The Wonder, Power, and Benefit of Past Lives
Updated: Feb 27
General Patton believed he had lived many lives before -- all as a warrior. He used those intuitive beliefs to fuel his success and flourish in life. So can you.
“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
During the First World War, then Captain George S. Patton met a French liaison officer at the hilltop town of Langres. Though he’d never been there before, Patton told the officer he knew the place well. Patton then gave his driver directions, never making a wrong turn, until they arrived at the ruins of a Roman amphitheater. Exiting the vehicle, Patton pointed to a spot on the ground and said, “that’s where Julius Caesar slept in his tent.” When the driver and French officer looked at him baffled, Patton reassured them he knew the spot because he had been there before... in the 1st Century B.C.
General Patton believed he had lived many previous lives -- all as a warrior. According to his family and close friends, Patton had many flashbacks and déjà vu moments throughout his life about his previous lives. One involved being carried off the battlefield on a large shield by four Viking warriors, and then riding in their longboat amidst the “incredible stench of unwashed hairy bodies, leather, fish, and oils.” Another time, Patton told his grandson about being a “besieged Carthaginian dying of thirst in the second century B.C, [in which] he drank urine out of his helmet.” Often when discussing battles from history, Patton just said, “I was there.”
“Going through countless rebirths,” his biographer Carlo D’este writes, Patton “declared that he had once hunted for fresh mammoth… died on the plains of Troy… battled in a phalanx against Cyrus… marched with Caesar’s terrible Tenth Legion… fought with the Scottish Highlanders” and more.
In his famous poem, “Through A Glass, Darkly,” Patton provides a first-person account of these prehistoric, ancient, and medieval battles (and deaths), concluding with this verse:
So as through a glass, and darkly
The age long strife I see Where I fought in many guises, Many names, but always me
Belief = Ambition
According to Patton’s nephew, when asked about his belief in reincarnation, the General responded, “for myself there has never been any question. I just don’t think it, I damn well know there are places I’ve been before, and not in this life.”
Patton believed so strongly in his warrior past, pedigree and destiny, that he simply willed his modern day accomplishments through tenacious effort. He overcame severe dyslexia to become one of the most well-read Army officers of his era with an encyclopedic knowledge of history. He overcame his initial rejection from West Point by enrolling in the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), studying like a monk to elevate his grades, and eventually gaining acceptance into West Point two years later.
Through those obstacles and more, Patton never seemed to waver in his belief that he was destined for greatness. Always vigorous in his pursuits, Cadet Patton scribbled the following principles in his journal at West Point which guided him for the rest of his life:
Always do more than is required of you
We live in deeds not years
You can be what you will to be
In another journal entry, the 21-year-old reminded himself, “Never Never Never stop being ambitious…” Later prodding himself, “never stop until you have gained the top or a grave.”
Just as he had so many times before – from Caesar’s legions to Napoleon’s Grand Armée – Patton would find a way to fulfill his destiny in this life. Through fanatical effort, he did -- becoming an Olympic athlete, published poet, and military genius.
Am I saying that Patton’s belief in his previous lives gave him horsepower for those accomplishments? Yes, I am. Am I also saying that past lives are real? No, I’m not -- because I just don’t know. Admittingly, there is often a psychological reason behind our beliefs. “Patton’s love of history… vision of himself as a romantic, heroic warrior,” his biographer writes, certainly influenced his insistence that he marched with Caesar’s legions. Yet, his belief in reincarnation seems to have benefited him greatly. And while I can’t prove Patton lived before, I can say that his belief helped him in life.
Belief = Fuel
Let’s pretend for a moment you’re General Omar Bradly on that Carthaginian battlefield from the movie, Patton. After watching the man peacock around the ruins with ivory handled revolvers and swinging his swagger stick like a Roman Centurion, he turns to you and says, “2,000 years ago, I was here.” If you’re anything like Bradley, you’d be dumbfounded that this lunatic was even leading the Third Army. But then what? What do we get out of shitting on Patton’s beliefs? Only the supreme feeling of being right, or at least thinking we're right.
Now let’s turn the tables. What does Patton gain from his belief in his previous lives? Spoiler alert: a lot! According to his biographer, Patton’s “belief in reincarnation offered a means of fulfilling his ultimate and eternal destiny of leading a great army in battle… of becoming a great military leader during this particular lifetime.” In short, Patton’s belief in his previous lives helped empower his current one. His belief fueled his Wonder as a poet, his Vigor as a Cadet, Olympian, and Scholar, and his Fellowship as a Soldier and Friend.
So here’s my question, Barbarians: When we look at the pros and cons of certain beliefs like reincarnation, why wouldn’t we believe in past lives? If it helped Patton, will it help us? I’ll begin my answer with this: there’s integrity in not lying to ourselves and being a reasonable human being. That said, if you (like Patton) intuitively feel right down to the marrow of your bones that you have lived before, then more power to you! If it helps fuel your goals in life, then like Patton, burn that fuel and go for it!
While useful in fueling his ambition, was Patton's belief in previous lives empirically true? No. But (a) who cares, and (b) there are other ways to get to the truth beyond our five senses. Truth also comes to us through Resonation, Intuition, Inclination, and dare I say, Déjà vu.
I think everyone would agree when you “know” you love someone, when you “know” you can’t trust someone, when you “know” the activities you’re mysteriously drawn to do. Where does this knowing come from? I think it starts with who you are. And who you are, I believe, is determined long before you ever take your first breath.
Genetic Memory vs. Blank Slate
If you and I believe we are not born a blank slate, then perhaps our Resonations, Intuitions, Inclinations, and Déjà vu are a series of imprints on our inherited slate – i.e. our genetic memory. According to Patton’s daughter, the General believed his memory of times long ago were “born into him.”
Recent studies, especially those of Steven Pinker, suggest we are not born a blank slate. Each of us is born with a different genetic code; the result of our ancestors’ experiences and effort to survive. No matter how modern we espouse to be, we still possess ancient programming thanks to evolution. Pre-industrial man occupies 99.95% of human history, and their ancient wiring still dominates us today. American Indian activist John Trudell called this ancient wiring “our genetic memory.”
Yet too many of us, according to Trudell, allow our genetic memory to lie “dormant.” In short, too many of us believe what we’re told to believe, or believe just what we see, hear, touch, smell and taste. Too few of us believe in what we earnestly feel.
I encourage you not to ignore your genetic memory (call it your “past lives” if you dare). Instead, listen to your Resonations, Intuitions, Inclinations, and moments of Déjà vu. When we’re open to receiving these feelings, we gain our "born into" beliefs. And those beliefs, like Patton’s, can become truths that power us through adversity with Vigor, Wonder, and Fellowship. As a result, we follow our own unique path in life. Here’s how we can do it.
Truths We Feel: Resonation, Intuition, Inclination, and Déjà vu
Best-selling author Steven Pressfield wrote, “I believe in previous lives and the Muse – and that books and music exist before they are written and that they are propelled into material being by their own imperative to be born, via the offices of those willing servants of discipline, imagination and inspiration whom we call artists.” In his recent interview with Joe Rogan, Pressfield mentioned his belief in past lives. When Rogan asked, “where does that feeling [of past lives] come from?” Pressfield answered, “I don’t know.” But it’s real, he concluded, because “it resonates.”
“Trust thyself; every heart vibrates to that iron string,” Ralph Waldo Emerson tells us. In doing so, Emerson encourages us to adhere to our inner-voice which comes to us mysteriously through our Resonations, Intuitions, Inclinations, and Déjà vu moments.
On my second day as a 17-year-old at the Naval Academy Prep School, I saw a student named Jason Snider. I’d never spoken to him before, but I knew he’d become my best friend at the Naval Academy – and he did. Similar feelings have resonated when I met my wife or when I discovered weight-lifting or medieval history. That person, activity, or subject had a frequency harmonious with my own. And my resonations proved to be 100% true.
Our intuitions are also true. Gavin de Becker, who wrote a best-selling book on intuition, describes our intuition as a gift from nature. When we feel our intuition (the pit in our stomach, the hair behind our neck), he writes, “it’s always in response to something” and “always has your best interest at heart.” In conclusion, he adds, “intuition is knowing without knowing why.”
The same “knowing,” can be applied to our primal inclinations – another truth we feel but can’t empirically prove. When “we find ourselves naturally drawn to particular subjects or activities,” best-selling author Robert Greene writes in Mastery, “we can call these primal inclinations.” These unique inclinations, he explains, are “stamped upon us by nature” and become “our anchor in life” empowering us towards our life’s purpose.
When we feel mysteriously connected to a certain time, place, or impression that has inexplicably happened before we are experiencing déjà vu. Patton certainly experienced it, exclaiming to his nephew, because of déjà vu, “I damn well know there are places I’ve been before, and not in this life.”
The Resonations, Intuitions, Inclinations, or Déjà vu Patton and Pressfield have experienced -- convincing them of their past lives -- isn’t because those two guys are different from you or me, it’s because they’re so receptive to feeling such signals -- and harnessing them to fuel their success.
Once we trust our own intuitive signals as truth – whether we believe its triggered by our genetic memory, previous lives, evolution, or something else – we can use these truths to fuel our ambition and take our own unique path is life. Here’s how I do it.
Intuitive Belief = Barbarian Horsepower
I have a primal inclination towards the medieval period of history. Does that mean I believe, like Patton, that I died on the fields of Crecy in 1346? Probably not. But here’s what I do believe:
I believe I’m not born a blank slate and that I have a genetic memory.
I believe I have a primal inclination towards medieval history.
One night, I awakened from a vivid dream. I was riding a warhorse along a lonely path with farmland to my left and a castle upon a hill to my right, lit from the inside by candlelight. I was returning from some place and some time, and my friends were inside waiting for me. It all felt so real, and I couldn’t return to sleep. Getting out of bed, I walked into my library, and opened Barbara Tuchman’s book, A Distant Mirror, to this page:
“The last of the Coucys entered a world in which movement was limited to the speed of man or horse, news and public announcements were communicated by the human voice, and light ended for most people with the setting of the sun. At dusk, horns were blown or bells rung to sound curfew or ‘cover fires,’ after which work was prohibited because a workman could not see to perform creditably. The rich could prolong time by torchlight and candles, but for others night was as dark as nature intended, and stillness surrounded a traveler after dark.”
The dream and the book could be a coincidence. But what I felt was powerful. It triggered my imagination, and triggered me to write with my imagination on fire. Something about my DNA, my soul, my genetic memory, I believe, led me to that experience – which generated real creative work.
As the workday drags on and one email, report, and zoom meeting leads to another, I’m often drained and depleted by 7pm. I’d much rather pour a whiskey than load plates onto a barbell for heavy squats. And though I occasionally succumb to that whiskey, most of the time I say a prayer to my ancestors, dead friends, or gods, and then get to work!
Looking up to the black sky from my cracked concrete driveway, I’ll say things like, “For you Jeremy!” or “Give me power, Odin!” Other times, just before a max set of squats, I’ll picture Vikings surrounding me, judging me, and trying to decide if I’m worthy to stand beside them in battle. These visions, prayers, or dare I say, flashbacks, give me that extra bolt of Vigor I need to demolish my next set. And I’m telling you, when Thor’s watching, I fucking bring it!
For nearly all of human history, men gathered around the fire in fellowship. Then civilization crept in and began to break our bonds. We began living apart, working apart, and sleeping under bricks instead of the stars above. Yet, our DNA remains ancient; consequently, we still need to reconnect with each other like our ancestors did. We still need that warm hand on our shoulder, inviting us into a circle of brothers (or sisters) around the fire.
Years ago, I started a men’s club I call “The Point View Crew.” Each quarter, we meet up at my house, gather in a circle after dinner and often around a fire. We then go around the horn, each man updating the crew on his life – the good, the bad, the ugly. The first time I did this, I discovered that without women in the room, these men became more vulnerable and less competitive. We all became ancient again. The bullshit was gone, and like our ancestors before us, we traveled “north of the wall” in fellowship and began to heal from our loneliness.
Why did I start the Point View Crew? Because I was feeling lonely and despondent, and I wanted friends. This desire for fellowship is ancient, therefore, so am I.
Our Barbarian messengers – Resonation, Intuition, Inclination, and Déjà vu – are real because they’re useful, creating real and positive change. They empower us to create and act in a way that floods us with Vigor, Wonder, and Fellowship. Believe whatever you feel and use those resonating beliefs to power your effort, love, and creativity.