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.
Before I go any further, I have a free newsletter that you can sign up for if you’re interested. I announce classes, group work, and one-on-one openings through it.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
For more thoughts, please enjoy this video. I have many more on my Jim Tolles YouTube channel.