Spiritual Emergency: Past-Life Experiences | Stanislav Grof MD. PhD.

Past-Life Experiences

Among the most dramatic and colorful transpersonal phenomena occurring in holotropic states of consciousness are experiences that appear to be memories from previous incarnations. These are sequences that take place in other historical periods and often in other countries and are usually
associated with powerful emotions and physical sensations. They often portray in great detail the persons, circumstances, and historical settings involved. Their most remarkable aspect is a convincing sense of remembering and reliving something that one has already seen (déjà vu) or experienced (déjà vecu) at some time in the past. This is clearly the same type of experience that in Asia and many other places of the world inspired the belief in reincarnation and the law of karma.

The rich and accurate information that these “past-life memories” provide, as well as their healing potential, impels us to take them seriously. When the content of a karmic experience fully emerges into consciousness, it can suddenly provide an explanation for many otherwise incomprehensible aspects of one’s daily life. Strange difficulties in relationships with certain people, unsubstantiated fears, and peculiar idiosyncrasies and attractions, as well as otherwise incomprehensible emotional and psychosomatic symptoms suddenly seem to make sense as karmic carry-overs from a previous lifetime. These problems typically disappear when the karmic pattern in question is consciously experienced and integrated.

Past-life experiences can complicate life in several different ways. Before their content emerges fully into consciousness and reveals itself, one can be haunted in everyday life by strange emotions, physical feelings, and visions without knowing where these are coming from or what they mean. Experienced out of context, these experiences naturally appear incomprehensible and irrational. Another kind of complication occurs when a particularly strong karmic experience starts emerging into consciousness in the middle of everyday life and interferes with normal functioning.

One might also feel compelled to act out some of the elements of the karmic pattern before it is fully experienced and understood or completed. For instance, it might suddenly seem that a certain person in one’s present life played an important role in a previous incarnation, the memory of which is emerging into consciousness. When this happens, one may seek emotional contact with a person who now appears to be a “soul mate” from one’s karmic past or, conversely, confrontation and showdown with an adversary from another lifetime. This kind of activity can lead to unpleasant complications, since the alleged karmic partners usually have no basis in their own experiences for understanding this behavior.

Even if one manages to avoid the danger of embarrassing acting-out, the problems are not necessarily over. After a past-life memory has fully emerged into consciousness and its content and implications have been revealed to the experiencer, there remains one more challenge. One has to reconcile this experience with the traditional beliefs and values of the industrial civilization. Denial of the possibility of reincarnation represents a rare instance of complete agreement between the Christian Church and materialistic science. Therefore, in Western culture, acceptance and intellectual integration of a past-life memory is a difficult task for an atheist as well as a traditionally religious person.

Assimilation of past-life experiences into one’s belief system can be a relatively easy task for someone who does not have a strong commitment to Christianity or the materialistic scientific worldview. The experiences are usually so convincing that one simply accepts their message and might even feel excited about this new discovery. However, fundamentalist Christians and those who have a strong investment in rationality and the traditional scientific perspective can be catapulted into a period of confusion when they are confronted with convincing personal past life experiences that seriously challenge their belief system.


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