The literature for past-life regression hypnosis warned me not to be disappointed to discover I was never Cleopatra or Amelia Earhart.
But when I entered Mary Jane Bricka's small office in Ypsilanti, complete with a mini waterfall and soothing music produced via iPod, I knew I was different. I was sure that I would magically recollect my past life as D.H. Lawrence or Sarah Bernhardt.
According to Bricka, the idea behind past-life regression is this: Time is a man-made concept, and your subconscious exists in a state of eternity that doesn't differentiate one lifetime from another. Through hypnosis, you can bypass your consciousness to delve into other lives you've lived.
Or something like that.
"We're here to experience many different things, to live many diverse lives," she told me, "so that you have a total understanding of the human experience."
It sounded odd, but I went in there with an open mind.
Bricka, the hypnotherapist at A Wakening Within, is a former Ann Arbor Public Schools science teacher and principal. She seemed pretty legitimate to me.
Bricka started doing hypnotherapy in January after being inspired by a book about using past-life regression to solve problems in a person's current life. She said most of her clients use past-life regression as a way to explain their current fears and phobias - for example, someone with a fear of flying might have lost a loved one in a plane crash in a previous life.
My biggest phobias are mice, hair in the bathtub, and having to touch the soggy scrambled eggs when washing out the pan. Since I didn't think any of these were major enough to warrant serious delving, I was there just for the experience of it.
Bricka had me lie on a "zero-gravity chair," the same kind of comfortable, reclining outdoor chair my mom has in her yard - but with a fancier name. Unlike in the movies, I was semi-conscious throughout the hypnosis.
It was more like the picture and volume on my imagination were turned way up, but I was still aware. No swinging pocket watch, no staring into a swirl. Just Bricka's voice, instructing me on how to relax.
She took me on a guided meditation that began on a beach and led me down a path through the woods, stopping at moments that occurred in my current life.
It was nice. I vividly remembered the first time my now 3-year-old son pulled himself up, the first warm day of spring when I cut school with friends my senior year of high school, a lemonade stand I had in the front yard of our house in New York when I was 5. I could see details I wouldn't otherwise remember because I was in such a deep state of relaxation.
Nothing weird about this. It's a pretty common guided meditation.
Bricka then had me cross a bridge and pass into a warm, purple light. And when I got to the other side, she said I would emerge in the memories of a former life.
The creepy thing was, I did. The crappy thing was, I definitely wasn't D.H. Lawrence. I was a young housewife with three sons and a philandering husband. I was cooking pancakes. I was desperately lonely.
I was much deeper in the hypnosis now, but still conscious. Strangely, when she asked me questions, I answered all of them in a voice that didn't feel like mine. I perfectly described the white kitchen where I was standing, the strawberries on the wallpaper, watching my three young sons play through the kitchen window. She gave me an audio recording of the session, and at one point I tell her I just burned my pancakes because I was distracted by talking to her.
I had a lovely memory of a summer day at the lake as a teenager - although that was marred by the fact that my father, who was also there that day, would die soon after. I remembered being a 6-year-old, lying in a bedroom in my family's farmhouse, unable to comfort my twin sister who was sick in the bed next to me.
When asked to go to another point in my past life, I was an elderly woman in a retirement home. I was sitting in my chair, watching TV, waiting for my children and their families to take me to dinner. And I was excited but indifferent, since I knew they would just drop me back off to my lonely existence after we were done eating at the Red Lobster.
Whether you believe in past lives or not, this was about as real as it gets. It wasn't glamorous. It was kind of sad and lonely, with a lot of nice family moments thrown in. I talked about my son's Little League team and helping my mom collect eggs from the chickens as a child.
I definitely wasn't Charlotte Bronte - although that's probably a good thing.
Despite my open mind - which is probably why I got this assignment - it really seemed more like a well-performed psychological exercise, a delving into the subconscious. A lot of the issues I had in that "past life" were just too close to the issues I've had in this one.
For instance, it seems too convenient that my husband in the hypnosis had the same name as my dad, and the room in the nursing home where I ended up looked exactly like the one my grandma lived in at the American House on Carpenter Road.
Bricka did tell me she had one client who explained, in great detail, a past life as a woman living in Boston, right down to her street address. The woman told Bricka she later did some research using Google and found out there was a woman with that name who lived at that address.
Although Bricka seemed pretty excited by it, I'm still not really buying it. But I'll leave it up to you.