Lessons of pain known as ‘ego deaths’ are among the most difficult things to accept about life in general. At one point or another everyone has tried (unsuccessfully) to evade the deepest aspect of this experience on their journey of personal development. But in the end, those who are able to go through the mock ‘death’ of a false part of their identity will inevitably testify to the fact that it always brings them to a place of greater peace, contentment, and personal freedom.
Let’s discuss how we can recognize when we are on the brink of an ego death, and use some analogies to walk us through the process of letting go of beliefs about ourselves that no longer serve us and turning personal pain into enlightenment-level knowledge.
Understanding The Pain Of An Ego Death
An ego death is the mental and emotional equivalent of having stomach flu, food poisoning, or gastrointestinal difficulties, where your body suddenly goes into massive amounts of pain, usually followed by a lot of throwing up, your tummy working, heartburn, pain and cramps. There’s a reason this happens: some sort of toxin, poison, bug, virus or other irritant has been identified in the system, and the system goes into overdrive to flush that irritant out.
When we release on the physical level, by going to the loo, sweating, throwing up, we feel weak, tired, sweaty and shaky. We can’t focus on anything else but the physical pain and symptoms that are wracking our body. Similarly, when we have thoughts and emotion that are causing us extreme pain, we have to face and question the thoughts pass through our minds, and the emotions through our hearts that are causing the suffering. We feel weak, tired, sweaty and shaky. We can’t focus on anything else but the psychic pain and symptoms that are wracking us.
As with stomach flu, each time you throw up or your tummy works, it hurts. Your body cramps and tenses, using every tool it has to push that irritation out. But after an intense period, of say 24 to 72 hours, it stops, you’re better, you can start recovering, and go back to your normal life. Just like you have to accept the pain and symptoms of a stomach flu, you have to accept the pain and symptoms of this ‘mental and emotional flu’ you’re experiencing. In other words you have to feel the emotions that are releasing. If you are successful in expelling the belief about yourself that is causing the pain, then it’s like a piece of your identity has died, which is why we call it an ego death.
An example of this would be losing your job. The part of your identity that may die includes being a ‘provider’ or an ‘employee’. If you’re a parent, it can kills the identity of ‘able to provide for my children’. When you wake up the next day, your identification with ‘having somewhere to go’ and ‘having something to do’ may have also died. Likewise the notion that you are ‘secure for the future’. This is why it feels so bad–because so many aspects get affected at the same time.
In the case of a break up or death, you would lose your relationship to the person; so the identities of lover, friend, family, confidant, and companion are at risk. You go from ‘married’ to single or separated or divorced. Or widowed. You also ‘lose’ the label of spouse. These big changes then cause further smaller changes in you, which further break down your identity.
So, if your partner dies, for example, you would ‘come home alone to an empty house’. The ‘silence’ would be a reminder of the change in your identity. You would now have to learn how to ‘occupy yourself alone in the house’, changing your behaviors. A silly example would be preparing two meals for dinner, or even taking out two plates. Now you’re ‘a person who only takes out one plate, and eats a convenience meal alone’. This could easily see you ‘change’ from ‘someone who eats meals slowly, at a table’, into ‘someone who eats on the run and doesn’t digest properly’.
A Buildup Of Toxins
Ego deaths occur at every stage, continually reinforcing the change and loss that you’ve experienced. Now, think about what happens when something dies. It starts to rot. All these ‘parts’ of you–these actions you took based on who and what you believe you are–are being left behind, and they’re dying inside you. Once they die, they start to fester, becoming a toxin or poison that runs the risk of infiltrating your whole system. So your body triggers a response that forces you to purge those thoughts and emotions. This is what you experience as an ego death.
There’s no way around it – you’ve got to sit with the pain for a few days, because the emotional, mental and psychic pain is the process of your body purging that emotion. And if it’s a huge emotional and mental load, then your body is going to use every single avenue at its disposal to purge that load, including physical manifestations like actual stomach flu, which will put your body into ‘expel’ mode.
You will feel sad, releasing by feeling the emotion. You will feel other emotions as the thoughts linked to that experience pass through your mind on their way out the door. Most notably you’ll experience shame, fear, doubt, humiliation, embarrassment, anger, resistance, as well as inferiority, inadequacy and lack of self worth. You will cry, allowing pain to fall out of your eyes. Your lymph system will work overtime, flushing out all the affected areas of your body. Your bowels, bladder, sweat, period, gas and belching will all be utilized to flush the toxic load out of your system, as quickly as possible. Just like when your body forces you to throw up a poison.
You will experience pain on all levels as the pain passes through your awareness and leaves the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual layers of your system. Ever noticed how you cry and groan when you are physically ill or in pain? Those actions help pain leave your system, whatever the original cause of the pain is. With most ego deaths, you have ride out about a week of intense symptoms. Anything longer than that is the cumulative knock on effect of the other identity changes that have been triggered by the main loss.
The Majority Of The Pain Is Your Resistance
Take both arms and put them straight out in front of you, with your palms facing forward, as if you were using your hands and arms to press something forward. Really put your energy and effort into it, pressing as if you are pressing against an immovable barrier, like a wall. Notice what you’re feeling in your body – the tension and pain that spans your arms, shoulders, neck, and possibly even head, ears and toes as you strain and press against that invisible barrier. Hold that for a just a little bit longer than is really comfortable, pressing hard so that you can feel the strain and pain.
Then drop your arms suddenly.
Notice the relief that’s spreading through your muscles? Notice how the pain has stopped? Did you notice how much pain there was–even though you were actually pressing against nothing? The majority of the pain we feel in any shift experience is caused by our own resistance to what we are shifting–our resistance to accepting that truth about ourselves, facing that shame, or not getting what we want.
The pain of a shift or ego death really will only ever last 24 to 72 hours – all the other pain comes from you RESISTING feeling that pain. When you get good at shifting emotions, they pass in the space of a few seconds. You really just have to be truly consciously aware of the emotion and accept that it exists, and is the truth.
Shifting Your Belief System
Each of these ‘parts’ of you that is changing, and the lessons and realizations that you’re getting, tend to feel like they happen in isolation, because they happen one at a time, or immersively. To understand the idea of immersive experience, think about a time when you were scared. If someone kept reassuring you, then you never really went into the fear; you kept getting the experience of hope. Now think of a time when you had no hope–how you were scared of everything, because the fear completely surrounded you.
In order to experience something–anything–you have to be immersed in it. You can’t be in boarding school and go home to sleep every night as well; it’s one or the other. In order to ‘have the experience’ of boarding school, you will give up the experience of ‘living at home’.
Emotion is the same. In order to experience doubt or pain or fear or any other negative emotion, you have to be immersed in it. It’s all you will experience for a period of time. The immersive nature of experience however, means that when we’re inside an emotion, it feels like we’ve always been there. As soon as we’re out, we forget the pain of that experience really quickly as well, because now we’re immersed in the positive experience or emotion.
It takes years before people start looking for how the ego deaths are connected, before they start seeing the links that connect a series of ego deaths into the shedding of a complete belief system.
Like Watching A TV Show
When you look an at entire belief system, it’s like watching a TV show. You can see how the setting, characters and story develop over time. You can see the twists and turns that happen, and in order to know or experience the whole story, you have to watch every episode, because one episode can contain crucial information that influences how you see every other episode, or how you view the characters.
In order to be able to discuss that show, you’d have to watch every single episode, so that you have all the details. This includes the episodes you hate, the cliffhangers, the ones where your favorite characters die, even the cringe-worthy parts. And to watch each episode takes time, roughly 42 minutes. This is the time that you have to commit to in order to be able to say that you have watched it.
Belief systems are no different – there are ego deaths that feel like cliffhangers, moments where you don’t know what will happen next, horrible losses that shake you to your very core. However you have to go through every single episode with some awareness in order to see the entire story.
When an emotion or thought passes through your mind, it stays there for a period of time, so that you can ‘view’ it with your awareness. That’s the episode. You have to just sit that time out and not run to distraction, tempting as it may be. If you skip an episode, you won’t know if it was crucial, and you will be missing part of the information. You will not have the entire story.
Each ego death and loss you experience is one episode of your story. You can’t jump ahead or generalize from your limited experience; each episode is unique and valuable and you can never tell from one episode what the entire storyline will be. You have to watch the entire series.
No Pain, No Gain
It’s really hard to see and understand how your personal pain becomes advanced level knowledge – and most people never see it. To understand it, you need to work your way backwards, and ask yourself why this level of teaching would be delivered in this format.
The answer is relevance. If I tell you that a homeless teenager died of a drug overdose last night, then you may be shocked, but you’ll go on with your life. If I walk in and say it was your son or daughter, the game changes completely. It will rip your world apart, and it may be a moment that you never recover from. There’s no difference in the stories. In both cases it’s a homeless teenager who died of an overdose. But now, it’s relevant to you personally.
We care, in an offhand way, about the environment or other people’s struggles. But we only take action when the toxic spill is on our doorstep, or the financial trouble hits us personally. People are inherently self-absorbed by nature, and if none of the lessons were relevant to their immediate happiness, they would never notice the issue.
Take, for example, the fact that South Africa has one of the highest rates of AIDS infection in the world. Doesn’t matter to you at all does it? But if I told you that you have contracted AIDS? Now it starts to matter, hey? Now the struggles of people who don’t have access to that medication become your own struggle. It’s relevant to you, and so now you start focusing on how to fix it.
It’s not hard to imagine that Martin Luther King’s personal experiences as a young black boy inspired him to go on to become a Social Justice Warrior. When trials impact you on a personal level, they become relevant enough for you to take up on a societal level. Now that you understand why lessons happen on the personal level, let’s take a look at how they evolve into enlightenment level knowledge. A series of relationships behind you is something that most people can relate to, so let’s start there.
The Relationship Experience
The first few times relationships end for you, all you really feel is the pain. ‘This person left me’, ‘I am all alone’, and ‘nobody wants me’ are generally the themes for this level of shift. There’s also a fear that this pain will last forever. But by the time you get to the third or fourth heartbreak experience, you’ve felt the pain a few times now, and you know it will end, so your question and direction of focus changes, and you start asking ‘WHY do I feel this pain?’ Answers at this stage can vary greatly, but a common theme here could be ‘I am jealous’ or ‘I am possessive’.
So in the next round of relationships, you happen to notice when you are getting jealous or possessive, and you curtail those behaviors where you can. For a while it works, but then suddenly the issue rears its head again, and you have a broken heart once more because of jealousy. But this time, instead of just feeling pain, you start to unpack the jealousy, and you realize that it really started that day back in your childhood when your mom took away stuff from you and gave it to your sister.
And as you have that thought, and it passes through your conscious mind on its way out of the door, or you ‘drop that mirror’, you suddenly realize that it’s usually when you see your sister, or your mom favors her in some way, that you get triggered into going off the rails in your relationship. This is an active memory that influenced the way you handle this particular aspect of jealousy. We call it ‘dropping a mirror’ because you can no longer see yourself in it. It is a mirror because it shows you a part of yourself.
As that thought of release, or mirror, moves through your conscious awareness, or you view that episode, the pattern no longer has a hold over you, and you find yourself less jealous and possessive in general in life. And you plateau on that good feeling for a while. And then the next relationship comes along. And really this relationship finally seems to be going great for you. What you didn’t bank on was that it was a test from the universe. And so when it explodes again a few months later, and you find yourself feeling jealous and possessive, you begin to look at your feelings of jealousy once more.
Letting Go Of Resistance
What’s worth noting here is that the moment you’ve owned the aspect of yourself once (i.e. jealousy), it’s easy for you to reference that in future shifts. The resistance we feel in admitting to that aspect is taken away completely once we admit to it the first time. It’s the shame that stops us from admitting to it in the first place.
By this token, you can really shortcut your development journey by owning every single characteristic you think of as ‘bad’, by just saying it out loud: I am selfish, I am inferior, Nobody likes me. To boost the strength of this exercise, give an example from your own experience that proves each comment true. Then when you need to access that knowledge in future, you don’t have to waste days and weeks trying to overcome the ‘shame’ of acknowledging that part of you that is present in all the rest of us as well.
So, for example, nobody likes me because I never get invited to social events. Or, I doubt my abilities because I messed up at work. By finding the example you align to the energy more quickly, and it takes away the shame for when you need to see those parts of yourself later on.
Back to our analogy: you’re looking at a relationship mess (once again), and you’re confused, because you cleared the stuff about your sister, but the word ‘sister’ triggers an idea for you, and you realize the same pattern plays out between your mom and her sister. Basically you and your sister are treating each other the way your mom and aunt treat one another. We call this a ‘generational pattern’.
You are repeating the same patterns of behavior across the generations, because it has passed down in the bloodline and DNA of the family. So you find a great healer, and you clear this. It could be several generations back on your mom’s side, which is where it originally started, or where the original active memory event happened in the life of the ancestor that burned it into your family heritage.
For a while after that release, things are great; your mom and aunt are getting along, you and your sister are doing great, and you even manage to find a new relationship. But you get involved with the wrong person, someone whose behaviors and words leave you feeling on edge and suspicious. After a few months of feeling constantly tense, you find yourself once again displaying old patterns of jealousy and possessiveness. But this time you know it isn’t something from your past. You’ve cleared that. Also past experience has taught you that going into the pain and drama, and creating a scene, will not help.
So you start to take a careful look at your partner, and over time, maybe you come to discover that your partner is cheating on you. So where before you had lessons showing you how jealousy destroys bonds, now you are discovering how your jealousy actually serves to protect you. Had you not felt suspicious, and noticed the change in your behavior, you would not have found out that you were being played.
Again a lesson of jealousy, but this time a lesson of jealousy positively aspected. Now that you have put the negative reasons you show jealousy behind you, this lesson (or mirror) shows you the positive ways that jealousy can actually serve us and keep us safe. The relationship is not worth keeping, and so you end it, and once again you are facing heartbreak because of jealousy. However this time your identity (remember ego deaths?), has changed in much bigger ways. You are no longer a person who just openly trusts. You have become more cautious about the people you choose to go out with.
So it takes you longer to dive back into the world of dating this time, and when you do, you find that you have attracted someone who has also experienced infidelity in the past. The ‘mirror’ or energy that has attracted you towards each other in this case, is your mutual fear of being cheated on again. In the beginning this is great, because you both know that you can trust each other completely, and you feel secure and confident in your life. And this pays off in a big way when you get offered a fantastic new job that you are so excited about.
Turns out though, that this new job is a test too, and as you start working the extra hours required by your new role, you discover jealousy and possessiveness from yet another angle, as your partner now becomes jealous and suspicious of you. In the beginning, you spend time reassuring your partner, because you have massive empathy for his or her situation–it’s what drew you together in the first place after all. But after a while, you start getting tired of the constant demands, made worse by how tired you are keeping pace with your new job and responsibilities.
And so, once again, the inevitable tension caused by jealousy sets into your relationship, and slowly begins to tear it apart. It probably finally ends on a day when you have a thought like, ‘Wow, I can see how my behaviors in the past drove my ex away!’
In the moment of that thought, two things happen: first, you acknowledge that you are being driven away by similar actions and the current relationship is ending, and secondly, you find yourself responsible for ending the past relationship. When that happens, blame shifts from your ex to you, making you wholly or partly to blame. And an additional mirror here is the fact that you have chosen to end both relationships.
Bigger Picture Comes Into View
In the moment that you accept that blame, you ‘understand’ the actions that your ex took, and probably reach a degree of forgiveness and compassion for their choices as well. This is an interesting stage, because it’s the first time you really see that this applies to others beyond just you. So it starts becoming a societal level issue. Now, in future, when you notice jealousy and possessiveness, you no longer only see it in relation to yourself, but you see it in others as well. You see it playing out in their lives, and impacting and evolving their relationships, changing how they deal with people.
Because there are so many more people than you on the planet, you actually now have a hundredfold more examples of this energy, or ‘mirror’, playing out around you, and so you begin to learn about the energy more quickly. Since you have been on many sides of the coin, you find yourself able to easily understand others’ points of view in the situation, being able to step into their shoes because you were there once yourself.
So where, at the beginning of your journey, you may have counseled someone to ‘be jealous if they want to, because you can’t love someone and not be jealous,’ you now find yourself advising a jealous person to curtail their behavior, because their actions of jealousy will do damage to the relationship bond. What often slips your notice at this point is the fact that you now understand that jealousy is the same for all of us; we take similar actions when we’re jealous, and those actions lead to similar types of results. In other words, by this stage of development, you start realizing that this wasn’t just happening to you alone – it’s a common experience.
So, the next time you experience jealousy, in yourself, or in others, your mind starts wandering to questions like ‘what creates jealousy in all of us?’ This leads you down many rabbit holes of information. For a while, for example, you may notice the similarities in events that trigger jealousy. Or you may stumble onto a piece of information like ‘karma’, the idea that actions that you took in past lives are playing out now in order to redress the imbalance. Once you stumble onto something like karma, you are required to understand that experience moves in energies.
Seeing It As Energy
So now, when you stumble across jealousy again, you think of it as an energy, and you begin to study the energy of the experience. What moves through us, how does it move us, what are the pros and cons, how can it be utilized? The moment you reach this juncture, it’s a short hop to understanding that all these life elements we face are just energies, and so you retrospectively begin to apply that knowledge to the rest of your life, looking at other energies and how they have impacted you.
At each layer of growth, you take your personal experience and apply the compassion and understanding gained from that previous experience, onto understanding the similar situation that now presents itself. This ability to take an idea and apply it to understanding another idea, is known as extrapolation.
Over the years, you’ve gained knowledge about jealousy as you’ve been looking at all these different angles and views of it, and as you’ve played different roles in the circumstances jealousy creates: you’ve been the good guy, the bad guy, and even gone from the good guy to the bad guy with a single thought as you understood your ex’s point of view and how you drove them away. And this has given you a very well-rounded view of the aspect of jealousy.
You’ve noticed it in others, how it impacts their lives, and you’ve shown both compassion and irritation for it. You’ve seen jealousy itself as being both good and bad. Importantly, though, you understand that it is inherent in all of us, and we all have similar experiences with it. This always leads to the question of ‘where do these inherent traits we have stem from?’ ’What is it that connects us all?’ ‘Why do we have such similar experiences?’
Seeking The Source
Once you start heading down that road, it always leads to answers about what connects us all, what we share and have in common. And when you’re speaking about a big, all-knowing, all-pervasive energy that unites us all, you are in the realms of Source, Higher Powers and God. Even here, you will find answers from your personal pain, asking questions of yourself like ‘is God jealous?’ Or perhaps finding where in cosmic history jealousy stems from. The energy only reared its head in your life to make it relevant to you so that you discover the next layer or angle of information.
It doesn’t matter where you start, or how personal your info is, eventually the knowledge that you draw from those personal experiences will be higher, because you will looking at different parts of the aspect. There will only be a certain number of aspects you really look at in depth across your life, because once you see the pattern that they are all aspects, you will extrapolate the knowledge of how to deal with any kind of aspect in the same way.
And the areas that you get repeated exposure to become your areas of specialty. So if you had a narcissistic parent, it’s because you wanted to understand narcissism in all its forms. And you will have understood it when you can see the narcissism in yourself and own it. These areas of specialty are how our journeys are unique even though we all learn the same stuff. You will get a comprehensive look at a few areas that will become your focus later on in your journey The fact that these energies have been so present in your life, means that you will have viewed so many other aspects through a lens of that energy.
For example, someone who started an aspect of faith at a young age, would see most of their journey as happening with God. They would view each experience they approached through a filter of the primary faith aspect. So someone on a journey of faith would experience an ego death of jealousy as growing or decreasing their faith. An atheist on the other hand may come via the karmic or ego journey path of experiencing the emotions, only coming to acknowledge a Higher Power much later on. So they would see how these aspects can be experienced without the lens of faith. Their experience of jealousy would be on a very personal level and human in nature.
Someone who came via a path of healing, conversely, would always be asking the question ‘how do I heal this?’ This turns challenges into opportunities to develop the ability to heal the self and others, creating a nature that sees everything as having the potential to heal or be healed. Someone who is very focused on celebrity will always be wondering how this brings them to the world’s attention, while a money-focused person will always be asking how they can turn this experience into a business venture. This is the serial entrepreneur who is ‘inspired by their life’.
Someone who experienced a lot of loss early on, would view every experience wondering how this could detract from what they have, and how they would and could lose; someone who is used to winning will look at how they can emerge on top. The person who sees the losses is a fantastic risk analyst, while the winner makes for an inspiring leader. The leader can only be great with the help of specialist advisors like the risk analyst, who can see things that leader may not even think to look for.
Same Lessons, Different Contexts
The order in which you learn information, and the lens thorough which you view those lessons, will determine the unique nature of your journey and experience. But the idea that the lessons and the journey are different for everyone is silly. That would be like creating a different degree for every single engineer who entered university. The point of a degree is that there is commonality, and shared knowledge, where people are able to help each other and collaborate by having a shared understanding of certain concepts. The lessons are the same for us all, otherwise we would never be able to help each other or progress forward.
We all feel the pain first, and then start looking into our pasts to discover active memories, generational patterns, karma and more. We then find compassion and forgiveness by being in the other person’s role, and then we start looking at a wider view, taking into account the social and societal impacts of aspects on all of humanity. Through that we come to know what connects us all. The key is to not judge your lessons, and to just experience them.
If you are stuck at a place, it’s because you’re meant to be. In essence you chose to be. You chose these circumstances in order to learn the ‘all’ of that particular aspect. And it keeps reappearing in your life because there is something there that fascinates you, something you want to learn. It’s telling you to get curious and find out what all those somethings are!
In order to know everything about something, you will have to immersively experience it from all the different angles. You will have to unpack all the layers, seeing it from every viewpoint, and living in each experience for a period of time. This is how you will come to know everything about something. It doesn’t matter what your lessons are, or how personal they seem, or how silly the answers and statements seem. Trust the process and you will find your way. It’s guaranteed.