Earlier in the week I wrote a mini piece about mistaken identity. I posed the question, “Are we snowflakes or could there be another person like us, different versions but much like us? Setting aside the idea of parallel lives for now, I want to look at another belief about how we live and die. The belief I am referring to is reincarnation. We’ll look at some interesting statistics and I’ll tell you an odd story, one I simply can’t explain.
All major religions accept the concept of multiple lives except Christianity and Islam in general. If this is your belief, then you dwell with the erudite, as Pythagoras, Plato and Socrates all believed in reincarnation. Broadly, some 20% of people in the U.S., about 1/3 of Russia and 22% of Europe overall are believers. There are some fascinating peaks and troughs with former East Germany polling at 12%, and Lithuania peaking at 44%. Obviously, there are countries where the predominant belief is in reincarnation. I’ve selected statistics from Europe and North America to illustrate a growing interest.
I will state at the outset that it is a subject I find intriguing and it’s as believable as anything else to me. Personally, the challenge of living one life well is substantial and that is my focus. It wasn’t always so, though. I did once explore many different belief systems and lifestyles, being something of a free spirit and exceedingly inquisitive. I read books on all these subjects, discussed religion with people from different faiths and ultimately was not persuaded to accept one alone. My problem is, they are all equal to me, each valid for the individual and none more important than another in my view.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I want to tell you a little story. Get a cup of tea and make yourself comfortable. When I was in my early 20’s I was having some very vivid dreams but often forgot them by morning. Someone suggested I keep a pad of paper and a pen next to my bed so that I could write them down. I did that for many weeks with dreams noted and nothing out of the ordinary. Then, one memorable night, I had a really distinctive dream, not just realistic but something more. Everything about it felt different than my usual dreams, there were the sensations of a real event taking place but played out in my head, that’s what it felt like. In this dream an old man was sitting next to me. He was a standard old man who I didn’t recognise, reasonably tall from what I could see, grey/silver hair and a nice old mannish sort of face. I was lying stretched out on a low bed and in the way of dreams, I understood he was regressing me. I felt very relaxed. For the puzzled, some believe it is possible to regress someone using hypnosis so that they may remember past lives. Time has dulled this memory a bit, but from what I can remember, he told me I had been someone called Henry. I asked him who he (Henry) was and what he did, and the old man told me his surname was Wallace and said he was a writer. He also told me to “look him up”, as there was “more for me there”. I actually did remember the dream in the morning and I verified that I was not imagining it, but there it was on the pad of paper. Before I go any further, obviously I know that just because I dreamt something and wrote it down, does not necessarily make it “real.” Also, as far as I was aware, I had never heard that name before, nor read it in a book, heard it spoken, on the radio, or watched it on television. The next step was the library.
At my local library I found nothing and was prepared to give up and accept it as an interesting anomaly. One day though, I had reason to be in the big library downtown and I looked Henry Wallace up, one last time. I was fairly surprised to discover that he existed; in fact there were three of them. The Henry that I was to focus on was Henry Senior and lived between 1836-1916. He was an American, the son of Jim Wallace, an Irish-Scottish farmer. Like his father, he was also a farmer and a very keen advocate for the agricultural community. He founded a paper called “Wallace’s Farmer,” of which his son Henry Cantwell Wallace took over, and his grandson, Henry Agard Wallace, had much to do with. Additionally, Henry Senior was a Presbyterian Minister. In terms of his legacy, his grandson went on to be a very memorable, some might say notorious, vice president of the U.S. for a term. One political colleague commented about him that he was, “a person answering calls the rest of us don’t hear…he dabbled in idealologies ranging from Catholicism to Zoroastrianism” – and they found him, “a bit unsettling.” The apple did not fall far from the big tree. It was said of Henry Senior, “He had a great brain, and he knew how to use it…when he had anything to do, he did not plow the surface; he subsoiled, and went down into the very depths of things, whether it was theology, or farming, or whatever he had to do with…”
When I had this dream, I did not have the benefit of a computer. Last night I spent some time leafing through online books written by “Uncle Henry,” as he was known in the farming communities in Iowa and elsewhere. He wrote a lot, in fact three generations of Wallace’s wrote. He wrote some books in volumes titled, “Uncle Henry’s Own Story,” for his grandchildren about life in his time, attitudes, etc. His grandson, Henry Agard Wallace was hugely influenced by him, more so even than by his parents. What influence has he or this dream had on me though? As I stated earlier, one life is quite enough to be focusing on. I believe that with or without a belief in reincarnation, that which we sow we ultimately reap. Our lives are largely what we make them and my beliefs are as broad as they come.
I’ve never had another dream like that one. I thought about reincarnation again when I went to Skye. How to explain a place that felt like home in the very deepest sense, familiar and belonging to me – yet a place I had never been before. I’ve had the same feeling with some people I’ve met. Long before I could claim knowledge of them, there was a feeling of familiarity and a meaningful dynamic being played out, almost before we began.
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.”
Who can say with any certainty what ‘one man’s time’ is, or all of the parts he may play?
Whatever you believe, whether it be in this one life, a ‘better’ life or in many lives; we are together in our humanity. Uncle Henry expressed the human condition quite well.
“You are enjoying luxuries which kings and queens, with all their wealth and power, could not possibly have secured two hundred years ago. But I wish you to realize also that with all their disadvantages, people were just about as happy in those early days as you are now or ever will be; that neither education nor wealth nor improvements nor comforts nor conveniences can change to any great extent the fundamental problems of existence…(You may think I am sermonizing. So I am; I rather like it.)” It may be that we will never have conclusive proof of the nature of our existence and this could be our fundamental problem. It isn’t a problem for me, nor was it for Henry Wallace, “This is a great world we live in, and a mighty interesting one to any man, old or young, who is in touch with it’s every day life.” One life is more than enough for me.
“All the world’s a stage…” - William Shakespeare, “As You Like It.
Additional information and quotes from Wikipedia, and “Uncle Henry’s Own Story,” Wallace Publishing, Des Moines, Iowa, 1910.
© S. Marian, June 19, 2012