Portrait # 38g (The Reincarnationist), digital photograph, projected light, dimensions variable
I keep thinking about my friend’s aunt who insisted her deceased brother came back as a cartoon character; some hybridization of Homer Simpson. I talked to the lady and told her I didn’t think a human spirit could come back as an idea.
She wanted to know why this wasn’t possible, since the existence of reincarnation was really a theory, and as far as anyone knows, each of us only exists as an idea anyway.
As we talked, I was thinking that every profound idea contains some real fictional gems. Disbelief mixed with a level of discretion can tease the mind making it more amenable to the unfamiliar, where original thinking comes into being. Two types of ideas, either well suited for each other or not, can work towards coaxing our attention out of our commonplace element…a kind of wistful/wishful imagining.
“But I’m flesh…look I react to you, I have skin.” I said.
She smirked. “Well, Homer and his many iterations have skin too, very nice skin. No blemishes as far as I can tell.”
We both laughed, but in the ridiculous context of this conversation, she had a point.
I was remembering some things that continually irritate me. Sometimes I am so sick and tired of hearing stories about other dimensions I feel my head will explode. When I go into a public place, or I’m talking to someone at a party, the inevitable line from some stranger is, “I feel you are an ‘old soul’.”
It always makes me feel awkward that strangers might know something about me that lurks in the shadows of my consciousness.
The day I was forced to sit and listen to someone drone on endlessly about spiritual linage was the same day I was trying to close on my house. My loan agent was forcing me to listen to her past-life drivel. She kept distracting herself from her point in fits and starts. Listening was pure agony. There was some debate with her sense of chronology of past lives.
Of course this debate was taking place with her present incarnation and several other individual parts of her former selves, including an animal or two.
She finally captured my attention with the last bit about animals. My period of punishment shortened considerably. She was talking about some theory having to do with a person’s natural channeling of animal impulses. According to her, feeling one’s own non-human urges was the result of previous animal incarnations. I had never considered this. The idea did nonetheless explain a few of my own feelings.
Later that evening, I found an entry in one of my journals from 1985.
“I’ve never felt more like an animal than I have these past several months. People tell me I have qualities, never wholly human and wholly distinct from tameness. This is an accurate observation because it reflects my feelings, my inner life. I look at past pictures of myself and I know the urges behind that face…a wanting nature with a suppressed predator drive… itching for a pursuit of some kind.
I haven’t experienced comfortable moments in years. I crave the aroma of forests and decaying matter. When I see small creatures, the rest of the world stops. There are inconveniences; I have an abnormal flow of saliva, and itchiness in my limbs that sends wrong signals when I’m around people, my family, friends and sometimes girlfriends.
I was on a windy street in my hometown last week. A passing stranger grabbed my wrist. He looked into my eyes for a second, and then he threw up his other hand as if my gaze blinded him. I felt suddenly off balance while he held on, pulling me to the ground with him as a large, flat piece of roof metal flew past us, cleaving the space where we stood moments before.
This incident was excruciating, but seemed to break the spell of my wildness. I don’t know how, but I remember lying there, eyeing the back of his beautiful neck, only for a second, and not feeling any urge to bite it.”
That was a phobic period I was always frightened to re-visit. Going through the pages of this record was a real exercise because it was difficult placing myself into the mental space of the person I used to be. I had a period of strange, dangerous wildness. It was a brief period that passed without much consequence except for my feelings and urges. There were no injuries to others or questions that could have alerted the authorities about my dangerous attitude. My life, in spite of my unusual state of mind, was for the most part providential and headed in a positive direction.
I sat back and thought about it. “The person I used to be.”
I realized the temporal constructions of the mind could be reconciled with my skewed vision of mortality. If chronological events are fixed as part of some physical law, then I am outside of cause and effect. But I realize this is not the case.
My mind is working hard to construct time, building a framework I can navigate while being a different person from one moment to the next. It’s like an overlay of infinite varieties of the self, one on top of the other in no particular sequence.
Memory of these fleeting manifestations creates the continuity, until the mind lets go of the particular memory and the link is broken. I understand with some clarity the broken link gives the self a boost into another version of the self. Reincarnation is real, and taking place in the physical realm all the time, in a single body’s life cycle.
In the past, there was a nagging question about my brother’s account of witnessing the birth of his child. Years ago when he recounted the event to me, I marveled at his level of excitement. He said when he saw the childbirth, it was like a heavy, impenetrable curtain being lifted in his awareness.
At the time of his revelation, I hadn’t made a connection between cause and effect and the life-changing event he had described. Now there was sudden relevance in how the link with his past life (being a mean guy) and his new life was broken. The change in him was astonishing and the old version of my brother, one who was my tormentor, a trickster and instigator of intrigue, ceased to be.
With his transformation, he was unable to recall his dark collection of transgressions. There was a surprising result in all this. His inability to recall his darker self forced my own change, and my memory of our familial discord faded. We became good, close friends. We were new and better people.
My brother died in 2006. As devastating as it was to lose him so suddenly, my memory of him is vivid and there is not any dissension I can recall between us.
I’m convinced there is a part of the process of Reincarnation taking place in the corporeal realm, or the physical “here and now.” There is wholeness and great beauty in the reality of recognizing this. I can grasp it…and I can also determinedly live again and again with this understanding.
Note: this piece was posted on Our Salon January 12, 2013
photo by Gary Justis © 2013