Remembering Our Home by Sheila and Dennis Linn, William Emerson, Ph.D., and Matthew Linn, S.J., 1999, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ, $14.95, pp. 146

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

"A paradigm shift is occurring in psychology. This shift is emerging from the realization that prenatal and perinatal wounds have an important and lingering effect on us and that these experiences can have more power over us than experiences in later life."

"At the moment of conception, a child has a fully conscious spirit that is as sensitive, if not more so, than at any other time in life."

-- From Chapter One, Remembering Our Home

Reminiscent in appearance of a children's book, Remembering Our Home, is well written and thought provoking. During its first reading, I resented how the authors had taken concepts from my beloved "scientific" primal therapy and combined them with a nebulous Christian spirituality. However, I try to remain open since many have written that if one goes long enough and deep enough in regressive therapy, issues of spirituality eventually become important.

Primal therapy's founder, Dr. Arthur Janov, writes that spirituality can be a result of a symbolization of primal pain. If the trauma is accessed during a session is more than the patient can feel the excess pain results in unreal feelings of which spirituality is only one example. He writes that this is the hallmark of the patients of an insufficiently trained therapist. He believes that spirituality is a neurotic symptom. Many have used the fundamentalist born-again Christian conversion experiences of Janov's chief thereotician at the Primal Institute in the 1970s, neurologist E. Michael Holden, as an example of this belief.

Unfortunately, not a word is written about the very real suffering undergone by those who are reliving their early traumas and the frustration and pain endured in doing so. By not mentioning the very real anguish which can be uncovered, the authors seem to imply that such regressions are an easy and "fun thing" to do. Nonetheless, as difficult as it sometimes gets, I am in no way sorry that I began this process of discovering who I am some twenty-five years ago.

Remembering Our Home had its origin in a series of birth trauma workshops given by Dr. William Emerson in which Sheila and Dennis Linn attended. During regressions the Linns received healings of traumas which extended as far back as conception! (I have had decades of such therapies and unfortunately, have not been that far back! ) For many years they had been conducting retreats and writing books with their brother, Jesuit priest, Matthew Linn. Authors of 21 kindred books on healing of hurts from a religious and spiritual perspective, the Linns soon began studying with Emerson and now combine pre and peri-natal healings with their religious retreats.

Just leafing through their book can be an exercise in regression as it is illustrated from the viewpoint of a children's book -- a book which the mother would read while her child enjoys the charming watercolor illustrations of Francisco Miranda. But Remembering Our Home is not a book intended for such use.

I was both attracted to and repelled by the amount of religious and spiritual images in the text and illustrations. A subsection of Chapter Two, entitled Healing and Religious Imagery, had examples which were far away from examples with which I could identify, as I have always been non-religious and non-spiritual.

That is not to say that religious imagery has not been on my mind. But instead of being present as a satisfying and healing presence, as shown in Remembering Our Home, the religious symbolism which I felt during my regressions were those which accompanied the tortures and torments of my birth process. Most recently those images have been of Christian hell in a holotropic breathwork session and with a complete identification with imagery of Christ's crucifixion in a primal. (See article Four Therapy Experiences At the IPA Convention )

Centuries of pervasive Christian and Judaic symbolism inspired from the bible, in the arts and in literature means that many use such images unconsciously and encompass them in all aspects of life, including rites of passage, anniversaries, times of happiness, of giving and receiving love and compassion, of experiencing guilt and suffering, surgeries, serious auto accidents, etc. For these reasons it is not surprising that religious symbolism continues to replay its themes, both consciously and unconsciously, in our lives.

I only recently learned that I had symbolized during my birth process my mother as an uncaring and indifferent God. (See article Another Piece of My Birth Puzzle: My Mother As God and God As My Mother). Thus, birth trauma has affected my view of God as distant and cruel and being stuck in the birth canal as literally being in Hell. It was impossible to love a God who could permit suffering and misery in the world. (See article, On Bill Clinton, Jimmy Swaggart and Sin).

[ I recently discovered the Linn's book, good goats: Healing Our Image of God (1994). It was interesting but I believe it would have helped me only intellectually. If it will ever be resolved, it take deep and frequent regressive feelings of my severe birth trauma because the origin of that issue extends to my near death in the birth canal. Merely understanding the origins of my concept of God would have been useless.

The particular scriptural exegesis the authors use to show the Deity as loving is not the interpretation typically taught. The large number of references at the end of good goats amazed me as I was familiar with almost none of the cited psychological and eschatological Christian thinking. ]

It might be helpful for some to use the spiritual exercises of Ignatius Loyola which the Linns recommend. But many years ago I had personally found the compulsory religious retreats I attended each year at Loyola University to be depressing and vowed after graduation I would never attend another. I have kept my vow.

Perhaps, unconsciously, I might have taken the religious symbolism at those retreats too literally and suffered depression instead of feeling inspired and closer to God. Or maybe it was the enforced silence and boredom which was the culprit, but instead of being uplifted, the retreat's effect was the opposite.

The prospect of reconciling eternal damnation with a loving God had always been impossible to my mind. Of late, through primals, I have felt the origins of this belief. The basis for believing that God was uncaring and indifferent had not been theoretical and unrelated to my life history -- I had known suffering and hell - the suffering and hell I had experienced during my birth.

The Linns also suggest the use of projective techniques to heal pre and peri-natal trauma. This is done by inviting Jesus or a trusted person to enter one's life. Images of being with Jesus in His life using imagined scenes from the gospels are also healing. They write that the use of imagination can be healing. If you didn't have a good birth, then imagine that you did. Hummm! Just imagine the love coming into your soul from God. This advice seems so contra feeling, but I keep reading the book in spite of that!

The authors believe that babies have a close connection with the Divine, since they recently were with God, hence the book's title, Remembering Our Home. . So we existed before we were conceived! The time before conception is considered a prenatal stage. The authors flirt with the doctrine of reincarnation. They imply that reincarnation is true, but do not really say they they believe it. Otherwise, perhaps the book might not have received a Catholic approval (an Imprimi Potest by the Wisconsin Jesuit provincial).

In the pre-conception stage the primary wound is an alienation from God, a result from being cast out of His presence to begin an earthly life. This original wounding is then triggered in subsequent traumas which contain the same emotional content as the original expulsion. Thus events, such as leaving the blissful womb to begin the journey to be born, or getting laid off from work or other experiences may resonate with the original "leaving God" trauma when the "conceptus to be" becomes incarnated in his mother's womb.

In some regression therapies (See G. Farrant presentation) many have reported reexperiencing memories of being a sperm and/or an egg. The journey of the sperm from the testicles to its final reason for existence -- the fertilization of the ovuum -- is described as a life-and-death struggle. It is like going on a four hundred mile swim if you consider the relative size of the spermatozoa and the length of its journey to its final destination.

"If the parents' relationship is loving and the mother is welcoming, the egg is likely to be perceived as powerful but good. The sperm then goes to the egg willingly and even ecstatically, happy to complete their biological mission." Both men and women have memories of sperm and egg journeys. The release of the egg from the ovary for the eventual journey through the fallopian tube is fraught with a fear of loss of control and can influence a lifetime fear of taking risks. As forces draw the egg into the fallopian tube the experience is described as one of being rescued.

"The child who is being conceived experiences his or her own unique spirit as given by God. The child's spirit participates in the consciousness of the sperm and egg and in the relationship between the parents. The child thus has a direct experience of the sperm and egg that led the formation of his or her body."

It is as though the child's future behavior is determined by genes since if the relationship between the parents is a violent one then the conceptus becomes programmed for future violence. Conception in a loving union is the ideal since it assures that the child will be able to both receive love and give love. The child thus develops in the stew of the emotions of its parents -- both positive and negative.

One of the most important phases of development of the fetus is during the first trimester. If we are healthy and have a strong body the odds are that we had a non-traumatic first trimester. During the first three months of development the fetus is especially sensitive to toxic substances. This is the period of physical development. Psychiatrist and theologian, Frank Lake, believes this period is the most important of all and marks the beginning for most forms of future psychopathology.

The authors describe the second trimester as a crucial time for the development of spirituality. When clients are regressed to this time of their development "they report encounters with the spiritual ground of their being." Their capacity for trauma injuring their spirituality is very great at this time. It is also a time for deciding their path to spirituality or even of having no spirituality at all.

During the third trimester the fetus develops a separate sense of self. If a developing fetus has been cut off from a life in the spirit during the earlier trimesters, there is a sense of loss and ". . . life is experienced . . . as a strugge to defend against pain." The authors also discuss the healing of attempted and successful abortions (surprisingly, the aborted fetus is always forgiving!), miscarriages, stillbirths, umbilical trauma and twin loss. Twin conceptions are extremely common. The authors report that embryologists believe between 30 and 80 percent of us were originally twins. Unresolved grief due to an unconsciously known twin loss is a remarkably common occurrence.

When I arrived at the last chapter of the book, Birth, I finally was in familiar territory. At last here was something with which I could identify -- the actual birth process. But, the book had never claimed to be about the birth process itself, only up to the birth process as it is subtitled, Healing Hurts & Receiving Gifts from Conception to Birth.

At the very beginning of that chapter mention is made of how a baby would awaken screaming each night at the same time. Checking records revealed that he awoke at the same time that he had been born! I can relate to that. Ever since I began reliving my dying-in-the-birth-canal trauma, two years ago, these primals have usually been occurring between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. I surmise that this was been near the time of my birth. Years after I wrote this, I needed my birth certificate to obtain a passport. The certificate showed that my birth was at 8:00 p.m. Such "anniversary primals" are not uncommon. (See Chronological and Calendrical Unconscious Memory In Primal-Oriented Psychotherapies )

One of the book's authors,William Emerson, (his website), is an internationally recognized pioneer in the treatment of birth traumas in infants and toddlers. He estimates that only five percent of births produce little or no lasting trauma. He writes that an important element in having a good birth is to be "enfolded in empathic, loving presence as we go through that experience." Some women are very worried and stressful at the prospect of giving birth. This prevents them, he believes, from being emotionally present when they deliver. He writes that, in general, women give birth the way they were birthed.

So what can parents do to minimize traumatizing their child during the critical gestation and delivery period? Dr. Emerson believes that it is important for mothers-to-be to relive their own births in a regressive psychotherapy. They should also become knowledgable about birthing procedures. The use of a caregiver, a doula, is also recommended. These women support the mother-to-be and can talk to and reassure the child during its birth and also pray for healing.

The book includes an illustrated fetal development chart, hints for group sharing, recommended resources, a short biography of the authors, as well as extended notes. Each chapter, after the first, ends with guided imagery exercises as well as prayers for healing.

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

-- from William Wordsworth "Ode on Intimations of Immortality"
Quoted in Remembering Our Home

Dr. William R. Emerson's material on this website:

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