In some belief systems, there are spiritual immortals. These are individuals who have attained a level of spiritual cultivation and soul-awareness that allows them to direct their own rebirths while maintaining a constant thread of personality and memory across their lives. Such individuals not only have a clear recollection of the past lives they have led, but they also have memories of the time spent in between lives. These between-life memories can provide significant insight into the evolution of the soul, the nature of spirits, and the very process of incarnation.
As a Kheprian, I come from a tradition of spiritual immortals. And while I wouldn’t say this makes me automatically “enlightened” or even spiritually superior to others, it certainly has given me a lot of knowledge about the wheel of death and rebirth.
The concept of incarnation is pretty simple. When we are incarnated, we are both body and soul, united into one being. The process of incarnation, however, is relatively complex. There is an intricate interaction between our physical bodies and our subtle bodies that allows for incarnation. This interaction is based on the proper integration of our subtle body structure with our physical body structure. There is a delicate interplay between energy channels and nerves, chakras and organs, and the vital energy which passes between the two.
Integration between the subtle and physical bodies can start at the moment of conception. A great deal of integration occurs throughout gestation, but even after birth, the brain and nervous system are not properly developed. The soul frequently is not fixed completely in the body at this point and will not be until the nervous system has finished developing. The body is hardly without a soul during this final “setting” of the incarnation; instead, it extends around and beyond the physical body, but still rooted to the physical form.
Generally, the process of integration is complete by the age of three, and it is at this time that the soul really becomes fixed in the current life-time. This is one of the main reasons children beneath the age of four often have vivid past-life recall. Until the soul is firmly entrenched in the current life, it will retain its awareness of its previous selves. Once the child is caught up in the here-and-now, these memories settle to the unconscious mind and become as distant dreams.
Problems with Incarnation
If something in the subtle body fails to integrate properly with the concurrent physical structure, various problems can occur. Typically, these result in miscarriage, but if the pregnancy is carried to term and the integration is flawed or incomplete, various birth defects and neurological disorders can occur, and these are carried with the individual for the duration of that life.
Several factors can hinder the process of integration that is necessary for incarnation. One of these is soul-origin, and the other is damage to the subtle body. Both hinge upon the effective “shape” of the subtle body, and its ability to link up to key points throughout the physical form.
Soul-origin is relatively self-explanatory. Given that the soul is immortal and that races and even worlds die and are lost over time, not all of the souls incarnated among humanity are precisely human. Although it could be argued that a soul should not have a “race” any more than it should have a gender, some souls seem to cling to favorite forms. The difficulty in this is that not all of these forms are compatible with incarnation into a human physical structure.
As a hypothetical example, let us suppose that a being spent many, many lifetimes as a something akin to a Hindu god. This being was relatively human, but operated on a higher energetic level, and in addition, it had many more than two arms. For some reason, this soul now attempts to incarnate among humanity. Its subtle body, however, is accustomed to linking up with energy centers and pathways throughout 8 upper limbs. A human, of course, only has two. The soul then, in order to incarnate, has to contort itself in some fashion to fit all of the necessary subtle connections into the limits of the physical form. And even so, it may still have some sense of those “phantom” limbs.
Some soul-forms integrate better than others into humanity. For a few, the task is nigh impossible. And again, if the integration is flawed or incomplete, such as if crucial connections somehow get crossed, then the attempt will result in either miscarriage or undesirable birth defects. Even when successful, the integration of a very different soul into a human body can leave the individual with a sense of not feeling quite comfortable in their skin. And, supposing they have no conscious memory of what they were in the past, they may suffer their entire lives from an indefinable longing for a humanly impossible form.
Subtle body damage is typically the result of an exceptionally brutal, traumatic death, or a death that lingered over a long period of time. A quick death, even from violence, rarely does damage to anything but the physical shell. Some types of damage are still so severe that they cut across physical and subtle forms, leaving the soul wounded even in the between-lives.
Torture and extremely violent or painful deaths can often result in subtle body damage. Long and drawn out wasting illnesses also cause damage, as they slowly eat away at an individual’s strength, energy, and will. It is my opinion that prolonged periods spent in insensible states while the body is kept alive through life support can do massive damage to the subtle body by wearing away at it a bit at a time. Illnesses whose cures are more torturous than the deaths they cause, such as cancer, can also do lasting damage, because of the stress and trauma the treatments ordinarily put the victims through.
Someone also can be killed with the intent of damaging the subtle body so as to prevent or delay incarnation. Very few beings remain who know how to do this, however, and it’s a much rarer cause of such damage now than in ages past.
When we die, our physical body and our subtle body separate. The physical body, bereft of what kept it animated in the first place, becomes just an empty shell which then rots away. The subtle body, the true seat of the soul, continues on, only now it lacks the component that allows it to interact with the physical world. Instead, it exists completely on the subtle level. The subtle reality is perceptible to physical beings because they exist in both realms. The spiritual half of the world we know is perceptible to the disincarnate, and it is on this level of pure energy which they must interact once they have gone beyond their bodies.
Most souls incarnate again after the death of their physical bodies. The process of reincarnation can happen almost immediately upon the death of the body, or the soul may choose to wait a while for the proper circumstances to come together for the best birth it can achieve. “A while” is a very relative term, of course, because time as we experience it does not exist on the Otherside. Even if they are ready to, not all souls incarnate after dying. Some are caught between death and rebirth, and most of the spirits we perceive as ghosts are made up of these souls caught between incarnations on the Otherside.
Souls can be between lives for many reasons. Sometimes a soul gets confused about its death and it cannot seem to let go of its last incarnation. It has a lot of unresolved issues, and it tends to hang around the people and places that were important to it in that life. A soul in this situation is what we most commonly understand to be a ghost. If it is perceived, it is often perceived as a shadow of the person it once was, and it will retain its personality, memory, and motivations from that life. It can be so stuck in the former life that it does not even really have access to its Higher Self, something which ordinarily occurs once a soul has been separated from its body.
Souls that are ghosts are actually stuck in the transition stage from life to life. They are often blind to the fact that they are dead, or if they are aware of being on the Otherside, they care more about getting back to what they once were than they do about moving on. Only a small percentage of souls become ghosts, and it really depends on how traumatic their life or death was, and how well they approached the act of letting go once they did die.
Other souls are on the Otherside because they either do not want to incarnate again right away or some damage was done to their subtle bodies so that incarnation will be difficult or impossible until the damage heals. Spiritual attacks that occur on the Otherside can cause this kind of subtle body damage, but more often it’s the result of particularly traumatic damage to the physical body. This is most often damage that brought about the person’s last death.
Souls that have chosen not to incarnate may simply want a time out from the flesh and the demands of the world. They can keep to themselves, or they can hang around people who they have some karmic connection to from the past. This connection does not have to be one that was established in the last life — if one is self-aware on the Otherside, there is a deeper connection to the Higher Self, and so memories of other lives and the people from those lives come with much greater ease than when one is incarnated in a body. From the Otherside, it is easy to recognize such people because the semblance of the flesh doesn’t get in the way — the souls see the soul and not really the body of the people they interact with.
Higher Self and Spirit Guides
Souls that have chosen not to incarnate can serve as spirit guides and guardians for those they’ve taken an interest in. They are also the ancestor spirits revered in many non-Western cultures. They may alternate between people, paying attention to one incarnated person for a time, then moving onto someone else they have an old connection with. They may simply remain on the Otherside in order to see someone progress through a specific period of their life, such as childhood or adolescence, or a particularly traumatic time.
Souls on the Otherside may hang around people for less than benevolent reasons as well, though this seems more rare. If the karmic connection is a darker one, where the incarnated person perhaps caused the soul’s death at some point in their history together, the soul may take an interest in making that person pay for this crime, even if, in the current incarnation, they have no recollection of it.
Most New Agers believe that the stronger connection to the Higher Self enjoyed by the disincarnate soul prevents such pettiness, but this is simply not the case. The Higher Self is not omniscient nor all-good. It is simply the core of a person, the most basic, and eternal part of who they are. This portion of the Self remembers all the lifetimes, and to a certain extent it chooses incarnations in order to learn certain lessons and to forward certain goals. However, it is not always altruistic, and it is not always enlightened in its choices. In many ways, it is simply a bigger version of the selves if incarnates in.
Keep in mind: if it were a perfected being, then the Higher Self would have no reason to direct incarnations in the first place. We come to the flesh for learning and for experience, and if we keep coming back, we are acknowledging that there is more left to learn.