Gary Justis

Gary Justis
Bloomington, Illinois, US
April 04
Gary Justis has worked primarily in the area of kinetic sculpture for the last 34 years. He lived and worked in Chicago from 1977 to 1999. He currently resides in Bloomington Illinois, where he teaches and writes stories about his actual experiences. (please take a look at his "Sculpture" link for more info)


JANUARY 13, 2013 1:19PM

The Reincarnationist

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the reincar 3


        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


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"like a heavy, impenetrable curtain being lifted in his awareness"

Sometimes I catch myself being a reinventionist. As when you went back through a journal, I have similar confrontations with my past. Much of it with family and long-standing friends who carry around a shorthand version, never up-to-date enough and contra-factual, you think, and much of it from past creative pursuits.

"dimensions variable" (sweet)
Stacey, Thanks for visiting and your great comment. I love to hear the shorthand version of old friend's impressions and memories of things I've done, or failed at. They, like me construct memory to support their current mind set, making sense where none was made at the time. This is wonderfully elastic, and forces us to consider the importance of the fiction, or the contra-factual. Good to see you my brainy friend! Thank you Stacey.

Thom, thank you for your kind comment. I'm very glad to see there was something to my scribbles for a distinguished author/lecturer to enjoy. Very nice of you to come by and take the time...thanks!
You mean, I can't come back as a Warner Bro. cartoon? :( :D
Tink, In your case, the universe makes an it should be!
entry in one of my journals from 1985...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...
Gary, I knew you in 1985
This made me think - I like that. It is also an interesting story. Thanks Gary.
Woo I loved this journey into reincarnation. It is complicated.

I go to a site called Second Life and become an avatar. My deceased boyfriend had an avatar there too and I can access it because I know his password. For awhile after his death I could go there and be him for awhile. It was wild.

The connections we make with people everyday are important. They seem to be more than mere chance.
Michael, did we meet before 1986? Can't remember. I made a few trips home back then, and it was a very tenuous time for me.

Kelly you are welcome. It's good to see you again!

Zanelle, hello! thanks for sharing the Avatar story. I'm sure it helped you get through a rough time. They are more than mere chance.
Anything is possible...and in an infinite universe (which this may be) everything probably is.

Who knows...maybe we all are everyone and always have been. Maybe there is no individuality except as an illusion. Maybe the non-dualists are right. Maybe my beloved GIANTS will win the Super Bowl again this year...but goddamit, they ain't even in the playoffs.
Quick question, Gary: Was it a very rainy day when this essay came into being?
Thank you Frank. I like the idea of infinite incarnations...and perhaps the GIANTS have their own! Yes it was Rainy by the way, for part of the time. It usually takes several days or weeks for me to write a piece. I have to stop at night and see with fresh eyes the next day.
I've read this three times now trying to decide if I agree or disagree. I have a hard time ascribing to the idea of reincarnation in any realm and tend to think that we just view things differently at different stages of life and with different life experiences. Sometimes even after a singular event.

Thought provoking piece, though.
Hello JL,
Just another way of seeing if the theory of reincarnation can bear a bit of reinterpretation. In accounts I have heard/read, there are attributes of a past life carried over to the next (in two different physical incarnations) just as there is in a different developmental period of a single individual. Thanks for coming by to read!
I love this take on reincarnation - I have lately come to recognize that, regarding supernatural and paranormal concepts, I seem to simultaneously believe and disbelieve almost everything, which probably means I am something of a no-thing-ist. As always, thank you for an excellent meal for thought, Gary.
I'm a Jungian. It's the only coherent philosophy, rooted in science, that explains many of the issues you raise. It takes a committment, however, to understand fully, but the result is that many otherwise baffling phenomenon become comprehensible and that supplies me with peace of mind.

I'm also aware of the extent to which it is "romantic" as are many of the ideas of a "spiritual" nature. Whether they are true or not and can be measured scientifically are not so essential as what they provide on a psyche level. Jung says religion is the "sixth" sense and the world I have seen and that I know from personal experience is enough conformation for me.
I'll give you a Jungian interpretation of reincarnation. It is achetypal in the sense that it is re-occuring throughout cultures and human history. That puts it on the same level as ideas like "redemption" and "salvation." It starts in the unconscious and works its way up to consciousness where the the collective is able to adapt it and use in order to assure it survival.

If these ideas interest you, I recommend Eric Neumann's THE HISTORY AND GROWTH OF CONSCIOUSNESS, (I think that's right.) It is the philosophy of Jung as seen by one of his greatest students, but not for the faint hearted.
Hello Owl! I see evidence of phenomena and become convinced for a short time. Then circumstances change. It really goes back and forth throughout a life time. Thanks for the visit!

Hello Ben, thanks for such a thoughtful comment. I had understood Jung examined young subjects who had unexplained experiences that were detailed. The experiences seemed to be culled from source separate from the collective subconscious and were less general than other archetypes figuring in his research. Thanks so much for telling me about Eric Neumann’s book!
hey! some of my best friends are cartoons. heck, lots of bloggers around here are cartoons. you should be careful with your blatantly cartoonist tendencies.
VZN...forgive me for being blatantly cartoonist, I guess I have to stop devolving in my graphic awareness...thanks for the funny comment!
Love the image, the phoenix wings, the blue flames, and the mandala-like, dreamy blueness of it with the white and golden light. Also love the words.

Not sure why, but I just remembered a joke - a fellow goes to the graveyard to take photos of the phantoms said to be there. Night after night, and no photographs to show for it. He said, "The spirits were willing, but the flash was weak."
Jung took Freud's idea of the unconscious and expanded it to take into account all of the myths of the ancient world, upon which our civilization is based, and then through the examination of the dreams of patients throughout a broad spectrum of the population developed many original ideas and theories.

Perhaps, his single greatest successor was Joseph Campbell who may have made the greatest contribution of anyone to the understanding of religion. ie. how to understand it symbolically rather than literally. But there are many others, including Marie Louise Van Franz, Neumann, (the role of patriarchy and matriarchy can be traced to him) and our own (American) desciples such as Robert Johnson, and my personal favorite Miriam Woodman. My own studies in Jung were the result of taking workshops with her and Robert Bly.

Jung is still highly controversial. He is not taught in any American university that I have heard of, and is basically held in contempt by the American school of psychology. He has also been questioned for being anti-semitic, as has Campbell, which I think is a pile of crap. When you challenge literalism, you challenge the dominate and mostly intolerant school of interpretation in any religion.
I found Jung's expansion on the ideas of Freud to be vital to our understanding of things cross-culturally and in knowing the importance of archetypes recurring over and over again in most myths and histories. He seemed very humanist to me in his approach, but I am not familiar enough with his history to be aware of any anti-semitism. thanks for your comment again Ben.
this I feel I understand viscerally: 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.

and this was so revealing a chill went through me: 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.”

what a priviledge to read you, dear one...
Still thinking & intuiting here but wanted to say I loved being challenged by what you shared here. Sorry I was so slow to get to it too. I've posted it to my FB page.
I'm glad I finally made it to your fine post. In my own quest for freedom from suffering, and then as a student of Buddhism, reincarnation and karma are topics I've slept on for a while. One creates the other, and best understood together. The Rinpoche of the temple I go to has said that karma, or cause and effect which is its simplest presentation, is an extremely profound topic. Very few people truly understand it, he says. He's an extremely wise and compassionate man in his 70s and the noble Dharma has been his life's focus since he was 13, so I take his word for it. Still, I enjoy contemplation and enjoy exploring the crevices and angles of an idea, especially when the fruit helps me live more freely. And so the more I put my mind to the understanding of karma and reincarnation, the more I applied it to the understanding of my own life, the more I was able to see what filled the sails of karma, what directed karma, landed it, what shaped its birth, my rebirth and how that rebirth could be in a moment in this life of moments. How I was spinning the wheel of my life's cycles, not just my life cycle. What spun my wheel, gave it velocity, what allowed me to stay at its still centre. All these metaphors are well used for a reason. This is why I think living itself is the ultimate act of our creativity - re can destroy and recreate ourselves over and over, to the degree we are aware and free. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say we can allow the destruction and recreation of ourselves over and over, and in allowing it, influence it, even direct it. I really enjoyed and was enriched by reading your old journal entry and of your brother's experience and how that changed the relationship between you, and you. And as you can tell by now, I really liked that your thinking of reincarnation led you to the possibilities in this very lifetime. I too get a little bored with the usually useless fascination with past lives, where everyone seems to have been a pharoah, a high priestess, or matisse's lover, and the fixation leads to nothing useful for THIS life. And I certainly get bored with discussions of karma that become excuses for blame and punishment and the lack of sympathy. You, on the other hand, have made something of use with it. And given me an excuse to ramble on and on.
Great piece, Gary. I think I like best about this the skepticism because by its nature skepiticism reveals actual thought. It's not interesting to know that 300 people believe a thing without knowing if they considered it. 300 mindless people are no more convincing to me than 3000 mindless people. But one skeptic can offer enlightenment, perspective, entertainment, inspiration, etc.

I happen not to believe in reincarnation at all, but that's OK. To me, the things you cite are explained by breeding, by which I mean evolution, not the snooty thing. That is, we yearn for things that seem to harken back, even to our animal selves, it's because millions of years taught us to be lower animals before we changed slightly to be different, but we are incremental modifications of those older things, not really wholesale redesigns.

The phenomenon of afterlife I think of again differently. To me, as I described in the pre-text of my piece Erik Naggum on Atlas Shrugged: “Because I am not religious, I have no mystical conception of an afterlife. To me, a person lives on not in Heaven or Hell but instead in the minds and hearts of those they touched while alive—or, even if no one knows it, as an integrated part of the world through the effects of their substantive contributions on the way in which the future comes to unfold.”

I have some further thoughts on this that I put into my “to blog” file. I have not been blogging enough and there is a huge pile of topics waiting. I need to get back to that one of these days soon.
Thank you Robin, I am always happy to see you reflect our work back to us. For me, it creates new levels of understanding, seeing how you think in reaction and in consideration. You always teach me something. I am so grateful.

Hello Dr Susanne, Thank you for the re-post and I am always happy to see you!

Hello Maria, I appreciate how little I truly know about the myriad details of this philosophy, especially after reading your fabulous comment. I see the circumstances of your life in all its challenges much clearer now. I do agree living is the ultimate creative act, and I also believe creativity has no shelf life…it is the ultimate agent of transformation in all things. Thank you for your wonderful comment.

Hi Kent, I am sorry about getting back to everyone so late on this post. I like the quote very much and the even-handed logic of it. It is provable in this argument.
I am very touched you have taken the time to write such a lengthy and interesting comment. You inspire even more curiosity in many of the questions I have, and I think the best state of mind is having unending questions when it comes to subtler realms, if they exist at all, and if they are conveyers of the mind. I have to think more about this (for me it’s a hard process)…