Written in 2002
Something about turning 30 makes me muse about the possibility of past lives. It's probably due to my ridiculous fear of perishing. I am terrified that I am going to be snatched up by the grim reaper before it's my time, especially when I feel that there are so many things I still want to do. And that is just it. I never stop. Living in NYC isn’t helping. My life is: wake up, check my email, make phone calls, run to the subway, grumble to myself at the people that are walking too slowly, go to a job, a meeting, an audition, call my answering machine, return phone calls, make more appointments, go to the gym, run home, check my machine again, and send more emails. Then, go out again to have a rehearsal, perform in a show, meet a pal, run home, watch “Friends” and go to bed. This just isn’t doing it for me. And the fact that I have no belief in any sort of God makes the prospect of death all the more terrifying.
My last real attempt to connect with the “all powerful” was at Sunday school when I was 5 and we were asked to create our version of God out of various household products; A Kleenex or cereal box for the body, paper towel rolls for the arms and so on. When I had finished painting and adorning my God, the teacher asked me where I would like to put him. I turned abruptly and said “He’s a woman”. 25 years later, life has started to feel unimportant. So when my friend gave me a book on past lives, I devour it and suddenly feel a sense of ease. If I know there could be another life ahead, I might not feel so afraid of this one ending.
When I receive the catalogue in the mail from the Omega Institute- a spiritual retreat center in the Catskills that offered a weekend retreat led by the book’s author, now spiritual guru, Brian Weiss, I don't even blink at the $350 fee. This is going to be it: My transformative weekend.
I arrive at the Omega Institute on a Friday afternoon with my friend Anne ready to be an entirely new person by Sunday evening. I walk down the road from the bus and I can feel the pebbles crunching beneath my feet- each one leading me closer to my new understanding of life. As we cross the field to our wooden cabin, we are greeted by a pretty woman with unshaven armpits sitting on the grass drawing or pondering her hem. “Hello Beautiful Goddesses,” she oozes. Was she referring to me? I’ve never been a beautiful goddess before so I wave back. I guess even in sneakers and jeans, I defy all signs of mere mortality. My journey had begun.
Before the orientation, we sit in the sauna for 20 minutes with several other naked people- both men and women, both firm and droopy. I have my bathing suit on. I am not quite ready to share. I sit and detoxify and slather some intense moisturizing treatment on my body. I am all about moisturization and I have brought some kiwi body crème from the most spiritual store I could find in the city called “Wind, Water and a Touch of Cinnamon”.
We then enter the lecture hall and there he is: Our Guru: The man who would help me see that I may have been a young Russian girl in 1907 or perhaps a British soldier in 1688. The skeptical psychiatrist who changed his world view when he hypnotized and regressed one of his patients into 46 different past lives and then wrote about it for others to be inspired. Our leader, our guide: Brian Weiss. He is a smaller more intellectual looking version of Mr. Rogers, but I don’t let that sway my intense enthusiasm. “Welcome, Brian. Welcome to my world. Change me! Teach me! I want to believe!”
He tells us about his background and his patients - one, a Chinese woman who was suddenly able to speak perfect English when regressed to a former life. “Unbelievable”, I think, eager for more. The first thing he has us do is to stare into the face of a partner in the dark. I turn to a stranger next to me, introduce myself and start staring. As I gaze harder, I actually begin to see other faces appearing in her face: A young boy, an old woman. Her eyes alter their shape, her hair changes. Could this be who she was in her former lives? I wonder who she is seeing in my mug. Anne Frank? Anne Morrow Lindbergh? Anne Boleyn? The lights return and Brian announces his intention to regress the entire group. He lulls us into a state of relaxation and gives specific instructions for our journey. I try hard not to think about the Hypnotist in
who made his participants hump a chair. Instead I do my best to concentrate and see that beautiful garden Brian describes; I find the childhood memory he requests: having a peanut butter party with 10 of my stuffed animals when I was 7, and then I open the garden gate into another life. I am a man in a short burlap toga with hairy legs and sandals. I’m carrying a jug of water and climbing down a rope ladder. The sun is shining brightly and the sky is perfectly clear. I look up and there’s Willem Dafoe as Jesus. I am re-enacting a scene from The Last Temptation of Christ in my head. Ah Jesus, I mean “Willem”. But I don’t let it get me down. I still have 40 more hours of self discovery ahead. Las Vegas
The next morning we take a tai chi class outside by the lake. I ground my tiger. I push away the ocean waves. Beautiful Goddess woman is there- her hairy armpits blowing in the wind. “Hello, Beautiful Goddess” I exclaim before realizing that no one else is talking. She smiles at me and continues to silently ground her tiger, which seems to be a little smaller than mine. A woman in a moo moo and I hold a ball of chi between us and I can feel it, I can see it. I AM it. The Chi! My Chi! Hail to the Chi.
During the morning session with Brian, we are asked to exchange a personal possession of ours with someone we don’t know in order to experiment channeling the energy and experience of another person. My neighbor slides off her ring, I hand her my watch, and we meditate on these unfamiliar objects. After 5 minutes of intense concentration where I slowly try to become one with her foreign metallic band, we reveal the images we had witnessed. She saw me in an apartment arguing with a man whom it seemed I loved a great deal. I was impressed, as I was having problems with my live in boyfriend at the time. Sheepishly, I divulged what I thought to be a rather dull interpretation of my experience with her trinket. “I kept seeing a bank” I muttered. “I work at a bank,” she gasped and embraced me. Hmmm. I began to wonder. Were we psychic? Or does everyone at some point argue with a man they love in an apartment and haven’t all of us either worked or been to a bank?
At lunch, Anne and I sit with a couple of professional channelers from our group. They are quite overweight, which I have heard gives them the optimal amount of room needed to channel “The Dead’s energy. Everyone at the table starts a barrage of questions. “Can you talk to my dead grandmother, my uncle, my son?” “ Yes,” the channellers reply, all the while shoving muffins and tempeh into their mouths. One, who looks uncannily like an owl offers “Your grandfather is saying hello. He loves you but he’s worried about you. Pass the mustard.”
People are astounded. Eyes begin tearing up. Mine are dry. If people could talk to the dead, wouldn’t the meaning of life and death be known and understood? Wouldn’t they, at some juncture, inquire of the dead person: “So what’s up with being dead?” But I try not to judge. Perhaps there is a code of silence about the whole dead thing that I don’t know about.
When afternoon session begins, I am hungry for some real past lives proof. The object exchange thing was cool but I need to conquer the fear of death. Brian regresses a man on stage who is Latino and I can barely make out the words through the thickness of his accent. The only things I can understand are that he sees his son leaving home and his wife dying and he is wearing a tall black hat. He also sees wallpaper but doesn’t describe it. When he finishes, everyone in the room marvels at the incredible detail. Detail? He said he saw wallpaper. Was it striped? Did it have ancient Roman medallions on it? I start thinking about the phone calls I need to return, the emails I should probably send. I think about Beautiful Goddess woman. Why doesn’t she shave her damn hairy armpits?
All we have is the Sunday morning session left and I begin panicking that I am not transformed. At 10 am Brian hypnotizes and regresses a skinny older man wearing only a red speedo and who has no memories of his childhood due to encephalitis. But supposedly, with eyes closed, he begins to recount childhood tales. He mutters something to the effect of “I’m pouring something sticky on my sister’s head. Ha Ha. It’s all over her”. He remembers getting ready for school and having lunch. “Pretty exciting”, I think, my cynicism slowly creeping in. Why doesn’t someone just recount an episode of The Brady Bunch for me? But there are still two hours left. Something could happen in that amount of time…..maybe. It took only a burning bush for Moses to be a believer.
Brian instructs us that it is now time for us to conjure up and listen to our ”Spiritual guide”. Ooh, I want SO badly to have a chat with my spiritual guide. What has she been up to? How come she hasn’t been more in touch? She remains fairly elusive, so I try calling out made up names in my head. “Salsaria? Romiko? Fingwawa?” No luck. But someone in the audience claims to HAVE connected with her spiritual guide and she is brought up on stage. It is my new psychic pal who works in a bank. Brian puts her into some sort of hypnotic trance and she describes seeing an intense white light. “Oh my God!” She screeches. “It’s so bright! It’s so beautiful!” “ What IS it?” Brian asks and as she takes a huge breath, I start looking around for the snake handlers. “It’s….LOVE. It’s love.” Brian snaps to attention “You said your spiritual guide wanted you to tell us something!” “Yes”, the bank woman squeals. “Life is all about love. There is so much hate and jealousy in the world and we get bogged down by mean spirited feelings. But we just need to love each other.” Well, I wonder if she has the same spiritual guide as Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa, and my next door neighbor and a guy I sat next to on the place once. Yes, this is true but does it need to be shouted at me from the stag for $350 when I get mass emails on a weekly basis saying the same exact thing? And it is over. But wait! It can’t be over. I’m not convinced. I’m still afraid of dying. I slump out of the lecture hall past the chubby channelers who are surrounded by eager believers.
What am I supposed to do next? How could I get through the fact that my spiritual journey had ended in failure? I know I am going to head back home, immediately check my email, return phone calls, plan for the next week and nothing will have changed.
I hear footsteps behind me, “You dropped your body lotion.” It’s beautiful Goddess woman. “Oh thank you,” and I watch her saunter off to her cabin, her anklet jingling. I head over to the sauna one last time to de-stress, exfoliate and, of course, moisturize. There is a naked older woman in the sauna with me. ‘Ooh, that smells so good” she says responding to my kiwi body crème which I have begun to slather on. We wind up giving ourselves facials and deep moisturizing treatments together. “Thank you so much for sharing. I really needed this.” She says, thick New York accent in place. Then she looks me straight in the eye. “This is so spiritual. People wanna know where God is. Well, it’s right here. It’s RIGHT here.” And she’s kind of right. It is the most spiritual and connected I have felt the entire weekend. I stop worrying about who I was and who I will become and start thinking about who I am.
Back in NYC I take up yoga-which I TRY not to run to. I still email 11 times a day and I still watch Friends. I am still searching for significance to my life’s pandemonium and answers about death. But in the meantime, I have Wind, Water and a Touch of Cinnamon.