We’ve all heard the phrase, “You can’t take it with you.” That usually refers to not being able to take any of the material possessions we’ve acquired in life with us when we head off into the next world.
Since the world’s religions mostly agree the soul does have an eternal journey ahead of it when it leaves this earth, it seems fair to ask: is there anything that the soul can take with it?
Here are some possibilities to consider. First, it could take with it its long-dormant (or partially recovered) memory of where it came from before it came into this world. This would be why it is so important to get into a regular practice of remembering who we are. After all, it is through remembrance that we are brought to a spiritual life, and to the recognition that the soul is our eternal identity.
Second, the soul could take with it the essence of everything it has experienced in this world, especially everything that has contributed toward its spiritual progress, like maintaining a balance between the physical and spiritual aspects of life, and the significance of all the challenges, struggles, and transformations it has experienced.
Marion Woodman calls this soul-making, “constantly confronting the paradox that an eternal being is dwelling in a temporal body.” These moments of opposition are opportunities for spiritual growth. As John Keats put it, “How, but by the medium of a world like this” are “Souls to be made”? These would seem to be what the soul would want to keep with it throughout its eternal journey. To know what the soul will take with it to the next world we need to know what the crises have been in our lives that have lead to our triumphs, to making us who we are because of those struggles.
Finally, what about the spiritual qualities, attributes, and virtues we have acquired in this life? Are they carried over in any way to the rest of our journey? Since these are the gems of humanity’s common spiritual heritage, it seems to make perfect sense that they would remain with us, with our spiritual essence, because they are what have made us uniquely who we are as an eternal being, or as a “spark of God.” The acquisition of these spiritual virtues is what most benefits the soul on its return journey to where it came from.
This means that all the essential powers we typically associate with our human capacity – reason, will, identity, memory, and qualities like love, compassion, and kindness – are all properties of the soul, and will continue to assist our growth eternally. In this view, death becomes a birth into a more expansive spiritual existence where love and kindness prevail.
According to Baha’u’llah, the soul retains its individuality and consciousness after death. Abdu’l-Baha explains further that intelligence, reasoning powers, knowledge, and achievements, as manifestations of the spirit, all partake of the law of spiritual progress and are immortal.
As we rewind the tape of our lives, reviewing everything we’ve done, what is it that remains when we finally do decide to let go of everything we no longer need to hold on to? What is it that we’ve contributed to a lifetime of relationships that will forever matter the most, both to us and to the other people in our lives? When all we have left are the deeply embedded memories of a life, we have gotten to the essence of we are, and what the soul would most want to keep with it on its eternal journey.
Could it have always been the intention of the soul to bring back with it on its return journey those eternal images and soul qualities needed to ensure our further progress in the eternal world?
It seems that the soul not only wants to remember where it came from, but also take with it the virtues it has acquired from all of the experiences and events of its life that have most served as the catalysts to its own development here on this earth, and will continue to do so after this final transition.
For further reference, see The Journey of the Soul: Life, Death & Immortality, Introduction by John Hatcher (Wilmette, IL: Baha’i Publishing, 2006).