Meditation: Killing of the “Self”?

I pose that radical question to you. Meditators often see the spiritual awakening that is, in essence, the inevitable outcome of a long-term practice of meditation as the “death of the self” or the “death of the ego.” Like a caterpillar that must die before becoming a butterfly, the “ego self” of human beings must die in order to become “awakened” or “enlightened.” This process is often experienced as an unraveling of the self or a total surrender into the vast unknown.

I worked with a client deep in the throws of grief weeks after the death of her spouse; she had two small children and was working full-time to put food on the table. She wanted to learn how to meditate in the midst of her crisis. I introduced her to an exercise entailing observing her thoughts. She stated that her perpetual thought at the time was, “I want to kill myself.” For purposes of the exercise in observing her mind, I enabled her to see that the thought “I want to kill myself” (although capable of triggering the emotions of despair) was a thought just as much as “what will I have for dinner.” (It is important to note that every therapist must always take appropriate measures to keep clients safe in situations where there is a threat of harm to one’s physical self or others and to take necessary actions to ensure safety, as I did with this client).

Yet, “I want to kill myself,” is felt and often said by individuals who feel at the end of their rope, desperate, alone, cannot go a step further on this path or in this life or with the experience of certain emotions. Further, there is an experience of being “done” with the self or this life following a willingness to surrender to the vast unknown. Looking still deeper, we remember the words of various meditation gurus/teachers who have embarked on the journey of regular meditation as a result of feeling that they could not continue on the path they were on and were willing to seek an answer to the age old question, “Is there more to life than just this?” Many of the well-known enlightened gurus/teachers we read about share a similar story of hitting a wall of despair — becoming so disenchanted with their shallow existence, not knowing which door to open or knock on (or even knowing that there was a door on which to knock).  Then, on the other side of that despair, a rebirth or spiritual awakening arises.

So, as it is in nature, death gives birth to something new. Perhaps it’s awakening to — or awareness of — the preciousness or true value of life in the midst of a loved one’s death. Maybe it’s the desire to kill off old patterns or ways of one’s self that are no longer working to then provide for the awakening to our most authentic selves. Perhaps it’s the shedding of relationships or friendships that no longer serve us in order to make way for new, vibrant and healthier connections with others. So, is there a part of yourself or your life that you want or need to “kill off” in order to reach your full potential as a human being? Perhaps we can invite this concept of “death of ego self” (as opposed to physical death) into our lives as a pathway to creating new beginnings in our life and doorways to a richer and more fulfilling life.

(Disclosure: The information and thoughts provided in the above article are not, in any way, to be construed as either encouragement or permission to do bodily harm of any kind to one’s self or to others. If anyone reading this article has such an urge or intent, it is imperative that he or she call 911 Emergency or 211 Mobile Crisis Hotline without delay. Short or long term psychotherapy sessions can also be a resource for individuals experiencing disturbing thought or emotions).

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