Woolger, Dr Roger - Other Lives, Past selves – Arlette the Opera singer with stage fright
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 Arlette: An Opera singer with stage fright
Arlette was a highly attractive singer who consulted me once in Montreal. In her adolescence she had displayed a voice of such exceptional beauty that her parents and teachers had all urged her to take up singing professionally. She underwent voice training and performed in an occasional concert, but she shied away from opera, the career that all agreed she was most suited to.
"Somehow" as she explained to me, "I never felt ready."
Marriage, children, and the running of a small business came along and offered her substantial reasons- or excuses-for not fulfilling her talent. Still encouraged by friends and family, she continued voice lessons and recitals and on several occasions went to audition for major roles in opera. But whenever she auditioned she would have a throat seizure and sing at a feeble echo of her true ability. Once meeting a well-known opera impresario at a private home she had the opportunity of singing for him, but she was so overcome that she could not bring herself to sing at all.
"Overcome by what?" I asked her in our initial interview.
"By fear," she replied. "Fear that I'll fail, that it's not safe . . . Most of all that it's not safe. But also that I'll disappoint them. When I see that selection panel, they're like judges. I know I'll disappoint them. It’s humiliating, I know I'm just not ready."
As is characteristic of any complex, there were several interwoven and emotionally laden themes right here.
And at the core of all these fears was that most sensitive and most expressive organ of human feeling, the voice box. What was it about failure, judges, and disappointment that had accumulated in this most precious possession of hers?
I invited her to lie down, close her eyes, and explore these feelings, starting with the phrase ‘I’m not ready’. And breathe in such a way as to open her throat somewhat. What came first was a whole stream of childhood memories:
"I'm not ready. I'm too young for my younger brothers. I don't want to go on the plane, I'm too young. I'm not ready …. A man is feeling me up. I'm too young, I'm not ready …. Now; at school it's the same thing. I'm teacher's pet, but I'm not ready. I'll have to disappoint her. It's so humiliating … . Now I'm with my father. I'm a bad girl. I've disappointed him. I'm a bad girl to disappoint him . . I won't let it penetrate. I'm not going to feel anything. I'm flying, I want to soar, but it's not safe to soar. I want the bird to take me up.”
As this confused but powerful stream of words and feelings began to emerge from Arlette's unconscious, certain images began to strike me: disappointing her father, teachers, elders; being too young; penetration; wanting to soar. I start to suspect some premature sexual initiation that led to a shameful exposure. The image of the bird suggests the unfettered feelings that want to release but cannot. Further probing of the childhood psyche does not reveal any deeply shameful incident, but rather what seemed to be secondary awakenings, of an older shame an older humiliation.
"Keep repeating what you feel about disappointing him," I say, "and just let any story emerge from this life or another."
"I don’t want to disappoint him. I'm very bad (repeated several times). I'm very bad . . . Oh, I'm seeing a farm… barn doors. I mustn't disappoint him, I see him now. He’s an old man with a white beard. He's my grandfather. (She cries) I love him so much but I’ve got to leave. It's humiliating him. I'm pregnant. I'm only eighteen, but I've got to leave, I’m too young. But l’ve got to leave. I'm not ready to leave, I'm just not ready."
It is Amish country. Arlette finds herself in a blue dress, with blue bonnet, near a barn with pastures. There are birds soaring above. But she cannot or is not allowed to leave, for in the next scene that surfaces she is being publicly shamed by a tribunal of Amish elders.
"I'm totally humiliated. All these men. It’s so unfair. It’s just a man's world. I have no power. Oh, no! (Her body tenses up.) It's somewhere else. It's dark. They're raping me. No! No! (writhing in anguish) I have to close off. No, you can't reach me. I don't want to feel it, I'm too young. They have all the power. I just don't want to be here. I want to absent myself. I DON'T WANT TO BE HERE”,
At this point all visual images cease for a time even though Arlette's body continues to writhe in torment. She has, in the Amish woman's words, absented herself, which means that consciousness has split in two, dissociating from the body in some kind of faint. It is a natural defense against registering any more of the unbearable shame and torment. But when consciousness vacates the body, as it were, the body is left to carry the thoughts and emotions entirely unconsciously.
So with Arlette my first course is to help her body become fully aware of all the conflicting sensations of pain it is feeling as well as the complex mixture of humiliation, loathing, and rage she feels for these cruelly abusive puritans. Since it is not just her body but her self-respect as a woman that is here assaulted, it is crucial for her to express the thoughts she was unable to utter at the moment of fainting, thoughts that are, not surprisingly, stuck in her throat.
"Tell them now what you think of them," I urge. "They cannot hurt you any longer."
" You're despicable ! You brutes! You hypocrites ! You just took advantage of me. It’s you that should be ashamed. You have no right to do this to me just because I'm pregnant. I'm not ‘fallen’ . I am a woman. I have dignity and pride, Don't you ever touch me again."
Arlette's face is now flushed, her lower body relaxed, and her chest expanded as she takes power and energy from these words, words that have lain dormant in her throat for so long.
"My throat is open. My chest hurts. So vulnerable! (There are tears in her eyes.) They hurt me so much. There was nothing I could do."
Arlette weeps and her chest heaves.
There is clearly a great deal of emotion surfacing from this terrible memory. I am struck, too, by the predominant feeling of helplessness, powerlessness, and by the fact that the recurrent phrase that we started with earlier, "I'm not ready," has only been briefly voiced. It does not seem entirely to belong to the tragic Amish story. Knowing from past experience that several past life scenarios may cluster around one theme or one part of the body. I say to her:
"Repeat the words 'There was nothing I could do, I wasn't ready' and let them take you into any other story that they bring up."
As Arlette begins to repeat these phrases, her head tilts back and the quality of her voice is raspy and hoarse:
"There was nothing I could do. I wasn't ready. It’s so sad, so sad, I wasn't ready. I've disappointed them."
"Where are you? What's happening?" I ask.
"I'm lying on my back on the ground. There are white horses around me. I’ve fallen. There's something piercing my chest . . . and my throat! I can't talk. It's so sad. I'm a young warrior leader. It's an ancient warrior tribe. They have primed me to be the new warlord, taught me everything they knew. I‘ve disappointed them! I’ve been struck down in the first battle. I CAN'T TALK! (She almost chokes.) THERE ARE ARROWS THROUGH MY THROAT AND CHEST! There’s nothing I can do. I'm dying and I can't even tell them. It's as though I was their 'star' and I failed them. I just wasn't ready I was too young. They're all around me with their spears pointed down. I'm dying and I can't talk to them. It's so sad. All their love and hope . . ."
For a while Arlette laments the futility and waste of this young man's life. Then I suggest that she now tell her warrior teachers what she feels toward them and has not been able to express:
"I'm so sorry I disappointed you. I wasn't ready. I wanted so much to be everything you trained me for. You gave me all your love and hope but I failed you."
In her vision as the young warrior, Arlette feels herself rising above the body and she soars toward the sky like a hawk. "They heard me. They don't blame me. They understand."
I give Arlette some affirmations to help heal the humiliation of the first life and the anguish of the second:
"I express my strength and dignity as a woman."
"I let go of old pain and humiliation from the past,"
"I no longer need to fear that I will disappoint my elders."
"I am ready to be the star pupil. I can soar now."
"It's safe to be vulnerable when I sing."
As we look at these two past life re-enactments it is not hard to see how such unhappy stories had left Arlette with the karmic traces or samskaras of total lack of self-confidence when it came to asserting or expressing herself in front of a group, especially a group of men. Not surprisingly a panel of judges at an opera audition recalled in her unconscious the past life memories of abuse by the Amish elders, of disappointing her grandfather, and the feeling that she had failed her warrior mentors as the young war-lord in the other past life. In both stories her throat was affected. In the Amish life it had held unexpressed thoughts, while in the warrior life the pain of that fatal arrow and the frustration of disappointing her elders were lodged there……………
After only a few sessions Arlette told me that her voice felt and sounded better than ever. Some weeks later at a major audition she amazed herself and a whole panel of men and women by "soaring" as she never had before in front of a highly demanding audience. She was awarded the leading role. The career she was obviously born for was finally launched.
The source of the experience
Concepts and Symbols used in the text or image
Observation contributed by: Margaret Booth