So anyway, I had a totally amazing phone conversation with an equally-amazing friend last night. It lasted for four hours (although it didn’t feel like it at all, and the only way I knew this was by sneaking a glance at my cell phone’s clock and the runtime on the call just before hanging up).
During such a rocking conversational marathon, it’s (usually) a given that a variety of topics will be covered.
This convo did not disappoint. It totally delivered.
One such topic was regarding past lives and the tendency for the New Age Granola set (of which I might often be mistaken for, or even sometimes qualify for) to place too much emphasis on one’s past life and use it as a means (excuse?) to explain away certain aspects of one’s present life, such as a particular relationship or connection, or perhaps even a particular character flaw or shortcoming.
There might be some truth to that tendency. I mean, if you “click” with someone, find yourself inexplicably attracted to someone, or can’t seem to get motivated, who’s to say that these aren’t holdovers from a time before? And tendencies so widely shared among the population may not be baseless; they might indeed exist for a reason.
Amazing Friend, however, brought up a legitimate concern: they made the notation that in their experience, many of the people they knew who had subscribed to this philosophy and given in to this tendency had done so at the expense of exercising critical thinking in their present life. And it could be leaned on to assume that there might be previous “baggage” to “work through” this time around.
A past life, after all, is quite the easy Umbrella Dismissal; if something or someone is chocked up to be simply residual from a previous incarnation, then it’s easy to put one’s brain in “park” and let oneself off the hook for feeling obligated to think further. And since no one knows for sure and we lack evidence-gathering methods to rack up “points” for either “side”, if someone makes a past life claim, who can argue against that? No one can win the argument; it’s a stalemate every time. Everyone on either side of the debate knows this, so both sides agree to disagree and the past-life advocate can flounce away, smug in their position, but not really any better off for it.
It also robs them of the fullness of their present experience; if every aspect of this life can be explained or justified by a previous one, then there’s less of an urgency to respect the current moment, realize its full significance, and hold oneself accountable where applicable.
For example, I felt an immediate comfort with my partner, even on our first date. Even though he was much bigger than I was, and had tactical police/street training. We hit it off early on, without the usual dotted landscape of awkward moments and insecurity.
In fact, I felt like I was hanging out with an old friend.
I believe that it’s absolutely possible–even probable–that we had been connected before, in a past life. It does make mountains of sense to me. And it might even be true that we might have been brought together now in order to iron out karmically-persistent issues.
But I must be careful here. It’s all-too-easy to allow my beliefs to dominate my thinking, and to obscure my perception of the current situation. It’s easy to write off the connection as a residual artifact of a previous life, but if my train of thought starts to proceed down that track and I become preoccupied with a distant past I have no clear recollection of, then how much of that focus is being simultaneously diverted away from the tapestry of present-day life? If I’m focusing too much on the potential impact of a previous incarnation, then I might not be giving enough attention to the nuances of this one.
For example, my partner can be very distant at times. Despite this, I have remained in the relationship without so much as a fantasy of straying or breaking my loyalty. One might say that I put up with that behavior because I was abandoned in a past life and I fear being alone on a long-term basis than I crave closeness.
That might be 100% true. The theoretical sage imparting this wisdom might indeed have their psychic/intuitive ducks in a row.
However, while it may be trivially interesting or even mildly useful to have that tidbit available, I run the risk of allowing my train of thought to stop at a station as though it were the final destination, and it might never complete what might turn out to be a very necessary journey. I might chock our difficulties up to karmic baggage and let it go at that. I might shrug my shoulders and say, “oh well” a little too early, and my brain might not feel compelled to travel any further. I might prematurely accept my situation, giving up and giving in, when I actually could have gone further and made some fantastic changes that might have led to a quantum leap in my quality of life.
It’s also unhealthy to prematurely absolve oneself of personal responsibility, and I think that dwelling on the potential impact of past lives might promote precisely that effect.
For example, let’s say that someone is argumentative and contrarian. A wise psychic elder might suggest that they might have been too agreeable and passive in a former lifetime, and it might have bitten them in the ass. They might have ended up getting mixed up with the wrong crowd, and maybe even taken advantage of. Which might even have led to their ultimate demise in that lifetime, leaving a lasting karmic imprint on their soul/spirit. Their spirit might have said, “no way, no how, is that ever going to happen again.”
The implication at that point might be that they’re completely justified in their disposition and their actions now. They’re just protecting themselves, right? Anyone would be a little gun-shy after getting screwed, and they might even display combative behavior toward others until those other people have sufficiently “proven themselves”. This robs them of their social skills and their ability to make friends in the Here And Now.
That could very well be totally accurate. But it doesn’t change the fact that they’re angry and oppositional people right now. And it doesn’t change the fact that the people toward whom they’re currently behaving this way probably weren’t the perpetrators of their unpleasant past life experience.
At any rate, it does create confusion on the part of the other party (the ones interacting with the argumentative contrarian) because the innocent bystanders either: 1) never did anything wrong in the first place, or 2) may have wronged that person before but have no conscious recollection or understanding of it now.
If past lives are real (which I believe they are, but that’s just my belief), then the “hard drive” of the mind is “wiped clean” and “reformatted” (at least, for the most part) between incarnations anyway.
I’ve been harping on the usage of potential past lives as a means of neglecting present-day responsibility and critical thinking, but a belief in reincarnation itself is not the problem; I think it’s simply a manifestation of a deeper issue: so many people in general society simply cannot deal with reality.
For many, it may be the simple fact that reality as they know it is painful. Whether that pain comes from an internal hiccup in the organism itself, such as a brain chemical imbalance or a brain-wiring (or re-wiring) connection gone awry, or it’s derived from an external source like a toxic relationship, memories of childhood abuse, or feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness, or inadequacy, reality can be a bitter pill to swallow.
For others, the situation is more trivial (in my opinion), and potentially laced with drama (or the desire for it), probably predisposed by the self-esteem movement of the 1970s and ’80s. “You’re a rock star just the way you are!” inflated budding egos and propelled aspirations and self-images to astronomical, unsustainable heights.
Oops. (I wasn’t in on that; I would have actually been a prime recipient, but my parents didn’t go overboard in this area, so I was spared this problem.)
Score another one for “good intentions can backfire”.
Those who can’t (or genuinely can’t bear to) face present-day reality (for “legitimate” reasons or not) end up living in the past. Or the future. Or maybe both. The Here And Now is too painful a place.
Some will resort to chemical means of emotional pain management, while others will make desperate attempts to convince themselves that they’re valid, interesting, and awesome. (Not everybody takes one or both of these two paths, though, of course.)
Examples of the latter flourish on social media; sites like Facebook and Twitter have provided fertile ground for the reinvention and overinflation of one’s sense of self(-image). Yes, articles like “How To Have a Cool Facebook Profile” and “How To Be Cool On Facebook” actually exist. People not only thought of these concepts, but they figured there would be enough of a demand for them and they actually went to the trouble of writing them, no doubt having those predictions satisfied by thousands, maybe millions, of hits. The thinking goes, you’re only as cool as your Facebook/Twitter profile. And of course, if your profile is cool, then you must be, too, since online life is thought to mirror offline life.
Not only that, but social media itself also serves as its own distraction from living in the Here And Now. The distraction provided by pausing one’s life to chronicle every moment (or to stop to select specific moments) of one’s life on social media has bred new mushroom clouds of insecurity and narcissism, the line between which is thinner than most people realize.
When people aren’t grasping to draw connections between lifetimes, chemically inducing states of emotional numbness, airing their lives on social media, many (myself included, at times) are seeking a more mundane, possibly more “acceptable” means of escape from the Here And Now. It might take the form(s) of TV shows, movies, shopping, or something else. All three provide powerful means of distraction, removing oneself from the current environment. All three allow for–or even promote–the powers of imagination, nudged toward an ideal avatar of oneself. One can feel as though they’re in the room with the beautiful and charismatic characters on TV shows or in movies. Shopping can promote a Creative Visualization experience, boosting the dopamine-related pathways in the brain and inducing sensations of pleasure and enjoyment, a phenomenon that upper levels of retail/mall management are all-too-well-aware of, and use to manipulate the environment to take full advantage of.
The problem with all of this is that these situations, too, steal our attention and distract us from real life. They don’t provide opportunities for growth or improvement. They don’t help us work through our issues; in fact, they detract from it, tempting us with “forbidden” fruits.
I’m not saying it’s a sin to go shopping, watch The Simpsons, upload a cool profile picture to Facebook, retweet something interesting on Twitter, or binge-watch movies all weekend (occasionally). I’m also not saying that we should tread through life with heavy hearts and heads down, obsessing about our problems until we’ve accounted for every loose end and ironed out every wrinkle. I’m not advocating all work and no play.
I’m advocating the Living of Life. I’m encouraging the act of being in the moment, enjoying it for what it really is, and not how it might look on Facebook or compare to Hollywood dramatization, or what might have occurred in a past life to lead up to the current situation. I’m encouraging the maintenance of a presence in the present, being present in the now. I’m suggesting a staring contest with ourselves, injected with neutral, objective realism. Who are we really, after all, when the lights go off, the atmosphere goes away, the surrounding friends (or strangers) disperse, and the social media sites are logged out of? Who are we alone, in the dark, with only ourselves?
That very question frightens some people, to the point where they physically recoil at the mere thought.
Looking around, what are we really doing? How do we actually feel about the people we’re with and the activities we’re partaking in?
Most people don’t notice the sunset anymore. We may not even notice our families. What are the cats doing; what cute sleeping positions have they assumed? How adorable and innocent do they look? (When’s the last time we actually noticed?) We usually don’t notice. We’re too busy texting, scrolling through newsfeeds, taking selfies, satisfying our headline news or “reality” TV addictions, chasing from place to place in order to construct the “perfect” life, taking status instead of taking stock. Desperately trying to find connection using methods that only serve to alienate us more.
Just food for thought. 🙂
Over and out ❤