Monday, 12 October 2009

In God's Waiting Room

There’s a dilemma when considering when one should accept that one is officially ‘old’. Getting a bus pass and a state pension didn’t seem to do it for me and until now I have steadfastly refused to describe myself as ‘old’. Next year I will be 70, there will be no argument – I will be old and that’s that. I could last another 10 years or more, but there is no disguising the fact that I am now, in ‘God’s Waiting Room’.

It is perfectly natural, once you reach your 60’s, that you should begin to think a bit more carefully about death. During last winter’s damp, cold weather my creaking and painful joints nudged my consciousness, reminding me that time was marching on. I needed to consider what was most likely; would I would die, be reborn and start all over again from scratch, or I would simply enter into the ‘Big Sleep’. Of course my Christian friends would suggest that I would find myself standing before my maker as he considered my CV. I thought carefully about the ,Big Sleep.

"I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it."
Mark Twain

When insight came to me it was not on the meditation stool, not on retreat, but from that other great source of spiritual inspiration – Google. I Googled ‘death’ and started following some strange and rather spooky threads until I somehow came across a reference to Dr Ian Stevenson.

Dr Ian Stevenson had acquired a medical degree at McGill University in Montreal in 1943, graduating at the top of his class. Following some early work in biochemistry he decided to specialise in psychiatry. He became head of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia at the age of just 39. Somewhere along the way he developed an interest in reports of children who seemed to remember past lives. He became so attracted by this research that he was granted a professorial chair, becoming a full time researcher into paranormal phenomena.

His chosen subject was probably considered extremely flaky by fellow scientists and in spite of his research being published in lofty but somewhat dry publications such as The Journal of American Society for Psychical Research and The Journal of Scientific Exploration; he was totally ignored by the mainstream scientific community and of course to the larger non academic community. Until he came to the attention of the Washington Post journalist and best selling author, Tom Schroder.

Like me, Schroder had been looking around for possible evidence of reincarnation when he came across and article written by Prof. Ian Stevenson. It featured the results of his research into the previous life memories of young children. The amazing thing was that Prof Stevenson hadn’t just investigated a handful of cases, he had researched literally thousands. Schroeder was impressed by his calm, slightly dry academic approach to his research, meticulously checking and substantiating all claims.

Stevenson was now 80 years old but still conducting research. Schroder contacted him, requested an interview and was invited to visit him at the University of Virginia’s Department of Personality Studies. Filing cabinets in his office were stuffed with transcripts from over 2,500 cased he had investigated during the past 40 years. He was tall and lean with a full head of silver hair and a slightly formal air. Schroder asked him if his research had proven reincarnation. Stevenson’s response was typically measured, “Of the cases we know now – at least for some – reincarnation is the best explanation we have been able to come up with”.

At the end of his visit, Schroder asked if he could accompany him during one of his research projects. Stevenson said that he was nearing retirement but had plans for two final field trips, one to Lebanon and the other to India. Eventually, Stevenson rather bravely agreed to allow this Washington Post journalist to travel with him on his final tour. The result was an amazing book entitled Old Souls. I found a copy on Amazon and sent off for it.

Tom Schroder freely admits that he had no preconceptions at all when he began his travels with Professor Stevenson but by the time he had written the book, he had been totally won over. There is no time this evening to relate any of the case studies Stevenson revisited during this tour but the details are jaw-dropping. From the moment these children could talk they spoke of people and events from the past with details of specifically identifiable individuals who may have died just months, weeks or even hours before the birth of the child in question. Very often their previous persona had died from a significant trauma, a car accident, a shotgun blast, etc. In many cases the child has a birthmark, skin blemishes or deformities that coincided with the injuries received in their previous life.

I began to reflect on my own childhood. What were my earliest memories? I remembered a recurrent nightmare I used to have. I would dream that I was being crushed by something massive, dark and unstoppable. It was bearing down on me relentlessly and silently. I would wake screaming and it would take my parents ages to calm me down. One evening I had gone to bed relatively early and had woken screaming with terror at the same dream. My father asked me what it was and I tried to describe the massive thing, like a cloud but not a cloud that was coming down on top of me. I couldn’t stop it.

With that my father went to a cupboard and came back with a ceremonial sword he had acquired as an officer in the RAF. He unsheathed it with a flourish, jabbed the point in the ceiling and wedged the handle on top of a small wardrobe. “That’s fixed it!” he shouted, “It won’t come down on you any more” and that was it – I went to sleep and never had that dream ever again - I was 6 years old.

This made me think about an odd phenomenon that I had almost taken for granted. My wife calls it my ‘stigmata’. It is a small jagged, bright red mark that occasionally appears on my face. It can do so once a year, or several times in succession. It looks like I have been struck by a small shard of glass. It is never in the same place and usually on the right side of my face, but not always. It doesn’t hurt and it fades after a couple of days. It appears in the night, sometimes after I have had a particularly stressful or tiring time.

I was born in London on 24th September 1940. The Luftwaffe began their blitz of London on the 11th September and continued every night until the 27th. Many homes were bombed and hundreds of lives were lost. Survivors described how they were deafened by the blast and buried under rubble. I imagined how they must have died, trapped, their eardrums burst, cut and bleeding, crushed by their collapsing homes. Viewed in light of the experiences described by the children in Professor Stephenson’s research, the nightmares and the stigmata began to take on a new significance.

This gave rise to another memory. Some years ago, my ex-wife Jane and I had hired a VW Camper and taken our three young children on holiday to France and Spain. One early evening we had arrived at a campsite at a mediaeval walled town of Peniscola on the south coast of Spain where they had filmed El Cid with Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren. We had just parked the camper when a Citroen van pulled up along side – one of those old fashioned ones with the corrugated sides. The driver, a middle aged man wearing a very large black beret, clambered out and aided by his wife, began to erect a very large tent. As they did so, it was obvious that a storm was about to break. The sky had darkened and the wind was becoming progressively stronger. Being experience campers, we all agreed that we should give them a hand. As we did so, the rain began to fall and the wind was reaching gale force. As we struggled with the unfamiliar canvass the beret wearing man began shouting instructions to us in a language I didn’t understand. Jane raised her voice over the wind and shouted “He says peg out the main guy ropes first”. Then another instruction from the foreigner interpreted by Jane, “Stand on the edge to stop it flapping whilst he gets the pegs in”.

Quickly, the tent was erected and we returned to the camper to dry off. The consensus of opinion was that they were Basques and I asked Jane how she knew what the guy was saying. She said that she couldn’t explain it - somehow she just knew. An hour later there was a knock on the door of the camper and it was our Basque neighbour. Jane interpreted, “He would like us to join them for aperitifs”. For the next hour or so we sat and chatted in a convivial sort of way. He spoke and Jane interpreted. We spoke and Jane used body language to get our points across.

It has always puzzled me that Jane was so clearly able to understand what our Basque friend was saying and I began to wonder if there was something in her family background. Her grandfather on her mother’s side was 100% pure Romany. He was a gipsy horse trader travelling the country for months at a time visiting the various county fairs. By all accounts he did rather well and when he retired he bought a large piece of land in Hanham, then just green fields in the country surrounding Bristol, where he settled down, built a row of terraced cottages for all the members of his family, and bred horses.

I Googled ‘Romany gipsies’ and discovered that they originated in India. Over centuries they travelled through North Africa; crossed the Straights into Spain and travelled northwards towards the Pyrenees where they came to a halt in the land of the Spanish Basques. During the hundreds of years of their steady migration westwards they had absorbed or adapted to local languages. Over time the small group of that remained resident in the Basque country developed Erromintxela, a mixture of Romany and Basque, a language now vanished into obscurity, that both could understand.

Xenoglossy describes the phenomena where someone finds they are able to talk or understand a language they are not familiar with and have never been taught. Perhaps somewhere in Jane’s past life memories she has a vestige of the ancient Erromintxela tongue.

Finally, there is an internet blog strictly controlled and maintained by past life therapist, Carol Bowman, where people discuss what appear to be their children’s past life experiences. It is interesting to note that there have already been a small handful of reports of very young children referring to experiences relating directly to those who perished in the collapse of the Twin Towers.

The evidence seems overwhelming and my mind is clear. Of course I have no idea how the process works and there are hundreds of unanswered questions - to which one day, we will all have the answers.

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