Like all good hero stories, there’s usually something dark and troubling lurking in the background. A few years ago, I was “lucky enough” to be in such a pit of depression and despair that my mind literally couldn’t handle it. And as a result I experienced an Ego Death along with an amazing Spontaneous Spiritual Awakening that completely changed my life.
I don’t think this story of depression and generally being fed up with life is so unique, but what happened to me as a result is hopefully a shining beacon of hope to others. My new understanding of how the mind works has led me to the point where I now teach mindfulness, meditation, enlightenment and happiness as a way to share my experience and bring about a peaceful transformation in others.
This is my story of an extraordinary process that took me from despair to bliss in the blink of an eye.
I was born in England in the 1970’s, during a period of high unemployment and industrial turmoil.
My upbringing was fairly normal. But the one thing that clearly stands out is constantly being told how great I was. How gifted.
School seemed easy and I generally did well in most subjects without much effort.
I was good at math and science. Sports came easily. I loved wood shop and metal work using my hands. But I absolutely loved drawing and painting.
As an 8 year old, I was proud to have my painting, entitled, “The Queen – Eating, drinking and watching TV”, proudly displayed in my local art gallery. I felt like Picasso.
My grandfather also gave me such a love for wildlife photography. My fondest memories were going on adventures with him, crawling on our bellies through hedge rows just so we could photograph some rare bird.
When it came time to choose a career, I was torn between art and science. But constantly being told that artists starve and that computers were the way of the future, I decided to pursue a degree in electronics.
The Birth of an Ego
I hadn’t realized how much pressure, being told you’re a genius puts on your mind. In fact, having never studied psychology or philosophy, I had no idea what a mind was, let alone an ego.
I always thought ego’s where the things that athletes had. Always appearing in interviews saying how they were the best at what they did. How they worked harder than anyone else. And how they were better than anyone else. Bragging about their accomplishments.
I wish someone had taught me that, the little voice in your head is actually the ego. It doesn’t always have to brag about being the best, but just that each time it speaks, it’s gaining more and more control.
I wish someone had told me that I “wasn’t” the ego. That it was something separate, and that it was OK to just ignore what it said.
I wish someone had taught me about meditation too.
But on the other hand, the next part of my journey is probably the best thing that could have happened to me, although at the time I would have said it was the worst.
When I graduated, I felt an immense sense of pride. I had achieved something few others would. I had made my family and the people that loved me really happy. I had validated their generous compliments.
That little voice in my head would say things like, “I bet you don’t have a degree in electronics”, as I would pass people on the street. It would also start to criticize the way they dressed. It would make assumptions about their career and level of education.
Each time my ego put someone else down in my mind, it would make me feel superior in some way.
So, you might think that feeling good about myself can’t be a bad thing can it? After all, I didn’t tell the person what I thought of them to their face. So I didn’t upset them in anyway. But inside I felt great.
I didn’t realize at the time, that this was the birth of my ego, and each time it spoke, it gained power.
Rise of the Ego
I was lucky to land a really great job doing computer design for a defense company. The work was exciting. Cutting edge. And gave me lots of opportunity to show off my new degree.
Technology changes quickly, so coming fresh from university, I felt like I knew more than the engineers that had been there for decades. My ego loved that.
It made me feel smart. But it told me they were lazy for not trying to keep up and learn new stuff.
I changed jobs several times, but made a huge jump across the pond to the Unites States, where I was given a great opportunity to switch to software engineering for a tech giant.
Software design was easier than hardware design, but paid so much more. My ego loved that. Now I could create the best software because I knew how the hardware worked. Once again, I felt superior to all my software colleagues.
But of course, I never said anything to them. So it couldn’t be that bad right? I wasn’t a braggy ego. Just a quiet ego.
One day, a friend asked me to help him with a consulting job he was working on. So in my spare time, I moonlighted on quite a large database project for a credit card processing company. I earned a years salary in 3 months, just working a few hours each evening.
At this point I was the best software engineer the universe had ever created. Or at least that’s what my mind kept telling me in secret.
I’m not hurting anybody by having these thoughts am I?
Chasing Greed not Happiness
So the next logical step was to work for my friend. I’d be able to work for 3 months each year. Working from home in my pajamas. Wow, what a life I’d lead.
So I quit my corporate life and went solo.
Soon after which, my friend decided he didn’t want to consult anymore. So, no worries. I’d be able to find my own work right.
I started doing web design. Working for local small businesses that needed minimal websites. I was able to combine my childhood art skills with my technical knowledge to create superior websites.
There’s that ego again.
As my business grew, I also started doing head shot portraits for the websites and some product photography. Again, what a great marriage of skills. It was incorporating my Grandfather’s love for photography. I was unstoppable.
That is, until outsourcing became a thing. All of a sudden my clients started disappearing one at a time, stating that other web design companies had approached them and could slash my fees. Or that they could do their own website using one of the many template based web hosting platforms that were coming along.
My ego, now quite strong, couldn’t possibly outsource my own work. I’m the best, how can someone else do as good a job as me.
Well, not to worry, my portrait business was really taking off, and I loved the simplicity of showing up, taking some pictures, editing a few files, and then boom, done. Unlike the web designs that often dragged on for months and I had to be working on multiple projects at the same time.
Time for another career change.
I opened a portrait studio. If websites can be done remotely overseas, then surely clients actually needed to get a headshot in person? A portrait photographer is bound to be outsourcing-proof.
Well, as it turns out, yes, it is. But it isn’t iPhone proof. And it turns out, it’s really difficult to convince someone they should buy a large canvas family portrait to hang in their home when they can take a low res, grainy, out of focus picture of their family in a restaurant and get instant feedback on Facebook.
Why spend hundreds on a picture that few will see hanging on your wall, when instead, you can post weekly and get all the thumbs ups you need. Plus it’s a hassle dragging the kids from their video games, getting them dressed up to go to the portrait studio. Nobody wants that hassle on their weekend off.
So over time, my family portrait business started to slow down.
Thankfully corporate photography is still a thing and still pays my bills today.
The Ego Death
So far, there’s nothing that seems too devastating in what I’ve written. Just lots of “pivoting” as it’s called these days.
But, now massively in debt from starting the studio and with a declining bottom line. I had started to become an insomniac.
The stress of running a business, raising a young family, paying the mortgage, working crazy hours was getting to me.
We’d missed a few mortgage payments and the bank were calling constantly. I was tired of making excuses to kids and family why we couldn’t go on a big vacation or why our car seems a little older than everyone elses.
My mind started searching for an escape, but I’d been away from technology for too long to get back onboard with a well paying job working for someone else. Plus, wouldn’t that be like admitting I’m a failure? There’s no way my ego would let me do that.
So instead, my ego started to turn on itself.
It no longer told me how awesome I was. It started to tell me how stupid I was. How bad I was at business. How terrible my portraits were. How I didn’t deserve to have such a great family. How I was letting everyone down. How I was a failure.
How I was going to die penniless with no chance of retiring. It started to tell me that everyone that passed me by in the street was laughing at me and judging me the way I had all those years ago to other people.
My dreams were crumbling. I was no longer the best at anything.
I was depressed, and to be honest, suicidal at times.
I had somehow gone from a life where I was going to achieve great things, to having a life where it seemed like there was no silver lining.
It was all work, all the time and no money to do anything fun.
But despite all of that, when people asked how I was, or how is business? I would always smile and excitedly say how busy I was and things were going great. All the time, feeling miserable inside. But of course, all those people telling me how great I was as a child, there’s no way I could ever tell them the truth and ask for help.
Then, one particularly bad year, my wife lost several of her close relatives, one after another. Mostly from old age, but one young nephew from a drug overdose.
Life just couldn’t seem to get more depressing and pointless.
Until it did.
Late in 2014, my best friend had a massive seizure completely out of the blue. Shortly after that he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
He was smart. Good looking, had a beautiful wife and daughter. Wonderful home in a nice town. Was a world champion triathlete. Modest. Kind. Everybody loved him.
After I heard the news, I remember laying on the living room carpet staring up at the ceiling fan. I just couldn’t believe it.
How is this possible. If that can happen to my friend who has everything, then truly, what’s the point of life? What does it all mean?
Spontaneous Spiritual Awakening
My head was spinning. I had reached rock bottom and then fallen through the floor.
I was questioning every decision I had ever made throughout my whole life. What I did do. What I didn’t do. What I should have done.
Career choice. Chasing money. Chasing dreams. Marriage. Kids. House. Debt.
Every decision was wrong. My mind got really mean and told me how stupid I was.
It became unbearable.
All of a sudden, I started to feel a tingle at the base of my spine, that slowly changed into a burning. It was so unexpected that it grabbed my full attention trying to figure out what it was.
The burning became more intense and uncomfortable, further drawing my focus.
And then, like a slow moving surge of electricity, it started to move up my spine.
At some point, and I can’t explain why, I felt the overwhelming urge to raise my hands up alongside my head and touch my thumbs to my index fingers. I don’t know what made me do that, but it was so compelling and natural, like it was the only possible response to be slowly electrocuted.
And as soon as the finger tips touched, forming a circle, the surge shot up the rest of my spine to my head and I was propelled into nothingness.
It was just like the scene in the Disney Pixar, movie, Monsters Inc. where Boo is in Sully and Mike’s apartment. And as she squeals with excitement, the lights start to grow brighter and brighter until there’s a sudden pop, followed by silence.
I’ve tried describing the place I ended up, but it’s almost impossible.
The ceiling fan was replaced by infinity. My body didn’t exist and yet I was aware of everything. Just floating, weightless, bodyless, staring out into an ocean of slow moving fractal shapes. Like being in an infinite nebula, but actually being the nebula at the same time.
Simultaneously being everything and nothing. It defies logic.
And that’s just scratching the surface and doesn’t even come close to describing the experience. We just don’t have the language. It would be like trying to explain what lemon juice tastes like to a fish. There’s just too much of a gap in comprehension.
The one thing that was ultimately life changing to me, was an overwhelming sense that, “everything is exactly as it’s meant to be. Everything is going to be OK.”
I didn’t hear those words spoken out loud. It wasn’t my ego talking to me. The experience was completely silent. But such a deep understanding that “everything was going to be OK.”
Rising from the Ashes
I have no idea how long the experience lasted. But the blissful state started to collapse and I became aware of the ceiling fan once again.
The difference now, was that my mind was completely silent.
All the stress seemed to have instantly been lifted and replaced with peace. Overwhelming peace actually. Not happiness or joy. But every cell in my body was resting peacefully.
I lay there for quite some time, stunned, but eventually went upstairs to bed. Instead of the usual tossing and turning from insomnia, I fell right to sleep.
The next day, I awoke to a completely silent mind. No voice whatsoever. No sense of panic or dread. No depression.
I started Googling furiously to see if I could find out what happened. I was reading about seizures, wondering if my friend had inspired me somehow. I read about strokes. It didn’t seem like any of those fit the descriptions.
I started searching for surge of electricity up the spine and of course came up with safety notices about the perils of electrocution. But nothing that described what had happened.
But then I stumbled upon a yoga article that mentioned Kundalini energy rising up the spine. Mmmmm, that sounds intriguing.
Now I had a good keyword for Google. And sure enough, I started to find articles about how to draw the energy up the spine to open the Chakras. What are Chakras? My search continued. I read about Mudras, which are hand gestures designed to help energy flow around the body. Well, holy cow, that seems to describe what I did with my hands.
Then, all of a sudden, BAM. “Spontaneous Spiritual Awakening.”
I think I may have cried when I read it. It was like finally finding a home.
I tried telling my wife about it, but she just rolled her eyes. I must admit, early on I probably sounded like I had a problem. Like I’d read a good sci-fi book or something.
I even tried telling some close friends and was met with a mixture of concern or disbelief. But the experience is so far removed from everyday reality that I think most people thought I was making it up or seriously needed help.
Life is Beautiful
The experience of awakening is like seeing for the first time. A spoon isn’t just a spoon, it’s a dynamic collection of colors and reflections. It’s difficult to see where the edge of the spoon ends and the background begins. It’s all mesmerizing.
Without your mind telling you that something is good or bad, right or wrong, everything appears beautiful.
During the awakening process, you are filled with absolute bliss, peace and love. Love for everything, love for everyone.
When you start to reintegrate into the world and you have a silent mind. That feeling of love is attached to everything you see and interact with.
Not love like, “I love you man”, but love on such an intense level that there is nothing anyone can say or do to corrupt that feeling.
The “feeling” is something that we can cultivate in ourselves and make it our default mode. Even without the experience of a spiritual awakening.
Living with a Silent Mind
Things seemed to make sense after my spiritual awakening. On an intuitive level.
I instantly realized that each of my career hops happened because I felt like I had reached a peak and was afraid I would never be able to match that again. I can’t go into specifics about each job, but there was a defining moment where I felt I was on top of the mountain.
My mind was afraid of defending that position. Anything less that that would be a failure. So that’s where everyone telling me how smart I was came back to bite me in the butt.
I was so afraid of letting those people down. Of letting them see weakness or failure. But ironically, that fear of failing is ultimately what led me to failing in the traditional sense.
So I instantly gained tremendous insight into my past and how that had formed my ego and how fear had shaped every decision since.
An ego death happens when your life situation becomes so dire that your mind quite literally can’t handle the truth and so it simply shuts down.
My ego had gone through most of my life telling me how great I was, but then switched over to telling me what a loser I was. When I reached the point that life didn’t make sense, that there was literally no point carrying on, the ego got scared of the thought of not existing anymore and that realization caused it to blow a fuse.
When the ego starts to judge other people to make itself feel good, it’s actually the mind being afraid of being judged itself. But the problem with your mind making you feel superior is that, inevitably you will reach a point where other people pass you by and become better than you, so then YOU become the problem to your ego, so now it starts to criticize you.
Having a completely silent mind is so liberating.
Everything becomes a complete joy.
There’s no “automatic thinking”. None of that constant inner dialogue. No “freewheeling mind.”
No judgement of others. No judgement of yourself.
No right. No wrong.
No panic. No depression. No anxiety. All of those feelings are created by the mind. They’re just stories.
No Mind – No Problem
When you have no mind, your “problems” don’t just disappear. What I mean by that is that, if you missed a mortgage payment and are facing eviction, you have still missed a mortgage payment and are still facing eviction even after your mind stops.
The difference is that, without the mind telling you those things are a problem, there is no stress. No anxiety. No worry. No continual inner commentary. “What if I miss another payment? What if I get evicted? What if? What if? What if?”
Instead what happens, is that you missed a mortgage payment, you can either sell the house or you can work your butt off to catch up.
There is only direct action to fix the things and no endless mind chatter about the things you have no control over.
No procrastination. No paralyzed feeling trying to figure out what to do next. Just doing.
You can use your mind to solve problems and use that vast computing power we have between our ears. But when you don’t need it. It just sits silently in the toolbox for when you do need it again.
Without your mind constantly questioning your decisions, there is just action. No second guessing.
Nothing was a problem because my mind wasn’t telling me that anything was a problem.
Just pure enjoyment of doing and a sense of wonder at the world.
Even things that I used to hate doing, all of a sudden, just by observing the work being done brought great joy. It was like watching someone else do the work.
One thing that I do feel slightly guilty about. But guilt is the wrong word. Guilt is a concept in the mind, but without it, my comment will feel dispassionate and cold.
As my friend’s brain cancer progressed, he started losing awareness of where he was and what was going on.
He would ask, “what time is it” every few minutes. To me, it was a simple request and one that I could respond to by simply telling him the time. It didn’t matter how many times he’d asked already, just simply answering caused no stress or drama in him or myself.
Just the pure joy of “experiencing that question” with my friend and observing life unfolding was amazing.
Death was no longer a terrifying end. It was simply another part of this journey to be marveled at.
Before my spiritual awakening I might have said something like, “I just told you what time it is. What’s wrong with you?”
But what good would that have done. It would just create feelings of frustration in me and feelings of being stupid in him. Without the mind telling you a story, it is simply a question. It could be asked 1000 times and it would still just be a question. But the mind creates drama.
I also saw how the same question created quite different responses in other people. I could see how the ego, the mind was manipulating the situation and creating some inner story about how that question was wrong. The mind prevented people from being present.
So again, my joy of experiencing the last few years with my friend might seem dispassionate and cold.
I got to enjoy every last second. I wasn’t comparing him to the person he used to be. My mind wasn’t telling me that who he was now was a problem. I wasn’t concerned with where the path was going.
Not comparing to the past, not worrying about the future. Just pure presence. When you are fully present, the ego isn’t able to talk. It can’t exist. It only operates in past and future.
My feelings of “guilt” are not really guilt, but compassion for seeing other people suffer and struggle with their feelings. And knowing that the suffering was unnecessary. Only caused by the thought of losing what was, and losing out on the dream of what was going to be. Past and future.
You view the world with unlimited compassion and unconditional love. This was such a beautiful time while it lasted.
Observing the Ego Start Again
I was so intrigued by my spiritual awakening experience, the feeling of Nirvana, that I started meditating to see if I could get back to that blissful place.
Each day I would sit in silence. Each morning and evening and every spare minute I could, just trying to get a glimpse of that place that had brought about such an amazing transformation.
And each time I felt like I was getting close, I would notice the voice in my head suddenly appear and say things like, “yes, yes, that’s right, you are amazing at meditating.” Or “keep going, you’re almost there.”
It was almost whispering at first.
But then as I was driving around, I caught my mind saying, “you’re way better than that person on the sidewalk. I bet they don’t meditate.”
This time it was a little different though. Now having spent a year or so without my mind constantly interrupting, when it did try to interrupt with a wise ass comment, it was easy to take a step back and say, “that’s not me”.
My ego still tries to sneak in to the conversation, but through meditation, it’s not as strong as it used to be. I generally don’t listen to it anymore, but instead, just enjoy observing life. It’s called mindfulness.
And oddly enough, the day that I realized, “I don’t need to experience that blissful place again, because I already had the experience once”, that’s when I experienced the state of Nirvana again.
It’s nearly constant these days.
When we let go of all expectations, the mind has no grasp and we are free to observe the body from the spirit.
My Mission Since My Spiritual Awakening
Since the start of the Covid Pandemic, I have been trying to share my experience with others.
Meditation has benefits on so many levels, from simple physical relaxation, to mental relaxation, spiritual experiences and enlightenment. And it is so simple to do.
Even sitting in silence for just a minute each day will give your mind a break from the constancy of life.
Pretty much from the moment we wake up, our modern lifestyle forces our minds to be active. Every time you make a decision, what to wear, what to watch on Youtube, making judgements on Facebook, seeing different lifestyles on TV, pressure of School, stress at work. All have the ability to engage your mind if you let them. But you’ve never been shown an alternative.
Meditation is the key. Observing the mind for yourself is key.
We are facing a mental health crisis at the moment. Anxiety, depression, anger come in many forms and from many places.
I was lucky and got an instant transformation. Meditation is not an instant fix and can take years to gain control of your thoughts, so you should definitely seek medical help if you experience thoughts of suicide or lingering depression.
My mission since my spiritual awakening was not to grow a beard. That’s more of a pandemic thing 🙂
If you want to try to sit silently for one minute, I do a daily mindfulness video on YouTube. It’s difficult to stop your mind for more than a few seconds, but see if you can focus so strongly on each video that your mind doesn’t even have the opportunity to raise its hand. Click here to see “The Daily Minute”
Want to learn some simple meditation techniques – click here for some basic but powerful meditation lessons
If you want to master meditation and are looking for a really solid foundation in meditation, check out my Meditation Boot Camp
Personal Coaching / Guest Speaker
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If you have any questions or comments, please let me know.