Navigating the Process of Personal Evolution: The Death of the Psyche
Does any of this sound familiar?
- A lingering “sense of death,” feeling that you are dying in some way (even though it doesn’t rationally make sense).
- A heavy sense of doom or un-groundedness.
- Persistent dreams of dying or death.
Sometimes when someone is doing a lot of internal work, exploring personal trauma, or/and diving into belief systems/identities, some interesting experiences can start to arise around the theme of death and dying. Consider it a “personal evolution.”
My first experiences with this were rather unsettling.
Sometimes I’d feel like I was in a daze. Other times it was more like a bad dream. I might feel kind of spacy, and sometimes during such times my thoughts would roar up- as if to find control. My tendency was to, well… freak out. After a while, however, I got better acquainted with the nuances and covert expressions of death that happen in—and are a part of—everyday life. In other words, death is constantly happening throughout the unfolding of life. And sometimes, because of what we are traversing through, we feel the impact of that more strongly.
A loss of self.
Parts of us are dying every day on a cellular level, but dying on the level of the psyche is quite different. We don’t mind (or even notice) that our cells are dying and being replaced, or even that our neural pathways are dying and being rebuilt. But even though we identify very strongly with our physical bodies, when it comes to our sense of self… that can feel much more real to us.
During times like these, when the confusing weight of death feels overwhelming, it can be helpful to take a step back and try on a wider lens to see more of what’s going on. But before we are able to take that step back, we need to get grounded.
Caring for the nervous system.
When we’re in a state of overwhelm (or fight/flight/freeze), the parts of our brain responsible for self-awareness can become dull. With this response can come an increase of tunnel vision and a decreased ability to be in relationship with our experiences. This is why we need to get grounded first. To be able to have perspective, it helps to have our body mechanics working in our favor. So, first things first.
Taking care of the nervous system may look like:
- feeling your feet, hands and/or bum, while breathing on the floor, chair or bed, or even whilst standing.
- going out for a walk.
- looking up at the sky/birds/trees.
- putting some cold water on the back of your neck or onto your forehead.
Choose the techniques that work best for you. For an extensive list of ways to so the nervous system and get the right/left hemispheres working together, click here.
The wider lens.
Once your nervous system has calmed down and your brain hemispheres are back in sync, you can start to have a greater perspective of what might be going on. Here are some things that this new perspective will ask you to consider:
- Parts of your biology are dying every day.
- You, as a human being, are designed to constantly die and be re-created from a cellular level.
- The design of the human being is to progress and evolve, to better itself, to change, and to grow/mature.
- Change comes from the old dying, which then allows something new to come into form.
- Your psyche, too, is designed to die and be re-created, as this is part of our maturation process.
- Your psyche is influenced by neural pathways which are constantly changing, dying, and being recreated.
- When belief systems, identities, and trauma are explored, old areas of solidity and certainty are “opened up.” This creates change on a variety of levels. Our behaviors may change. Our emotions may feel different or be different. Our thoughts, and our relationships to certain thoughts/beliefs, may change.
- With change come newness, unfamiliarity, and the unknown.
So is it any wonder that feelings of doom or death are present?
Sometimes when we are traversing through such territory, we may even find ourselves having experiences that energetically mimic or feel akin to an event in our past when we actually thought we were going to die, and all the fear from that event was stuffed away rather than released. Pain body comes to surface—to tie up loose ends, so to speak—on its own timeline, regardless of when it would or would not be convenient for us. This can be unnerving as, rationally speaking, there seems to be nothing bad happening… yet the body’s and/or mind’s response indicates otherwise.
What does it all mean?
Humans have the capacity to mature not only biologically, but also emotionally and psychologically. As with biology, this can include growing pains since change can sometimes bring dis-ease, discomfort, and disorientation. Have you ever met a young person who is going through a growth spurt and their own body has become unfamiliar to them? These same words—dis-ease, discomfort, and disorientation—can be applied to the experiential process of emotional and psychological maturation and integration.
When parts of our psyche change, a portion of our identity is dying off. This may bring a variety of different responses, some of relief, some of threat. Identities that we’ve carried around for years within us—as us—can feel like they are who we are, so we fearfully wonder, “Who will I be without them?” The mind may then imagine all kinds of dangerous scenarios as possible futures. But beneath all those thoughts and mental constructions is a simple (but not necessarily comforting) answer:
Who will we be without our identities?
Without our familiar sense of self?
What will this next evolution bring us?
We have no way of knowing.
The mind doesn’t always like this response. Particularly in our left-brain-dominated culture, we like certainty. We like binary and linear answers. Yet life is neither binary nor linear, and not knowing can often stir up the left brain even more-ruffling the feathers of those parts of us which incessantly try so hard to figure out and procure certainty. In direct disparity to the Zen “don’t know” culture, Western culture is fixated on a “must know” mentality.
But the simple fact of the matter is that we don’t know what is coming next. We don’t know what life will be like as we outgrow these old identities. We don’t know who we’ll be if we’re not who we’ve always been. We don’t know how life will manifest when we’re no longer engaging in all the shenanigans that we’ve always been involved in. Who would I be without my controlling, figuring-out self? A part of me relishes this idea… conceptually. Another part loves to think about it. But, another part resists actually leaning into this and opposes the release of these defenses in order to find out.
The land of limbo.
It is in these moments, when death is underway but the new re-creation hasn’t yet come in, that we can find ourselves in a state of fear or doom. And it is in these moments that it is important to acknowledge that deaths are happening within our system, and that it is a normal part of the process to feel in limbo. It is normal to feel this way, because we are in transition. We are in the midway land between old and new: before the old is entirely gone, and before the new has become familiar.
Stepping back in this way can sometimes allow the process to happen with more grace and ease. There is less of a need to grasp and resist when we are reminded that underneath the discomfort all is well, and that the doom and death-like experiences are but temporary steps that come along whilst travelling this path called life.
Patience, compassion, and support.
Be patient and compassionate with yourself during these times, or/and connect with others who can fill this role for you and help support you.
Take good care of your nervous system.
Return to the awareness that death/rebirth is a natural part of life.
You are not alone on this journey. Ever.