How I Did the Research
The snow lay three feet deep around the Chicago motel where fifty-four people lay stretched out on blankets and pillows in the darkened banquet room. The great Chicago blizzard of January 1978 had kept some of these subjects from our earlier scheduled hypnosis sessions, but they were all finally able to get here, and now they lay on the floor waiting to explore their reason for being born.
As the lights dimmed and the room fell into darkness, it was so quiet I could hear the hum of the machinery that made our room a warm cave against the snow banks outside the window. All fifty-four of my subjects had already been on two hypnotic trips to past lives in the past three hours, and I knew that 90 percent of them were experiencing past-life recall and responding to my hypnotic instructions. But, as I sat in my chair and looked out over what seemed like a sea of bodies, I was once more amazed at this strange phenomenon. People who had never been hypnotized before, people who held varying beliefs about reincarnation, people who had traveled as far as 200 miles to experience this, were now all quietly waiting for my voice to take them on the most interesting journey of all—a journey into the origin of their current personality.
I began the hypnotic induction for the “birth trip” as I had done at least 400 times before. The words ran in my mind like a loop of tape, and I had learned how my thoughts could stray from what my voice was saying, and I heard my own voice come from a distance. I knew I was in an altered state of consciousness while I was conducting these sessions.
“Your eyes are closed and it feels good to close your eyes. The muscles of your face relax. The relaxation moves now from your facial muscles to your jaw muscles, and as your jaw muscles relax your tongue falls to the base of your mouth.”
As I heard my voice say these familiar words, I wondered once again at the phenomenon that when the jaw muscles relaxed, people’s thought seemed to become focused on my voice. When the jaw muscles relaxed, the voice box relaxed. As the speech centers relaxed, my subjects appeared to switch from the brain speech centers—the temporal lobe on the left side of the brain—into other areas of focus. They were moving into their right brains, where dreams, artistic endeavors, and scientific insight often seem to originate. I felt a pleasant, drifting feeling as I heard my voice continue the relaxation.
“The relaxation is moving now from your jaw muscles to your neck muscles, down to your shoulder muscles, down your arms to your elbows, down to your wrists, your hands and your fingers. Deeply and peacefully relaxed.”
I felt my arms drop to a relaxed position on the arms of the chair as I followed my own instructions.
“The relaxation moves now from your shoulders down your torso to your waist, and your breathing is easy and regular.”
A familiar feeling of relaxation crept over me as my breathing changed on this instruction. My voice tone lowered, and became deeper and slower. My voice tones matched the deeper, slower breathing I was suggesting to my subjects.
“The relaxation is moving now from your waist to your hips, down your thighs to your knees, down your legs to your ankles, your feet and your toes. As I count to ten, your state of relaxation will deepen.”
At this point in the hypnotic induction, I found myself sending comforting thoughts to my subjects mentally as I spoke these words. I felt uncomfortable if I ever forgot to send thoughts of well-being to all my subjects as I began to move them deeper into their own memories. Sometimes, at this point in the hypnotic induction, I would get a feeling that in a certain corner of the room someone was experiencing difficulty. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what this was, as I am not sure when I am experiencing telepathic communication from others. Like most of us, I require some kind of objective proof before I can accept telepathy as a fact. But still, I felt that in the right-hand corner of the room there was someone who was experiencing some anxiety. I sent a thought to this person that all would go well with them and that they could trust me. My voice droned on.
“One, deeper and deeper. Two, more and more relaxed. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten.”
I heard a cough from the right-hand corner of the room and wondered if this was the subject from whom I had received the telepathic message. I heard my voice say, “All discomfort will leave your awareness. All of your muscles are relaxed.” The coughing stopped. I proceeded.
“Your body is deeply relaxed now, but your mind is unusually alert and you have easy access to your memories. I want you to go back into your memory now, and find a snapshot of yourself that was taken between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. Focus on just one such snapshot.
“Now look closely at what you are wearing in that picture. You will go back in time now. You are now wearing that outfit of clothes. Do you like that outfit? How does it feel on your body?”
A snapshot quickly flashed in my own mind as I said those words. I saw myself as I was forty years ago, dressed in a crisp seersucker suit. I saw the youthful body I once knew and that had been buried for so many years under many different experiences and a changing body. But now that memory was alive within me, and I could feel my outfit on my body. I heard my voice continue.
“What shoes do you wear with that outfit?” In my mind I flashed on a pair of bobby oxfords, scuffed but comfortable. I smiled as I thought of all the different shoes that were being perceived and remembered by my fifty-four subjects lying on the floor. I wondered to myself about all the outfits being remembered which had been forgotten for so many years. I even had time to wonder what had happened to the fabric in those outfits of clothes. They receded somewhere in the past, mysteriously materializing when we wished to wear them, and then drifting through secondhand shops and then finally dying as dust rags or thrust into Goodwill bins. I had time to remember the data sheet on the birth experiences filled out by one of my subjects several weeks before, where she wrote: “I can only see my face in the picture, but I suddenly was back wearing the outfit I wore when that picture was taken. It all was vividly clear in my mind. I really can’t understand this phenomenon of remembering under hypnosis, but it certainly is interesting!”
“Now I want you to go back into your memory and find a picture of yourself that was taken between the ages of six and twelve. Look closely at that picture. Where were you when that picture was taken? You will remember more and more details of that place where the picture was taken.”
As my voice was saying these words, I found myself back in my grandmother’s yard in Iowa. I flashed on the memory of the old garage and the garden where the picture was taken. How many other gardens, how many other houses were being remembered in this instant of time among the fifty-five of us here in this room?
“You are back now in the fourth grade. You are sitting in your regular seat in the fourth grade. Are the windows on your left, or on your right? The teacher is in the front of the room. You want to ask her a question and her name flashes in your memory.”
My teacher’s name was Miss Forsberg; that lady had not crossed my memory for thirty-five years. Were the others also flashing on fourth-grade teachers long since forgotten?
“Now I want you to go back into your memory and find a picture of yourself that was taken between the ages of one and five. Look into the eyes of that child who is you. Do you remember being in that small a body? You are now three years old. You are sitting in a bathtub. Look down now and see your thighs, your knees, your legs, your ankles, your feet and your toes. How does it feel to be in this small a body? Become vividly aware of your body. You are three years old.”
Many of my subjects reported that this was a pleasant part of the trip, as they found themselves splashing happily in bathtubs. My own response to these instructions was a sense of amazement at how light and active my body had been then. It was as though I could feel a much livelier metabolism than I knew now in my stout middle-age.
“Now I want you to line up all three snapshots. Yourself as a young child, yourself in middle-childhood, yourself as an adolescent. What is it that has stayed the same? Your body changed, your clothes changed, the background of the pictures changed. What is it that remains you? Are all these stages of childhood still somewhere in your mind?”
My thoughts were of the strange and profound puzzle of where the child we were exists in our here and now. Everything about us changes, often even our names. Where is the essential feeling of being “me” that continues through all of these physical changes? My voice droned on.
“I want you to recognize now that each of these snapshots represents just one twentieth of a second of the time you have been alive in this lifetime. Behind the picture of yourself as a young child, I want you to imagine a row of snapshots taken of all the other one-twentieths of a second that you were alive from birth to the age of five. See now that these snapshots would stretch to infinity. Behind the picture of yourself in middle-childhood, again a row of snapshots stretches with all the other one-twentieths of a second that you experienced in your growing-up years. And that row stretches to infinity. Behind the row of yourself as an adolescent, stretches the row of the other one-twentieths of a second that you lived through during that period of your life. If all the changes of your body as you matured sexually were recorded on film, if all the changes in your feelings about yourself, your ambitions, your dreams had been caught by a camera, they too would stretch to infinity.
“Look back now on these endless rows of snapshots that represent your past until the age of eighteen. How much of it do you remember? Almost all of it is lost to your conscious memory. The past you think you remember is a story told to you by your conscious ego, which remembers fragments and pieces from the past and threads them together to make a story called, ‘My Past,’ much as a film editor strings together snippets from film taken to make a movie. Recognize now that the past you think you remember is fragmentary and limited. For every moment in your past when you think you hated someone, you could find a moment when you loved that person. For every moment in your past where you felt guilt and shame, you could find a moment when you felt triumph and quiet self-satisfaction. Lost in those endless rows of snapshots of your growing-up years are potentials that you have never developed, feelings you have long since forgotten, options you have never realized. Recognize that now, at this moment, your past is nearly as changeable as your future. You may choose to remember parts of your past life, since forgotten, and you may choose to realize their potential in a future that is also yours to choose. This is what is meant by free will.”
As my voice said these words, I tried to remember when I had consciously decided to put in this part of the hypnotic instructions. It simply came into my mind shortly after I began regressing people to the birth experience, and it felt good to me to say these things to my subjects. Apparently, the notion of showing people pictures of their past and helping them to understand the vast array of possibilities open to them was an idea that originated in my right brain, while I was also in a deeply relaxed state. By now I had learned not to question continually this kind of surprising but creative development. Along with my subjects, I have learned to get in touch with my right brain and to allow it, sometimes, the freedom to evolve new ideas and new approaches. Besides, I had realized that I knew very little about my own past, and even about the potentials that existed in me in childhood and early adolescence, that had been forgotten and put aside as I had made other choices of a life career. If this were true for me, surely it would be true for all the others who had come to me for this hypnotic session.
“Now your body is lying heavy on the floor, deeply relaxed. Your body is so heavy it feels as though it’s sinking very gently into the floor. But your mind is free and light, floating, alert, yet deeply comfortable and relaxed. I want you to imagine, now, that you are a pinpoint of consciousness floating up away from your body and hovering near the ceiling of this room. You can perceive a dim light, and you’re looking down now from a vantage point near the ceiling of this room. Can you see my body sitting in the chair here? My legs are crossed, my arms are resting on the arms of the chair. Now look and see if you can find your body on the floor. Can you see the others around you?”
This instruction was taken from my knowledge of the out-of-body experience reported by many subjects and from my own dream states. My subjects reported it to be a pleasant feeling, so I felt it was a good introduction to moving into deeper states. I continued with this guided fantasy portion of the trip.
“Now you are floating out, insubstantial as smoke, through the roof of this building and out into the clear night sky. The stars are sparkling bright and the moon is out, and below you the city lies covered with snow. You are floating higher and higher, up into the velvety blackness of space. You feel marvelously light and free as you soar up and away.”
I knew from experience that some of my subjects would fall into what is called sleep at this point, but I felt it was very important to get my subjects as deep into the state of hypnosis as possible before I asked the questions on the birth experience. I found that many subjects could not get the answers to my questions unless they were very deeply hypnotized, so I began another phase of the hypnotic induction to bring them to this deep state.
“Your conscious mind will not understand what I am about to say next. I am speaking to your subconscious mind. I want you to reduce your brain-wave electrical potentials down to five cycles per second. Your brain wave amplitude readings will be five cycles per second. At this deep, slow-wave state, you will be able to reach the deeper portions of yourself where the answers to my questions will come. As I count to five, your brain wave activity will slow to a rhythmical five cycles per second. One, deeper and deeper. Two, more and more relaxed. Three. Four. Five.”
I chose the instruction to move to a brain wave amplitude of five cycles per second based on some data, which some friends of mine had gathered. They reported that when their subjects were hooked to biofeedback machines, and were registering between zero and four cycles per second, they were unable to recall when they awoke what they had said. They had been “asleep.” But when they were questioned when in this deep state, they often reported mystical insights. It seemed that in this deep state, material could be reached that was not normally available to the conscious mind. How many of us have awakened in the middle of the night with some great insight, only to drift back to sleep and forget.
As I wanted my subjects to stay awake just enough to remember their responses, I chose five cycles per second as the ideal state for receiving information on the pre-birth experience. As yet this biofeedback work has not been published or confirmed. I hope to do much more work in this area so we can begin to relate specific EEG recordings with subjective phenomena experienced when the subject is in that particular brain-wave state. I had found that this instruction did result in apparently deeper hypnotic trance, and therefore, tended to increase the response of my subjects to my questions on this birth trip.
“I want you to go now to the time just before you were born into your current lifetime. Are you choosing to be born?”
I allow just five seconds for my subjects to respond to this question. I have found that the more time I allow for answers to flash in the mind, the more the conscious ego interferes. When the answers flash rapidly, apparently they seem to be coming from the right brain, or subconscious. When answers are slow in coming, the conscious mind tends to speculate on the “right answer” and to deal with the concept on a rational basis. I was looking for material from the subconscious, so I gave my subjects very little time to respond to my questions.
“Does anyone help you choose? If anyone helps you choose, what is your relationship to the counselor?”
I asked this question because in my initial experiments with the pre-birth experience I had been surprised at the reported presence of others during the decision-making time before birth. I was curious as to how my subjects would identify these helpers, so I included this question in my survey.
“How do you feel about the prospect of living this coming lifetime?”
I found that I had to phrase this question very carefully. If I asked how they felt about being born, I would get responses relating to physical fears of emerging from the birth canal. So I had sharpened the question so that the answer would be related to the feelings about the lifetime rather than the birth process.
“Are you choosing the last half of the twentieth century to experience physical life for a reason? What is that reason?
“Have you chosen your sex for this coming lifetime? If you have, why have you chosen to focus as a man or as a woman in this lifetime?
“What is your purpose for coming into this, your current lifetime?”
I knew from past experiences that this was the question most of my subjects wished to have answered in this hypnotic session. Many of them were looking for their reason for being alive, and it had directed their search through books, study and experience in altered states of consciousness. Would they find it tonight? I knew from my own responses while hypnotized that this is the hardest question of all to answer. In my own case, I flashed on the answer that I had had three major purposes, two of which I had managed to meet already and one which still lay ahead of me. But the exact nature of that third purpose of mine remained vague. I wondered if any of my subjects here tonight would find their reason for being alive.
“Now I want you to direct your attention to your mother-to-be. Have you known her in a past life? If you have known her, what was your relationship before?
“Now, direct your attention to your father-to-be. Have you known him in a past life? If so, what was your relationship to him before?
“Are you aware now, before you are born, of others that you will know in the coming lifetime? Have you known them in past lifetimes? Do you know what role they will play in your coming life? Will you know them as lovers, or mates? Will you know them as children or other relatives? Will you know them as friends?”
I left more time between my questions in this section of the hypnotic regression. Many of my subjects flashed answers to these questions rapidly, but a good deal of material was there to explore. So I allowed about a minute between each of the questions about relationships in the current life, and how they had been known in past lives.
“Now I want you to direct your attention to the developing fetus who will be you. Are you experiencing inside the fetus? Outside the fetus? In and out? When does your consciousness fully join that of the fetus?”
This is one of the most interesting questions in my series. I knew from past experience that it was important to phrase the question as carefully as possible. I asked first if they were experiencing inside the fetus, because there is a tendency for people to choose the first possible response, and I didn’t want to prejudice my data against the common notion that life begins at conception. But I had found from my initial work with the hypnotic birth experience that many people experienced being in and out of the fetus, so it was important to put in that possibility in my questions.
“Are you aware of the attitudes and feelings of your mother just prior to your birth?”
I had added this question because I was curious about the emotional relationship of the fetal personality and the mother’s personality. Do children know the feelings of their mothers?
“Now you are moving down the birth canal. You will have no pain, but you will be aware of sensations. Now you are moving down the birth canal. What are you experiencing now?”
I found it was important to suggest away pain because I had found that people in deep trance state physically moved and experienced pain in this part of the birth experience unless I told them they would not feel the pain. I had had subjects waking up with severe muscle cramps, painful headaches, and other signs of trauma experienced during the birth reflected in their current body responses. By telling my subjects they would not experience the pain, I had found I could eliminate most of these negative responses.
“Now you have emerged from the birth canal. You’ve been born. What are you experiencing now?”
I used the word “experiencing” rather than asking for specific sensations, because I didn’t want to prejudice my subjects’ responses. I didn’t want to suggest anything about lights or cold.
“Are you aware of the attitudes and feelings of others in the delivery room after your birth?”
I wanted to know whether my subjects were responding as newborn infants, or whether they remained in full awareness of the delivery room even though they could not physically see it or respond to it. I knew of many instances where subjects who had had surgery were able to recall under hypnosis the happenings in the operating room when they were supposedly “out” under anesthesia, and I wondered if this would be true with the newborn infant.
“Now you are leaving that place. You are floating up and away from the delivery room. You are floating back up into space, back up to your cloud. As you climb onto your cloud, and stretch out and relax, all awareness of pain and discomfort leaves you. As you float on your cloud, and as I count, all your body systems will return to normal. You will have no physical or emotional discomfort as a result of your experiences on this trip. You are now floating up and away from that place where you were born. Your body is relaxing and all your organ systems are returning to normal.”
I had found it was very important to include this instruction. Even in spite of this instruction, my subjects often reported feelings of sadness, and even some residual instances of pain such as headache. So I strongly emphasized the removal of pain. I found this to be necessary in the birth experience trip, and much less necessary in past-life recall. For some reason I don’t understand, experiencing the pre-birth and birth is more disturbing to people than recalling their past lives.
“Now you are floating on your cloud, and I’m taking you deeper. As I count, you will become more and more peaceful and serene. Your mind is floating free, and you have a feeling of peace and harmony around you. One, deeper and deeper. Two, more and more relaxed. Three. Four. Five. You are floating on your cloud now, and there’s a beautiful white light all around you. The light is very pure and intense, and it’s growing brighter. There’s a tightly budded rose in your solar plexus. Rays of energy from the light gently unfurl the petals of the rose until the heart of the rose is exposed. Dancing rays of energy from the light flood into the heart of the rose, and through the rose move through your solar plexus. The energy waves from the light wipe away any negative after-effects from your experience on this trip. The waves of light energy bring a lightness, peace and serenity to your mind and your body.”
This image had come to me while I was hypnotizing several years ago. I was not aware until after I had said it that it was a version of the old Tibetan mantra, “Om mani padmi hum.” This mantra, translated, means “May the petals of the lotus open.” The Kundalini yoga system teaches that the solar plexus “chakra,” or energy center, controls the emotions. So, in essence, what I was doing by moving the light through the rose into the solar plexus was bringing the energy of the universe in to harmonize any disturbances in the solar plexus chakra. I am not particularly a believer in Kundalini yoga, or any Indian system, but my subjects find this a soothing image and I like it, too. Perhaps the idea of this image was placed in my mind by some ancient yogi somewhere who is kibitzing on my hypnosis sessions! At any rate, I’m an American, so if it works I use it.
“Now it is time to return to the here and now. When you awaken, the answers that flashed in your mind to my questions will be vivid in your memory. They will remain vivid for months and you will be able to recall them whenever you wish. When I hand out the data sheet, the answers that came to you will flood back into your memory and you will be able to fill out the data sheet without difficulty.
“Now, picture to yourself a ball of golden energy sparkling out in a far corner of space. Picture that energy rolling and flowing down through the darkness of space, penetrating the atmospheric envelope of earth, coming down to the Western Hemisphere, coming down to this room and entering the crown of your head. As the energy enters the crown of your head, a sense of well-being sweeps through you, and all your bodily energies are restored. You are in a very good humor when you wake up, and you feel great. One, the ball of energy is moving now into the crown of your head and into your face. Two, the ball of energy is moving now into your jaw muscles and into your neck. Three, the energy is moving into your shoulders. Four, the energy is moving down your arms to your elbows, down to your wrists, your hands and your fingers. Five, the energy is moving from your shoulders down your torso to your waist. Six, the energy is moving into your hips. Seven, the energy is flowing down your thighs to your knees. Eight, the energy is moving down your legs, your ankles, your feet and your toes. Nine, your body is alive now with vibrant energy and you’re ready to wake up, feeling refreshed, feeling great. Ten, open your eyes—you’re awake.”
I knew from experience that the group would be slow to move after this third hypnotic session. My subjects became so relaxed with three sessions in a row that they didn’t move, but just smiled pleasantly at me when I woke them up.
What would be the reactions of these subjects? The best part of the sessions, for me, is hearing the stories that my subjects report after they awaken.
This was my last data-collection session. I had come to the Midwest to find out whether Midwestern subjects reported different answers to these questions than my subjects in California. There was no way I could find any proof or verification for the answers reported by my subjects. I was running a kind of Gallup Poll of hypnotized subjects. But I reasoned that if cultural beliefs were responsible for the answers I was getting, perhaps subjects in a different part of the country would respond differently to the questions. This would tend to prove that the answers were based on common cultural beliefs, rather than coming from a deep part of the subconscious mind.
“How I Did the Research” is an extract from Life Before Life: Is There Life Before Birth? 750 Cases of Hypnosis by Helen Wambach, PhD.