Lessons From My Past Lives
How a medieval maid, a royal teen, and an Italian bartender changed my present
It was a Monday in September and her name was Gloria. She was a maid in a dusty feudal village, disgruntled about always being told what to do; namely washing pots and pans in a cellar to make a wage. Gloria tried to make decisions to improve her life, but they always ended disastrously because they were too extreme, born out of wild desperation. The entire span of her life was marred by regret, anger, and desolation. Gloria was the first past life I ever connected with.
Just over a year ago, I had never thought about past lives. Then, I went to a sewing machine class (hear me out). One of the other students, my now-hypnotherapist and friend, mentioned past lives while explaining her work. Soon, she was exchanging stories with the sewing teacher about healing old wounds and meeting their partners in past lives. I was transfixed by both the total normality in which the conversation flowed and by the stories themselves. I had always considered myself to be ‘at one’ with spirituality, the witchier and weirder of my friends. I spent a good amount of time loitering in the small crystal shop of my hometown, inhaling the incense and new age music, and even once let a friend convince me that I had telepathic powers, so desperate was I for it to be true. But at that moment, I felt simultaneously small and desperate to know everything.
Fast forward a few months, and I was attending regular hypnotherapy sessions. I went in with a particular issue (food-related), but quickly learnt that there is no specificity, no troubleshooting one problem, in hypnotherapy. Rather, you locate, decode, and overwrite a whole network of problems, all of which are buried deep in your subconscious and notoriously resistant to upgrades. This work involves various techniques, from talking openly and playing word games to visiting past lives and filling out questionnaires as if you were 14 years old (weirdly hard). You go from not knowing much about your true self to knowing more than you ever imagined — and being able to change it. Basically, it’s the best value-for-money deal I have ever come across.
(A quick note on believing: there’s nothing I can say to persuade sceptics that hypnotherapy ‘works’, nor would I want to. Having an open mind and the willingness to believe in what you’re doing is part of the process. Interacting with your subconscious means understanding that what happens during that time might not be fluid, coherent, or ‘normal’. For me, after the initial novelty, the whole process just seemed to make sense)
After Gloria came Sophie; a blonde teenager. I stepped into her life as she was lolling around between the long blades of grass in a sprawling meadow, glowering at a castle ahead in the distance. It had been decided since her birth that Sophie would eventually live in that castle; she was a member of royalty. After she had begrudgingly moved into the fortress, Sophie flouted this silent embargo on real life, purposely jumping into zippy, colourful situations like donning outlandish outfits and flirting with older men. She clutched at every opportunity to exist outside of her stuffy, suffocating quotidian. But by old age, Sophie’s vibrancy had lost its lustre. The final image I saw of Sophie was her sitting on a stiff chair in a cold stately room; her and the chair both lonely members of their categories. She was waiting for her life to be over with devastatingly mild acceptance.
Past lives are usually explored as a window into our present. The beliefs and behaviours we currently possess are often products of unresolved issues stemming from a past life. Our past lives might have happened in the way-back-when, but that doesn’t mean that they have fixed endings. When we’re privy to an entire past life, we also have the opportunity to speak to the subject: do they understand what happened in their life? What would they change? Do they want to see how things might have turned out differently? I have hugged Gloria and shown Sophie an alternate path. Healing a past life heals the current life. In fact, they are so intrinsically linked that past lives can also hijack our current lives. After Sophie, I felt uncharacteristically low and lost. I experienced melancholia for the life I’d lived and the battle I’d lost, even though I had made things right with Sophie, for Sophie. It was a simultaneous mourning period for Sophie’s death and adjustment period for the new space and sense of understanding in my body.
The most recent past life I traversed was Joe’s. He was an Italian boy, scarred by his mother’s death and his father’s post-grief rage. After his mother died and the warm cocoon of his loving family split open, Joe and his father communicated only in arguments. His father wanted him to follow his lead and become a fisherman. Joe wanted to do something better, simply so he could believe that maybe he was better, too; better than his father’s rage and ordinary-ness. Joe became a mechanic, married a gregarious singer, moved into a village where everyone had a personality, and later opened his own bar. He became a somebody by existing among all of these definite somebodies. On his deathbed, Joe realised that he had spent the sum of his life feeling detached from it all, knowing he had made choices for the wrong reasons, and consequently never felt like he belonged.
All of the past lives I’ve discovered so far have followed the same arc: the people within them didn’t possess the freedom to make the best decisions for themselves and, as a result, were plagued with lifelong regret about the decisions they did make. In my present life, up until recently, this was somewhat the case. I had been silently seeking approval for my decisions since childhood, and was dealing with this unfillable void by massively overcompensating with the things I felt I could control: eschewing traditional job culture and working for myself, being vocal and firm in my opinions, and taking the lead in my relationship. I was Gloria and Sophie and Joe — trying to alleviate the fear of feeling powerless or at someone else’s mercy by making sure that the decisions I could make for myself were drastic.
As for worrying about frittering my life away: I have always been tormented by ambition, a tethered animal that is so terrified of not roaming free and living the biggest, best life, it often ends up staying where it is, frustrated at the world and at itself.
During a recent hypnotherapy session, I was able to gather all of these childhood experiences, past lives, and ingrained beliefs and see the bigger picture. I don’t need approval for any of my decisions and I am not shackled to someone else’s choices or my circumstance the way that Gloria, Sophie, and Joe were. When I discard the silent pleas for approval from the people around me and simply wait patiently, I can hear myself. My gut is speaking, and what it’s saying is pure, undiluted, unfettered by the constraints and noise of outside influence. In those moments, I understand my fear of not living the brightest version of the life I have pictured for myself; it’s one of those self-fulfilling prophecies that I daren’t keep feeding.
The most significant lesson my past lives have taught me, though, is about how time and space are not limited only to the ways we’ve been instructed to understand them. They are not just equations and numbers and science. Therapists often refer to visiting a past life as ‘travelling through time and space’. In my experience, this is disturbingly, wonderfully accurate. To believe that we simply exist in the realms of straightforward, scientific time discounts the way we are today, shaped by the totality of our pasts.
Since I journeyed through the dusty village, royal castle, and Italian backstreets, I’ve changed. I’m not saying that I’m all good, power-posing under the sun of complete contentment and sorted-ness, but I am certainly a lot less addled by my choices and behaviour. I don’t demand blanket definitions about myself from myself anymore because I’m made of parts that have travelled further and wider than I can possibly ever know. The proof is in the past lives.