Will transcending the ego mean losing my personal identity?

Q. I can’t help feeling a little apprehension about waking up or transcending the ego, because I feel like I will be losing my personal identity. I will probably gain more than I lose, but I’m not clear on what that will be.

A. The fear of loss of identity, of course, is at the heart of our resistance to awakening. But I think that fear is ultimately a lie told to us by the ego, analogous to the lies that our addictions tell us about the horrors that will ensue if we kick the addiction. In this case, the fear is based on a misunderstanding of what is lost and what is retained.

What you will lose is your shabby image of yourself. What you will retain is the self that has been believing in this image. What you will retain, in other words, is you. You will just have a different view of yourself, a different experience of yourself.

This is precisely what is reported in near-death experiences (NDEs), where people commonly say that despite leaving behind their body, their remained themselves. Again and again in NDE accounts, you hear people say the same line: “I was still me.” I just searched for this phrase at the website of the Near-Death Experience Research Foundation, which maintains the largest database of NDEs in the world. Here are some of the quotes I found as a result of my search:

I realized that I had no physical body, but I was still me.

I was still me—I just loved me unconditionally.

I was still me. just very safe and very peaceful and very aware all at once.

I felt that I was still me but not who I was in life but rather the core essence of who I really am without any ego identity

I was still me, I had memories and identity, but I was not in this world, nor was in a body. My mind was “merged” with the universe, I had returned from whence I came, to “the Place” I was before I was born.

So even without your body and your ego, you will still be you. As the Course says, “When your body and your ego and your dreams are gone, you will know that you will last forever” (T-6.V.A.1:1). What will be gone, as I said, is your image of yourself. But this is a very good thing, because we don’t like the image we currently hold of ourselves. As long as we try to love ourselves within the bounds of that image, our efforts will be futile. Our own experience may have taught us what the Course says in the following quote: “The ego’s picture of you is deprived, unloving and vulnerable. You cannot love this” (T-7.VII.3:2-3).

Without this image, we will love ourselves absolutely. As one of the NDErs above put it, “I was still me—I just loved me unconditionally.” A passage in the Manual can help us appreciate this. This passage is talking about a person discovering that he has psychic abilities. Even if you have never uncovered such abilities in yourself, you still no doubt know the rush of discovering that you can do something you didn’t know you could. It is the excitement of realizing you are more than you thought you were. “Yet,” says this passage, “nothing he can do can compare even in the slightest with the glorious surprise of remembering Who he is” (M-25.1:5). The rush of discovering you have psychic powers is a tiny, pale imitation of the “glorious surprise” of discovering that you are inconceivably more than you thought you were.

All of this, I hope, set us up to appreciate what the Text says when it first speaks of being “afraid to find a loss of self in finding God” and then asks this pointed question: “Yet can your self be lost by being found?” (T-29.I.9:4-5).

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