I Visited a Past-Life Therapist and It Literally Changed My (Current) Life
When a past-life regression therapist offers to visit your office, hypnotize you, uncover the infinite loops of life and death, and ultimately cleanse all trauma your intrinsic soul has accrued since the dawn of time, you say, "Yeah, OK." If only to snag a quick nap during work hours.
So when Ann C. Barham came to Thrillist HQ offering to introduce me to my former self, I signed on. Would I be a Roaring '20s flapper, or maybe Genghis Khan's sassy sidekick? I didn't know. But, I was skeptical.
My brain had seemingly been removed, gently hand-washed, and placed back inside my skull.
But when my actual past-life regression exploration reached a crescendo, I opened my eyes and looked at the clock. Three hours had passed. It felt like 20 minutes. My brain had seemingly been removed, gently hand-washed, and placed back inside my skull. My body was buzzing. I was expecting a farce, but I got a full-blown, life-altering hallucination. Life and death are in the mind, and nowhere else... apparently? I actually cried a little bit.
You might consider the concept of "past lives" as plausible as a wife-swap with Bigfoot (which is laughable, since Bigfoots are notoriously monogamous), and I don't blame you. But the mind is deep and powerful, flush with weirdness. There are more neurological connections in our brains than stars in the known universe. Barham doesn't seek to explain or decode repressed and celestial memory. She wants to seize it and plop it in our laps using a combo of practical therapy and metaphysical exploration, to power wash the canyons of our consciousness so we can see clearly. This means different things for different people, but Barham doesn't really promise anything specifically.
Except a trip.
Past-life regression is guided hypnosis... except instead of making you cluck like a chicken at a school assembly, you basically feel like you took ayahuasca cut with Mountain Dew Code Red. Barham -- who looks more like a friendly, Bagel Bites-offering mom than a celestial gatekeeper -- has been a licensed marriage and family therapist for more than two decades. Her focus shifted to past-life regression after she took classes on therapeutic imagery and experienced her own intense past-life revelation. (You can read all about it in her book.)
Past-life regression isn't too far outside of the mainstream. Oscar-winner Shirley MacLaine is probably the most firm and noted believer, having written a book on the topic (spoiler alert: She was a medieval warrior and her dog was an Egyptian god). A recent British television series featured D-list European celebs doing this stuff on camera -- opera-pop singer Katherine Jenkins ran an ancient vegetable farm! -- blasting the concept into millions of living rooms. And now Barham and many, many other past-life therapists can bring the experience to your doorstep.
To start my own inaugural session, I brought Barham to Thrillist's brand-new "meditation room" -- a dark, decorated zone for uninterrupted prayer, contemplation, or quiet time that progressively and conveniently opened its doors just the day before. Before we began, I signed a stack of waivers to absolve Barham of liability for any lost marbles. I was wary, but curious. So I signed my consciousness away.
Also covered in the waivers was a major facet of Barham's proposed purpose: using the exposition of traumatic past memories to solve current issues. Claustrophobic? Perhaps you were buried alive at one point. Hate cats? Maybe your wife was mauled by a cougar on the Oregon Trail. You get it. The questionnaire also asked if I had any fears. Any major life problems. A possible addiction, maybe? Since I am essentially perfect in every way, I just opted for "let's see what happens."
After I sprawled on the floor of the meditation room -- white-noise machine buzzing and fake scented candles flickering -- we began.
The switch had flipped from "cool experience" to "maybe tripping balls."
First, she had me create a mental comfort zone for deep relaxation. I described a cabin to Barham. Deep in the woods. A light rain falling against the windows. I could see the reflection of the fire burning in the hearth beside me.
I put on my optional blindfold and lay down. From there, Barham guided me through an unwinding technique. Her voice was cool and relaxed, and as time went by it started to sound less like a human being and more like the robot AI, a mix between HAL 9000 and voice-over from an instructional yoga video. She focused on every part of my body, countering breathing exercises with a sedating countdown until every nerve was numb. My limbs were feeling heavy, but my mind was wide awake.
At this point, she "put" me in the cabin by recounting with perfect detail everything I had described before. This is where I stopped being cynical and started feeling something.
I often daydream -- about winning the Super Bowl; being Superman; punching Tom Brady; winning the Super Bowl while Superman is punching Tom Brady -- but this was different. This vision was vivid, almost cinematic. I was wholly absorbed. She had me picture a long marble staircase. I walked down it several times as she counted down, slowly, opting back into the relaxation techniques until I reached a bowl of eggs at the bottom. Each egg had a number on it, 1 through 10. I was to choose the egg that best described my current point of relaxation. I started at a 4. By the time I took my fifth trip down the stairs, I was a solid 9. My body felt asleep, but not in a numb, tingly way -- it was like I had an intravenous injection of Advil PM. And I liked it.
The switch had flipped from "cool experience" to "maybe tripping balls." I wasn't just picturing these things anymore. I was actually seeing them. Everything felt like it was really happening through her descriptions. Her voice became part of my own consciousness. It stopped being "hers" and just became The Voice. I know this makes me sound like I have an earth crystal tucked between my legs, but this is what happened.
I started to float above my body, over the cabin, with a string of lights hanging in the air below me. The string broke, sending the lights floating like a swarm of fireflies. The Voice told me to seek the brightest one. The light that "called to me." I saw, among the many lights, an ethereal silver glow. I fluttered down to one and became absorbed in it. It swallowed me whole. I fell down a mine shaft of light and my stomach dropped.
This was my past life.
Memories don't work like cameras. Most of what we remember is a tapestry of experiences, feelings, or even something we saw on TV 15 years ago. They're cocktails of misplaced images and feelings. Or memories might be visions of a previous life as our soul makes another pitstop on the astral-plane highway. Either way: I saw what I saw.
I came out on the other side of the light feeling like my contact lenses were made of sea glass. The Voice was compelling me to simply remember, her words reverberating across the universe. I was asked to describe myself as I looked around me -- shifting between a first-person view and an out-of-body perspective.
We started from the bottom and worked our way up. I saw my bare feet in a dust-swept valley. I saw my body draped in unknown clothes. My outline was fuzzy, but my surroundings were crystal clear: I was at the mouth of a massive desert canyon. I had a club in my hand and a horse by my side. I was imagining myself as a Native American. How cliché! But I'll get to that.
As the Voice continued to talk -- asking questions, prodding me about what I felt and saw without stopping -- the story unfurled. While I felt myself "inside" a body, I also saw myself in full-blown movie-montage mode. It was like all the moments of my life were happening at the same time.
I had a family (wife, son, daughter). I was respected in my circle. I was under an avalanche of pressure. I saw the big picture of my existence swelling around me effortlessly. I felt a lifetime of hardships. I experienced relationships that lasted years. I endured famine. I loved my daughter more than I loved my son. I felt guilty. I took long walks. I experienced an entire life that I may or may not have lived.
I felt a river wash me away, hooking me by the hip and shooting me back to my Creator, through a bottleneck of the shining silver light
I argued. I was celebrated and ostracized. I watched the moon and stared slack-jawed at stars that don't exist anymore, or maybe never did. And when I "died," I felt a river wash me away, hooking me by the hip and shooting me back to my Creator, through a bottleneck of shining silver light and into my cabin again.
This vision of being a Native American, is not uncommon, according to Barham. If in fact this was something I pulled out of my ass, it was obviously based in a few touchstones: old movies, books, the constant but wholly unverified reassurance from my grandfather that our great grandmother was Apache. It was a colorful gasp of possible past that seemingly just floated in front of me, unprovoked. Whatever had happened, it was intense and visceral.
But the real core to Barham's experience isn't just a thrill ride or a parlor trick to tell your friends about, or even the seeds to cultivate a never-ending chain of experiential ramblings. What she wants -- and what her clients pay her for -- is a lasting lesson. To uncover something. During my own experience, I was able to view my past self's problems through a macroscope and realized most of the anger in my short life stemmed from frustrations with other people, a problem I took to my deathbed.
Bullheadedness and hubris made for a life a hardship. I was stubborn and proud. I dug my heels in the ground whenever conflict arose. I challenged elders and spat at advice because I thought I was smarter than everyone. It was like watching a tape of yourself in middle school and cringing at your frosted tips and general stupidity. It wasn't easy. But it was necessary.
When I was pulled out of the hypnosis, it was like Barham hooked my eyeballs and reeled me back into consciousness. My mind was swimming with thoughts of cabins and lights and possible cultural appropriation, but the hardest shot to my gut was that I actually learned something that was hard for me to swallow. The vision of past/possibly-made-up-me was a lot like me-me. The same flaws that hindered my life "back then" live on in the present. And it only took a transcendental journey lying inside the floor of well-furnished closet to make me realize the uncomfortable truth of what Barham does: She's a teacher. Your mind is her classroom. And the lesson is different each and every time somebody floats into the light.
I don't think I reached enlightenment, and I'm not sure I can 100% buy into what Barham is selling. My visions were vivid, but I'm unsure if that was the power of my own mind groping and grasping for answers or if it was truly the remnants of a true past life. But I can say one thing: skeptic or not, the journey of past-life regression is not a passage to be taken lightly. If nothing else, you will face some uncomfortable truths, and live out your wildest memory (that may be fantasy).
I did not heal any deep wounds, but I definitely found out more about myself than I ever intended. And I have to think I am now better for it. At the base level, this is Barham's goal. If I am still kind of a prick, I am perhaps less so. At least, I hope I am... which is half the battle. Not bad for a former skeptic.
Also, I think it's really cool I wasn't a Nazi. That would have really ruined my Tuesday.