Reincarnation--it is the idea that we have life after life after life after life, repeating the same lessons lifetime after lifetime until we learn them, until we graduate from them. It's a tough concept to grasp because although it is a belief held by many traditions, and although there is a growing number of anecdotal evidence that support it, for most of us, we simply do not remember our past lives, and so for most of us, it is a belief that is hard to prove.
Some things to consider though: the idea of reincarnation is that the next life is a consequence of some of our actions in this life. At the final moment of this life, as we confront death, our state of mind, what we think, and how we feel will determine the next life. If we are full of regret in our last moments, then that will be the seed of our next life. If we are attached to certain things or ideas, then that too will be the seed of our next life. It is said that it is only when we are unattached, completely equanimous, and absolutely peaceful do we break the cycle of life after life after life.
The practice of yoga with its teachings on karma is an empowering one. Karma has now come to have a negative connotation, used in a way synonymous to being punished. Yet the word karma is neutral. It simply means action. And all actions have consequences. Therefore, we are taught through the teachings of yoga that we are not victims. We are never victims. Our present reality is the consequence of past actions we have taken, as our present actions will be responsible for creating our future realities. It is all too easy to look at the vicious cycles in our lives and blame others. Why do these things happen to me, one may ask. Things do not happen to us. We are the ones who make things happen, whether consciously or unconsciously. So the first step to break patterns is to acknowledge our own participation, to take stock of our responsibility, and then to create new karmas. It takes courage to do this, to see that we are active participants of our lives, and that our fates are determined by our choices.
The practical implications of reincarnation and karma mean quite simply, that (1) we reap what we sow, just across a period of time that seems inconceivable to our logical, pragmatic minds; and (2) we must be ready to let go when that final moment comes. Some of us believe in reincarnation. For those of us who do not, what is there to lose to accept that actions have consequences, which is a law of physics anyway? What is there to lose to let go of anger, jealousy, and fear? Even if we do not think forward to the next lifetime, we can at least reap those benefits in this lifetime that we now live.