‘Ego Death‘ is a rarely known name in psychonaut communities, forums, and message boards. Over time, it is beginning more common in the world. This is in part because psychedelics are finally being permitted into the medical and scientific arena after a lengthy suspension.
This restoration means that it is a subject we will continue to hear about as the field expands. As a result, it is now important to get to understand ego death. What is it? Do you want it? How can it be achieved?
To be able to comprehend ego death it is best to start by understanding the term ‘ego’ itself. Nowadays, we relate the ego with a negative attribute such as narcissism. But basically, we all have an ego, and it is neither good or bad. It’s a good and bad state is purely relative.
The general understanding of what ego is in the western culture is based mostly on Sigmund Freud’s definition, with a good mix of Eastern philosophy. Sigmund Freud (Austrian, 1856- 1939), best known as the Father of Psychoanalysis, due to his exploits in the field defined the ‘Ego’ as a middle man between the Id and reality. The Id stands for the basic yearnings and instincts rooted inside all humans, such as hunger, aggression, libido— and seeks only pleasure and instant gratification.
Freud described it using an analogy of the Id as a horse, and the Ego as its rider. The Ego must have control of the reins and rein in the wild Id to reach a safe balance between what one desires, and what is possible— in relation to the society you inhabit, and the beliefs/morals you hold dear. Hence, ego plays a pivotal role in how societies and communities function, by helping the individual determine between what is right and wrong, based on what they have learned in their lifetime.
Why should one experience Ego death?
On the other hand, the binary nature of the ego can also be seen as a negative effect. Critics of the ego maintain that this ‘good or bad’, ‘right or wrong’, ‘love and hate’ is responsible for a lot of unhappiness being experienced in the world. The ego tends to classify people and hence, plays a divisive role and this creates unnecessary problems, when instead of strife there could be peace, acceptance, and enjoyment, of the here and now.
Ego death is a phenomenon championed by those who feel the ego is a destructive force. However, the use of ‘death’ makes it much less appealing, especially to people who are new to the concept.
As the ego is an inherent part of us, it can not really ‘die’. Ego death is more about a change of the self and moving forward from one point to another (a much better one).
Psychedelics and ego death
Ego death can be achieved through many methods. Zen practices and varying forms of transcendental meditation are reported to be effective, but if they require much time and tough self-discipline.
Psychedelics, such as psilocybin, however, are often employed as a shorter route towards achieving the same goal of ‘ego death’, or transcendence of the self.
Within communities online there is much ongoing discussions on the ways in which psychedelics can help one to achieve ‘ego death’ can be achieved using shrooms, LSD, or other psychedelics. These discussions started since the second wave of psychedelic research began in the 1950s, with individuals such as Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, et al, all discussing similar experiences as the forum-surfers today.
In 1964, advocate Leary described ego death as:“…complete transcendence − beyond words, beyond space-time, beyond self. There are no visions, no sense of self, no thoughts. There are only pure awareness and ecstatic freedom.”
How does it feel to experience Ego death?
It is not a trivial decision, that is, achieving ego death and so, one cannot be passive about it. To leave behind your entire sense of self-preservation and identity can be traumatic for most people while for others it is a beautiful experience. Nevertheless, it is not easy.
Many have described it as a magical moment of their lives that caused a turnaround and they felt connected to the world. In the process, they managed to let go of unnecessary fears. However, for some, it is a harrowing experience, as they are strong-armed to confront the complicated nature of everything which they may not have the strength to face, and therefore they find themselves torn from reality.
Ego Death is a continuous process
If ego death is achieved, the aftermath depends heavily on the individual themselves i.e their choice to move on. It cannot be said that Ego death is advantageous or the opposite but it is important to remember that irrespective of the intensity of your experience, it is only the first step towards starting life as a new person. It is not a cure on its own.
Alan Watts is quoted saying, “Psychedelic experience is only a glimpse of genuine mystical insight, but a glimpse which can be matured and deepened by the various ways of meditation in which drugs are no longer necessary or useful. If you get the message, hang up the phone. For psychedelic drugs are simply instruments, like microscopes, telescopes, and telephones.”
According to his statement, the experience is not the solution itself for ego death but a sort of head start towards getting better post-psychedelic experience. Ego death should be viewed as a tool that you learn to use and gain familiarity with. It is not a destructive idea, but one that inspires growth. And it starts with your psychedelic journey.
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