I will never forget the first day of my teacher training in September 1977. Fresh from Scranton, Pennsylvania where we had celebrated two hundred years of the American Revolution that summer, I was ready to learn. There were more than twenty of us in the seminar at the Goetheanum who enjoyed the privilege having two years in Dornach to deepen our understanding of Anthroposophy and Waldorf Education.
Our teacher, a very tall Norwegian, strode to the front of the classroom near the book store at the Goetheanum to initiate a four-week course on Rudolf Steiner’s book, Theosophy. In addition to the content of the book he would cover Tolstoy’s biography, introduce Astronomy and gave us simple exercises in human development.
After dividing up the chapters of the book for each seminarian to retell, Mr. Smit gave us a memory exercise the very first day. Why not? He challenged us to work backwards through our memory, year by year, and find our very first childhood memory. Typically, he told us it is voluntary whether or not we want to share our first memory with the rest of the seminar next week. Then his final words for the day surprised me: "If you make your way back to your first memory, you can continue in the same direction to your birth and all the way to your life before birth, and then to your last life on earth." I was shocked!
So after the lesson I went up to him and asked, "Excuse me, Mr. Smit, do you know who you were in your last life time?" He looked down at me, put his right hand on my shoulder and shrugged me off saying, "Of course I do."
That took the words out of my mouth. I think I thanked him and headed for the door. Not only stunned, but also very happy I immediately decided to figure it out for myself.
How did I work on my memory? It is the same process you used the last time you lost your car keys. You thought full speed in reverse, trying to remember where you last saw them. Then you recounted what you did. This is powerful work. You traveled rapidly backwards in time. You panicked and blocked your memory. Once you settled down to reflect, and remember, you released the power of your memory and tapped your coat pockets where you found them.
The memory exercise that started me on a karmic journey was clearly defined. We were to look for our first childhood memory around the age of three and share it with the class within a week. Lucky for me the sharing part was voluntary. I spent hours practicing every day. I continually reviewed my life backwards from my then present age of twenty-three to twenty-two and back year by year. This helped me figure out where I was each year: Switzerland, Germany, Cambridge, Whiteriver, Newport, Deerfield, Scranton and Desbarats, Ontario every summer. Then I looked at the important people in my life, year by year, all the way back to my sixth-grade teacher, my fifth-grade teacher, my fourth-grade teacher and so forth until the first grade when I broke my nose after slipping my foot into the spokes of my brother’s bike while riding to school on his handlebars. Hardtop. That’s the kind of thing you remember!
Then I focused on girlfriends, buddies, family members, landscapes, sports, swimming pools, canoe trips and food. Each day it got easier, the mental images started to flow. I could recall places and feel emotions from the good times and bad. I kept zeroing-in on my first memory, and it was tempting to get stuck in old photos and movies of me that I remembered. None of us are our old photos or movies. I kept up the homework.
One night I found my first childhood memory! I struggled to recall my first memory. The one I found was accurate for a kid growing up in the sixties in the states. But a Harvard man new to Switzerland does not exactly want to tell reveal his inner so I just kept it for myself and enjoyed everyone else sharing their memories. Hey, who cares and I was headed in the right direction!
I continued the exercise! It was fun, man. It became more and more real. To supplement it I studied world history and American history from 1953 to 1977 to see what was happening when I was a certain age. History became a good tool for karma research.
After sixteen months I could easily remember in detail and re-experience with full pain the entire trauma I had as a child and young man. This was uncomfortable but also a very good sign. It meant my visual memory was coming alive. I was untangling part of my psyche without paying an analyst $200 per visit as some do in Manhattan. Nor did I have to listen to her half-digested Freudian or Jungian interpretations.
How did I navigate the memories of my trauma? The enormous pain from events in my life reappeared in the new flow of memories. Yet the pain was different. It was not as acute as before and it was not as tormenting. It appeared and I could look at it. I discovered the trauma was living in my instincts so it came up whenever it wanted to. What triggered it was not always sure but now I could also bring it forth from the power of my Self. That was new and refreshing.
One day I asked my fellow seminarist from Scotland, Kenneth Frazer if we could work together on esoteric questions. He said he would ask Mr. Smit. The next day he said Jorgen agreed to meet a group of us once a month in the evening. His only condition was that one of us tells our biography each night he attends and that we work with "Knowledge of the Higher Worlds".
We invited everyone in our seminar and roughly eight joined us weekly. In addition to both suggestions by Mr. Smit, we included the Foundation-Stone Mediation. Yours truly received the honor of telling his biography at the first meeting with Mr. Smit. After that we become friends and I met Jorgen at regular intervals to share my research with him. He often laughed when I told him what was painful and our smiles filled the room so our bodies disappeared and we bathed in pure laughter, pure light. Later I realized that was a sign of our relationships in previous lifetimes. I felt this was not the first time he accompanied me along the way. He never told me what to do and never interpreted, but I could ask questions. And I did.
Of course I hit the wall once in awhile. In those difficult times I asked myself a simple question he taught me: "Is this experience meaningful or not meaningful?" The beauty of this question is that I learned not to moralize or judge myself and others unfairly. Good and bad things can be meaningful. And whatever was meaningless I just moved beyond.
Believe me after twenty years in America I had a lot of meaningless garbage in my memory. You see everything remains in our memory. As a big fan of the NFL I had tens of thousands of Ford and Marlboro advertisements roaming around my head. Not to mention thousands of murders, abusive scenes and war movies. Walter Cronkite and Erik Severeid were there from the Vietnam War days as well as my real-life meetings with Jimi Hendrix and Joe DiMaggio. Hell, I saw Mickey Mantle hit his 500th homerun in Yankee Stadium. That is the stuff I want to remember. Or skiing down steep slopes full speed in three feet of powder and hitting a jump!
Then I became enraged! I discovered so much garbage inside me that I decided to do something with these mental images, feelings, and insulting advertisements. I saw that my memory had a life of its own which played around with me because I had not worked through any effects of the images and sounds. You can only imagine how these media onslaughts affect children today!
So I studied philosophy and meditated to navigate into the future as well as the past.
My wife and I were expecting our first child and with that, I dedicated this work to empower my mind as a gift to my children. I wanted to be a good father. My motivation was clear and I was active!
My vision expanded and my memories became more intense while taught at the Rudolf Steiner School in Oslo. I reached the point of being able to step into the moment and then go behind the moment. I could see why I met the people I met and why they said what they said. This gave me no answers, but I noticed the threads of wisdom that wove in and out of my relationships. I taught hundreds of kids every day for sixteen years and they filled me with strength.
When the question continued; "What am I really here to do?" I would ask friends and they would support me. Then I noticed which books I picked up and most importantly, I realized what was meaningful for me. I pursued this question and discovered the connection with a person who I believe was. I was about 98% sure. I took the idea seriously and discovered similarities and disparities. When I discovered who I was it was no longer important. I was done with it. It was my past. And I much prefer skiing on a sunny day!
As Jorgen Smit often said, what really matters is who we are becoming. We all have secrets within our being. This is why we are unique, complicated and human.