Is there a past life level to a Complex? The ongoing debate on the subject tends to polarize opinions into two opposing camps. Most popular with traditional schools of psychology is the view that so-called past life memories are just some manifestation of subconscious processes where Freudian symbolism meets with Jungian archetypes. The often cliched excesses of reincarnationalism insist on the literal view of past life recall. I propose that neither is true and (in a paradoxical way) both are true simultaneously. It is not a matter of either one or the other theory being correct. For outside either of these two camps is the growing number of psychologists amassing considerable evidence that, in the way the deep subconscious is organized, both the archetypal level and the literal experience can and do co-exist.
Jungian analyst Roger Woolger developed a model that places the karmic or past life complex midway between an archetype, which has no personal memory trace, and a complex that derives from personal experience in this life. Woolger’s term, karmic complex, is simply a modern Western term for the ancient concept of samskara in Eastern psychology (referring to that which has been wrought, cultivated, brought to form or, in the case of an individual personality with its characteristic adornments, scars, and quirks, that which has been in the process of concoction for lifetimes). According to Woolger this karmic complex “offers the missing keystone in the overarching bridge between Eastern and Western psychologies.”
A complex can be viewed as a type of web or knot, with the various strands/threads being composed of biographical material, archetypal contents, somatic expressions, past life levels, and perinatal components along with the current life condition. Following any thread can lead to the complex. For example, it does not matter whether one starts with the biographical, archetypal, or past life level. Any one strand can reverberate across the web and bring to conscious awareness other components in the complex. Therefore the debate to determine whether such contents are either archetypal or literal past life memories misses the point. They are often both archetypal and literal memories at the same time. Or to follow the above image… two of the strands/threads create the web/knot in the same complex.
The above model also fits the emerging worldview that corresponds with quantum physics- that the psyche is arranged in a non-linear, more holographic way. The linear cause and effect models in Western psychotherapy, which echoed Newtonian physics, assumed causality for personality starting in childhood which was structured in a linear arrangement in the subconscious. (ie. the further back in linear time, the more difficult for the conscious mind to access) The Western bias toward materialism also accepted only physical, genetic inheritance of temperament. What research in past life therapy is revealing is that there may also be a type of non-physical soul, or psychic inheritance from our own past life history, which swirls together with archetypal material and a person’s current biography to blend into the unique personality of a given individual.
Throughout his lifetime Jung explored both Western and Eastern sources in his quest for understanding. He observed that there is a part of the psyche not subject to the laws of space and time, echoing what quantum physics is now revealing. Jung had the courage to experiment with many tools and to do so without prejudice. I think the time has arrived for those familiar with Jungian psychology to follow his example and suspend any preconceived biases long enough to explore the possibility that there may indeed be a past life component to any complex.