There is substantial data indicating that a soul can retain a larger perspective for a while after connecting to the body and even after the birth (see, for example, Wade, 1996, Chapter 2). Only gradually, it seems, does awareness become restricted by immediate experience, and the rest is forgotten. There may be several reasons why this forgetting happens: the sensations from material reality are stronger; the shock of birth breaks continuity; or the fluidity of these experiences makes it hard to retain them. Forgetting non-material existence is also beneficial. Such memories could intensify feelings of alienation and longing, and prevent focusing fully on this world. In contrast, when the rings start falling off after death, the self can become aware not only of non-material reality but also some experiences (although not necessarily their forms) from earlier lives that were incorporated into the soul. In any case, memories become a part of a wider perspective (like when one wakes up). Not everybody can adapt to the new environment, though. The difference between the imprints that expectations and beliefs left on the soul and reality as it is, can cause emotional reactions (e.g. fear or loss) that lead to reincarnation.
(Self)evaluation of the previous life is a persistent component of life after death accounts, but is often misunderstood. The soul seeks coherence (it is difficult to keep the energy together if there are internal conflicts), so this is more about coming to terms with the past experiences and choices, than evaluation. The sense of meaning is also enhanced. This does not lead to uniformity. Being aware that there is a purpose does not automatically mean interpreting it in the same way, or even accepting and working towards it. Also, there may be a plurality of views as to what is the best way to realise the purpose. Establishing contact with other souls makes sense, but meeting one's earthly relatives or religious figures are most likely projections (which does not rule out the possibility that they are projected onto something real). One's grandpa, for example, usually appears as one remembers him, not as an old sick person on his death bed or a man in his prime (which would be more likely if he could adopt an image of his choice). That non-material reality is populated by a conglomeration of gods and demi-gods from various cultures who just happen to be passing by is also unrealistic. The conventional stage may still play some role, but its elements will certainly not take earthly forms.
Certain differences between non-material and material realities can be discerned:
Non-material life is very dissimilar in appearance, but not so much in experience. There are no bodies, cars, TV, money, pets, computers, phones, books, clothes, genders etc. (although all these can be constructed as mental projections). Yet, there is no reason why familiar feelings such as fear, joy, hate or love should not be present.
Unrestricted experiences in non-material reality though, may have an additional quality of infinity. In fact, considering that the mind is affected by the soul, every experience potentially has this quality. It can be occasionally glimpsed even in the material world (as eloquently described in the first chapter of Colin Wilson's Outsider). But, because the rings have a tendency to close, this quality can be captured only for a moment. As soon as an experience becomes concrete, the element of infinity is lost (which often leads to disappointment). In the non-material world this does not need to be the case.
Time is linked to entropy, so time cannot exist in the usual sense. Attributes like near and far, before and after may still be meaningful, but they do not belong to a space-time framework. This is similar to a dream, when a dreamer can recognise these categories, although s/he does not operate within the space-time continuum.
Non-material reality is less solid, more fluid. This is not to say that it is experienced as such. Dreams too are felt as solid, although they are evidently not. However, this increased fluidity makes reality less stable. There is still permanency, but not of shapes or objects but the qualities of phenomena - similar to a river or sea or clouds that are lasting phenomena although they keep changing all the time.
The perception depends more on an inner state. For instance, if two persons in the material world observe a dog, they see more or less the same object, although the meaning and feelings related to it can be very different. For one person, the dog may present a danger and frighten shim, while the other may feel love and friendship towards it. In non-material reality those two persons would even perceive such an energy unit in a somewhat different way. So, not only the meaning and feelings can differ, but the perception too, because it depends far more on an interaction between the subject and an object (a form is created, rather than given). This does not mean that non-material reality is completely subjective, but the perception is heavily influenced by the state of the perceiver. As a consequence, it is much more difficult to communicate, understand and maintain a shared reality. A lot of effort needs to be invested to stabilise the image of reality without the help of solid matter, so the compatibility of souls that perceive in a similar way must be highly valued.
- . Regarding the visions of gods and demons The Tibetan Book of the Dead advises: ‘Be not terrified. Be not awed. Recognize them to be the embodiment of thine own intellect'.