Dr. Woolger is a leading theorist and practitioner of past life therapy, a true pioneer. His awesome intellect synthesizes ideas from many sources, including conventional psychology, Buddhist and yogic thought, and his own many years of clinical experience as a past life therapist. He is known in therapy circles for his ability to access the deepest past life causes of his clients' most recalcitrant emotional and physical problems. Dr. Woolger first book, Other Lives, Other Selves, is possibly the best and most comprehensive introduction I've seen to the psychological depths of past life regression. Because he stayed busy with his international clinical practice and training workshops, he was rarely interviewed. This interview gives glimpse of his ideas and perspective on past life regression.
(A video of a different interview is at the bottom of this page.)
Past Lives, Present Problems
Interview with Dr. Roger Woolger
Interviewed by Simon Martin (From Here's Health, December, 1991)
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PSYCHOTHERAPIST Roger Woolger is working with a patient. The man has suffered terrible pains in his back for a long time. "Take your consciousness into the pain and see what you find," Dr Woolger gently suggests.
It takes five or ten minutes for the man to be able to put words to the feelings, but here they are, Bitterness... and resentment." When nothing else is forthcoming, Woolger puts pressure on the man's back, right where the focus of the pain is. Suddenly, the man is lashing out, in a rage, "You told me you were my friend!" he screams out, then lapses into a passive sadness: he is a soldier, on a battlefield, and he has just been killed by one of his own side -- stabbed in the back.
This is par for the course in one of Dr Woolger's sessions. He claims to have stumbled across a hidden dimension to our present-day problems: the effects of our past lives.
True to form, this participant in one of Woolger's workshops has not discovered that he was Napoleon or the Queen of Sheba, but that, like many of us, one of his past lives was unremarkable and short -- cut short by death on a battlefield, starvation or disease.
Most of our lives and deaths are irrelevant, even if we were Napoleon. The ones it is helpful to focus on are those that may be causing us problem, now. Woolger may be about to trigger a revolution in psychotherapy with his discovery that past-life emotional trauma somehow becomes locked in the body and that we can get rid of it and stop it affecting us.
"There are mostly two layers to every wound." Woolger explained mid-way through a recent seminar in Germany. He returned to the betrayed soldier.
"Find a time in your life -- today when you have had similar feelings," he suggested. The man responded with a sad story of his childhood, being bullied by his brother, and one special time when he was five years old and his brother humiliated him, holding him to the ground with a foot on his back.
Woolger's past-life findings correlate nicely with the way in which bodyworker who are interested in the mind-body connection say that they can spot and release emotional trauma that seems to have become trapped, or solidified in the body. It is well-known, too, that physical trauma such as birth, accidents, violence, rape and surgery, leave psychological scars. Past-life work seems to show that physical wounds such as our man's back ache over a past life stab wound can be "layered" on top of each other. "During one session," says Woolger, "a woman client moved spontaneously from reliving a hysterectomy in a hospital to finding herself a victim of a blood sacrifice with her belly being cut open."
So past lives add an exciting new level to our understanding of health problems, whether these are obviously "body" or "mind". Conventional medicine deals with symptoms: you've a digestive problem, try these drugs or have surgically removed the bit that's bothering you. Holistic approaches try to go deeper: change your diet, try these natural remedies, and at the same time let's look at what's causing you stress, Still, some people don't get better. So New Age psychology has encouraged looking at symptoms as symbols bringing your attention to conflicts you need to resolve in your life. A digestive problem stimulates the question, "What in your life can't you stomach'"
The approaches get deeper, leading into "inner" work helped maybe by some form of psychotherapy. Most of these seem to end up pointing the finger at nasty childhood events. But, as thousands of people can testify, you can know exactly what horrific things your parents are supposed to have subjected you to, and still be ill and/or trapped by your life.
Don’t Blame Mom
"If, as Woolger believes, the baby arrives with all the traces of its previous lives upon it, all ready to produce effects in its new and current life, the mother cannot be to blame for these," says leading therapist John Rowan. "So the theory is politically interesting as well as being practically efficacious."
Woolger explains: "It seems that it's not just that we inherit physical structure from our parent, nor that we just copy their posture -- we were working with a woman at one workshop who had very rounded shoulders. She went back to a life when she was virtually a slave, helping to build cathedrals, and had spent her days carrying huge blocks of stone."
At one level of psychotherapeutic thinking, the rounded shoulders and collapsed, sunken chest are associated with a type of person characterized as "oral-depressed", typically someone who is longing for love and has been deprived of it. Don't blame the parents, says Woolger; it may well be that, like millions of other souls, this one has faced desperation and literal starvation in a previous life. So, he says, "A weak stomach may carry past life memories of poisoning, starvation, dysentery."
Woolger is almost apologetic about what he is uncovering and doesn't claim to have established "the truth" -- he says he may even have got some things completely wrong. He had a conventional training at Oxford in behaviorism and analytical philosophy, graduating with his mind "in a carefully tailored straitjacket". He was something of an intellectual samurai, delighting in demolishing people with blinding logic. By way of post-graduate studies in comparative religion - "where the subject of reincarnation never really arose" - he began meditating, discovered Carl Jung, active imagination and altered states, and was practicing as a psychotherapist when an experiment with regression to a past life led to more questions that Woolger had answers.
Woolger struggled to make sense of the visualized memories of himself as an unsavory mercenary soldier apparently recruited to massacre non-believers in one of the infamous papal crusades in southern France. With the recollection, whether true or false, came feelings of guilt and new understandings of some of the events of his present life, such as his cynicism about organized religion, and the time when as an enraged 12-year-old in a school fight he was ready to kill his opponent and had to be dragged away by other boys.
"I was later to learn that most people, when they first have past life regressions, rarely get such violent or horrible memories," he states in his ground-breaking book, Other Lives, Other Selves." As a rule, the unconscious mind which I now believe to carry past life memories, as well as forgotten childhood events and archetypes, will in its wisdom only send us past life memories that we are ready to deal with and are able to integrate into our conscious personality structure. Those who have little experience of therapy or meditation more often start gently."
Fragments of past life memories often surface in dreams or at unexpected moments, perhaps as inexplicable abilities or as feelings of familiarity with places, historical periods and characters and the like. The theory could also explain the puzzling nature of children's reports of abuse: many of them may be neither completely imaginary nor completely factual, suggests Woolger. Child abuse leads to shock, which can put children into an altered psychological state, he thinks, "And in that state they may well contact fragments of memories from past lives."
What he's getting at is that our unknown and unresolved past lives may be interfering with our present. Violent and unfulfilled young hooligans today may be the remnants of the millions of adolescents in history who died in battle, their lives cut off before they had begun. Depressed, low-energy adults? How many of us through history have lost loved ones, seen our families wiped out by war and plague, and have not grieved? It takes a lot of energy to block feelings of pain, especially when we know we "should" be happy. Irrational fears of drowning, of sharks, of falling -- the list is endless.
He is not suggesting that all our problems can be attributed to past life experiences, nor do all our past lives cause present- day problems. The crucial deciding factor seems to be the way in which we met our deaths. It seems that we take with us into our future life the imprint of the events at our death. If it was particularly traumatic, either physically or emotionally, and we do not have time to resolve the emotional and physical pain -- to make out peace -- then we carry it with us into our next incarnation.
The trick is not just to find out that you died on a battlefield, but to fully relive your death "on a physically conscious level". A similar technique has been used with victims of shell-shock, particularly common during the 1914-18 war. Their experience gives us some clues: it looks as though when the events around us become unbearable we have the ability to cut out -- the mind just blanks the experience out. We are still there on the battlefield with shells bursting all round us, but we've withdrawn our consciousness of it. The body carries on registering the trauma and the pain, but we are effectively not "there", not functioning.
The way out for shell-shock victims is just what Woolger prescribes: they are helped to safely relive the memories and integrate the mind-shock and the physical pain into their consciousness.
Understanding what is really going on in past life therapy may not be that important -- it's the results that count, and it does not matter whether the stories are "true", or whether they can be historically confirmed or not, says Woolger. After all, most of us make mistakes and miss things out when we try to remember events of this life, but our friends and relatives don't think we're imagining things just because we get a date wrong here, a name wrong there.
"You don't have to interpret," he says, "and you don't have to believe in reincarnation. Just accept that the unconscious mind will always come up with a story when healing is required. The important thing is the release of what he calls "locked-up energies".
"From nearly a decade of taking clients and colleagues through past life experiences and continuing my own personal explorations, I have come to regard this technique as one of the most concentrated and powerful tools available to psychotherapy short of psychedelic drugs," says Woolger.
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Here is a different interview with Roger Woolger, from YouTube: [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwbLLRCpEVg&w=420&h=315]
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More in-depth articles by Roger Woolger are in the Library of Articles and Cases.