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The Soul’s “Embryonic Journey*”

2015-09-19 9:57 AM | Dave

   A lot of talk about previous incarnations has gone around the New Age religious communities in California, talk that demonstrates how quickly we’re attracted to the belief we are “old souls,” our bodies, new vehicles for souls that existed before. Wordsworth bestowed a poetic dignity on the idea, “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting, the soul that rises with us, our life’s star, hath elsewhere had its setting, and cometh from afar, (Ode: Intimations of Immortality).”

   Many who believe they’ve experienced memories of previous existences spend hard-earned dollars on past life regressions, a method recently minted for the purpose of exploring the details of the experiences, and getting in touch with our true, more authentic selves.

   What are the risks, the down sides of this belief? On one hand a past life identity could give a person a false sense of self-importance, if you believed you’d been an Egyptian Pharaoh named Ramses, for example. On the other hand, it could fulfill a strong need for a sense of meaning and significance that day-to-day existence lacks. Is it merely illusory? Rationally considered, people may be suffering delusions, but I’ve seen truly beautiful creative inspirations come out of such ideas, for example, Chaka Khan’s composition (with Rufus), The Egyptian Song, is about her reincarnation fantasy and it is deeply moving music.

   The Urantia Book (The UB) seeks to clarify that what “arrives” to indwell our minds is the divine spark, the Spirit of the Father, also known as the Thought Adjuster, the Mystery Monitor. “The soul of man is distinct from the divine spirit which dwells within the mind.” (The UB, 133:6.5)

“… the gradual and certain building up in the material and mortal mind of a spiritual and potentially immortal counterpart of character and identity … constitutes one of the most perplexing mysteries of the universes—the evolution of an immortal soul within the mind of a mortal and material creature.” (13:1.22)

   Though naturally a skeptic, I did not completely discount the idea of past lives. I’d had my own experience of unusual memories, vivid sensations, inexplicable mysteries that might have been plausibly explained by past life memories. A vivid and strong impression of myself as a horseman living in desert-like country under a winter sky near the Caspian Sea was part of what inspired me to learn more about the ancient culture of people from the steppes, known as the Aryans in our history. I bought records of classical Persian music, studied the region’s archeology, learned the history of the horse cultures of five thousand years ago, and presented a topical study of their “Journey to India,” to our UB study group.

   My “past life” interest took a more scientific turn. I joined National Geographic’s Genographic project to map the human genome. Upon receipt of payment, I was sent the test kit, two cheek swabs from which samples of my DNA would be obtained. The results came back confirming that I carried genetic markers of a heritage from the Middle Eastern regions, the Fertile Crescent, of about 60,000 years ago. Was it merely an ironic coincidence, or had I discovered something in my past life meditations that had an authentic genetic basis?

   The idea of previous incarnations may be a way we choose to connect with our ancient ancestry whether it’s literally in our blood, or a part of what Carl Jung called the collective unconscious. Jung put forward a technique of “active imagination,” in his therapy practice. It was a way for patients to invite the unconscious into the everyday mind and thus explore more depths in their experience.

   A valid criticism of the New Age concept of past lives and reincarnation is that it is overly deterministic. The old souls come with agendas. People see their lives as consequences of previous lives of uncompleted or “bad” karma, a perspective that tends to leave no room for the expression of their own free will choices. Many believe their duty in this life is to work out the “karma” of past lives. To me, such karmic tasks displace their own dreams. In becoming a passive receptacle for “old souls,” we overlook our own contributions to growth in the spirit.

   The UB points out how old the idea is. “There was, throughout all these regions, a lingering belief in reincarnation. The older Jewish teachers, together with Plato, Philo, and many of the Essenes, tolerated the theory that men may reap in one incarnation what they have sown in a previous existence; thus in one life they were believed to be expiating the sins committed in preceding lives. The Master found it difficult to make men believe that their souls had not had previous existences.” (164:3.4)

   Our study group once moderated classes in religion and philosophy for the Unity Church based on The UB. New Age ideas came up frequently. Inevitably we were embroiled in disagreements. To help, I suggested it would not serve us to take an absolute position on the issue, at least not on reincarnation from a previous Earth life. One detail from The UB was worthy of mention, “Supreme Adjusters, [are] those Monitors that have served in the adventure of time on the evolutionary worlds, but whose human partners for some reason declined eternal survival … A supreme Adjuster, though no more divine than a virgin Monitor, has had more experience, can do things in the human mind which a less experienced Adjuster could not do.” (107:2.4)

   Honestly, my hope was to get to the deeper motivations behind the turn to beliefs in reincarnation. People drawn to the notion are in search of ego strength, an increased sense of personal worth and self-esteem, a feeling of belonging. Ideally, it could lead to a discovery for themselves, within themselves, of that which they hold to be of higher value, their spiritual connection.

   Modern movements come and go and inevitably New Age thought diminished in popularity. I came to accept that the topic of past lives was a preoccupation of the once-dominant counterculture, a subject more fashionable than legitimate as a field of investigation and inquiry. As I’d done with the genome project, I sought more scientific explanations of the question that still remained: how do we sometimes discover an innate wisdom that seems to surpass what it is possible to learn in such small lives limited to narrow periods of time?

   Race memory may be part of a commonly accessed mind such as Jung tried to describe with his concept of the collective unconscious. The Theosophical movement contributed a similar idea, calling it the akashic record. Philosopher of science, Ervin Laszlo, called it the akashic field. Collective human memory may be genetically encoded in the same way that happens during the process of evolution in migrating birds and animals. They have an innate, “instinctive” sense of the best direction to take to reach their winter feeding grounds.

   Our local fringe spiritual movements have concentrated on mind memory as the repository of past life experiences. Mind is our necessary pathway to access the developing soul, “Mind is the human soil from which the spirit Monitor must evolve the morontia soul with the co-operation of the indwelt personality” (111:1.1), and we should not lose sight of the long tradition of soul as our connection to God, rather than to our past human history. More intriguing than past lives is the future that awaits us. In The Urantia Book, the soul becomes the vehicle to take us on a heroic journey into our future. “During the mortal life in the flesh the soul is of embryonic estate; it is born (resurrected) in the morontia life and experiences growth through the successive morontia worlds.” (66:4.9)

*Thanks to Jorma Kaukonen (of Jefferson Airplane) for his beautiful composition, “Embryonic Journey,” recorded on Surrealistic Pillow, 1967.

For David Kantor’s study group on this topic, see:

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