For all those who have asked me how I got from being an atheist with a PhD in analytic philosophy to being someone who takes seriously children’s memories of past lives…here’s a little of how that crazy journey began.
I first started opening up to the possibility of meaning and purpose in the universe six years ago when I went through an episode of deep heartbreak. In my grief, I “hit bottom,” as they say. I was an atheist at that time–had been one for about 10 years–and I felt extremely alone. Walled off in my world of sorrow. And then, in that place, as I was going through the roughest patch, I had experiences–synchronicities, really–that I felt to be reassurances that I was not alone. The details are too involved to get into here (that’s why I’ve written a memoir!), and I don’t know that they would be “convincing” to anyone who didn’t live through them. I don’t think that they were meant to prove anything to anyone but me. And really not even to prove anything to me. Just to comfort me in my grief. And get me started being open to the idea that there might be more to the world than I was allowing myself to consider. But the coincidences were striking ones. Striking enough that they got me interested in investigating what else might be out there.
The great thing was that, when I began to suspect there was something or someone in the universe keeping me from being alone, I didn’t immediately jump to the conclusion that I knew what it was. Years ago, when I was a Christian begging God to prove that he existed so I wouldn’t have to give up on my faith, I didn’t get any answers from God, and I wonder now if that’s because, if I had, I would have automatically attributed anything I received to the kind of God I’d been brought up to believe in. It took me years to shed those limiting notions of divinity, but it happened. And when I had these experiences years later, I didn’t immediately assume I knew what was going on. In fact, I had no idea at all. I just knew that something unexpected was happening, and I wanted to learn more.
During this time, I was also going through a real shift in my self-perception. I made a big career decision, and in the midst of that, I had a “mystical” sort of experience in which, for the very first time in my life, I felt that I was wholly and completely loved. The love felt so overwhelming that it felt divine, but at the same time, I knew that it was linked to my own love for myself, evidenced by my recent career decisions that were in line with my true passions. So I had this very moving experience, and again I wasn’t sure what was behind it, just that it was exactly what I’d been searching for in Christianity and never found. Internal to me? External to me? I didn’t know. I just knew that it was more than I had expected out of life. And that it was not something I was consciously willing.
Well, as these sorts of experiences started to accumulate, I started to have even more striking synchronicities happen to me. They weren’t necessarily spiritual at this point (that is, not linked to any deep emotion or life lesson on my part), but they were hard to ignore. For instance, one afternoon I was shopping for a Christmas present for the man who had been my fiancé but that I was now in the process of breaking up with. In a used bookstore, I found a book that I immediately thought, “This is it. He would love this.” I bought it and went to a coffee shop where I spent a couple of hours devouring it, the whole time thinking, “He’s going to love this. This is PERFECT for him.” I was so excited to give it to him. Well, he was in France at the time, and I was in the States. The next morning, he sends me a random email with a picture of a book he just bought that morning. The title is in French, and it takes me a minute to realize that it’s the French translation of the book I’d just bought. I joked with him that, because the postal service was so slow, I’d sent him his Christmas present by telepathy. It was a joke, but at the same time it felt too spot on to be a coincidence. Especially since the book was James Hillman’s The Soul’s Code, and Hillman is a modern-day Jungian, all about the synchronicities.
Anyway, I kept having more and more of these weird experiences. And all this made it the case that, when I went to France a month or two later and was in a bookstore and saw a book for sale called Les miracles de l’esprit–Miracles of the Mind–I picked it up. It was a very philosophical book about the relationship between the way clairvoyants accessed information and the way we normally access our memories. I wasn’t sure I wanted to buy it, though. I wasn’t “into” that kind of stuff. But I flipped it open, and the first name I saw mentioned was a scientist at the University of Virginia. I’m from Virginia, and seeing that in a French book was quite surprising. I kept reading. The first footnote I encountered was number “33,” a figure very significant to my story with my ex-fiancé and to many previous coincidences I’d encountered. I looked down at the footnote to see what the note referred to. It gave the name of a book by that UVa scientist: 20 cas suggérant le phénomène de réincarnation (Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation). For some reason, right then it entered my head that that book would probably be there in the French bookstore. I raised my head to look directly in front of where I was sitting, and when my eyes focused on the shelf in front of me, the book at which I happened to be staring was…exactly that book. And so I bought them both. And THOSE TWO BOOKS were the most crucial in definitively changing my worldview.
I recommend these books to anyone interested in objective evidence for the paranormal, although be aware that they are not easy reads, either of them. Ian Stevenson’s Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation is a long, detail-packed book–nothing if not carefully collected evidence. Les Miracles de l’Esprit by Bertrand Méheust I don’t think is available in English, but some of the most interesting evidence cited in it comes from the research of physicist Russell Targ, who has since written the fascinating book The Reality of ESP (2012) and the research of Cornell University psychologist Daryl Bem. Bem published a well-known paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2011 called “Feeling the future: experimental evidence for anomalous retroactive influences on cognition and affect.” Parapsychologist Dean Radin’s work has a similar flavor. Among his several excellent books, I recommend Supernormal (2013).
But these works are just the tip of the iceberg. The more I read, both from people sympathetic to a more expansive view of consciousness and those skeptical of it, the more it seems clear to me that the balance tips in favor of the former. That’s not to say that anyone has any definite idea of what’s going on. Just that it’s pretty clear that there’s more to the world than the scientific reductionists allow. Quite enough to make meaning a viable possibility.