Ego death is the loss of attachment to who you think you are.

In my ebook, Everyday Spirituality: Cultivating an Awakening, I outline a gentle way to take apart your ego. At the same, time the concepts in the book are meant to help you create a lighter and more loosely held sense of identity–a conscious ego, if you will.

Anyway you cut it, while you are living in this body, you have a point of view and collected set of experiences that you express as “you.” And that’s okay. It’s just important that you know that you’re doing this and that you can choose to change how you are when it is time to make that shift in yourself. In essence, it’s important to not be attached.

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The Totally Attached, Unconscious Ego

But before we get to a space of conscious unattachment, the original ego is totally attached to everything. It often thinks the world revolves around it and that there is no other way of living. However, the spark of a spiritual opening or an awakening can light a fire under this ego. In awakening, the fire can be so strong that it fissures the ego away from the awareness, leaving no doubt about what is real. Everyone experiences this differently, but let’s take some time to talk about what ego death is, how it may feel, and what you can do to move through it.

My Ego’s on Fire! Just Let It Burn

Awakening struck, and for a moment, you touched beauty and truth deep within you and without. It’s profound, but most likely, at some point, your old ego ran in to take hold of that experience. It decided to try and conceptualize it, own it, or get rid of it. The time for inner work has begun.

I love Plato’s allegory of the cave. Initially, we all live in a darkened cave and have no idea what light really is. Once you step outside of that cave, you can never fully go back in again. Because you know what’s out there. It begins a process of letting go so that you can choose to leave the cave and the darkness.

Of course, many people run right back into the cave completely freaked out by all the light and beauty. It was too much. In many ways, as a teacher, I like to build up a loose framework for my students precisely because when awakening hits, I want them to have been building a conscious ego that can be okay with all this light and beauty. Without it, the old ego often goes into shutdown and denial mode. It’s not a pretty sight. And the truth of the matter is that awakening has just started to burn away the old ways of being. Much of the awakening process is a process of burning away old ego and learning how to let go. Ego death can be as smooth or as painful as our own abilities to release into it and to allow.

5 Misunderstandings About Surrender

Burning in the Awakened Fire

Are You Experiencing Body Issues?

The more identified someone is with their ego, the harder this ego death can be. You may begin to have phantom pains in your body from the intensity of your own resistance, which is generally based in fear. If the fear is intense enough, illnesses and disease can manifest because your ego believes that everything really is dying. Not everything is dying, though. Just the ego. Your body is just fine.

Unless it isn’t.

Many Westerners are in exceedingly poor health. Furthermore, they’re often blind to this fact because so many people are in exceedingly bad health. Being in bad health is now normal. According to the CDC., 4.6% of people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with heart disease alone. That’s 15.2 million people, and almost 700,000 people die of heart disease each year!

Awakening turns the light on, and a person is forced to see reality. For many people, they need to now take significant steps to improve their physical health, hopefully before they have a heart attack or another preventable disease.

Building a Body Strong Enough for Awakening

Is Awakening Killing Me?!

Of course, for those driven by awakened energy, everything is going in six directions from Sunday; none of this is happening the way your ego thinks it should.

For instance, awakening is also clearing out all the issues that have been stuck in your body and your energetic body. The release of that pain can make someone sick, which is a natural clearing process. In the space of awakening or simply in healing, after this happens, you feel lighter, clearer, and more energetic. 

However, make no mistake about it; awakening takes a lot of discipline and energy to overcome our resistance and the structures you’ve surrounded yourself with. Consider how much energy it takes to move to a new home; if you’re in a home environment that’s not healthy for you, you have to move. It takes quite a bit of work to do this, and there’s just no two ways about that (although getting help makes it go smoother–subsequently, getting help and support from a spiritual community and a spiritual teacher is really beneficial during awakening).

Finally, when the ego thinks the body is dying consider that your ego has never died before. It doesn’t know what that experience is. Essentially, it is catastrophizing. It’s exaggerating and creating more stress and resistance on the body. 

So breathe and come back to awareness. 

Watch the ego freak out, don’t participate.

Staying as Awareness Online Class

How to Handle the Pain of Ego Death

Rebirthing Your Conscious Ego

As I’ve alluded to, we all have egos. The conscious ego serves the truth. When you serve truth, you are most truly serving yourself.

However, we often find ourselves in completely new spaces, and we don’t know who we are. Ultimately, we are no one!

Be Nobody

But since we’re used to being a somebody, we often backslide into old habits or go about the unfortunate route of creating a spiritual ego. This new ego now has new beliefs and attachments to create and defend and becomes a layer of resistance on top of deeper ego issues. 

Beware the Spiritual Ego

Older versions of my ego were completely dug in and entrenched. They kicked and screamed on the way out, I don’t mind telling you. Parts of them still kick and scream from time to time, but it’s much easier to be with these days as I watch old elements around fear and control dissolve.

Inconvenienced by Spiritual Awakening

And I know that this isn’t convenient. It’s never convenient to your old ego because it knows that it’s days are numbered. Plus it only knows what it knows, and it does not know how awakened energy will develop or change youy. But life is always unknown to us. That’s one of the many truths we come to face.

The Fear of the Unknown

The more you’ve been out of alignment with who and what you really are, the more changes you’ll have to make. That’s part of the process. That takes a lot of patience, resilience, energy, and love. It also takes a lot of courage.

Tools Assisting Ego Death

Many of the tools for surrendering to ego death are simple. They include:

These tools help to calm the heart, body, and mind when so much is dissolving away and the ego is triggering the fight-or-flight system. These tools also help to prepare the mind to do self-inquiry.

Dissolving into Pure Consciousness

The act of self-inquiry is part of what the conscious ego most needs to do. It needs to help find attachments as a means of surrendering them. This re-training of the mind is particularly important in the early years after awakening. Later on, the intellectual part of self-inquiry is less important.

Acknowledging Fear While Persevering

Facing your ego’s death is a scary, scary thing when you initially do not understand it. It doesn’t have to be scary though. And hopefully after reading this blog post, you’ll understand that you are not your ego and that something really beautiful is arising that can allow you to be spiritually free.

How to Find Spiritual Freedom

For more thoughts, please enjoy this video. I have many more on my Jim Tolles YouTube channel.


I'm a spiritual teacher who helps people find freedom from suffering.


  1. truly inspiring. I really needed this today, Thank you. Beautiful picture too.

  2. First off, I loved this post and could relate to it more than most others ive seen. I am 100% sure that i am going through this same process. SWIM comes from a group of friends that are heavily into drugs and tho SWIM has drastically cut down since his experience, i was wondering if u think drug abuse will hinder the path of letting go of the ego. Im mainly ttlking about opiates, adderall, and alcohol. I know this is a strange question but any feedback would be greatly valued

  3. Thanks mastershake02. Generally speaking drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and other forms of mind-altering substances will cause a lot of problems in life much less on the spiritual path. Those things mess up our internal barometers. Cleansing is super important to find out what it feels like to feel good naturally. Reconnecting with that internal barometer is essential in developing your own internal knowing about what is right and what is wrong for you on every level–physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.

  4. Ego has been testing me over the past few months, but I have learned to smile and wink at it as if it were a small child who didn't know any better! My attention to it seems to magically calm it into submission, even if only temporarily. Over time, I find it less intrusive and even predictable because I have learned to recognize its conditioned behaviour patterns and reactions that were programmed early in my life. I no longer find it an enemy within; it has become a friendly reminder to remain "aware" of it all times!

  5. A Spiritual Vision
    I was sitting at my computer reading a new Near Death Experience on the internet and listening to a CD of "A Day Without Rain" by Enya.
    The NDE story that I was reading, focused on a woman that was going through a major operation, and her heart had stopped. She had recognized a disturbing error in her past behaviors during her life review, while experiencing the great light on the other side. She remembered what was really important in life. ("Putting people before pursuits") As in her past, she was more interested in pursuits.
    As I dwelled on the quote, tears began to stream down my face; I recognized that I too shared this same character deficiency. This was a deep striking truth that penetrated me mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. I thought about how I had harmed and pushed away many of the people in my life, too busy accomplishing single minded acts, and focusing only on my desires and afraid to get in too close.
    The curtains in the window were open as beams of sun light poured into the room from a passing cloud. As I gazed into the light only looking into space, I felt a very profound sense of peace and calm come over me. Then there was a sudden elimination of all fear lifting away. Fear that felt like a thick heavy metal layer of armor, that's like something that I've always anonymously warn. I felt lighter than I could ever remember being.
    In the next moments I felt the most wonderful sensations in my entire life. The best way that I can explain it is to call it an overwhelming tidal wave of the most intense and powerful feeling of love and joy that I've ever experienced. It was an unconditional saturating love, without condemnation or expectations, and that forgives all for any trespass. I felt that this kind of love extends throughout the cosmos into everything. It was a love that completes everyone and everything to its core. This occurrence was an influence infinitely beyond my understanding.
    Finally, I began to blend with this energy source (God?), until I understood that I was a part of everything and in every place simultaneously. There were what seemed like billions of multiple flashes of views, seeing everywhere and everything for milliseconds.
    When the vision ended, I felt as though I was radiating with the sun in my chest. I don't recall how long the moment lasted because there wasn't any sense of time involved in the experience. It all could have happened in the flash. But I estimate it lasted about 10 to 15 minutes.
    I found that the vision had elevated me spiritually, and had a direct positive life affirming effect on everyone that I came into contact with. I was a messenger of love and become one with everyone. It seemed as though I could understand all great wisdom and problems of people effortlessly.
    But this was not to last. I soon felt the slow declining of the awakening slip away daily, and within two weeks I had returned to my normal self. I was addicted to the memory of the unconditional love that I had received, but to no avail, there only remained a recollection. I search desperately for two years, looking for a way to return to that enlightened state of consciousness without success as yet. The experience was more real and natural to me, than the reality that I've been living in my whole life.
    However, I do look at this vision as a gift of grace. I am not special, and I can't think of any reason why I had that moment. It's definitely had a colossal impact in my life that I can never deny, and I know without a doubt for myself, that there's something wonderful out there waiting.
    Q: So what does all of this mean?
    A: Maybe I had a peak at what's to come, maybe not.
    Though, I do believe this is a possibility of what could come for us all in the continuous evolving of humanity.
    One thing that I can say, "It was the only experience which has far surpassed any of my life's greatest expectations".

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this story. That sounds like a beautiful and profound spiritual opening. An opening gives us a glimpse of truth and can start the wheels towards awakening. You can't ever reclaim that experience because that moment is passed, and furthermore, the more you integrate spirituality into yourself, the more open you naturally are. The difference between being open and closed become less and less, so a similar experience may feel less profound. Ultimately, you have to make space for this beautiful radiance that is who you truly are. It's like a flood. With nothing to absorb it and channel it, the waters rush everywhere, and then it's gone. So I encourage you to do the internal work to make space for these waters to come again, and if it is meant to be, then you'll be able to absorb and hold more of this unconditional love than you could possibly imagine.

  7. Sounds amazing! Those flashes are precious and beautiful beyond words sometimes but know that you will have them again… don't let your need to have them again take control and drain you of energy… the need or want sometimes pushes the very thing you want to experience! You are that vision you had… you don't need to search you just need to peel those layers and know that you will see this beautiful light underneath it all! 🙂 A book that has helped me tremeandously is "The Power of Now" and "Stillness Speaks" by Eckhart Tolle… he hasn't reinvented the wheel but has used simple words to help us feel his message as opposed to understanding it.. I hope this helps! 🙂

  8. Hi Jim,

    Grieving parts of my ego is very new to me as I've had a rigid ego for 29 years. I am 30. feel this is the process I am going through. I recently opened up to a lot of old pain of childhood, past lives, etc and created a lot of space; beautiful beautiful space and wonderful levels of Love, clarity, and much more connected with myself than I can ever remember. Old parts of me are coming up and the story my ego has in the moment of feeling these old spaces come up is that I'm "regressing" so I resist them. Am I regressing or are these parts coming up to die? And how can I change this story of that is the case and be brave to surrender into it to grieve it. I'm afraid that by surrendering I'll "re-adopt" these old ways of Being.

    Warm regards and all the Love,


  9. Hi Tristan. Simply breathe and come back to the space of the observer. Watch the stories without feeding them more thoughts and emotions.

  10. Wow, this article is really informative. I'm still new to this process of ego transcendence. I had my first awakening in jail (not the best place) and it lasted for days. I cried until I couldn't cry anymore, and I just hid under my blanket the whole time. It lasted almost a week. I still have energy blocks that I'm trying to work through, but this article put some things into perspective. Thank you!

  11. Thanks for the comment.

    Actually, in jail, you can't escape yourself. It's often in these moments when a person can no longer go anywhere or do anything that they have to confront themselves, and breakthroughs happen. That makes them, ironically, some of the best places for this work.

    I hope you're reading many of my other posts. They can help you on your journey as can my ebook.

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