“Far Memory”

annebarbrobooks

 “Far Memory” 

Let’s suppose for a moment that we live many lives, as different personalities in a variety of circumstances. The TV documentaries on reincarnation, and the past life regressions available online, allow us to meet individuals who seem to have recovered far memories.  These can include data not previously known to them but subsequently confirmed by means of old maps, birth records, tombstones, diaries and letters.  Such evidences have also been authenticated in a more systematic way by credentialed researchers. Is all of it just bunk?

I am not inclined to think so but — ready or not — the credibility of reincarnation is passing into popular culture. Many people are coming to believe that they are not who they used to be, or will be, in gender, race, religion, language, historical era and worldly circumstances.  This is a relatively new phenomenon in the mass culture of the West.

The first time I saw modern Israel, looking down from air space high overhead, what came into my mind unbidden was,

“There it is again.  How nice! They put cities down this time!”

On a trip to modern India, also looking down from the sky, I caught my first sight of the river Ganges snaking far below and thought delightedly,

“How nice! Mother Ganga!”

What would such passing blips in consciousness imply, for thought and action in our world?  Anything more than a hyperactive imagination?

I have been hypnotically “regressed” to a life as a Mayan boy, an African girl, and a youthful Hindu prince. At no point in these hypnotic journeys did I get the superadded sense that the three lives had been factual, rather than merely imaginary.

As a Mayan boy, I looked a bit like Mowgli, with brown skin and blue black hair. I wore only a kind of thigh-length skirt that tied at the waist.  I was limber and simple, a pure soul.  Climbing over those steep hills, I saw a cavern and decided to look inside.  At the far end, standing round a fire, were priestesses in turquoise-encrusted robes.  Attracted by their glitter, I approached them.  To my surprise, they trapped me inside a kind of “iron maiden” that clamped shut for a human sacrifice.  The lesson of that life?  It’s not enough to be naïve.

In the African life, I was a nubile girl of marriageable age (probably around thirteen), and looked forward to having a husband and children of my own.  Instead, I attracted the notice of a witch doctor, who wore a fantastic, feathered headdress with a frightening mask.  He set about dismembering me for his ritual purposes.  After I was dead, I looked down at him from above the gory scene, to see what he would do next.  He extracted my skull from the heap of ash and was reworking it into a fetish, for use in his magical practices.  I thought to myself, what a mistake!  A human being is not a fetish!

In my life as a Hindu prince, I had the entire domain at my beck and call.  I rode in state through the narrow streets on an elephant, and received homage in a grand hall. In the back of this state room, leaning against a colonnade, stood an older friend (in my present life, Leo Bronstein, of whom I have written here).  “Leo” (he had another name in that life) would constantly bring me back to reality, reminding me that all the status and obeisance was worth nothing.  Eventually the palace and city were struck by an earthquake, reducing it all to dust and broken stone.  Leo and I devoted months to pulling people from the rubble and finding ways for them to remake their lives.  Finally, when we had done all that duty required, we retired to a secluded place in the wilderness. There we passed many happy days in plain living and high thinking.  Leo was older than I and he died first.  By the time I too was dying, I felt terribly alone and bereft. However, entering the next world, I was greeted by a chorus of beings who extolled the life just lived as a great victory.  I realized that I had never been alone.

Each purported life held its brightly colored illusions to be shattered and its lessons to be gathered up out of the shards.

So, whether we live many times in many ways, or we don’t, the point is still:

You have to play the hand you’re dealt and not some other

— far  off and dimly remembered – hand.

 

 

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, soon to appear in a revised second edition. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Her next book project will be Conversations with My Father. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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