Why we must thrash

The Thinker by Rodin

Over the last year or so I’ve been reading a lot of metaphysical books. It’s a symptom of middle age, I suspect. With more of life likely behind me than ahead of me I naturally get a bit more curious about what, if anything, is the purpose to life and what happens after death, if anything. I’d really like to know what I was before I was what I was. Maybe I was nothing. Maybe I lived many different lives in both human and non-human form. I have no way of knowing at this point, but I’d like to find out.

Which is probably why the idea of past life regression hold some appeal to me. It might well be that if I did have a past life it was pretty sordid and I would prefer not to know little details like I was a weasel or an axe murderer. I doubt I could claim the sort of interesting past lives that Shirley MacLaine claims. The odds though were that if I have previous lives I probably was some sort of agrarian worker, since until recently hunting and farming were the occupations most of us were engaged in. In that sense this life should be pretty exciting stuff.

And it is in a way. I have come into this life with a sense of marvel at the world. Of course it can be filled with the most insane horrors, but it is also a deeply interesting time and place to live. I also feel like I have been fortunate to be born when I was born: 1957, at the peak of the baby boom years. I have lived in very interesting times. I was 12 when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I remember the tumult here and abroad surrounding the Vietnam War, the impeachment of Richard Nixon, and the rise of computers and personal computers. I remember how frustrated I felt when as a teen I discovered ham radio but didn’t have the means to enjoy the hobby. The idea of contacting people all over the world in real time seemed very exciting. And now we have the Internet and the World Wide Web, which allow me to touch far more people in far more places than I could ever imagine.

We are early adapters in this household. I was the first one in the neighborhood with electronic friends, and by the late 1980s I had a number of good friends I met from dialing electronic bulletin boards. Some, like Frank Pierce, I still count as good friends. Neighborhood friends seem almost old fashioned. Terri’s friends now come almost exclusively from people she has met online. Last weekend she had a friend who is living in Warrenton, Virginia who she met online over for dinner. This weekend we have her friend Madge from North Carolina who is here for her third or fourth respite visit. In two weeks it is her friend Christy who will be hanging out here. It is likely that without this enabling technology of the Internet and World Wide Web none of these people would have come into our lives. We are richer having met them.

But at the same time we’ve lost something. There is less incentive to go to a neighborhood party or meet with old friends. Many of our old friends have moved or moved on. To some extent I have filled that gap in my life through the Unitarian Church I attend. Attending regularly and getting involved in religious education and being on committees expands my list of local friends. But it is more fun to find like minds on line that I can meet on my own schedule who share my own interests instead of talking to neighbors and meeting people the old fashioned way. My pal Lisa is a combination of online friend and local friend. It is good that she happens to live about ten miles away. We can do stuff together occasionally and talk about things that would bore my wife like, well, metaphysical stuff. Terri has almost no interest in it.

What was I before I was what I conceived? Arguably nothing: I didn’t exist. But increasingly I don’t think that was the case. I came into this life with a fairly unique pattern of behaviors and a certain outlook. I look for clues on who I might have been in a past life. There is no way to know for sure. Perhaps if I tried a past life regression I might feel I know, but there would still be no way to know if it actually happened or was some product of my creative mind.

A book I am reading at the moment though suggests it is possible to peer not just back into the past, but also into the future. “Past Lives: Future Lives” by Dr. Bruce Goldberg (who leaves a lot to be desired as a web page designer — get some professional to help you Bruce!) seems to be the book that started a lot of research into past life regression. This book though is pretty wild. Not only can he regress people into their past lives, but he can also let them see into future lives. He claims he has done this with thousands of patients over the past 20 years or so.

Since then past life regression through hypnosis has become almost hip, and that means there if there is some validity in it the flakes and con artists have probably taken over the field. Nonetheless there is an impressive number of hypnotherapists out there who will be glad to try to regress you into your past lives, for a fee of course.

I think I see clues about who I was before I was what I was in this life. I just don’t know what to make of them. Like most people my memories of early childhood are few and fragmented, but there are certain characteristics of me that have always been present. For the first 20 years of my life I experienced a recurring dream: falling from something high. I am not afraid of being close to an edge high above the world, but I am certainly a bit leery about it. It is possible I fell out of the crib as an infant. But this is more than that. Perhaps that was how I died in some previous life.

Other clues? Well, what am I on an instinctive level that is different than probably most people. I have already confessed to my feminine side. I have always been deeply non-violent. I witnessed quite a bit of brutality as a child. In particular witnessing it in places like a parochial school, largely handed out by the sisters, was very disturbing. My reaction to violence on pretty much any level is visceral. I won’t stand for it if I can do something about it. I simply cannot tolerate violence in movies beyond a certain level. I don’t care how good a movie is. If it is too gross I will avoid it.

In some ways I feel this life is payoff for other lives that were far more difficult and less interesting. It is difficult though sometimes to figure out what to do with this opportunity. The first 35 years or so was mostly about education and basic survival. Now I have the opportunity to self-actualize. I could write, which is what I wanted to do most as a teen. I don’t do much of it, unless rambling online journal keeping and technical writing is writing. I find some satisfaction in teaching. I find I often want to do so much in this life that it is hard to temper my needs to explore. I have a family that needs me, and a wife with many physical challenges. It can’t be all about me. I must look inward and find meaning and satisfaction close to home, as well as externally.

This life is about being physically comfortable and learning to rest as best I can. I am uncomfortable at rest but it is a skill I have to learn. This life is also about learning to set reasonable limits for myself but not climb too far or too fast. Patience and tempered judgment seem to be the skills I must acquire this time around.

My attitude toward death is evolving. For much of my life I was disturbed by the notion of my own mortality. I still am. It may be that I have largely succeeded in putting these fears in a box, to be wrestled with again when I am older and death is more tangible. Books on past lives offer a balm of sorts if nothing else. If true though they help shape meaning around my life that would otherwise seem sort of pointless. I can understand this life as being part of some larger journey. In that context knowing that death is a passage to something else, much like a caterpillar shedding its chrysalis and becoming a butterfly, sounds almost something that makes mortality an advantage.

At the sermon today at church the minister used this analogy and I think it works. If the caterpillar does not wiggle and thrash inside its chrysalis it cannot become a butterfly. Perhaps we all must wiggle and thrash in our own lives, as difficult and painful as it may be, in order to evolve as spiritual beings.

Maybe thrashing and mortality are good.

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