lesson 2. Maybe it’ll answer some of the questions that Lesson 1 raised.
Was I looking at past lives, or my own past? As I read the stories I recognize conflicts that are playing out in my own life. Are they playing out because they were unresolved in a previous incarnation? Or did my brain take the opportunity for play that the regression exercise presented and use it to “talk story” with me about challenges that I have faced, and am facing? How did the stories unwind out of those flashes of image?
The regression exercise didn’t provide me with any answers. I don’t know if I’ll be coming back or taking a dirt nap or signing up for a shift in the pitchfork factory when I finish up here. I’m not sure that’s important. For me, the central value of the exercise was not coming away with the knowledge that I was Cleopatra in a former existence, but with a series of stories that were apparently swirling just below the surface, waiting for an opportunity to unwind onto a page.