On ego death and being born again
Anyone who identifies as a Christian and thinks that jumping into Jordan river or whatever puddle of water they have access to while shouting out loud some prescribed magical formula automatically transforms them from a useless dipshit sinner into a valuable saved saint with a ticket to a future Disneyland because of workings of some nebulous grace (whatever that is), is out of their unicellular mind. And not in an enlightened sense of the phrase. Yet, this is how people usually understand being born again.
Similarly, an image of a bearded geezer or (not so bearded) hag wrapped up in bed sheets and unable to string a coherent sentence while sporting a stupid blissed-out grin is in some circles the epitome of conquering the ego and killing it with death. It sure makes the eyes (and who knows what else) of all so called spiritual seekers wet, even though it’s more indicative of a fraud, mental illness, or enlightenment gone wrong.
Still, the concepts of ego death and being born again are exactly what they imply and are the inescapable narrow gate, the eye of a needle, one must pass through sooner or later if one wishes to know oneself. That is, reach liberation and enter the kingdom of God.
But first, you must understand that they are both one and the same. Or rather, their respective names merely highlight particular stages of the whole process. Not understanding that the complete procedure has two steps can lead to idiocies I tried to illustrate in the first two paragraphs and it might also explain why in the West people are inclined to think that they can be born again without dying, while in the East they assume that dying alone is enough.
Second is then the process itself.
As I’ve written elsewhere the first shackle you have to break are your identities. These are all the names you were given or you have adopted during your life and which you hold dear. In order to disentangle yourself from these names, you must trace their origin, the connotation they evoke in you, and thus the reasons why you identify with them. It’s uncanny, but merely seeing your identities outlined like this is enough to turn them into raw names without emotional charge (*).
Sounds easy but you can imagine that to admit (even to yourself) that e.g. you give to charity because it feels good to be viewed as charitable or that you strive to be the best only because you yearn for approval takes a lot of courage. It’s also where, for obvious reasons, brutal honesty enters the picture. And those above mentioned examples are still rather mundane.
The real fun comes with identities such as tribe or family membership and, ultimately, body and mind properties (gender, sexual attraction, beauty, strength, talent, intelligence, etc.). Then again, for some folks even their identification with full personal name is quite a struggle, even though no one ever came from a womb with a sticky note with their name written on it and thus it is clear as day that no human being has an actual intrinsic name.
In any case, as you will continue to unravel your identity makeup, you will notice intense outpouring of a lot of material you relegated to your unconscious mind. You will have strange revelatory dreams, you will remember painful or embarrassing incidents from your past you’d rather forget, but also pleasant events you will wonder why on Earth you’ve forgot about them. You may discover that you do all the things for all the wrong reasons or that you live a life that literally isn’t yours. Don’t fret or falter, take these new inputs and subject them to the same scrutiny — trace the origins of religious symbols in your dreams, examine the roots of your seemingly irrational fears, and so on and so forth.
However, bear in mind that this is exactly the time when a lot of people becomes disillusioned and depressed (few even to the point of suicide!). You may feel like quitting your job, filing for divorce, or reaching out for a similarly radical “solution”. Only thing I can say is — don’t do anything rash. Better yet, don’t do anything at all. Just continue with your DIY “psychotherapy” (because that’s what it, essentially, is) and sort out the things outside of your head only after you are done.
Please, also note that at this stage a lot of people give up. They don’t go the distance, stop midway, and grasp for ready made answers only to build a new identity for them. You see it all the time — half-deconstructed Christians falling for another cult, recovering addicts swallowed by new age bullshit, billionaires getting kicks from giving away their fortune (Do you remember Al Pacino as John Milton? “Vanity, definitely my favorite sin.”), etc.
Anyway, if you endure, you will eventually reach a state when there is no new input for scrutiny. Everything will just flow. Things will simply happen and you will stare into the void, unperturbed. You successfully “killed” your persona, ego, even shadow. There will be a palpable calm and you will wonder, “If I’m nothing of what I thought I am, then who the fuck am I?”
If you didn’t embrace meditation before, now it becomes a must because what lies before you is disidentification with your body-mind as such. I won’t go into much detail here, suffice to say, everything you can observe (self-talk, thoughts, feelings, sensations, etc.) is not the real you.
This phase (i.e. rebirth) also comes with its own set of “traps” out of which most alluring are probably extreme bliss and absolute peace at respective stages of meditative absorption (hence also all the so called “saints”, who are like addicts permanently immersed in samadhi, mistakenly convinced that they are enlightened and considered as such by random onlookers). Also, as far as I can tell, you actually don’t have to go all that deep in order to “tap into your true nature.”
Then again, I’m talking from a position of almost two decades of psychedelic adventures (some of which where extremely deep) prior to seriously inquiring about who I am. I honestly cannot say to what extent it played a role in my case, but it certainly cleared a lot of issues regarding the nature of mind for me, even though many experiences made sense only ex post.
In any case, although I outlined the whole process in a neat linear way, your path most probably won’t be this straightforward. You will jump from stalking your identities, to asking who you are, to meditative observation of your body-mind, to dealing with some unexpected unconscious stuff, only to go back to another identity and another surprise your unconsciousness has in store for you. You will likely hop like this until you eventually stumble upon your “true self.” At which point you will know without a shadow of the doubt that that’s it and that you are done. You will realize that up until now you actually didn’t live at all and you will know what it really means to be born again.
In all (brutal) honesty, it’s really as simple as that.
(*) On second thought, it is pretty logical since this process makes clear what are your motivations and where they come from.