Ego Death

Waking up is an endless losing what you think you know, like a wave of destruction that leaves nothing, but what is true. —Unmani

Death is a word that we humans usually associate with darkness, mourning, decay and general creepiness. We spend our entire lives running away from, avoiding and denying the fact that we will someday physically die.

However, the death that I’ll be talking about in this article isn’t the typical kind of death we fear.The death I’ll be referring to is the most beautiful, precious, illuminating, awe-inspiring, expansive, enlightening and paradigm-shattering experience you could ever go through. This experience is known as “ego death,” and for every serious spiritual seeker, it is a pivotal process to go through.

WHAT IS THE EGO?

In order to understand what ego death is, we must first understand what the ego is.

As we elaborated on in the article “What is the Ego?” the ego is basically our sense of self or our identity. The ego is a biological and spiritual tool that was created by and defends the belief that, we are all separate “individual” entities.

 As a result of believing that we are separate and isolated in this life, we suffer immensely. The ego perceives life through the lens of duality. Duality is the opposite of reality — it is the division of life into opposing forces such as love/hate, good/bad, right/wrong and holy/sinful.

When we divide life, we suffer. The result of the dualistic ego is judgment, hatred, condemnation, and alienation. While we accept some things, we reject other things. While we love some people, we hate other people. Instead of unconditionally accepting life in its wholeness, we segregate it into “acceptable” and “unacceptable” experiences, people, beliefs, thoughts, and emotions. Thus, we suffer.

As a result of our perceived separation from Spirit, and the duality lens we see life through, we also begin to reject ourselves. Any thought, feeling, sensation, experience or belief we have that is judged to be “bad,” “unacceptable” or “wrong” we suppress, avoid and deny. As a result of this repression, we fuel our Shadow Selves which become more twisted, angry and perverted the more we “lock” away.

The product of living through the ego can be observed in our world very clearly. The depression, anxiety, mental illness, murder, hatred, greed, poverty, war and environmental destruction we experience is all a reflection of our internal suffering. Our internal suffering is solely the product of the ego that believes it is separate from others and life itself.

WHAT IS EGO DEATH?

Ego death is the experience of transcending the ego, self or identity. This experience is the most mind-bending, awakening, awe-inspiring, peaceful and unconditionally loving experience you could ever have. Ego death is essentially an experience of embodying your True Nature completely (or returning back to who you really are), temporarily.

However, while the experience of ego death is indescribably beautiful, it can also be indescribably horrific for those who are not aware of the spiritual path, and for those who resist the actual experience.

Those who report ego death generally fall into two groups: those who found the experience illuminating, and those who found the experience tormenting. I have experienced both states of pure ecstasy and pure horror.

If you are familiar with the psychonaut community (a collection of people who use psychedelic substances to access higher states of being), you would have heard of many “ego death” experiences. This is because shamanic plants such as ayahuasca, DMT, and psilocybin mushrooms are powerful gateways to the Divine experience. Psychedelic explorers Dennis and Terence McKenna (who referred to themselves as the “Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss”) often mentioned the state of pure awe and also terror experienced in the face of ego death. However, as Terence McKenna once said, the abyss must be approach with courage, because only then can you discover that the fear is an illusion:

Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering its a feather bed.

Ego death can feel scary because it is the ultimate threat to the ego: complete destruction, if only for a minute. As a defense mechanism, the ego creates intense fear. However, in order to progress on our spiritual paths, we must understand the role of this fear, be mindful of it, and not permit it to limit us.

7 STAGES OF EGO DEATH

Ego death happens in stages, and if courageously pursued, results in the experience of Nirvana, Oneness or Enlightenment.

While ego death is not formulaic or necessarily predictable, it does tend to follow a pattern:

STAGE 1 — SPIRITUAL AWAKENING

In the first stage of ego death, we begin to “wake up” to life. Our process of spiritual awakening might be triggered by a life crisis, a tragedy, a chronic illness, or simply the natural process of soulful maturing. When we experience a spiritual awakening, we begin to search for more depth in life. Often, we ask big questions such as “what is my purpose?” “what is the meaning of life?” and “what happens after death?”  Spiritual awakenings are triggered by the sensation that something profound is missing in life, and are accompanied by the feelings of depression and anxiety.

STAGE 2 — THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL

The Dark Night of the Soul is inseparable from the spiritual awakening process. When we experience the Dark Night, we become extremely conscious of our separation from ourselves, other people and the Divine. The Dark Night of the Soul is a period when we feel utterly lost, lonely and isolated from others. It is the accumulation or culmination of our suffering. Deep down, we know something has to drastically change in our life, but we don’t know what or where to look.

STAGE 3 — THE SPIRITUAL SEEKER

Eventually, after experiencing a spiritual awakening and Dark Night of the Soul, we stumble into the field of spirituality. We start experimenting with different spiritual practices and find that some alleviate our suffering. We become obsessed with reducing the suffering we have been carrying and explore many different fields such as energy healing, zen, yoga, astrology, mysticism, etc.

STAGE 4 — SATORI

The word “Satori” is a Zen Buddhist word that means “momentary enlightenment.” Satori is a small glimpse into your True Nature, or Consciousness itself; a moment when your ego is completely shed. For some, this experience is scary, and spiritual growth stagnates, for others, it is deeply life-changing and spiritual growth continues.

STAGE 5 — THE ELDER SOUL

After a certain period of time, we begin to develop spiritual discernment. We discover the gimmicks and spiritual bypassing practices that keep us trapped in the cycle of pain, fear, and separation, and learn practices that open us to the Divine. As we begin to experience more and more soulful maturity, we learn the virtues of self-discipline, patience, and focus.

STAGE 6 — DISSOLUTION AND DECONSTRUCTION

In this stage, we begin to surrender all that we are not. This stage is not just about identifying our destructive and limiting beliefs and behavior patterns, but actually letting them go and letting the light in. Grace, discipline, trust, courage, non-attachment and love all play an important role in this process.

STAGE 7 — THE END OF THE SEARCH

Finally, we come to a stop. We realize that all that we are, and all that we need, can be found right Now. The search to become something, to lose something, to find something and to accomplish something perish. We see through the illusion of looking for truth, joy, peace and love in any place outside of ourselves. We see the Truth That We Are mirrored in all beings and all things. While the ego still exists, we become aware of the ego as simply a tool; not the Truth of Who We Are. Transcending duality and the grip of the ego, we develop unconditional love and acceptance for all things. This is the state of ultimate peace, freedom and what people refer to as “enlightenment,” yet those who experience this know that no possible label or mental construct can encapsulate such an experience. 

Ego death is a serious, purging, profound, and shattering experience. It is so deep and so beyond anything we have experienced in this life, that it changes your perception of existence in a single moment.

I hope these “stages” have helped you to understand it better.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a beautiful quote to ponder about death itself:

Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret of life is to die before you die — and find that there is no death. — Eckhart Tolle

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How Cures Work

 

Modern medicine is mystified by cures. There is no useful medical nor scientific definition of cure or cured. Medical texts avoid the word cure, preferring ‘treatments’. Treatments don’t promise, don’t need to cure. Many current medical dictionaries simply do not contain the word cure – unbelievable, but true. What are cures? How do cures work? What is the science behind cures?

It’s not difficult to understand cures, when we make an effort. To understand cures, we need to simplify. First, we need to simplify illness. Only an illness can be cured.

Disease

Medicine diagnoses and treats diseases.  The concept of disease is extremely complicated, ranging from a simple injury like a bruise or cut – to the complexities of a stage 4 cancer, and everything in-between.  This complexity makes general study of ‘cure’ very challenging. First we need to simplify, so we can study simple diseases – understand simple cures. Then we can use what we learn, to develop complexity, building on those simple concepts.

Before we begin, we need to address an important question. What about ‘diseases’ that cannot be cured?

Lord, grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” — Reinhold Niebuhr

Disability

If it can’t be cured, it is not an illness. I might be described as a disability, a deficit, a handicap, or even a natural feature, but not an illness. We need wisdom to separate disability from illness.  Illness can be cured. A disability might be a disease, it might be treatable, but it cannot be cured. On the other hand, it is important to believe that we can cure any medical condition.  Belief is the first step. Faith does not make cures happen, but it makes them possible.

The word disability has considerable stigma. This is unfortunate.  There is no gentle way to describe a disability, a handicap, or a deficiency. A disability, like a missing arm or leg is not a disease to be ‘cured’. We can sometimes cure, a disability, with surgery and healing. It might make sense to call cleft-lip an illness – that can be cured with surgery and healing. Perhaps, someday, we will learn to regrow missing fingers, then arms and organs – to convert those disabilities to a illnesses, which can be cured. The line between disease and disability is sometimes flexible.

Illness

An illness is what the patient has – a disease is what the doctor diagnoses.  This is a standard medical quote, useful and true. The illness comes first. An illness must exist before it can be diagnosed – even if the patient is unaware. Illness might exist for a long time before it is diagnosed, sometimes, it cannot be diagnosed.

Every illness is an individual case. Only an individual case can be cured. Every illness has the potential to be cured, by definition. We can only cure specific, individual cases of a disease – an illness, what the patient has.

A disease is a general concept, describing a class of illnesses, used by doctors to plan a general treatment for an illness. A disease cannot be ‘cured’. Only an illness can be cured.

What is the simplest illness? The simplest illness has a single cause: a binary illness.  A binary illness is the junction of a single cause and a set of consequences. Even the simplest illness can have many consequences.

It is possible, of course, to be exposed to many potential cause of illness, without becoming ill.  It is also possible to have many signs and symptoms of a specific illness, without suffering that illness.  An binary illness exists when a cause and a set of symptoms are linked.

Chains of Cause

When we look closely at cause, even the cause of a simple illness, we can always find a chain of causes. When we identify a cause of an illness, we can always ask “what is the cause of the cause“? When we find the cause of the cause, we can ask again “what is the cause of the cause of the cause“. Sometimes, we might first identify a middle-cause – and later find the cause that results from that middle-cause. Every illness has a ‘chain’ of causes.  A binary illness has a single chain of causes.

Is the Cause Present and Active?

Sometimes the cause is present.  The common cold is an illness with a cause that is present and active. A broken arm is a common illness where the cause is gone. These two types of cause require different types of cures.

When the cause is gone – the cure is healing. Healing is present before, during and after every illness. Healing cures are seldom perfect, often leaving damage that cannot be healed, cannot be cured. A broken arm can be healed, but the cure is seldom perfect. Healing is a cure.

Even when the cause is gone, it is important to identify the cause, to analyze chains of causes – to prevent future illnesses. Prevention is also a cure. It can cure illnesses before they occur.

When the cause is present, the cure is to address the cause, or the link between the cause and the signs and symptoms.

There are two types of cures for a binary illness when the cause is present.

First, a binary illness has a chain of causes. Successfully breaking the chain will cure the illness.

There is second path to cure – improving the health of the patient. When we improve the health of the patient it sometimes breaks the link between cause and the signs and symptoms, and thus cures the illness.

A bacterial infection is a binary illness that might be cured by addressing the cause – using an antibiotic that kills the infecting bacteria.

Many illnesses, like scurvy, obesity, and even starvation are cured by improving the health of the patient. When the health of the patient is improved – the illness fades and is cured. Healing takes time, and is seldom perfect, but the causal cure is complete. We might view these illnesses as caused by ‘not doing something‘. Starvation is caused by not consuming sufficient food. Scurvy is caused by not consuming a diet with sufficient Vitamin C.  And obesity? We can view it as caused by not exercising sufficient constraint. Foods and nutrients don’t cause illness – the unhealthy use, or non-use, of foods can lead to an illness.

The illness is cured by health, by raising healthiness such that it breaks the link between the cause and the symptoms.

There are no ‘substances’, no medicines, that can cure. Even an antibiotic does not cure by itself, it must be prescribed, and taken as prescribed. If it is not taken, or not taken as subscribed, it cannot cure.

Cure Symptoms? 

It is not possible to cure the symptoms of an illness. Many medical treatments attempt to address an illness by treating symptoms. This is a valuable technique to provide relief for the patient – and it sometimes allows the body time to heal and cure the illness. However, addressing symptoms, without paying attention to cause, can often facilitate a simple illness’s growth making it chronic.

Cures Improve Healthiness

The best cures are actions that improve the healthiness of the patient. A patient with scurvy might be treated with tablets of Vitamin C. These improve the patient’s symptoms, and appear to address the cause.  However, they make the patient dependent on the medicine, and do not address the fundamental issue, the diet of the patient. Changing the diet of the patient is the best cure.

Treating an infection with an antibiotic does little to improve the health of the patient, and sometimes actually damages the healthy bacteria in the patient’s body. It is a technique used on the assumption that curing the illness is more critical than improving the health of the patient.

Side Effects and Iatrogenic Effects

It seems every medicine has a long list of side effects, and the longer you take the medicine, the mores severe the side effects. Does every cure have side effects?  Actually, no. Some cures, like antibiotics, have negative side effects – because they work by killing bacteria and can kill healthy bacteria as well.

Cures that work by raising healthiness don’t have side effects, they have health effects. If you have scurvy, or obesity, and you health your diet – you might feel strange effects, but these are the health effects of the cure.

Why do most medicines have side effects?  Because most medicines make no attempt to cure. Most medicines treat symptoms. The cause is not addressed – not even identified. When we address symptoms – the cause keeps pushing the patient – and new symptoms appear.  Side effects are often proof that the medicine cannot cure.

A fundamental principle of medicine is to avoid action.  Wait and see. Why? Iatrogenic effects are negative effects caused by medicines, or by medical actions.  There is always danger when using a medicine, or a medical treatment – especially a medical treatment that cannot cure. Only doctors are allowed to diagnose, treat, and recommend treatments, because treatments can be dangerous.

The best way to avoid side effects and iatrogenic effects is to treat illness with healthiness. Most illnesses are not critical. Most illnesses can be prevented, treated and cured effectively with healthiness. Instead of ‘wait and see’, we should act to improve health.

Healthiness often Cures

The common cold is incurable, in current medical theory. But the common cold is cured easily by health.  People who are healthier cure their colds faster, and get fewer colds as well.  People who are less healthy get more colds, and they last longer. Health is the best treatment, health is the best cure – in non-critical situations. There are many illnesses that can only be healthed – and few that can be cured by medicines, because medicines – conventional or alternative, seldom address cause.

Summary:

There are three kinds of cures:
– healing
– address the cause
– prevention, prevent the cause

Treating symptoms does not cure.

Every illness can be cured.  Every illness has the potential to be cured.  When we give up, we are declaring the presence of a disability, not an illness.

Every active illness has an active cause, and can be cured by addressing the cause.   Treating symptoms does not address the cause, and cannot cure.

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Does Yoga Count as Exercise?

If you caught wind of a recent study, you may be asking yourself, “Does yoga count as exercise?” If you’ve been unrolling your yoga mat each day as a way to meet your recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise, the answer may be no, depending on the type of yoga you practice.

Researchers found that a popular form of yoga known as hatha yoga doesn’t offer the cardiovascular advantages to count toward your recommended half hour of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity each day. (1)

According to Yoga Journal, hatha yoga refers to a set of physical exercises (known as asanas or postures), and sequences of asanas, designed to align your skin, muscles, and bones. The postures are also designed to open the many channels of the body — especially the main channel, the spine — so that energy can flow freely. (2) While it may not be as intense  as other forms of yoga, it certain offers some major benefits. We’ll touch on those in a bit.


Does Yoga Really Count Toward Your 30 Minutes of Exercise a Day?

The recommendation of 30 minutes of physical activity comes from guidelines set by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. In the latest study, researchers reviewed 17 existing studies that looked at the energy and intensity involved in practicing hatha yoga. The scientists found that with the exception of a few individual poses, hatha yoga is a lighter-intensity physical activity.

In other words, you’re not working up enough of a sweat to count toward your half hour of exercise. Previous studies have also found that hatha yoga provides “little, if any”cardio workout benefits. (3) (Walking to lose weight is generally considered a good starting point for moderate-intensity workouts.)

So does that mean you should skip yoga altogether? Read on before you give up those namastes.


Different Forms of Yoga

While the term yoga is often used as a catch-all phrase, not all yoga is created equal. There’s likely a style of yoga practice that suits everyone, whether you like steady movement, prefer a more meditative practice, have zero flexibility or think you’re someone who could “never do yoga.” Check out some of the most common types.

Hatha yoga

While hatha yoga originally just meant the physical side of yoga – as opposed to the chanting or breathing – it’s now usually used to refer to a calm, gentle class that’s less about moving through poses and more about focusing on a few. Hatha yoga tends to involve postures (asanas) and breathing (pranayama) and meditation (dhyana). (4)

Bikram or hot yoga 

Bikram yoga is done in a heated room, which is supposed to help release toxins from your body. (It’s also often referred to as hot yoga.) Designed by Birkam Choudhury in the ‘70s, any Bikram class will do the same sequence of 26 poses that Choudhury created. Some studios will do lead classes that aren’t Bikram, but still take place in a heated room.

Restorative yoga 

This style of yoga is all about using props like straps, bolsters, pillows and blankets to chill out while coaxing the stress out of your body. It’s a lovely way to wind down a weekend or evening.

Vinyasa yoga

In this fast-paced style of yoga, you’ll flow from one pose to the next with little to no rest in between. You’ll raise your heart rate, but it’s advised you take a few beginner classes before jumping in.

Yin yoga

In yin yoga, the focus is on seated postures that are held for long periods of time to ease tension out of muscle tissue while increasing flexibility and allowing the mind to quiet.


Why Hatha Yoga is Still (Totally!) Worth It

With so many styles of yoga to choose from — and a few, like vinyasa and hot yoga giving your body a more vigorous workout — is hatha yoga even worth practicing? The answer is a resounding yes.

It Improves Your Strength and Endurance

For starters, hatha yoga improves muscular strength. In a study of 71 healthy individuals of different ages, practicing yoga for an hour daily for 12 weeks increased flexibility and muscular strength. It even helped slow down age-related deterioration. (5)

And though hatha yoga doesn’t “count” as cardio, it can still have a positive effect when you do go running or hit the pool. Regularly practicing hatha yoga has been found to increase cardiorespiratory endurance by decreasing resting heart rate while increasingmaximum oxygen consumption, which helps determine how long and how hard you can work. (6)

A lower resting heart rate also means your heart isn’t working as quickly to pump blood throughout your body, which decreases your risk of heart-related diseases.

It Helps Manage Your Mood

Does hatha yoga count as exercise in the cardio sense? No. But if you’re feeling the blues, hatha yoga can help improve your mood. One study found that women who participated in 8 weeks of hatha yoga enjoyed a decrease in depression symptoms after the two months. The participants didn’t just feel good after yoga, but rather reported that they’d gained a natural strategy for coping with their depression. (7)

Another review of studies revealed that yoga was an effective way of complementing medicine for adults with schizophrenia and sleep disorders and children with symptoms of ADHD. (8)

It Reduces stress and Fatigue

Forget stress eating or sipping a glass of wine. Hatha yoga is a calorie-free way to manage stress. One study found that a 90-minute session significantly reduced stress in participants, while a regular practice reaped even more benefits, like lower heart rates and less overall stress. (9)

For breast cancer survivors, hatha yoga has also been proven to reduce inflammation and fatigue. (10, 11) Because chronic inflammation and fatigue not only adds to disease – after all, inflammation is the root of most diseases – but can lead to a decreased quality of life for survivors, “yoga interventions” are now being recommended.

It Literally Changes Your Brain 

Have you ever wondered how yoga changes your brain? Scientists are now able to show that hatha yoga practitioners actually have greater gray matter in the brain. Practicing hatha yoga techniques, which include physical postures, breathing exercises and meditation, tend to induce a state of mindfulness leading to this beneficial brain change. (12)

Wonderful side effect? Achieving this mindfulness state is a proven pill-free technique to lower cortisol levels.

It Builds Better Balance

If you’re looking to improve emotional and physical balance, hatha yoga is the practice for you. A 2014 study found that hatha yoga actually improves balance even in young adults. That’s especially important, as too much sitting seen in this generation leads to poorer balance and instability. (13) A 2015 study looking at hatha yoga’s impact on spinal flexibility in older women found that practicing for an hour a week is an effective way to improve flexibility in this group. That’s important, as flexibility can help older people maintain independence and reduce their risk of falls. (14)


Final Thoughts: Does Yoga Count as Exercise?

So does yoga really count as exercise? Maybe not in terms of the cardiovascular workout you need. But our health is so much more than cardio. Think about flexibility, emotional health and creating a strong core and balance. So if you’ve been enjoying a hatha yoga practice, there’s absolutely no reason to give it up in light of this recent study.

Instead, you should consider incorporating other exercises to meet your 30 minutes of daily exercise instead. HIIT and tabata workouts are terrific ways of squeezing in a tough workout in a short amount of time. And if you aren’t practicing hatha yoga yet — well, what are you waiting for?

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