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Observations placeholder

Woolger, Dr Roger - Other lives, Past Selves – Stuck in one of those vicious circles where negativity seems to feed upon itself



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Other lives, past selves [A Jungian Psychotherapist discovers Past Lives] – Dr Roger Woolger

Leonard was a young man in his late twenties who came into therapy with a number of issues around work and relationships. He had graduated from college a few years earlier with a major in engineering that he made little use of. Instead, he chose to live in a cabin in the woods and got by with odd carpentering jobs. These jobs were not very satisfying to him since he frequently felt put upon and pushed around by his bosses. Things were not much better in his personal life. He had had a number of brief relationships with women, all ending, so he recounted, with their dropping him.

All this contributed to a very poor image of himself and to a low-grade depression which tended to isolate him even more. He was stuck in one of those vicious circles where negativity seems to feed upon itself; a slough of despond into which we seem to sink further the more effort we make to pull ourselves out.

As I listened to his story I was struck by the overall social picture of his isolation from any community and almost a loathing of being part of any group or gathering. Having practiced psychotherapy for some years in a college town, I was accustomed to working with graduate students who were weaning themselves away from the comfortable containment in their old alma mater and avoiding being initiated into the not-so-cozy real world of work and adult responsibility. But Leonard's reactions were much more severe than these. He was actually resentful and bitter about a society that had, it seemed, done little more than fail to provide an instant career and a perfect mate!

Clearly it was a waste of time to point out that most of his immediate contemporaries were also struggling along with part-time jobs and muddling through in relationships. Leonard's despair about his place in the world seemed to issue from more than his immediate circumstances, but from what I had no idea.

Whenever there is strong affect, the most helpful approach, I have found, is simply to exaggerate it so as to give it full expression. So I had Leonard lie down on the couch with his eyes closed and breathe deeply as if sighing. "Really let yourself go into all the sadness and bitterness," I instruct him. "See where it takes you."

He does this for some time, heaving, shaking his head, and clenching his fists:

"It's not fair," he says after a while, "It’s not fair. Why did you do this to me?"

I encourage him to name the person, and he adds the name "Sarah," his last girlfriend.

"It's not fair, Sarah. Why did you do this to me? I really cared about you. You led me on. You didn't care at all about me. Why did you do it? Why? Why?"

I urge him to keep repeating these phrases, to fully feel their import and let anything surface.

"Why did you do it? In front of them all. I felt such a fool. What am I going to do?"

"What’s happening?" I ask, alerted by the phrase "in front of them all."

"It's not Sarah anymore. It's this woman on a boat. A big boat. Like the Mississippi steamers, she is very well dressed.  Kind of a hostess type . . . Why did you do it? You led me on. You didn't care at all. I feel such a fool."

Now the tears are beginning to come and Leonard's fists are held, his face a grimace of torment and rage. Behind the pain of rejection by Sarah in his current life, the karmic level of the complex has started to emerge.

Leonard is remembering, it seems, the life of a young man on a river steamer in the American South in the early nineteenth century. He has established himself as a fairly successful gambler and has just had a brief affair with an attractive but far from monogamous soubrette. For all his worldly braggadocio, he is underneath quite shy with women and has naively opened himself up to one who has done little more than toy with his affections. Unable to win her back and feeling publicly shunned by her, he falls into a cycle of drinking and gambling from which he does not emerge, Picking a foolhardy fight with another more seasoned riverboat gambler, he is shot and dies from the bullet wound.

Clearly there is a suicidal element in his provoking the other man and he dies bitter, resentful, and humiliated by the way this woman has publicly jilted him,

This first session brings a lot of emotional release and helps Leonard separate his current feelings about Sarah from the older, karmic complex of rejection and humiliation. He realizes that this old wound drives him to choose women that hurt and humiliate him because a part of him needs to replay the old story. As we go over the past life a second time, I encourage him to speak out some of his unexpressed rage at his riverboat lover:

"You bitch! I hate you! I HATE YOU! You really hurt me, You really didn't care about me. You are heartless and cruel. You just played with me. You just used me."

Yet the karmic wound is far from healed, as we learn in later sessions. The tragic riverboat life turns out to be one of several past lives in which a fatal repetition compulsion has produced one rejection after another, resulting in the unconscious negative thought or klesa that "women will always hurt/leave me." We work through these lives slowly and painfully.

One theme that keeps recurring strongly in Leonard's past life memories of rejection is that of abuse. "You just played with me. You just used me." These words have a particularly bitter ring to them, so in a later session, following the principle of symbolic resonance, I encourage Leonard to find himself in a life where this abuse happened for the first time.

This time the phrases themselves serve to focus all the bitterness and resentment that seemed to lie at the core of this deeply entrenched samskara or karmic complex. By having Leonard repeat the same words that express his hurt in the riverboat life-"You are heartless and cruel. You just played with me. You just used me"-we swiftly moved into the following past life story, which I have here summarized.

Leonard finds himself as a young male slave in a small Greek town in the early days of the Roman Empire. His master is a wealthy but uncouth merchant who is generally disliked and feared in the town. It is this slave's particular fate to be forced into the role of the favored homosexual lover to this ugly merchant whom he hates. His miserable choice is either to submit to his master's sodomy or to be cruelly beaten. Choosing the slightly less painful alternative, the slave is to find yet another level to his humiliation. Word gets around the small town that he is the merchant's "boy" and -for many years he finds himself taunted and ostracized by other slaves in the town who might otherwise have been his friends.

The general disgust the townspeople feel for this lascivious merchant thus gets meted out to his unhappy slave.

The turning point in this cruel life comes when a garrison of Roman soldiers take over the town and, for reasons not clear through Leonard's remembering, imprison the merchant and confiscate his property. His several slaves are turned loose, not being held accountable for their master. But the favored slave whose life Leonard agonizingly reconstructs finds himself the object of loathing of all in the town.

No one will feed or employ him and finally a group of younger men drive him with stones to the edge of the village forcing him to leave.

Bruised, homeless, and utterly embittered at the townspeople and human society in general, the wretched slave wanders the dusty roads for months, begging. Eventually he finds himself work as a goatherd in the mountains. Here he lives out the remainder of his days ruminating over his grievances until death puts an end to his misery.

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