When we are incarnated, we are both body and soul, united into one being. There is an intricate interaction between our physical bodies and our subtle bodies, and this hinges upon the vital energy which passes between the two. When we die, however, 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 its lacks a 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 that was done to the physical body, most often through the person’s last death, that was severe enough to actually cross over and inflict damage on the subtle body as well.
Long and drawn out, wasting illnesses can sometimes cause such damage, as can torture, or extremely violent or painful deaths. 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. Some very old souls that this has been done to yet remain on the Otherside to this day.
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.
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. but it is not always altruistic, and it is not always enlightened in its choices. Keep in mind: if it were a perfected being, then the Higher Self would have no reason to direct incarnations in order to learn anything. Even the Higher Self has its limits.
Of course, if a “soul” is a spirit that can incarnate in this world and has assumably done so at least on one occasion in the past, then the vast majority of beings on the Otherside are not even properly termed “souls”. Many of the spirits on that side are not human, have never been human, and have never even worn the flesh as we understand it. They come from many different levels of existence, from what we would consider base and bestial to what we would consider amazingly elevated and even angelic.
Some of the spirits have a less than human intelligence and operate more like wild animals, driven by basic instincts, than anything else. Our encounters which such spirits are as random and as unpredictable as our encounters with a raccoon in the local park. It may see us and run. it may come up to us for food. It may see us as a threat and seek to attack us. Many variables affect the outcome of such an encounter, but it’s not like the raccoon went out of its way to find us and ruin our day. It just happened to be going about its business while we happened to be going about ours, and our paths crossed. From my experience, the vast majority of spirits that we encounter from the Otherside are just exactly like the raccoon. We just happened to cross paths, and what happens from that point is nothing personal, just a reaction.