Yolo! You've heard it everywhere, popularized by twittering Tweens and co-opted by everyone from the Kardashians to politicians. I always chuckle when I hear the phrase because while I understand the metaphor behind the "you only live once" adage, it indicates the perpetuation of an ideological trend in western culture that ignores reincarnation as a reality. Something like 20-30 percent of people in the United States believe in reincarnation, compared to 60-65 percent in countries like India, Nepal and Japan.
As people begin to have more past life, near death and out of body experiences feelings and thoughts about the continuance of the human consciousness beyond the physical body continues to grow, and those percentages will rise. With everyone from well respected doctors to 4 year olds recalling miraculous and eerily factual memories of former lifetimes it's becoming increasingly more difficult for westerners, who are open minded, to dismiss it as ridiculous, fanciful or unrealistic.
I always get a little offended when people are openly disparaging to those who recognize reincarnation as "real" because it is indicative of a western intellectual and ideological arrogance over cultures and traditions who have recognized reincarnation as part of the cycle of the universe.
I call it ideological privilege, and since the West tends to want to dominate and control the world's thoughts and ideas (particularly those who don't fall in line with Western notions of reality) it can be a damaging and marginalizing to those that understand reincarnation as very normal and natural.
Reincarnation or the recognition of the transience of the physical body and the continuance of consciousness beyond physical death isn't "new age". In fact, it's one of the most pervasive and constant components of many of the worlds oldest spiritual traditions, (or was at some point before those traditions were homogenized and hegemonized for power purposes.)
In Ancient Greece (which most agree was the beginning of the modern Western world) reincarnation was a commonplace reality rather than a fringe or new-age fanciful belief. Even in the Middle Ages when Christianity became the dominant religion of the Western world, reincarnation was an accepted and focal aspect of Gnostic Catholic doctrine until the Council of Nicea when large portions of mystical Christian doctrine was re-written to better suit growing political needs.
It wasn't until fundamental reformers (particularly in in Judeo- Christian sects) needed a more thorough method of policing the acts and behaviors of followers that the, "you live one life so you better be good or you'll burn" message became popularized and dispersed to the masses.
I can understand the trepidation around the concept for some. For religious traditionalists reincarnation appears to eliminate the idea of heaven/hell as it is apparently spelled out in the bible or Torah. However, this is merely a problem of interpretation of the terms and states of heaven and hell and reincarnation actually works quite nicely within the more metaphorical context of the heaven/hell discourse.
The experience of the states of heaven and hell were likely intended to be interpreted as states of consciousness that one experiences either on earth or after drooping the physical body as the consciousness reviews it's deeds in the earthly life it just left.
It was believed that the soul would experience the joy and happiness of the generosity and kindness the soul showed others (heaven); or experience the pain and turmoil it caused others (hell) and then adjust and try again next go-round so that it may continue to balance its experiences and get closer to the Christ-like state of God realization.This is the, "you reap what you sow" proverb at work. In Buddhism this is done in the bardo states, in Hinduism the soul reviews karmic lessons before planning the next life.
Unfortunately, in the Judeo-Christian traditions the bit about getting another go at it to integrate the knowledge gained from the previous was eliminated so that rules and moral discretions would have greater consequence and could as such be policed by church authorities. It's easier to control someone's behavior if you tell them they will burn eternally if they don't listen and fall in line with doctrine.
Rationalists and Atheists find it difficult to allow for the existence of life beyond death of the current physical organism, but this is due to the fundamental flaw in the materialist argument of consciousness which can be resolved through updating ones scientific paradigm to a quantum model and realizing that energy (including consciousness) cannot be destroyed, only transferred. Medical science unfortunately wrongly linked consciousness to the brain (which can be easily refuted with all of the out-of-body, near-death experiences where people experience "brain death" yet still can perceive the world around them).
So while YOLO is a fantastic way to encourage oneself or others to take risks, live this life like it's your last, and overcome apprehension, fear and mediocrity it is also a testament to an ideological tradition introduced into Western culture over 1000 years ago.
As more people (children in particular) begin to remember it will become increasingly more difficult to ignore. More and more kids are remembering events from past lives in vivid detail with verifiable evidence but often at the expense of fear and confusion from their parents who have no paradigm with which to understand what's happening. These children have chosen to come with some of these memories intact in order to cajole the rest of us to remember what we forget when born into this life.
We forget past lives because on one level, our other lives don't matter that much because if we knew too much we'd become too enamored with what we did in the past and wouldn't do what we needed to do in this life. On another level it's helpful to explore past life connections because it can illuminate current problems, karmic contracts and issues that are a result of thoughts, feelings and behaviors we have carried with us over hundreds and in some cases thousands of lifetimes.
I agree we should live this life in the spirit of YOLO but recognize, or at least consider the possibility of the pervasiveness of consciousness beyond this current material existence. It's not about "believing in reincarnation", it's about remembering what you've forgotten. That doesn't mean we all need to go to a past life regressionist or someone who can read the akashic records, but something happens when you break down your resistance to the concept as bunk or "new age" and recognize there's nothing extraordinary about it, because it is what it is.
In my own experience recognizing possible past life connections has allowed me to work more sympathetically in difficult relationships or situations, and if nothing else gives me a greater sense of compassion and responsibility.
I recognize that the choices and situations I make in this life are a result of past behaviors, thoughts and feelings (in this life or another) and it is incredibly empowering and freeing to recognize that my karma is not negatively deterministic, and that for the most part I gave myself these lessons in order to spiritually grow.
Awareness of reincarnation and karma as a universal law allows me to make choices that reflect the direction I want my soul to develop in rather than be a slave to karmic conditioning, which creates despondency and a sense of victim hood. I can allow myself to experience my karma as a willing, conscious participant rather than a victim of some random terrible calamity or dumb luck.