The term “Ego Death” is used frequently in spirituality, especially in its relationship to using entheogens. Some people misunderstand it to refer to the self esteem Ego, as in the egotistical side of yourself. What it actually refers to is any notion of the self and your individual qualities that are solely unique to you. The individual characteristics of your identity is what the Ego is comprised of. The ego is your perspective, your mind’s arrangement of reality, all your experiences, personality traits, views and opinions that have been constructed since you were a child (especially the mental imprints from the first 7 years of your life). The Ego is You, the Ego is the “I,” the “Me” element of the soul.
However, exploring this topic deeply, one can see that there isn’t a clear definition for the concept of this experience. There are many sides to the definition and it is influenced by age, religion, prior experiences, education, culture, and context. In the world of psychedelics the Ego death is a temporary loss of the separate self, and an intimate merging with the continuum.
An Ego death is the loss of the sense of self. “Me,” “Myself,” and “I” have no relevance in this state of being. In our reality we exist as ourselves and everything outside of ourselves is perceived as separate. During Ego death, you are taken out of the equation and become a part of the continuum, not as yourself but as the continuum.
James Stewart defines ego death as the following: “Simply put, it is the dying of the sense of self, of individuality, or of that which I conceive myself to be as perhaps different than what I am… the dying of the conceptualized sense of self. In many ways ego death at its optimum is the fluid flexibility of adjustment to the ongoing expansion into the mystery of consciousness, and at its most challenging, the horrifying experience of attachment and rigidity.”
Ph.D. Stanley Krippner’s perspective on the nature of Ego death: “It is a suspension of one’s ordinary reflective awareness… During these periods of time an individual is no longer aware of themselves as an experiencing agency; instead, one experiences unity with the environment, and/or other people.”
Medicinal chemist David Nichols, Ph.D. added, “When the ‘I’ that is inside can talk no more, is gone and cannot form thoughts, but simply is a part of all that is, and is no longer separate.”
This loss of self identity can be achieved in different states of mind. It can be achieved temporarily when induced by psychedelics (Entheogens). Or it can be achieved through meditation and a lifetime of self discipline, which ideally leads to Nirvana according to the Buddha’s perspective. Either method produces a loss of self such as becoming free from personal desire when achieving Nirvana or feeling connected to everything when using a psychedelic. Buddhism has often looked down on psychedelics, as they are seen as a temporary, short lived shortcut to Nirvana, but never long lasting because you eventually return to the Ego (along with all your personal desires) when you come down from your trip.
Whereas in Buddhism, according to their philosophy, a lifetime of discipline will lead to a permanent state of Nirvana. One could argue that in our fast paced time consuming survivalist modern world, entheogens provide a practical way of experiencing states of Nirvana without the extensive eastern practices and rituals involved to achieve it. Although the experience is temporary, sometimes one is left with a lasting impression and desire to move toward a more spiritual and evolutionary direction. It is also argued that the psychedelic Ego death is much more intense than the ego death experienced through meditation and Buddhist practice.
My view is that there doesn’t have to be a separation between the eastern spiritual path to enlightenment and the psychedelic experience.
Psychedelic researcher Stanislav Grof says, “The main objective of psychedelic therapy is to create optimal conditions for the subject to experience the ego death and the subsequent transcendence into the so-called psychedelic peak experience. It is an ecstatic state, characterized by the loss of boundaries between the subject and the objective world, with ensuing feelings of unity with other people, nature, the entire Universe.”
Often debated by Buddhists is the spiritual practice vs. the psychedelic experience. “Why do you need the Entheogen?” is a common question asked by those who walk the eastern spiritual path. Ram Dass has said, “Psychedelics can’t give you a permanent spiritual immersion, but they can give faith about the existence of these other planes and you need faith as a foundation for spiritual practice… so psychedelics can open doors, and if later you want to revisit these spiritual planes, having had such experiences will make it easier.”
Why Have An Ego Death, What Is The Point Of Not Being Yourself?
Ego death is the process of losing oneself to find oneself.
The Ego death dismantles everything that is trivial and unimportant in life. Experiencing reality outside of the filter of being human puts things into perspective from a unique vantage point.
Ego death is the experience of a state of being that is free of the attachments used to form the personal identity filters that interpret your day to day experiences. The experience of Ego loss gives you a glimpse at how significant and/or insignificant these attachments are and how they can affect your life. The actual experience sometimes can be terrifying, but retrospective examination of it can increase your understanding of who you are and what you value in this existence.
Depending on your mental fortitude, not everyone can positively benefit from an ego-loss experience. It can be very intense and potentially too difficult for some people to handle with any degree of comfort. Psychedelic Ego-loss can be liberating as long as you don’t get carried away and lose your ability to pull it together after the Trip. In this existence, a healthy balance of boundaries is good, and these Entheogens can change your concepts of limitation for the best ….or the worst. Some people check out of this reality and choose to escape it by using psychedelics frequently. One must always bring their experiences back to the ‘Here and Now’ and make what was learned applicable to their lives in this physical world.
Perspective and paradigm shifts are often accompanied with Ego loss. Although you may feel inspired to do so, allow your experience to sink in and process before making any radical changes in your life. Use the experience as a resource to weigh the pros and cons of your new path and perspective. Do not make rash decisions immediately after the experience of Ego death.