Understanding The Ego-Death & Psychedelics lead image

Understanding The Ego-Death & Psychedelics

Many people who take psychedelic substances seek ego death. It’s considered the “holy grail” of the psychedelic experience.
Wednesday, March 13, 2024
ego death

There are various experiences that can lead to ego dissolution. Near-death encounters, the birthing process, and grappling with a terminal illness are some examples. These moments can prompt a profound realization. Suddenly, what once seemed crucial, like wealth and social status, loses its significance. It's a trip, man, making you reevaluate what truly matters in the cosmic dance of existence.

What is The Ego?

The ego is like your self-awareness. It helps you know who you are and what's outside of you.

Think of "you" as everything inside your body and "other" as everything outside.

The ego helps you keep track of this and understand your place in the world. It's like the connection between you and reality.

The ego has three parts:

  1. Self-Image: How you see yourself, like your job, hobbies, and preferences.
  2. Self-Esteem: How much you value yourself and feel worthy.
  3. Self-Identity: Your beliefs, opinions, and ideas about who you are.

The ego's job is to protect these parts by ignoring anything that doesn't fit with how you see yourself.

Id, Ego, & Superego

People have been trying to figure out what "ego" means for ages. Philosophers have spent a lot of time thinking about where our sense of self comes from.

Sigmund Freud came up with three terms to explain it:

  1. Id: This is like our basic instincts and desires.
  2. Ego: It's the part of us that balances those desires with what's right and wrong.
  3. Superego: This is our moral compass, shaped by society and our upbringing.

Think of it like a person riding a horse:

  • The horse is the id, the part driven by instincts.
  • The rider is the ego, guiding the horse with reason. But sometimes, the horse has its own ideas.
  • The map is the superego, guiding the rider on what's right and wrong.

Ego & The Default Mode Network

Today, scientists think our ego comes from a complicated brain system called the default mode network, or DMN for short.

The DMN isn't just one part of the brain but several working together. It helps control our background thoughts and sorts through all the information our senses pick up every day. There's so much information around us that we couldn't handle it all at once.

So, the DMN acts like a filter, keeping out stuff that doesn't matter or goes against how we see ourselves.

This helps us be more efficient. It gives us a sense of who we are, which helps us understand the world and interact with it better. Without the DMN, we'd struggle to understand reality, let alone deal with it.

The DMN does a few things:

  • Helps us understand time
  • Helps us remember and make sense of memories
  • Helps us think about the future
  • Helps us imagine and reflect on things
  • Helps us tell the difference between ourselves and others.

The Problems With Ego

Our ego helps us make sense of our existence, which is pretty confusing if you think about it. It gives us a way to understand ourselves and our place in the world.

But sometimes, our ego causes problems if we're not careful.

To keep our sense of self intact, our ego filters out things that don't fit with how we see ourselves. This can make us see things in a narrow, either/or way, like everything is black or white, right or wrong.

Ego can also make us feel separate from others and the world. It can make us selfish, lonely, and stubborn. It stops us from enjoying the present moment and focusing too much on the past or worrying about the future.

The Ego Creates a False View of the World

Our ego keeps our self-worth, self-esteem, and self-identity in check.

But sometimes, we get so caught up in keeping these things intact that we start doing things just to boost our ego.

We might obsess over getting a better job title or making people think highly of us. We might chase after money or fame to feel better about ourselves.

We feel pressured to keep up our image, like acting a certain way or having certain things. We worry about what others think of us and focus too much on how much stuff we have.

And when we can't keep up, it makes us stressed, anxious, and sad.

The Ego & Our Personal Biases

Our ego tries to protect our self-esteem by avoiding anything that might hurt it.

But this can make us biased in how we see things. Biases make us ignore stuff that doesn't match what we already think and get upset about ideas that don't fit our view of the world.

Biases mess with our ability to see things clearly and can stop us from understanding others or making smart choices.

What is Ego-Death?

Ego death is when we temporarily let go of our sense of self.

Another way to describe this is ego dissolution because our ego doesn't actually disappear; it just feels like it does. Both terms mean the same thing.

There are a few ways to experience ego death. Near-death experiences, deep meditation, or using psychedelics can bring it on.

During ego death, we lose our biased view of the world. Our sense of self fades away, and we feel connected to everything around us. We see things without our usual filters.

This helps us realize the illusions our ego creates. Without those illusions, we can live in the moment. We can recognize biases that get in the way of our happiness and success – which ironically is what the ego aims for in the first place.

Ego Death & Facing Death

Even though we all know we'll die one day, our ego tries to avoid thinking about it. But ego death can help us see that death isn't something to fear.

During ego death, our sense of self fades away, and everything we care about seems to vanish. Yet, something remains. Even in this state, something continues. Ego death helps us understand that while life doesn't last forever, consciousness might.

This realization can change how we see life.

Why Should I Understand My Ego?

Your ego is responsible for feelings like fear, sadness, anger, and loss.

If you can recognize which emotions are caused by your ego, you can reduce these unpleasant feelings.

You'll feel more stable emotionally, less anxious or sad, and everything might seem easier. You won't waste energy on ego-driven illusions and can enjoy the present moment more.

People who've experienced ego death often quit jobs they don't enjoy and focus more on what they love.

Psychedelics Can Lead to Ego Death

Using psychedelics is a fast and reliable way to trigger an ego-death experience.

From a scientific point of view, psychedelics like LSD, psilocybin, and DMT lower the activity of the default mode network (DMN), which is closely linked to our ego. This explains how these substances can cause ego death.

But it's important to know that going through ego death with psychedelics can be scary and uncomfortable. Some people might even see it as a "bad trip."

Ego-dissolution can be really scary if you're not ready to let go of your ego.

Trying to hold on to control during this experience can make it even scarier. It might feel like you're losing your mind or having a breakdown. You might feel really sad or like you've lost something important.

The best thing you can do if you're going through ego death on psychedelics is to let it happen. Stop fighting it and let the psychedelics do their thing. Once it's over, you might feel more connected to the world around you. You might feel like you're truly living in the present moment.

But remember, this egoless state is temporary. When the effects wear off, your ego comes back, and you go back to feeling normal.

Going through this experience can show you that it's possible to separate from your ego. It can help you see the illusions your ego creates.

But achieving long-term ego-death takes a lot of time and practice, like mindfulness and meditation. Most people never get there.

Final Thoughts

nderstanding the role of the ego in our lives is crucial for navigating the complex terrain of consciousness and self-awareness. Throughout this exploration, we've delved into the concept of ego, its functions, its influence on our perception, and its relationship with experiences like ego death induced by psychedelics.

The ego, often portrayed as the antagonist in the realm of self-improvement, is not inherently malevolent. Rather, it serves as a vital mediator between our conscious and unconscious minds. It provides a framework for understanding our place in the world and helps maintain our psychological well-being. Without the ego, we risk losing touch with reality, descending into mental instability and psychosis.

Experiencing ego dissolution or ego death, whether through deep meditation or the use of psychedelics, offers valuable insights into the nature of the ego and its impact on our lives. These experiences can be profound, revealing the extent to which the ego shapes our perceptions and behaviors. However, it's essential to recognize that these states are transient; the ego inevitably returns once the effects subside.

While ego dissolution may temporarily liberate us from the constraints of our self-image and identity, it does not negate the importance of the ego in our daily lives. Instead, it highlights the need for a balanced relationship with the ego—one that acknowledges its functions while remaining mindful of its potential pitfalls.

Rather than demonizing the ego or seeking to suppress it entirely, we should strive to cultivate a harmonious coexistence with it. By understanding the ego's tendencies to distort reality and inflate our sense of self-importance, we can work towards a more grounded and authentic way of being.

Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, offer valuable tools for developing this awareness and fostering a healthy relationship with the ego. Through consistent practice, we can learn to observe the ego's fluctuations without becoming entangled in its illusions. By remaining anchored in the present moment, we can mitigate the ego's tendency to dwell on past regrets or future anxieties, finding greater peace and contentment in the here and now.

Ultimately, the ego is neither our enemy nor our savior. It is simply a facet of our human experience—a lens through which we perceive and interact with the world. By embracing the complexity of the ego and cultivating a deeper understanding of its role in our lives, we can embark on a journey of self-discovery and personal growth. Through this journey, we can learn to navigate the intricacies of our inner landscape with wisdom, compassion, and authenticity.