Tibetan Bon shamans believe that we are already one year old when we are born. Our first year of life is spent in our conception and gestation in the womb, a time when we are conscious, aware, and learning about the world through the experiences of our parents (especially the mother, in whose energy field we reside). Their feelings and sensations are carried in the egg and sperm and then in the life force of the mother’s blood. As a consequence, we are all born with certain predispositions, leanings, assumptions about the world, psychosomatic behaviours, and inclinations. There is a ‘mood’ to our lives and, already, a life script in place that we will increasingly come to live by.
The same notion can be found in other traditions too. In one of Castaneda’s books, for example, the shaman don Juan reveals a Toltec formula for calculating the amount of personal power or energy available to us, which is very similar to Tibetan beliefs. “The Level of energy of all beings depends on three fundamental factors”, he says: “The amount of energy with which they were conceived, the manner in which the energy has been utilised since birth, and the way in which it is being used at the present time”. And nor is this just a spiritual or esoteric idea. Modern day paediatricians have also found that emotional disturbances in newborns, as well as their sleeping and eating patterns, exactly reflect those of the mother, as if they have learned from her in the womb how they should ‘be’ in the world as soon as they are born. Even the nutrients carried in the mother’s blood which feed the growing child are packed with information. Whether the mother chooses to eat well during pregnancy or not, is stressed or relaxed, avoids alcohol or continues to drink, all say something wordlessly to the child about the emotional nature of the world he is coming in to and the worldview of his parents.
From such subtleties as these our lives become at least partly predetermined for us because we are already channelled in certain directions and the vastness of potential that we were becomes narrower as a consequence.
Real and physical outcomes can result from such a narrowing of focus. The French medical doctor, Patrick Obissier, found, for example, that it is possible to trace the root cause of any patient’s illnesses back to his parents and their unresolved psychic distress, which becomes part of the cellular memory that patients inherits from them. Diabetes, which creates excess sugar in the bloodstream, was triggered in his patients by feelings of powerlessness inherited from their parents. To compensate for this lack of power, the body would manufacture more sugar to fuel the muscles. For a cure to be effective, the psychic distress beneath the physical symptoms had first to be resolved or the propensity for diabetes would continue to be passed to the next generation, like a story told by a mother to her child.
In order to be healthy, whole, and well, therefore, our challenge is to free ourselves from the life scripts we have received.
LIFE STORIES AND MYTHS
The challenge is a real and difficult one. In Celtic mythology, it was known as geis (pronounced ‘gesh’) and is variously depicted as a curse, taboo, or a sacred quest. Often in these mythological stories, geasa (the plural of geis) are made against a warrior by a parent, wife, or other significant person, and compel him to do certain things or avoid others he might have sought out. The hero’s quest arises from his struggle to find a way around these circumstances. Sometimes he is successful – though not always in the most obvious or immediate ways – and these Celtic stories therefore offer us cautions and counsel in how to make the epic journey for ourselves.
In the legend of the warrior Oisin, for example, he is placed under geis by a lover when he is carried to Tir na N-Og, the Land of Eternal Youth by Niamh, the daughter of the faery king.
Under the spell of his abductor, Oisin marries her, but after three years he begins to wake from his enchantment and miss his father and homeland. Fearful that Oisin may leave her, Niamh allows him to visit his father but only on condition that he does not leave his horse to step upon the ground. Oisin promises he will not, thus accepting his geis. Almost inevitably, however, disaster strikes when he falls from his horse by accident. Three hundred years pass by in an instant and Oisin, now ancient and dressed in rags, is left blind and wretched, never to see his true family again.
Looking at this story as a metaphor for the human condition, and tracing its outcome to first causes, we see that the problem for Oisin was not falling to the ground, but his acceptance of Niamh’s conditions in the first place. Because once we buy into limitations and restrictions, we act in accordance with them, sometimes accepting them wholly and living our lives as others wish us to; sometimes, as in the case of Oisin, rebelling against them in the form of ‘accidental’ behaviours that manifest our desire to be free. Thus, any geis or thoughtless promise becomes, not just words, but the energy of others that infects us as we live their fears and dramas instead of pursuing our own truths.
How, then, can we overcome our limitations and free ourselves from this unhelpful chain of energy that we have become a part of?
THE STEP OF AWARENESS
“To escape from prison, one first has to know one is in a prison”, wrote Gurdjieff. Self-awareness, then, is the first step to freedom. We have to make conscious the myths of ourselves that we have bought into so these attachments can be released.
The shamanic traditions call this recapitulation: the revisiting of key life events and the dramas surrounding them so we can see the stories we have become part of and begin to let them go. A contemporary example of the process might look like this:
The Pure Essence of Self
Imagine in your mind’s eye the moment before your birth, a time when you were pure spirit, uncluttered by social definitions and no stories about you yet existed. Who were you then? What was your face before you were born, as the Zen masters ask?
This spirit made a decision to be born. It had a purpose, a mission to fulfil, in making this choice. What was it for you?
Knowing who you were and what your soul purpose was (and still is) and then comparing this with the way your life is now reveals where you are giving away power and the attachments you have made to your story.
The Conception Journey
As Castaneda explains it, a third of our energy comes from conception and gestation in the womb. The pure energy that we were becomes coloured by that of our parents and theirs before them. This is emotional or spiritual DNA, and it starts to shape us at a cellular level, perhaps leading to the issues identified by Obissier, which are of a physical as well as a psychological nature.
The next step in the recapitulation process, then, is to imagine yourself back in the womb, asking questions such as ‘Why did I choose this father/mother?’, ‘What do they have to teach me in line with my soul’s purpose?’, ‘What were my pre-birth and birth experiences like and how do these still affect me?’, ‘What have I forgotten about myself now that I knew then?’
People who make such explorations find that this seemingly simple process can produce profound realisations about who they (think they) are. One of my workshop participants, a 43-year-old woman called Lucy, had a difficult childhood and felt fearful, disempowered and uncomfortable around others as a result of her early experiences. She recounts her journey back to conception as “Amazing. I gained a sense of love I have never felt or witnessed between my parents. There was a loving passion which has only ever in my lifetime shown itself as anger and disagreement between them”.
This is new information which means, at its most basic level, that the habitual story is changing.
“Now I feel a greater understanding of my parents, my creation, and why I chose them”, she continued. “I understand more fully what fears, feelings and dreams my parents had for me prior to my birth and can appreciate the stress my birth and babyhood placed on them. For the first time I was able to experience the feeling of being created out of pure love and perfection”. As Don Snyder puts it in his book, Of Time and Memory, no matter what our lives, we can all “hope that we are all preceded in this world by a love story”. If we can see that in our parents – and in ourselves – then something of our lives can change and we can find “the path back through stars and memory”. The Story Unfolding
As soon as we are born our life stories begin to weave themselves more tightly around us. The process typically starts with throwaway comments (“He’s so like your father”, “He’ll be a doctor/teacher/play for England when he grows up”), all of which are instructions to a young mind that knows no different and regards the parent as an all-knowing God.
When our parents tell us we will become doctors, or “little devils”, or play for England, whether they are serious or not, it sets up a tension in our minds which, to find resolution, must result in a loss: either we reject the parent’s wishes or they reject part of us. Either way, the story remains central because some part of us is still defining who we are in terms of their words. If we do become doctors, then, is it really our choice? And if we don’t, have we failed our Gods? That is why, as parents we must be careful with our words, and as consumers of the word we must be cautious about what we give our attention to.
All of us have a story like this and it can be illuminating to write it down. If your life were a book, for example, what would it be – a comedy, tragedy, adventure? Who are the main characters? And where does it go from here?
Every author is, of course, free to change his story at any time and, as Ram Dass points out: “What, after all, is personal history if not a dream?”.
How would you rewrite your story to make for a more empowered future?
From your explorations so far, you may be aware of energetic links to others or to events that are more aligned to your ‘story’ than your true soul purpose and which are therefore not serving you. Through breathwork you can begin to remove the energetic attachments that hold you to this dream.
This part of the process consists of imagining yourself back in each of these events and then breathing in to reabsorb the energy you have been expending on them while breathing out the ties you have formed to the drama of that moment. Learn from the experience, too, that these are all situations in which you have a tendency to give away power because, knowing this, you can make sure you don’t do the same in future.
The final step is to forgive; to understand that all of these events are also just stories and that, more positively, they reveal the things we need to work through to be true to our souls. Forgiveness, then, is another way of releasing our myth so we can return to spiritual wholeness.
Thus, in the Celtic tale related earlier, Oisin did not blame Niamh for the geis that he carried for, in his aging he became, symbolically, a man, standing on his own two feet, on his home turf, and free of the Land of Eternal Youth where power is wielded irresponsibly and promises are extracted with threats.
ALL IN THE MIND?
A question arises in all work that has to do with life scripts and the process used to unearth them: ‘Is it all just my imagination?’
This question is a chimera because it doesn’t actually matter if the events you saw ‘really’ happened exactly as you experienced them in your visualisations or not, because whatever you believe to be true you will make real anyway. Our entire lives are, in this sense, an act of faith, and wherever we place our belief those are the results we get. If I believe I was an unwanted child, for example, as Lucy did, everything in my life conspires with me to create that story and I will grow up fearful of others and expecting to be rejected, and so I will create that very outcome. If I remember – or choose to believe – however, that there was love in my family, I can become more loving and loveable in my life and change my destiny now because I remember how love works, and not just the pains of my youth. Having said that, there do tend to be remarkable correspondences between what we sense instinctively to be true and what did happen. Howard, working through this process, saw his mother’s attempt to abort him. Unbeknownst to his mother or to the doctor at the time, the attempt failed, and in his mind’s eye Howard saw himself being born and heard the surprised reaction of the surgeon who expected to be delivering a dead child: “It’s alive!” These were the first words he ever heard. A little while after his recapitulation, Howard decided to speak with his mother about it. After her initial surprise it was clear that she needed to get something off her chest and she was frank and open about the circumstances of his birth. She confirmed that she did try for an abortion and that the words “it’s alive!” were spoken by the surgeon. “This startling revelation led to a beautiful reconciliation with my mother”, Howard continued. “She told me what happened, about her motives, and about my father. This explained a lot for me because at a gut level I never trusted my mother, and now I knew why: unconsciously, I had known all along that she had tried to kill me. “From this I also got a profound insight into what makes me the way I am, and I understood how that remark ‘it’s alive’ had influenced my life, as my response to living has always been ‘I’ll show them I’m alive!’ I sometimes wonder at the surgeon’s words though, and at how different my life might have been if the first words I had heard were not ‘it’, along with surprise at my existence, but ‘he’s a beautiful baby boy’ or something similar. I had bought into the story of ‘it’ and the disappointment I must have been”.
We know far more than we think and we carry the fears, hopes, and life experiences of our parents within our emotional DNA. These become our stories until we choose to take back our lives. Recapitulation is the first step to freedom.
This article is partly based on the books, The Spiritual Practices of the Ninja: Mastering the Four Gates to Freedom, published by Destiny Books in April 2006, and Darkness Visible: Awakening Spiritual Light through Darkness Meditation, also published by Destiny Books. Ross also runs workshops on the themes of this and his other books, including Darkness VisibleTM and The Four Gates To Freedom, which focus on the exercises in this article. The names of participants used in this article have been changed but their words are accurate.