S.M. Park’s continuing column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “Deck Hand,” Park examines reincarnation and astrology.
For someone who considers himself a skeptic I’ve always had a strong interest in reincarnation and astrology. The former makes no sense mathematically, of course, and seems an absurd thing to imagine for a world of risen apes, but then I read an article or watch a documentary about past lives and can’t look away. It’s one of the things that attracted me to Scientology in the first place, not just my own incarnations but Hubbard’s attitude about them in general, i.e. the main reason you don’t remember who you were before is you just don’t care. That was then and this is now, and when you glimpse a past life you’ll have little emotional attachment to it.
Which is ironic, given his advice on separating actual incidents from imagined ones:
“It’s like remembering what you ate for breakfast that morning,” he wrote. “What you see is that real to you.”
That was definitely true of my glimpse. I was working as a lackey in a fireplace warehouse at the time, so could barely afford to feed myself, much less pay for “auditing,” but as a Scientology student I’d trained to co-audit with another classmate.
Which meant using an e-meter, which was essentially a lie detector with a gauge. My partner didn’t go any farther than her chair under my tutelage (as we weren’t expected to do in those early audits), but when our roles were reversed, and she was coaxing me through an incident, I suddenly saw myself as a dead pirate on the bottom of the ocean. My body was floating out of the wreckage (along with those of slaughtered shipmates) even as my spirit ascended above it.
The only thing missing was a bottle of rum. I can also say, as someone who spends a lot of time in his own imagination, that the memory was as real and vivid as what I had for breakfast that morning. And it remains so today. In the meanwhile I’ve stored it with the Maharishi’s claiming he knew me in past lives, or the wife of the A.A. guy in Longview swearing I was the reincarnation of Thomas Wolfe. (A bit of a downgrade from the pirate, given his penchant for overwriting.)
None of us—whatever the reason, be it genes, birth moment or luck of the draw—comes into the world naked. We’ve all got wiring.
It reminds me of Albert Brooks in Defending Your Life, one of my all-time favorite films, when following his death, he and the Meryl Streep character go to the Hall of Past Lives. In hers she’s been Joan of Arc, Florence Nightingale, etc., while Brooks is a pitiful schlep whose been mauled by predators for centuries. It’s funny but again, evolution is the point.
As a kid I read the bible cover to cover and attended a series of churches on the off chance there was something to this Jesus-As-Overseer bit. If so, I wanted to cover my bases. (I grew up with the conviction I was preparing myself for some great, unnamed challenge: little did I know it was alcoholism.) It’s no different with karma. Like The Golden Rule, what do you have to lose by believing in it? I may have lived as a fringe character, for instance, but I never made a wife and kids part of it, and I can’t think of anyone in my adult life who’d accuse me of treating them unfairly. Seriously. Not because I’m a saint, but because enemies—like guilt—are too much trouble. (Particularly when you’re a pot grower.) I’m interested in what works.
Spoken like a true Aries. I trace my interest in astrology to the Spring of 1969, when I was living in a “commune” in Corrolitos, California. I use the word loosely because it was three hippie couples and me living in a rural shack with a garden. (I read recently that there were ten million communes in America in 1969; if so they were as loosely defined as that place). My cohorts were ex-Cal Berkeley students who were infatuated with drugs and themselves, while I’d just been released from my first mental ward. I had no money and nowhere to go so my old friend Carl Sampson (in concert with his girlfriend Elsa) invited me to join their communal living experiment.
I was grateful … I badly needed a place to heal. Mostly I sat in corners or took day-long walks (dressed in my mental ward khakis outfit) while the rest of them did drugs and runted. (Sampson was so carnally vocal that Mexican kids would gather at the front gate and giggle.) The trick for me was the whole “day at a time” bit, trying to stay free of drugs and alcohol while ignoring how bleak my future looked without them. This meant a lot of reading and after going through the dozen Reader’s Digest Condensed books I found in a shack out back I was left with a paperback of Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs. (“How to Really Know Your Husband, Wife, Lover, Child, Boss Through Astrology.”)
I picked it up as a joke, but that was quickly tempered by the description of a male Aries: Intense, impatient, risk taking, loyal and generous to a fault, quick to anger, holier-than-thou … the more I read the more it seemed like a calling card. So I turned to the signs of family and friends whose birthdays I knew and their descriptions were uncannily accurate, too. I was shocked. Was I on to something here? Was it possible human beings were that predictable? Imagine the time and trouble that’d save me.
And it has, though less in terms of my own aspects than that of my girlfriends: from that moment forward I always researched a prospective mate’s sun sign before beginning a relationship. It’s easy to say now that it worked—given that I belonged alone in the first place—but it could be as simple as knowing that if you insult a Cancer she’ll take it to her grave. Or that everyone wants to fuck Scorpios, so those guys eyeing the one on your arm are only doing what they’re supposed to. (You might want to worry if they aren’t.) Or, on a more personal note, if you were Hitler in your last life you’ll come back as an Aquarian woman. I grew up with three brothers and a jock mom who, even at a hundred, still watches Forty Niner games for laughs. This meant I went into the battle of the sexes weaponless, and I can’t remember when knowing a woman’s astrological profile (like believing in karma) let me down.
Even as most males I’ve known scoff at the very notion. Much of that is their reluctance to think, but there’s also the “captain of my own ship” element, that defensiveness about anything threatening your free will. I’ve certainly struggled with it myself over the years, but the secret (as it is with so many things) was simply outliving it, i.e. I’m too old to give a shit now. If you’ve paid attention over the decades, that should be your geriatric payoff.
In the meanwhile I have a trick I use whenever I get too full of myself. I left a girlfriend behind when I moved to Portland in 1987, and she gave me a natal chart as a going away present. When I finally unwrapped it I was disappointed to see it was a cheap computer printout. Maybe she was happy to see me go after all … she could at least have paid for a personalized version. How accurate would a clunky computer program be?
Then I read it. It’s hard to convey what an unnerving experience that was. Everything I held dear, all the parts of me I considered unique and special and, most importantly, hard won, were reduced to print. You’re an all-or-nothing gambler willing to take risks. You are philosophically minded and outspoken about your beliefs. You are likely addicted to drugs or alcohol or both. Stinginess and pettiness incense you. Integrity and passion are your Gods. You have great faith in life and bounce back quickly from disappointment and failure. It went on and on but the best part was the sucker punch, the line that repeated itself at the end of most paragraphs: But none of this really matters, because for a guy like you, the grass will always be greener.
That was so true I made it the title of my second memoir. And that brittle, tea stained, ash smeared, thirty-year-old chart? It’s never further than a drawer away. Because whenever my cup runneth over, or I’m disappointed by something a friend has done, I draw it out to remind myself that none of us—whatever the reason, be it genes, birth moment or luck of the draw—comes into the world naked. We’ve all got wiring.
And I want mine in one of those hot Scorpio chassis next time.