There are some of us who live free—they see life as it is, and move through it and react to it in the way that is best for them.
But for many of us, we are controlled by our ego, or our sense of self and identity.
The ego holds us back because it puts a lens of duality over the real world.
Instead of seeing life as it is, the ego tends to divide concepts into two opposite sides: left and right, right and wrong, love and hate, peace and war.
These divisions bring suffering to our lives. Instead of seeing everyone as equals, the ego forces us to categorize others, making greater and lesser people, experiences, thoughts, places, and emotions.
The ego forces us to think that some things are wrong and some are right, thus breeding hatred and resentment amongst humanity.
But there are some of us who live without these artificial borders, and these are those who have experienced what is known as the ego death.
Before we talk about what an ego death is, we need to understand the ego first.
What is the ego?
The ego is an identity of our own construction.
It’s our beliefs we have about our personality, talents, abilities, life experience, relationships etc.
It’s the mental construct of our “self”.
While it can appear that the ego is static, it isn’t. Rather, it is active, dynamic and changing.
After all, we’re changing as we learn about ourselves and have more life experiences.
The kinds of thoughts that contribute to the ego are:
“I’m bad at math”.
“I’m emotionally mature”.
“I am better than most people at writing”.
The ego hides behind “I” and “me” in those thoughts and statements about our identity.
The ego is difficult to see. It appears as real because it’s our attachment to descriptions of our identity – and we use our ego to understand the world.
In fact, it’s quite difficult for the unaware person to discern the difference between what is ego and what is really them.
The Ego Death
The death of the ego isn’t truly a death, as the ego will always be a part of us.
Instead, it’s more like a transcendence; we evolve beyond the shackles of our ego and leave it behind, learning to control our lives without its influence.
When we leave behind the ego in ego death, we return to our True Nature and learn to live beyond the confines of the ego’s dualistic reality.
But this experience can be both beautiful and terrifying, depending on how ready the individual is to let go of their ego.
For some, this complete loss of identity can be the most petrifying experience ever, because the ego’s defense mechanism kicks in to keep itself attached to its person.
But for others, the death of the ego is just another step on a lifelong path of spirituality.
Here are the 7 steps of the ego death:
1) The Spiritual Awakening
The first step is when we wake up. We leave behind our daily routines and our everyday desires and ask ourselves:
What am I here? What is my purpose? What am I supposed to do?
2) The Dark Night
This is the deepest part of our depression during the Spiritual Awakening, our lowest point.
We are in complete despair, and we know that something has to happen in our life, something drastic and meaningful, but we don’t understand what that something has to be.
We become isolated from others and even ourselves.
We start to try filling that void with things we might have one found silly or ludicrous. We experiment with the mystic arts, astrology, energy healing, and practices that focus on connecting the mind, body, and soul.
We branch out with our spirituality beyond the normal mainstream religions to try to understand what we are feeling.
4) Glimpse of Enlightenment
And finally, we experience our first, small glimpse of enlightenment, also known as “satori”. We take a look into our True Nature during our exploration and become terrified of this experience.
This terror can push us away from further exploration or make us want to find out more.
5) Soul Growth
This step can take months if not years, and this is when our soul begins to mature. We develop the ability to understand what spiritual practices work for us and which have no effect on us.
This depends on the individual; some beliefs might resonate with you, while others won’t touch your soul at all.
As our soul begins to mature, we focus on the practices that hone our patience, discipline, and focus most successfully.
6) The Surrendering
Now we let go. We have become intimately familiar with our soul and our ego, and we surrender everything that is not part of our True Nature, but things created by our ego.
We let go of the patterns that limit us, hold us back, and let our souls grow by bypassing our ego.
For this step to be most effective, we must trust what we do not know and let go of the fears brought to us by our ego.
7) Awareness and End
The last step is the end of the line. We have explored, grown, and surrendered, and thus evolved beyond our ego.
We understand what we were searching for in the beginning, and we see the illusions for what they are: illusions.
The Truth is in us now, and we know that the ego should not define who we are; the ego should exist simply as a tool to be used whenever needed. Who We Are is something so much greater.
The Positives and Negatives of Ego Death
Ego death can be one of the most beautiful experiences in your life. It can bring you new understanding and new approaches to life.
However, with the ego death, you’ll lose the security of who you truly are, which can be frightening for some. You’ll be intimately in touch with your intuitive self.
So, let’s be clear, there are positives and negative effects to losing your ego. Here are some of them:
1) You’ll see yourself for who you are and you won’t be protected by your ego. This can be frightening and uncomfortable.
2) You might experience feelings and emotions that you’ve been hiding from for years.
3) You’ll yourself as a different person, with no insecurities (and securities) of your ego. If you’ve been using your ego for protection, this can be shattering.
4) It can make you feel disappointed in who you’ve been.
5) It can change you psychologically, and change your thought patterns.
1) You can experience positive feelings in an extreme volume.
2) You will see yourself for who you really are. It will help you see what you don’t like about yourself and what you can change to make yourself a better person.
3) You’ll experience emotions that you are not able to feel normally because of the ego. You’ll be able to get in touch with your whole being.
4) You’ll change the way you view the world. You won’t be clouded by your ego’s insecurities and desires.
5) You’ll experience feelings that you haven’t felt since you were a child. It will allow you to experience a pure mind.
How to experience ego death
According to yoga, there are 4 ways to experience ego death:
1) The path of action.
Karma Yoga believes that by doing the right action that’s aligned with your values can result in the dissolution of the ego. It’s all about making your actions aligned with your spiritual self. This could be living a life of service for others.
2) Bhakti Yoga.
This is apparently difficult to grasp for westerners. It’s about cultivating the highest love for God. This is usually achieved through meditation, prayer or chanting.
3) Jnana Yoga.
This is also term The Path of Knowledge. This is usually focused on exploring questions such as “Who am I” and “What are these thoughts?”
4) Raja Yoga.
This is the path of meditation. This is all about concentration practice, such as on your breathe, body parts and objects. It’s about gaining control over mind and emotions.
According to many people, psychedelics are the fastest and most consistent way to have an ego-death experience. However, this comes with dangers as well.
In a lecture in 1976, Ram Dass said that “psychedelic chemicals have a capacity to cut through places where you are attached and clinging, to set them aside and show you a possibility. The problem is that they don’t allow you to become the possibility, they only show you the possibility.”
According to scientific findings, taking LSD may result in brain regions becoming heavily interconnected, which could explain increased feelings of ego dissolution.
In fact, Timothy Leary, who was an American psychologist well known for advocating the exploration of the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs under controlled conditions, described the death of the ego as the first phase of a psychedelic trip, in which there is a “complete transcendence” of the self.
He defined ego death as “complete transcendence—beyond words, beyond space-time, beyond self. There are no visions, no sense of self, no thoughts. There is only pure awareness and ecstatic freedom.”
In Vice, they have an article on interviews with various people trying to experience ego death using psychedelics. Most people describe it as frightening, but liberating at the same time.
Here’s a Youtube video describing what ego death feels like:
Researchers say that psychedelic drugs quieten the “default mode network” of the brain. The default mode network is known to be involved in many different functions in the brain – and is crucial for the neurological basis of the self.
Timothy Leary says that there are 5 stages to the psychedelic experience and different dosages of psychedelics will help you get there.
The first two stages are mild and require lower doses of psychedelics.
Level 4 or 5 are apparently associated with an ego death and requires insane doses to pull it off.
What isn’t usually talked about is the negative experiences people have from these high doses.
Heightened anxiety, paranoia , and induced PTSD are common side effects.
What’s even more frightening is that these side effects can stay with you after the experience is over.
According to Vice, “depersonalization can set in, and never leave, after ego death.”
Vice also mentions a story of a 22 year-old American who, after experiencing an ego death, started to believe that he was developing psychosis because nothing in the world made sense and nothing had a point.
In other words, don’t believe the hype. Spiritual awakenings, especially those induced from psychedelics, can be very ugly.
So while people claim that “ego death” offers solutions to life problem’s, you might want to be careful with how you approach it if you choose to use psychedelics.
As we mentioned above, our egos can’t literally be destroyed. Instead, it’s more fruitful to learn how to control our ego and make friends with it.
Below we go over a different strategy promoted by the likes of Eckhart Tolle and Osho on how to help yourself let go of the ego.
How to let go of the grip of the ego: Eckhart Tolle describes the natural way
According to Echart Tolle, ego is anything that gives you a sense of identity – and this comes from what you think about yourself and what other people say about you.
Eckhart Tolle describes an excellent way to view the ego:
“One way to think about ego is as a protective heavy shell, such as the kind some animals have, like a big beetle. This protective shell works like armor to cut you off from other people and the outside world. What I mean by shell is a sense of separation: Here’s me and there’s the rest of the universe and other people. The ego likes to emphasize the “otherness” of others.”
The big problem with the ego is that the ego loves to strengthen itself through negativity and complaining.
When you listen to the ego and its negativity, it starts to control you and how you behave.
According to Eckhart Tolle, when this happens, “you don’t have thoughts; the thoughts have you.”
So, what’s the key to not letting the ego controlling you? Eckhart Tolle says it’s all about observing the mind and becoming aware of what kind of thoughts you habitually think, especially negative ones.
When you do this, you might suddenly realize that you have been thinking the same thoughts over and over without really knowing it.
Eckhart Tolle says that awareness is the first step to becoming free of the ego:
“Awareness is the beginning of becoming free of the ego because then you realize that your thoughts—and the negative emotions they produce—are dysfunctional and unnecessary.”
Of course the question is: How do we become an observer of the mind to achieve this?
Becoming the observer simply means that take a step back from your mind and become aware of your thinking patterns and how you’re responding to things.
Below we’ve found a passage from Osho that explains exactly how to go about it.
(To learn more about eastern philosophy and how it can help you release the grip of the ego, check our eBook on essential Buddhist teachings here)
How to become an observer of your mind and liberate yourself from your ego
“Become an observer of the currents of thought that flow through your consciousness. Just like someone sitting by the side of a river watching the river flow by, sit by the side of your mind and watch. Or just as someone sits in the forest and watches a line of birds flying by, just sit and watch. Or the way someone watches the rainy sky and the moving clouds, you just watch the clouds of thoughts moving in the sky of your mind. The flying birds of thoughts, the flowing river of thoughts in the same way, silently standing on the bank, you simply sit and watch. It is the same as if you are sitting on the bank, watching the thoughts flowing by. Don’t do anything, don’t interfere, don’t stop them in any way. Don’t repress in any way. If there is a thought coming don’t stop it, if it is not coming don’t try to force it to come. You are simply to be an observer….
“In that simple observation you will see and experience that your thoughts and you are separate – because you can see that the one who is watching the thoughts is separate from the the thoughts, different from them. And you become aware of this, a strange peace will envelop you because you will not have any more worries. You can be in the midst of all kinds of worries but the worries will not be yours. You can in the midst of many problems but the problems will not be yours. You can be surrounded by thoughts but you will not be the thoughts…
“And if you become aware that you are not your thoughts, the life of these thoughts will begin to grow weaker, they will begin to become more and more lifeless. The power of your thoughts lies in the fact that you think they are yours. When you are arguing with someone you say, “My thought is”. No thought is yours. All thoughts are different from you, separate from you. You just be a witness to them.”
Are you mentally tough?
Resilience and mental toughness are key attributes to living your best life. They determine how high we rise above what threatens to wear us down, from battling an illness, to dealing with challenging emotions, to carrying on after a relationship has ended.
In The Art of Resilience: A Practical Guide to Developing Mental Toughness, we outline exactly what it means to be mentally tough and equip you with 10 resilience-building tools that you can start using today.
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