by Gillian Holloway, Ph.D. (Dream Discoveries Newsletter, Fall 1995)
For many people, the occurrence of an apparent past life dream seems most meaningful in its spiritual implications. I advise people to consider several questions when examining a dream that appears to them to be a scene from a past life. Before you start working on the dream, be sure you have a written record of it detailing as much as possible, and noting the date when you had it. That way, you will not lose possibly important details, nor will you unknowingly distort or embellish the dream while sharing it. There are several ways in which reincarnational dreams (whether factual or metaphorical) tend to be extremely valuable in practical as well as philosophical areas. I encourage you to consider these areas when you examine your own dreams, or when working with others.
- Spiritual Implications: If the thought of reincarnation as "real" is the most outstanding element you derive from the dream-experience; how does that consideration effect your world view? Why is it important for you to open to previously "impossible" considerations right now? Several people have told me they would have considered suicide during a crisis, but their belief in reincarnation made the idea ludicrous; "far better to finish an assignment or lesson now, than have to come back and work through the same thing all over again." Still others report that taking reincarnation seriously caused them to question other assumptions about the nature of the universe. This fearless questioning (regardless of where it took them) was ultimately transforming to their lives.
- Death as Transition: If you have dreamed of your own death in a past life, how did witnessing that passage impact your understanding of events in your present life? Are you going through a type of death in a metaphorical sense right now? How does viewing death as a transition rather than an ending inform your present experience?
- Larger View of Present Life Themes: How does the dream highlight your present fears and struggles? Do past challenges parallel some of the issues you wrestle with today? Some people have seen themselves abuse authority, seduce others, or abandon opportunity in historical dramas, and truly recognized the significance and familiarity of those tendencies. If you do see a parallel, how does that enrich your understanding, and increase your ability to make new choices in your the present? Beware of the popular and seductive belief that the past creates the present. If you feel you have identified the source of an influence, it becomes important to view that recognition as a key rather than a shackle. Search for ways this insight can set you free from automatic reactions, and try not to use it as an "explanation" for the way things are.
- Relationship Themes: If you recognized a loved one in the dream who is in your life today, what did you learn about the deeper layers of your connection? Does your love have more dimensions than you realized, or unconscious fears and conflicts you hadn't recognized before? If so, what do these realizations imply about your present relationship and your responsibility to yourself and your loved one?
- Integration of Polarities: If you dreamed of being someone antithetical to your present personality, such as a torturer, an executioner, or a soldier who slaughtered the enemy with relish, how does the experience of being that person effect your understanding of your potentialities? I believe the very dreams that horrify us with "past actions" may instead be suggesting the integration of the characteristics we consistently disavow in ourselves. Sometimes the persona we develop can become so restricting that we erase the faculties we have inside, if they seem too different from the role we have assumed. This is particularly true of any attribute we believe is not "politically correct," or "nice." Yet power is merely energy; it is when we abdicate our power that it becomes monstrous, or circles behind us in the shadow and enters our experience as a projection onto the "mean boss" or the nasty customer.
- Validation of Life Purpose: Some people dream of working in their present field during another time, often as a great talent. These dreams seem to suggest that the reason you "must dance" today is because you have been a great dancer before. Whether or not these dreams represent actual past lives may be less relevant than the very real encouragement they offer. Vocational dreams, that is dreams about a certain calling in life should be reviewed diligently and with great respect. At the very least, they are often truthfully revealing a great gift you may have been hesitant to share with the world. When people share the talent or gift that burns within them, the growth that manifests as a result is truly beyond price.
Fame and fortune may or may not arrive as a result of sharing your gifts, but one thing does arrive that cannot be measured: your Self.
- Recognition of Prejudice: In many cases people are shocked by their own prejudice, sexism or genocide in these past life dramas. We would rather dream of being a famous shaman than a famous slave-holder, or a war criminal. People who are the most vehement opposers to injustice sometimes have past life dreams that appall them if taken literally. Yet we must use a loving discipline when examining even the most unappealing of dreams. Just as movies, literature, and historical documentaries help us learn about hatred and fear, (not only the horror of it, but the mechanics of it), so these dreams arise to educate us about the seductiveness of fear at any given time. The dreamer may be falling victim to the hold of hatred in this lifetime in some way, and fail to realize it because of the "justness" or correctness of their position. Even when we condemn someone or something in the name of a virtuous cause, we must be honest about the mechanics of fear and hatred, for they are remarkably similar and dangerously convincing in any context.
Don't let anyone tell you whether or not your dream was the memory of a past life. Only you can determine such a deep and personal question. In working with others, attempt to give them psychic room to make that individual assessment as well. For now, a useful position appears to be holding open the possibility that past life dreams are just what they appear to be, while at the same time investigating these dreams for the insights they offer to enrich our present lives.