I began meditating at the young age of 20, when meditation was not common in the United States, and I took very much to heart my guru’s instructions to develop a regular and committed meditation practice. Over the years I found an intuitive faculty developing, a way of knowing that surpasses the rational, logical mind.
I remember once in those early years being awakened at my house in the middle of the night by a large crash, as if the roof was falling in. I jumped up with a start and went around the house checking for any signs of damage. Everything was fine, but the next morning I heard on the news that a roof had crashed down on a building in a neighboring town. How was I to experience the sound of a roof falling so far away?
Similarly, I once had a conversation with a colleague who was describing her work with a prominent man from the museum world, when I suddenly blurted out that he was having an affair. She was startled and, confirming it, asked how I had found out. I had never met this man and knew nothing about him except this one fact that had come into my consciousness. How did I know this?
Most people have had such experiences, but often we pay little mind to how we know certain things. The intuitive faculty is present in everyone, but we are not taught to cultivate it. Consistent, deep meditation can develop this faculty and give us access to a vast store of knowledge that we can’t otherwise access.
The Process of Remembering
The process by which I have come to see and know my previous births has been the same every time, but it is hard to describe. There is always a trigger, an awakening factor—a person, place, or event—that is followed by a magnetic pull inside, a deep interiorization of my consciousness to the extent that I am cut off from the exterior world.
In such a state, I hear conversations and see interactions that I normally would not be able to witness. It is as if I am sucked into a storehouse where these visual images are kept, and once they are released I find myself in a movie, completely identified with the personality through whose eyes everything is being revealed. The perspective is deeply personal as I am seeing events and people through the lens of my memory.
I have wondered, at times, if the memories I am accessing are indeed mine, or whether I am drawing from a large collective pool and tapping into another person’s memory bank. I have learned to accept them as mine only through my intuitive faculty, which I trust as a guiding force in my life, and by seeing how the thought patterns and themes of the past life are similar to the ones I am now living. I have never taken what I have seen at face value, but have always inquired deeper into the truth of what has been revealed.
My guru was very cautious about delving into the past and thus I have adopted this cautious approach: accept what has been given, which has always been for some teaching, but never press further for that which has not been revealed.
As it has become known among my circle of friends and acquaintances that I have seen such things, many have approached me for insight into their past lives, but in every case I have drawn a blank. It has not been given to me to peer into the privacy of another’s past, only my own.
That makes perfect sense, for these experiences are not given for any purpose other than to gain greater self-knowledge and understanding of why we are here. They are not to be taken lightly, and they are not for the purpose of satisfying curiosity. There are many fanciful books about reincarnation and it is hard to discern which are based in spiritual truth. It is for this reason that I share my experiences with more than a little trepidation.
Recent studies conducted by the Pew Research Center show that acceptance of reincarnation has grown tremendously among the American public in the last few years. Once relegated to the belief systems of the Eastern religions, reincarnation is now accepted by many people who belong to the Abrahamic faiths. Similarly, karma has become a widely embraced concept that is becoming part of everyday parlance. Yet, these systems are very complex and difficult to understand.
Even now with the openness to these spiritual concepts, it takes some courage to talk openly about one’s memories of past births. Partly this is because it is difficult to distinguish between truth and fantasy, even among those who accept the reality of reincarnation.
How do we know that what we are seeing and experiencing is real? This is the case with many spiritual experiences and a challenge faced by spiritual practitioners of all faiths. In the end, it is only we who can determine the reality of our own experiences.
The Abrahamic traditions teach that we have only one life, although the mystics of these traditions (Islamic Sufis, Jewish Kabbalists, and Christian mystics) teach otherwise. The dharma traditions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, teach that we keep reincarnating until we are free from all karmic ties. Both are true.
How can that be?
It is a matter of identity. If you identify with your personality, it is true that this personality will only experience itself once, although it will exist eternally in your memory bank. All the conditions that have made me Dena will only exist this one time. When the body of Dena stops breathing, this personality will be seen as a dream—thought forms stored in the memory bank of the higher “me”—which can be accessed when needed. The learning will be carried over to the next personality formation.
If you identify with the higher Self, the Atman, the part that keeps reincarnating, you know yourself to be continually adopting new personalities in the journey of awakening. So the question of the ages is Who am I?
Through meditation, the identity shifts from the personality to the higher Self, and therefore I identify with all the personalities I have taken on . . . and with none of them. I go beyond personality, beyond the limitations that life’s conditions create for one particular episode in the ongoing journey toward full awakening.
When we are born, we begin anew, with all possibilities open to us. We come released from the memories of the past, temporarily freed of the hurts and sorrows, the attachments and clinging, the pain of separation. All of these are left behind, the curtain closed. Why do we not remember who we were before? Surely our birth is not the beginning and our death is not the ending.
I, too, used to wonder why this forgetting, but my experiences have taught me that there is benefit in putting memories to sleep, clearing the slate so we can make fresh choices. There is no real purpose in prying open a door to our past that is meant to be left shut. Curiosity often leads people to seek to re-open the past, but such curiosity brings no true advancement on the upward path.
There are, however, exceptions to this routine forgetting. There are those memories that filter through, that refuse to be put to rest. Most people have some experience of this, especially in childhood when past inclinations are strongest. In time, whatever is needed to be known will reveal itself. There comes a point in our evolution when we will know all that came before and also see the foundation being laid for what is to come.
So much of life is a playing out of the thoughts, desires, and actions that were initiated in times past: the people we meet, the loves that tug at us, the wealth or poverty that comes, betrayals, broken ties. All of these are the result of thoughts or actions that began long ago, regardless of whether or not we are aware of their origin.
Since I first began my spiritual path in this life, I have been interested in the workings of karma—the universal law that bears the fruit of what we have sown. Karma is action and reaction, the law of gravity applied to thought and deed, the seemingly unbending law of cause and effect. What goes up, comes down; the energies we send out return in some manner at some time.
My Current Life
I was born with the door to my past only half closed, and from an early age memories haunted me. I remember my birth, coming out into the glaring light and seeing forms in a half-hypnotic state. The first presence that I felt was my father’s. It was his arms that cradled me, and there was comfort in that physical closeness that eased the tremendous discomfort in finding myself confined once again to a physical form.
As I grew into my teens, I became an avid reader, falling in love with Russian novels. I was fascinated by 19th century Russia. Then as my political life began to awaken and my father took me to Washington for the marches against the war in Vietnam, and as I participated in the civil rights movement, I became a Marxist.
My political interests were soon replaced by a driving quest for the spiritual. It was the age of hippies and flower children, and there was a tremendous sense of freedom and discovery. During my second year at college, my husband and I went to hear a talk by a Harvard professor, Richard Alpert, who had just returned from India, where he had been transformed into Baba Ram Dass.
Shortly after that talk, a friend of ours handed us a book, Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. My husband and I were both hooked from the moment we saw his face on the cover. We shared the book, each reading a chapter at a time. That was the beginning of my spiritual journey this time around. We both recognized Yogananda as our guru. Yogananda had left his physical form in 1952, but he had created an organization to continue his teachings. We applied to the Self Realization Fellowship to study the meditation techniques and I began what was to become a lifelong practice of meditation.
I had been taught not to look for the rewards of meditation effort, but to keep on with the practice, knowing that one day there would be a breakthrough and one’s whole perception of life would change. My guru used to say that the path to God is not a circus; therefore, don’t look for extraordinary experiences, which are not the real measure of spiritual growth. I found this to be true.
For me, the benefits of meditation were greater patience and self-containment, less emotionality, more balance, and the cultivation of an interior life that brought with it the recognition that true happiness is not found in the external world. In the process I was becoming a person at peace with myself, more content and, yes, more filled with joy. Meditation was so much a part of my life that I couldn’t do without it.
Excerpted and adapted from My Journey Through Time.
©2018. Reprinted with permission of the author.
My Journey Through Time: A Spiritual Memoir of Life, Death, and Rebirth
by Dena Merriam
My Journey Through Time is a spiritual memoir that sheds light on the workings of karma — the law of cause and effect that creates one’s present circumstances and relationships — as we see it unfold through Dena’s vivid memories of her previous births. Dena has decided to share her story, despite being a very private person, in hopes that it can provide comfort and awaken the inner knowing of your own ongoing journey through time.
About the Author
Dena Merriam is the Founder of The Global Peace Initiative of Women, a non-profit that brings spiritual resources to help address critical global issues. She is the author of My Journey through Time: A Spiritual Memoir of Life, Death and Rebirth. A long-time disciplined meditator, Dena’s access to her past lives brings a clearer awareness and purpose to her present life, and also overcomes any fear of death. Learn more at www.gpiw.org
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