“Imagine your feet growing six inches longer”.
I was lying on the floor in my living room covered in a blanket. The lights were off and a woman I hardly knew was giving me instructions for something called the Christos Experiment. I first heard about this from Gary, an academic colleague at the Open University. He had attended a conference at Dartington and had been deeply impressed by watching other people complete the exercise. He had copied down the instructions meticulously and wanted to explore the process with me. His enthusiasm was contagious and my girlfriend, Linda, and I decided that we would like to try it out. However the state of our relationship was such that there was no way we could guide each other in such a process. So Linda suggested we invite Eva, a woman she had met a couple of times before, to join us. Eva was to be my guide and Gary would guide Linda; the roles would then reverse with me guiding Eva and Linda guiding Gary.
I volunteered to go first – and was already running into difficulties. When I put my attention on my feet they were exactly the same length as they always had been – they did not feel six inches longer. And I couldn’t imagine how they ever could feel longer. I was supposed to say “OK” once I had complied with each instruction – but since I failed to comply I was silent.
Eva was a practising psychotherapist and had considerable experience dealing with people’s resistances to therapeutic processes. Although this was not a therapy process, her skills were now required – and put to effective use. She gently suggested that I relax and “try to imagine that your feet are growing longer”. OK so my imagination was required – but that still failed to give me a sense that my feet were any longer. They remained stubbornly the same at ten and a half inches!
Eva tried a few more variations on the instructions, with no more success than before. But her gentle persistence was getting to me. I did not feel judged by her, even though it felt to me as if I was failing at the first hurdle.
She changed tack and said, “put your attention on your feet. Become aware of how long your feet are. Now gently stretch your feet a little. As you do so feel them getting a little longer – maybe a half an inch longer. Now imagine that stretch continuing a bit further.” She paused. “OK” I said – for the first time.
“Now imagine that stretch continuing further until your feet have extended by about an inch”
It was important that she left the instruction vague. I was trained as a physicist and anything precise put me back into scientist mode – which was clearly not going to help here. By starting with a real stretch of my feet – caused by flexing the muscles – I was able to extrapolate the sensation and imagine my feet getting longer. “OK” I said for the second time.
“Now imagine them continuing to grow until they are about three inches longer”
“Now imagine them stretching, and stretching … until they are six inches longer”
It had taken about 30 minutes to get to this point of complying with the first instruction. But now it felt real – I wasn’t pretending to imagine my feet growing – they really felt longer. The next instruction was for me to imagine my head growing longer by six inches. But Eva didn’t go straight there. She repeated the incremental process with my head extension and after another few minutes I was able to say “OK” to my head being six inches longer. By now I was in a state that I had not experienced before. My attention was focussed on my body, I was very relaxed and comfortable and open to being guided into something new. As a result I was able to comply quite quickly with the next sequence of instructions. These involved imagining my body expanding like a balloon until I felt as if I could float up into the air. I then imagined that I was floating up onto the roof of my house. At this point Eva asked me to describe what I could see. To my amazement I could “see” the surroundings around the house. I had a bird’s eye view of my garden, my neighbour’s house and the church and churchyard across the road.
Looking back on this experience I can see it was something of a turning point. The view from my roof was not new to me, I had recently reroofed the main part of the house; so I knew what to expect. But what was surprising was that I could visualise it so clearly whilst lying on the floor in a darkened room. I think this was the point at which I let go sufficiently for the process to really work for me.
The next sequence of instructions involved floating up into the sky and imagining alternating between a daytime sky and then a night sky three times. Following this I gently floated back down to earth and was instructed to look at my feet and describe what I saw.
“I see a young man’s legs and some strange looking sort of shoes. They look quite old fashioned, like a few hundred years old, but in good condition.”
The Christos Experiment was devised to enable people to experience past lives, and it was the success in achieving this that had so excited Gary, and persuaded us all to explore the process. And here I was looking at feet that seemed to be quite different from those that had stubbornly refused to elongate earlier. And they really did appear to be from a previous era. What struck me most at the time was how vividly I could see the image. I was not having to imagine it at all. Rather it was like watching a movie. I was entranced and amazed.
“Now describe where you are and what you see”
“I am in a wood. It isn’t very dense – it is summer. It is very beautiful with tall trees and grassy glades. I am looking for my dog Spot. He has run off and I am worried. We shouldn’t be here and I want to go – but not without him.”
“How old are you and what is your name?”
“I am about 15 or 16 years old. My name is Jacob. I know that I am in Shropshire. I live near here with my mother. I am in the woods poaching. I have caught something – and Spot has run off to catch something else. But I am worried we might be caught.”
I wasn’t inventing or imagining this. It was who I was at that moment. Whilst the images were as vivid as watching a film, the sense of being this teenage poacher was as real as my normal sense of myself – except it wasn’t my normal self.
The process now asked me to go back five years in my life and describe what was happening. This was repeated until I was too young to be able to describe the experience coherently. Then I was asked to go back to the starting point (being in the woods) and to then go forwards five years. The process continued going forward until the subject of the process went blank. This indicated that their life had ended sometime previously. So the instructor would take the person back to last time when the subject could describe an experience and go forward to a time close to when they died. The instructor then took the person right up to the point at which death occurred and helped the subject experience the process of dying – and of what happens after death. Finally the subject is asked to state what they learned from the previous life – and then what they have come into this life to learn. The whole process normally takes about an hour and a half. But I had taken half an hour to get started, so my session lasted about two hours – and this was without the last two questions, which Eva forgot to ask.
There were four very vivid scenes that I relived in the process and still remember vividly now, some 33 years later. The first was when I, as Jacob, was a young lad of about ten playing in a stone barn used to store hay and house animals. I was climbing on the rafters in the barn and in the process fell down to the ground. I fell on my left shoulder and experienced the pain of the fall very fully. It really hurt!
Another vivid scene from my childhood as Jacob was searching for my father. It wasn’t clear to me in the process whether he was temporarily missing, or whether he had left home and my searching was in vain. I remember looking in shops and a pub in the village. The strongest part of the memory was the sense of desperation looking for him and not finding him.
The third very vivid scene was close to my death. I was in a court accused of being as poacher. I was not really aware of what was happening, except that there was a great deal of talking that I did not understand until the judge put on a black hat and sentenced me to be hanged. As Jacob I was simply astounded that I was going to be hung for stealing a couple of rabbits. I couldn’t quite believe it and was shaking my head in disbelief as I was led out of court. This scene quite quickly merged into the scene of being hung. As I write this I can still feel the sensation of the rope around my neck and the way that my neck broke and my head lolled to one side.
The final scene that struck me very powerfully was the after death experience. It was blissful. I loved the state and did not want it to end. When I saw the bright light I was torn between wanting to stay in bliss and wanting to embrace the light. Eventually I did move into the light and this marked the end point of the process, so Eva had me slowly come back into the room and open my eyes.
As I came back into the room and sat up what struck me immediately was the very sharp pain in my left shoulder. It was really painful even though I was now talking to Gary, Linda and Eva with the lights on. The pain was a residue from the scene where I played in the barn and fell from the rafters. But right now it was not an imaginary pain – it was as real as if I had actually fallen from the rafter s earlier in the day. The pain persisted in my shoulder for the next three weeks, only slowly diminishing.
Gary was delighted that the process had worked so well for me and we discussed the process and what had happened to me for the next hour or so. I remember being amazed by how real the experience of being Jacob had seemed – even though I was also able to hear instructions and describe what was happening to me to Eva. We had agreed that we would only have one session per evening, so we set up the dates for the evening when the others would experience the process. They were all as successful as mine, though I was the only one to have starting difficulties. What happened when I guided Eva is described by her in the next section.
For a couple of years prior to this experience my personal life had been a disaster and I knew I had to make changes if I was to ever be genuinely happy. I was divorced from my wife, had an awful on/off relationship with Linda and had resigned as head of a successful research group due to my failure to manage relationships with the students and staff. As far as the external world was concerned I was a success; I was made a professor by the age of 34, I regularly appeared on TV and at public debates discussing energy policy issues, I had founded and run one of the more successful research units at the Open University and had written a bestselling Penguin book as well as dozens of teaching texts. But internally I felt awful and had recognised that no amount of external success or affairs with attractive women would resolve the issue.
About three months after the Christos Experiment I remember lying on my bed recognising that I really wanted to make a change in myself – but not knowing how to even begin to do so. As I reflected on the issue I thought that I could start by taking one step and just see what that lead to. An obvious step I could take would be to change my appearance. I reasoned that this would at least persuade my friends that I was serious about wanting to make changes. At the time I had very long hennaed hair, a full beard and always wore denim; I was an archetypal hippy. So I resolved cut my hair, shave my beard off and wear anything but denim. And I did it right then. There were a couple of other people in the house who helped with cutting my hair and finding some different clothes.
The transformation was striking. I had had a beard and long hair for at least ten years – so it was strange looking at this new person in the mirror. That day Linda was running a massage tent at an alternative festival. Wanting to share my process with her I went to the festival and walked into the tent where she was giving massages.
“Do you want a massage?” she asked. “Yes please” I replied. “Sit over there, I will be with you in about ten minutes” she said.
As I sat in the chair I noticed that she kept looking at me with a puzzled expression on her face. When she had finished the massage she came over to me. I stood up. She stood right in front of me and looking into my eyes said in a puzzled way “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” I laughed out loud, and as I did so she realised who I was – punched me for having deceived her. We had been together for five years and yet without my hair, beard and denims I was unrecognisable. I was encouraged that my first move toward changing had been so effective.
But of course changing one’s appearance is not the same as changing anything internally and once the novelty had worn off I found myself back with all the same feelings and problems. I felt stuck once more. Over the next few days I developed a pain in my left arm and shoulder that became progressively worse. I could not understand it and resolved to visit my osteopath, Michael van Stratten, who had helped me with a range of physical issues over the last year or so. I phoned his practice and asked the receptionist whether I could make an appointment. The receptionist explained that Michael was on holiday but that he had a locum who would be able to see me and that his name was Jodi Jacob.
As the receptionist said Jacob my mind was taken back to the Christos experience. The name on my birth certificate and passport was Peter; in the Christos experiment I was Jacob. I realised that the next step in my change process was to change my name from Peter to Jacob. As I had this thought the pain in my left arm and shoulder vanished. I was stunned. I thanked the receptionist and said I would get back to her later. I put the phone down and let it sink in. I could not deny the response in my body. A condition painful enough for me to seek assistance had vanished as soon as I had the thought that I should change my name to Jacob. Well it was worth a try and seemed an appropriate next step to take.
So I asked my friends and colleagues to start calling me Jacob. This was not quite as outlandish then as it might appear. Quite a number of people involved in the world of personal growth and spirituality had changed their names as a result of becoming involved with a guru, the most popular being Bagwhan Shree Rajneesh. So they complied – except that quite quickly people told me that Jacob was too old and formal – and that really I should be called Jake. This has become the name by which almost everyone now knows me. I have not had my legal name changed from Peter, so every now and then I have to explain to someone who knows me as Jake that if I have to sign a contract, or if they want to give me a cheque, then my ‘real’ name is Peter. Reflecting on this now I know that I have kept the name Peter because I do not want to deny or negate the person that I was for the first 34 years of my life. Nor do I want to be as he used to be; I am happy being Jake as the rest of the accounts in this collection make clear.
The changes to my appearance and my name had a number of effects that I had not anticipated. The first was that a number of my academic colleagues concluded that I had suffered some kind of mental breakdown. It took me some time to reassure them that this was not the case. For many it was not until I started producing more teaching texts and research papers that they were convinced I was not loopy.
For me personally the most amazing effect of changing my name was that it changed my relationship to the voices inside my head. Before you think that this is evidence of mental breakdown, let me explain what I mean. Each time I did something wrong there was voice inside me that commented along the lines of “that was a stupid thing to do Peter” or “you are so stupid Peter”. I had become so inured to this internal critic that I believed the critique, and this was contributing quite powerfully to my internal sense of worthlessness. But now I had changed my name to Jake. So when the voice came in with “you fool Peter, when will you ever learn?” I would now recognise it as inappropriate and not right – I gained a measure of freedom from that internal critic.
I have obviously reflected on these experiences many times and discussed them with Eva and friends. Did I really experience a past life in the Christos Experiment? If I did not how else could I account for the experiences, both during and after the Experiment? As other stories in this collection will make clear, since that time I have come to understand a great deal more about both my childhood and my unconscious and the powerful ways in which my life was shaped by both. Another possible explanation of the experiences that I had during the Experiment was that aspects of my childhood were being processed in a dreamlike fashion.
One strong feature of my childhood were that my father was hardly in my life at all. He was stationed overseas as a serving soldier for most of the first three years of my life, divorced my mother when I was three and saw me perhaps a half dozen times between then and when I went to University. Another feature was that my mother was often violent to me. As well as being regularly hit around the head, she would also shake me violently if I really annoyed her. I have remembered one time when she put her hands around my throat and shook me until I passed out. Could these childhood experiences account for the vivid scenes of searching for my father and being hung? Or were these aspects of my life now somehow created to help me resolve the traumas from that past life? I have long decided that I have no way of choosing between these explanations – and have occasionally been able to see that they may both be valid.
What is clear to me is that the Christos Experiment marked a real turning point in my life. It was the first time that I had experienced anything so ‘irrational’ i.e. outside the realm of what is regarded as conventionally rational. It really marked the beginning of my inner journey and the genuine transformation of who I was in the world. It has also always struck me as appropriate and incredible that the first person to meet Jake was Eva.