Sounds True: Dr. Woolger, if someone were to look over your curriculum vitae, they might be surprised to learn that you work in the field of past lives. How did you happen to get interested in the subject?
Roger Woolger: Well, I'm a trained academic actually in comparative religion as well as psychology, from Oxford and London Universities. I also am a graduate of the C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich. But my own interest in past lives stems not from my academic and psychological work, but more from my own practice of Buddhist meditation. I was a practicing Buddhist for years. And it was during my meditation sessions that very clear past-life memories first surfaced. I simply couldn't ignore them; they were so detailed. And at the same time my first past-life memories were completely unglamorous—glimpses from the non-spectacular lives of common people from long ago—certainly not the kind of thing anyone would want to invent.
Because meditation is at one level a psychological practice, I saw that a lot of my own unresolved psychological issues were reflected in these past-life stories that were emerging during meditation. I should add that these were issues that I hadn't been able to touch in psychoanalysis or psychotherapy.
Sounds True: Your audio study program about past lives is called Eternal Return. What inspired the title?
Roger Woolger: It's actually a phrase from Nietzsche that was taken up by the great historian of religion, Mercia Eliade. It refers to the cosmic cycles of being: that cultures come and go, peoples come and go, whole eras of human history come and go, really. What it suggests is that when we are in our bodies we are subject to cycles that are greater than we are. And on the spiritual level, the soul also comes and goes through cycles of change and evolution, and that there is a process of learning that takes place in the various stages of the cycle.
Sounds True: Are you talking about reincarnation here? Do you believe in reincarnation?
Roger Woolger: There's no question in my mind that when we die we pass something on to other realms—the spirit realm if you want to call it that, or what the Tibetans called the bardos—and some aspect of what is passed on comes back into the world again.
Sounds True: What is this “something”? How do you define it for yourself?
Roger Woolger: I look at it as a type of consciousness, or a collection of fragments from the personality and memory that are somehow bound together. There is not necessarily a very evolved sense of identity involved, but in some sense we can call it a “soul.” The Hindus call it a subtle body, an energy bundle if you like, that is beyond the physical. I think that somehow this subtle body has so much energy that it tends to continue in some way. I think of it as a cosmic version of the law of thermodynamics: the soul energy is not dispersed, but is transmitted into another form.
This reincarnational view accepts the existence of a force or dynamic that directs the soul back to earth again. We don't just go to higher planes of existence and get purified. No, the soul must return to earth for reasons that are not made very clear in any of the world's literature, sacred or otherwise.
Now, Hinduism does teach that our fates are tied to our karma—the idea that everything we do on the earth has an effect. Because of our karma, we may create a moral or a psychological situation which must be played out to the very end. And if it is not played out in one lifetime, it must be carried over into the next.
Sounds True: There are people reading this who are interested in their past lives—but can't work with you in person. Will they be able to learn some of these techniques on their own from the audio program?
Roger Woolger: Oh, yes. What they will learn is how to engage their imaginations in a specific way. This allows entrance into a level of consciousness that does, in fact, connect us to past lives. It's almost as though we have an internal waveband that we didn't know about. Most of us have been listening to the AM band for our entire lives. And one day somebody says, “If you flip this switch, you've got the FM band.”
I teach ways to very simply and quickly flip that switch. People discover in a few minutes that they can have memories—what look like memories—of other lifetimes.
Sounds True: What does the imagination have to do with past lives?
Roger Woolger: What is the imagination but that connection to the vast store we call the “collective unconscious”? I challenge my listeners to let their imaginations go a little bit. To play. To use the magic words “as if.”
When we were children, every one of us had a very rich imagination. And if we can just remember how we used to play as children, we've made a major step into past-life awareness. I believe that as children we were often quite unconsciously playing out our past-life stories—playing with toy soldiers, nursing a doll, exploring in the woods, building castles. And the truth is that imagination is the most misunderstood faculty that we have. There isn't a single college in America that teaches the psychology of the imagination. Imagination is only taught in the literature departments, and then it's part of literary theory. The only people then who know anything technical about the imagination are actually psychiatrists, and what they know all comes from the study of hallucinatory fantasies of psychotic patients. So it's not even a psychology of the normal. It's a psychology of the abnormal.
Fortunately, we have Jung and, to a degree, Freud, who tried to return imagination to the realm of the normal. They gave us permission to connect to these vast stores of imagery that we have within us.
Sounds True: What are some of the typical symptoms people experience that are successfully treated with past-life therapy?
Roger Woolger: Here's a typical example. You are experiencing a deep and unaccountable fear of water; I've seen this several times. In regression, you remember a past life where you drowned. One session of remembering that lifetime, and seeing your spirit leave the body, brings a profound sense of relief and release. You know that you don't have to die by water again. It's already happened. It belongs to the past.
Sounds True: How do you know if a past-life memory is true or not—a real part of human history?
Roger Woolger: The question of truth is very much a left-brain question, which is often asked from a culturally biased point of view. I can tell you that from the therapeutic standpoint, it doesn't seem to matter whether the person who undergoes a regression really believes in past lives or not. It's the power of the psychodrama, the story itself which is healing. The pioneers of psychodrama said its true purpose is catharsis—that is, a healing purification of blocked feelings and emotions. Getting it out, finishing it.
Sounds True: How can reliving these past memories heal symptoms we are experiencing today?
Roger Woolger: It is interesting that the father of modern hypnosis, Antoine Mesmer, said that all healing takes place during some kind of a crisis. That by reliving the trauma or remembering a trauma, whether it's a grievous loss, whether it's a humiliation, whether it's a premature death—those are all typical past-life traumas—just by reliving it in its emotional intensity, clears it from our lives permanently. We bring the emotions to the surface, we have a good cry, we shake and tremble, and then the story's over. The principle is similar to the way we now treat post-traumatic stress disorder: that by flooding the mind or reliving the traumatic event, it can be cleared.
And the beauty of this type of therapeutic work is that the conscious mind is watching all the time. You don't have to go into a deep trance, in which case you don't remember everything. With these methods, you always know that this is “just a past-life memory”—it's not today. So you are in control at all times during a regression. You can always switch the memory off if you want, but if you run the tape of the memory to the end, there is a sense of relief and completion. You know that the past is really over and done.
Sounds True: What would you say to someone who was thinking of trying to remember their past lives for the first time?
Roger Woolger: Well, it's much easier than you think, and trust your imagination. It'll take you wherever you need to go.