What she said next left me breathless, pulling the air from my lungs.
"Your father is here, and your son, who is a small child. Your father says you will know him because his name is Avrom, and your daughter is named after him. Also, his death was due to his heart. Your son's heart was also important, for it was backward, like a chicken's. He made a great sacrifice for you out of his love. His soul is very advanced. . . , His death satisfied his parents' debts. Also he wanted to show you that medicine could only go so far, that its scope is very limited."
Catherine stopped speaking, and I sat in an awed silence as my numbed mind tried to sort things out. The room felt icy cold. Catherine knew very little about my personal life. On my desk I had a baby picture of my daughter, grinning happily with her two bottom baby teeth in an otherwise empty mouth. My son's picture was next to it. Otherwise Catherine knew virtually nothing about my family or my personal history. I had been well schooled in traditional psychotherapeutic techniques. The therapist was supposed to be a tabula rasa, a blank tablet upon which the patient could project her own feelings, thoughts, and attitudes. These then could be analyzed by the therapist, enlarging the arena of the patient's mind. I had kept this therapeutic distance with Catherine. She really knew me only as a psychiatrist, nothing of my past or of my private life. I had never even displayed my diplomas in the office.
The greatest tragedy in my life had been the unexpected death of our firstborn son, Adam, who was only twenty-three days old when he died, early in 1971. About ten days after we had brought him home from the hospital, he had developed respiratory problems and projectile vomiting. The diagnosis was extremely difficult to make.
"Total anomalous pulmonary venous drainage with an atrial septal defect," we were told. "It occurs once in approximately every ten million births."
The pulmonary veins, which were supposed to bring oxygenated blood back to the heart, were incorrectly routed, entering the heart on the wrong side. It was as if his heart were turned around, backward. Extremely, extremely rare.
Heroic open-heart surgery could not save Adam, who died several days later. We mourned for months, our hopes and dreams dashed. Our son, Jordan, was born a year later, a grateful balm for our wounds.
At the time of Adam's death, I had been wavering about my earlier choice of psychiatry as a career. I was enjoying my internship in internal medicine, and I had been offered a residency position in medicine. After Adam's death, I firmly decided that I would make psychiatry my profession. I was angry that modern medicine, with all of its advanced skills and technology, could not save my son, this simple, tiny baby.
My father had been in excellent health until he experienced a massive heart attack early in 1979, at the age of sixty-one. He survived the initial attack, but his heart wall had been irretrievably damaged, and he died three days later. This was about nine months before Catherine's first appointment.
My father had been a religious man, more ritualistic than spiritual. His Hebrew name, Avrom, suited him better than the English, Alvin. Four months after his death, our daughter, Amy, was born, and she was named after him.
Here, in 1982, in my quiet, darkened office, a deafening cascade of hidden, secret truths was pouring upon me. I was swimming in a spiritual sea, and I loved the water. My arms were gooseflesh. Catherine could not possibly know this information. There was no place even to look it up. My father's Hebrew name, that I had a son who died in infancy from a one-in-ten million heart defect, my brooding about medicine, my father's death, and my daughter's naming-it was too much, too specific, too true. This unsophisticated laboratory technician was a conduit for transcendental knowledge.
And if she could reveal these truths, what else was there? I needed to know more.
"Who," I sputtered, "who is there? Who tells you these things?"
"The Masters," she whispered, "the Master Spirits tell me. They tell me I have lived eighty-six times in physical state."
Catherine's breathing slowed, and her head stopped rolling from side to side. She was resting. I wanted to go on, but the implications of what she had said were distracting me. Did she really have eighty-six previous lifetimes? And what about "the Masters"? Could it be? Could our lives be guided by spirits who have no physical bodies but who seem to possess great knowledge? Are there steps on the way to God? Was this real? I found it difficult to doubt, in view of what she had just revealed, yet I still struggled to believe. I was overcoming years of alternative programming. But in my head and my heart and my gut, I knew she was right. She was revealing truths.
And what about my father and my son? In a sense, they were still alive; they had never really died. They were talking to me, years after their burials, and proving it by providing specific, very secret information. And since all that was true, was my son as advanced spiritually as Catherine had said? Did he indeed agree to be born to us and then die twenty-three days later in order to help us with our karmic debts and, in addition, to teach me about medicine and humankind, to nudge me back to psychiatry? I was very heartened by these thoughts. Beneath my chill, I felt a great love stirring, a strong feeling of oneness and connection with the heavens and the earth. I had missed my father and my son. It was good to hear from them again.
My life would never be the same again. A hand had reached down and irreversibly altered the course of my life. All of my reading, which had been done with careful scrutiny and skeptical detachment, fell into place. Catherine's memories and messages were true. My intuitions about the accuracy of her experiences had been correct. I had the facts. I had the proof.
Yet, even in that very instant of joy and understanding, even in that moment of the mystical experience, the old and familiar logical and doubting part of my mind lodged an objection. Perhaps it's just ESP or some psychic skill. Granted, it's quite a skill, but it doesn't prove reincarnation or Master Spirits. Yet this time I knew better. The thousands of cases recorded in the scientific literature, especially those of children speaking foreign languages to which they had never been exposed, of having birthmarks at the site of previous mortal wounds, of these same children knowing where treasured objects were hidden or buried thousands of miles away and decades or centuries earlier, all echoed Catherine's message. I knew Catherine's character and her mind. I knew what she was and what she wasn't. No, my mind could not fool me this time. The proof was too strong and too overwhelming. This was real. She would verify more and more as our sessions progressed.
At times over the succeeding weeks I would forget the power and immediacy of this session. At times I would fall back into the rut of everyday life, worrying about the usual things. Doubts would surface. It was as if my mind, when not focused, tended to drift back into the old patterns, beliefs, and skepticism. But then I would remind myself this actually happened! I appreciated how difficult it is to believe these concepts without having personal experience. The experience is necessary to add emotional belief to intellectual understanding. But the impact of experience always fades to some degree.
At first, I was not aware of why I was changing so much. I knew I was more calm and patient, and others were telling me how peaceful I looked, how I seemed more rested and happier. I felt more hope, more joy, more purpose, and more satisfaction in my life. It dawned on me that I was losing the fear of death. I wasn't afraid of my own death or of nonexistence. I was less afraid of losing others, even though I would certainly miss them. How powerful the fear of death is. People go to such great lengths to avoid the fear: mid-life crises, affairs with younger people, cosmetic surgeries, exercise obsessions, accumulating material possessions, procreating to carry on a name, striving to be more and more youthful, and so on.
We are frightfully concerned with our own deaths, sometimes so much so that we forget the real purpose of our lives.
About the book:
The true story of a prominent psychiatrist, his young patient, and the past-life therapy that changed both their lives. As a traditional psychotherapist, Dr. Brian Weiss was astonished and skeptical when one of his patients began recalling past-life traumas that seemed to hold the key to her recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks. His skepticism was eroded, however, when she began to channel messages from the space between lives, which contained remarkable revelations about Dr. Weiss' family and his dead son.
Excerpt from Breakfast at Tiffany's
- Truman Capote
Excerpt from The Sandman
- E. T. A. Hoffmann