Q: OK, so what’s the deal with past lives? Do we have them? How many? Do they matter? What do I do with them? Do I have to know about them to move on?
A: Yes, there is such a thing as past lives. Also, when looking at “lives,” it’s important to see that the divine does not see lives in the same way that ego does. What I mean by that, is that ego consciousness defines as a life as the time of one incarnation on this earth. The divine, or enlightened beings, or consciousness, define a life as more of a unit of time in which one lesson, or life, is lived.
For instance, you’ve had two lives during the time that you’ve been on this earth during this incarnation. There was before your wife died, then after, when your perspective of ‘what is life for’ drastically changed. You had a spiritual awakening. This happens to many people in many different ways.
So, different souls have many incarnations, and many lives. A soul has hundreds, or even thousands of incarnations and lives. In each life, there is a lesson, or more than one major lesson to be learned. Each incarnation is defined as the length of time one body spends upon the earth. So, one life may span more than one incarnation, or many incarnations, just as one incarnation may have one living out one or more lives.
Past life recall may help an ego gain understanding of the conditions one is living through, giving one clarity. Clarity eases emotional pain and suffering, and may help quicken the rate at which one learns the lessons one wants to learn. So, yes, it may be helpful. But, just like many things the egoic personality gets involved with, it tends to go overboard. It obsesses on knowing about past lives, fantasizes about them, not concentration on living the life of now, which is why one is alive in the first place! So in order to be help rather than a distraction, use past life recall to help bring clarity to your understanding of an issue if you feel stuck, but focus on the lessons of learning your life practicing present mind consciousness. This will give you the best of both worlds, literally.
To the last part of your question, no, you do not have to know your past lives. The most important thing in learning the lessons you want to learn is to live life as consciously and as non-judgmentally as possible, practicing witness consciousness diligently, and faithfully. You only have to live your life consciously in order to learn the lessons you want to learn. The more intent you put — or is put on — by consciousness itself on consciousness, the quicker you will learn, and probably the less pain you will endure.
To boil it down further, past lives only matter as much as how much you still have to learn from them, and what attachments your ego still has to the way of thinking that caused the problem in the past life. What matters is the egoic attachments you still have to your past lives.