Navigating Ego Death and Transfiguration
August 2019 (Revised July 2023)
The following framework for the stages of ego death and transfiguration has emerged from firsthand experience and from working with clients and mentees who are living through their own versions of the process. These understandings are spiritual in nature, and they can help people who are awakening beyond the limits of conventional models of ego and transformation. It is my hope that this summary of the stages of ego death and transfiguration will help many people to see where they are in the journey, have a sense of the more promising life to come, and relax into what is fundamentally a natural process.
A Working Definition of Ego
Although there are many definitions of ego, the one that resonates for me as being maximally true and useful is this:
Ego is the habitual pattern of rejecting what is, labeling what seems to be other as “wrong,” and building a life upon the accumulated misperceptions, judgments, and mistaken beliefs regarding reality.
What is actually the case is the totality of life unfolding and discovering itself through successive forms, experiments, and experiences. None of these experiments is wrong, though many are found to be unworkable or undesirable, and life is continuously making improvements. The recognition that everything can be improved is part of the feedback loop of life experiencing itself, learning, and making adjustments.
The labeling of “wrongness” disconnects us from the wholeness of the life and from our deepest self, since we are life. To the extent that we are disconnected, we experience suffering.
Once the disconnection from life, and from our true selves, has become established, we experience a pattern of negativity (and death) that is of our own making. This pattern is the ego, and its existence is based on judgments that things should be other than they are. As the ego is entirely dependent upon what is not, it is entirely imaginary. To sustain this imaginary entity in the face of everything that is actually the case requires one to invest ever more energy in further denials of life. Like a lie that grows until it can no longer be sustained, at some point the false reality of the ego must crumble. Then a profound reorientation occurs: ego death and transfiguration.
Importantly, we are not labeling the ego as wrong. We can see it as a stage of development and as an experiment that contributes valuable learning. As a stage of development it is also inherently limited, which many people are discovering through their experiences of a world that does not work for all. The result of the ego experiment is the experiential realization that carving out an identity through resistance to life is unsatisfying and does not work. The way is now open for a new “human operating system” to propagate, and a defining feature of this new consciousness is that it operates beyond egoicity. By understanding the process of evolving beyond ego, we can navigate this period of collective transformation with grace.
Here are a few egoic patterns to keep in mind:
- Attachment and aversion
- Reactivity: a spectrum from passivity to aggression/violence
- Overidentification (with small ideas of ourselves)
These patterns resolve into the following post-egoic characteristics:
- Right, aligned action
- Generosity (based on an appreciation of our infinite true nature)
Now we will explore a model of 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, peace, and the deep roots of one’s true self.
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 1.2-3.2)
Thoughts or daydreams of suicide 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 1.2-3.4)
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 becomes difficult. (stage 2.4-3.9)
Feelings of profound pointlessness and demotivation can be very strong. (stage 2.6-3.7)
Loss of appetite (stage 2.7-4.1)
Dawning insight: “You are not your thoughts.” (stage 2.8)
Stage 3: Glimmers of a new way of being
Sensing a new way of being, though it might not make sense yet in culturally approved ways (stage 3.0-4.4)
The limit of conventional Western psychology (stage 3.1-3.4)
Spiritual exhaustion, often accompanied by illness or a healing crisis (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 growing sense of no longer being in the personality (stage 3.6+)
Stage 4: Releasing of the burden of being someone
A lessening of a burden one didn’t know was there (stage 4.0+)
Patterns of defendedness 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 become established patterns. (stage 5.2+)
One begins to know and experience the true nature of Love. (stage 5.7)
The sense of inner peace continues to deepen as egoic patterns are transmuted and forgotten. (stage 5.9+)
Stages 6 to ∞: Transfiguration
There is sufficient mastery to recognize conditioned responses and override them consciously. (stage 6.0+)
The subtle patterning of collective consciousness is obvious. (stage 6.2+)
Communication becomes ever more lucid and transparent. (stage 7.6+)
The radiance of being itself shines forth through the clarified vessel of the self structure. (stage 42.7+)
As the process of becoming perfectly transparent accelerates, one passes through later stages at “light speed.” (stage 94.0+)
Summary and Call to Compassionate Engagement
The process of ego death and transfiguration into a gentler 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 revealed on the other side of this transformation. It is, therefore, well worth exploring where you are on the path. Especially if you find yourself in one of the more challenging stages, please know that there are people who have been through these transitions and that there is support for your journey. On the other hand, if you have navigated the difficult passages already, then this is an excellent time to consider helping others with their journeys.