I believe we are spirits.
We journey through this temporal (or rather time constrained) dimension which is bound by the laws of the physical universe for only a short while. Because it is a physical and temporal universe we must travel through it in physical and temporal vehicles, our bodies.
So long as these bodies are intact and whole, we can stay in them, but if they become too damaged by injury or by sickness, then we must vacate them, or sometimes, as in the case of a few people I know, a spirit so longs to go home that it simply leaves the body. I will borrow from C.S. Lewis (whose writings I love) and call this temporal dimension the Shadow Land.
When we enter this Shadow Land our spirits, or the eternal essence of who we are, becomes shrouded in flesh and blood. Our memory of that place we come from becomes clouded as we experience this world through our physical senses. We take on a persona, a soul. I will liken our souls to our emotions, our wills and our intellects. Yet, as we travel through this world, our spirit selves seek to learn and to grow. We could think of our time in this world like a long summer camp where we learn and experience things that we can only learn and experience in another place that isn’t home. We have left home to come here on this trip. It isn’t permanent and when it’s time, we each go back to where we came from. Just as there are laws of the physical universe, there are laws of the spiritual one. (Love, faith, hope, joy, compassion, gentleness, empathy, mercy, forgiveness, etc.)
So, we could say that we are spirits, we live (while on earth) in bodies and we have souls. When we leave this world, our bodies remain behind, either to decompose or to be preserved through embalming or in urns, etc. However, our spirits carry with them our souls and all the memories and lessons we learned while in this Shadow Land.
While we are traveling through this Shadow Land we each take on a persona, ego, personality (whatever you want to call it). This personality is based on our temperaments, our emotional development and our cognitive development. Our personalities may reflect our character, which transcends our personality. Spiritual awareness (*not necessarily religious) and understanding helps us reach self-actualization while in this world. (see Erik Erikson’s stages of development)
Some of us grow and help others to grow. Some of us get stuck in a developmental stage and may be a fifty-year-old adolescent. Each of us develops a system of cognitive pathways or preferences for interacting with this world. Carl Jung determined that these pathways determined how we perceived the world and how we made sense of what we perceived. He organized these functions into sixteen configuration or cognitive preference types. No one type is better than any other. Each type just takes a different pathway toward self-actualization and growth. Each type has its own unique sets of strengths and weaknesses to overcome. Understanding our own mental processes can help us navigate through our lives and can help us become more understanding and forgiving, propelling us toward self-actualization and spiritual growth, while fostering more positive relationships with other people.
*religion is humanity’s attempt to appease a deity, to work our way into heaven or an afterlife by doing good deeds, sacrifices, rituals, saying the right things, etc. Spirituality may exist within a religion but is not dependent upon a religion. Spirituality is the realization that we are spirit beings and that there is a spiritual dimension with a different set of values than those mandated by religions or man-made organizations or governments.