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 approach 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.
7 Stages of Ego Death
Ego death happens in stages, and if courageously pursued, results in the experience of Nirvana, Oneness or Enlightenment.
While ego death is not formulaic or necessarily predictable, it does tend to follow a pattern:
Stage 1 — Spiritual Awakening
In the first stage of ego death, we begin to “wake up” to life. Our process of spiritual awakening might be triggered by a life crisis, a tragedy, a chronic illness, or simply the natural process of soulful maturing. When we experience a spiritual awakening, we begin to search for more depth in life. Often, we ask big questions such as “what is my purpose?” “what is the meaning of life?” and “what happens after death?” Spiritual awakenings are triggered by the sensation that something profound is missing in life, and are accompanied by the feelings of depression and anxiety.
Stage 2 — The Dark Night of the Soul
The Dark Night of the Soul is inseparable from the spiritual awakening process. When we experience the Dark Night, we become extremely conscious of our separation from ourselves, other people and the Divine. The Dark Night of the Soul is a period when we feel utterly lost, lonely and isolated from others. It is the accumulation or culmination of our suffering. Deep down, we know something has to drastically change in our life, but we don’t know what or where to look. Read more about the Dark Night of the Soul.