By Heather Herbert, Canberra Regional Meeting.
Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose, wrote JBS Haldane.
I agree with Haldane.
There is lively discussion worldwide about the evidence for spiritual reality – not entirely absent from Quakers.
We are talking here about mystery – not in the sense of a question whose answer we haven’t yet found, but in the sense of infinity that expands and deepens as we approach, and out of which we cannot escape to view it whole or objectively. We can have no valid concept of the whole of reality.
Experiences received through our sixth sense or intuition, and through our hearts, I believe, are quite as natural and real as experiences received through our regular five senses or our minds.
However we receive these experiences, we can be mistaken or misinterpret what is happening.
Epiphany, or numinous experience, has been defined as ‘the unveiling of reality’ (or some bit of reality). Many of you will have had epiphanies of one kind or another. They can be life-changing, and for those
who experience them they can produce a deep inner conviction about reality.
But numinous experiences aren’t transferable. They’re powerful evidence for those who experience them, especially if reinforced by hearing of similar experiences from others. But they aren’t easily captured in words, or able to be re-run for objective exploration. I’m not sure they work as evidence for those who haven’t experienced them.
I heartily endorse being sceptical – or at least thinking questioningly about virtually everything. Maybe I do have a comfortably large holding bay, where interesting things can be stored until further experience comes along to either corroborate or qualify them. Some people, I find, dismiss new or ‘different’ ideas rather easily. And, of course, we all have more affinity for ideas that affirm our own stance than for those that challenge it!
There have been and are innumerable instances of people ‘channelling’ wisdom or information that seems well beyond their personal capacity. There seems to be a great deal of data confirming to my
satisfaction that the personality or ‘soul’ or the essential part of our being continues in some way after ‘death’, and that some people on either side of death have the particular gift or calling to communicate across the divide. This doesn’t mean that either side is all-knowing or all-wise, or that the translation can possibly be fully accurate. I sometimes can envisage a sideline message, ‘Your call may be being monitored’!
Whatever Godness may be, whatever is at the ground of our being, has to be infinitely beyond our comprehension. For us, Godness can never be more than our highest concepts can take us. If some centre of consciousness a little more advanced than ours can help us to reach a little further, it seems to me that’s worth consideration, especially if it throws some light and empowerment into our rather messy situation! And consideration is what is asked for; they make it very clear we create our own lives, and cannot abdicate our decision-making tasks or wisdom-discernment to anyone else.
In the 1960s I was intrigued and excited to read Morey Bernstein’s The search for Bridey Murphy (1956), an account of hypnosis, age regression and past life memories. I read all I could about Edgar Cayce,1 one of the people Bernstein explored who was at least partly contemporary with him.
Edgar Cayce was a backwoods boy from a traditional Christian community in Kentucky. He had only very basic education, and became a photographer. He read right through the Bible each year, taught Sunday School all his life.
It was discovered that in light trance he could diagnose physical disabilities, and describe treatments from a wide variety of sources. This gift proved effective in the treatment of people seeking his help – seeming to verify the existence of something like a ‘group unconscious’, or some kind of pool of a wide variety of medical knowledge, into which he was able to tap (before the existence of the world-wide web!). Bernstein, a sceptic, was able to interview people who had been healed through Cayce’s ‘readings’, and doctors who vouched for his accuracy and efficacy.
We can have no valid concept of the whole of reality.
Bernstein, a travelling salesman for his family’s equipment business, was introduced to hypnosis by a chance acquaintance and became a practitioner. One of his subjects, an American friend, regressed to a life in the 1800s in Ireland, as someone called Bridey Murphy. His book title, The search for Bridey Murphy, refers to the search instigated by his publisher for any validity to those past life memories as Bridey Murphy back in the early 1800s, when few birth/marriage/death records were kept in Ireland. The results were impressive.
Dr Ian Stevenson, a professor of psychiatry at University of Virginia Medical School, spent the last decades of his life examining over 2000 cases of past life memory in very young children all over the world. Many of these could be confirmed, because the people involved in the previous lives were still available to be consulted. Stevenson was also the author of Twenty cases suggestive of reincarnation, somewhat better known.
Bear with me, if you can. If we live many times, it makes at least as much difference to the meaning of our lives as does a round earth rather than a flat one, as evolution rather than seven-day creation. It also provides verified evidence that our consciousness is not a product of our physical existence, or of our brain, but uses many sojourns here in its evolution.
In Yesterday’s children, Jenny Cockell, an English woman now about 50, tells of her search for evidence around memories that haunted her of dying in Ireland earlier in the century, leaving a large family. She found evidence not only in church and hospital records, but also in the surviving members of that family, who have now accepted her and her experience, and filled in some of the missing details. As living evidence, they are pretty hard to refute. She’s a sane, critical-thinking contemporary person. Past lives, future lives continues the story.
In the 1980s, Sylvia Cranston and Carey Williams wrote Reincarnation: a new horizon in science, religion, and society, which covers reincarnation in the various religions and cultures of the world; and
scientific enquiry, especially the research of Stevenson. Cranston and Williams also explore the difference that the concept of reincarnation can make in many areas, including teaching and rehabilitation, etc.
Dutchman Hans Ten Dam has written a comprehensive and determinedly objective study, Exploring reincarnation (Penguin, 1987) with an interesting foreword by Colin Wilson.
Those books are about the objective evidence that the non-physical spiritual realm underlies and expresses itself in the physical realm, rather than being a product or an illusion of it.
Most valuable to me has been Michael Newton,2 who while doing past life therapy found that a patient went into a deeper trance state, and recalled her life between lives. He is of a scientific, historical bent, and because his practice now consists entirely in facilitating between-lives memory, he has built up what at first glance looks like a guidebook to Heaven! At first I found this highly amusing, but his systematising of his learnings has proved quite useful. What he has learned, illustrated from his clients’ deepest consciousness is to me invaluable.
My ‘holding bay’ dances with glee when so many sources – William James’ Afterdeath journal,3 the Seth Books (by Jane Roberts), the Conversations with God books (by Neale Donald Walsh), Michael Newton’s clients, near-death experiences and so many others – corroborate and confirm one another.
For me, the more I learn about reincarnation and how it operates, the richer life seems, and the easier I find it to love my family, neighbours, strangers, enemies, etc.
1 Thomas Sugrue, There is a river – the story of Edgar Cayce is the best account.
2 Michael Newton, Destiny of souls, Llewellyn Publns, 2001. (best of his 3)
3 Jane Roberts, The afterdeath journal of an American philosopher – the world view of William James, Prentice-Hall, 1978.