Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Many Lifetimes on a Spiritual Path

“You are neither holy nor wise, just an ordinary fellow completing the work.” – Layman P’ang, 8th c. Chinese Zen Master

One of my favorite figures in Buddhism is 8th century Zen master Layman P’ang. He was, as his name implies, a lay practitioner, which means that he never became a monk. Yet, despite remaining a civilian he became one of the most respected teachers of his time and is a rare example in history of such a layman Zen Master.
Layman P’ang was also what they call a householder or a family man, a devoted husband and father. After he put all of their money and possessions into a boat and then sunk it, his wife and children joined him on the path of study and devotion that he had chosen. His recorded sayings are wise, profound, and even quite funny; he managed to keep his zest for life and his sense of humor alive, as well as balance his duties as a husband and father while walking a spiritual path.
Now, for the record, I don’t recommend throwing all of your possessions into a river or getting rid of all of your money and abandoning your home. Heaven knows I have no plans to ever do so, but the story of Layman P’ang teaches us something valuable. What he taught by his own example is that finding (and living) a spiritual path is not a practice reserved for monks, priests, rabbis, shamans, prophets, or yoga teachers, but is for what he calls in the quote above “ordinary fellows”. It is for all of us.
What is a spiritual path? The term itself implies an individually chosen route, and the fact that it is “a path” and not “the path” means that there is more than one. I believe that there are as many spiritual paths as there are individuals; your path is yours alone. Also, I think that the term “spiritual path” implies a process of some kind that it is some kind of journey we are on that may even be a never-ending one.
A spiritual path is not a religion. Although religion can certainly open us up to discover the role that spirit plays in our lives, there are other experiences that can do this as well. Our unfolding spiritual path includes all of these. In fact, every moment of our lives can be and is another step on our spiritual path, as long as we are mindful of them and regard them as such. You can be brushing your teeth, talking on the phone, eating dinner, and hugging your child and be moving forward on your spiritual path as long as you are intending to connect with spirit while you do these. Every encounter, every thought, and every action that serves to help us remember a bit more who we really are and deepen our connection with the divine are steps on our spiritual path.
Also, walking a spiritual path involves finding your own truth. Many people tell me that they believe they may have lived before in past lives, yet are afraid to turn away from their religious traditions that they feel do not teach of reincarnation. Many Christians, Jews, and Muslims are often surprised when I tell them that belief in reincarnation either currently is or was historically an accepted part of these traditions, but it always makes me wonder why truth as a personal concept gets thrown out so easily. Why do traditions based on the experiences of others need to negate our own, personally found truths? And, why can’t our own experiences serve to enhance our faith? Why do we feel that we have to exorcise our previous belief systems to make way for new material? Can’t our own truth be something that is organic, continually growing, shifting, and always building upon what we have already embraced?
Many times when we look at various world religions and spiritual belief systems, the focus tends to be on the differences between them and the similarities are often overlooked. From my own studies, it seems that they all in some way teach the value of each human being and the individual quest for spiritual knowledge and truth. If we have all lived many lifetimes, and have experienced being different races, religions, and genders, then how much more universal and non-denominational could the concept of reincarnation be?
And, to take it even further, if we could see ourselves without the physical traits that we identify with, appearance, voice, how would that change how we view who we are? How would that change how we view others? At the very least, we might be able to embrace how truly unique and individual our paths are through many lifetimes and understand that each of us has the right to find our own way. We would know and understand that there is no “right” path or “wrong” path, only many paths that all lead in the same direction: right back to ourselves.
I have been fortunate enough to have significant experience remembering many of my past lives, and to me, my past lives as a sum of my existence. Each individual remembered lifetime is a part of who I am today. I was not famous or glamorous in a past life. My past lives are filled with pain, heartache, loss, illness, and death. But, they also contain joy, love, contentment, and unspeakable beauty. As I have uncovered these memories, I have reclaimed them as my own and have integrated them into who I understand myself to be. These experiences have changed the way that I view everything. But most importantly, remembering the details of my past lives has changed the way I am choosing to live my life and right now.
The joy and pain that my soul has experienced has deepened my appreciation for my life, and I am truly in awe of how beautiful we all are. I can clearly see that there is a divine purpose for my existence and I know that I am evolving and growing within the context of a plan greater than me whose goal is for me to become the best version of myself that I can be. I can see that life and lifetimes are filled with lessons and opportunities for this growth, and that the real reason we are here is to find this spiritual path that leads us back to remembering who we are.
Our spiritual paths are, like us, continually evolving. We are creating our paths with every choice we make and thought we muster. We are, in fact the architects of our own lives as we work to uncover our truth and achieve our potential. Becoming aware of our past lives can help us remember who we are, a beautiful soul on a journey back from the challenge of forgetfulness. We are all on our own, unique spiritual path whether we realize it or not, the point is to acknowledge it and be mindful of the steps we are taking. This is the journey, in each single moment, one step at a time.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Love and Destiny

Destiny. One of the most romantic notions we can possibly attach to the concept of love, that you will meet someone and right away you will both know that it was just "meant to be". But, is this true? Are we "destined" to meet our soul mate? And, does that mean that it is all predetermined and therefore we don't have a choice anyway? How does destiny work when it comes to love?
Let's first define what destiny is. In order to do that, I need to establish here that destiny is a concept that relies on a belief that there is some kind of natural order to the cosmos. Now, I'm not looking to spark a heavy theological debate over the existence or not of God, because what I am talking about here is a natural order. It can be as simple as believing that the sun will rise in the morning and that the seasons will change because there is a greater design, energy, or power greater than us that causes these things to happen. So, if you can make that leap, and embrace that possibility, then you can also believe in destiny.
Destiny is how this natural order I described above impacts our lives directly, or rather how we experience it. If we thought about it, we could sit every morning in the pre-dawn light in awe as the sun emerged and wonder in amazement at how it must have been destined to appear in the sky. Most of us take it for granted that certain things will happen, and therefore we only decide to call it destiny when something occurs that we were not expecting.
We also tend to confuse the terms destiny and fate, thinking that they are identical and interchangeable. Although they are related, they are different in that fate is something that is fixed and unchangeable. Fate is something that absolutely happens, so we can only look back at something that happened in the past and call it fate. This is because nothing in the future is absolute, only the past can be a sure thing. Destiny is how we describe something that can and probably will happen in the future, but yet it allows for choices to be made. So, quite simply, fate happens. But, destiny is something that we actively participate in. We choose our destiny.
So, how does this relate to soul mates? Do we get to choose our destined love? How do we participate in meeting them, especially when we only call it destiny if it is something that we were not expecting? Well, we have many soul mates of different types. And, our meeting all of them is and was destiny. Some we meet because we have karma to work out, and others we meet in order to learn lessons about giving and receiving love. And, each and every one of these soul mates was our destiny, meaning that we made choices that led to our meeting.
The idea of the soul mate has shown up in nearly every culture on the globe throughout history, and it has also consistently been linked to the concept of destiny. In East Asia, there is a legend called the "red thread of destiny" in which a mystical red string is tied to the fingertips of two meant to be lovers that connects them. And, although the string can twist, turn, and bend, this tie to one another will ultimately ensure their destined meeting.
In Ancient Greek mythology, there are three women called "Fates", or Moirae who were weavers that spun intricate webs of intertwining threads that represented different life paths of human beings. When these threads overlapped one another, they represented two lives intersecting, or a destined meeting. Anyone who has ever been in a relationship can relate to this imagery, that for a time your threads were intertwined and your paths on the same trajectory, and upon separating your threads continue on, but in different directions. This thread idea also shows up in Norse and Roman mythology, in Navajo legend, and in some Pacific and African traditions as well.
In Kabbalah, the Hebrew word for destiny, B'shert, has a dual meaning. It is also the word for soul mate, or the "beloved". This term actually marries the two concepts together, making them one and the same. Because destiny implies an order to the universe, and allows us to make choices, our path through life (and lifetimes) consists of what the universe throws our way and the subsequent choices that we make. And this path ultimately leads to our B'shert, or our destined love.
Now, keep in mind that the path I am referring to is your path. We do not find our destiny by searching for it; we discover it on our journey through life. We meet our destined love by doing what we love doing and going to the places that we enjoy going to. Although you can meet someone nice by hanging out at the golf course because you would love to date an avid golfer, if you are not a golf lover yourself, they will not be your destined love. This is because the journey to our beloved, or our destiny, is actually a journey inward. We meet our destined love by being ourselves and doing what we do anyway.
I have seen this at work in my own life. The last relationship I was in, the only thing I had to do to meet him was to get up and go to work that day. And, this phenomenon is incredibly far reaching, as the universe will conspire to bring two people together despite any obstacles. My ex-husband was born completely on the other side of the world from where I was, yet by following my own life path, and he his, we managed to make it to our destined meeting. Which leads me to my next point; destined loves are not always destined to last. Even if a relationship does not work out, it does not change the fact that it was destined for both of you to meet.
When we encounter a soul mate, or someone with whom we have a connection, they come along in order to represent a choice. Soul mates appear in our lives to open up new doors, new possibilities for our future, and show us that there is a fork in the road. We are destined to meet, but how we deal with it is entirely our choice. Do we allow ourselves to be open to love? Or, do we ignore it and let the opportunity to be in a relationship with them pass us by? Once in the relationship, does our fear create power and control issues? Are we cruel to them, and cheat and lie? Or, do we choose to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and let them into our lives and our hearts, thereby discovering the beauty of love?
We make pacts and agreements with one another before we are born, or soul contracts, that our paths will cross in order to present this intersection to one another in order to help each other grow and develop spiritually. So, in this way, each of our destined loves have played a role in propelling us forward in some way on our spiritual paths. This idea might be difficult for some to swallow, because I am suggesting that the abusive and even violent relationships are based on soul contracts as well and came into our lives to teach us and present us with an opportunity for growth. Remember, it comes with a choice, and anyone who has ever empowered themselves enough to leave such a relationship can tell you that the choice to do so was not a step, but rather a giant leap in their spiritual evolution.
This is also why it is important to allow yourself time to heal between relationships, and not jump into a new one right away. By spending some time reviewing the issues that came up in you, and being truly honest with yourself about why it failed, you can honor this soul contract process and really do some work on yourself. If you don't take the time to do this, you will inadvertently take all of your baggage with you into your next relationship and you will find yourself on a virtual hamster wheel, dealing with the same issues in one relationship after another. Although they might look different, you could end up dating the same person over and over again because you have not spent the time to reflect and properly heal.
During my own meditation practice, I have found it quite useful when I need to reflect on my previous relationships, to conjure up an image in my mind of a past love who has hurt me in some way, or were somehow incapable of giving and showing love properly. If you try this exercise, look at them, in their eyes if it is not too difficult, but you have to be careful not to connect too much energetically to an abuser or someone that you have already worked hard to distance yourself from, and ask them to return to you the pieces of yourself that were lost as a result of the pain you suffered from that failed relationship. Holding out your hands, take these parts of yourself back (they can be literal objects, or symbolic) and return them to you by placing them into your heart chakra, which is located at the center of your chest. But, if you do this exercise, be prepared to do the reverse exchange as well, and give them back the pieces of themselves that they have lost at your hands. Doing exercises such as this help to set a powerful intent to heal the relationship, and to more objectively understand it and the role it played in your life and your spiritual development, and then to move on from it.
When you take the time to do this type of inner work, and spend time contemplating and becoming more self-aware of your issues surrounding relationships, you will heal and subsequently begin to vibrate energetically at a higher level. And, because a destined soul mate is someone whose level of vibration matches your own, you will eventually attract a new destined love of a higher caliber.
By climbing the ladder of your own spiritual growth and development, you will meet someone who has done the same, and enter into a relationship that vibrates at a higher rate as well. Yes, it is true that the higher you climb, the fewer potential partners you will find, but they are out there. The more we heal and learn about ourselves through the work of being in a relationship with another person, the better quality relationship we will be capable of. And remember, your destined love is also doing this inner work and is hoping that their destined path will lead them to you.
What we need to remember here is to keep the focus on ourselves, as the journey to your beloved, or your destined love, is ultimately a journey to yourself. This does not mean that we should be selfish, which is the act of taking power away from others for our own gain, because being selfish will not ever lead to a spiritually evolved relationship. What I mean is that you should keep your focus directed inward, and therefore create your own power within yourself. When you can do that, you will have a real magnetism that will attract all of the right people and circumstances into your life. You create your own destiny by following your own path, and your destined soul mate lies along that path.
In Plato's "Symposium", he describes a legend in which Zeus decided to split human beings into two separate halves. These splintered pieces would be doomed to spend many lifetimes searching for one another, longing to be whole again. According to this story, the reason that Zeus did this was because he was afraid of our power. And, hereby is the key to the idea of destined love. When we are with another in a true partnership, we are not twice as strong, but exponentially so. But, we first have to cultivate ourselves so that a true partnership can exist. A relationship based on need, control, insecurities, dishonesty, and fear cannot be such a partnership.
What we are looking for is not our match, but rather our compliment. Like a spoon in a drawer, putting two spoons together implies that one alone is not sufficient, that it needs a "match". But, if you place a fork next to the spoon, the spoon is fine on its' own, but when used together with the fork they will compliment each other, work together more efficiently and in result will accomplish a great deal more than they ever could on their own. In order to find our compliment, we first have to learn how to be "enough" on our own. Looking for someone to "complete you" gives your potential mate way too much power, and so you will attract a partner who will exploit and abuse that power. When you are a whole person on your own, then you will attract someone else who is as well, and your relationship will be missing the drama and pain of your previous ones.
We take the time and effort to be incarnated in human form so that we can learn, and life is truly a school filled with lessons of various types. But, the most important lesson we are confronted with during our experiences over many lifetimes involves love. Quite simply, relationships with others is why we are here. And, our relationships reflect our current level of healing; we can see where we are at by examining the quality of the relationship we are in.
And, if you are not currently in a relationship, then it is important to examine that as well. Are you still healing from the last one? Do you still feel anger, bitterness, and resentment toward any of your previous partners? Are you afraid? Or, are you being confronted with the lesson of being patient and waiting for the right person to cross paths with you? Taking note of this, and becoming aware of where you are at regarding relationship issues is a vital step toward uncovering your destiny. Find out more about who you really are, do what you love, and discover the places that you enjoy. Keep your focus on yourself, create your own power, and walk your life's path with your heart and your eyes open, because somewhere on the road ahead you will encounter your love. It is your destiny.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Past Lives: A Return To Our Roots

Since the dawn of time, we human beings have pondered our existence. We have sat gazing up at the starry night sky, marveling at its' vastness, discovering order in it's seemingly chaotic patterns, and even realizing our own personal connection to it. Archeologists have found evidence that even the earliest of our species spent time wondering who we are, why we are here, and what happens to us after we die. So then, maybe to question our state of being is an integral part of being human, as well as the quest to experience a realm of spirit and that which seems to lie beyond our physicality.
This belief in what we call 'spirit' is nearly as old as history itself. Our ancient ancestors pan-globally believed that there was a part of us that was not connected to our physical form, containing our consciousness, that survived death. These people also, nearly universally, came to the conclusion that we would subsequently be reborn after death. Early humans did believe in reincarnation. How did they formulate this idea? Well, all they had to do was look around them.
Because ancient people lived in a way that was deeply connected to the natural world, they recognized and honored the cycles of life that turn continually all around us. Before we humans took ourselves out of nature and into our studio apartments, we understood that we were not separate from nature. And so, because we recognized that we were a part of these life cycles, we could therefore conclude that what we saw happening around us in nature would happen within us as well.
The constant patterns of life, death and rebirth that we see in the plant and animal world, as well as the daily miracle of the return of the sun in the morning after its' light was extinguished from the sky the night before, meant for them that we would do the same. Because our ancestors knew that we were inexorably linked to every living thing, they could conclude that after we died our own life cycle would continue and we would eventually return in a new form; restored, refreshed and renewed. To them, the concept of reincarnation made much more sense than the idea that death was an abrupt ending, rather than a transformation and a continuation.
In the modern world, however, the notion of reincarnation has been relegated to something that we call "new-age-y". We associate it with certain religions, gurus, crystals, and coffee-after-yoga-class philosophical talk. In our Western culture, many of us dismiss belief in past lives as something Eastern, esoteric, and therefore not having anything at all to do with us. Perhaps we have just been living outside of the forest for way too long and have therefore forgotten this connection that we have with all of nature.
The idea here is to return to our roots, and to uncover our past and remember the lessons that we have already been presented with over many lifetimes. I believe that who we are is a cumulative of our experience, and that we are incredibly complex beings who have grown old and wise as many times as we have had our lives cut tragically short. I feel that we are born in order to learn, and maybe one of the many things that we need to learn is how to remember. Because, we can never really know where it is that we are going without first understanding where we have already been.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hypnosis and Past Life Regression- Myths and Misconceptions

By far, my most frequently asked question is "what is a past life regression"? Simply stated, a past life regression is the act of visiting the subconscious mind for the purpose of uncovering memories from a previous incarnation. Or, put even simpler, you remember your past lives. But, how can we do this? How do we visit the subconscious, and how do we find these memories?
We actually converse with our subconscious all the time, and it is an ever present part of our daily lives. Most of us know that our dreams contain material directly from the subconscious, but we also can attribute it to behavior and attitudes that are an inherent part of our personality. Our subconscious is actually right there, just under the surface and in order to visit it we need only to relax enough to let go of our active, busy conscious minds. This is where hypnosis comes in.
Hypnosis is the process of this relaxing. That's all it is. Despite all of the myths and misconceptions about it, hypnosis is actually just a state of relaxed, focused concentration. Many people think that they will be "going to sleep" or that hypnosis will feel like being "knocked out", but it is actually just closing your eyes, breathing deeply and allowing your mind to go a bit beyond its' normal limits and leave the confines of our everyday existence as we perceive it.
There is no "mind control" involved in hypnosis, as you can never give yourself over to someone else's control against your will. It is a fact that those who choose to participate in what we call "stage hypnosis" have indeed elected to quack like a duck or bark like a dog, even if it was only subconsciously. There is a trust involved with hypnosis, as you cannot let go and relax around someone that you have not chosen to give your trust to. In my opinion, having someone make a spectacle of themselves or cause them any public embarrassment is a violation of this trust, but the fact that they volunteered in the first place meant that they willingly chose to participate in being the entertainment.
For the purposes of a past life regression, hypnosis works in exactly this same way. Someone cannot hypnotize you unless you have decided to trust that person and have allowed them to guide you into your subconscious mind, and we all know that it is nearly impossible to relax fully in a situation in which we feel uncomfortable in any way. You also cannot do something that goes against your desires or your morals while under hypnosis, unless you allow this to happen.
It is true, unfortunately, that there are some unscrupulous and untrustworthy people out there who are hypnotists, as in any profession. The important thing to remember here is to always use your intuition as your guide. Always analyze the individuals with whom you trust with any aspect of your spiritual seeking or deep personal and psychological work for trustworthiness, just like you would scrutinize anyone seeking entry into a privileged place of confidence in your life.
And, this is also where it gets tricky. Any time we are doing any kind of "seeking", we inevitably do become somewhat vulnerable. It is possible to be coerced into adopting someone else's belief system if they manage to convince us that they are an authority somehow because they know something that we don't, or have had experiences that we have not. This phenomenon happens all the time, especially on the quest for a spiritual path, either by friends, colleagues, gurus, yogis, shamans (I have had a particularly hard time myself with that one!), counselors, psychiatrists, religious figures, etc.
No one has all of the answers, and although there are many enlightened and wise teachers out there, these people are meant to represent those who are a bit farther along on their spiritual path than we are. Just make sure that the evidence of this is clear in how they choose to live their lives, as a true "spiritual person" is honest, forthright, kind, compassionate, and has an integrity that will be obvious to all those who meet and come in contact with them.
A past life regression can be an incredible and even life changing experience. Hypnosis is one of several ways that we can discover this part of our inner selves, and to visit our subconscious minds. But, when you do choose to embark on this amazing journey, remember that the process of seeking is always a solitary one. Any companion you may encounter on your spiritual path is only a signpost, pointing this way or that. But, the direction you choose is inevitably entirely up to you.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Eternal Nature of Love

Love never dies. In fact, love is truly the only thing that we can take with us when we die, and then beyond into our next life. But how does love "survive death"? Do we really have soul mates that we have loved and lost over the course of many lifetimes? How will we recognize them? Is this what we mean by "love at first sight"? How will we meet them, and is it destined that we will? What is love anyway?
Well, let's begin with the last question. What is love? It is quite possible the most over- and misused term in the world, love is something that we use to describe our favorite food, a movie we really enjoyed, the color we just painted our bedroom, and George Clooney (whom I love). We even sign letters and email correspondence with this word, even if it is to someone that we have only met a few times.
But, we all love to talk about, think about and even dream about love. It is an essential part of being human, and no matter how many times we can "fall" in or out of love; we still feel a powerful drive toward it. Our desire to love and be loved is deeply embedded in our consciousness, and it will make us act in the oddest ways sometimes.
Perhaps what love actually is has been encoded in our collective psyche, and our loose usage of the term might reflect this. We use the "L word" to describe everything and everyone that we find pleasing, or positive in some way. We "love" everything that we perceive as "good" (and therefore we can actually love all by perceiving it as "good"- but we're working on that one, right?). This positive perception that we make about someone or something is energy, or intent, and love is this energy.
Think about it. You love chocolate, but your best friend hates it (probably not a viable example, as I can't imagine anyone would actually hate chocolate, but follow me here). Is it different chocolate that you are both consuming? No, it is only your perception of the chocolate that differs. You are emanating positive energy toward the chocolate that you are enjoying, as you choose (mostly subconsciously) to perceive it as pleasant. That vibration, or energy that you give off with each pleasurable bite creates an emotional reaction that becomes what we recognize as the feeling of "being in love".
This love energy works the exact same way with people. For example, two people standing next to each other can have completely different energy toward, and therefore subsequent emotional response, to a potential romantic partner who walks by. One will "love them" with a positive perception, while the other might either find them neutral or even negative and regard that person with disdain. The point here is that the person exuding the energy has a choice (acted upon subconsciously, mind you) as to whether that vibration is positive or negative. And, as equally as we can give love energy, we can also receive it. And also, the person walking by these two different energy sources will usually feel the difference in the way that they have been perceived; this is what we call feeling a "vibe" from someone.
The fact that love is actually just energy is the key to understanding how it can survive death, and then subsequently be brought back with us as we reincarnate. This is because, according to physics and the law of conservation of energy, it (meaning energy, or love energy) cannot be created nor destroyed; it can only change forms. Thanks to Galileo (whom I also love), we have an example of how this works. His experiment with a swinging pendulum demonstrated that kinetic energy (movement) when it was interrupted still contained the same amount of energy, only in potential form. If this theory is true then, and love energy cannot be created or destroyed, then it can only change forms. So, when we die (and change forms as well, as we are in essence made of energy too) we take all of our love with us and then bring it back again when we reincarnate in our next life.
Now, the science behind love and attraction is an incredibly complicated (sorry for the obvious major understatement here) process, as our subconscious minds do play an enormous role in it. Our subconscious is a vast space filled with suppressed thoughts, unexpressed emotions, intense fears, deeply embedded attitudes, as well as our memories from this, and other lifetimes. Because it is such a large and complex place, the fact that our choice of love partners is mainly ruled by our subconscious mind is exactly why the how and why of this process is so darn confusing.
The most important thing to be aware of here is that energetically (subconsciously) we are all seeking a soul mate. And remember, there are different types of soul mates, so this can be more than a little bit tricky to navigate. Because a soul mate is anyone that you have known before in a past life, there are a lot of different ways that this can work, both positively and negatively. (For more on this, please refer to the previous post "The Reality of Soul Mates").
You can have a crazy, animalistic attraction that defies all reason to someone that you have some heavy karma to work out with, as well as to the soul mate that is the biggest love of this millennium. This is important to remember as we try to understand how it is possible to be separated or divorced from your soul mate, as well as the role that destiny plays in this process. You meet the soul mate that you are meant to meet, when, where and how you are destined to meet, for a divine purpose that involves our spiritual growth and development.
So then, how does this never destroyed love energy translate into our incredibly complex romantic love lives in our current incarnation? The energy of romantic love is actually in essence the same as our feelings of love toward others that we love such as parents, children, siblings, friends, etc. (and on a very simple level, maybe it's even energetically the same as our feelings of love for our favorite sandwich), only on steroids.
Our romantic partnerships can and do become quite intense. We all subconsciously seek a partner, the "yin to our yang", the one who will "complete us", even though being in this type of one-on-one relationship is actually one of the most difficult things we can do in life. It's incredibly tough to live with someone else, to share the bills and the bathroom, and to allow another human being to see all of you, complete with your flaws and weaknesses. And, I am sorry to inform you that there is no such thing as a soul mate that will come along and "complete us". This is unfortunately, a total myth.
Being a "whole", or complete person yourself and fully balanced both mentally and spiritually, who is committed to another "whole" person is the goal here. So, the work that needs to be done here is the work that we do on ourselves, becoming whole and balanced as individuals. And then in addition to that, we need to learn to be open, communicative, receptive, present, passionate and compassionate to our partner as well. We all know that this is something that even the most enlightened among us struggle with, as love is really, really hard work, even for soul mates.
When you have spent many lifetimes loving another person, you will have a powerful connection that most people will recognize when they encounter it. And, because your love never dies, it is possible to pick up where you have left off in a previous life. Although you will have some catching up to do concerning your comings and going the last few hundred years, your soul mate relationship has a story to it, and you have a history together. So, maybe what we call "love at first sight" is really just a love reunion.
This type of a soul mate with whom you have loved and lost over many centuries will feature an eerie sense of familiarity, like you have known each other before, and sometimes even an uncanny innate understanding of each other. And, this connection will become more and more intense with each lifetime that a couple spends together. The grief, loss, sorrow, and therefore longing for one another after having been separated by death again and again creates a powerful energy link between two people. In fact, this link can be so profound that it is possible to have a psychic, or even telepathic connection to this person that can be very real indeed, even if you have never met. I often hear of soul mates that dreamed of one another years before their initial meeting, or felt a deja vu sensation when they first saw each other. Soul mates can even sometimes read one another's thoughts or finish each others' sentences. A soul mate connection on this level may very well freak you or your partner out.
Usually there are more than a few synchronicities, or strange parallels in the lives of two soul mates as well. They will have things in common that go far beyond their favorite color or food, such as maybe they will have both lost their father at the same early age, gotten married or divorced in the same year, their families have vacationed in the same place every summer for years, or had the same life threatening illness simultaneously several years before they met. I worked with a New York City based couple once who had both worked in the same restaurant in Cleveland, although a few years apart. I know someone else who had worked down the hall from where his future wife's office was, probably passing each other in the hall or the elevator almost daily, ten years before they actually met. There is a reason for the existence of all of the various romantic legends involving soul mates, because sometimes the truth really can be stranger than fiction.
I have a good friend who, when she was in her late teens, saw a man performing a musical number on television. Upon seeing him, she told everyone who was with her that he was the man that she would marry. Years later when she met her husband at a party given by mutual friends, she felt a connection with this man like she had never felt, as if they knew each other already. Only after they had been dating for several months did she realize that it was he who she had seen on TV so many years before, and they have now been married for many years and have two children together. Nearly everyone who knows them or has been around them can feel the powerful, yet peaceful connection that this dynamic couple has with each other. This is an actual romantic, real life soul mate story about two people who were destined to meet and be together, and have been together many times before in other lifetimes. Their love for each other had never died, and was waiting to be rediscovered and then built upon in this life.
Now, not all of us are as psychic and in tune as my friend, or are lucky enough to have seen their soul mate on TV (although I do love George Clooney, food for thought perhaps...). So, how will we recognize them when we do meet them? In addition to the way that a soul mate connection feels, as well as the sense of familiarity, there are several ways that we can recognize a soul mate. When you look deeply into someone's eyes, which are truly the "windows of the soul", you can find the part of a person that goes beyond their current physical appearance. Another way that you can recognize someone's soul, or the part of him or her that is immortal and knew you before comes from hearing the sound of their voice. There will be a spark, or a reminiscent quality in the voice of a soul mate that will arouse an ancient memory buried deep in your subconscious.
Another way to recognize a soul mate is through their touch. A soul mate's skin on yours can feel tingly, or if you are receptive enough to the energy exchange between you, it will be downright electric. This is due to the magnetic pull toward each other that we have, which is created by this love energy connection that we have built up over many lifetimes. I have heard people describe the sensation of someone brushing past them that felt like a jolt, a handshake that took their breath away, or a kiss that felt like an explosion. This is soul mate stuff.
One of the worst things that we can endure romantically is when only one of the soul mates recognizes and feels this connection. Unfortunately, not only is this possible, but it is actually more common than we all might wish. Sometimes this occurs because one of the soul mates is distracted, angry, or otherwise has a veil over their heart and mind that does not allow them to be open to the often still, small and subtle soul mate clues.
Also, it is important to remember that there is such a thing as right person, wrong time. Destiny can often seen so cruel, as it feel so amazing to find someone with whom you have a connection like this, and then to have it ripped away from you can be utterly devastating. Sadly, there is nothing you can do in this situation except move on, sending your soul mate your love and wish them well on their journey. Your connection will always remain, as will your love, and perhaps you will meet again at a later time (in this, or a future life) and maybe then they will be ready for you.
What we are working on here with all of this love life drama is to learn to be better at love. In fact, on a basic level, the whole reason we are even here and have gone through all of the trouble to be reincarnated is to learn how to love. And, just as important as the act of giving out our love energy, we also need to equally know how to receive it. And so, it is important to remember when we are grieving the loss of a soul mate, either from having been separated once more by the inevitability of death, or from a lack of readiness or recognition, that your love for each other can never die. But, the lesson needs to continue and we need to keep loving, and being open to love even though we have been hurt before.
Since we have had many lifetimes, and therefore have many loving soul mates, there are always the loves that lie ahead, just down the path. These lost loves have been searching for you, have dreamed of you, and have waited centuries for destiny to allow your paths to cross once more. We need to work on ourselves in order to be ready for them, and have hearts that are open enough to recognize them, or it will be they who grieve and then have to move on. But, when two ready soul mates are reunited, the love energy of this union is unparalleled. Because they didn't fall in love, they simply remembered that they loved each other already.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dreams Decoded: Do We Experience Our Past Lives While We Sleep?

     Ah, to dream.  We have come to associate dreaming with bliss, or in the achieving of the ultimate escape.  Or, perhaps what comes to mind is the plotting of a brighter future or a different reality, as we "dream" a wish that we would like to see fulfilled.  Dreams are an integral part of the human experience, and studies have shown that animals, and therefore perhaps even all beings, dream.  But, what are dreams?  Why do we have them?  And, most mysterious of all, what the heck do they mean?
     Most of us can recall at least one dream that made us go hmm.  Even for those of you who are lucky enough to achieve a deep enough sleep state that you don't often remember your dreams (a state that I haven't experienced since I had kids) will occasionally have one that will be so powerful that it makes you sit bolt upright in bed at 3 am.  Science has shown through the study of brainwaves that we dream several times a night even if we don't wake enough to remember them.  Quite puzzling, don't you think?
     So, where do these dreams come from?  The simple answer here is that they are manifestations of material directly from our subconscious minds.  Our subconscious is a generic way to refer to the large percentage of our minds that we don't utilize on a daily basis (the 10 or so percent that we do use is what we generally call our conscious minds, minus the parts that dictate our primal urges and body functions).  You don't have to be a mathematician to figure that 90% can contain a whole lot of "stuff".  I also believe that the subconscious could even represent our untapped potential as human beings and contains forgotten memories (including past life memories), unrealized psychic abilities such as telepathy, and spiritual knowledge about the universe that we cannot possibly comprehend with our dinky 10% brains.  I might have also just explained why our dreams can be so weird.
     I love people's dream stories.  They tell me so much about themselves in a short, concise, and quite entertaining way.  As they recount the details of their most recent recurring dream, most people laugh and warn me that their story is ridiculous and that I am going to think that they are a little bit "nuts".  Dreams are hodge-podge mixes of memories, desires, fears, and premonitions that piece together to form a veritable quilt that represents the whole of the subconscious.  So, of course if you retell a dream as if you were recounting a conscious mind story it can sound like a real whacked out adventure, like that you are running down a corridor with two heads chasing your ex-boyfriend who suddenly looks like Imelda Marcos (yes, a real one of mine).  But why are we dreaming these "stories"?
     We dream because our "inner selves" (a term that I use to acknowledge the spiritual connotations of our subconscious minds) are trying to tell us something.  This is an important part of our drive to evolve, meaning that subconsciously we want to learn and grow.  Dreams are a gift, as we are being given a small piece of our inner self that we are meant to chew on, digest and thus integrate into our conscious minds.  When we dream, we are quite literally being shown the truth as according to our older, wiser, inner, spiritual self.  I learned an important truth about myself from having the above named Imelda dream, and it aided me in more consciously making a decision that has proven invaluable in my life.
     So, what do dreams have to do with past lives and hypnosis?  Aside from being a self-professed dream expert from having had some real doozies myself (and maybe even from my own past lives as an astrologer who interpreted dreams a very long time ago and as a Jungian psychologist not so long ago) there is a very important connection between dreams and hypnosis and dreams and past lives.  The simplest way to explain this is that we most often will experience hypnosis much like we dream, and that our dreams will often contain material that are past life memories.  These experiences all deal with the act of tapping into the subconscious, and are therefore inextricably linked.
     People often wonder what the experience of hypnosis will be like, and there are a whole slew of misconceptions about it in popular culture.  The best way I have found to describe it to someone who has not experienced it is to compare it to having a lucid dream.  A lucid dream is one of those dreams in which you aren't really asleep, and you aren't really awake, but yet you are aware that you are having a dream.  Most of us can even make decisions during a lucid dream, and they tend to be vivid, memorable, and multi-sensory.  This is very much what hypnosis is like; only during hypnosis you achieve that hyper relaxed and very receptive state on purpose.  There is an obvious association with frequent lucid dreamers (and also those who talk and walk in their sleep) and those who have a high hypnotic capacity.
     When I meet with someone for the first time, I will spend a good deal of the first part of the session questioning a person about his or her dreams.  This ends up being a bit of a short cut for me, as I can act as a more efficient guide during a past life regression if I already know how they experience their dreams.  I will ask someone if they "see" their dreams in vivid detail, or if they just sense them.  I want to know if they hear noises or voices, and also what perspective they usually experience their dreams from (if they are watching it from above or inside their own body).  The vast majority of the time, with some inevitable exceptions, you will experience hypnosis like you dream.  (See my previous blog "Psychic Phenomena" for more detail on "ways of seeing").  Why is it the same?  Because it comes from the same place, the subconscious mind is the source of your dreams as well as the place that you actively access when you are under hypnosis.
     So then, how can you tell if your dream contains a past life memory?  There are several clues, the most obvious being the details around you in your dreamscape.  If you are driving a horse and buggy rather than your trusty 2003 Ford Escort, you may possibly be experiencing a past life.  Ditto for old-fashioned clothing styles, landscape and terrain that are unfamiliar in this life, and structures or objects that are not modern.  Perhaps you even have enough awareness of yourself in your dream to know that you are a different gender or ethnicity than you are currently, which would certainly be a hallmark of a possible past life dream.
     In my opinion, the largest indicator that you might be "dreaming your memories" lies in the emotions that you feel while you are experiencing the dream.  This is not to say that all dreams are not emotional, because they certainly are.  Our dreams draw out raw and real feelings for us in order to make us pay attention to them, and so that we are able to reference them later by way of our library of emotions that we have all managed to amass simply by being human.  But, a memory has a very specific emotional quality to it that will stand out if you take the time to give it some thought.
     Whether our dreams contain a past life memory or not, the important thing to focus on is what they mean to us.  As I mentioned earlier, they are a direct line into our inner selves and tend to be related to events or themes that are happening (or are about to happen) in our current lives.  They emerge to educate us about a truth that we cannot see, help us to make more conscious decisions, and resolve our various issues in a better and more loving way.  This is exactly the same purpose that a past life regression serves in our lives, as well as deep meditation and contemplation.  To probe around in our inner minds is to become more self aware, and therefore more enlightened beings.  Our dreams can be an amazing tool in this process.
     So, how can we know what our dreams mean?  They usually end up being a twisted jumble of memory, symbolism and something that you may have seen on television right before you fell asleep.  Although there are many wonderful books on dream symbolism, and experts that you can consult, at the end of the day it is you and only you who can accurately interpret your dreams.  This is because the material contained in dreams is supremely personal, and is distributed through your own, unique filter through which you perceive the world.
     Your dreams are literally you relaying a message to you.  A symbol book might tell you that the color black means something bad or ominous, but you might love black so much that you wear nothing else.  In that case, the appearance of the color black in your dream might represent you and not that something terrible is about to happen.  It didn't take me too long to figure out that my two heads in the Imelda dream didn't mean that I literally had them, but that they represented two different and opposing sides of myself.
     I encourage each of you to begin keeping a notebook beside your bed at night, as writing your dreams down when they are fresh will aid in your ability to recall them in the morning after you have, hopefully, returned to a state of restful sleep after the dream.  This act will help set a powerful intention that the dreams will come and aid us as we work hard to traverse life and the myriad of challenges that come with it.  As you practice this, you will become your own dream expert as you learn more about yourself and the workings of your inner mind.  You will naturally become aware of your past lives and how they relate to your life today, as well as tune into your own prophetic powers as you wade through the symbolism to uncover your own possible future.  So now, sleep well and dream, as you never know what you might discover about yourself tonight.   

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Psychic Phenomena: Paranormal and Supernatural, or Quite Normal and Very Natural?

Psychic.  A term that relates to crystal balls, tarot cards, and the ability to tell the future, right?  What are psychic abilities?  How do they work?  What is it that makes someone psychic?  And, most importantly, how can we know if we are psychic?
Our current western culture has managed to label that which we might refer to as psychic phenomena as "supernatural" or "paranormal" abilities.  The term "supernatural" is defined as something that is not of the natural world, and is derived from the Latin supra (above) natura (nature).  "Paranormal" is a term that we generally use to describe something that cannot be explained, and the beginning of this word comes from the Greek para (beyond) normal.  These terms are more than a little puzzling to me, as how could such a widely reported ability in some human beings be above nature?  Aren't we a part of nature?  And, what is normal anyway, that something should exist beyond it?
In actuality, the term psychic comes from the Greek word psychikos, which means "of the soul".  This is the same root of the words psyche, psyched, psychology and psychoanalysis, all of which have to do with different states of the mind.  This is because the Greeks, as well as the majority of other ancient cultures, held a belief that the mind and the soul were one and the same (and any problem with the mind required healing of the spirit).  Therefore, the actual definition of psychic is "that which comes from the soul and the mind".  That sounds pretty darn natural to me.
So where did an ability that comes from the "soul and the mind" get this paranormal, supernatural reputation from?  Looking at the past, and understanding this phenomenon from a historical perspective can help us to find the answer to that question.  Psychic abilities, and their use for various purposes, have been around since ancient times.  In fact, the use of psychic abilities by human beings has occurred and been recorded in nearly every culture on the planet, both ancient and modern.  The unsavory reputation of psychic abilities, though, developed in the western world as a direct result of the political, religious and social changes that occurred after the advent of Christianity.
One of the most famous examples of an ancient world psychic is the Oracle at Delphi, located at the Temple of Apollo on Mount Parnassus in Greece.  Visitors to the Oracle would encounter the Pythia, who was the head priestess there, and would be invited to engage in a question and answer session with her that would result in a prophecy.  This infamous Oracle was in operation for nearly 1200 years (take that, Miss Cleo!), beginning in the 8th c. BC and only ending in 393 AD when the Christian Emperor Theodosius I ordered all pagan temples to close.  This Oracle, and the prophecies that came from it, were considered highly prestigious during this time period and was mentioned extensively by writers such as Plutarch, Ovid, Sophocles, Plato and Aristotle, to just name a few.  Archeologists now believe that the Oracle was located on a volcanic fissure, and the Pythia was giving these prophecies in an altered state of consciousness induced by inhaling the resulting gas emission.  (Don't try that one at home.)
So, if psychic abilities have been around since ancient times, why do so many of us in this day and age feel that they are not normal and unnatural?  I think that it has stemmed from the perception that some of us have "powers" that others do not, and the natural fear that would result from that belief.  This concept became the fundamental problem with the use of psychics and Christianity, as church authorities began to fear that these "powers" were from an innately evil and/or supernatural source.
This bad rap did not, however, cause the practice of consulting psychics to disappear and it is well known that many devout Christian monarchs and other figures throughout history consulted astrologers and seers.  One example of this can be found in the relationship between Catherine de Medici and the famous seer Nostradamus, whom she consulted regularly about her troubling dreams despite the fact that her country was engaged in a bloody religious war during the height of the Spanish Inquisition.  But yet, the fear due to a lack of understanding about where these abilities come from and why some have more than others has permeated all of western history.
Why then, did the act of consulting psychics never disappear despite this rampant fear and resultant persecution?  It managed to survive as a practice because the abilities themselves never disappeared, and human beings have continually displayed the capabilities of knowing or seeing that which exists outside of the tangible, physical realm.  I truly believe that these abilities are innately human (of the soul and of the mind, remember?) and that we all possess psychic abilities in one form or another.  Before you decide to disagree, hear me out on this.
If you ask them (and I do), most people will own up to having had an experience that can be called psychic.  In fact, we do regularly use these abilities without bothering to label them as "psychic".  Having a gut feeling about someone that ended up being right, having a dream actually happen in the way that you dreamed that it would, having a presentiment of a tragedy (or even a bad feeling about something about to happen), thinking of a person two seconds before they call, being able to hear or feel someone else's feelings, having a dream or vision of someone who has died, meeting someone for the first time and experiencing a deja vu sensation (in my opinion, this is more than likely from a past life), or having sensed something or someone in the room with you when you were alone are all psychic experiences.  Most of my clients are pleasantly surprised when I help them discover that they are indeed psychic, and have been all along despite the fact that they have never considered themselves to be.  
It is true that there are some of us who seem to have a natural talent in this arena, and have psychic abilities that operate on a much higher level than the average person.  There seem to be several factors that could possibly contribute to a person's level of psychic-ness, including heredity (for some reason more often occurring on the mother's side), a traumatic event or an accident, becoming a victim of extreme violence, having a near death (or even clinical death) experience, or even a significant and/or sudden transcendental or spiritual experience.  For those of us who are not inherently psychically talented, there are several ways that have been proven to help develop these abilities.  (More on this later.)  All of these factors seem to somehow contribute to a person's level of psychic ability, but some people for some unknown reason are simply born more psychic than the rest of us.
So then, what are these abilities and how do they work?  There are many different ways in which psychic abilities manifest in an individual, but first we need to revisit our definition of psychic to further clarify and figure out exactly what it is that we are talking about here.  Psychic is "that which comes from the soul and the mind", but what is it?  The what, then involving psychic abilities has to do with perception using senses outside of the physical five that we use with our bodies:  sight, touch, sound, smell and taste.  We are talking about our "extra-senses". 
We are quite familiar with our physical five senses, and are even taught their names and practice using them in preschool.  In fact, you are more than likely using more than one of them at this very moment (assuming you are all using at least your sense of sight to facilitate your reading).  But, what most of us do not know is that we all possess additional senses to the familiar five we use every minute of every day.  These are our "extra-senses" (and it is interesting to note that ESP, which refers to a particular use of a psychic ability, stands for extra-sensory perception- so technically all psychic perception is ESP) and they are the ways that we perceive the sensory information that is not physical in nature (that of the soul and the mind), or psychic information.
The first of these extra senses is called clairvoyance, or clear seeing.  This is our spiritual "sight" and those who have well developed clairvoyant abilities can "see" visions, pictures, symbols, colors, etc. in their mind's eye (sometimes referred to as the "third eye", which is located on your lower forehead at the center point between both eyebrows).  These vivid images flow into the mind of a clairvoyant, where they are interpreted based on what has been seen.
The next extra sense is called clairaudience, or clear hearing.  Those who can use this sense can hear voices, sounds and other noises that cannot be perceived using the physical ear.  Clairaudients hear things that do not seem to physically be there and this sense is most commonly associated with mediums, or a psychic who can communicate with the dead.
Next, there is clairsentience, or clear knowing.  This sense involves an ability to 'just know' and is truly difficult to clearly define.  Clairsentient people can have something appear in their mind in the form of a thought, or they will just know something without really knowing where it came from.  Clairsentience is also associated with an extra sense of touch, in that there are physical sensations such as hot or cold, etc. that come from non-physical sources that can be perceived by someone who can use this sense.
The fourth type of extra sense is called clairgustance, or clear taste.  This is an ability to taste something in your mouth or on your tongue that cannot be traced to a source in the physical world.  This seems to be somewhat of a rare occurring extra sense.  (I think that I would find this one rather strange if I were to experience it, and so far have not.)
The fifth extra sense is called clairalience, or clear smelling.  This is the ability to smell things that are not physically there and it also seems to be strongly associated with mediums, but it can be present in anyone.  (All mediums are psychics, but not all psychics are mediums- medium refers to the "middle" and therefore a medium is literally a "middle man/woman" to the spirit world.)
The sixth and last extra sense that I will describe is referred to as psychokinetic abilities.  (There are probably more than six, but these are the ones that I am most familiar with.)  Those with psychokinetic abilities can move or otherwise alter objects by using their minds.  This sense also seems to be quite rare, and many doubt how genuine this one actually is despite reports of its' occurrence throughout history.
Most people will use more than one of these senses when accessing psychic information, and the way that these senses combine will create a personal "way of seeing" and it is as individual as a fingerprint.  In the same way that some of us have a heightened sense of smell, or a sharp eye for detail, these extra senses vary from person to person.  No two people will experience this information in exactly the same way, just like no one will see, touch and smell a flower and experience it identically to someone else.
So, if we do have these "extra senses", what do we do with them?  How do these abilities work in a practical way, and how can they be useful to us?  There is quite a lot of information that can be gained through the use of these senses, and perceiving things that occur on a non-physical level can provide insight into the fact that there might be quite a lot more to our existence than meets the eye (the physical eye, pun intended).  Although psychics can do many things with their contact with the "soul and the mind", such as communicating with spirits, reading auras, and interpreting dreams, it is the ability to foretell the future that holds our collective abiding interest in psychic abilities.
How can someone tell the future?  Isn't the future something that hasn't happened yet?  Yes, technically the future has yet to occur, but we need to establish what type of relationship the future has with time and the nature of the movement of time itself.  I believe that time moves less like an arrow, or a straight line, and more like a circle.  This was the belief of many ancient and indigenous cultures, and is the basis for the famous Mayan calendar (which has managed to correctly predict many events that occurred centuries after its' development).  If this is true then, and time moves like a circle, then that would mean that the past, present and future are all happening simultaneously.  So, maybe psychics are simply tapping into an alternate reality that exists around us in which everything that has ever or will ever happen is occurring all at the same time, but we don't usually perceive this with our limited physical senses.  Yeah, this is some pretty deep stuff.  (I have discussed the possibility of this concept in previous articles.)
One way that psychics have historically "told the future" is through a process called divination.   Divination is the act of making a prophecy about the future by using an object, a ritual or a process of some sort.  Basically, it is using a prop to aid the flow of information, and I have been told that these objects are merely a way to increase a person's focus during this process.  There are many different types of divination including:  astrology (using the stars and planets), palmistry (reading palms), numerology (using numbers), onomancy (using names), chronomancy (using time, lucky/unlucky days), cartomancy (using cards, i.e. tarot cards), pyromancy (using fire), extispicy (using the entrails of animals), I Ching and Runes (the use of these objects), and scrying (the use of a reflective object).
I Ching (or "book of changes") is a book that contains a system of symbols designed to find order in seemingly random events.  It was written around 2800 BC (almost 350 years earlier than the construction of Khufu's Great Pyramid at Giza) by a legendary Chinese emperor named Fu Xi.  The book is divided into 64 hexagrams that each describe a predicted outcome or a prescribed course of action.  One would pose a question for the I Ching and then throw 3 coins six times, and recording the results:  a solid line for each roll that was predominantly 'heads' and a dotted line for each roll that was predominantly 'tails'.  After all six rolls, the result would be one of these 64 solid and dotted line patterns, or hexagrams.  Upon locating the corresponding hexagram in the text, the questioner would them read the poem next to it that contained the "prophecy".  The I Ching is still widely used both in China and around the world, and even after 5,000 years is still considered highly accurate and relevant.
The form of divination known as scrying is the source of our crystal ball stereotype.  A shiny and reflective surface is used to see (clairvoyantly) a vision of the future, and this method has been around since ancient times.  Other types of scrying involve mirrors (as in the well-known example from Snow White: "mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?"- the wicked stepmother in that fairytale was a scryer), glass, crystals, smoke, or water.  The seer Nostradamus was also a scryer, as he used a bowl of water to see his visions of the future.
Some psychics use their abilities without the use of props, and will tap into psychic information by using ritual or other means of altering their consciousness.  Doing this will turn down the volume on their physical senses and will help the "extra-senses" to emerge.  This altering of consciousness usually involves relaxing, shifting focus, meditating, deep breathing, etc.  Edgar Cayce, who would lie on his couch and go into a deep trance from which he would deliver his predictions, is a great example of someone who employed this technique.  Supposedly, one had a window of only a few seconds in which to pose him a question before he would go under too deeply and then proceed to drift off to sleep.  My personal favorite story about this phenomenon concerns Jane Roberts, the well-known author of the psychically channeled "Seth Material" books.  In order to achieve the relaxed and altered state that she used to connect with "Seth", a disembodied spirit who would deliver the material for her books, she would first have one beer and two cigarettes before going into a trance.  (I am not entirely sure why, but I find her technique somewhat hilarious, given the incredibly profound nature of the resultant material.)  But, that was her particular way of relaxing.
This altering of consciousness technique to tap into our "soul and our mind" has been an important part of spiritual and religious ritual since the dawn of time.  The hypnotic rhythm of a beating drum, swaying back and forth in time with a chant or a prayer, humming, and chanting are all powerful methods of initiating this connection with our "extra senses".  The first time that I ever saw an aura around another human being happened in the middle of a spin class, and I was cycling hard enough that I went into a "zone" that anyone who has ever engaged in an athletic activity can relate to.  That, coupled with the hypnotic noise of the bikes and the low light, my mind was in an altered and perceptive state that allowed me to "see" this.  (I have since learned to replicate this outside of the gym.)  The fact that this phenomenon occurs more frequently in a relaxed and altered state is the reason that so many people will have psychic experiences while under hypnosis.
This ability to alter our consciousness (without drugs or other substances, mind you- although many cultures have traditionally used various plants and herbs ritually for this very purpose) varies from person to person and could quite possibly be a clue as to why some of us are more psychic than others.  Is it as simple as that?  Some people can just "zone out" easier than others?  Well, not quite.  There are some aspects of receiving any "extra-sense" material that are somewhat difficult to place, and many aspects of this phenomenon are definitely in the category of unexplainable given my current limited knowledge on the subject.  But, there do seem to be some controllable factors that might contribute to a person's level of psychic ability.
For those of us who were not born with innate psychic gifts, there are ways that we can develop them.  In fact, I have been told that even world famous and renowned psychics must constantly work to maintain and develop their abilities.  Many working psychics meditate daily, or have a regular spiritual practice that serves to aid their ability to alter their consciousness and tap into their "true selves", or their spiritual selves.  Regular meditation and contemplation seem to help in the development of psychic abilities, and there is also a heavy correlation between people who spend a great deal of time in nature and the ability to use their "extra senses".  It isn't much of a stretch to imagine that avid meditators and nature lovers are more in touch with their "soul and the mind".
There also seems to be a correlation between psychic abilities and the state of our physical bodies, specifically our care and regard for them.  Eating healthy food, engaging in regular exercise, limiting the consumption of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs also seem to aid in the ability to mentally focus and tap into these "extra senses".  This does vary from person to person, and everyone is different and our bodies are individually unique.  I have heard some psychics tell me that consuming red meat will block their abilities, while others have told me that they eat meat regularly with no noticeable change.  Some medications have been known to prevent the flow of psychic information, and most psychics say that they have more difficulty tapping in when they are experiencing a physical illness.
The third way that one can develop their ability to utilize their "extra senses" comes through the practice of compassion and loving-kindness.  That's right, being nice can actually make you more psychic.  People who are able to be compassionate and truly connect with others are able to tap into this spiritual realm more readily.  This is especially true when you are dealing with another person one on one.  Many working psychics employ this technique by focusing on your voice, or your energy and also focus on their intent for your well-being (and if a psychic doesn't have your well-being in mind, then you shouldn't listen to them anyway!).  I often utilize this technique in my one on one work with my clients, in addition to the other techniques that I have found to work well for me individually over time.
But why should we work so hard to develop our own abilities when we can just consult someone else who is more naturally talented at it then we are?  It's true; we can get information about our future or receive loving messages from our deceased relatives from someone else.  But, this other person will be delivering it to you second hand.  If you do choose to consult a psychic, you must make sure that it is a person of a high moral caliber (and again, cares for your well-being!).  This is because we are dealing with another human being who cannot help but deliver the information to you through the filter of their own existence.  It can be often difficult to navigate what information belongs to you and what is rightfully someone else's.  Always trust your intuition when you are choosing someone to work with in this way.  (Yes, I did just tell you to be psychic when choosing your psychic.)
Besides, why should we rely on information that we got from someone else, when we all own these "extra senses" ourselves?  We dream, get gut feelings, can sense things, and so why not learn more about how they work so that we can "see" our own future?  How differently would we live our lives on a daily basis if we could all use and rely on our "extra senses"?  One world-renowned psychic once said that the biggest difference between him and everyone else is that he trusts himself and the information he receives.  This trust is something that happens over time, as we get validation on our information and learn how to recognize the hallmarks of our own, unique "way of seeing".  I believe that this use of our "extra senses" could be a part of a new phase in human evolution that would, in the future, require us to redefine the parameters of our own true potential.
So, does the fact that we can see or know things about it mean that our future is determined?  No way.  Now we are into the territory of destiny (which is a whole other topic for another day), but suffice it to say that we are constantly making choices that directly determine our own future every minute of every day.  What any psychic is seeing is a possible (or perhaps even a probable) future.  Any kind of prediction or prophecy, whether it comes from someone else or directly from you, should be viewed as potential insight into the current choices that we are making in our lives.  Some premonitory dreams are meant to be warnings to make changes by showing you a possible future with disastrous results.  Other times, we can see visions of our own future that can represent our highest potential, and are meant to inspire positive changes in order to help us find a path in life that will lead to that possible future.
Unlike some abilities which require you to "use it or lose it", your own, unique psychic way of seeing is there, patiently waiting to be acknowledged and discovered.  But, in order to use these "extra senses" to the best of our ability, we must first take a leap of faith in ourselves and begin to trust the information that we are receiving.  Trusting ourselves is often the most difficult thing to do, and often we will take another person's word for it before we will believe in our own innate psychic abilities.  As we work to understand our own, unique way of accessing "our soul and our mind" we can also begin to unlock our true potential as human beings.  Why not use all of the tools available to us as we struggle down this often rocky and always complicated road that we call life?  To me, this is the most natural and normal thing that we can possibly ever do.  How do I know this?  Well, I just do.