Please note – this post is not an attempt to persuade people into believing in reincarnation.  The post takes reincarnation as a given and moves on from there to answer the question below.

“A man breaking his journey between one place and another… sees a unicorn cross his path and disappear.  That in itself is startling, but there are precedents for mystical encounters of various kinds, or to be less extreme, a choice of persuasions to put it down to fancy; until – “My God,” says a second man, “I must be dreaming, I thought I saw a unicorn.”  At which point, a dimension is added that makes the experience as alarming as it will ever be.  A third witness… adds no further dimension but only spreads it thinner…the more witnesses there are the thinner it gets and the more reasonable it becomes until it is as thin as reality, the name we give to the common experience… “Look, look!” recites the crowd, “A horse with an arrow in it’s forehead!  It must have been mistaken for a deer.” – Guildenstern, from Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, by Tom Stoppard


If we truly have lived before – why don’t we remember our past lives?

A natural question that arises when contemplating reincarnation is why we don’t remember our past life experiences.  After all, it seems like it would be tremendously useful in our current life to refer back to pitfalls we’ve run into before or have a clear understanding of our ‘learning objectives’ for the current life.[1]  According to Michael Newton in his book Journey of Souls, “the true answers to the mystery of life after death remain locked behind a spiritual door for most people.  This is because we have built-in amnesia abour our soul identity which, on a conscious level, aids in the merging of the soul and human brain.”[2]   Newton’s subjects themselves opine on this question while under hypnosis, “[Dr N:] Why do you think you had no conscious memory about your life as Ross Feldon? [Subject:] …If people knew all about their past many might pay too much attention to it rather than trying out new approaches to the same problem.  The new life must be… taken seriously.”[3]  As compelling as this reasoning is, real-life experience suggests that it isn’t really true.  Newton himself acknowledges that there are “back door” ways to get at this information (ostensibly via hypnosis treatment with a trained past life regressionist).  Even without that “back door” way, however, many – maybe even most – people have mental brushes with their past lives – they just don’t always recognize them at the time (or ever).  In his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Carl Jung mentions, “…a curious experience…an ancient green carriage from the Black Forest drove past our house one day… When I saw it, I felt with great excitement: ‘That’s it!  Sure enough, that comes from MY times.’ It was as though I had recognized it because it was the same type as the one I had driven in myself… I cannot describe what was happening in me or what it was that affected me so strongly: a longing, a nostalgia, or a recognition…”[4]  I speak of my own experience with this kind of recognition in the post Through the Looking Glass.  To better investigate the puzzle of our inconsistent and incomplete ability to access past life memories, I decided to venture into a little more academic territory and check out a textbook on the subject.[5]

Inputs and Outputs

What we think of as ‘memory’ really describes two basic interactions that are meaningful to our lives; getting stuff ‘in’ to our brain and getting stuff out again.  Although exploring the question of past life memories primarily refers to the ‘getting stuff out’ process, an important piece of this puzzle is understanding how ‘stuff’ (for example, our past life memories) gets stored in the first place.  There are two recognized ways in which we ‘get stuff in’ – intentionally and incidentally.  That is to say, we can try to memorize things, like a phone number or information for a test, or we can store sensory information somewhat accidentally.  Most of our autobiographical memory is stored incidentally.  Only very rarely do we find ourselves living through a particular episode and thinking, I want to remember this moment and then actively attempting to do so.  As a result of this, our mind often picks up a mix of perceptual[6] and semantic[7] information about a given experience and writes that into storage.  Since it is incidental, various details about the experience may be present or missing – the mind may key in on something distinct and store it perfectly, but some other details may be just “filled in” at the time of encoding[8] or retrieval[9].  If this is what our memory is doing in the current life, presumably it is also likely to be how our brains were operating in a past life when that was, once, our ‘current’ life.

With situations or experiences that are often repeated in life, as our brain takes in info for storage it appears to organize the sensory data into some sort of higher-order structure.  One type of higher-order structure is called a schema.  Folk tales, for example, “ have an underlying, invariant organization… a story schema or story grammar… A range of studies ..[show] that material that fits with relevant story schema structure is well recalled, while material that violates the schema is poorly recalled.”[10]  One example of how a schema functions might be that there are certain common elements of particular types of stories.  For example, common characters might be; the princess, the prince, the evil queen, etc.   Another way the brain may organize stored information is by means of a script.  A script is more concerned with sequencing of particular activities, and “codes information concerning stereotyped events , such as what happens when we visit a restaurant or a doctor’s office.”[11]  You might have a stored script, for example,  for using an ATM which features walking up to the device, inserting your card, punching in numbers on a keypad or touch screen , making various selections, and retrieving money from the receptacle.  The script enables your mind to store key elements of a particular experience (usually the distinct ones), but information that is more common across multiple experiences and less meaningful may not be stored for each individual event and instead rely on the underlying structure of a script or schema as scaffolding for recall.[12] [13]

Now that we’ve laid some groundwork on how our memories (presumably including our past life memories when they were our present life memories) are stored in the first place, we can explore why we don’t actively “remember” our past lives in our current life.  There is some background we should cover here, too, before we go further.  There are several concepts associated with “getting stuff out” of memory that are relevant to this discussion.  Encountering an external stimulus may result in what is termed access of content in the memory, “Access does not imply that the contacted material will be recalled.  The term retrieval is used for the actual event of recollection.”[14]  Access appears to be the earliest in a series of steps required to retrieve memory content.  Once material is accessed it may or may not be retrieved.  The process of retrieval is broken down into recall and recognition with recognition being considered the ‘easier’ task.  “Under standard conditions, recognition performance is always higher than recall.  Recall is higher under deliberate [intentional]learning conditions… while recognition is higher under incidental…”[15]  As noted earlier, storage of autobiographical events is much more likely to be incidental than intentional.  “Recall is defined as the ability to remember some past content when no corresponding stimulus is present”[16]  For example, most of us can recall our phone number or address without an external trigger to aid us.  The other incidence of retrieval, recognition, is broken down into the concepts of familiarity and recollection.  “Familiarity is involved when you encounter something and sense you have seen it before… The sense of familiarity can be either strong or weak with a range of strengths in between.”[17]  Recollection, on the other hand, “involves recalling the context in which some person or information was encountered in the past.”[18] With recollection the information is either readily available to the conscious mind or not, there is no range.  Howes reports that “Familiarity appears to be established more quickly than recollection and is believed to reflect an earlier stage of processing.”[19]  Familiarity seems to be the process most often involved when we experience a past life memory.  We encounter some stimulus (shoes, a car, a particular style of clothing) that triggers an emotional response deep within us, but we cannot ‘recollect’ why we have such a strong reaction.

Get a Cue

We experience familiarity and recollection with our current life memories when we come into contact with an external stimulus that serves as a ‘cue.’  Howes notes that, “Probably the most influential development in memory research across the past half century… involves the notion of cues”[20] and goes on to explain, “It is now understood that the nature of your thoughts, at the moment when you try to recall a given episode, can make a difference concerning your success or failure in recollection… that is, we may be unable to recall a given episode when certain ideas or perceptions are present in awareness, and yet recall that same episode when different ideas are present.”[21]  This seems to correspond with how most past life memories (ignoring hypnosis) are triggered in the current life.  A stimulus is present and the individual is somewhat overcome with feeling – which the current life brain may or may not be able to make sense of in the moment.  Carl Jung mentions ‘nostalgia’ when talking about the gig above and also relates that he, “..had still another experience that harked back to the eighteenth century.  At the home of one of my aunts I had seen an eighteenth-century statuette…This statuette…had buckled shoes which in a strange way I recognized as my own.  I was convinced that these were shoes I had worn.  The conviction drove me wild with excitement… I could still feel those shoes on my feet, and yet I could not explain where this crazy feeling came from.  I could not understand this identity I felt with the eighteenth century.  Often in those days I would write the date 1786 instead of 1886, and each time this happened I was overcome by an inexplicable nostalgia.”[22]  In my post Through the Looking Glass, I mention having a very similar experience with an old car of my uncle’s.  I could not use the word ‘nostalgia’ to describe those feelings because, at that age, I don’t even think I understood the concept of nostalgia.  Rather, I would say I felt an intense and unexplainable ‘liking’ for the car, perhaps even a type of ‘love at first sight’ and a desire to ride in it.  I couldn’t make sense of what I was feeling given the context of my life so far.  Even so, the sentimentality stuck with me for many days and weeks afterwards.  Unfortunately, with no context to support the experience and hardly any further experiences with the car[23] it eventually sunk below my conscious awareness until it was triggered again after my past life regression session when I was looking at an online picture of Kay standing next to “her” car.  My uncle’s car had been the cue in my youth for the feelings of familiarity based on the past life experience and later the picture of Kay with the car had cued the memory of my experience with the car in my youth.[24]

Why aren’t  we bumping into cues all the time?

If all it takes to trigger a past-life memory is a cue, why doesn’t it happen more often?  There are several reasons why this could be.  For one, very common stimuli (apples, for example) are unlikely to serve as cues, even in our current life.  If we live this time around in a place where apples are decidedly uncommon, the first time we see one it may trigger a feeling of familiarity based on a past life.  However, this is only likely to be noticeable if apples were associated with a significant event in, or somehow central to, that past lifetime.  Even if an apple did engender a feeling of familiarity in this lifetime, we were likely pre-verbal when it happened and had no way to communicate that.  By the time we were old enough to speak, apples would have become commonplace enough for us that they would have either cued memories from this lifetime or, more likely, nothing at all.  With increasing globalization it may seem like – even if our past lives were a world away – we should be running into cues all the time.  It is true that the increased accessibility of other places and cultures may be offering up more stimuli that have the potential to cue past life memories.  On the other hand, as times change, the signs, symbols, and objects we interacted with as part of a previous space in history are likely to be less present.  It’s rare to see cars that are 60, 50, or even  40 years old on the road today.  From what I understand of cues they have to be fairly specific  – especially for more remote memories.  Even if we were to visit a county where the most recent past life had been lived, we are very unlikely to casually come across something from that time period that was also significant to our past lives.

So why – even when we do chance upon a ‘cue’ (as in my first experience with the car) does it not trigger a clear past life narrative “memory” and instead just evokes a generic, if strong, feeling of familiarity?  To answer this question, we have to back up a bit and revisit how memories are likely to be stored in the first place.  Taking the reincarnation concept as a given (as I mentioned at the start that this post does), we recognize that we don’t carry everything with us from life to life.  If nothing else, our previous bodies are left behind as if we are shedding a snake skin or cocoon.  We should not minimize that part of that human body was also a brain.  Much like our eyes are the instrument through which we take in images, our brain processes events and information that come in from the senses.  It is logical to suppose that when we leave the brain behind – we also lose all the higher order structuring (such as schemas and scripts) that the brain constructed during that lifetime.  Some of this logic can be loosely corroborated by research into why we don’t remember memories from our early childhood or infancy.  “There is… clear evidence [from experimental data] that infants form recognition memories.”[25]  However, autobiographical memories of a narrative sort appear to only start cementing into our storage a few years later.  “Pillemer (1992) examined the memories of 3.5  and  4.5 year–old children concerning the evacuation of a preschool due to a possible fire hazard…  Fifty-four percent of the younger children claimed, incorrectly, that they had been outside when they heard the fire alarm.  They also showed a poor grasp of causality related to the event and temporal factors.  The older children performed better on all these measures.  The author interpreted these data as suggesting that the weak memory function of young children may be due, in part, to the absence of the relevant higher-order structuring abilities.”[26] If the author of this study’s interpretation is correct then it further bolsters the argument that cognitive organization that aids in recall is developed, with growth and experience, in the corporeal brain.  Therefore any past life memories that came into the new life with us would essentially just be ‘loose content.’  To give an example of what this would be like, imagine a library where there was no organization to how books were shelved ( no numbering system, related books not even shelved together) and no inventory system where you could look up whether the library had a particular book and where it was located.  How would you ever find anything?  Finding a book on the subject you were interested in would become an incredibly chance event – which is exactly what appears to happen with past life memories.  We stumble on an unexpected cue that triggers intense feelings of familiarity, nostalgia, or some other emotion for no explainable reason.

The above is only half the answer, however.  There is an aspect of memory that isn’t really discussed in Howes’ book but, from my own reflection, is another important reason why we have such difficulty ‘remembering’ past life memories.  This is the concept of memory reinforcement.  If you’ve lived a moderate length of time you have probably had the experience of ‘reconciling’ memories with someone else.  It goes something like this – Person A says, “Do you remember the time when…?” and the other person says “Oh yeah <thinking> , I remember, that was when we did ‘x’” and the other person either agrees and compounds the memory with additional details, or they may something like, “no, it wasn’t – it was when we did ‘y’ – don’t you remember? and you were wearing that <insert clothing detail>.” And so on.  Basically, the two (or more) people who have a shared experience are reconciling their memories of the event.  Even if they don’t agree on the details they are reinforcing each other’s conviction that the episode, in fact, actually happened.  We almost never get reinforcement of our past life memories –even under hypnosis we are remembering events in a vacuum that is difficult to validate in any reliable way.  Some people are lucky enough(as I was) to find outside validation of information from a regression session – but even when that is the case it is an isolated experience that can often leave you wondering, is this just a coincidence or is it really true?  Thus we may come in direct contact with a past life reference and yet be the first dismiss any feelings of familiarity if we cannot readily explain them.

Returning to the idea that launched this post, the concept that we do not remember our past life memories because of “forced amnesia by design,” after study and reflection, I doubt that is really true (or, at least, not wholly true).  The advantages of not remembering our past lives mentioned in the introduction seem to be at least offset, if not completely outweighed, by the disadvantages.  Further, it seems that when we do encounter a memory ‘cue’ those memories can be accessed, even if it is a very primitive form of access.  If we were intended to not ‘carry the weight’ of those past life memories why would we be able to access them at all?  Finally, although we don’t recall specific context related to those memories in any kind of organized fashion, we are hardly immune to their existence.  Past life influences and patterns of behavior can wreak havoc all over our lives again and again without us even realizing what is happening.  Hopefully, in this post I have laid out some reasoning that may help explain why we do not remember our past lives, but I leave you to decide whether this is biology or by design.

In closing, I’d like to share a brief anecdote Howes relates of an amnesiac patient that I find particularly compelling and relevant in capturing the influence these ‘hidden’ past life memories can have on us, “individuals suffering from amnesiac syndrome show impairment in explicit memory[27], but they often demonstrate normal implicit memory.[28]  For instance, the French doctor Claparede reported that he had shaken hands with an amnesiac patient while concealing a pin, which pricked her.  When they met again, the patient had no recollection of having encountered the doctor before,but she refused to shake hands with him. (Claparede 1911).”[29]

[1] see post on choosing our parents, The Ring of Destiny

[2] JOS loc 57

[3] JOS loc 850

[4] Memories, Dreams, Reflections Loc 704

[5] I chose Human Memory: Structures and Images by Mary B. Howes.  As with all scientific research and conclusions (and anything in life, really) not all academics agree on a particular theory or conclusion.  However, the concepts I introduce in this post seemed (as presented in the reference material) to represent relatively basic mainstream ideas about how the brain’s memory function works.

[6] empirical / information related to what’s picked up by the senses

[7] information related to our interpreted meaning of a particular event

[8] encoding = storing a memory

[9] one mainstream branch of current memory theory is constructivism.  In short, the idea behind constructivism is that our memories are ‘constructed’ in storage and also ‘constructed’ upon retrieval.  That is – various components if a given memory are stored and processed in multiple locations in the brain and ‘re-constructed’ when we retrieve the memory versus retrieving a ‘whole’ memory.  Components of this philosophy appear to have been modified and elaborated on or served as launching pad for some of the more current theories mentioned in this posts such as the use of scripts and schemas.

[10] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006),  loc 5118

[11] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 5125

[12] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 5151 – also refer to footnote #9 on constructivism

[13] Aside from schemas and scripts there exist other higher-order structures that help us make sense of our world and therefore support our memries of various events.  I have stuck to the most relevant ones for this post here.  The others in no way contradict or undermine the case being made in this post.

[14] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 3131

[15] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 3369

[16] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 5553

[17] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 3380

[18] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 3380

[19] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 3386

[20] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 876

[21] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 566

[22] Memories, Dreams, Reflections C.G. Jung, Aniela Jaffe, Vintage; Reissue edition (January 26, 2011) loc 719

[23] being in the garage, a place we kids were not allowed to go, and under a dropcloth – not to mention that my uncle and I were not always on the best of terms, I did not have many chances to spend time with or even look at the car.  I do remember – while they lived in the house with the detached garage off the backyard and the access door standing open, I always retained a sortof low level awareness of it’s presence when I was in the yard.  The shape watched like a ghost, the form only partially visible, a khaki shrouded mystery.

[25] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 5547

[26] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 5559

[27] explicit memory refers to changes that occur in long term memory that result in material actually being recalled – Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), Loc 6606

[28] implicit memory involves changes that occur in long term memory that do NOT result in conscious recall – Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 6606

[29] Human Memory: Structures and Images, Mary B Howes, SAGE Publications, Inc (November 22, 2006), loc 6618

“and then you had to bring up reincarnation / over a couple of beers the other night / and now I’m serving time for mistakes made by another in another life time…but then again it feels like some sort of inspiration, to let the next life off the hook / She’ll say look what I had to overcome from my last life, I think I’ll write a book…” – Indigo Girls, From the Song, Galileo

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…

Parenthood in the Animal kingdom can be a dangerous business.  A number of movies have already popularized the mating habits of various insects such as the praying mantis and the black widow spider.  For Salmon swimming upstream to spawn, the female’s organs actually liquify to make room for the growing sac of eggs which will, if the stars are aligned, become future salmon progeny. Luckily for most mammals, humans included, parenthood doesn’t usually result in death.  For us homo sapiens sapiens, the first year of life is the much more perilous period.  The risk of death by age tables and graphs show that our chances of dying under age one in most developed countries is significant, we don’t have that high a risk again until over age 50!  We are born unable to survive in our own world, and unlike most mammals who can do this within a few months or a year at most, the majority of us age well into double digits before we’re ready to fend for ourselves completely.  Despite the fact that those formative years are so critical to our survival and development, it is still difficult for many of us to accept or believe, as Michael Newton’s research suggests[1], that we choose our own future lives rather than being dropped in by ‘accident’ of birth.

If we step back and examine the reports, though, it’s clear that the idea of ‘choice’ can be a bit misleading.  Based on my reading of the dialogues between Newton and his subjects, the situation is more like choosing classes as a college junior than choosing candy in a candy store.  If you’re majoring in biochemistry, your junior year is probably not going to be full of classes in basket weaving, modern dance, and exotic languages – as fun as those may sound.  Likely you are going to have to balance your major and graduation requirements against taking one or two “for-fun” classes.  As I will illustrate with examples from the books in more detail below, for most souls, choosing the next life’s circumstances appears to be more about what a particular soul should do or needs to do for its own development than about choosing a lifetime full of success, happiness, and love while avoiding sadness and pain.

The Power to Choose

According to Newton’s books, choosing a future life from the ‘spiritual plane’[2] appears to be a multi-step process.  In our energetic ‘soul’ state, we review the things we need to work on from previous lives; karmic lessons, various experiences need to for development, and discuss these over with our spirit guides.[3]  Based on these ideas of what we would like to work on in the next life, a few life options that might work are chosen[4] and we visit a ‘place’ Newton calls, “The Ring of Destiny” which seems to be like an imax theatre for one that displays futuristic scenes of events and people that the soul will encounter in the life to come”[5].  Newton reports that descriptions of this place are consistent among subjects with divergence more in minor structural details rather than overall purpose and experience.[6]  When we think of ‘choosing our parents’ or ‘choosing our lives’ we may think – if that’s true, out of all the millions of options, why on Earth would I have chosen this life?  It’s clear from the dialogue, however, that this kind of thinking is a misunderstanding of the nature of choices we have.  We do not appear to have many choices of new lives or bodies at all, the consensus appears to be that less than a handful of body choices are presented.  One subject commented, “…usually I only get a couple of body choices and that makes it easier for me”.[7]  Please note that I am not intending to imply any value judgement here – that it’s good that we only have a few or that it would be better if instead we had more.  Rather, I am just trying to clarify that – if we accept the possibility that the experience Newton’s subjects report is accurate – the proposition is not that we choose our lives or parents out of an infinite number of possibilities, but that we may have been presented with two or three options and selected the one that best represented what we intended to do.

Further, we may think of the spiritual plane as a place where we are free from human emotions and pain.  While this appears to be mostly true[8] it’s clear from the many dialogues that Newton publishes that even souls have reservations in the selection of next lives.  Newton reports, “..we are not really prepared for the choices offered to us once we enter the life selection room.  There is a sense of wonder and even some apprehension for the average soul”[9].  In the Ring of Destiny or life selection room we are able to view multiple scenes from future lives and even (apparently) enter ‘into’ scenes to experience the action of some sequences firsthand.  Even so, “some apprehensive souls have said they refuse to enter the screens for fear they might lose their nerve in accepting a difficult life contract”[10]  So the perception that we, as souls, choose difficult future lives for ourselves without any idea of what we’re walking into also appears to be a misunderstanding of the case studies that have been reported.  Sometimes, after viewing sessions, souls go into deep counseling sessions with their soul groups and spirit guide[11] because they have such strong reservations about a particular body choice or deep inner conflicts over which life to select.  One of Newton’s cases brings this point home, ““[Dr. Newton]: …go to the period just following your initial viewing of the man who is Steve.  What are your thoughts? [Subject]: such a resentful man…he is so angry about his mother dumping him on a doorstep… And those hard-nosed people who will take over as his parents… I don’t know if I even want to take this body!”[12]

Karma; she dogs our existence

From Consequence, n 1.) The effect , result, or outcome of something occuring earlier[13]

One thing that Newton (and his subjects) seem to somewhat tiptoe around is the subject of karma. I’m not sure why this is.  After all, we know from Isaac Newton’s third law of physics that, “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”. When we boil everything down to energy and motion[14] – it shouldn’t surprise us that this holds equally true for our own actions.  While I think it’s fine to shy away from using words with overly negative connotations such as ‘retribution,’ ‘punishment,’ and ‘revenge,’ we do need to realize that there’s no such thing as a ‘free pass’ in life, even if it seems like we (or others) are getting one at the time. Our choices have consequences. Per one of Michael Newton’s subjects, “[Subject]: In my last life, I chose a difficult path with the body of a woman who would die within two years of marriage.  My husband in that life needed to feel the loss of someone he loved deeply for a karmic debt from the life before”.[15]  This doesn’t mean we should be quaking in our shoes every time we do something wrong, but it is a powerful reminder to live our lives mindfully.  It can be disheartening to watch as people appear to get away with very bad behavior without any repercussions, and the karmic wheel can certainly seem to take a long time to turn, but it does always seem to balance out in the end.  As one of Newton’s subjects reports, “[Dr. Newton]: Why did you and Eone wait 4000 earth years before discussing a balancing out of your treatment of her in Arabia?  [Subject]: Earth years mean nothing; it could have been yesterday.  I just wasn’t ready to offset the harm I did her as Haroum.  She says circumstances are right for this exercise now”[16]

‘I’m Free to do what I want any old time….’

Talking about karma and viewing scenes from lives before they happen tends to raise the question of whether or not we have free will. I intend to devote a whole post to this topic, but for the sake of this discussion, I want to note a few key points from the Michael Newton books about future life selection and alternative options in life.  It may seem from the picture painted above that, although you’ve only seen a ‘trailer’ of your life in the Ring of Destiny, the whole picture is ‘in the can’ before you’re even born.  On the contrary – as noted in the “Everything is Now” post – the future doesn’t actually exist so it can’t be set.  Additionally, there are points in Newton’s dialogue that provide important counters to the idea that our lives are predestined to turn out a particular way.  For example, in one dialogue  “[Dr. Newton asks]:..if Ashley had begun her life with another soul entity..she might not have fallen at all?  [Subject]: yes…that’s a possibility… one of many…she could also have been less severely injured…”[17]  This seems to indicate that whether a soul chooses a life and whether the ‘human body’ on the other end exists are two relatively independent things with many possible permutations.[18]  Even after a soul has chosen a particular ‘body,’ there are multiple potential outcomes as Newton illustrates in another dialogue, “[Dr. Newton]: Was there any chance you might live? [Subject]: A slight one, but that would defeat the purpose of my joining with that body”[19]  Here a subject had chosen a difficult life contract with a ‘planned for’ early death – but, nevertheless there was a chance she may have lived anyway..

The key conjoining factor, in these interwoven topics (free will, karma, forecasting the future) is that energy has a trajectory – it has movement and directional flow. Most of us are familiar with the concept of “inertia” from high school (or earlier) science class.[20]  As we move through life making one choice after another, we pick up ‘momentum’ in a particular direction and the course we set ourselves on becomes harder and harder to divert.  Not impossible, just more and more difficult.  To corroborate this, Newton notes in one of his dialogues, “…Amy indicated to me from a past life review…that her alternative choices to suicide began to fall off the chart of possibilities after a while”[21] We are not necessarily aware of how our choices in life bring us to particularly painful or challenging junctures because often there are subconscious motives and higher self motives influencing our behavior in the background that our conscious mind is oblivious to.  This is not to establish judgment that any one path is qualitatively better than another path – just to note that even with all the future viewing we apparently do before our lives, and the goals we set for our future incarnations in the spiritual state, our future life is not set in stone – far from it.  Newton’s dialogues abound with examples of people who have set themselves on a very different path than the one their soul chose – or had fallen back into habits from previous incarnations and avoided learning the intended lesson in the current life.  Whether you are following your soul’s intended path or not, the momentum you have going in a particular direction is difficult to halt or change.  However, difficult is not the same as impossible.  It’s possible to quit smoking, it’s possible to quit drinking alcohol or coffee or eating too much chocolate, it’s possible to lose weight or become better at something with dedicated applied effort and practice.  Having free will to make a particular choice or change, does not mean that doing so is going to be easy.

Point…..and Counter Point

My original intent and mission in this post was to confront the idea that when we ‘choose our parents and our lives’ we could have chosen anything; to be famous, to be rich, to be happy and well-loved, but instead we somehow chose ‘this sorry life’ (as some may feel).  This is largely because, when I’ve tried to talk about this subject with friends and family, they seem to take that viewpoint – “Why would I have chosen this life?”[22] Newton, himself, says, “Although the average person has experienced love from his or her parents, many of us have unresolved, hurtful memories of those near to us who should have offered us protection and did not…’”  I realize in reading through and editing this post that I may have inadvertently pushed the interpretation from a position where we could have chosen anything, towards the other exteme – crafting a picture of our soul-selves as burdened with an anxious and overwhelming process that represents a choice in name only.  I want to take a moment to moderate that a little bit and note that I excerpted the snippets from the dialogues that best illustrated the very specific points I was trying to make in this post. Although I would not say I misrepresented the situation in any way, I would argue that when you read the dialogues themselves you don’t come away with an overly negative view of the process.  In the dialogues Newton has published, at least, I felt that the life choices presented and chosen by the subjects did make sense with the overall trajectory of their souls.  The second half of Newton’s sentiment above notes, “When clients tell me how much they suffered from the actions of family members, my first question…is, ‘If you had not been exposed to this person as a child, what would you now lack in understanding?”[23]  If you subscribe to a view of the afterlife that is limited to puffy clouds and playing harps, it may be disconcerting to think that we have to make difficult decisions as souls in the spiritual plane. However, if you do believe in reincarnation – which I think it’s fairly obvious that I do at this point – it can be very comforting and empowering to think that, rather than an endless stream of lives we have no control over, we take an active part in crafting our own life circumstances and that we have a chance to talk over our concerns and reservations with our soul group  and spirit guide before taking on a new life.


[1] defines research as, “diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject..” – my husband has asked questions about whether Newton’s work represented ‘double blind studies’ and was conducted under scientific laboratory circumstances.  The answer to that question is no, and there are some things about Newton’s research methods that could be considered questionable.  However, I choose to look at the information as presented and explore / examine it as it is.  I had to do much the same for many a philosophical paper I wrote in college.

[2] Here I use “spiritual plane” but spirit world, heaven, energetic state between lives, any of those and other terms could stand-in here – basically I’m referring to the ‘place we go in between lives’

[3] Will write more about soul groups & guides in a future post

[4] These are all pieces of a puzzle, and it’s difficult to explain only pieces – who chooses?  are life options chosen or ‘crafted’?  Some of these concepts I’ll address in later posts, others can be rounded out by reading the books

[5] Destiny of Souls, loc 5880

[6] Destiny of Souls, loc 5996

[7] Destiny of Souls 5921

[8] In several dialogues, Newton seems to encounter soul personalities that are not unlike human personalities – although they seem more removed from negative emotions such as anger or fear.  I hope to explore this concept in more depth in a future post

[9] Destiny of Souls, loc 5913

[10] Destiny of Souls, loc 6005

[11] more to come on the subject of soul groups and spirit guides in a later post

[12] Journey of Souls loc 2849

[13] definition of “Consequences”

[14] I’ll be filling out the detail around this in other posts.  “Everything is Now” holds the germ of this idea, but there will be more, discussing free will as it pertains to the composition of the universe and also the concept of ‘projection’ which I’m hoping to use some of Jung for, some of Newton, and perhaps some of a Villodo book I just read.  It all fits together and can be challenging to talk about in pieces…but hopefully over time, the picture will begin to take shape.

[15] Destiny of Souls loc 5941

[16] Journey of Souls loc 2876 – it should be noted that this quote is part of the overall dialogue of the ‘man who is Steve’ from the paragraph before.  I do try to avoid giving away ‘too much’ of the dialogues and the books in my posts because I prefer people to read the books & dialogues themselves and make up their own minds about what they think.

[17] Journey of Souls loc 2758

[18] I will also devote an entire post to this subject; ‘what’s the difference between myself and my soul?’

[19] Destiny of Souls loc 5948

[20] objects at rest tend to stay at rest, objects in motion tend to stay in motion

[21] Destiny of Souls loc 5983

[22] Journey of Souls loc 2969

[23] Journey of Souls loc 2969

Everything is Now

Recently, I’ve been on an LBL kick.  For those of you not ’in the know’ 😉 LBL stands for life-between-lives and describes where the soul goes (and what it’s doing) between incarnations on Earth.  My recent foray into Michael Newton’s books on this subject has stirred up a lot of interesting meditative explorations for me and thus I’ve decided to start a new series on the blog that’s dedicated to examining some of the ideas in Journey of Souls and Destiny of Souls.

One concept that comes up repeatedly in these books is that, between lives, souls reside in a space “outside” of time.  Newton refers to this as “the coexistence of past, present, and future time in a spiritual setting.”[1]  However, I would argue that the spiritual world is not happening “outside” of time.  Rather I think at the energetic level of existence there is understanding of the fundamental truth that there is no such thing as “time” apart from motion.  Time is our mechanism for differentiating between motion that has already happened, motion happening now, and motion that will happen. It’s purely an aid to understanding – although in this case it actually might be inhibiting understanding. Before I can further discuss what I think is happening in the spiritual world or layer, though, I should probably offer a little explanation around the way I understand the concept of “time.”

Somewhere slightly more or less than a decade ago, my husband and I had been having a spate of discussions about what it meant to be a “wizard” in The Lord of the Rings universe vs. the Harry Potter universe, basically focusing on the differences in what various characters were able to do and / or not do with magic.  This led me to reflect on how, although some ethereal concepts (like magic) are portrayed very differently across artistic work, some are portrayed exactly the same everywhere.  For example, whenever a show displays “time stopping” all on-screen activity freezes.  So I further questioned – if all motion in the universe, everything known and unknown, every particle however great or small, were to stop moving – would anything meaningful, such as time, pass?  The answer I concluded was “no”. Thus I came to my belief that time does not exist apart from motion, they are intricately tied together

Frozen in Time

Unlike Time with a capital “T” which we often see as linear (past à present à future), motion is relative.  Thus, time “passes” differently for particles moving at different speeds. If that sounds strange to you, consider that we have a number of everyday examples which illustrate this.  For example, if we put meat in the freezer the motion of particles in the meat that cause decay slow down.  Thus, time is “passing” at a different rate for your steak than it is for you. Or, let’s say you buy a piece of machinery, but leave it to sit idle for a number of years.  Although you won’t be able to stop ALL motion for that equipment (depending on the environmental circumstances), if you store it in relatively pristine conditions without use, once you start using it, however many years later, it will be as if virtually no time has passed for the machine. Meanwhile, the world around it has kept on moving and changing.

If you take the above premises as true and agree that any individual object’s (or being’s) experience of time can be different from that of it’s surroundings, we can begin to use that idea to examine the experience in the spiritual world.  The Spiritual world appears (according to Newton’s research) to be energetically based.  It makes sense to me that fluid or “released” energy moves faster than “fixed” matter.[2] In fact, we know this to be true from basic science.  When studying the states of matter, we learn that the particles caught up in a solid are immobile or moving very slowly.  Liquid particles are more mobile and bounce around more quickly, and gas particles are the most mobile and move very quickly.  Further, we have calculated the speed of light energy to be 186,000 miles per second – that’s pretty darn fast! In my college Astronomy class we learned that looking at distant stars is actually like looking back into their past, because their light takes so long to get to Earth. For example, in the case of Alpha Centauri, the closest star (at one light-year away) what we see ‘now’ when we look at it through a telescope is what happened on the star a year ago. Adding these ideas to the ones we’ve already laid out about time, we can see that in the energetic state motion would be much more fluid and could be extremely fast compared to the motion of activity on Earth; thus allowing souls to do perceived “years” of work in seemingly minutes of Earth time.  Or potentially, such fluid energy could be slowed down or stopped; allowing a soul’s re-entry to Earth to be timed to a very specific drop-point, or birth.[3]

 The Future is Now

Another reason this is worth mentioning is because, although we have difficulty understanding how one can predict the future when we’re thinking of time as some sort of entity in it’s own right, we can all understand that there’s a predictability to motion.  If you can accurately understand the motion of an object, you can predict it’s future. In reality, we are all predicting aspects of the future all the time (sun rising, setting, people getting older, etc.).  Our understanding of the “motion going on around us is often limited, though, so our ability to predict future events is also very limited. In Journey of Souls, Michael Newton notes, “I was puzzled why my subjects did not fully see the future… as part of an all-knowing spiritual setting.  In trying to sort this out, I finally came to the conclusion that the spirit world is designed to protect the interests of each soul”[4]  While I certainly can’t claim to know how the spirit world is designed relative to the interests of a particular soul, I can offer a possible answer to why Mr. Newton’s subjects didn’t fully see the future – even in an “all-knowing” spiritual setting. As I noted earlier, our ability to predict the future is limited by our understanding of the motion of things around us.  Presumably, in a spiritual setting like the kind of place Michael Newton is referring to, the understanding of the motion of all things in the universe is much greater.  But, if we agree that time doesn’t exist apart from motion[5], then there is no future that “exists” yet so pieces of a future can be predicted by what’s already been set in motion, but there will always be a chance that things could change[6]

Some Things are Timeless

Another quote from Michael Newton that refers to time in the spiritual world is, “In the subconscious state, my subjects experience a chronology of time with their past and present lives which resembles what they perceive when conscious.  There is a change when I take them into superconsciousness and into the spirit world.  Here they see the Now of time as one homogenous unit of past, present, future”[7]  I believe what is happening here is that, in the superconscious state, Newton’s subjects have lost their ’sense’ of time and thus they are perceiving everything as motion.  In their awareness of the direction and flow of the energy (which they, themselves, are a part of) they understand how things came to be the way they are and what they will become, but there is a wholeness to this understanding that doesn’t require the concept of time to make sense.  I know this is probably confusing, the closest I can offer as a way of understanding this concept is to imagine buying and planting a package of flower seeds.  On the cover of the package is a picture of beautiful blooming daisies.  When you look at the picture, it is unlikely that you will think that time “made” the flowers look like this, rather you will recognize that their “future” is a function of what they are, not a function of time.  In fact, if you were to plant half the seeds in the packet and leave the other half on your counter, in the time it takes to grow the planted seeds, nothing is going to happen to the seeds on the counter because time alone is meaningless to them.  For the planted seeds, though – various things are required for them to become beautiful flowers like those pictured on their packet; soil, water, air, nutrients, etc[8]. When you see the lovely blooms in your garden, you are likely to understand on some meta level (although maybe not on a precise scientific level), how all of these things came together to “make” the daisies before you.  Time is the way we understand the difference between our experience of the daisies when they were just seeds and our experience of them now as flowers, but there is no real force, such as time, that contributed to them being what they are. [9]  If you can see in this example how the “becoming” of something can be “apart” from time – perhaps you can see how, when connected at a very deep level, a person can understand their own life – and even further their own soul’s trajectory – in such a way.

To wrap up, I believe that in the energetic “soul state”, the soul no longer has a need for the concept of time and thus it becomes unimportant.  Rather, the soul understands that it is energetic flow and direction (or motion) that explain where the present has come from and what the future will be.  So what does that mean for those of us still here on Earth?  Not much, I’m afraid. I enjoy thinking puzzling through the mysteries of the Universe, but, like many of us, I work in the sort of field where all people care about my understanding of time is that I show up for meetings appropriately and don’t miss work deadlines.

Post script: If you’ve been studying my footnotes you will realize that I talk about Michael Newton’s books in plural (both Journey of Souls and Destiny of Souls) but all my quotes come from Journey of Souls. This happened to be the only book I had with me when I was gathering quotes. However, I did do an index check and re-read portions of Destiny of Souls as part of writing this post. I did not find anything during that effort that I felt either added value to or made me reconsider what has already been presented here.


[1] Newton, Michael Journey of Souls <insert publisher>p160

[2] Although I have asserted in other places on the blog, and do in fact believe that everything is, at heart, energy – it does seem that some energy is more ‘fixed’ than other energy. Some energy does seem to be ‘locked up’ in a physical state while other energy is free moving. The Alchemists were hinting at a like understanding of the world, I believe, when they spoke of having to ‘release the soul’ of a physical object like a plant or stone.

[3] I will discuss this more in an upcoming post about Newton’s concept of “The Ring of Destiny” a place in the spiritual world where we study and choose our future lives.

[4] Newton, Michael Journey of Souls <insert publisher> p212-213

[5] And in fact, it seems that Michael Newton himself understands this when he says ,“It makes sense to me that time, rather than being an absolute of three phases is only an expression of change.” but the way he talks about time elsewhere in the books and the sorts of things he doesn’t understand suggest to me, at time of writing, he didn’t fully grasp the implications of this statement.

[6] I will elaborate more on my thoughts on how this works in upcoming post about free will vs. fate

[7] Newton, Michael Journey of Souls (insert publisher) p195

[8] if you have a Christian background, as I do, I am sure you have not failed to recall the New Testament story about where seeds fall and how they grow in relation to the “Word” taking root in people’s hearts – if that adds an additional layer of meaning to this analogy for you – you are welcome to it.

[9] And if you saw Violets instead of Daisies, you are likely to think that the seeds were mis-packaged and were, in reality, Violet seeds.  You are not likely to think that the Daisy seeds grew into Violets – because at a deep level you recognize that the seeds are the germ of the plant’s existence.