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Traditionally reincarnation is an unproved religious belief that something eternal within a person gets transferred after death to a new body and so goes on to live another life. While the jury is out with no evidence on this specific idea, we do experience one form of reincarnation - an inverted form, best captured by a question:

When a person changes their mind, do they become a different person?

The answer is not so straightforward. Certainly such a person remains in the same body, and in that physical way they are certainly the same person, but is a person defined more by the fact that they have a body and exist nowhere other than that body, or by the mind that exists as the conscious operating system of that body?

Getting a haircut is technically an alteration of one’s body. Does this mean that someone is a different person after a haircut? The question seems superficial only because the answer seems as though it’s a ‘no’, but technically speaking, the person is different, albeit just a little bit.

If someone changes their opinion of mayonnaise, do they become a different person? No not really, but technically, yes, a little bit.

These quaint examples bring up the issue of degree. How much needs to change in order to claim that someone is different? People undergo religious conversions, or lose religion all together, escape cults, painfully sever ties with family, and most importantly, learn vastly more than they once knew years ago. It’s likely that most people can look back at a younger self and feel as though they’ve grown and changed since that time. So where are the break points? Perhaps the shifts are slow or perhaps they can be clearly demarcated by specific points and events, but the more important point is that it happens at all. And all the while, the body persists.

The religious version of reincarnation has it backwards. During life we have the potential to reincarnate and live many lives, if only we nurture the ability to change our mind. A new idea can intoxicate and command a mind, and in so doing, a person can become quite different. Certainly much of the mind persists with the body but both can transform radically. Just as the overweight person can transform into a body builder, the violent religious fundamentalist can become a kind and loving person. This is not to say that it’s likely but only to examine that it is possible.

However, even with a radical transformation of the body, this sort of thing also requires a transformation of the mind. It’s a fair argument to say that the mind of an overweight person is different before and after the decision to commit to a very different way of living. The radical change of the body, in this case, is merely a reflection of a radically different mind.

We speak of mental breakdowns and depressions, hitting rock bottom and looking for a way out, but what if these are more like signs of the life cycle of the mind’s current state? All such mental experiences yearn for some kind of change. For things to get better, to make sense in a new way - some improvement is sought after. Suicide is the most extreme expression of a desire for such a change. The logic is brutally straightforward. A person wants something different, and at core what’s needed is a different state of mind, or a new mind altogether. Often people circling such a dark exit try to escape through all manner of intoxication. Of course it’s not the world such people are trying to escape, but themselves, and not their body so much as it’s their mind they are trying to get away from. The suicidal option, unfortunately, fails to take seriously the fact that the mind can undergo dramatic change, that it can almost literally kill itself off while the body sustains the mind’s reincarnation. It’s little surprise that so many people gravitate to the myth of the Phoenix or that the story was created in the first place. We all yearn for transformation into a greater more able version of the person we find ourselves to be, and nothing exemplifies this kind of adventure more than the underdog who has risen from a dark situation.

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Podcast Ep. 1054: Reincarnation

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