A Multi-Incarnational
Approach to
Chronic Illness

by Stephen Sakellarios

Just as there are many things in the realm of human health and illness that are inexplicable if man is assumed to be only a physical body, so there are many things that cannot be adequately explained if it is assumed that man has only one lifetime. It is my conclusion, or if that is too strong a word, my increasing suspicion, that many chronic and seemingly incurable conditions build up slowly to a crisis point over several lifetimes.

Past-life therapy has done a good job, to date, of describing what could be called "trans-incarnational post-traumatic stress syndrome." Typically, a traumatic death from a previous life interferes with current-life functioning until it is relived and the energy tied up with it dissipated.

However, there is also another trans-incarnational source of dysfunction, and I believe that is the effects of long-term habits and ways of life, following and gathering in strength from one incarnation to another.

In alternative medicine, it is becoming popular knowledge that many illness are actually self-induced through some unwise or unnatural habit, usually one that is taken for granted and of which the person is not specifically aware. Many years ago I read a newspaper article which typifies this process. A man presented to his doctor with severe crotch itch. Subsequent testing yielded no explanation. Finally, a wise older physician sat him down and said, "Tell me everything you do from the time you get up in the morning until you go to bed." The man began describing his day, "I wake up, get breakfast, go to work..." The doctor stopped him. "No, I mean everything, every detail. Take your time."

The man began again: "I open my eyes, roll out of bed, get the newspaper from the front porch, walk into the bathroom, grab my electric shaver, sit down on the toilet, and begin reading the newspaper and shaving..."

The doctor stopped him. "You read the newspaper and shave at the same time?"

"Yes, I hold the newspaper open with one hand and shave with the other."

You can immediately see that the shavings were funneling down the open "V" of the newspaper directly into his pubic region, causing the chronic itching, for which he had spent hundreds of dollars on testing and had seen several highly-trained specialists.

Now, this is quite humorous (unless it happens to be you with the chronic crotch itch and the greatly reduced bank account). But let's extend this same principle to much more serious chronic conditions, and let's also extend it to several lifetimes.

First I must make the disclaimer that what follows are speculative examples. I do not have the psychic ability to see anyone's past lives. I know the principles based on 30 years of study, and using these principles plus intuition I can make educated guesses, but I do not claim infallibility.

Let's look at something intractable like schizophrenia and related forms of mental illness. One of the principles that you will find repeated in mystical literature is that states of illness are states of imbalance--they are extreme versions of something which, in lesser degrees, would be healthy. They do not stand off by themselves as something completely cut off or totally different from healthy experience. Another principle is that the impulse behind them is not to be thwarted or negated, as much as it is to be properly channeled. Swami Vivekananda said, "Not from bad to good, but from good to greater good." This means, for example, that the schizophrenic has not necessarily to consider that he is totally wrong and needs to go back to being drearily "normal" according to the mass society's definition of normal. It means that his search was legitimate, but that it has somehow gone askew, and needs to be channeled. This flies in the face of conventional medicine, which sees the schizophrenic as inherently flawed and essentially wrong. It is also not quite the liberal view that schizophrenics are genuine visionaries! I would say they are potential visionaries and mystics who have gotten side-tracked in the early stages.

Now, if schizophrenia is looked upon as being essentially misguided or immature mysticism, we can identify at least two major areas where they are sidetracked. First of all, true mysticism is concerned with finding the true Self. It is my educated guess that schizophrenics generally have the search right, but have gotten sidetracked by focusing on their own limited ego-self. In doing so, they get some semblance of spiritual experience, but it is a poor knock-off of the mystic's experience of the true Self (which is at the heart of every self). They appear foolish, just as a man who became convinced that a toy car was his real car and sat on it making car noises, would look foolish. But the basic idea of sitting in a car and driving it is not wrong, and neither is the basic idea of giving up the world to find the Self. The schizophrenic simply has an immature expression of this truth.

But, watch him three or four or five incarnations down the road...you might see something quite different.

Jungian past-life therapist Roger Woolger has suggested that schizophrenia may be caused by an incomplete transition from the bardo realm (the realm between lifetimes), into a physical incarnation. I agree with this hypothesis and would extend it to suggest that this incomplete transition may be caused by too great an attachment to the bardo realm.

Here again, we see that the person has set his sights too low in this early stage of mysticism. Instead of placing the greatest value on the ultimate state of God-Realization (also called Self-Realization), he has taken the bardo realm to be the state to hold onto. In short, he has become addicted to the paradise state and considers it to be the goal of life. You will note that traditional Christian doctrine has fostered this very idea for centuries, although it is not actually taught by Jesus in my opinion. Jesus speaks of the "Kingdom of God", which I believe meant God-Realization. Jesus did not speak of the "kingdom of heaven" as the ultimate goal of life.

So it is not too far-fetched to suggest that religions which raised the bardo realm to the level of the ultimate reality to be achieved, have unwittingly fostered schizophrenia as it developed over several lifetimes of holding this incorrect belief and valuation.

You can see from the above that I do not consider the gradual development of a chronic condition to be unnatural or unexpected in the larger scheme of things. In fact it is probably a necessary part of the long journey of a person through thousands of incarnations. There may be no way around it. In the long multi-incarnational view, something like schizophrenia may be like mumps or chicken-pox--something most every child has to go through and then become immune to.

However, with a more accurate set of assumptions, I think we can approach these kinds of illnesses with much greater effectiveness. What it amounts to is being there for the person when they are prepared to learn the inherent lessons in the experience. I suspect that even these intractable illnesses would suddenly go into remission if these key lessons were wholeheartedly embraced by the person. The problem is, they cannot and will not respond to a call to go back to the beginning and throw out the baby with the bathwater. Their deepest soul knows there is some crucial truth and validity in what they're doing, and they will not give up that kernel of truth. Therefore, they must be channeled and urged forward along the line of what is true in their search. They must be helped, when they are ready, to throw out the "bathwater" but retain the "baby."

In this example, they have to get the focus off their personal ego, and onto the Self in all. And they have to let go of their addiction and attachment to paradise, and focus on the highest Reality. "Not from bad to good, but from good to greater good."

These principles can be applied to any illness, including physical illnesses (the dichotomy between purely physical illnesses and purely mental illnesses is an artificial one). I think it is wise to always take the scientific view that one is making hypotheses which may or may not turn out to be correct. I have ideas about what may cause autism, for example, and cancer, but I cannot say that I know these ideas are correct. What I'm suggesting is that when we understand how a chronic, severe condition might develop as a result of holding seemingly innocent assumptions and attachments over several lifetimes in succession, we can address these illnesses far more effectively.

Now, what of the claim that schizophrenia is solely a result of brain chemistry imbalance? Here is an interesting clue as to how multi-incarnational chronic illness may develop. Assumptions, beliefs, values and attachments which carry a certain amount of ignorance with them, prompt a certain way of life. That way of life leaves impressions in what is called the mental body or causal body. The impressions then press for re-experience. First they impact what is called the subtle body (made of light and energy), in the form of desires and emotions, and then they are put into action (if not checked) via the physical body.

It is these impressions in the mental body which, through the medium of the subtle body, shape a new physical body as it develops in the womb. I do not believe that physical genetics is nearly an adequate explanation for this process. I would suggest that if a person has continued with a certain pattern of living, including modes of thinking, for several lifetimes, gradually this gets "hardwired" into the makeup of their physical body. So of course you will see physical imbalances by the time it gets to this severe, chronic stage. These physical imbalances are reflections of this larger process, not causes per se, though of course the body and mind continually influence each other.

What this means is that in the long run, we don't get away with any of our bad habits. We only think we do, because we can only see this one lifetime. This goes for everything you can think of. And to a certain extent it's inevitable, because this is a natural growing process. Some people call it "learning," some call it "growth." No terms are adequate, but I think either "spiritual maturation" or "gaining wisdom" are my preferred terms. Our ignorance is in our unconscious, and in a sense may be our unconscious. It becomes manifest over several lifetimes of pursuing some ideal or other, until eventually it manifests in one of these chronic conditions. Like the alcoholic (another good example), we hit "rock bottom" until we face the ignorance inherent in the life-stance that has brought us to this pass. And then the bathwater must go, and the baby must stay. If we throw both baby and bathwater out together in a reaction, we will eventually have to climb back to that impasse. Only when the underlying assumptions are thought through, the ignorance thrown out, and the inherent wisdom in the stance retained, do we progress.

For the alcoholic, it is not that he must give up joy and freedom. In a particular sense, he need not even give up intoxication, if by "intoxication" we mean the true intoxication of God's felt presence. That is because in the higher realms, sobriety (clear awareness) and intoxication (bliss) go hand-in-hand, and neither of them have down-sides. In this sense, then, the alcoholic must see clearly that the alcoholic high was a bad knock-off of true spiritual intoxication. Sri Ramakrishna, in his state of God-Intoxication, would go out to meet a drunk passing by and would dance with him right there in the road, because the drunk's state reminded him of the real State he was experiencing.

So it is for all severe, chronic conditions. There is something true in it, and there is something false in it. The false aspect has built gradually to crisis proportions over several lifetimes--first unnoticeable and seeming to be quite innocent--then becoming somewhat problematic--and finally becoming a full-blown addiction leading to personal ruin. What healers can do is to facilitate this natural process. They can serve and honor the true Self within that person, until he or she is ready to "move." At that point, the healer can offer their own wisdom in helping to "birth" the person through that natural process.


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