Waking up is an endless losing what you think you know, like a wave of destruction that leaves nothing, but what is true. —Unmani
Death is a word that we humans usually associate with darkness, mourning, decay, and general creepiness. We spend our entire lives running away from, avoiding and denying the fact that we will someday physically die.
However, the death that I’ll be talking about in this article isn’t the typical kind of death we fear. The death I’ll be referring to is the most beautiful, precious, illuminating, awe-inspiring, expansive, enlightening and paradigm-shattering experience you could ever go through. This experience is known as “ego death,” and for every serious spiritual seeker, it is a pivotal process to go through.
What is the Ego?
In order to understand what ego death is, we must first understand what the ego is.
As we elaborated on in the article “What is the Ego?” the ego is basically our sense of self or our identity. The ego is a biological and spiritual tool that was created by and defends the belief that we are all separate “individual” entities.
As a result of believing that we are separate and isolated in this life, we suffer immensely. The ego perceives life through the lens of duality. Duality is the opposite of reality — it is the division of life into opposing forces such as love/hate, good/bad, right/wrong and holy/sinful.
When we divide life, we suffer. The result of the dualistic ego is judgment, hatred, condemnation, and alienation. While we accept some things, we reject other things. While we love some people, we hate other people. Instead of unconditionally accepting life in its wholeness, we segregate it into “acceptable” and “unacceptable” experiences, people, beliefs, thoughts, and emotions. Thus, we suffer.
As a result of our perceived separation from Spirit, and the duality lens we see life through, we also begin to reject ourselves. Any thought, feeling, sensation, experience or belief we have that is judged to be “bad,” “unacceptable” or “wrong” we suppress, avoid and deny. As a result of this repression, we fuel our Shadow Selves which become more twisted, angry and perverted the more we “lock” away.
The product of living through the ego can be observed in our world very clearly. The depression, anxiety, mental illness, murder, hatred, greed, poverty, war and environmental destruction we experience is all a reflection of our internal suffering. Our internal suffering is solely the product of the ego that believes it is separate from others and life itself.
What is Ego Death?
I’ve used the term “ego death” in this article because it’s the most popular phrase out there used for such an experience. But the truth is that the ego can never really “die”; instead, it can be transcended and made conscious so that it’s no longer running our lives.
So how can we define “ego death”?
Ego death is the experience of transcending the ego, self or identity. This experience is the most mind-bending, awakening, awe-inspiring, peaceful and unconditionally loving experience you could ever have. Ego death is essentially an experience of embodying your True Nature completely (or returning back to who you really are), temporarily.
However, while the experience of ego death is indescribably beautiful, it can also be indescribably horrific for those who are not aware of the spiritual path, and for those who resist the actual experience.
Those who report ego death generally fall into two groups: those who found the experience illuminating, and those who found the experience tormenting. I have experienced both states of pure ecstasy and pure horror.
If you are familiar with the psychonaut community (a collection of people who use psychedelic substances to access higher states of being), you would have heard of many “ego death” experiences. This is because shamanic plants such as ayahuasca, DMT, and psilocybin mushrooms are powerful gateways to the Divine experience.
Psychedelic explorers Dennis and Terence McKenna (who referred to themselves as the “Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss”) often mentioned the state of pure awe and also terror experienced in the face of ego death. However, as Terence McKenna once said, the abyss must be approached with courage, because only then can you discover that the fear is an illusion:
Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering its a feather bed.
Ego death can feel scary because it is the ultimate threat to the ego: complete loss of “self,” if only for a minute. As a defense mechanism, the ego creates intense fear. However, in order to progress on our spiritual paths, we must understand the role of this fear, be mindful of it, and not permit it to limit us.