Spiritual experiences might be as ‘simple’ as reducing the activity of The Ego purposefully and with intention to progress spiritual understanding.
Table of Contents:
- Ego Dissolution and Spirituality (soul)
- What is Ego?
- Why is your Ego important?
- Why do you want to ‘kill’ your Ego?
- What is it like to experience ego death (Ego Death stages)
- How to achieve Ego Death
Ego Dissolution and Spirituality (soul)
It occurred to me some time ago while writing these articles that Spiritual awakening could be as ‘simple’ as ‘killing The Ego’ **. I came to this conclusion based on some understandings based on neuroscience. Those being,
- The research of Robin Carhart-Harris says that psychedelics reduce the activity of the Default Mode Network or DMN (where your ego or sense of self lives) and allows your brain to create new connections between areas of the brain which are not in the DMN and do not get to form connections normally. This is because the DMN is, as its name suggests, is the default mode for your brain to go into in waking life meaning in this case that it stops other parts of the brain from being able to connect via Neurogenesis.
- As well as the concept that your Ego (ie part of the DMN) restricts your experiences in waking reality to those with which you need to survive and act in service of the self.
- A metaphor for this is ‘blinders’ on a horse which restrict its vision to that with which is immediately in front of it so it is not distracted by things on the far left and right of its vision. Blinders in this case narrow its vision to that which is important for it while working.
- Our Ego’s act like these blinders focussing us on the material concerns of survival and self-preservation which is important while you are awake and navigating the world doing things like working and providing for your self and your immediate concerns. But this narrow focus comes with a trade-off. We trade navigation and survival in the real world for an understanding of things which are there but unable to be understood most of the time ie spiritual experiences.
These two ideas taken together you can see that our Ego can be reduced in activity with the help of psychedelics and this means that we focus less on survival aspects of waking reality and can experience ‘other things’. I suggest to you that these other things are spiritual in nature and can lead to a spiritual awakening or gaining more access to spirit more generally.
Another way to think about a spiritual awakening might be simply that there is more ‘spiritual information’ available to us via our senses. I don’t mean physical senses like touch but more your vision and intuition or even an ‘internal voice’ which offers insights that may appear as ideas or concepts in your mind. Our Ego restricts this kind of information because it is not 100% necessary for survival alone but is necessary to understand meta-physical life beyond the basics you need for survival. Also because our Ego’s are almost exclusively focussed on this.
** I actually don’t like the phrase ‘killing The Ego’ as it lacks nuance and hence can be taken out of context. It’s better to think about Ego Death as being an extreme effect of a more general Ego Dissolution which exists on a scale. The temporary Death of The Ego being on result able to be achieved on that scale. Later in this article I discuss this scale more.
What is Ego?
I use the word Ego not in a street definition of someone who thinks they are better than someone else although that is a sub-element of what I would define as The Ego.
My definition of The Ego goes something like this,
The Ego is the part of your psyche which is responsible for dealing with reality, but in doing so it must mitigate the wants and desires of other parts of our psyche, making its job difficult. It also allows us to identify with, groups, skills we might have, possessions we own, and generally identify in general.Ayahuasca and Ego Death
Your Ego and sense of self sits within your ‘Default Mode Network’ in the brain which is reduced in activity during the intake of psychedelics. This means that your Ego and sense of self is also reduced in its strength and as I said above we can experience ‘other things’. Under the influence of psychedelics the ‘other things’ could be classed as spiritual experiences or a spiritual awakening.
Often people talk about a ‘one-ness’ and ‘love’ which makes sense as when our sense of self reduces in strength we think less of ourselves but instead start to feel empathy for those around us in the lighter stages but then a shared destiny and connection with others (even plants and animals). These are often the specific spiritual experiences that people can have when they achieve ego death.
Why is your Ego important
As per the above definition The Ego is very very important to ‘navigate’ the world. It helps you to develop skills to work and have relationships but also has an aspect of self so we can become attached to the groups we feel we belong and even our possessions.
These things help us to have a group of friends, align with political groups, feel wanted and loved, useful etc etc. We as humans derive a lot of social status and healthy nervous systems when we belong to groups and specialize with like minded people over similar topics.
So The Ego is very important to us and I want to note something that is not often emphasized. You don’t want to permanently kill your Ego. This would lead to someone who is unable to navigate the world and participate in a ‘normal life’. Instead what you want to do is temporarily reduce its strength so that you can experience life without its strong influence. This allows us to have perspective on it and ultimately know when to employ it and enjoy its positive aspects and reduce its strength or grip when it is leading us towards a negative consequence. The Ego has pro’s and con’s and what we should be striving for is control over these not removal of either aspect. Mitigate the con’s and exacerbate the pro’s.
TIP: People who have managed to permanently disable their Ego may have done psychedelics while being subject to a psychosis either personally or being vulnerable to psychosis as it can run in the family. They may have also done too many psychedelic experiences and have caused their own psychosis. A proper preparation and understanding of the dangers avoids this for the vast majority of people but if you have managed to find yourself in this place then I offer some thoughts on how you might go about recovering.
Why would you want to ‘kill’ your Ego?
You don’t literally want to kill or remove your Ego permanently as I mentioned above. In the above sections I have spoken about temporary ego dissolution is a better way to conceptualize Ego Death. This is because dissolution is a scale and Ego Death or killing of your ego exists on this scale as an extreme version of dissolution but not the only destination of merit upon this scale.
A scale after all has degrees of intensity. One could imagine on the extreme left of the scale (ie small amounts of ego death) a feeling of empathy towards others. On the extreme right of the scale (ie very intense) would be The Ego Death experience where you don’t physically feel you have a body and perhaps are having out of body experiences temporarily.
So, why would you want to kill your ego or experience other forms of ego death?
- Some people gain spiritual development from ego death
- Some people are able to remove and cure various addictions like alcoholism
- Some people are able to cure depression and anxiety without the need for medications.
- NOTE: Often this means lifestyle changes which are suggested or helped by the insights within an Ayahuasca ceremony.
What is it like to experience ego death (Ego Death stages)
Above I described how Ego Death exists on a scale of ego death experienced over a short amount of time (hours). I’m going to run through some significant stages on the path to Ego Death.
TIP: You might also be interested in this scientific ‘Inventory’ of Ego Death which helps to also describe the stages of Ego Death or Dissolution.
Stage 1: empathy
A mild version of Ego Death on your way to a more full Ego Death sensation is empathy. You feel empathy for others and you ‘see things’ from your own life experience from the point of view of others. In the past and in my own psychedelic experiences I have often thought of people I have had arguments with or butted heads more generally and had empathy and compassion for their behavior and wanted to reach out and connect with them more.
Sometimes reaching out is not practical or advised but it’s the feeling of being able to have compassion for another’s point of view which is the important aspect here. As The Ego dissolves we focus less on our own self interest and can hence feel more compassion and empathy for others.
In my own experience this has lead me to be able to see my own errors in thinking and behavior and without blaming myself for those simple recognize those patterns in myself and continue on in life mindful that I can sometimes have patterns of thinking and behavior which I may want to discourage or indeed encourage as the case may be.
Stage 2: becoming the observer
When taking Ayahuasca you can ‘step out of’ your Ego and view the world without its lens filtering your reality. This means we often have thoughts and insights more in line with empathy for others and one-ness because The Ego often focussed us on self absorbed thoughts and hence actions and behaviors.
You can become the observer by directing your focus on The Ego with which you are normally peering out of but are now adjacent too. You have a ‘distance’ or ‘perspective’ that allows you to observe your Ego.
Examples of being the observer might be,
- you notice your addictive patterns from a distance and don’t feel in them. This kind of observer experience is less intense in terms of the emotions involved in your addictive patterns but more a less intense version which you can view with logic and critique instead of being swayed by the motion of them perhaps to an unwanted end like alcoholism or other addictive patterns.
In the past I have compared this to being ‘inside’ a rainstorm vs ‘observing it from afar’. When you are in the rainstorm you get very wet and perhaps can’t see the end of the rain cloud. It seems as if it’s raining all around you without end. It can be so heavy it splashes in your eyes and blinds your vision to almost anything else. This kind of intense rainfall can be suffocating and can produce suffering emotionally and physically.
When you view the rain cloud from afar you can see the width and breadth of the rain cloud. Where the rain falls and where there is shelter. You are not getting wet at all. Your eyes are not being splashed, you aren’t suffocating and suffering. You still still remember what being rained on was like and maybe you are mildly reminded of this when observing the rain cloud now but it’s nowhere near as intense as you are not directly in the raincloud. You also can see that the rain cloud is not everywhere around you and seemingly never ending. Instead you feel like ‘this too shall pass’.
Psychedelics provide the kind of perspective as if you were on a mountain top observing a raincloud move through the valley below. A beautiful site if you have even been lucky enough to see and a good metaphor with which to understand something which is difficult to understand if you have not been in this head space before.
Stage 3: one-ness
A more extreme form of empathy and in my experience something you can experience after becoming the observer is a very strong sense of ‘one ness’ with other beings. As your Ego is dissolved even further you actually don’t see much of a separation between you and other humans and even plants. Sound silly? You will look at plants differently once you have experienced Madre de Ayahuasca whose spirit inhabits the Ayahuasca Vine and it’s MAOI’s.
In my own personal experiences I have been in ceremony and been able to see the other people in ceremony (even though it was pitch black) as beings of white light. I saw each person as a human shaped silhouette of white light but each human shape was connected to a common source of white light beneath it.
As the light from each body (in Hinduism there is coincidentally(?) a concept of a ‘light body’.) extended beneath silhouetted body of the human itself. The extension of each persons light body connected together far below the floor of the ceremonial hall (Maloca) where we held the ceremony.
NOTE: It’s common to have ‘visions’ while drinking Ayahuasca and what I’m describing above is a vision I had, in pitch black, in one of my Ayahuasca ceremonies.
Stage 4: out of body experiences
In its extreme form Ego Dissolution of Ego Death can mean that you temporarily disconnect your physical body from your consciousness. This effect can last for the period of the trip ie, perhaps 4-6 hours.
In my own experience I have not had en extreme out of body experience but have had some mild ones. My own was very gentle and easy but did have some lasting effects which were somewhat difficult.
I was walking down the street and suddenly had the feeling that my consciousness was floating above my physical body and observing it from above, perhaps 30-40 m above. It was only for a few moments and I was calm and my body was perfectly coordinated while continuing to walk. When I got to my destination I felt quite un-motivated to do much and just sat and relaxed but I was a bit worried. I rested for the rest of the day (no computer or normal activities) and the next day felt fine and productive again. The actual out of body was only experienced for a few moments.
Other people who I have taken psychedelics with have had more intense out of body experiences where they do not feel as if they have a physical body and actually at this point can consciously be on a higher plain of existence without a physical body.
TIP: Hinduism and the philosophy of The Vedas can help you to understand the concept of a higher plain of existence when it talks about The Astral body which is not bound by the physical laws of waking, material reality.
To some people this is quite difficult a transition to go through and for others its quite a calm experience. Coming back into your body can also be a strange feeling.
From my understanding the juxtaposition of this waking reality compared to reality in a plain where you do not have a physical body can be jarring because here in waking reality where we have Ego’s which helps us to navigate but at the same time can separate us from experiencing love which mitigates the painful experiences and emotions we have had throughout life and continue to remember and have as we return to our physical bodies.
It’s like, but less intense, going back to work on Monday after having an amazing weekend 😉 The Buddha said it best, ‘life is suffering’ in some fundamental experiential sense.
In this sense ego death could be considered painful I suppose although I think a better world is jarring to the psyche. This jarring does decrease over the next few hours as you come down from the trip and your Default Mode Network comes back online so to speak.
- The perspective I described in the section above on ‘being the observer’ hugely decreases the jarring nature of reality and you can bare much more than you think you can post integrating these experiences. Life does not become easier in some absolute level after psychedelics. You’re still playing life on a high difficulty level (to steal a turn of phrase from the gaming world) as you were before but you have leveled up your skills (ie ability to have perspective) to the point where what seemed difficult before no longer feels as as hard.
- Sports people play with this effect also training more intensely in their preparation than they expect to experience in the competition itself. Putting yourself though harder training in preparation makes the competition seem easier in some sense. There is a parallel here although it isn’t a perfect analogy.
- In the psychological realm a similar thing is spoken about. The Ego dies metaphorically so that we don’t have to die in material reality.
Dark Night of the soul
TIP: This could happen lower down in the order of stages but is an important thing to be aware of. even experienced psychedelic users can still have a difficult trip.
A dark Night of the soul refers to a difficult trip where you might realize personal insights about yourself which are difficult to accept or process.
It could also be when your Ego is being reduced that you fight this effect of the psychedelic and this can cause you to have a very difficult trip indeed. In this scenario it’s beneficial to talk yourself through it and tell yourself, anytime you get anxious, that this is normal for this experience and is what Ego Dissolution is all about. Your Ego will not want to lose the control it normally has in day to day task orientated life.
Once you have let go of your Ego for a few hours your ‘soul’ can start to be experienced. I would be more inclined to say it’s possible to take in spiritual information which you Ego filters out in normal day to day task orientated life. Spiritual information is all around us all the time but we are often oblivious to it as it is not necessary to basic survival.
Your Ego is great for navigating the world but the con of it is that over time its patterns of behaviors are engrained and some of these are negative. When your Ego is reduced in activity temporarily under the influence of the psychedelics we are less selfish and have more of a sense or one-ness of empathy with others. A common way to say this is ‘you start to live from a place of more love and light’.
How to achieve Ego Death
Achieving Ego Death sounds like a contradiction in some sense and while these two things are a definite contradiction in some cases I don’t think is always the case.
Our Ego’s contain many aspects of our day to day functioning and a sub-section of this is a overly narcissistic desire to present your achievements to the world to gain a heightened sense of self-satisfaction. However, this is not the only reason one might want to pursue Ego Death.
In my own experience my desire to pursue Ego Death was because I sensed that there was a healing potential for the negative thought patterns I little understood but started to notice more and more as I got older. I have high levels of anxiety (94th percentile as measured by The Big 5 Psychological test). I had a strong sense, nobody told me particularly about its known use with depression or anxiety, that psychedelic Ego Death could help me to deal with that and so I pursued it.
It was for psychological healing that I pursued Ego Death not an awakening (spiritual awakening) or anything like that. It just so happens that when you take psychedelics you perhaps get more information than you bargained for on your way to psychological healing.
TIP: I bought the ticket, took the ride and got a little more than I bargained for. Carl Jung said ‘beware unearned wisdom’ referring to psychedelic experiences. You might get more than what you originally set out to achieve.
But with that out of the way we can talk more about how to achieve Ego Death. Ego Death can be achieved in life by other methods outside of psychedelics (eg Yoga) but seen as this is a site about Ayahuasca let’s talk about that as a route to an Ego Death experience.
- Phase 1: Learn to meditate and hold your concentration on your breath without interruption from your mind for periods of 5+ minutes. This will help you greatly when you come to phase 4.
- I suggest preparing for 6+ weeks but it may take you longer with Palouse Mindfulness Course which is free and very high quality.
- Phase 2: Ego Death Preparation: Depending on your psychedelic of choice learn how to prepare safely and effectively for that psychedelic you have chosen. If you use Ayahuasca then read my guide on preparing for Ayahuasca.
- Most importantly with Ayahuasca is to be off most anti-depressant medications as these interact dangerously with Ayahuasca (contraindicate).
- Make sure you have no personal history or psychosis or even a history in your immediate family.
- There is more than the above two points these are simply the most basic of checks. Read more about the Dieta to prepare more fully.
- Then create and mediate on an ‘intention’ for your psychedelic trip. An intention in this case is probably to ‘experience ego death or dissolution as much as is advisable for my stage of spiritual understanding without causing me damage after the ceremony’.
- It could also be another intention. Either way you are going to have Ego Death experiences with the correct dosage and shaman.
- I say without damage and for your stage as you only really want as much Ego Death as you are ready for and you won’t know exactly what you are ready for unless you tell Madre de Ayahuasca that you want her to limit it safely for you.
- Phase 3: Dosage for Ego Death: I suspect 1-2 cups is a good rule of thumb for a beginner dosage to pursue Ego Death but there are a few nuances to talk about and understand.
- If you are using Ayahuasca then the exact dosages per cup are not known so you have to go by best practice and feel. The unit of measurement in Ayahuasca is usually a cup of Ayahuasca Tea.
- Usually one cup of a strong brew is enough for most to start with the lower stages of an ego death experience. Two is not uncommon either. I myself needed two in my first ceremony but after that one was perfectly fine. If you want to go for the more extreme stages of Ego Death (out of body experiences etc) then consider more than 2.
- Note the strength of the brew depends on both the retreat where you are drinking Ayahuasca but also the skill of the shaman leading the ceremony. It sounds strange to some to say the later but a well practiced shaman can dial up and energy and healing within the ceremony based on their Icaros (singing) and skill with plant medicine.
- In summary take 1-2 cups and more if you suspect the brew is weak or you know it’s strong but have decided you are aiming for a strong ego death experience.
- If you are using Ayahuasca then the exact dosages per cup are not known so you have to go by best practice and feel. The unit of measurement in Ayahuasca is usually a cup of Ayahuasca Tea.
- Phase 4: Let go of the Ego: After you have drunk your chosen dosage of Ayahuasca wait for 30-40 minutes or so.
- If an hour has gone by and the ceremony is continuing without you having an experience (ie introspective visions, visions generally, purging etc) then ask for one more cup. Some times it takes the correct dosage for it to kick in.
- If you’ve got the dosage right then you may start to notice several things as per the above stages of ego death section. Even before these stages you might see some ‘ colorful lights’ even though your eyes are closed.
- At some point if you’ve got the dosage right and shaman is skilled you will start to feel your ego being reduced in it’s strength.
- At this point it’s possible that you have difficulty ‘letting go’ of your Ego. A certain part of your Ego is not particularly interested in having itself diluted and to reinforce these thoughts during the Ego Death process can lead to a ‘bad trip’.
- If this happens to you then repeat, every time you feel anxious, something reassuring like, ‘this is a normal part of the ego death process and will only last a few hours’. Your Ego will hate this and come up with a whole bunch of falsified worries, anxieties and dangers to convince you to continue to fight but you must continue to repeat your affirmation above until you believe it.
- If you can get passed this stage then this is where you can receive insights, visionary and out of body experiences and healing of psychological and physical nature. Meditate on your chosen intention and enjoy. You bought the ticket now take the ride 🙂
- It is at this point where the meditative skill you worked on becomes invaluable. Being able to keep your concentration on one thing (your intention) for a few minutes will mean you can control your trip more easily to focus on the thing you came here to understand or experience. Your mind is already practiced at being still due to your previous practice with meditation.
- If you didn’t practice meditation previously in preparation then you may struggle at this point but that’s ok. You will still gain a lot but in my experience it can become a little chaotic and un guided if you can’t focus your attention on one intention.