Please note that this article has been revised multiple times since it was originally published. The most recent version is here on the author’s website. Thank you!
The following description of the process of ego death and transfiguration came through in an inspired way during long road trips across the desert southwest of the United States. The resultant framework can be held lightly and need not be the last word. Nevertheless, the stages and indications can help one to see where they are in the process, have a sense of the good things to come, and relax into the process.
A working definition of ego
There are many definitions of ego. Here’s one that resonates highly for both truth and usefulness:
Ego is the habitual pattern of labeling phenomena as “wrong” and repeatedly responding to that misperception and misidentification of what is actually the case. What is actually the case is infinite life unfolding and learning through successive forms and all possible experiences.
Ego is thus a feedback loop of negativity seeking to strengthen its own imaginary status as a negative-energy pattern through ever more negation. At the same time, the ego is seeking on a deeper level to be released from the unsatisfactory state of life-denying that it has made for itself.
The ego process conjures and attempts to maintain a sense of reality based on wrongness, which forms a weak identity and worldview that needs constant protection since it is itself what’s the matter, so to speak. The attempt to maintain an imaginary self and worldview through continued negation and judgment results in exhaustion, and eventually the ego ceases to function. It is at this point, when the ego has thoroughly burned itself out, that the ego’s deepest desire is finally granted.
An alternative, and much gentler, way is for the ego to choose to surrender to a new way of being, in which a vaster sense of identity and vaster capabilities are available. Such a surrender can happen at any time.
Importantly, we are not labeling the ego as wrong. We can see it as a stage of development, with its own beauty. And as a stage of development it also has inherent limitations, which homo sapiens is discovering rather painfully. The next evolution of human is emerging now and a defining feature of this new species is that it will operate beyond ego. In the meantime, we would do well to understand the process of evolving beyond ego so that we can navigate this transformation with as much grace as possible.
Here are a few key egoic patterns to keep in mind:
- Attachment and aversion
- Reactivity: a spectrum of passivity to aggression/violence
- Defensiveness and overidentification (with small ideas)
These patterns will resolve into the following post-egoic characteristics:
- Openness, willingness
- Right, aligned responsiveness
Five stages of ego death and transfiguration
Let’s explore five stages of ego death and transfiguration that give an overall sense of the journey from ego- and fear-based living to post-egoic being. Although the stages are presented in a linear fashion for clarity, they overlap and people tend to experience moving back and forth among them. Nevertheless, over time there is a shift from experiencing confusion and fear to knowing clarity and peace.
Stage 1: Initiation (disruption!)
- Life stops making sense. (stage 1.0-2.9)
- Confusion (stage 1.0-2.4)
- Apparent chaos (stage 1.1-3.6)
- Sense of meaninglessness and futility (stage 1.2-3.1)
- One may find themselves considering suicide, or daydreaming of not being in the world, as a way out of the uncertainty, confusion, and despair. (stage 1.1-4.1)
- What used to be motivating no longer seems to work. (stage 1.2-3.3)
- Frequent fear, anxiety, dread, despair, sleeplessness, and/or existential terror, often for no apparent reason (stage 1.2-4.9)
Stage 2: Sense of not belonging
- Feelings of not fitting into the world, of being between worlds, of not belonging (stage 2.0-4.2)
- Inability to cope with the extreme uncertainty (stage 2.4-3.7)
- Work can become difficult at this stage. (stage 2.4-3.9)
- Feelings of profound pointlessness and demotivation can be very strong. (stage 2.7-3.7)
- Loss of appetite (stage 2.7-4.2)
- Dawning insight: “You are not your thoughts.” (stage 2.8)
Stage 3: Glimmers of a new way of being
- Starting to see the light of a new way of being, although it might not make sense yet, e.g. financially or in other traditional ways (stage 3.0-4.4)
- The limit of conventional Western psychology (stage 3.1-3.4)
- Spiritual exhaustion, often accompanied by illness (stage 3.1-4.4)
- Oscillation between highs of love, joy, and gratitude and lows of fear and panic (stage 3.4-4.4)
- A sense of no longer being in the personality arises and grows stronger (stage 3.6-)
Stage 4: Lightening of the heavy burden of being someone
- A lightening of a burden one didn’t know was there! (stage 4.0-)
- Patterns of defensiveness and reactivity are noticeably diminished. (stage 4.1-)
- Dawning perception of beauty in everything (stage 4.2)
- Perceiving the perfection of circumstances on a consistent basis (stage 4.7-)
- Growing clarity and an ability to know intuitively what to do / where to go (stage 4.8-)
Stage 5: Consolidation of the new way of being
- A new and more powerful motivation arises: actual inspiration. (stage 5.1-5.4)
- Consistent appreciation and seeing beauty in all are integrally established patterns of the new way of being. (stage 5.2-)
- One begins to know and experience the true nature of Love. (stage 5.7)
- A prevailing sense of inner peace is present and will continue to deepen long after the egoic patterns have been transmuted and forgotten. (stage 5.9-)
Summary and a call to engage
The process of ego death and transfiguration into a lighter way of being is natural and completely aligned with the next phase of human evolution. In a real sense, whatever species is to follow homo sapiens will be discovered on the other side of this transformation. It is, therefore, well worth exploring where you are on the path of becoming post-egoic. If you find yourself in one of the more challenging stages, know that there is a growing number of people who have been through this transformation and who can support you on your evolutionary journey. If you have navigated the passage already, then please consider helping others who are currently in the midst of this species-level upgrade.