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How do you explain the exceptionally strong, persistent feelings of deja vu that some people experience?

Depending upon one's own scientific and religious beliefs, there are varying explanations for deja vu. There are those who say that it is simply a phenomenon of the mind, an interplay of complex psychological processes, affecting some people more than others. Alternatively, a popular belief in some Eastern cultures - and to a much lesser extent, yet still significantly, in the West - is the theory of reincarnation, which is another way that many people account for our most mysterious feelings, aversions, and proclivities. I am neither a scientist nor a theologian and little qualified to debate these or other theories, except to say that I don't suppose any of them will ever be confirmed or disproved by man.

A theory that I do believe will eventually be proven, and which offers an alternative or even complementary explanation for deja vu, is one that I proposed in my 1988 book, Petitioning Reality with Faith. It came to me in a dream, over twenty years ago, in response, I feel, to my prayers for some guidance on a particular issue. The answer I received is this:

Deep in the subconscious are stored memories of which there are two kinds. One is a divine memory, instilled in our minds by our Maker at conception and enabling us to recognize His perfect plan, which is individualized for every life. God uses this innate remembrance, which I call purpose memory, as a tool to help us recognize who we are supposed to be with and what directions we should take at various points in our lives. By means of it, when one meets his soul mate or a kindred spirit, he will feel an immediate affection and need for bonding, and through the blessing of purpose memory, each of us is able to discover his or her gifts.

That was only half the dream. Obviously, the concept that it revealed would be nearly impossible to prove. The other aspect of my dream, however, will in time be validated by scientific inquiry; or so, at least, I believe. What it unfolded to me was this:

Quite apart from purpose memory, there is a dimension of subconscious memory that is made up of material inherited genetically from our ancestors. Fragmentary remembrances of surroundings, people, or events in the lives of one or more of our predecessors are sometimes stored in the genes that determine the makeup of the cells in a certain part of the brain. When one feels a particular passion for or aversion to something that bears no apparent relationship to his own past; when one feels attracted to or repulsed by certain people, places, or situations of which he has had no prior knowledge, the explanation often lies in genetically stored memories.

These recollections can be inherited from one's mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, or from an ancestor any number of generations back. Just as some inheritable diseases will not become manifest in the health of an individual for several generations following the affliction of a predecessor, so does it also often take many generations for an individual's genetically stored memories to influence the remembrances of a descendant.

Ancestral memories are evoked when one of the five primary senses triggers a remembrance from the subconscious mind into the conscious, where an emotion corresponding to that experienced by the predecessor is felt. This phenomenon concerning the recollection of the lives of ancestors is attributable to what I have come to call, epigenetic memory.

Over the years, I have seen many individuals who were suffering from the effects of certain inherited remembrances. One such person, whom I counseled not long ago, was a woman who suffered from a profound phobia of knives. Her condition preoccupied her to the extent that she was having nightmares about being cut. Suspecting that inherited remembrances were the underlying cause of her fear, I encouraged her to do some research into the circumstances of her ancestors' lives. In time, she discovered that her great grandfather had survived being stabbed in an altercation. Upon learning this, I explained how, in my estimation, it was probable that she had inherited an epigenetic memory of the event, resulting in her disorder. In an effort to help her find relief from her particular fear, I recommended that she implement a regimen of thought technique to lessen the effects of the specific cell memory that had been causing her such discomfort.

I believe that conditions ranging from mild anxiety to more severe forms of mental illness can be aggravated or even caused by epigenetic memory and that an awareness of its influence on conscious feeling can be important in helping every person to attain a better understanding of the origins of his temperament. With the knowledge that, to some extent, epigenetic memory prenatally determines character and continues to shape it throughout our lives, we can be alert to its baffling effects on our emotions and thereby allow our remembrances to bless us with wisdom, rather than to plague us with confusion. To understand the epigenetic link with the past is to be free from its power to cause us hardship in the present and future.

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