By Arkady Petrov
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Do we only live once? A considerable part of the religious world would disagree with this statement, and this is nothing new. But now it is science atypically bringing up the subject.
The Nupes (Research Center on Spirituality and Health) of the Federal University of Juiz de Fora, released the invitation in March: “We are interested in people who believe they have memories of presumably past lives.”
Over 350 people responded to this invitation: they completed an online form detailing their experience as well as their biography.
The research is conducted in collaboration with the University of Virginia (USA) and funded by the Portuguese Bial Foundation – with a track record of investing in parapsychology studies.
Researchers are looking for a “very detailed description” of a presumed past life, such as names, physical traits, places, and circumstances related to the death of the past self.
The individual will additionally be required to answer whether “he/she has cried a lot,” if he/she suffers from headaches or poor digestion, if he/she watches religious programs and thinks about God much or nothing at all, etc.
“These are commonly used in scientific research questionnaires for assessment of mental health and happiness,” says Alexandre Moreira-Almeida, coordinator of Nupes and president of the religion and spirituality section of the World Psychiatry Association.
Answers will help on two fronts, he says: to outline a broad profile of the Brazilians evoking past incarnations; to investigate alleged memories in order to determine if they are “facts, trends or personality profiles”; to map the age and context in which they usually arise to see if these have any “compatibility with the life of a deceased individual”.
The case of Thusita, eight years old, became a classic among researchers. Published in 1991 by Erlendur Haraldsson of the University of Iceland, the study found a girl in Sri Lanka who, from a young age, chatted about how she had lived – and died – in a city 50 km away.
At the age of two, according to family members, she introduced herself: “I am from Akuressa, my father’s name is Jeedin Nanayakkara.” And she told her story: she had drowned after she fell off a narrow bridge. She had a husband. She was pregnant.
On a visit to the city of Akuressa, he traced the Nanayakkara family. They lived near a pedestrian bridge, and in 1973, a daughter-in-law had fallen from it.
Chandra Nanayakkara was 27 when she died. The professor wrote down 28 of Thusita’s statements to see which ones matched her past life: seventeen were accurate, seven incorrect, and four were unspecified.
The Department of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia has cataloged over 2,000 similar experiences; according to Nupes, most of these come from children between the ages of two and six. The majority of scientists see possible self-suggestion cases, in which our mind tries to convince us of something that was already wandering around in our subconscious.
“It is noteworthy that, except in cases of fraud, experiences are “valid” or “real” in the sense that people are experiencing them. They must be received with empathy,”, Moreira-Almeida points out.
A more open-minded side of the scientific community asks itself: then how to explain phenomena such as xenoglossy, the ability of individuals, including young children, to speak a foreign language without ever having come into contact with it during their life?
The memory of who we were, whether real or not, does not always spring spontaneously. This is why there is what is called Regressive Therapy.
Lights out and relaxing music playing, the therapist initiates hypnotic induction by asking an individual, while lying down, to think of images as a ladder that needs to be descended.
From then on, he/she has to tell whatever comes to mind, unreservedly. At first, it appears that it will not work, until the individual describes pieces of a past life like spoilers of a past episode.