Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On Reincarnation

I sometimes make the mistake of watching intellectually stimulating documentaries just before I have to go to bed so that I can get up early the next day. Just a half hour ago, I watched a documentary on History International called Science of the Soul. If it comes on again (which, it will, as educational channels tend to run amok with reruns), or if you happen to be able to find it on Netflix or anywhere else, I highly recommend it. In it, it discusses various views on the existence of the soul, and ways scientists are attempting to search for its existence.

Two stories in particular piqued my interest, one more as a curiosity as anything. The first was an interesting bit of trivia that I never thought about before, noted by an anesthesiologist: his study of the soul, of consciousness, points out that when we are put under for surgery, etc., we have no concept of time. I immediately remembered my latest surgery. When I sleep, I still have an awareness that time has passed. I dream, I wake up, and I know that it is later than it was when I closed my eyes. And then there's that whole "internal clock" thing, where you wake up at 9am, or 7am, every day, even though it's your day off at work and could sleep in until noon if you wanted and didn't set the alarm clock. But with anesthesia, you close your eyes, then suddenly you open them again and two hours, or six hours, have passed, but it's a concept you can't quite grasp. In this doctor's study, while treating anesthetized patients, he blinked a blue strobelight over their eyes throughout the procedure, while measuring brainwaves. The brainwaves showed the same neural stimulation that is shown when someone is actually conscious, with open eyes, looking at the light. I just thought that was interesting, and extra food for thought.

The other one that interested me, was an inevitable story on reincarnation, the case of James Leininger. James Leininger claims to have been World War II fighter pilot James Huston. His story is actually fairly classic in terms of who they showcase in these types of documentaries: a child, having nightmares about his past life's death, knowing details about that past life that nobody else would know, confirming those details with a living relative of that past life or some other form of document or visit to the "homeland", so to speak. His father published a book on the experiences, which I may add to my eternally growing reading list.  As an interesting sidenote, he also implied that in "heaven", he actively chose which parents he would be born to. That particular point I'm still undecided on, as I'm not sure I could see anyone choosing to go to, say, sexually/verbally/physically abusive parents, or as in my case, a single unwed mother and an adulterous father. But, if reincarnation is true, perhaps in the spiritual realm, our souls have deeper insight into what lessons we need to learn from one life to the next, an understanding that isn't comprehensible with our physical, limited brains.

 Personally, I admittedly do not give much thought about the afterlife. Maybe I'm wrong about what happens after death, maybe not. I feel that it is much more important to focus on how we live out our lives, than worrying about what happens when it is over. I know I do not believe in Hell, or at least not the evangelical Christian version of it. But I do believe in reincarnation, or at least that reincarnation is the view that makes the most sense to me.

All hyped-up past life stories and past life regression experiences aside (which, actually, I'm skeptical of - but then, I'm skeptical of hypnotism in general as well), I hold to the view that in order to experience all that life has to offer and learn all of the lessons Pleroma would have us to learn, sometimes we do have to be reborn. After all, how can I truly understand or fully have empathy or compassion for the homeless guy on the street, if I spend my whole life living in a mansion, with three full meals a day? A simplistic and perhaps easily refutable example, I know, but that's the best way I know to convey into words the concept I'm trying to relay with this particular reasoning.

Then there's the science of energy. Science says that energy cannot be created or destroyed, simply changed from one form to another. Druids, Witches, and others on the metaphysical paths often believe it is these energies that they work with when they hold a ritual or cast a spell. But what about when we die? The physical body is easy: it decomposes and becomes energy for the soil to give to the flora, which is then eaten by the fauna, and so on. It changes from one form to another. But if the soul exists, what form does it change to? And how long does it stay in that form?

And then there are more personal reasons, of course. One example is my sister. I remember once, when we were kids, she got a new doll, and named it Litha. What kid in the '90s would name their toy Litha? I remember a look of surprise on my mom's face, and her commenting on how strange it was that she would choose that name, as we have a long-dead relative by that name.

When my mom and her siblings were kids, my grandma went with my uncle on a school field trip to a local attraction, the Biltmore House. Even though she had never been there before, she knew where and what everything was, what it was all used for, and so on, as clearly as if she were one of the tour guides. The whole time she had the classic "deja vu" feeling. Even today, she refuses to go back there, ever.

For myself, I've had several similar deja vu experiences that made me wonder if perhaps I was connected with those places in a past life at some point. And I admit, I've somewhat felt that perhaps some of my interests in certain cultures (Celtic and Eastern, for example) lie in part due to having been a part of those cultures in a past life. 

There is a saying in Druidry, which is also sometimes repeated in Paganism in general, and I think I've even seen it in some Gnostic circles: "As above, so below."  The physical world and the spiritual world complement each other. In the physical world, life moves in cycles - the web of life; the food chain; summer turns to autum, which turns to winter, which turns to spring, which turns to summer.  So it makes sense to me that the spiritual world would follow likewise. Perhaps in the spirit world, there are an infinite number of souls, some active in the wheel of reincarnation, some not, to eventually reach full awareness of their true natures as spiritual beings and children of Pleroma.

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