Past Life Research: For Exploration and Healing

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Author and past life researcher, Heather Rivera.

An interview with Dr. Heather Rivera, past life researcher and therapist

JUST AS INTRIGUING as the idea of life after death is the idea that we have lived before, with different names, faces, occupations, personalities, even different genders. The exploration of possible past lives through hypnotically induced past life regression is for many people highly therapeutic and, as you can imagine, quite fascinating.

Dr. Heather Rivera is a practicing past life researcher, author, and founder of the PLR Institute, an organization for advancing the study of past lives. In this interview, she talks about her own past life experiences, her related novels and non-fiction books, and the positive effects past life knowledge can have in people’s present lives.

Q: How did you first become interested in the idea of past lives?

Heather: I wasn't interested in past lives in my early adult life, but in 1997 I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I was devastated and desperate for relief. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and explored unconventional modalities through classes at the American Institute of Holistic Theology (AIHT). As I was exploring complementary caret to add to the traditional medicine I was prescribed, one of the books in the program was on hypnosis. It had a section on past life regression therapy.

I was intrigued but was skeptical and made an appointment with the intention of having an afternoon of entertainment, nothing more. I explained to the hypnotherapist that I didn't think I could be hypnotized.

Soon after, not only did find myself relaxed and in a deep state of hypnosis, but I was in another person’s body — a knight.

It was an immersive experience in which I could feel the armor on my body, the dampness in the air, and hunger in my belly. I was able to have the knight’s thoughts and mine simultaneously. The experience was life changing for me. I had my first spiritual experience. I received physical healing and I shifted my journey to understand the power of past life therapy.

Q: Can you talk about what you have found out about your own past lives? Have you been able to verify any of the information historically?

Heather: After my knight experience I began having doubts as to whether the memory was a true past life or merely my imagination. I searched for proof that he had once lived. This seems to be a common reaction for those that have a past life memory. But then I remembered that I had tangible benefits from the experience and came to the conclusion that it didn't matter if it was real or imagined because I found healing.

Occasionally, I will search the internet for some proof on other’s past life reports, but it’s more out of curiosity, not a need to know. I remember fifteen different past lives. Most of them were mundane lives, except for my first experience as a knight.

Q: You and your husband founded an institute for past life research. What are its purpose and goals?

Heather: Past life therapy was the first of all the complementary therapies I tried that had a profound healing effect on me, and this made me very curious. I wanted to know if others experienced similar benefits. I read many books and articles about past life therapy, but found few statistics and studies on the benefits of past life research (PLR).

I did find more studies done to validate whether reincarnation was real (Ian Stevenson, Jim Tucker, Peter Ramster, Paul Von Ward, and Helen Wambach). However, my focus was not on whether reincarnation was real, but whether remembering a past life (imagined or not) would have benefits in the current life.

I trained under Dr. Brian Weiss at the Omega Institute and spoke to him about my idea for my doctoral dissertation. He said the idea was “ripe.” We launched a self-reporting retrospective internet survey that contained twenty-five declarative statements that a person who states they had a past life memory would rate.

To date we have collected 302 surveys from around the world, from respondents of all ages and cultural upbringings. We published the findings of the study which is now called Study 1. It is an ongoing study.

Since then, my husband, who is a physicist, and I founded PLR Institute to advance scientific research into past life and related therapies. We currently have two ongoing studies. We answer questions, speak and host conferences and retreats with researchers and therapists to discuss science and past lives. Our all-volunteer board consists of me, Mark Rivera MS Physics, Donna Kannard, PhD Clinical Hypnotherapy, Charles Gustafson, MFT, Valerie Vinar, MFT, PhD and Rev. Conneta Johnson. Our mission statement is on our page, but here is the last paragraph about our intent to collect data and report:

"At the PLR Institute we believe that a good starting point for past life research is to follow some historical scientific precedents in areas that once shared the same ground. Let us begin by simply making cautious observations, careful data collection and measurements, and refrain from overextended interpretations and theories. Once plenty of consistent and repeatable data are present, then more scientists may become confident that a real unexplained phenomenon is occurring. We and others can then begin to look for patterns that might point toward further experimental investigations and/or begin to suggest plausible theories for its occurrence."

Q: You have a Ph.D. in Parapsychic Science. What is Parapsychic Science?

Heather: I am a Registered Nurse with a Juris Doctor degree. I began taking classes at AIHT to help in my own healing and spiritual path. Parapsychic Science is the discipline I chose. AIHT’s programs are interfaith, inter-spiritual, integral perspective bridges the gaps between religions, faith, and spiritual paths. The classes that were offered resonated with my own needs (Buddhism, Kaballah, hypnotherapy, pendulum, channeling, juicing, and nutrition). At the time, my classes fed my personal need.

I had no idea that it would launch me on this past life journey.

Q: You’ve written a fiction novel, Quiet Water, about past lives. How did that come about? Is it based on your own experiences?

Heather: After I graduated from AIHT I founded the PLR Institute. Our affiliates continue to study past life therapy and host retreats. My day to day life was filled with collecting and analyzing data, reading over respondents’ past life experiences and fielding questions.

Although I found healing and my passion — past life work — something was missing. My creative side was pushed down and buried deep. I needed an outlet.

Just as I had the thought to find something artsy to do, a post for a creative writing class popped up in my email. I registered immediately. In the class, Dr. Marjorie Miles leads a guided meditation, and from this relaxed state we tap into our muse and free write. At first I was nervous and intimidated. I’ve only written nonfiction up to this point. I had articles published in magazines about living with chronic illness and my first book, Healing the Present from the Past, was based on my healing journey and the results of my past life study. But Dr. Miles has a gift of making everyone feel comfortable, and soon I was writing and exploring the vast world of fiction. My goal only was to have an outlet, not necessarily to write a novel. However, my muse had other plans.

A few months into Dr. Miles’ class, I woke up early up around five a.m. with an entire past life story downloading into my head. I was so excited that even before a first cup of morning coffee I told the story to my husband, who loved it. Though I had an interesting story, I didn’t have a feel for the protagonist and I still didn’t have plans to write a book about it.

The following week in Dr. Miles’ class, just as usual she started with a guided meditation. When I relaxed into meditation I saw an image of a woman sitting on a curb. This woman started talking to me. She said her name was Tess Whitaker and she just moved to the apartment she was sitting in front of. I was surprised by what I was being shown, but I told myself to just allow the images and words to come. I wrote quickly what she related to me and then over the next six months she spoke to me daily, telling me her story. Some days I could not type fast enough. Quiet Water was born.

I finished the book and it was published in September, 2013. I thought I was done with this project. One afternoon, as I was taking the dogs for a walk around the neighborhood, Tess started talking again, “Well don’t you want to know what happens next?” she said. For the rest of the walk she told me the beginning of the second book of what is now part of the Golden Raven Series. Book Two is called Maiden Flight and will be released late2014. I am currently working on Book Three, Pocket of Thyme. I think that the story will be complete after this one. But I guess Tess will tell me if I’m mistaken.

Part of the Golden Raven Series comes from my own past life experiences and dreams and part of it is my imagination or from something deep inside my core.

Q: In your opinion, what is the most compelling evidence for past lives?

Heather: In my opinion the most compelling evidence of past lives comes from the work of Ian Stevenson and Jim Tucker at the University of Virginia. Jim Tucker MD continues Ian Stevenson’s work on researching the spontaneous memories of past lives of children. In their research, children recount facts and identify people of previous families and situations that they could not have known from the current life.

Peter Ramster’s work with Gwen Mc Donald and others is also quite compelling. In Ramster’s work, several subjects recall very specific facts that are only later corroborated once they travel to the country where their past lives were lived.

Q: Have we all had past lives?

Heather: We don’t know. It is reasonable to assume that there is such a thing as a first life and then those would not have had a past life.

 It appears from the surveys we have received that many report multiple past lives. Most report between one and ten lives that they remember. The survey requests that those that remember a past life to report about their experience.

Q: There is a theory that trauma from a past life – both psychological and physical – can manifest in our present life. What are your thoughts on this?

Heather: It appears to be consistent with what survey respondents report. I had vocal issues (I whispered most days), but after remembering the past life as a knight where I was stabbed in the throat, the vocal issues resolved. I also lost my fear of heights after remembering a past life where I committed suicide by throwing myself over a cliff.

Some survey respondents report alleviation of asthmatic symptoms after remembering a past life where they drowned or died in a fire or reduction in migraine symptoms after remembering a head trauma in a past life. One reported a fear of crowds that was relieved after their past life experience. There are multiple reports that seem to suggest a correlation. In Ian Stevenson’s work, he shows that past life trauma can result in physical abnormalities in the next life.

Q: For the most part, mainstream science and psychology do not take the ideas of reincarnation and past lives seriously. Do you see any hope of this changing in the future?

Heather: The only hope that it would become mainstream is if a testable model is developed to explain the mechanism of how consciousness and/or memories could survive physical death. I do hope that this will change with continued research into this field as well as consciousness research. With PLR Institute’s research and the other pioneers and researchers in this field methodically studying, reporting, and educating, it is our hope that PLR will reach a “critical mass” and become more widely acknowledged as a valid endeavor.

Self-proclaimed skeptic Carl Sagan wrote in his book :

“At the time of writing there are three claims in the ESP field which, in my opinion, deserve serious study: (1) that by thought alone humans can (barely) affect random number generators in computers; (2) that people under mild sensory deprivation can receive thoughts or images ‘projected’ at them; and (3) that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any way other than reincarnation. I pick these claims not because I think they're likely to be valid (I don't), but as examples of contentions that might be true.”