marie kirstendunstIf you’ve ever wondered what your soul has been up to for the centuries but have marveled at how many reborn Marie Antoinette’s, Janis Joplin’s and Cleopatra’s have been reinvented in the fragile and impressionable minds of well-intentioned seekers – well skeptics, you can count me among you. I’ve known there are past-life readers, psychics who will offer me up a scenario, but truth be told I haven’t wanted to go there. Even for this Northern California astrologer, past lives were way too out there.

I wondered: what good would be gained from knowing my past life story – could it really help me now? It’s complicated enough owning just this one life. I also didn’t desire identifying with a mythological figure, it somehow seemed egocentric to me. Which leads to my third objection, I’m a do it yourself kind of gal. If it doesn’t originate or resonate from deep within, I don’t trust it.

In short, I’ve been a judgmental skeptic – or a wary traveler.

See, people have mentioned past lives in passing conversation to me, “oh yes, I was a (blank) in my past life…” but without context that statement left little more to the imagination but “huh?” After this year of working with Steven Forrest, it turns out, all the clichés I’d imagined about past life stories were just that…clichés. The past life story seemed overused because it was overused. To understand it, I needed to vitalize it, not simply bring back the dead. I needed depth, meaning, relevance and usefulness to this past life excavation. In short, if I’m going to ask “who was I then?” without answering deeper life questions like “what’s it all for?”….what’s the point?

To ground you in a more ordinary moment, I’m writing from Calistoga, California, Mountain Home Ranch, sitting below the Main Lodge. Specifically, I’m in the basement of a retreat center, listening to the clatter of the cook washing the dinner dishes of about 30 astrologers dining above. The Virgo Sun/Moon moment tells me my experience here has been ordinary, everyday. I still have to deal with inconveniences, forage for appropriate food, deal with flies buzzing around my hair all day, for which I have the farm animals to thank (and do by feeding the beautiful resident cow a carrot the size of my forearm). Yet I know this is no ordinary day or weekend, its spectacular – after all we are 30 astrologers sitting at the feet of a master astrologer! We’re literally swimming in star speak. And this is no ordinary star-diving mind you: the occasion is a 4 day retreat with Evolutionary Astrologer Steven Forrest whose specialty du jour is the past life story.

Presenting: the past life story according to Steven Forrest, arrived at through the Nodes of the Moon, those invisible points in the sky. They’re not even planets, but according to Steven those nodes contain heart memories from one, perhaps many lifetimes. It’s hard to know. It’s also hard to pinpoint precisely what the story is factually, whether I was Marie Antoinette, or Marie Antoinette’s lap dog. And that isn’t the point. The emotional resonance of the story is – the experience of being Marie Antoinette or her lap dog. Both images get distinctly different feelings going, and what we’re going for here is the feeling of it.

We’re learning how to use the planetary symbols to get to the heart of the matter – the heart of your heart. We’re learning to expertly tease out the unique story from a chart. For one student, there’s the subtle memory of being a Cinderella who married a Prince on a passing train who was then launched into a world (for which she wasn’t psychologically mature, prepared) a world that expected her to be beautiful and stay small at the cost of her own identity. It may sound like a Hollywood script. It surely is. That’s not the point. What matters is if it rings true on a heart level. I don’t identify with this story, some of you may in a general sense, but even here I’m giving vague outlines, non-specifics. Telling the past life story a far subtler art than writing a script. It custom tailors a universal story into a very personal one, yours. Only you can recognize that.

So why would it matter whether or not I had a past life?

Astrology sees things this way: the whole birth chart is karma, a law of cause and effect set into motion before you were born. Being born into a body with its crazy unique-to-you circumstances, talents and challenges surely implies at least one past person existed, right? Evolutionary Astrology takes it a step further: we assume you’re evolving and changing. We assume you’re growing UP not down – or at least hold out for that potential. We assume that you came from a time and place in history in which you were a little less smart than you are now. Here’s the good news: you are getting smarter. But you’ll also remember the old patterns that caused you to incarnate again. So the bad news: you’re not enlightened yet. But you knew that already. That’s why you’re here.

One of the gifts of getting older is realizing that what binds you psychologically to your present state is only always conditioning. It’s like being caught in the vice grip of an invisible hand. You keep meeting the same old faces, new circumstances. Or old circumstances, new faces. The players are interchangeable and so are the stories but each time you meet them anew, it’s a little different. So you make a new choice and change the story a little (maybe even thanks to a great astrologer). On the small scale of your current lifespan, when your past “catches up to you” you can make great headway toward cleaning up your life. On a larger, evolutionary timescale, when your past life informs your current life, the potential for grand changes exist.

Here’s a more intimate, albeit brief example. After hearing my past life story last March I now can claim some knowledge, err, emotional, memory resonance of a past life as a person recognized for her healing abilities, but inclined toward being overly caretaking I suffered a great price, the biggest price being a tragic, untimely death. So maybe I was a witch in my past life (the clues are there) and maybe I wasn’t, but I did spend a lot of energy spiritually caring for others at the cost of my own well-being and health. So maybe I wasn’t burned at the stake, but I did experience sudden tragedy and loss, leaving me feeling unresolved toward the inexplicable and often violently surprising tragedies of life, and certainly expecting them. I know these to be true because these things have already happened in this current life. (Oh, that’s another thing, a sort of P.S. I love you from the Universe: past lives repeat.)

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None of this story was proposed as literal, as Evolutionary Astrologers we don’t play fortune (or past) tellers. It was proposed as a loose “what if…” It’s the language of metaphor, of story. Just like a fairytale or myth unlocks secret places in your soul, the past life story works much in the same way. Movies, dramas and stories have a way of suspending the mind and opening our imagination. Universal-personal stories open our hearts. And that’s where it all goes down, really. The heart is where I recognize truth from untruth, separate fact from fiction. It’s not logical like the mind, but it remembers nonetheless. It’s the heart that remembers the important stuff. Heck, the heart remembers everything.

Oh, there’s much more, and this is my past life not yours. So I’m not going to tell you everything because it simply won’t have resonance for you in the same way it does for me. You may view my past life as you would a movie, a deeply engrossing (or boring) one that could either way move you to tears. But it won’t be real for you because it’s mine. And that’s okay.

So that’s what I’ve been doing all week, listening to this master astrologer/storyteller pull names from his wizard hat and lead the group into a past life journey.

And since last March I’ve been modeling my new teacher with a few clients, testing out the past life technique on a few brave souls. Their experience has been remarkably similar to mine, and to everyone else who has had their past life read during this workshop. The past life story answers some questions, many about why we’re built the way we are. Some of us realize we’re doing it a little cleaner, a little wiser than last time – and this is hopeful. We learn about our blind spots – how we shot ourselves in the foot (and may continue to). The past life story also gives us a clear direction for the future replete with astral map on “how to avoid falling into the karmic pits.” All neatly packaged within a story, a sort of enlightened, personalized fairytale, complete with current life warnings and remedies.

So I guess I was missing the point when I dismissed past lives out of hand. I just hadn’t met Steven Forrest yet. He has a way of getting to the heart of the matter by speaking directly from the heart, to the heart. You know the useful slogan that says ‘you can’t get where you’re going until you know where you’ve been’? It’s applicable to so many things in life. After this weekend with Steven Forrest, here’s an addendum: ‘you can’t get where you’re going until you know where your heart’s been.’
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