As humans, when we hear the word “death,” we immediately think of sadness, grief, and decay. We spend our whole lives trying to hide from the fact that our bodies will stop working at some point in the future. However, ego death is not the kind of death that most people fear. This type of death is a beautiful, inspiring, and illuminating experience you can have.
Ego death is a necessary step on the path to spiritual awakening for anyone serious about their spiritual goals.
What Does Ego Mean?
Before we can even understand what “ego death” means, we need to know precisely what the ego is. The word “ego” refers to our sense of self, also called our identity.
Ego is a biological and spiritual weapon that defends the idea that we are all separate individual entities, meaning everyone is different from everyone else. When we think we are separate people living in our own little worlds, we put ourselves through unnecessary pain and suffering.
Our ego has a dualistic view of the world and sees everything through that lens. Duality is the opposite of reality. It divides life into opposing forces like good and evil, love and hate, right and wrong, and holy and sinful.
The results of the dualistic ego are things like judgment, condemnation, hatred, and loneliness. We tend to divide life into “acceptable” and “unacceptable” situations, thoughts, people, beliefs, and feelings instead of entirely accepting them.
We do accept some things, but there are also many things we do not accept. We love some people but hate others. All the pain we see around us, like mental illness, murder, greed, poverty, and war, comes from the pain we feel inside. Our suffering comes from the fact that each of us has an ego.
What Does Ego Death Mean?
An ego death experience does not literally mean that our ego has died. Instead, it means our ego no longer runs our lives. It is the feeling of letting go of your ego, self, or personal identity for a short time. This is the most enlightening experience you can ever have.
When experiencing ego death, you are temporarily taken back to your True Nature or to who you really are. While the experience of ego death is beautiful beyond words, it can also be horrifying for people who do not know about the spiritual path or try to avoid the real experience.
People who experience ego death usually fall into one of two groups: those who found the experience enlightening or those who found it painful. If you are familiar with the psychonaut community, which comprises people who use psychoactive substances to reach higher states of consciousness, you have probably heard of a few people who had a profound experience called “ego death.”
Shamanic plants like ayahuasca and magic mushrooms are powerful ways to experience the divine. The ego creates extreme fear to protect itself and keep its sense of control and power. However, if we want to move forward on our spiritual paths, we need to understand what this fear is for, stay aware of it, and not let it hold us back in any way.
The 7 Stages During Ego Death
The death of the ego happens in stages. Once you achieve ego death, you will experience life-changing self-discovery, nirvana, self-acceptance, spiritual ascension, or spiritual enlightenment. Even though ego deaths do not have a formula, it tends to follow this pattern:
Stage 1: Spiritual Awakening
When we reach the first stage of the ego death process, we start to “wake up” to reality. It is possible that an existential crisis, a tragedy, or the like could set us on the path to spiritual awakening.
When we have a spiritual awakening, it makes us want to look for more meaning and purpose in our lives. We often ask ourselves deep questions like:
- What is the point of my life?
- What happens when we die?
- What is life?
When someone has a spiritual awakening, they feel both depressed and anxious at the same time. This is because they realize that their life is missing something important.
Stage 2: The Dark Night of the Soul
Without experiencing the “Dark Night of the Soul,” the process of spiritual awakening cannot happen. When we go through the Dark Night, we become very aware of how far away we are from not only ourselves but also from other people and the divine.
The Dark Night of the Soul is when we feel lost, alone, and cut off from other people. It shows how all of our sadness adds up to one big thing. We know that our lives need to change in a big way, but we do not know what that change should be or where to find it.
Stage 3: Spiritual Seeker
We will eventually stumble into the world of spirituality after having a spiritual awakening and going through a “Dark Night of the Soul.” We start to try out different spiritual activities and find that some of them help ease the pain we are going through.
We become obsessed with getting rid of the pain we have been going through, so we look into a wide range of topics, such as zen, yoga, astrology, and other similar things.
Stage 4: Satori
“Satori” is the idea of “momentary enlightenment.” It happens when your ego disappears completely, giving you a brief look at your True Nature. Some people might be scared as they go through this experience, which could stop their spiritual growth. However, for some people, having a Satori experience can completely change their lives, leading to further spiritual growth.
Stage 5: The Elder Soul
We eventually start to understand spiritual things after a long time has passed. In this stage, we discover the spiritual practices and habits that keep us stuck in the cycle of sadness, fear, and separation. As we reach a higher level of spiritual maturity and reconnect with our higher selves, we realize how vital self-discipline, patience, and concentration are.
Stage 6: Dissolution and Deconstruction
At this point, we start to let go of all the parts of ourselves that do not make us who we are. We not only have to figure out our destructive and limiting beliefs and behaviour, but we also have to really let go of them so that the light can come in.
Stage 7: End of Search
At this stage, we realize that everything we need and are can be found at this very moment. The search for something has ended. Even though the ego is still there, we learn to see it for what it is: a tool, not who we really are.
Those in this situation know that no word or idea can adequately describe what it’s like. People call this state “enlightenment,” linked to the deepest level of inner peace and freedom.
The Ego Death in Psychedelics
When discussing psychedelic experiences, “ego death” and “ego loss” are often used interchangeably to mean that a person might temporarily lose their sense of self after taking psychedelics. Timothy Leary came up with the phrase ego death to describe the feeling of “total transcendence” of the self during the first part of an LSD trip.
When Aldous Huxley brought attention to the use of psychedelic drugs, he started it by publishing The Doors of Perception in 1954. Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, this book is thought to help people believe that a revolution in the 1960s would change how people thought about the world.
In the 1960s, people became more interested in mysticism, which influenced the growing research on psychedelics and the general debate about them. In 1964, William S. Burroughs made a difference between drugs that were “sedative” and drugs that “expanded consciousness.”
In the 1940s and 1950s, only people in the military and people doing research in psychiatry were allowed to take LSD. One of these people was clinical psychologist Timothy Leary. In 1960, he tried psychedelic drugs for the first time while on vacation and began studying the effects of psilocybin a year after. He went to Aldous Huxley for advice, and Huxley told him to give psychedelic drugs to the most important people in society, like artists and intellectuals.
Allen Ginsberg wanted students to be able to try LSD, so Leary and his younger colleague Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) made it possible for them to do so. In 1962, Harvard stopped doing psychedelic research, and Timothy Leary was fired from his job there. Leary started the Castalia Foundation in 1962. The following year, he and many colleagues started a magazine called The Psychedelic Review.
Huxley told Leary to write a book about how to take LSD, which he did. Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, and Richard Alpert wrote The Psychedelic Experience in 1964. It is a guide to taking LSD. They saw the effect of LSD as a “stripping away” of ego defences and found similarities between the stages of death and rebirth.
In 1964, Randolf Alnaes published a book about the therapeutic uses of LSD, psilocybin, etc. Alnaes says that one possible side effect of an LSD trip is that the person might start to think a lot about existential questions. Taking drugs that change your mind can sometimes help you see things more clearly.