If you’ve been dabbling in spirituality, you may have encountered something called ego death?
What the hell is this, you ask.
The word death brings many instant negative associations; suffering, pain, decay, and darkness.
However, the term ego death is quite the opposite. In fact, ego death is better described as an awakening or realization that will transform your life for the better.
In this article, we’re taking a deep dive into ego dissolution. We’ll answer questions like ‘what is ego death’ and ‘what does it feel like.’ We’ll then explore how ego deaths occur and the best method for achieving them.
- 1 What Does Ego Death Mean?
- 2 The Real Meaning Of Ego
- 3 The Dark Side Of The Ego
- 4 What Happens When You Experience Ego Death?
- 5 What Triggers An Ego Dissolution?
- 6 The Stages Of Subjective Self-Identity Dissolution
- 7 Should You Seek An Ego Death Experience?
- 8 How To Achieve Ego Death Through Spiritual Practice
- 9 FAQ
- 10 Further Study
- 11 Final Thoughts On What Is Ego Death?
What Does Ego Death Mean?
According to psychology, ego death relates to a spiritual awakening where you feel like a part of you is dying.
Let’s be clear, an ego death does not affect the body or cause any physical pain. Instead, the part of the being that dies during ego death is your sense of identity, more commonly known as the ego.
Ego death means a fundamental transformation of the psyche. This psychic death (as it’s called in Jungian psychology) allows us to meet ourselves on a soul level by breaking free from all our negative behavioral patterns, rigid beliefs, and toxic emotions that keep us on a low vibration.
When we experience the loss of our ego, we can connect to our true nature, others, and the world around us. We are no longer held hostage to the ego’s power that keeps us feeling small, alone, and in many cases, angry.
The Real Meaning Of Ego
You’ve likely heard the phrase before that someone “has a big ego.” In popular culture, having an ego means being arrogant and full of yourself.
However, in psychology and spirituality, the meaning of ego is different.
From a young age, we all develop a sense of self, which becomes our subjective self-identity as we age. This forms from the beliefs our families and outer society instilled in us, our morals and values, and even things like our job titles and genders.
Thus, ego is best described as the image we see of ourselves and the part of our conscious mind that determines how we show up and behave in the world.
The Dark Side Of The Ego
So why would you want to lose your identity? Surely having a sense of self is a good thing, right?
Well, actually, it isn’t.
Our ego (or personal identity) can keep us disconnected from reality and, instead, perceive life through the lens of duality. This causes us to see everything as either right or wrong, good or bad.
However, the result of this dualistic perception is suffering; either through judgment, hatred, or condemnation, caused by our belief that something has to be either right or wrong.
When our ego is in control of us, we are not only unable to access our true nature, but we feel separated from everyone else. This often leads to loneliness and isolation, yet we don’t realize we are creating this suffering by choosing to see others as enemies.
Moreover, our ego thrives on self-importance, so it can become “bruised” if we lack self-worth. As a result, we may criticize and judge others or use manipulative behaviors to feel better about ourselves.
The problem is the more we give into our ego’s demands, the stronger and more controlling it becomes. Eventually, we don’t just feel separated from all living beings; we feel superior to them.
Our ego is also the cause of much of our anxiety and depression. It causes us to fixate on the past and the future, constantly dwelling on our failures and mistakes and anticipating everything that could go wrong.
What Happens When You Experience Ego Death?
When we experience ego death, we lose that identity that we have created for ourselves. This means we let go of all the beliefs, opinions, and ideologies associated with our identity.
Ego death triggers self-discovery, where we discover our true nature, which means who we are on a soul level. Through this mystical experience, we can understand our soul’s purpose and gain new perspectives on life. In this sense, our ego must die for this part of us to be born.
An ego death feels like an awakening and a rebirth. It’s like losing all the superficial stuff, like our old patterns and beliefs, and discovering what is really important. The walls we created between us and others break down and are replaced by feelings of unity with the entire universe, including nature, animals, and every other human being.
In addition, we feel much more peaceful and present. We no longer ponder the past or worry about the future, so we enjoy greater mental health. The loss of the egoic self also kills our delusion that we must seek happiness in the physical world through praise and approval. We gain the new perspective that we can find everything we need within ourselves.
What Triggers An Ego Dissolution?
The quickest and most popular modern way to achieve a complete loss of subjective self is through psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin and LSD. However, this does not always result in a pleasant experience (more on that in a moment).
An ego death can also be achieved through a spiritual awakening resulting from long-term and frequent spiritual practices, typically meditation.
Interestingly, near-death experiences can also trigger unplanned and unexpected ego deaths. Let’s take a look at these three primary triggers in more detail.
Psychedelics And Ego Death
Although a widespread practice, it is not recommended to induce ego death through psychedelic substances. This is because research has found that psychedelic-induced ego dissolutions are more likely to result in a negative experience than a positive one.
Why is this?
It’s to do with glutamate, an amino acid in the brain, which plays a central role in fundamental brain functions, including the formation of neural networks.
Many psychedelics are known to increase glutamate levels. High glutamate levels can overexcite nerve cells, causing them to die.
One study investigated the link between glutamate and ego death. Researchers found higher levels of glutamate resulted in a negative experience of ego death, while lower levels of glutamate were associated with a positive experience of ego death. This suggests that using psychedelics to induce ego death can lead to adverse reactions and, thus, is not the best way to do it.
Spiritual Practice And Ego Death
A better way to experience ego loss is through spiritual traditions like meditation, breathwork, and sound healing. It is believed by accessing a deep meditative state, you can enter altered states of consciousness, including the ecstatic state of ego dissolution.
Experiencing the loss of the subjective self through a spiritual awakening is typically an enjoyable and joyful experience. However, it is not easy for the average person to achieve ego death through enlightenment, and it often only occurs after many years of following a spiritual path.
Near Death Experiences And Ego Death
Life-altering situations like near-death experiences and childbirth have been reported to trigger ego deaths. Research looking into this found that those who had these near-death experiences reported distinctly sensing two selves, the egoic self and the true self, which they had not realized before.
Still, the discoveries around this are limited, given that near-death experiences happen with no warning, so they are almost impossible to test.
The Stages Of Subjective Self-Identity Dissolution
Ego deaths typically happen in stages, with the final step being enlightenment. While the experience varies from person to person, several common phases exist.
The first stage is the initial realization of the ego’s power over us. During this stage, you may start questioning things and looking for deeper meaning in life. You may also change your habits and daily practices and find that your desires and interests shift.
The dark night of the soul
The dark night of the soul is the most challenging, most uncomfortable stage of ego death. During this stage, we experience despair and feel at the lowest point possible.
We realize we need to make a drastic change and understand something has to happen to improve things, but we are unsure what.
Due to the dark night of the soul, we start investigating the world of spirituality in search of answers. For example, we might start meditating, get into yoga, go on a retreat, or begin studying spiritual scriptures, trying to alleviate our suffering.
Soul growth & Awareness
Finally, our spiritual practices help us raise our vibration and consciousness. We’ve cleared our old patterns and transcended duality by doing the inner work. We understand that the ego should not have power over us. Instead, we should control the ego and use it as a tool when needed.
Should You Seek An Ego Death Experience?
Not all of us are being controlled by our egos to the point that we are causing harm to others and ourselves. But if your ego does have too much power over you, you will resonate with some of the following symptoms.
- Feeling jealous about others’ success, including your friends and family, and struggling to feel genuine happiness for other people’s wins.
- Obsessively comparing yourself and your achievements to others and having a strong desire to accomplish more than everyone else.
- Craving validation from others and feeling bad when you do not receive it.
- Seeing yourself as superior to everyone else.
- Purposely looking for and pointing out the flaws in others, yet feeling angry when someone points out your weaknesses.
- Being stuck in the past or future and struggling to be in the present moment.
Even if you do not have any of the above symptoms, that doesn’t mean ego dissolution is irrelevant to you. On the contrary, anyone on a personal development or spiritual journey will surely benefit from experiencing ego death.
How To Achieve Ego Death Through Spiritual Practice
Achieving ego death through spiritual practice takes time. If you don’t yet have a spiritual practice, mindfulness meditation is the best place to start.
To release the ego’s restraints, we must start to see our mind as the ego and separate from our true self.
Start by observing your mental activity. Begin a daily practice where you sit in silence for 10 to 15 minutes and simply follow the thoughts that enter your mind. Mentally note whether these thoughts are negative, repetitive, or self-destructive.
Mindfulness meditation can be very challenging initially, as our minds quickly grasp and expand each thought. Sometimes we don’t notice a thought until we’ve created an entire story around the initial “seed.”
However, with regular practice, you will start noticing your thoughts more quickly. Each time you do, visualize a miniature person sitting on your shoulder speaking these words to you. This will help you make the connection that your thoughts are separate from your true self.
As this shift happens, the ego’s power naturally lessens, enabling you to become more present, feel more connected to the universe, and experience better overall well-being and mental health.
Is Ego Death A Good Thing?
Experiencing ego death is a vital part of personal and spiritual development. When our ego is too powerful, we can develop an unhealthy level of hatred and greed. When this happens collectively, it can lead to poverty, war, and environmental destruction.
On a personal level, being too attached to our subjective self-identity can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. Thus, by doing the inner work to break away from our egoic selves, we improve our lives and contribute to creating a better society and world.
What Are The Signs Of An Ego Death?
If you are currently experiencing loss of the ego, you may feel the following:
Feeling interconnected to the universe or deeper spiritual connection than before.
Feeling connected to all human beings, animals, and nature.
Seeing everyone else as equal to you and no longer feeling superior.
Feeling less resonance to the opinions and beliefs you once held.
Being able to listen to and accept contrasting views and ideas to those you once had.
A general sense of peace and love.
Can An Ego Death Be Dangerous?
It’s important to note that an ego death does not always feel positive.
As you feel like you are losing a part of yourself, the experience can feel very jarring and unsettling. This happens when your ego resists the dissolution and can temporarily cause worsened symptoms of depression, anxiety, and fear.
Adverse experiences like this typically happen when an ego death has been triggered by psychedelics. A negative reaction to psychedelic use can cause the following:
Insomnia or other sleep problems
How Long Does An Ego Death Last?
How long an ego death lasts depends on the specific trigger that started it. For example, if it is a psychedelic experience, it may be as short as a few minutes or last for several hours, depending on the dose and type of psychedelic.
However, achieving an ego death through spiritual practice can take numerous months or years to pass through all the stages described above.
Hungry to understand ego death on a deeper level? Don’t worry; the following frequently asked questions will surely answer some of your queries!
If you want to learn more about the ego and the human mind, I recommend reading ‘Dissolving the Ego, Realizing the Self: Contemplations from the Teachings of David R. Hawkins.’ It discusses how to deepen your spiritual journey and gives direct pathways to transcending the ego.
If you’re interested in using psychedelics to invoke an ego death, check out the book ‘The Psychedelic Experience‘ by Timothy Leary. The Psychedelic Experience is based on the ancient Buddhist text ‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead’ and explores how to broaden spiritual consciousness through a combination of Tibetan meditation techniques and psychotropic substances.
Final Thoughts On What Is Ego Death?
Ego deaths are complex, mystical experiences, and separating yourself from the ego is no easy task. It takes time and patience, but by practicing spiritual traditions like meditation, you can slowly start to disconnect from the false self and connect within.