From the time we’re conceived, we begin forming layers of illusory identity, and for some this remains a pivotal makeup of who they think they are over the course of their entire life.
Until the latter years of my largely misspent 20s, I unconsciously embodied the flesh and tone of my perceived ego-personality with arrogant rigor, a defiant persistence, and deceptively prideful reproach.
After extensive physical, emotional, and mental upheaval—which was triggered by an unsatisfying and increasingly intolerable life—I was swiftly catapulted into the journey toward what many seekers would refer to as spiritual enlightenment. What I’ve learned in the years that have since passed, is how devastating the process of ego death can be to our overall sensibilities, perceived character, or life-trajectory.
“There is no fundamental difference between the preparation for death and the practice of dying, and spiritual practice leading to enlightenment.” ~ Stanislov Grof
At times unspeakably slow and terribly agonizing, layers of my false self began to erode away. By surrendering to the emotional and mental turmoil instead of struggling against it, a process of inner transformation began taking shape.
There’s truly no telling how many waking hours I’ve spent journaling this experience to gain further clarity about the elusive awakening process, or walking about until I lost track of time and momentarily freed my mind of its perpetual attachments. Asking the question: Who am I?
I struggled to perceive the difference between what was merely a delusion, what was never meant to last, and what would simply never come to pass—connections with others, or a way of life that would no longer suffice or ever materialize. It was maddening on the inside, despite the apparent calmness in my usual demeanor.
This has been a repetitious cycle, lasting several years. Since I still identify with my ego’s personality to varying degrees, I’m aware that more time is necessary for what no longer serves to fall away naturally. A process of gradual, yet ultimate surrender. Around a year ago, I simply gave up the fight. Instead, I chose to solace the wounded child within, still subject to a lifelong, berating mind and imprisoned emotional trauma.
Shutting up my inner critic and simply holding space, eased my mind and delivered solace in the form of vibrant energy flow. Giving way to the emotional uprising transmuted it. I stopped judging myself, as others would have judged me in the past. It became clear that this energy was just that and I was the sole benefactor of its effect on me. The cause of my suffering was born from my own delusions and persistent upwelling of memories that I chose to let live on.
What’s largely overlooked is the process of energy decay which can feel as though we’re literally dying from within. An emotional and mental detox that’s often associated with a physical cleansing as well—sometimes recognized as an illness of some sort that we do our best to ward off when in actuality our body has merely signaled the evacuation of such pent-up energy—if we’d but allow it.
To further nurture the necessary clearing of false identity (habits, compulsions, distractions, addictions, etc.), I’ve observed periods of fasting and cleansing. Beyond stored energy, our physical body may actually harbor bacteria that is serving as a detriment to health—negating the natural flow of vital life force. When the body is given space to rest and heal, as I’ve experienced many times now, such toxic excrement (often stored in the bowels) may be eliminated from the system.
When perceiving our identity’s death, when nothing remains, it can sound terrifying to just be here.
“Yet now, forsooth, because Pierre began to see through the first superficiality of the world, he fondly weens he has come to the unlayered substance. But, far as any geologist has yet gone down into the world, it is found to consist of nothing but surface stratified on surface. To its axis, the world being nothing but super-induced superficies. By vast pains we mine into the pyramid; by horrible gropings we come to the central room; with joy we espy the sarcophagus; but we lift the lid—and nobody is there!—appallingly vacant as vast is the soul of a man!” ~ Herman Melville, Pierre
There is no meaning or reason that we can truly grasp, other than the energy we offer it. It’s destructive, coming to terms with an integrated state of awareness versus the popular, segregated state. Giving in to nature, to these forces at play, and biding by the universal flow has led me away from illusory madness and toward a life that’s more exhilarating and adventurous—the present, waking moment. Nothing has really changed other than my state of mind. How I perceive my surroundings alters my natural state, and learning to be a fully integrated human has become an interesting pursuit.
Because of this insight, I’ve learned to slow down drastically and take my time—relax into this bittersweet, wondrous life that can be gone in a moment’s notice. I pay close attention to any habits that I’m forming, especially unconsciously, and work to break varying patterns on a regular basis—while learning to embrace spontaneity, uncertainty, and what’s still unknown.
Until a person has literally uprooted their life, awash in the insanity of ego’s deterrent nature in such a way, they shall remain enslaved to the same devices they’ve haphazardly created or held onto and identified with in their own mind, acting out repetitively in their human form.
Routine is one such peril that keeps so many of us in lockstep with familiarity and security or fear, yet blind to our true human nature and the reality that abounds, beyond such chosen confinement. Too many people are tasked with just enough to keep them distracted, while never really enjoying a worthwhile life of satisfactory, momentary fulfillment and contented gratitude—lucidity.
Instead of losing material essence, we errantly strive to gain more—more things, more knowledge or comprehension, prolonged emotional experiences, or external validation.
Understanding this notion, I’ve learned to embrace minimalism—but do so at your own risk. It’s hard to fathom possessing so many worldly things that I once did, but now that I’m freed of these attachments I realize that the only sentiment was of fear and of control. After giving up some of my most prized belongings, I learned that they did not make up who I am. In fact, I’m still figuring that out.
There will be casualties. Things, people, places—they are suddenly gone and no longer present in our waking lives, once we begin to clean house, so to speak. So long as our intentions are clear, emotional and mental detachment will eventually follow as well—-sentiments included.
Reality, as it appears before us, becomes quite sobering, yet liberating and we learn to perceive the world around us differently—from the outside looking in, but also from that unique vantage point within, peering out. We become a valid player in our perceived reality while learning to eradicate delusions and settle into the moment as it is.
What we’ll fail to learn in the countless spiritually enlightenened teachings, is that we stand to gain nothing from losing ourselves completely. Nothing. Paradoxically, we tap into that same source or wellspring and can start to operate more fluidly, or dynamically—more naturally, within the spatial atmosphere we acknowledge as our existence here.
Remembering what it is to be an awakened human.
“Rehearse death. To say this is to tell a person to rehearse freedom. A person who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.” ~ Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Author: Thayne Ulschmid
Image: Flickr/Andréa Portilla
Editor: Molly Murphy