Gather round, children, and let me tell you a story:
In the beginning, before there was anything at all, before the Earth and the Sun and the Moon, before everything we know, there was the Divine. That is the name I use but the Divine has many, many names. You may use a different one but we all mean the same thing, the Being Who Is, the Great “I AM”. Because of a deep need to create, the Divine formed the Universe and all that is within it. The Divine is/was/will always be all powerful and all knowing but is/was/will not be able to experience her/his/its own creation as the Divine. And so in infinite wisdom, the Divine also gave off sparks of his/her/its own essence that could live in the Universe and experience all that was possible. These sparks are every living thing throughout the Universe, every being and every life that is present everywhere.
Each spark lives over and over, learning all the lessons that life will teach. As each spark gains in knowledge, it moves closer towards the Divine once more until it joins again, only to be given off again—an eternal spiral, circling out and back. There are sparks that gain in wisdom and choose to come back to lives will let them learn even more through extreme methods and to regain unity with the Divine at a faster than usual rate. There are sparks that refuse to learn the lesson or to experience life. They do not return to the Divine but continue living life after life, being without knowing. And then there’s the vast majority of sparks, learning at a steady and regular rate each of life’s lessons in turn.
Because the sparks are experiencing the Universe, each of them will experience EVERYTHING: victim in this life, murderer in the next; male, female, die young, live long, rich and poor, white and black, human and animal, any condition that can be imagined. I also suspect that there is a time period for each spark to be a part of the natural world—a tree, a rock, moss or a bug. There may not be a lot of intelligence as we understand it in those forms, but they each one impart some lesson about living. At the other end of that spectrum, I also suspect that there is a time when the spark is a star, a nova, a galaxy—again, when there is a lesson to be learned from being those things. One of my favorite sayings is this: We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience. We are the sparks from the Divine. We are created, as the Christian Bible says, in God’s image. (And the Goddess’s image, but that’s another essay.)
I firmly believe in reincarnation. Each of us has known that sense of déjà vu when we meet someone for the first time and they feel like a long lost love—or the sense of familiarity that comes even as we enter a place for the first time. I believe that reincarnation explains some of the dreams that we have of other times and other places that we just KNOW we lived in. I would suggest that this is past life knowledge seeping through our subconscious while we sleep.
Why do we forget our past lives? So that we can approach each life, each lesson with a clean slate—no preconceptions, no past feelings and ideas confusing us or muddying up the waters of this life. I also believe that there is a period between lives for contemplation and compiling the lesson just learned. I think that when we are in the spiritual plane (between physical lives), we do remember everything that we have ever experienced and that this allows us to make better choices for what our next life should be.
Which is precisely where free will comes into the equation. Free will is how reincarnation works. We are not fated to live one life after another, stupidly plodding from this to that. Rather, we actively seek out the lives we will explore, we make the choices about who we are and how we will live and then we live them out, one followed by the other. We make choices during each life about learning or not. The Divine may know whether we will choose to return or turn away but we are the ones who make this path happen. Life is about choices. I tell my friends: if you don’t like your life, change your choices. And a very subtle concept that seems to escape a lot of people is the idea that not choosing is also a choice. I think that if you won’t make the choices for your own life, they will be made for you. I also think that the choice made for you will include a lesson in making decisions.
Who makes that decision when you won’t? It is also a part of my beliefs that we travel through time and space with a group of sparks…some of them at peer level, some mentors and guides and some youngsters. Most people are at least familiar with the concept of an “old soul”—someone wise beyond their physical years. So in this group we have the older sparks, with more lives behind them, who act as guides and share their wisdom with the others in the group. We have the peer group, sparks that are traveling at about the same place in their journey, with similar levels of knowledge; these make up the largest percentage of the group. And we have the “youngsters”, sparks that haven’t traveled as much or experienced as many lessons. This forms a sort of spiritual family, a place where each spark can go for encouragement and support.
I think that this group also provides us with some of the family and friends that we know in our physical life; I think that we travel on both planes with the same sparks. And like our physical family, if we will not make our choices in the spiritual plane, our mentor/guides in our group will make them for us, gently pushing us into learning and experiencing as we are supposed to. While this seems a contradiction to having free will, when we do not choose or refuse to choose, we put ourselves in the position of having our choices made for us. Ask anyone who hasn’t bothered to vote in our governmental elections if they are influenced by tax hikes!
To put a different spin on the concept of reincarnation, let’s look at it this way. I used to be a Christian, with Christian concepts of Heaven and Hell. Reincarnation does not particularly renounce these concepts but explains them in a slightly different way. I never thought of Heaven and Hell as being actual places on some Universal map. I understood Heaven as being with God and Hell as being away from God. So for me, the idea of a spark always moving back to the Divine is like going to Heaven. If a spark refuses to learn the lessons, chooses to not move towards the Divine and deliberately moves away from the Divine, then that is going to Hell. Since there is no flow of time on the spiritual plane, what does it matter if it takes one physical life to get back to the Divine or a thousand? There are slightly better odds for reaching the Divine if you have multiple lives to make that choice, instead of just one chance to get it right.
In the movie, “Groundhog Day”, Bill Murray keeps living one day over and over and over. He begins the movie as a selfish, self-centered man who has no friends and no sense of connection to those around him. When he first realizes that the day repeats, he indulges in hedonistic behavior—eating all that he wants, smoking and generally overindulging in all things. This eventually pales and loses its attraction. Then he reaches the depths of despair and figures there is no reason to live. He endlessly repeats all kinds of suicide, only to wake up in bed on Groundhog Day once more.
He decides for selfish reasons to make a connection with Andie McDowell’s character. Even though this seeking is for all the wrong reasons, the path leads to the discovery of everyone else who has always been around him. As he takes the time to learn about them, his focus moves away from himself and towards others. He begins to respond to the Universal spark within each person, becoming a better man himself as he interacts with the town’s people. He willingly chooses to behave in ways that do not directly benefit him, like changing a tire for a car full of elderly women or catching a falling child. He learns how to play the piano and discovers his own spark of creativity. And in the end, he is “the best loved man in town”—in other words, he reaches enlightenment. He both knows and experiences the interconnectedness of the Universe and has learned the lesson of living.
Reincarnation is a lot like that. We live our lives over and over, trying out various behaviors, experiencing different aspects of life and learning all that we can about the Universe, one small part at a time. Things that we do not understand or refuse to learn we will repeat in our lives until we do understand them and we do learn them. The Universe is a good teacher so if you can’t learn something one way, it will provide you with alternate methods of grasping the concepts. There is no shame in not understanding—only in the deliberate refusal to learn. In Nature, and therefore in the Universe, there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are only consequences. Those consequences, and what we do with them, is the experience that we take back to the Divine.
Each of us needs some sense of purpose, a reason for being. What’s the point of living if there is no point to living? Reincarnation only gives us a longer timeline for finding this reason and living our life/lives fulfilling the purpose we have found. I follow Zen Buddhism, which teaches about living in the moment, paying attention to the NOW we occupy. Knowing and believing that I quite literally have forever, all the time I could ever want or need lets me focus on this moment with an intensity that was lacking when I held Christian beliefs and thought that there was only one chance to exist in this plane.
For me, having all eternity frees me to experience each flickering and fleeting moment to the fullest. I don’t have to try to learn everything there is to learn because, well, there’s always the next life. This freedom in turn opens up all possibilities, offers me choices that do not exist for those who do not believe in reincarnation. I feel that it serves as a filter to clear away that which is not truly important. It’s hard to be upset about anything that is minor when you have established that minority against the Universal continuum.
There are truths that withstand that comparison and deserve our attention and energy to learn them, but let’s face it: most of what we spend our days dealing with is…manure. No, not even that because manure at least helps things to grow. We spend too much of our physical and mental time dealing with stuff that won’t matter in a hundred years and to be real honest about it, doesn’t matter that much now. But we let it matter and so it distracts us from the lesson. If you believe that this life is all there is, then that distraction from the lessons is fatal. Reincarnation gives us a way to learn how to ignore the minutiae, learn how to concentrate on understanding the life we are supposed to be living and to experience all that we are to know. It lets us make the choices about how we will live and offers the chance to discover all the possibilities.
As the bumper sticker says, “I am born again. And again. And again.”