How Getting a Past Life Reading Helped Me Start Living in the Present

Photo: Getty Images/Eugenio Marongiu
About a year ago, I was going through some stuff. I’d just called time on a four-year relationship and moved out of the home I'd shared with my ex and our dog. I was also a few months into a new job, but could already tell that it wasn’t the right fit for me. And on top of it all, I was in the midst of a months-long acne flare-up that no eating plan or topical treatment could touch.

Really, I don’t mean to complain—I know a lot of people have it a lot worse than I did back then—but I was frustrated. After years of examining my past experiences through a microscope of therapy, journaling, and energy healing, I still felt that there was something holding me back at work, in love, and in my body. No matter how much time passed or how much work I did on myself, the same issues kept popping up: Failed romances, skin issues, and the nagging feeling that there was something else I was supposed to be doing with my life. Clearly, just analyzing my past 35 years wasn’t doing the trick. So I started to think about how to dig even deeper to dislodge myself from the rut I kept falling into—like, previous-lifetimes deep.

The idea of getting a past-life reading was almost too woo-woo for even me, someone who knows her astrology chart by heart and consults her tarot cards on the daily. But as a Los Angeles-residing wellness writer, it was hard to avoid the mystical concept of past-life traumas affecting present-day reality. The topic seemed to constantly come up in reading material, podcasts, and while conducting interviews for work. And intuitively, I knew that if something continually enters my field of vision like that, I needed to stop looking away.

What is a past-life reading?

A past-life reading, also known as past life regression therapy, Nicole Hernandez, a hypnotist who goes by The Traveling Hypnotist, explains is “the process of using hypnosis to induce a deep meditative-like state in which the facilitator guides a participant to recall past life memories or past life narratives.” She adds that children are more likely to recall past lives, while adults often forget these memories but they may present themselves in recurring dreams.

Past lives are believed to have a connection to the subconscious mind. “Through a past life regression, we can calm the body and mind to allow for greater access to the unconscious and access to stored memories,” Hernandez explains, adding that not everyone who experiences a past-life reading necessarily believes in past lives.

Still, Hernandez adds, a past-life reading is  “an opportunity to consider the metaphorically rich narratives that surface from our unconscious mind. It gives us the chance to identify patterns and beliefs playing out in our lives.”

Furthermore, a past-life reading can be a very spiritual experience that can instill a deep sense of oneness. “We gain insight from our higher consciousness, or spirit guides in some cases, and this self-directed wisdom helps us shift out of our egoic thinking,” Hernandez says.

So, regardless of whether you believe in past lives or not, a past-life reading can help tap into your subconscious mind and uncover patterns and beliefs affecting your present life as well as extract wisdom to help navigate it all.

What a past-life reading is really like

I found myself in a cloud of sage smoke, sitting in a cottage at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, face-to-face with the resort’s resident energy alchemist, Nicola Behrman, who does work reminiscent of shamans, but with a few distinct differences. “Technically, a shaman is someone who goes behind the veil and brings back gifts and learning and information,” she says. “I have that access, but shamanism is a specific vibration—it’s very connected to the land. It’s not that I’m not connected to the land, but what I bring in is my connection to the stars.”

According to Behrman and other past-life believers, most of our souls have had many, many incarnations before this one, and some metaphysical scholars believe that unresolved issues from those existences can affect us right now. “Oftentimes, similar situations will show up until we receive the lesson of it that we choose to receive,” Behrman explains. But don't freak out just yet. “Anything that was out of alignment during those lifetimes can be healed in the present. We bring it forward so we can witness and integrate anything that happened during those lifetimes. In the shamanic tradition they call it soul retrieval.”

Each past-life regression therapy session will run a bit differently depending on the practitioner and the intention of the session. Typically, the practitioner will guide you through a deep, guided hypnosis to relax the mind and body. From there, Hernandez says, you’ll be guided to visualize moving into a past life and revisiting various scenes in that lifetime. “You will observe how that soul passed and while this may sound frightening to some, it’s actually one of the most cathartic parts of a session,” she says. “Finally, you will go through a download process to help you gain lessons and wisdom from that lifetime that may be helpful to you now.”

My session with Behrman went a little differently. By gazing into my eyes, she says she was able to actually see my face morph into my previous personas. (I know. But her energy is so pure that I totally believe her.)

As it turns out, Behrman thinks I’ve lived a lot of lives. And many of them had some pretty eerie connections to this one. For instance, she saw me unhappily working in a Parisian butcher shop during the French revolution; I’ve been disgusted by meat since I first started eating solid foods. She told me that, at one point, I was a nun who witnessed something scandalous but couldn’t talk about it; I’ve always been really uncomfortable in churches but have never been able to explain why. She also said she saw me as a fairy living in the forest, which resonated with me in a really profound way. (As a kid, I always wanted to run away and live in the woods, surrounded by animal friends. I mean, I still do.)

The 90-minute session also involved a guided mediation, an energy-cleansing ritual, and lots of singing, whistling, and drumming on Behrman’s part. By the time I left, I felt about 10 pounds lighter, energetically speaking, and a little more enlightened, but I couldn’t fully reconcile any of the intel I’d received with the issues I was experiencing in the here and now. I chalked it up as a fun adventure and moved on.

The benefits of a past-life reading

As more time passed, I realized that my past-life reading taught me a lot more than I initially thought. Yes, a previous incarnation of my soul may have been kidnapped and raped during the Robin Hood days, as Behrman says it was (!), but that experience has zero bearing on my life today—and to let it affect me at all would be crazy.

So why do I spend so much time in this lifetime revisiting the “past lives” I’ve experienced and let them bring me down? Maybe my ex and I ended up not being right for each other—that doesn’t mean the next guy I meet will be wrong for me, too. Similarly, dwelling on my past career letdowns was preventing me from being totally enthusiastic about new experiences. And believing that nothing could fix my problematic skin because nothing ever worked in the past was such an anxiety-provoking way of looking at my health, it’s no wonder my breakouts were unrelenting—stress is a serious skin saboteur, after all.

Once I had that epiphany, I started being more mindful of my thoughts and attempting to live in the moment, rather than ruminating about the past. And I can honestly say I feel much freer than I did last fall. I’m still single, but I'm actually having fun with it now because I make a real effort to look at every date with fresh eyes, instead of assuming that he’ll repeat the patterns of his predecessors. I made the decision to be more present during my work days, and although I did end up leaving the job I wasn’t wild about, staying in the now has brought a whole new sense of engagement and joy to my work. That’s what was missing, by the way, not some nebulous life purpose that was dangling just beyond my grasp. Oh, and my skin cleared up, which I partially attribute to my less-stressed M.O.

But those were just my takeaways. Hernandez says the benefits of undergoing a past-life reading can include cultivating more empathy and tolerance for others as they may realize they may have been another race, gender, or lifeform in a past life. Gaining clarity on your purpose or direction can be another potential benefit. “A past life regression helps you identify your unique strengths and resources, and it can help you consider your purpose in this life without the pressure of societal constructs or your family's expectations,” Hernandez says. She also shares testimonials from past life sessions that resulted in releasing attachments to a past relationship, releasing the guilt of having an abortion at young age, and overcoming the fear of being judged by others.

How to explore past lives on your own

If you’re not quite ready to experience a past-life reading just yet, Hernandez says it's possible to begin to dip your toes into your past lives on your own. As a starting point, she suggests examining recurring dreams for symbolism and narratives. “You can also direct your unconscious [mind] to dream about past lives before you go to bed,” she says. “You'll want to keep a pen and journal next to your bed so that you can write down any insights as soon as you wake up.” To dive further into the topic, Hernadez also points to the book “Many Lives, Many Masters” by Dr. Brian Weiss as a great introduction to the topic of past lives.

The Takeaway

Past life believer or not, there are many potential benefits to gain from a past-life reading. The biggest takeaway of all, however, according to Behrman, is to not get so caught up with past lives. “I wouldn’t want anyone to become obsessed with needing to discover every past life they’ve ever had,” she says. “The reason we examine our past lives is because it alerts us to a pattern or frequency that we’re experiencing. When we clear something relating to it, it allows us to anchor more fully into this life.” And technically, even what happened yesterday is in a past life—may as well let it go right now, so it doesn't bring down your tomorrow.

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