Ego Death & Spiritual Awakening: What’s It All About?

“The Ego is a veil between humans and God.” ― Rumi

 

In This Article

What is the Ego?
What Is Ego Death?
Does The Ego Really Die?
The Scary Part Of Facing The Ego
The Process of Transcending the Ego
Steps Toward Spiritual Awakening
Stage 1 – The Dark Night of the Soul
Stage 2 – The Questioning
Stage 3 – Diving Within
Stage 4 – Going In Deeper
Stage 5 – Integration

 

Ego maniac is a term used in psychology to describe ultra-preoccupation with one’s ego (identity/self). At the extreme, it’s someone who is obsessed with self and displays delusions of greatness and/or grandeur.

Granted, I’m not an ego maniac, but I can relate to being preoccupied with “self”.

I think we all can.

My ego is alive and well.

It’s just part of who I am while journeying this thing we call “life” on planet Earth.

You’d think after doing “inner healing work” for many years, my ego would be polished and well-behaved.

While I am not controlled by the shadow-side of ego as much as I used to be, it still trips me up at times.

What is the Ego?

By ego, I mean my sense of self.  My identity.

The part of me that started forming shortly after coming on this planet as a baby.

My personality.

Now, a lot of people equate ego with negativity.  They consider it “bad”.

That’s not necessarily true.

It is a construct that we create.

As a construct created by the divine spirits that we are, then maybe we can consider it also a divine creation that serves a purpose.

It helps us navigate life on Earth as spirits operating a third-dimension body suit.

Some say it’s simply an evolutionary construct that helps us process helpful information to keep us in “check”. (So we’re not booted out of our tribe)

And, so we can experience all sorts of things as we journey.

Regardless of whether it’s all good, all bad, or somewhere in between, we all develop a so-called “ego”.

And, along with a healthy sense of ego/identity, there’s also a “shadow side” to the ego.

That’s the part that tends to trip us up.

This is the part that has me looking at life with the “duality” lens.

~Right vs. Wrong

~Good vs. Bad

~Love vs. Fear

For me, it’s that “right vs. wrong” part that can cause me some emotional mayhem.

I tend to fear doing the wrong thing.

You ever feel that way?

No matter how many times I do something right, there’s still that fear of doing something wrong – as if that’s the worst thing in the entire world!

That’s part of my shadow-side, and my goal is to continue to expose, heal, and integrate it.

But before we go onto that topic, let’s delve a bit into what “ego death” means.

ego death spiritual awakening shadow work

What Is Ego Death?

I’ve read quite a bit on ego death lately. It sounds frightening, but I assure you it doesn’t have to be so scary.

The ego is a term primarily used in psychology. It’s the part of us that holds our personality.

It’s our beliefs. Our identity.

It’s a mental construct.

And, it’s a construct that is continually changing, as it’s quite fluid.

Much of the time, “I” statements are coming from the ego.  They may be true or not true.

For me, the thought, “I don’t deserve such and such” may arise. That thought is coming from my ego. It’s not true, because I do deserve whatever it is I am desiring.  But perhaps due to past conditioning or a wound, that thought (I don’t deserve) got stuck looping in the shadow-part of my ego.

My task is to navigate life as the pure, conscious spirit that I am, and become an observer of my thought life (my ego). Line up what shows up there with the Ultimate Reality, or in my case, what God or the laws of the Universe say.

I – the real me – is WORTHY.

Does The Ego Really Die?

The goal of a spiritual journey is to grow and evolve spiritually. For the Christian, that means “dying to sin” and becoming more like Jesus – an awakened person full of love and compassion living life from the perspective of Spirit.

For the Buddhist, that may mean letting go of all attachments, quieting the mind through meditation, and offering love and compassion to the world.

In transpersonal psychology, you may hear of “ego death”, but the ego isn’t necessarily going to die.

After all, the ego does serve a purpose, because as I mentioned, it’s a construct that can help us live on this planet.

At the same time, we can live BEYOND or ABOVE the ego, more aligned with our true essence as SPIRIT or consciousness. And it is from this perspective (a higher perspective), that we can experience more peace and joy.

A spiritual journey can help us transcend or rise above the ego.

We don’t have to be CONTROLLED by the ego, and especially the shadow-side of the ego.

It’s like what Jesus said…

We can be IN the world, but not OF the world.

We can learn to live more fully from our true nature as Spiritual Being, one with God and one with our fellow humans.

Some call this spiritual awakening or conscious evolution.

I like to think of this process as rediscovering our Sacredness.  Our holy, spiritual nature created by this thing many call God/Source/Universe/Higher Power/Brahman/Almighty, etc.

{Side note: There are well over 100 names for “God” around the world. Try not to get tripped up when someone calls your “god” another name. Work out your own spiritual awakening journey in your unique way.}

When we can transcend (rise above) the ego (ego death), we can live consciously from the space of our spiritual essence.

When we do, life begins to change in big ways.

The Scary Part Of Facing The Ego

I talk a lot about shadow work.  One reason is because it has helped me so much over the last decade in getting to know myself a lot better.

And, begin healing some wounds and patterns that had been tripping me up my whole life.

When I created Into the Wild Shadow Work Journal, I created it beginner spiritual seekers in mind. Those that aren’t quite sure what it means to “go inside and face their shadow-side”.

Of course, all can benefit from the shadow work prompts. I just want everyone to be able to benefit.

shadow work journal

Some people comment that the thought of facing their shadows (past, demons, darkness, emotions, etc.) scares the heck out of them.

I get it.

It can feel terrifying to go within, not knowing what you’ll find.

Or, facing your past, which for some people, can be quite traumatic.

{Side note:  If you’ve experienced trauma or have PTSD, I recommend doing shadow work with a qualified therapist.}

If there’s one thing I really want you to know, it’s that facing what’s in the ego/shadow isn’t as scary as most people think.  It’s the bodily sensations that they start feeling when they start digging that freaks them out.

It can feel quite uncomfortable and the unfamiliarity can feel overwhelming.

This is why I recommend the practice of mindfulness, meditation, and breathwork as you do shadow work. Even better if you can find a Somatic Experiencing therapist to work alongside you. They’ll help you manage the emotions and body sensations that arise as you do your inner healing work.

This has helped me so much, as I just didn’t know how to handle intense anxiety when it would arise. So, I repressed it or shut down emotionally. For most of my life, this is how I “handled” issues.

It might have helped me deal with pain/trauma as a child, but as an adult, It did not serve me well.

Studying Peter Levine’s work, as well as working with a SE therapist has (and is) helping me better manage anxiety and other emotions.

So, if you’re afraid to go within and “do the inner healing work”, shadow work, etc., think about doing it with a qualified therapist.

Now, back to ego death or transcending the ego.

Typically, if you’re reading about ego death and/or shadow work, you’re somewhere on your unique path toward waking up spiritually.

Yay!

Waking up to our true spiritual nature, I believe, is one of the main reasons we are here on this planet!

The Process of Transcending the Ego

I’ve always been interested in growing spiritually.  I spent over a decade trying to become more like Christ as a Christian.  Then, I began more of a unique, spiritual path toward enlightenment.  I draw from various religions, practices, beliefs, etc.  I believe each of us is unique, and our path toward waking spiritually is unique too. (So, don’t judge others. Focus on your path and love others along their journey)

ego death alan watts

Steps Toward Spiritual Awakening

Google “steps toward spiritual awakening” and you’ll find various teachings.

Deepak Chopra teaches 5 steps toward spiritual awakening. He talks about getting beyond the veil of ignorance, meaning being in the dark about our true, spiritual nature. I like his analogy:

“Like a spaceship achieving escape velocity, spiritual awakening punches you out of the limiting gravity well of ignorance and on toward the ultimate destination of cosmic self-realization.”

You’ll also find 7 Steps, 11 Steps, 12 Steps toward spiritual awakening.

Here’s an infographic that I’ve created that summarizes some of the more commonly accepted Steps or Stages Toward Spiritual Awakening (Ego Death). Note that your awakening experience is uniquely yours. It does not have to be like anyone else’s.

stages of spiritual awakening

Stage 1 – The Dark Night of the Soul

In this first stage of spiritual awakening, you notice that you’re feeling like life isn’t panning out the way you thought it would.  You’re disillusioned. You’re not feeling all that happy. In fact, you may feel depressed, anxious, confused, and empty.

Even if you’ve done “everything right” in life (career, marriage, kids, etc.), you still feel a nagging sense of discontentment and aloneness inside.

Some refer to this as a “dark night of the soul”. You’re wrestling within and it can feel confusing, frustrating, and empty.

Often, people hit this stage somewhere in their 30’s, after they’ve achieved what they considered “success”. They’ve done what society taught them to do, yet they are still coming up feeling empty.

This stage can also come as result of the pain associated with trauma, relationship breakup or divorce, sickness, loss of a loved one, traumatic event, etc.

 

Stage 2 – The Questioning

This dark night of the soul can cause you to start to question some things. You feel your heart searching for something…

Something greater. Something deeper.

You’re not looking at reality the same way. You look at the ways you’ve been duped by society. By materialism. You start waking up to the bigger picture and what’s really going on under the surface.

As you do, you start asking questions like, “Who am I, really?”

“Why am I here?”

“Why are we here?”

You may start studying religions, psychology, spirituality, etc. to try to figure out the answers to your questions.

Your spiritual quest has begun.

Stage 3 – The Pursuit Within

The dark night of your soul and life’s questions leads you to a resolve to pursue your spiritual path – not “out there”, but within.

You know that the answers you’re seeking will come when you begin to get quiet, close your eyes, and go within to find your “true, spiritual self”.

You know, like when Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is within.”

Some start a new religious path. Others begin a spiritual journey. Still others may head to an indigenous culture and seek out a shaman who will help them find the answers they’re seeking.

One great thing about this stage is that you’re getting more serious about your spiritual journey. You want to “wake up” and truly discover more about yourself, others, the world, and the afterlife.

In this stage, I devoured books, videos, and sought out spiritual teachers that I resonated with. I dabbled in meditation, but never did it consistently. I’d say my spiritual practices were fairly shallow.

Yes, I grew.

I learned a lot, but I can clearly look back and see how I got caught up in a “spiritual bypass”.

What is a spiritual bypass?

According to psychotherapist John Welwood, spiritual bypassing is the, “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.”

In other words, rather than really get within, explore, and work through some unresolved trauma from my past, I used spiritual principles (like the law of attraction, for example) to “bypass” the tough stuff.

Yes, the law of attraction helped me a lot back then. I’m forever grateful to Esther Hicks for helping me get out of a toxic relationship.

However, looking back, I can see how I unconsciously avoided dealing with past childhood and adult trauma by remaining detached from my emotions. I let “just be happy” be my motto, but I was kind of fooling myself.

I let “stored trauma” (which is stored energy) remain dormant in my physical body.

From a mind/body perspective, I stayed in “freeze” or “shut down” mode, largely detached from myself and others emotionally.

It was a defense mechanism I picked up at an early age, and it wasn’t until I really started doing deep shadow work (to deal with my psyche) and working with a Mind/Body therapist (to deal with my nervous system that was stuck in “freeze” mode) that I could see what was going on.

You see, healing and enlightenment comes when we contend with all parts of us:

~ Mind

~Body

~Spirit

I bypassed much of my psyche (and the pain stored there) and my body (and the pain lodged there), and it caught up to me – as evidenced in my relationship.

(Yes, our intimate relationships oftentimes mirror what “wounds” are asking to be healed and integrated.)

Stage 4 – Going In Deeper

As you progress on your spiritual journey, life will require you to press in even more – and it won’t be a piece of cake.  After all, ego death or death to self (phrase commonly used in the Bible) involves letting go and leaving the “old, carnal ways”.

It involves discovering the real “you”, which at the essence is peace, joy, and love.

But it will require you to deal with those things that are asking to be dealt with, such as emotional wounds, past trauma, and the shadow-side.

If your goal is true spiritual enlightenment, you’ll have to accept that there will be ups and downs and ebb and flow.

You may feel amazing for a while.  You feel deeply connected to God and life is going well.

Then, out of nowhere, a string of tough situations come your way.

  • COVID hits.
  • You suffer loss.
  • Your best friend stabs you in the back.
  • You feel alone, empty, and confused.
  • Your partner breaks up with you.
  • You experience a bout of depression or existential angst

In this stage, you’ll start digging deeper and make a more solid commitment to whatever spiritual practices help you become more connected to your higher power.

For me, I had to REALLY go back and face some wounds from my childhood and my divorce.

I had to make a firm commitment to exploring my defense mechanisms with a qualified therapist who would help me RECONNECT to my body, rather than stay up in my head.

You see, my favored defense mechanism through life was to repress negative emotions, memories, beliefs, etc.  I cut off from my emotional body at a young age – had little idea how to feel, deal, and work through the tough emotions.

In fact, I wasn’t “feeling” much at all – kind of numb, if that makes sense.

But life will always send props our way to illuminate our shadows.

And my shadows were just causing me so much inner pain, so I drew a line in the sand and said, “No more! I’m 100% committed to doing the work, feeling, dealing, healing, and getting aligned with Divine Intelligence (God).  I’m in it for the long haul!

Thus, I began the deeper work and taking it more seriously. I made a commitment to a regular practice of mindfulness, meditation, worship, inner child work, shadow work, ritual, and other practices that resonate with me.

So, stage 4 – you’re going in even deeper, fully committed to the work and uncovering more of your true, spiritual nature.

Stage 5 – Integration

The integration stage/phase is important.  Integration means that you “integrate” or unify whatever it is you’re learning.  Or, in the case of shadow work, gather the fragments or blend in those parts of you that you’ve cut off from or rejected.

According to the well-known psychologist Carl Jung, integration is “the process during which both the individual and collective unconscious are integrated into the personality. It’s a positive psychological development that indicates psychological maturity and may help an individual move past negative habits.”

Integration is your goal when it comes to dealing with the ego and its shadow-side.  You’re illuminating shadows, reclaiming what belongs to you and deleting what doesn’t.

As you progress toward enlightenment, (god-consciousness, Christ-consciousness, awakening, etc.) you are essentially identifying less and less with your egoic self (false self, carnal nature) and more with your spiritual essence. (soul, higher self, true self, etc.)

You’ll become less egocentric and more ethnocentric and Cosmocentric.  Less concerned with “me” and more concerned with “we”.

Less involved with carnal things and more concerned with showing up as love and compassion.

You’re seeing yourself outside of the “matrix”.

In the world, but not of it in all it’s materialism, greed, envy, pride, competition, etc.

You go against the grain.

You’ll feel more divine peace and joy.

You’ll feel more connected to God (your higher power) and others as a whole.

The Path To Peace

We all want to experience more peace and joy along life’s journey.  In fact, most of the things we do are an attempt to ultimately feel that peace and joy. It’s just that we don’t realize that lots of things we do won’t get us there.

That’s because we’re navigating life primarily from our ego state or five senses.  The carnal nature.

For example, Jim wants to feel happy and thinks that having a wife, two kids, and a good job will assure him peace.

He feels pretty good for a while.  But, after a decade, he starts to feel this nagging sense of emptiness within.  His marriage is ok, but not wonderful like it used to be. The kids are good, but being “dad” doesn’t feel quite as rewarding as it used to be.  His job is good and pays the bills, but he’s tired of doing the same thing day after day.

It’s common to start feeling disillusioned after you’ve “been there, done that”.  Jim is entering the first stage toward awakening. He’s progressing toward his “dark night of the soul” because he’s not feeling true peace within.  He’s starting to get the feeling that things “out there” only pacify him for a while. They don’t fully satisfy him.

When he slows down and gets quiet, he’s wondering, “Is this all there is to life? Because if this is it, why do I feel dead inside lately?”

Thus, his spiritual journey is beginning.

Awakening Stages Are Not Linear

Try to remember that spiritual awakening (or ego death) stages are not linear. They’re more like a zig-zagging line with hills and valleys. You may begin at Stage 2 first, asking lots of existential questions. You may hit Stage 1 later, after you realize you’ve been asleep for, say, most of your life! (The dark night)

Please know that your spiritual awakening journey is uniquely yours.  It won’t look just like someone else’s. It’s yours and it’s alright for you to progress in a way that suits you.

In saying this, let others navigate their own spiritual journey without pointing fingers. Let them find their own, unique path and send them blessings.

Spiritual Awakening

We hear a lot about ego death, but I like to refer to this more as a spiritual awakening.  The ego is a “construct”.

Technically, it’s not even real. (Let that sink in)

Yes, spiritual practices and revelation can help us transcend the ego. This simply means that we aren’t ruled by it anymore.

Just like Jesus talked about denying “self” or the “carnal nature”.  He was saying, “Don’t be led by your ego. Don’t let your worldly thoughts, beliefs (mind) lead your way, nor your bodily senses (lust of the flesh).”

Rather, be led by the Spirit. By Divine Intelligence. By the Source that created you.

Your spirit that’s been created by THE SPIRIT. (Source, God, Holy Spirit, Higher Frequency, Light, etc.)

Wake up to the realization the YOU ARE A SPIRIT HAVING A HUMAN EXPERIENCE.

Yes, like an avatar!

Peeling the Layers

I do love talking about shadow work, because it has helped me peel back layers of the shadow side of my ego and help me uncover more and more the glorious spirit that I truly am.

It is helping me live “in the spirit” and not “of the flesh”.

To see the bigger picture of life on planet Earth, as a human, but awake to me as SPIRIT or CONSCIOUSNESS.

Can we really live with this divine revelation? That we are spirits?

Sacred, powerful, creative, illuminated spirits?

There’s a new book coming out by Tony Demello called, Stop Fixing Yourself: Wake Up, All is Well.

I’m eager to read it, as I imagine it will serve as a wonderful reminder that technically, we are not broken.

We came to this planet as pure conscious spirits, were “programmed” by parents/society and created a false self/personality/ego/shadow-side that trips us up over and over over and over.

Until we wake up.

Until we dare to transcend the ego.

Until we get to progressing through the spiritual awakening stages with intent, passion, perseverance and dedication.

Is it easy?

No. If that were the case, we’d all be spiritual powerhouses living in bliss and peace. (And the world would be a whole lot different)

Is it worth it?

Yes.  Spiritual growth is certainly worth it.

Becoming more spiritually mature is worth it.

In fact, a decade ago I was miserable, depressed, anxious, and riddled with fear. I was fresh out of a marriage working a minimum wage job and a basket case emotionally.

It was then that I started my spiritual “waking up” journey.  I started studying Buddhism, mystical Christianity, transpersonal psychology, Shamanism, mindfulness, meditation, and the new sciences. I started progressing through the spiritual growth stages, going back and forth between some of them here and there.

The path has helped me change in so many ways.

And it can help you, too.

This is my prayer for you, and for all of humanity.

Slow down, get quiet, go within, face what arises, illuminate your shadows and integrate them, gain more revelation of what and who you really are, and, connect in a deeper way with your Creator.

It’s a lifelong journey, and then some.

Sending you so much love and blessings along yours!

Dominica

 

shadow work journal

Dominica Applegate
Written by: Dominica Applegate

Dominica Applegate is an author, writer, and transpersonal spiritual teacher. Her teachings have helped millions of people experience emotional healing, relationship repair, and spiritual awakening. Earning her BA in Psychology and MA in Counseling, she worked 12 years in the mental health field before diving full-time into writing.

She runs Rediscovering Sacredness, an online portal that offers inspiration, essays, resources, and tools to help heal inner pain and experience more peace and joy.

Her books include:

Into The Wild Shadow Work Journal
Healing After a Breakup: A 50 Day Devotional & Guided Inner Work Journal
Goodbye Codependency: A 40-Day Devotional to Boost Self-Care
The Pain, It Shapes Her World {Poetry}