Ego death has been a part of the human spiritual experience for centuries. As a matter of fact, humans have sought it, feared it, loved it, or regretted it in equal measure. In addition, it is inseparably connected with the human spiritual journey or searched for spiritual awakening.
Before we delve deeper into ego death, the different interpretations of this phenomenon and ways to achieve it, let’s take a look at the ego itself. More importantly, why do some people feel the need to transcend it?
What is the Ego?
In the first place, the ego is our self-constructed sense of identity. It is the amalgamation of our mental construct of the self and of our social conditioning. Because the ego represents a self-definition of our identity, it actively controls and affects our behaviour. This is usually through opposition and duality. In other words, I am this, they are that; good versus evil; wrong versus right; acceptable versus unacceptable.
Since the ego defines us in opposition to the world around us, when we live according to the ego, we perceive ourselves as separate, individual entities. For this reason, the ego rejects and locks away what it deems ‘wrong,’ ‘bad,’ or ‘unacceptable.’
By the same token, it distances us both from others and specific aspects of our self. As a result, this repression of what is ‘wrong’ within ourselves fuels what is called the ‘Shadow Self,’ the sum of the parts of us that don’t see the light of day.
Living according to the ego can often result in feelings of anxiety, depression, dissociation and isolation. Consequently, this can force people to seek more for themselves. When traditional medicine and lifestyles don’t bring out the best in us, we are pushed towards alternative and spiritual solutions. Ultimately, we gravitate to explore aspects of our self which were previously neglected.
What is Ego Death?
People come to ego death through a variety of methods. In particular, with intention and purpose through yogic, Buddhist or other spiritual practices. Not to mention the use of psychedelics. Sometimes it can happen almost by accident, by merely questioning their reality or lining up their actions with their truths.
There is a range of interpretations and traditions surrounding ego death. For example:
- State Enlightenment described in Eastern religion
- Self-surrender and transition associated with the Hero’s Journey in most ancient mythologies
- The psychic death signifying a shift to one’s true nature and purpose in Jungian psychology
- The temporary loss of sense of self linked with the use of psychedelic drugs.
Ego death is also a common basis amongst many religions worldwide, from Buddha’s Ascension to Christ’s Rebirth. Although these traditions seem to come from all corners of the globe, they have many commonalities. All of them, in one form or another, to one extreme or another, view ego death as the realisation that ‘I,’ one’s self-identity, is only a perception.
It’s important to note that, in the long-term, the use of psychedelics has been shown to have little-to-no worthwhile long-term relation to this state of awareness. In actual fact, it results in far more negative experiences such as manic depersonalisation, panic attacks, and depression. That is to say, psychedelics are simply a short-cut to achieve what meditation, yoga or soul-searching build up to.
Through a gradual, or mind-blowing cerebral experience, the part of our brain responsible for the sense of self quietens down. Subsequently, we learn to live without the influence of the ego. To put it another way, as we begin to experience our true nature in its most raw form, we gradually come to be in touch with our whole being.
This shift in our consciousness can be a terrifying experience
Nevertheless, this can be terrifying in and of itself. Not only because it requires letting go of the feeling that something is ‘wrong’ or ‘unacceptable,’ but also embracing our true nature in its entirety.
Another terrifying element that accompanies the shattering of our constructed self-identity is the realisation that the ‘I’ is not, in fact, a separate entity. Because of ego death, we achieve consciousness of connection. That is to say, we feel a oneness with the human, material and spiritual world around us.
Thus, ego death culminates in the loss of attachment to our sense of self and the realisation of our true nature.
In the beautiful words of Jin Y Park:
“I become nothing, and find out that I am everything.”
Are you experiencing ego death?
How can you tell if you are in the process of shedding your mental construct of the self? For one thing, there are a few signs which show you might be on your own path to shattering your ego and reaching spiritual enlightenment.
1. The dark night of the soul
You are, have or have been going through what is called the Dark Night of the Soul. There is a void in your life. From depression, anxiety, feelings of being lost and purposeless. There is a general discomfort in your life that pushes you to ask questions like ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Why am I here?’ You know something significant and meaningful has to happen, but the despair of not knowing what, or how, feels overwhelming.
2. You’ve been drawn to explore or experiment with spirituality and different spiritual practices.
You’ve suddenly found yourself interested in meditation, yoga, Eastern medicines, the natural world, or anything else that links your existence with the world around you. Likewise, exploring these philosophies feels like a balm against the discomfort in your Soul.
3. You become more aware
You’ve noticed how your ego, your thoughts and your social conditioning control you. In addition, you’ve begun to observe your own mind, liberating yourself from the ego’s influence and acknowledging that you are not your thoughts.
4. Old obsessions, acquaintances and friendships are losing their attraction.
You are slowly disconnecting from your old identity, conditioning and reality. Equally, you’re having an increasingly difficult time conforming as past illusions lose their hold over you.
5. You start to feel the connection
You’re becoming increasingly aware of the oneness and connection between all things in the Universe. As a result, you no longer feel isolated and separate but as though you are part of a larger whole.
Final Thoughts on Ego Death
Finally, if you recognise yourself here, you are on a beautiful path to spiritual awakening. Surround yourself with positivity, grow your Soul through whatever spiritual practices work best for you.
To summarise, when ego death occurs, don’t give in to the fear that often accompanies the first glimpses of Enlightenment. More importantly, when the time comes to surrender, to let go of the ego and trust what you don’t know, do so.
Copyright © 2012-2019 Learning Mind. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint, contact us.