Unexpected Life Changes As Ego Dissolves
12 ways my life has transformed as I feel myself detaching from Ego-identification
First, this has been a process. Four years ago, I had one of those Big Spiritual Awakening kinda moments. I’m always quick to talk about it with a degree of flippancy, but it was genuinely deep. I could tell you How the moment happened, but not Why, and I don’t think the How would work as any kind of recipe for concocting such a moment of your own. Across the spiritual seekers and teachers I’ve encountered, there seems to be but one common thread tying together each individual’s lightbulb-awakening moment: they’re always pretty damn random.
What happened in that moment was subtle and powerful. I can’t tell you how long it lasted, if it was only an instant or a gradual rise and fall. I can’t be specific about where and when it started and if it ever stopped. What I can say as an attempt to describe it is this: what before I’d tried to grasp intellectually as a concept, I suddenly just knew. I got it. I groked it. It (Life, the Universe and Everything) made sense in a visceral, intuitive kind of way, like a new lens through which to look at the world and watch what had before seemed chaotic realign into cohesive and recognizable patterns. For more on what that all looked like to me, you can read just about anything else I’ve written on this Medium account.
But all that newfound understanding aside, not a lot had changed within me. I still grew angry at frustrations and fearful at the future, pained by grief and powerlessness at the world, riddled with self-doubt and self-loathing, aching voids of desperate longing, my relationships to everything caught up in expectations and desired adjustments and a sense of things-just-never-being-right. A couple years ago, a series of small synchronicities led to my being called up on stage with one of my favorite spiritual teachers at her workshop in New York. And I told her, “I feel like I have so much understanding, but absolutely no idea how to embody it.” She laughed and said, “Practice.” So I did, blundering my way through what that meant, with blind faith something would eventually happen, until the embodiment noticeably arrived.
This time, I can say with certainty that the shift hasn’t been a moment, but gradual. It started at the beginning of quarantine, as bit by bit, layers of my identity began to fall away, peeling off like antiquated wallpaper. It’s still happening, and I haven’t “transcended” or “achieved” any state. It’s dynamic. It’s present. The shedding is never as painful as I’d worried it might be. It hasn’t come from rigorous questioning or constant vigilance about my psychic state, and there’s hardly been been any resistance or conflict at all. My Ego-mind is just… dissolving, as though into water. By which I mean, my sense of attachment to and identification with Who I Think I Am In This Temporal Incarnation feels softer, smaller, flimsier, more malleable, less fixed. A fresh sense of self (or selflessness) has arisen in its place.
This is my best attempt to describe what that process has given me, and the expected and unexpected changes I’ve found along the way:
1. Old toxic patterns now play out in split-screen.
When old Ego-identified thought patterns creep their way back in, which they still do, they happen in this hilarious kind of split screen between my Ego spiraling out and my (Higher self? Whatever?) just hovering there and going, “Mhmm. I notice you.”
The Ego still does it’s thing, but I can’t identify with it entirely because my attention is split. On the one hand, there’s the Ego-mind frantically thinking with its usual acrobatics of aggrandizing and catastrophizing, and on the other, my consciousness just watching it happen with an energetic shrug. I can’t fully identify with the Ego experience, because I notice myself watching it too, without judgment, seeing the farcical mental theater as just a show.
2. There’s just less cause to be angry.
This one has been curious for someone who built an identity on being Angry Politics Girl for two decades, but I’m just not as angry as I used to be. The kinds of events or stories or encounters that used to fill me with rage are now simply… there. From exes to politics, from traffic jams to UTIs, it all gets to me less than it used to. Emotions flow through me, but they don’t feel raging. I don’t spend much time wallowing in how unfair it all is. It just is, and I roll with it.
I still feel called to end suffering, but without that call causing me much suffering in the process. I feel less itching need to control and urgently act with visceral tension, because:
3. There’s just less cause to be afraid.
From petty paranoias to crippling anxieties about the future of the planet, I am also less scared than I used to be. I have more authentic trust in the ability of people to evolve, to be empathetic and compassionate and nurturing, and in the ability of nature to care for itself. I notice the plants growing from cracks in the sidewalk more, and I stare at the cracks less. I have far more faith that good things will come my way, because I have far more flexibility about what good things can be. I feel less identified with myself in this body and incarnation, and so what becomes of this-temporal-self-I-called-me doesn’t matter as much. This is not to say I’ve completely stopped caring, simply that the fears of living have lessened.
With that lessening of fear has, naturally, come a lessened need to feel in control of my surroundings. Likewise, my sense of possibility has expanded.
4. I’m seeing experiences much more clearly for what they give me.
It just feels so obvious now what behaviors aren’t serving me, and my interest in them has dramatically waned.
Some of these have been things I knew I didn’t authentically like or want around me, but kept allowing into my life anyway (for example, drinking alcohol). Others have been things I thought I did like and had all kinds of explanations as to why they were enjoyable or good for me, but now I’ve cut the crap and recognized I don’t enjoy them (for example, casual sex with people I don’t actually like).
Things that are good for me that I’d been putting off doing with a “I know I should, but…” internal groan now feel really exciting (for example, getting back to yoga). Things I used to scoff at with some derision despite actually really wanting them, I’m just cool with wanting (for example, living in Humboldt and being a fucking hippie). Things I used to believe I had to do but actually were making me miserable, I’ve released all obligation to do (for example, Making Things Right with people I simply don’t want to be around).
My judgments and excuses and obligations have quieted, and an authentic pull towards enjoyment has risen in their place.
5. I don’t feel much urge to prove anything, or save face.
Honesty and vulnerable openness are so much easier. I am who I am, and I am all of it and none of it. Life’s knocks to my Ego feel like… knocks to my Ego, not to me, like someone keying a car I drive. It hurts only as much as I tell myself that I am, in fact, a car. It matters only as much as I decide it does. And from that place of power, life is playful and wonderful and beautiful, which is to say: full of play, and wonder, and beauty. I like life more. I like living. The possibilities are deep and expansive, emerging out of corners where before I’d seen nothingness like radiant fractals, or whatever.
From a desperate thirst to be seen, to “making it” with some glittering career, that need to prove something about myself to the world has ebbed. To be shamelessly cliché, I seek fewer gold stars because I feel brighter. The startling thing that’s come of this is that I’m not sure what to do with myself a lot of the time. The kinds of activities or connections I might have sought out before from a place of trying-to-make-myself-feel-better don’t seem very interesting. I’m recognizing just how much I did to make my Ego feel better about itself, to save face, to boost its own self-image in some mirrored idea of what other people thought I was worth based on what I thought I was worth and — Yeesh. Oof. Exhale, bye.
In place of seeking to prove, I move towards what feels good and right for me, because:
6. I really like myself.
I’m comfortable with myself these days. I take up the space I take up. I do what I do. I feel what I feel. There’s less reflexive thought about it. It just is, and in just being, it’s beautiful in a way that needs no ugliness to contrast. It’s joyful in a way that needs no pain. When in the world, I feel so palpably at ease. I just am, and there isn’t much to say about that.
I don’t like myself so much for being pretty or smart. I don’t like myself so much for being accomplished or interesting, for being funny or caring or Real ™. I just like myself, wherever and however I am, whoever I’m being and whatever I’m doing. When I’m alone with myself, I don’t feel such a void to fill, which has led to a very intriguing change:
7. I feel no desperate need for romantic partnership.
My relationship to relationships has taken a dramatic turn. For so long, no matter how much else I wanted to fill my life with, there was this aching gap in my psyche that I believed could only be filled by finding (and locking down) The One. Beautiful and otherwise-perfect moments were tainted by a sense of desperate longing for connection with my True Love Life Partner, with whom I would finally feel whole and complete, no longer alone. The quest for lifelong partnership was even an active hindrance to my spiritual growth: I was terrified that if I gave up on Ego, I would never find true love. I would transcend the need for it, and therefore, it would never be mine. No matter how many times anyone told me that that sense of completion could only be found in myself, I didn’t buy it.
But I do now, because I am actually starting to feel whole in myself. And the curious thing about transcending a need for something is that… you don’t need it anymore. Think of eating when you’re already full. It doesn’t sound satisfying, because I authentically don’t have that need. The aching void I believed could only be filled with partnership isn’t really aching, or a void. Truly, the idea of everlasting romantic partnership was my Ego’s best imitation of actual communion with reality, held up as a façade to distract me from my actual goal. In truth, human relationships are fluid. They are temporal and temporary. They change form, move in and out, encase and unfold. There is no eternity to them. Our Egos dangle partnership in front of us so that we remain attached to our Egos, ignoring that, when we give up our Egos, we find that exact sense of not-separateness we thought only partnership could bring.
8. My relationships feel better.
At the same time as my interest in that elusive lifelong perfect romantic union has waned, my authentic enjoyment of all relationships in my life has grown. I’m enjoying feeling my relationships change form and satisfy different needs at different times. Each new form is fresh. Each fade is needed and causes little-to-no grief. I don’t feel such a pull to label anything in my life or decide for it what it should be. Some moments, my best friend feels like a guide, and others, someone to nurture and guide in turn. Attractions ebb and flow and take different characters. My connections are imbibed with possibility.
My relationships feel better, because they’re not coming into conflict with How I Think They Should Be. Instead, I appreciate them on their own terms, and move in and out of them as feels right.
9. Living is less painful, and more playful.
You know that phrase “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is a choice” or whatever? What I’ve noticed that feels more accurate is to say: Pain is a perspective. It can be wholly real, or not real at all. It can be identified with, or disengaged from. It can be felt without being called “pain,” and then it stops feeling so painful. For example, that aching longing for connection and communion I feel in my chest like some paradoxical heavy emptiness? I’ve just stopped referring to it as “pain.” I’ve let it simply be a feeling, neither good nor bad, and noticed how it changes form. Physical pain in my bladder? It’s just a feeling. When I stop calling it pain, it hurts less.
And when life is less fraught with terrifying possibilities of pain, it all feels a lot less serious. Just as meaningful, but not as heavy. More comfortable. More playful. A daunting new experience feels like starting the next level of a video game. “Ooh, let’s try this one now.” Living is a hell of a lot more fun.
10. It all feels so much more abundant, and I feel so much more powerful.
It — life, the universe, living, myself — just doesn’t feel riddled with scarcity. I see the world as abundant, and myself as abundant within it. What I need isn’t far away or off-limits. I start noticing satisfaction everywhere in my life, and more of it comes my way. Truly believing that everything I need is all around me and fully accessible has given me a sense of empowerment and security the likes of which I’d never dreamed of before. One hardship or disappointment doesn’t mean the future is bleak, it just means one path turned and another will begin.
11. The past isn’t as present.
I feel far less determinism. Just because something happened one way in the past no longer means to me that it will happen that way in the future. I don’t feel as locked into outcomes or patterns. My experience of the world is much more malleable, much more alive with possibility, much more open to revision and expansion and evolution.
I can’t describe it except to say that the past feels further away, and less relevant. For all I know, it was all a dream or a hallucination. The present feels fresh and light and free, not stale with past perceptions corroding it, heavy with history weighing it down, caged by the rigid belief that what came before will repeat.
12. Practices I used to swear by now seem irrelevant.
…and eating my own words about them feels fine.
For instance, as someone who swore by the sentiment “Go into your pain! Feel it, don’t resist it!” I can completely rewrite the script to say, “Pain is nothing to fear or resist, because both fear and pain are perspectives I don’t have to have.”
Like most shifts, I’ve found this easier to embody with minor stimuli. For example, pain and fear often came up for me that fulfilling romantic relationships were impossible because of patriarchy. The pain and fear I’d feel in instances where I’d see patriarchal dynamics in my relationships were not caused by the dynamics. They were caused by what I had to say about them. Things like, “It’ll never get better, it’s hopeless, I’m powerless, I’ll be in pain forever.” And like a misguided superhero, another part of my consciousness would jump in and say “Yes, feel that pain! Feel that fear! Go in! Don’t be afraid of it, don’t you dare bypass it, don’t repress it! You’re strong enough to feel this and learn from it all!”
And look, that was true enough, and I was strong enough — but the truer truth I’ve found is that those pains and fears were just a perspective I had on a situation, and it was and is possible for me to choose a different perspective. It feels nothing like repression or “spiritual bypassing.” It just feels like noticing one road to go down in response to an experience, and choosing a different road.
It’s like… the difference between bypassing and releasing is like the difference between saying, “I don’t use swear words” and saying, “I don’t speak Japanese.” With bypassing, experiencing something is fully available to me but I judge it negatively and therefore refuse to engage with it. With releasing, it stops being possible to feel. I just don’t feel the fear of love being scarce. I just don’t see the future as bleak and horrible. I just don’t view pain the same way I used to. It’s not about resistance or repulsion, fear or repression, it’s just… not there.
As I feel myself actually embodying my understandings more, I feel less of an urgent need to “help others on their paths.” Other people being in different states of consciousness than I am isn’t such a source of pain. The urgency only ever came from fear. The furious urge to change it all came from pain. And I think, as I grow less attached to how I think your path should look, I have all the more chance of actually being helpful.
So, in an attempt at conclusion, I won’t tell you to release your Ego. I can’t tell you that; my telling it would be meaningless to you. I can’t tell you how it’s done, either, andI’d be very hesitant of anyone who says they can draw you a foolproof map to yourself. What it is, to me, is more like a compass: tacking away from inauthenticity and moving towards truth, then seeing what new waters you reach, and checking the compass again.
I can tell you that I have not “fully transcended my Ego,” but I am feeling very different. I’m not sure I want to “fully transcend,” whatever that means. But for whatever reason, I can say this with certainty: it is entirely possible to do.