Of all the deaths we face in life the one I notice being most challenging is the death of the ego. Many say the death of the body is way easier compared to the total deprogramming and reprogramming of the self. This process is often referred to as the dark night of the soul, and sometimes shows up as a mid life crisis full of career change, divorce, or financial ruin. More often than not this adventure spontaneously erupts, it is rare that a person steps into this journey willingly. This is totally understandable, given its war like nature.
Ego death and rebirth is similar indeed to the epic battle depicted in the Mahabharata. Read the stories of wealthy Francesco who became the impoverished monk and font of the Franciscan Order of Monks or the rich Siddhartha who left all behind to take on the new role of Buddha to name but two. This journey is written about in Stephen Cope’s book The Great Work of Your Life, a wonderfully current North American perspective of this important transformational and spiritual process.
Make no mistake the dark night of the soul is indeed a death zone no matter how we dress it up, romanticize it, and honor its victorious heroes. It takes no survivors, and leaves only the real self behind; a self that seems initially not to know who it is or how to navigate this obviously crazy human life.
So, why do it?
In order for you to die without regrets and live a free and passionate life as the one your genuinely are.
Everything that you have learned to identify yourself by dies. The carnage is immense, limbs and body parts everywhere, blood spattered all around; nothing is left but a beating self-aware newborn heart.
Can you give me an example or two?
Yes. In my case I may be identified as son, a father, or a brother. I may know myself because of my wife, my job, my family, or my social network. I may recognize myself by how I react to people around me and how they react to me. I may notice myself by how I think about me, or feel about myself – all of these and more are aspects of my own mistaken identity. Their only purpose in life is to help me locate myself so I can recognize me in this ocean of others. The ego is simply a tool gone out of control, like a car on autopilot chauffeuring its distracted driver.
What happened is at some point in my life I start to believe in my mistaken identity, I start to behave as if the images I had created for myself were real. I vanished behind the glossy posters and become comfortable in my hidden-ness. I fell asleep into the matrix of my mind loosing touch with the genuine me for the sake of habit, ease, and somehow fitting in.
Killing off these facets of the self that are attached with surgical Velcro to the ego is painful, much like watching a loved one die. The surface identities are a bit like picking off a scab on your forearm, a bit of a pinch, a touch of discomfort, and off it goes. Much like the feeling out first round of a fifteen round boxing match.
However, the epic battle begins as we close in on those deeply held ‘truths’ we have come to ‘know’ as ourselves. The dark night of the soul descends on us as we stiffen against the total discomfort of not knowing who we truly are. Much like how a dying person hangs on to life tightly because they do not know what lies beyond the life they are so identified by.
This battle to the death takes courage, intention, persistence, surrender, and a couple of “death midwives” to get the warrior through to the other side. Once done the recreation of the real self begins, much like the spontaneous blooming of a begonia in late spring.
Dying this way before you are physically dead is the true mark of a warrior and a sage. It is the most sacred of journeys and a true spiritual adventure for those who are brave at heart. Ram Dass would say “Dying Into Love”, I prefer the phrase Dying Into You.
Either way Dark Night of the Soul or Blooming Begonia gives death an opportunity to shape you into who you truly are – ‘cause sooner or later it most certainly will; rather it be while you still have some life to live as the exquisite beauty of you.