Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Been There, Done That or Maybe Not: Past Life Regression by Catherine Czerkawska


Is there a reason why I love old oak furniture? 
A few years ago, one of my relatives, a Reiki practitioner, came to me with a slightly odd request. She was doing a course in ‘past life regression’ (yes – such things are available) and she needed a case study. How would I feel about being her guinea pig? Other people had said they would be too scared or just didn’t believe in it, but I jumped at the chance.

Which is how I found myself in a warm room, all wrapped up in a blanket, listening to her soothing tones as she took me through a set of preliminary relaxation exercises. This kind of session involves mild hypnosis, so I know it wouldn’t be for everyone. It also, I suppose, involves a willing suspension of disbelief – something writers find remarkably easy. At no point did I ever feel out of control or even particularly sleepy, although I certainly felt relaxed – with occasional lurches into inexplicable discomfort best described as a sense of falling, a momentary dizziness.

What happens next is a strange mixture of the extraordinary and the commonplace. She begins by asking me to look down at my feet. What do I see? That’s easy. I’m barefoot. I’m looking down at two small bare feet and I feel cold. The floor is chilly. So are my feet. What am I wearing? A white nightdress. Where am I? I’m in a room - it’s dark with the light filtering in. A plain room with whitewashed walls. It is my bedroom and there is a cat, fast asleep on the bed. (I don't have a cat, don't particularly like them, so have no idea what brought a cat into my head.) She tells me to go to the door, open it and go out. What do I see? I'm in a long corridor with wood panelling. But I suddenly know that it only looks long because I’m small. I feel small. I'm a child. This is a plain house, with white walls and dark wood and not much furniture and it’s my home. Plain but by no means poor. It smells like home. It’s morning and I can see the sunlight filtering in and I’m pattering down the corridor on cold bare feet.

We move on. I’m outside. It’s summer. There’s a huge, spreading tree. I’m sitting beneath it, playing. I have a doll or dolls. Made of wood, I think, but with clothes. My mother and father are watching me, my father in a long dark green coat. I’m still small. Yorkshire. I think we live in Yorkshire. What does my father do? ‘Does he work?’ my interrogator says. 'What is his work?' I feel faintly confused. No, he doesn’t work. Not work. In fact ‘work’ seems like the wrong word. He sees to things. He just comes and goes. Has things to do. Tells people what to do. There’s land, a farm. My mother sits and sews. There are ladies who come and sew with her, and then I have to play on my own but I don’t mind. Roses. I can smell  roses.

Time shifts. In fact time shifts a bit too quickly. I want the whole thing to go on much longer. I want time and space to explore and contemplate these places and people I can see so clearly. But these sessions seem to have a set length. Maybe they’re afraid we’ll get lost in some hypothetical past! I’m older. What kind of shoes am I wearing? I can see them very clearly: yellow satin, with ribbons and little heels. And they are pinching my feet. They are uncomfortable but beautiful. My dress is very stiff. They stitch me into it I say, casually. I know my full name now. I’m Anne Gilbert, I’m seventeen years old, my mother is dead and I’m still living in this plain stone house with my father. I have no siblings. The house smells of lavender, beeswax and roses. There are a lot of books in the house. But they don’t much interest me. The books are dry, sermons, I say. They are full of sermons and I don’t like them. I can read and write but I don’t want to read them. My voice seems a bit odd to me. Oddly detatched from me if that's possible. If I were to try to pin it down, it would be as though somebody else was speaking. Me and not me at the same time.

I have a friend. That’s why I’m dressed like this, in this dress, in these yellow shoes and this stiff dress. She is richer, lives in a bigger house. I go there to visit her. They are different over there. There are celebrations, visitors. We dance. I love dancing but our house is so quiet. Very quiet. In my head, I can hear the silence of the house. It's not unpleasant at all.

We move on again. I’m twenty and I’m married. I think I must have mentioned my husband’s name but I don’t remember it now. She asks me if I met this man at my friend’s house but I find that quite funny. Oh no, I say. Of course not. He came to our house. He only came to see my father. That’s how we met. He’s a scholar. I distinctly remember the way the word scholar pops into my mind and with it the image of a tall, scholarly husband – not old, but scholarly - with reddish hair. He doesn’t care about his appearance or what he wears, he’s a great ‘thinker’ I say, and I know that I love him dearly. He’s gentle, often distracted. I have to remind him of things. I read to him and I write things down for him. We live ‘in another house’ I say. Not my father’s house but not far away either. Another plain house with a lot of books. I have this image in my head of remote countryside with only a few houses and not much else. We have a little boy. He has red hair too and freckles.

In the next image, I’m forty years old and sad. There's a weight of sadness, of loss. I look down at my feet and see boots. My husband has died and I’m sitting in a chilly stone church – very small, a country church - and I’m sad. For the first time, a date pops into my mind. It is the 17th day of October 1696. (Can that be true? Who knows?) It’s after the funeral. I’ve lost track of time, here in this chilly little church. My son? He’s at sea. In the navy. I miss him. There’s a daughter. Her name is Alice and she’s married. She lives close by. I’m happy for her. But I’m tired. I can feel the sadness and fatigue seeping into me, but it’s not really distressing. I’m too removed from it now. Finally, seven years later, I’m ready to move on. It isn’t painful. I’m just ready to leave. I miss my husband and I’m tired and I slip away. Then, slowly and carefully she brings me back to the reality of the room where I’m still snug under my blanket.

Writing about this now, several years later, I can still see it as vividly as though it really had happened. Especially the wood panelled house, the stiff dress, the yellow shoes. But of course I’m a writer. I can see all kinds of things as clearly as if they had actually happened. That’s what I do. Make things up. And what's more, I often write historical fiction. What both I and my relative found intriguing though, was the very ordinariness of it all – a plain, circumscribed and quietly contented life. I think both of us expected more fireworks. A stronger plot. Fame and fortune. But the reality of day to day living probably was very much as I’ve described for most people, barring war, plague and other terrible eventualities. As you can imagine, I’ve done a bit of googling of Anne Gilbert. I certainly have no Gilbert forebears, to my knowledge. But beyond the fact that Gilbert seems to be a Yorkshire surname, there’s nothing. Nor would you really expect it.

I still don’t know whether it’s all make believe or not. But I would caution anyone thinking of trying it to make sure the person leading you through it knows what he or she is doing. Even with Anne’s quiet life and death, the images conjured are surprisingly powerful. I could imagine under other circumstances that the whole thing might become a bit distressing, that you could have a ‘bad trip’.

Otherwise, well, whether you believe in it or not, it might give you some interesting ideas for fiction.

The Crusader Rose: one of the oldest.
I haven't yet written about Anne Gilbert (not much plot there!) but you can find my Scottish historical novel The Physic Garden, published by Saraband, in paperback and as an eBook on various platforms. Visit my website to read more about my other books: www.wordarts.co.uk

15 comments:

Kathleen Jones said...

Fascinating, Catherine. One of my friends is a shaman as well as a Reiki master. She took me on a couple of journeys for something I was writing about. For me, the journey was simply through my imagination, but for many people it is real - out of the body. Maybe I'm just too sceptical, But it was enjoyable and really interesting. And I'm prepared to believe there are more things in heaven and earth etc etc

JO said...

It's one of those things that would be fascinating - with the right therapist. I know someone who has set himself up as an expert, and I wouldn't trust him with details of my current life and definitely not with anything I wasn't in full control of. I know regulations are a pain, but I worry for some of the people he's allowed to work with.

Nick Green said...

An acquaintance who once came to our house claimed to be a practicioner of 'cat reiki' - reiki for cats (it wasn't where I got my own idea from, I swear). She said it was good for calming aggressive cats.

I said, Oh, good! We've got an aggressive cat! So she agreed to give dear Red a try.

She stooped and gently lowered her hands towards Red. I burst out, 'DON'T TOUCH HIM ON THE BACK!'
But I was too late, and Red twisted round and 'reiki'd' her savagely with his claws!

She said, 'Oh... Maybe he doesn't need it then.'

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Thought you didn't touch anyone or anything at all with Reiki, Nick! Mind you, I'm not really a cat person at all - which was why I was a bit surprised to see one in my presumed 'past life'.

Bill Kirton said...

Fascinating, Catherine - a powerful evocation of the experience. I consider myself a sceptic but you make it sound so accessible and I'd love to go on a similar journey. It's a sort of legitimised time travel.

Jenny Alexander said...

I really enjoyed reading about your experience - thank-you. I'm not at all sceptical about past lives, though I agree you should be very careful who you choose if you want a therapist to guide you. I think they're like dreams - and indeed, like this life - real experiences for the soul

Dennis Hamley said...

This is extraordinary, Catherine. I'd love an experience like that but don't know anybody I would trust to guide me through it. And I suppose it's where in the past you are taken. I read an account of a past life regression experience where the subject found himself fighting in the battle of Sedgemoor and being killed with an axe by a huge man with red hair. I wouldn't like that. But, when writing books set in the past, you can see things with incredible clarity. I sometimes wonder whether, six hundred years ago, I was Joslin de Lay myself.

Lydia Bennet said...

yes these are truly fascinating, and what an evocative description! I have an open mind about past lives, if (and it's a big if) there is life or consciousness after death, why not before birth too? OTOH it's occurred to me past lives may be us picking up 'radio' waves released by other people's brains in the past, still circulating around. The big problem here is finding someone you can trust though.

Nick Green said...

As for me, I keep a big bag of Occam's Razors in my bathroom cabinet. This is undoubtedly a remarkable case of hypnotic suggestion unleashing involuntary flights of imagination (a fascinating enough phenomenon in itself) but it's highly improbable that it's anything more than that.

We know that imagination exists, and that one can vividly imagine scenes that have never happened to oneself. So it's no stretch of credulity to suppose that the brain can be 'tickled' into doing this spontaneously - especially when you have such a perfect subject as a writer of fiction.

It is, however, a massive leap of speculation to say that it's anything to do with some ill-defined 'self' that has in some vague sense 'lived before' but as someone else. The problems with that hypothesis are legion. Which isn't to say that past lives aren't a tremendous potential subject for a work of fiction...

(From a die-hard rationalist who loves fantasy).

Nick Green said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Catherine Czerkawska said...

Oh I find it very very easy to believe in impossible things before breakfast. And after, for that matter!

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Interestingly, Valerie, I remember our son, when he was very small, telling me some long and immensely complicated story, as he habitually did (like mother like son!) and then suddenly stopping in some confusion and saying 'Oh no. No. That was when I was a soldier.' I'm quite sceptical - although not as sceptical as Nick, clearly - but I must admit Alan and I looked at each other and shared one of those 'oh my goodness, what did he just say?' moment. It was odd. As was his ability at that age to cue into very specific things when I was thinking about them. I remember one occasion in particular when I was reminiscing but entirely in my head (there was somebody in the room and I asked them if I had spoken aloud. I hadn't! Nor had we been talking about this beforehand) about a particularly blissful picnic we had had the previous summer and he suddenly piped up 'yes and we ate Bakewell tart and sailed paper boats down the burn, didn't we?' But then I do believe in telepathy, especially between parents and children. My mum and I could do it with remarkable ease.

Lee said...

So, Nick, if we can't explain something rationally, it couldn't possibly be real (whatever that means)? Are you certain of that?

And do remember, please, that many of the greatest scientific achievements came from a leap of the imagination.

As to the nature of the self - bah humbug, science is miles & miles awa from explaining the relationship between mind & brain.

That said, I don't really believe that Luc, the main character in my new novel, could have as many lives, and selves, as I've imagined. Meet me again in the next century, and we'll see if we're any closer to understanding the nature of self!

julia jones said...

Really interesting Catherine. U don't much care whether I 'believe' it or not, I simply enjoyed going on that journey with you and I'd be quite surprised if you don't find yourself using it fictionally one day ...

Enid Richemont said...

If your friend need another guinea pig, I'm available (squeak!)