An alternative therapy maintains that our memories of previous lives can heal some deep seated problems in our present lives.
WHY do you have such a strong attraction or dislike to someone? Do you have irrational phobias? Dreams that seem too real? Why are you so interested in a particular country? Were you a child prodigy? Do you get strange feelings of deja vu when you go somewhere?
Dr Selina Chew – with her many qualifications behind her – believes past life regression therapy can help people deal with the problems in their current lives. – Photos by VICTOR K.K. NG / The Star
Well, maybe these are traits carried over from a previous life, says Selina Chew, a law graduate turned “past life regression therapist”:
“When you regress deeply back into your past lives under hypnosis, you will gain insight into why you have these kinds of strong feelings, such as phobias. Once you understand that, it is easier to heal.”
Past life regression therapy is, of course, associated with reincarnation, which is the idea/belief that our “souls” have “lived before”; this form of therapy is based on the idea that we can clear some of our psychological baggage by revisiting those past lives.
Before dismissing regression and reincarnation as some New Age “hocus-pocus”, it’s worth considering the numerous cases of people remembering past lives reported in the Western mainstream media.
For instance, there is Captain Robert Snow, a no-nonsense, sceptical police homicide captain in Indianapolis in the United States.
Kevin Tan, 20, undergoing hypnosis under Chew’s direction to try to ‘see’ his past lives.
On a Sci-Fi channel show about past lives (youtube.com/watch?v=lB_j-chZvR0), he agreed to try regression “just to show how stupid it was”. While hypnotised, he “saw” himself as an artist painting a hunchbacked woman, how his mother had died of a blood clot, how his wife was barren, and many other details.
As he was disturbed by this, he decided to investigate the matter – like a police officer – and months later, saw the very same painting he had seen during regression in New Orleans, painted by someone called James Beckwith.
He then traced the artist’s personal diary to the National Academy of Design in New York. After reading through it (it took him a year to get through the 17,000 pages), all the details he had “seen” during regression were confirmed, and he became convinced that he was the reincarnation of James Beckwith.
Another amazing case was shown on American TV station ABC’s Primetime Thursday programme on April 15, 2004, about a boy called James Leininger who would play with nothing but toy air planes (youtube.com/watch?v=_EWwzFwUOxA). When he was two, he began having violent nightmares of “air plane crash, fire, little man can’t get out”.
His parents, Andrea and Bruce, said James was only watching shows like Barney and Teletubbies, not war documentaries. Nor did they talk about military history. The highly educated couple thought that the idea of reincarnation was “baloney” and looked for a “logical” explanation.
One day, Andrea bought her son a toy plane and said, “Look there’s a bomb underneath”. To which James correctly responded, “No, that’s a drop tank”. That’s when the parents took James to see past life therapist Carol Bowman, who has written books about children’s past lives.
The nightmares decreased but James started to recall even more details, such as the model of the plane he dreamt about (a Corsair), its technical problems, the name of the “boat” with planes (Natoma) and the name of a fellow pilot (Jack Larson). One day, when the father was looking through a new book about the battle of Iwo Jima (between the Japanese and Americans during World War II), James declared, “Dad, that’s where I was shot down.”
By this time Bruce had begun combing military records and soon discovered there indeed was an aircraft carrier called USS Natoma Bay – whose sole pilot casualty at Iwo Jima was someone called James M. Houston. He managed to track down survivors – including Jack Larson. Another survivor, Ralph Clarbour, was in a plane nearby and corroborated little James’ story of how he crashed: when anti-aircraft fire hit the front propeller.
“It was, like, holy mackerel,” Bruce said on the programme.
Bowman explains that Westerners often reject reincarnation as it’s not part of their Judeo-Christian beliefs. So, asked the programme, do we go with “hard facts” or “religious beliefs”?
Well, believe it or not? These and other reports are highlighted by Chew during her workshops on past life regression (see Backwards to birth on SM6).
Then again, do we Malaysians need validation from the Western (Christian) mindset for what are fundamental Eastern tenets found in Buddhism and Hinduism?
While reincarnation is alien to the Western worldview, a Discovery channel programme (on another amazing reincarnation story, found atyoutube.com/watch?v=E_T5vNgusEw) shows that stories about people remembering past lives are quite commonly reported in the newspapers of Sri Lanka, a predominantly Buddhist country.
Chew, who has been doing past life regressions in Malaysia for the past four years, has a string of (Western) qualifications in various holistic therapies; she is, among others, a Certified Hypnotherapist (International Association of Counselors and Therapists, US) and a Certified Past Life Regression Therapist (American Hypnosis Association). She also holds a Masters of Metaphysical Science (M.MSc from the University of Metaphysics, US) and a PhD in Holistic Life Coaching (University of Sedona, US) on top of her more conventional qualifications of an MBA (Charles Sturt University, Australia) and a law degree (Universiti Malaya).
She has had many successful cases of people who have “gone back” and “healed” their problems.
For instance, one of her clients, S.K. Ong, a music teacher in her mid 30s, explains:
“My tears would just burst out whenever people talked of separation. Even when my sister got married. I didn’t know if regression would work but I was willing to try.”
Under hypnosis, she “saw” that she had lived in a mountainous country resembling Afghanistan: “I was a teenaged goatherd carrying a pail of milk to the market. Then men on horses with swords came and killed everybody,” she recounts. Ong then “floats” out of her body and “sees” her mother crying next to her dying body.
“I also saw another scene somewhere in Europe, where I was the mother and my child suddenly died. After the funeral, I soon died from great grief.
“After seeing these, I understand much better why I have such feelings about separation. I don’t cry so easily nowadays.”
Another one of Chew’s clients, a Ms Lim, was disturbed after a good friend abandoned her “without reason”.
“When I regressed back to another lifetime, I saw that he wanted to be my boyfriend. But I could not really accept him and just left without saying why. So in this life, he has done it to me,” says this former senior finance manager turned lecturer in her late 30s.
For her, the experience was healing. “It was very good. It helped me to release the negative energy. From now on, I want to handle all relationships very carefully and not hurt anyone. Even if people hurt me, I want to refrain from fighting back with the same ‘weapon’. Otherwise the negative energy will come back to me.”
Then again, are these people really seeing “themselves”? Or are they merely imagining things?
Ong relates, “Even before the soldiers came (to the market in Afghanistan), I could already feel the (emotional) pain. If I was imagining things, I should see the picture first, and then only feel the pain. It was not a show. It was very real.”
The lecturer says, “It’s quite impossible that it’s just imagination. It just popped up spontaneously in my mind. Even though my friend had a different face in the past life, I just knew it was him. It’s the feeling.”
Shanthi, a 37-year-old telebanker, has had vivid recollections of various past lives including as a lady carrying a lace fan in Austria, and a Balinese priest who was stabbed by his own disciple. Was she just fantasising?
“I’d rather be fantasising about Denzel Washington than of those things, for heaven’s sake!” she laughs. “My experiences may sound surreal, but it all just seems to make sense to me.
“I just knew, I guess. I’ve never been to Austria or Bali. But I’ve always been instantly attracted to anything about Bali, like pictures of its architecture. Oddly enough, though, I don’t long to visit Bali. From my regression, I understand why.”
Then again, Dr Phang Cheng Kar, a medical doctor specialising in psychiatry at a Government hospital in Kuala Lumpur (see A Malaysian doctor’s view on SM4), says that some research has shown that a patient’s recollections can be “easily” influenced by the hypnotist-therapist’s suggestions.
“Nearly all such hypnotically evoked ‘previous personalities’ are entirely imaginary ... like most of our dreams,” he says, citing Dr Ian Stevenson (see Experts who believe below).
Furthermore, even the historical details “remembered” are usually derived from what the patient has seen on TV or read elsewhere.
Even dramatic improvements in the patient does not prove that a “real” previous life has been remembered, says Dr Phang, since people can also recover with the help of most psychological therapy generally due to factors such as a belief in a kind therapist or a soothing environment.
But regardless of whether one is “really” seeing a past life or not, the benefits – in this life – are often real enough.
The psychiatrist Dr Brian Weiss, after 21 years of experience in regressing thousands of patients and witnessing “many extraordinary and incredible phenomena” (see Experts who believe below), says that believing in reincarnation is not important in obtaining healing from regression therapy.
“Regardless of whether the material evoked is processed as metaphor or symbol, the knowledge and insights gained can lead to significant physical, emotional, and spiritual transformations,” he says in his bookMirrors of Time: Using Regression for Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Healing..
Pull towards a higher calling
Chew herself has had transformative experiences, she says.
“Ever since I was young, I was always interested in the spiritual side of things.
“When I was five, before taking our daily afternoon nap, I told my mother, ‘Lock the door, thieves are coming’. She slapped my face and said I was talking nonsense. That afternoon itself, thieves broke into our house.
“That incident sparked my interest in intuition, parapsychology, healing and human potential.”
When she was 10, she started searching for spiritual guidance, asking herself about the meaning of life.
“Perhaps this was also due to my birthdate, which revealed that I am strongly inclined towards spirituality and intuition,” she says. “In addition, my grandmother was a bomoh who healed many people. However, she passed on when I was just two years old.”
After getting her law degree, Chew did corporate training in several multinationals while pursuing her MBA.
“However, despite a financially sound future, I still felt something was missing. I read materials on spirituality. My life’s purpose began to unfold slowly after attending a past life regression facilitators’ workshop,” she remembers.
“I saw myself in several lifetimes as a healer and a spiritual person. After going through several regression sessions, I became more confident and had a greater understanding of my life.
“I spent many sessions in meditation asking myself whether I should go against the grain and follow my heart towards a higher calling. As (American author and philosopher) Ralph Waldo Emerson says, ‘Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail’.
“I decided to take a leap of faith and left the corporate world. So here I am now, doing my work and helping people in a special way. It is much more fulfilling and satisfying.”