The soul’s journey is really a process of evolving. This means growing in consciousness, steadily progressing through different levels or stages of consciousness.
How do we grow in consciousness? Through taking on challenging experiences in physical form. These cause us to make important, “soul-searching” choices and call upon us to discover our inner resources.
But why in physical form? Why would a perfectly happy spiritual being decide to inhabit the physical realm with all of its limitations and difficulties?
It is precisely so that we can experience the state of what feels like total separation from others and from the rest of reality. Being physical throws our experiences and choices into extremely sharp relief in a way that is not possible otherwise. This is how we learn who we are and how to become all that we are.
The Five Stages
Teachings describe a sequence of five “cycles” or stages of soul evolution. They are named after the stages of human development.
Each of these five stages corresponds to a specific level of development in capability and self-awareness within the individual soul. Each stage is also characterized by a different learning focus that is more subtle than the previous ones.
Soul age and personality
Soul age will affect how a personality comes across in certain ways. We begin reincarnating as Infant souls, complete novices at physical existence. At this first stage we are largely in a state of incompetence and reaction. But through experiences and choices we learn and grow. We steadily progress from being Infant souls to Baby souls to Young souls to Mature souls. Finally, we enter the fifth stage as accomplished Old souls, the experts of human existence.
As infant souls we learned about choices having to do with survival, as baby souls – choices having to do with moral codes and ethics, as young souls – choices having to do with mastery of achievement, as mature souls – choices having to do with relationships, and as old souls – choices having to do with the nature of oneness with the Tao. An infant soul would therefore not understand the choices of an old soul – although an older soul would likely have more understanding of the nature of younger soul choice, having had them.
The Five Stages in detail
Infant souls focus on immediate survival needs. They flourish in simple environments close to nature, such as remote tribes or rural, pastoral settings. In the context of modern society, however, they can come across as uncivilised simpletons or yokels, and may even be deemed to be psychopathic or have some sort of developmental disorder. Psychologically, they are naive, impulsive and “pre-conventional”, acting on impulse or habit with little or no thought for consequences. Because they lack both social understanding and self-inhibition, they are capable of committing antisocial or immoral acts without any sense of wrongdoing. As such, they do not fit well within modern society and may end up in prison or in psychiatric units. While infant souls may lack the moral principles, social graces and cultural understanding of older souls, they are in a sense completely innocent, being without pretense or agenda.
Baby souls, in contrast to Infant souls, think a great deal about their actions. Their lives are about safety, security, structure and order — rigidly so. Both their beliefs and their actions are largely rule-bound, so they are often ultra-conservative, traditionalist, orthodox, upright, moralistic, religiously devout, and mindful of law and order. That said, they will occasionally give in to temptation, or a temper tantrum, and break the rules themselves — but then might find themselves tortured with guilt and shame. They come across to older souls as rather “square” – conscientious, conventional, conformist. Baby soul communities tend to be highly principled and civilised (think of the Amish or fundamental Christians). They are acutely aware of the rights and wrongs of people’s actions, including their own, though they have little insight into the motives behind them. Bad behaviour is sinful, and that’s that.
Young souls tend to be extravert, outward-bound, worldly, ambitious, materialistic, competitive, political, ambitious and individualistic. The main lesson for souls in the third stage of their evolvement has to do with exploring and expressing individuality, discovering the power of independence in thought, will and action. There is a strong desire to make a personal impact on the outer world, so the focus is very much outwards and with a lot of energy. At the same time, there is a strong tendency to compare oneself to others, evaluating self-worth in terms of “my” achievements relative to “their” achievements. This outward-bound, achievement-focused sense of self can lead to a determination to be a “winner” and to be seen to win. The danger is that the appearance of success can become more important than anything else, including even happiness. People in this stage are more ego-driven than personalities at any other soul age, keen to prove themselves in the world at large. They like to think for themselves, assert their own opinions, and follow their own agenda, with a certainty that their own way is by far the best way. What young souls do not quite recognize as yet is that all perspectives are equally valid. They are identified with their own perspective, feeling confident that theirs is the best way to see things. Young souls are acutely aware of their own goals and intentions but do not really question them. They are generally attracted to some form of worldly success — fame, fortune, power, glory. In fact, they are more fearful of death than souls at other stages, and those who aren’t sure about life after death may be anxious to make a big impact on the world stage – to create some kind of symbolic immortality for themselves.
Mature souls tend to be thoughtful, reflective and sincere within themselves, and sensitive and empathetic towards others. Psychologically, their awareness is no longer egocentric (in the sense of being limited to a single perspective), but capable of accommodating multiple perspectives. In fact, the self-serving ego comes to be seen as a problem, something to be overcome (though in reality it is more a case of incorporating it into a broader level of awareness). This tension between ego and ego-transcendence, or between having both a personal agenda and a desire to be more open and authentic, makes life much more complicated — sometimes overwhelmingly so. On the one hand, mature souls reject narrow-minded values. Yet on the other hand, they can empathize with whoever holds those same values. Fixed opinions are replaced by a sense of ever-shifting perspectives “It all depends on how you look at it”. This disappearance of solid ground kicks off a search for deeper meaning and self-understanding — whether through art, psychology, philosophy or spirituality. More than any at other soul stage, mature souls are likely to bond for life in a positive, loving, intimate partnership. It is a time for soul mates to get together and help each other work through their issues to create a mature, healthy relationship. At this level, love is generally experienced and expressed as appreciation and a genuine acceptance of the otherness of another. Politically, mature souls tend to be liberal and inclusive, and disapprove of narrow chauvinism. To younger souls, they can come across as bleeding-heart liberals. Inner conflict is common, as they tend to question everything including their own motives, and are prone to do a lot of soul-searching.
Old souls tend to exude some degree of depth, gravitas or wisdom that is quite unmistakable. Having moved beyond the conflicts of the mature soul, they are also lighter and have a sense of joyous freedom — the freedom to enjoy being very much in the world, but not of it. They are relatively calm, measured, untroubled and stable, unattached to social structures and cultural expectations, being sure of their own existence and inner strengths and their compassion for others. In the beginning stages of this stage, the soul will tend to focus on true self-expression and self-actualization, seeking experiences which provide personal fulfillment within life on the physical plane. The soul is not interested in success or fame so much as doing something it loves well, and finding inner satisfaction. They tend to go their own unique way in life, letting go and letting be, in a detached way that may seem very weird and eccentric to younger souls. Towards the end of the stage, there may be more of an emphasis on teaching rather than simply learning: passing on the lessons learnt, showing others the way. Many of the world’s great spiritual teachers are old souls. In this fifth and final cycle on the Earth plane, there is a more holistic perception of self, life and everything as part of a bigger picture. So while the mature soul comes to perceive others as its brothers and sisters, the old soul comes to perceive both self and others as integral parts of a greater whole, all unique yet all essential. In other words, the old soul comes to perceive every thing, every being, every moment, as part of one great tapestry. The issue now is how to relate to this united reality through one’s own being — how to be at peace with all of the conflicts, how to experience the harmony within all of the diversity. This involves recognizing the validity of each being’s chosen path in life within the broader scheme of things. We are all part of the One, and yet we are many, each pursuing a different path. And no path is wrong. Hence the old soul motto: “You do your thing and I’ll do mine.”
Note: These descriptions emphasise the differences between stages. In reality, though, there is a gradual blend from one stage to the next. A person at the start of the Mature stage, for example, will act mostly like a Young soul but with elements of Mature soul nature beginning to emerge.
Author: Brooke LeClaire