Woolger, Dr Roger - Other Lives, Past selves – Edith and the terrorist who blew himself up
Type of spiritual experience
A description of the experience
Other Lives, Other selves, A Jungian Psychotherapist. Discovers Past Lives – Dr Roger Woolger
The Case of Edith: A Russian Anarchist's Untimely Death
For some time Edith had been the client of a colleague of mine who is both a Jungian analyst and a physician with considerable knowledge of alternative healing practices.
Edith was a dancer in her late twenties who was suffering from the poorly understood disease lupus erythematosus.
Lupus is a non-infectious disease of the immune system which produces a multitude of symptoms, including inflammation and cell damage. Heart, joint, and kidney disease are also common to it. According to one authority, "the disease may be suddenly triggered by certain drugs or foreign proteins, exposure to ultraviolet radiation, or psychic trauma."
It is therefore somewhat of a mystery and although Edith's case was not severe or life-threatening, my colleague, who was treating her, had become somewhat pessimistic about her chances of recovery.
In Edith's case the course of the disease had taken the form of painful stiffness in all her joints which in many ways resembled arthritis. When I met her, the slow spread of the infirmity through her limbs had already become a serious threat to the pursuit of her career. The occasion when I worked with Edith was a workshop devoted not to past life therapy but to what I call the "warrior within." The workshop's purpose is to encourage people to contact first their anger, then images of fighting and assertiveness, and eventually to feel the power of the archetypal warrior within.
To this end I use a variety of physical and imaginal exercises to stimulate both a somatic and a visionary awareness of these difficult qualities most of us tend to fear or suppress.
In one exercise in the workshop Edith attended I used a number of musical passages drawn from the works of Holst and Shostakovich designed to evoke from the unconscious, images and feelings connected with war.
When the music was over, participants recorded their experiences in drawing or writing. Edith was unable to do either of these things, seemingly stunned, or as if in a state of shock after the music. I invited her to work on what she had experienced and she agreed, lying down on the carpet in the middle of our small workshop group. "Close your eyes and simply find yourself at any part that is vivid for you," I instructed her. Immediately the whole of her body began trembling violently and tears welled up in her eyes.
"Where are you?" I ask.
"I don't know. I think I've died. I know I've died. I don't know what's happened."
"Repeat those last words," I say.
"I don't know what happened."
"What went wrong?"
Her body begins to twitch and convulse and she writhes from side to side.
"I know what went wrong. The bomb went off too soon. I'm dying. Oh, the pain. Oh! Oh! Oh! My limbs . . . It's black. I'm not there."
I recognized that we were in a death experience of some violence in which, as the victim of a bomb, she kept losing consciousness. Edith was in fact reliving all the symptoms of severe shock at an explosion and from the way her body reacted it appeared that, whoever the past life personality was, he or she was horribly maimed. From many such experiences I know that the body needs to reproduce the whole of the event for it to be released and that, painful as it is, the victim must not become unconscious. I asked her to go back and relive the events leading up to the explosion.
"I'm with a group of young men," she says. "I'm about nineteen, a man. It's Russia. We're going to kill them. We hate them. They killed my father! THEY KILLED MY MOTHER! Several of our group have been killed, but we go on fighting. No more of this tyranny. It's time to fight back."
Edith rages for a while and slowly I am able to piece together parts of her story. She is re-enacting the last hours of a young Russian anarchist in a large Russian city (Petrograd?) where the palace guards have been brutally suppressing food riots by the poor. It is winter. The young man's father has just been cut down a few days ago in the last of the riots and he is part of a group of young anarchists whose main aim is to avenge the people and sow chaos among the rulers. He and his comrades plan an assault on the palace barracks with homemade bombs. It is night. They arrive at the various concealed vantage points near the barracks, carefully evading the guards at the gates.
"I'm underneath the wall. The bomb's beneath my coat I’ve just got to light the fuse . . . There, it's done AAH! AAH! AAH!"
Edith again screams and convulses, We are again at scene we started from.
"The pain. The pain . . . Oh, no! It went off. It’s black. . I’m not there."
"Where are you?" I ask.
"I don't know. It's all black. I'm not there. I don't know where I am. But my body hurts. Oh! Oh!"
Edith continues to groan as her body writhes from side to side on the carpet. It is a state of utter terror, agony confusion. Her body is suffering from what seems to be appalling pain. Yet consciously she doesn't seem to be in it. Is the young anarchist dead? Or has he fainted? I keep urging her to get an impression of the situation no matter how it comes.
"It's black. It's black. Oh, I'm high above it. I'm not in the body."
"Go back down and see it," I instruct.
Suddenly she bursts into tears, almost screaming.
"Oh no, no, no! I don't want to see. I can't bear to see. No! No!"
Clearly she is already seeing something, so I urge her to let herself see it, however distressing.
"It's my body. It has no arms and legs. The bomb blew them off. Oh! Oh! Oh!"
As she says this, her body on the carpet is still convulsing and writhing, which I realize may be a clue to a painfully unfinished piece of the story.
"I want you to go back into the body and see if it is in fact dead," I say.
"Oh no! It is not. I'm just lying here, slowly dying, knowing my arms and legs will never work again."
"Be aware of your last words as you are dying and go to the point where your heart finally stops beating," I say.
"My arms and legs will never work again. Oh no!"
Edith weeps bitterly as she realizes that this is the most painful thought that lies behind her fear of progressive degeneration from lupus.
I guide her to be very precisely aware of the last few seconds of being in that maimed body. "Were there any other thoughts you had been holding in your arms and legs before you left them?" I ask.
"Yes. I wanted to kill them. I wanted them to suffer like my father." She begins to cry. "But now I'm hurting."
"Are you willing to let go of your anger at them?"
"Yes, yes. I am."
"So let go of the anger and let go of all the pain and tell me when you are finally out of your body."
Edith takes a deep breath and her whole body goes limp.
There is an appreciable drop in tension around the room, since her body has continued to writhe and convulse throughout this whole agonizing scene.
To reinforce her awareness of what has happened I propose two verbal affirmations to her to counter all the pain and negativity. This is what I have her repeat:
"These arms and legs are strong and healthy and can work for me perfectly."
To help her even further I have everyone in the circle simply lay hands on her arms and legs to bring her fully back into her body here and now.
Edith sits up and opens her eyes. "There's no pain! It's all over I understand it all," she says and beams at everyone around her.
It had been a harrowing and almost unbearably intense session. By now the past life origins of Edith's joint pains were clear to us all. The young anarchist had died in terrible agony mixed with angry thoughts of vengeance that had all become imprinted psychically on the limbs.
Because of the explosion he had gone unconscious near the end, but the body had nevertheless registered every detail of the final moments. It was my task first to make the body conscious of its trauma so it could be fully released cathartically and then to help Edith be aware of the anger that she, as the anarchist, had turned against herself with the negative thought, "My arms and legs will never work again."
The session was a turning point in Edith's therapy. I saw her once more six months later when she informed me that all the joint pains were gone and she was beginning to dance again. The lupus was in remission. The one session had opened up all kinds of things for her regarding her anger and fear of self-assertion in the world. She had it, seemed, regained the youthful energy of the anarchist which had been cut off so prematurely. Life for Edith was beginning again.
The source of the experience
Concepts and Symbols used in the text or image
Observation contributed by: Margaret Booth