Past Lives and Karmic Healing Part 1: a Trauma-Sensitive approach

The first experience I had with past lives was when I was 8 or 9. I had a series of dreams about the time between lives, and glimmers of past lives I had lived. I was fortunate that at this particular time I had a couple of spiritually inclined adults I could talk to about it. So I was not completely alone in contemplating these experiences but there was not much expansion to it after that.

In fact I didn’t have any more dreams of that nature until June of this year.

I have done a couple of past life regressions prior to this, including some more spontaneous experiences in Breathwork. But these dreams were not only glimmers from past lives, they included representation and structure of what that process actually looks like. I believe that had a lot to do with the karmic healing work I began doing in a structured, daily way from March to June of 2022.

This essay is part of a multi-part piece that attempts to capture the experience of exploring past lives and karmic healing. They include some suggestions for your own exploration.

As an introduction, this whole piece does assume the premise that there are past lives. I am beginning with the premise that we have a soul, which endures beyond this lifetime and before. Our Karma determines those incarnations, and we can actively work to resolve or complete our karma or participate in life more unconsciously.

There is a perspective regarding karmic contracts and agreements that before we are born our souls choose this particular life, and that this life is uniquely positioned to complete or carry out these karmic agreements, to resolve patterns and complete aspects of growth and expansion that began in other lifetimes. Sometimes this is misconstrued as suggesting that if you experience pain and trauma in this life, that means you “did something bad” in the last or are being punished. This is a simplification and devalues the fact that it is often our most painful experiences that initiate the greatest growth in our lives, while ignoring that sometimes we are simply a part of someone’s story and there’s no special meaning to a negative experience. It is also sometimes said that those souls who have hurt you the most in this life have taken in the greatest karmic debts in order to facilitate those lessons. Again I agree with this to an extent, but as I said not all pain is karmic in nature. And not all karmic agreements are made with love either. A lack of conscious awareness, and therefore choice, is another factor that throws some chaos into the mix.

A meaningful beginning to exploring your own karma is considering the most conflicted, challenging, and impactful experiences and relationships. In this process we can reflect on the connections and repetitions of patterns. At the risk of belaboring the point, not all of patterns and conflicts are karmic in nature but if they are it is likely that they have repeated more than a few times in similar ways. These repetitions could be seen as opportunities to learn something or rework an emotional pattern. If a dynamic or pattern is karmic, this means that it likely holds repetitions in other lifetimes as well.

Seeing the broader patterns of your experience as having echoes in other lifetimes, in other dimensions even, is hugely liberating in terms of allowing trauma to transmute and change. It offers another way to contextualize your experience beyond simply the terrible things you may have endured.  It opens up a bigger story. 

Before continuing, I want to state this clearly for those who are working with trauma histories specifically, but perhaps it can extend to all. Many of you who know me are aware of the stance I come from, but it bears repeating. 

Identifying a karmic pattern relating to abuse, especially with your parents, does NOT mean “you chose to be abused.” This is another avenue to self-blame, it is also a slippery slope to spiritual bypass. Our overall soul consciousness, or core soul, is looking at the big picture. Even as the soul chooses this life and context, this is based on potentials for healing and resolution. We experience unique qualities of conscious awareness in each lifetime.  It’s not all set in stone, with you having agreed to every specific term and event. None of us can know definitively what the future holds because it is always changing. We all have free will, and we make choices based on our conscious perceptions as well. The world around us does not revolve around our individual soul purpose.

The goal isn’t to “get over” being abused, or growing up with neglect and parents with a general disinterest, or not receiving the unconditional love you needed to develop a healthy sense of value as a child. But this a major dilemma of surviving childhood trauma (and sometimes adult trauma): on the one hand you need to find some way to not be defined by that experience and on the other there is no salve that can completely erase old scars— because you’re not the same person now and the echos of that experience need to be integrated. There’s no relationship in your adult life, romantic or platonic that can replace the need for a parent’s love that wasn’t received when you were a child. There’s no degree of trust and connection that can reverse the knowledge that some would seek to hurt a person intentionally, and such people exist and you might not see it coming. There is a lot of heavy shit going on out there and if you’ve been unfortunate enough to witness it firsthand it leaves a mark that one must learn to carry.  In this sense, there isn’t a “complete healing” available here.

You could work with these wounds forever and at some point you will plateau because not all healing can revert us to a previous form.

But you also can’t live within that space and expect to thrive. It’s necessary to find a way to move forward and not be haunted by the past. There’s another spiritual bypass that’s pretty common around this to the tune of “letting things go” which seems like nicer way of saying “get over it.” It’s not exactly about forgiveness either, although that can happen as a byproduct of healing and realizing that it was never really about you.  I would define the healing that is needed and possible is more in the form of transformation, to be sort of reborn in a new cycle that changes the nature of those past harms.

A karmic approach to healing is not a magic wand, or in itself a way to release pain absolutely.  But it can be a path towards reconnecting with an unconditional sense of self-love, that includes loving yourself as you moved through your most challenging experiences.  Unconditional and ruthless self-love, understanding that every moment of this life, good and bad brought you here, and that you are alive and deserving of joy– this is a resource that can begin to heal the hearts of those past selves.  Because this energy can both reach back to the past and endure into the future.

With time, and with love, those present life and karmic wounds can become a book you carry around with you and have read a hundred times, before realizing that you know it by heart. So you finish it and set it on a shelf in your home. It’s there, you can see it, maybe you ever pick it up from time to time and reread an underlined passage. But it lives somewhere just out of your sight line. It’s in the background. A part of your home but not the center of it.

And you also begin to realize this tale has been told many times, in many ways. It’s not your unique burden that was made for you, and it’s just one part of the bigger fabric of your soul’s story.  Even when you reflexively pick that story back up, and become engrossed it it, you can remember “oh, this this just a story, I can set this down.”

This creates a new story of your life where you can alchemize your pain into expansion. 

I don’t claim to have mastery of this, it is lifelong work for us all. Sometimes, indeed in the writing of this series, I have found myself in a familiar place of feeling totally overcome by grief. Existential pondering can feel very alienating, confusing, overwhelming, and even hopeless at times. What is life even??  These are the moments when we need to invite our unconscious to come forward, to be held by our guides and teachers so that we can hold these ambiguities without short circuiting.  Like Dorothy and her ruby slippers, we must remember that we already know how to return home.

What are some of the relationships or patterns that seem to keep materializing in your life? 

Do you consider them to be karmic in nature?

Do you have any sense of your “past” life experiences? What were they?

In what ways does time feel open ended to you and in what ways does the past feel like a predictor of the future?

What could change in your life if you could avoid repeating certain karmic patterns in the future?

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