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Unless I remember my past life, I may be doomed to repeat it.

Old Souls

In a former life Karen Wall was a soldier soon after the times of Alexander the Great. Pat Walker was a teacher in Atlantis. Don't laugh. They mean it. And they help others take part in their own past-life regressions. These hypnotists have many followers and take their work seriously. Along with a hypnotist, past-life regression can be experienced alone, with a friend (perhaps you've known each other in former lives!), or as part of a group. Most people who try it feel the need to do it only once or twice. I must admit I had my doubts. But, after struggling with my ambitions to be a novelist, I decided to examine my pasts for clues. So one sunny Saturday morning I walked into Pat and Kent Walker's Aquarian Bookshop on Ellwood Avenue, entered a back room, and let Pat Walker regress me. She wore a black dress with a silver-and-onyx necklace and matching earrings that I found as mesmerizing as her honey-smooth voice. We talked about books and the art of writing; my first response was to like her. She is warm and self-deprecating, and I didn't mind answering questions about my life, especially when she was so open about hers. Fair is fair. We discussed my frustration in trying to get a novel published. We agreed that with her help I would go in my past and look for information on my career as a novelist and at what could be standing in my way. Lights dimmed. I covered up under a soft blue blanket. Walker turned on gentle background music and a tape recorder. The hypnosis went like this: She called on "the Mother, Father God, Lord and Lady God of all creation to bring into this room the purple transmuting flame whose task it is to seek any negative or unusable energies" that didn't belong to either of us. She asked the flame "to cleanse out any energies" that would interfere with the process and asked that we both get in touch with our god sources. She told me to imagine being wrapped in a cocoon of light while she asked the power of god to seal off the room from the rest of the world. I was told to imagine myself as a chocolate Santa melting on a windowsill: "Melting ... softening … melting." By then, I'd noticed Walker's voice had slowed down considerably. She instructed me to take deep breaths, all the way in, breathing in calmness, comfort, peace and serenity and breathing out tension, stress, anxiety and fatigue. She asked me to pay attention to her singsong voice and its pitch as she relaxed my body muscle by muscle, my brainwaves matching the tempo of her voice, before asking me to imagine going down a beautiful staircase "down … down … down … deeper … deeper … deeper." After about 15 minutes, I felt very relaxed and daydreamy. When she told me to enter the Tyler Scott Museum and notice all the closed doors on the hallway, this meant we were walking towards my past. For the next two hours, I just let my thoughts float around. I met a little girl who made me very sad and a knight who seemed to know me well. I saw myself dressed as a peasant, and I sat in front of a fire with a man who owned a Gatsbyish estate. I met a meek brown-haired hausfrau who eventually turned into a mouse. I saw a walled garden, a battlefield, a Cezannelike landscape, a port. I remember a peaceful walk down a long, tree-lined drive and, finally, I took off in a plane, embarking on a journey that never ended. Walker's assessment was that I'd tapped into a very symbolic story, and she helped me interpret the symbols as well as some of the words I'd used like "in control" and "taking off." She says my story meant that as long as I was flying the plane (a symbol for my writing), I'd be in control. About a quarter of the people are like me when they're hypnotized the first time and go into a state of mind where they find metaphors to give them answers. Walker told me my second attempt would probably be more successful since I'd be more trusting and relaxed. I agreed. The one part of my hypnosis that may have had something to do with a past life, I thought, was the 6-year-old girl who almost made me cry. She had tried to warn me about something before fading away. Patty O'Neill, a 40-year-old massage therapist in Richmond, had her first past-life regression about a year ago with Karen Wall, a regressionist trained by Walker. O'Neill, who'd grown up with a mother who was very open-minded about psychic phenomena, had always been interested in the "alchemy of life and all things spiritual," she said, and was having trouble letting go of a failed relationship. She thought regression might give her some answers to her current troubles. "In my past life I was a man," she says, "It was during horse-and-buggy times. I was a homesteader, probably in Virginia, newly married, and my wife had died in childbirth." The reason O'Neill was having problems letting go was that she had always been haunted by what happened in her former life. In that life she had never remarried nor been able to move on. This same pattern now troubled her. O'Neill says regressing helped her achieve "the simple awareness I need to let go. That this relationship which was giving me trouble was now done. PLR changed my attitude. It was a very simple process, but I started viewing things differently, started living life a little differently." Walker is the respected guru of past-life regression among Richmond's metaphysical community (probably about 5,000 people, judging by New Age shops' mailing lists). Maryland-born, a former teacher and principal, this 56-year-old grandmother didn't start thinking about metaphysics until she was in her 30s. When a student gave her a book about Edgar Cayce, a late 19th-century mystic, she began to rethink her understanding of reality. In 1989, she had her first past-life regression in North Carolina. She soon began training. This consisted of a week of intensive training with a metaphysical trainer; a weekend with best-selling author and psychotherapist Brian Weiss; two weekend seminars with the American Institute of Hypnotherapy; and a weekend seminar with a Jungian psychologist. Regressionists stay busy in Richmond: Walker knows of 8 to 10 people who do past-life regressions regularly. Although she is now busy running the Aquarian Bookshops, three years ago she was participating in over a dozen regressions a week. As for my own experience, I can't put my finger on any of this. Perhaps much of my journey made sense: all those short visits and then, finally, one never-ending journey off into the unknown, which for me embodies the life of a writer. Though they were all new to me, I am haunted now by all those people and places. Who was the little girl who made me so ineffably sad, and what was she trying to warn me

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