To begin, ascension, by definition, means to' ascend to a higher level'. So what is a higher level? A higher level means 'greater than before'.
Ascension as it is usually considered in western magic however, seems to be almost exclusively correlated in the literature with a theologically derived God concept of Divinity, achieved through a sacrifice of the self and an exclusive focus on light force magic, most usually considered the domain of the angels to become closer, or indeed one with the Divine.
I was rereading an old chaos magick site recently, and came across the vortex rite:
It is a neat structure for an objective consideration of ascension, unencumbered by theology, as it outlines the creative process of manifestation. It's composition lends itself to consideration of the path of manifestation and its Divine source, or starting point. The beginning, they call it 'Start', we might for the purposes of this discussion, call it Divine. 'Divine's first manifestation is formative swirling Chaos, the initial process of creation. The first products of this creation are 2 forces, Light and Dark, positive and negative, formative and destructive forces. The rite then move onwards, further into matter, initially as Elements. This pattern is an evolutionary one. It could be argued that, by following this same process and becoming matter, we are an evolutionary product of Divine creation, evolving in accordance by design. For are we not both capable of formative and destructive force, encapsulated in matter?
The Vortex Rite also neatly reflects the concept that the 'light' forces do not have exclusive domain rights to Divinity. It is shared equally with Dark forces by product of first division. And by extension, Divinity is seen in all subsequent emanations of light and dark, all the wonderful greys in between. I contend that Gods, angels, demons, elementals, and all matter of spirits are, like us and everything else that has been created, are all products of Divinity. I probably lost most of the readers at this point of my ramblings, as it means parking any theological doctrines at the door in order to objectively engage with it.
So if being closer to the Divine is your purpose in seeking to ascend, I contend that you don't have to sacrifice all your so-called 'darkness', anything that is not pure and consistent with 'light' in order to become closer to the Divine. Indeed, it begs a further question, to those who are able to park their theology for a moment, what really is Divinity other than a primal creative force? And if that is the case, why do we need to be closer to it? What does that achieve?
So why do so many of us get caught up in trying to 'ascend'? It would seem to be going backwards against the tide of our spiritual evolution? Is it to become a 'better' person? More 'enlightened'? Whatever the heck that means. It could be perceived as 'greater wisdom' but knowledge is not a singular, but a composite, so that goes with evolution and away from the Divine source, not towards it. Therefore wisdom too seems to be at odds with the concept of western magical ascension! Western magical ascension is actually going against the evolutionary flow of the universe. It is tantamount to swimming upstream, deconstructing ourselves in an attempt to become unbalanced, pure light.
So for me, I am saying screw ascension as it is seen in the world of western magic today. Give me knowledge, wisdom, and evolution and the ability to effect change in the world through re-enacting the process of Divine creation, unencumbered by theological and cultural morality and constraint. Let me work with both light and dark forces, elemental forces, and all the wonderful greys in between. Let me create with these forces as an act of Divinity. This to me seems to be real ascension, and truly operating on a higher level.
As always, your mileage may vary