As readers of this blog know, I've been puzzled by the divergence between two sets of afterlife reports. One set essentially involves a trip to either a disturbing, hellish limbo or a beautiful paradise (known as Summerland to Spiritualists), while the other set involves an immediate awareness of a higher self that chooses various incarnations for the purpose of growth.
The trouble is that the first set of reports (often found in NDEs and mediumship) typically has little to say abut reincarnation and suggests that the earthly persona continues after death. But the second set (obtained through hypnotic regression and the channeling of allegedly advanced spirits) insists on reincarnation and regards the earthly persona as a temporary role that is quickly discarded.
Moreover, the two sets of reports differ in other aspects. The first set focuses on an earthlike environment of gardens, parks, homes, and even cities, inhabited by beings in human form, while the second set tells of a more abstract environment of pure geometry in which souls see each other primarily as glowing lights (with different colors of the spectrum relating to different degrees of spiritual evolution).
The easiest course of action would be to jettison one set pf reports and concentrate exclusively on the other. But I think there is pretty good evidence for both, although the first set has been more extensively investigated, and the second set is weakened by the inherent problems of hypnosis (e.g., hypnotized subjects may confabulate or may be influenced by the hypnotist). If I had to choose just one set, I'd go with the first, but I suspect that there is some truth in each set -- but not the whole truth in either.
Noodling on this, I sketched out the simple little diagram reproduced below. I admit this could look a lot better if done on a computer, but I'm busy right now and don't have time to put together a better chart. Still, this crude drawing at least gets the basic idea across.
The idea is that the Self, in the sense of the totality of the spiritual entity that we know as "I," may extend across various levels of existence. Spiritualists are always talking about different planes of reality, and the implication is that we travel from one plane to the next. But suppose that our Self actually cuts across all the planes simultaneously, and what "travels" is only our awareness (or at least our primary awareness, in the sense of of our principal focus). Moreover, suppose that time either has no meaning in this scheme or operates very differently from the way it does in our spacetime universe. The end result is that the Self could operate on various levels at once, and the story told by the Self when focusing on its experience in one plane would differ from the story it tells when focusing on a different level of experience.
Though I did not mark it this way in the diagram (because I didn't think of it), we could label each sub-Self as Self 1, Self 2, Self 3, etc., with higher numbers representing higher levels of existence. Note that the Self is depicted as a circle on each plane, and that the radius of the circle varies consistently as you go from one plane to the next. Awareness on higher planes is represented by a bigger radius, while awareness on lower planes is represented by a smaller radius. This simple graphic tries to express the idea that consciousness expands as it moves deeper into the system.
Note also that various circles are slices of a cone, which represents the Self in its entirety. The cone expresses the idea that these circular slices or cross-sections are part of a larger, continuous whole which bridges the gaps between the planes. Because the Self is ultimately one entity, no matter how it may be sectioned into slices, no part of it is really cut off from the rest, which means that the relatively restricted awareness of the earth plane can come into contact with the higher awareness of higher planes (perhaps through prayer, meditation, or a burst of insight sometimes known as "cosmic consciousness"). This viewpoint also dovetails with the hypothesis popularized by Aldous Huxley that the brain serves as a "funnel" or "filter" restricting a wider range of consciousness.
Perhaps this diagram, though obviously simplistic and metaphorical, can make some sense of the conflicting sets of reports. NDErs and ordinary mediumistic communicators are reporting from the level of awareness depicted here as "limbo" or "Summerland." Those who recall past lives under hypnosis, and especially those who recall a life between lives, may be reporting from a higher (or deeper) level of awareness. In this respect it is worth noting that between-lives therapists insist that only the deepest stage of hypnosis can access these memories. Naturally, the reports of purportedly high-level channeled beings would also reflect a higher plane of awareness.
What is perhaps most noteworthy is the implication that all of this is going on at the same time, or perhaps "outside of" time. While it may seem as if we are engaged in a long and tedious struggle to attain spiritual enlightenment, this model suggests that we have already attained it -- in fact, that we never had to attain it because it was part of us from the beginning. The various lower levels of awareness with their more restricted range (represented by smaller radii) are part of a continuum with the highest level of awareness, so whatever we are seeking on this plane has already been found (actually did not have to be "found") on the higher plane. And the awareness on that plane is just as much "I" as the awareness on this plane; it is not a separate entity, though it may feel separate from the limited perspective of earthly life.
Finally, notice that the various cross-sections form a series of concentric circles, suggesting that each smaller circle is contained within the larger one. Nothing is lost; there is only expansion to a wider point of view. If this is correct, then it may be wrong to say (as, in the past, I have) that the ego is sloughed off after death. It may be more correct to say that the ego is subsumed within a wider consciousness that places it into a more appropriate perspective, thus robbing it of its power to mislead or confuse. This higher awareness, even on the limbo or Summerland planes, would be consistent with many reports of communicators who see their own mistakes more clearly than than they did on earth, and who (especially at the Summerland level) have risen above their earthbound limitations of perception. The field of induced after-death communication offers many examples of communications that seem to come from this level of awareness.
I'm not sure how clear this all is, and being busy, I can't revise and clarify my remarks as much as I ordinarily would. But it just may be the case that the apparent contradiction between the two sets of afterlife reports can be resolved by looking at the whole issue from a different perspective.
My thanks to commenter Juan, whose remark about slicing off circular sections of a sphere probably got me thinking along these lines (although I realize I am not going in quite the direction he suggested).