Those undergoing the fifth and final stage of reincarnation are known as old souls. In this stage of soul evolvement there is a search for balance and completion, and an urge to pass on the torch before the end of reincarnation.
Having completed the fourth stage of reincarnation*, the soul has come a long way.
- In the first stage, as an “Infant Soul” it learned about physical existence, life and death, and the need for nurturing.
- In the second stage, as a “Baby/Child Soul” it learned about society, culture and community, the need for structure, belonging, and playing a role.
- In the third stage, as a “Young Soul” it learned about free will and self-determination, taking charge of its own destiny, rising to the challenge.
- In the fourth stage, as a “Mature Soul” it learned about co-existence and interrelatedness, taking responsibility for its relationships, honouring difference and otherness.
At last, the soul is ready for the final leg of the journey: the return to unity and the end of reincarnation.
* For an overview of the stages of soul evolution, see Reincarnation: the 35 Steps
In Search of Unity
The Old Soul already has a well-developed sense of independence (from its Young Soul phase) and inter-dependence (from the Mature Soul phase). Now the soul also feels drawn to reconnect with the greater order of things, the underlying cosmic unity.
This does not mean overthrowing the lessons of the previous stages in favour of some nice, fluffy notion of oneness. Rather, it means coming to terms with all of life’s dualities (self and other, love and hate, joy and pain, etc.) as integral to the whole. In fact, the main lesson for Old Souls is to do with finding unity within diversity.
The Dalai Lama (Old Server)
The Realised Self
This return to unity does not involve any loss of individuality, as some imagine. The end of reincarnation — “ascension” or “enlightenment” or what have you — does not mean fading out of existence, dissolving into nothingness.
Rather, the soul completes its adventure as a unique individual, like a distinctive star in the night sky, a completely realised Self.
So to begin this stage, the soul will tend to focus on true self-expression and self-actualization. In other words, seeking experiences and activitiies which provide ultimate personal fulfilment within life on the physical plane.
This could be found in, say, art, science, acting, wine-growing, gardening, flying old aeroplanes, or simply being a grandparent. The soul is not interested in success or fame so much as doing something it loves well, living up to its true potential, and finding inner satisfaction.
Then, towards the end of the stage, there is more of an emphasis on teaching rather than simply learning: passing on the lessons learnt, showing others the way.
For some, especially Old Priest souls, the teaching focus is explicitly spiritual. Many of the world’s great spiritual teachers were/are Old Souls: Buddha, Jesus, Ramana Maharshi, and so on.
But that’s not to say that every self-proclaimed guru is an Old Soul. Far from it. There are spiritual teachers at all stages of reincarnation. But the advanced Old Soul has certain characteristics as a spiritual teacher that stand out from the rest: far-reaching wisdom, great compassion, inner peace, and little or no attachment to material things.
Old Soul Perceptions
In this final cycle on the Earth plane, the soul develops a more holistic perception of self, life and everything as part of a bigger picture. So while a Mature Soul (stage IV) comes to perceive others as its brothers and sisters, an Old Soul (stage V) comes to perceive both self and others as integral parts of a greater whole, all unique yet all essential.
In other words, the individual 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 recognising 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.”
Old Soul Lifestyles
Old Souls become more relaxed, laid back and detached in life. Human existence is familiar and manageable, and there are not so many problems or issues to deal with.
The main issues, in fact, are existential rather than material or psychological. A potential pitfall for Old Souls is lapsing into apathy or complacency, no longer caring about life and the world. Unlike Young Souls, they are not driven to complete major projects before they die. As the physical plane begins to lose its allure, an older soul can show signs of being world-weary, even from birth.
Doing their own thing, Old Souls end up pursuing nothing but their own path whilst allowing others to pursue theirs, just perfecting their own abilities, being themselves in life to the best that they can. Many do so through artistic, humanitarian or philosophical endeavours, though for many others their greatest form of self-fulfillment can be something as mundane as gardening. Work, rest and play all become the same thing.
In the end, joy is found in simply being as opposed to doing.
Other Old Soul Characteristics
How can you spot an old soul?
Old Souls have a level of self-assurance that is unusual for souls in other stages. This isn’t the same as the brash confidence or “can-do” attitude of Young Souls. Rather, Old Souls are generally relaxed and philosophical about life, at ease with themselves and others, and have fewer worldly concerns.
That’s not to say that Old Souls have no issues; many clearly do. (We all have issues of some sort right up until our very last life.) But unlike Mature Souls, Old Souls do not let their issues stress them out.
Old Souls tend to emanate a calm, steady quality that has substance, depth or gravitas. In contrast, Young Souls tend to appear frantic and superficial while Mature Souls seem perpetually stressed and assailed by life. You can often hear it in the voice —
- Young Souls tend to talk loud and fast (“I’m right and you know it!”)
- Mature Souls have a sort of soft tone laced with uncertainty (“I’m really not sure I can cope with this …”)
- Old Souls tend to have a slow, deep voice – relaxed, assured and unhurried (“If there’s one thing I know, it’s that I know nothing…”).
This inner calm and depth is also evident in the old soul’s eyes. Whereas Young Souls cannot make eye contact for long, and Mature Souls will do so occasionally, when they’re not too stressed or distracted, Old Souls tend to make direct eye contact with an unflinching gaze. (Note: This is not the same as the cold stare of a psychopath!) They are unafraid to look another in the eyes and see into their heart.
Old Souls are like citizens of the world, not so much identified with their country or culture of origin. They tend to be drawn to the quiet life away from the noise of the city. Old Kings in particular will tend to spend their last lives as homeless, wandering teachers.
Some Notable Old Souls
Old souls who become famous tend to do so by virtue of their mastery, compassion, insight and wisdom rather than ambition.
Many of the finest minds in history have been old souls: Marcus Aurelius (121-180), Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Carl Jung (1875-1961).
In the arts we have the composer J. S. Bach (1685-1750), the painter Paul Gauguin (1848-1903, now apparently reincarnated as artist Peter Teekamp).
Also the writer Walt Whitman (1819-1892), now apparently reincarnated as the writer/activist Alice Walker.
In the acting profession, there are numerous Old Souls who excel at playing characters who are, essentially, younger souls — mainly because there aren’t that many scripts featuring older soul characters!
Morgan Freeman is well known for the gravitas he brings to every role.
Finally, many of the world’s great spiritual teachers have been late-stage old souls passing on their wisdom: Gurdjieff (1866-1949), Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986), Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950), Anandamayi Ma (1896-1962), Neem Karoli Baba (d. 1973), the Dalai Lama, Ammachi (Mātā Amritanandamayī Devi), and Thich Nhat Hanh.
The End of Reincarnation
There are seven levels to every stage of soul evolution, including this one. After completing the 7th level of the Mature Soul stage, the soul begins its next life as a 1st-level Old Soul. The soul then undergoes the whole cycle of development, one life at a time, until finally it reaches 7th level. This is the final step, step 35, in the 35 steps of reincarnation.
Now, I occasionally meet people who are convinced that they must now be in their final incarnation simply because they are so “spiritual” and have no liking for the material world. This is not how it works.
The goal of evolution is not to escape from the wretched physical plane, despite what many teach. The end of reincarnation is not some sort of reward for good behaviour. Human existence is not a prison, or a wheel of torment, from which only the most worthy gain liberation.
We incarnate because we want to and we choose to. We keep doing it precisely because we want to come to terms with it. We know that in each life we will probably spend several decades not remembering who we are, not remembering our eternal Home, buying into the illusion of separation, experiencing fear. This is the very stuff which inspires us to become more conscious.
Completion occurs when it matters not whether you are incarnate or discarnate: you see through the illusion and you always feel at Home.
Consider Ramana Maharshi, an Old Scholar and a model of pure enlightenment. Towards the end of his life, some of his students begged him not to die, not to leave them. His answer was: “But where could I possibly go?”
He knew that both he and everybody else are already Home, and always will be, having never really left it.
→ See: Abide As The Self [DVD]
So the last lifetime is one in which you are very content to be in physical form, using it as an opportunity to teach and enlighten others – or to simply enjoy being physical one last time. If you have issues with being physical, then you still have a way to go.
Cycling Off: The Higher Stages
On completion of the seventh level of the Old Soul stage (or “cycling off”), there is no longer any need or desire to reincarnate. The soul will unify its consciousness with soul mates who have also completed, and it may serve as an elder spirit guide to others still undergoing reincarnation. But there is no longer value to be had in incarnating as a human being.
There are some rare exceptions, however.
A number of old Priest souls such as the philosopher Socrates, the Prophet Mohammed and Mahatma Gandhi are said to have incarnated to become vehicles for a higher level of consciousness capable of inspiring a cultural revolution. The higher consciousness manifested through these individuals only in later life. From that point on, they are referred to in the Michael teachings as “transcendental souls”.
Rarer still, Jesus Christ and the Buddha are said to be examples of old King souls who returned to become the physical embodiment of divine love, pure consciousness and ultimate truth, the Tao itself in human form. In other words, avatars. Again, the transformation did not occur until some point in adulthood. But from then on, these individuals are said to be manifestations of the “infinite soul”.
The Five Stages of Reincarnation
|Infant Soul||Baby Soul||Young Soul||Mature Soul||Old Soul|