There are some people who move through this life and live in it fully engaged in the experience. But many of us are controlled by our ego or our sense of self. It is who we identify ourselves as. The ego imprisons us by causing us to see the world through the lens of duality. This dualism has us view everything as opposites, right and wrong, up and down, left and right, good and bad, war and peace, and love and hate. You get the idea.
This separation brings about suffering. Instead of seeing all as being One and connected, that we are all equals, the ego forces us to think we are separate from one another, better or lesser than those around us. The ego has us believe that things are either black or white, right or wrong and this causes people to hate one another in our human family. Sadly, sometimes this even brings division and hatred in our own biological families. But thankfully, there are some who live without the perception of these illusory barriers, because they have experienced what is known as ego death, the dissolution of the ego.
First, let’s examine what the ego is. Webster’s Dictionary gives this definition:
1 : the self especially as contrasted with another self or the world
2a : egotism sense 2
b : self-esteem sense 1
3 : the one of the three divisions of the psyche in psychoanalytic theory that serves as the organized conscious mediator between the person and reality especially by functioning both in the perception of and adaptation to reality — compare id, superego
The ego is the identity we perceive ourselves to be. It forms how we see ourselves, shaping our personalities, relationships, and life experiences. The way we interact with others. It is a mental construct, a ‘perception of and adaptation to reality’.
The ego is not static and unchanging, however. It changes all the time, as our life experiences cause us to change our perception of the world and how we see ourselves in it. As an example, you could grow up believing you are no good and won’t amount to anything. That you are not worthy of anything in this life, but you can change that and maybe in your thirties, after much life experience, realize that you are worthy and have much to contribute to society. The ego is not static, but very fluid.
The ego isn’t so easy to recognize. It hides behind the perception or the stories we tell ourselves about who and what we are and how we present ourselves to the world. We all do this in some form or another, many being totally engulfed in the stories and then those who are more aware, only from time to time. As humans, it can be difficult to break free of the prison of the mind. After all, we have been trained from birth to create the story of our life.
Let’s get one thing out of the way before we talk about what the death of the ego is, by stating what it is not. It is not really a death of the ego, as the ego will always be a part of who we are. It is a figure of speech that explains how we can rise above our ego and not let it define who we truly are. When we drop the ego in egoic death, we are able to see ourselves as we are in our natural state of being. We can live life without the ego’s dualistic perception of reality.
When the ego is forced to go, it can be both a beautiful and a terrifying experience. This is because the ego doesn’t want to let go as it doesn’t want to lose it’s identity. But it can be a beautiful experience as it can lead to an awakened state of our true nature.
There are different levels to the death of the ego. The first one is a spiritual awakening. This is when we wake up and we ask ourselves questions like ‘who am I’, ‘what is my purpose’, etc. This usually occurs when we either have a void in our lives that needs to be filled or maybe we question if our lives have meaning at all. When we awaken, this can bring about depression and a sense of loss.
This can lead us to a Dark Night Of The Soul. This is usually something that happens to someone who is on a seeking path to greater spiritual truth, but it doesn’t always come so easily. The Christian texts said one must die to oneself in order to live. This can be catastrophic to a person. Sometimes we have to go through a deep valley of darkness in our soul in order to get through to the other side. But once through it, the light of life is brilliant and most wonderful to experience. You will see life in a whole new way. I have written another article on The Dark Night Of The Soul and go into more detail on what this is. Give that a read or do a search on the Internet, if you want to know more about this.
Next, we go through a process of exploration. Searching for the meaning of why we had this awakening experience. This is a time that we start to question everything we thought we knew, what we believe and start searching for what is ‘real’ in our lives. We no longer hold fast to antiquated belief systems that lock us into a prison of control, and start to realize we truly can be free. This then leads us to having a form of enlightenment as we see our true ‘selves’ as we really are. This can be terrifying and can cause some to abandon their search, but hopefully only for a time. Some do come back to the search and move on in the process. Sadly, some do not as they are too steeped in the ego to allow themselves to continue.
This next part of the journey usually takes the longest that can take months if not many years to navigate. This is when our souls mature. Where we learn what spiritual practices resonate with us, which we will adopt and which will be discarded as they no longer serve us. This growth process causes our soul to mature and makes us a better human being, allowing us to interact with the world in a more connected and loving manner.
Finally, we learn to let go of the ego and understand it is just a story we tell ourselves. That it is nothing but labels we put on like a mask. The first verse from the Billy Joel song, The Stranger, says it perfectly.
Well, we all have a face
That we hide away forever
And we take them out
And show ourselves when everyone has gone
Some are satin, some are steel
Some are silk and some are leather
They’re the faces of a stranger
But we’d love to try them on
We now see beyond the illusion we have created for ourselves. The illusion that we are so many things. ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that’. I am a father, mother, sister, brother, an engineer, a poet, good or bad, etc. We label ourselves with so many stories that we don’t see the ‘real’ us, who we truly are.
It is possible to get right to perceiving who the ‘real’ you is. This can be done through meditation and asking the question, “Who am I?” Who is the ‘Me’ that is aware of myself having this experience. Who is the Me that is asking this question? Who is this ‘I’ that ‘I’ perceive as being aware that ‘I’ exist? Who is the ‘real I’?
When you finally come to that awareness of who is having this experience, the ego will dissolve and you will fully awaken. Then you will realize that You Are That and All That Is. Even when you come back to the ego and it will happen as that is part of your life experience. We still must function in this world after all, but you can always be aware that you are just living a story and you can pull yourself away from it any time you wish. Adopting a regular meditation practice can quickly bring you back to that awareness. In time, you can actually be driving down the road in the car, have your thoughts get away from you, but you can quickly focus on the fact that it is just incessant conversation in your head and you can turn it off and still be functioning behind the wheel of the car.
Letting go of the ego and dying to self, the stories we tell ourselves, and living life from total awareness of Being is a very freeing experience and your life will never be the same because of it.
Love and Light