In a previous life, I looked like Spanky from The Little Rascals. A lovable ragamuffin, I wore shoddy clothes, had a dirty face, and toiled selling apples from a cart in Brooklyn. Or maybe it was Maxwell Street. The vision wasn’t entirely clear.
Let me explain. A few months ago, I started feeling compelled to schedule a past-life regression therapy session. One in five Americans believes in reincarnation, according to a 2011 poll by the Roper Center, a public opinion research center at Cornell University. My wife is one of them. Her charmingly no-bullshit exterior hides real spiritualism. She consults astrology for guidance, and she is absolutely convinced our younger daughter, Gemma, is a miniature blond-haired iteration of her deceased grandfather, Fritz, who has come back to torment us.
Me? Not so much. I’ve never been to a psychic nor had my energies realigned. But something about this past-life business fascinated me. Could I actually be transported to another time, like in a real-life Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure? Perhaps I used to be someone particularly awesome, like Elvis or Alexander Hamilton. Or maybe I was a golden retriever. So I decided to visit the self-proclaimed “modern shaman” Blanche Blacke, who owns the Chakra Shoppe in Lincoln Square.
The smell of incense greets me as I enter the storefront on a sunny autumn morning. “You’re going to be transformed,” Blacke says, somewhat forebodingly. Shelves filled with crystals, sea salt soaps, and other spiritual paraphernalia surround us.
With her flowing gray dress and New-Agey vibe, Blacke, who is in her 50s, looks like a hippie. But in her actual former life, she was a member of the slightly nihilistic early-’80s Chicago punk/new wave band Phil ’n’ the Blanks. (She recently released a CD of jazz tunes.) Then, in 1993, while she was living on the Sunset Strip in L.A., a violent near-death experience—she won’t go into specifics—convinced her of the transience of the soul.
“I was in the hospital, and I just felt myself not in this body anymore,” she says. “And suddenly I heard sparrows flying around me, and they said, ‘You’re not done. Go back.’ I got a sense that the spirit body is real.”
After recovering, Blacke apprenticed with a noted chakra healer on the West Coast before moving back to Chicago and opening the Chakra Shoppe in 2005. She has done thousands of past-life regressions over the past two decades, helping troubled souls—from doctors and lawyers to homeless folks who wander by her shop—overcome fears, phobias, and insecurities.
“Some people have OCD, or they’re afraid of birds or butterflies. And there’s nothing in this lifetime to cause that fear,” she says. “Often the source is from a past life. That’s the cool thing about regression: They can be healed.”
She asks me what I’d like to work on. After struggling to identify one thing, I confess I’d like to lessen the burden I feel to provide for my family. I start spilling my guts, explaining that we’ve recently bought a house and the mortgage makes me anxious.
“So there’s a fear that you won’t be able to continue with your current work?” she says. “That somehow life is going to cause you to be destitute?” Uh, I guess.
We walk down a short hallway and enter a dark room. She slips into a round-backed Victorian chair and instructs me to hop on the table. “We want you to observe your process like a movie,” she says. “And try to step back from the thinking mind and just explain what you’re noticing.”
I lie down and close my eyes. She tells me to imagine white light coursing through my body and take 10 deep breaths. Really? That’s what will help me hitchhike through the cosmos alongside my eternal soul? But after 10 minutes of guided relaxation, Blacke’s comforting voice ushers my brain to la-la land. Everything is going fantastic until I’m startled by some serious chanting. Owooooom. Owooooom. Blacke’s voice is suddenly several octaves lower. It freaks me out.
“You’re now ready to access any past-life experience that will help most now,” she says. “Imagine being in a place where you feel really safe. Describe what you see.”
Holy shit, this is really happening. An image pops in my mind. I’m 5 years old, running around the backyard of my first house. It looks very real. Then it takes a dark turn. I’m sprinting through a series of yards but can’t seem to get home. Blacke reins me in.
“What are you seeing now?” she asks. My mind lurches to what appears to be the set of Newsies, and I’m the aforementioned kid selling apples. A few seconds later, I’m sitting down in a dark apartment to an Italian meal—I can taste the red sauce—that was painstakingly prepared by an old woman who looks exactly like a photo of my great-grandmother. Is this really my relative sending me a message from beyond? All I know for sure is she makes a mean baked ziti. At one point, I give the Italian lady a bear hug.
A jolt of emotion overwhelms me, and I nearly tear up. “Excellent, friend. Take it in,” Blacke says. “We have our ancestors helping in the other realms.”
Blacke tells me the spirits say I should bask in the glow of my hard work. (Here’s my first try: Isn’t this story the best?) After we’ve engaged in enough positive affirmations to make Stuart Smalley feel complete, the session is over. She counts to five and informs me I’m back in the present day.
I open my eyes. I feel at peace, like a burden has been lifted. But how do I know this was real? How do I know what I saw wasn’t some random string of images influenced by The Godfather?
Blacke insists the filthy little kid was me. Her diagnosis: My fear of not having enough money for the future comes from the fact that I used to peddle apples to feed my family. “Now that you know the source of the fear, you don’t have to fear it,” she says. “It was cool that you allowed yourself that experience. Because some people want to control it. But you did it. You went there.”
Yep. I went there. What do you think of them apples?