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Ego Death in Depth

Posted under: Latest News, News and Science

Intriguing and terrifying at the same time ─ the mysterious and elusive ‘ego death’ is a concept often associated with psychedelics and plant medicine ceremonies. Loss of subjective identity, enlightenment, annihilation of self… let’s have a deep dive into what the term ego death actually means and how it can happen.

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What is Ego?

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You cannot really understand what is happening during an ego death if you don’t understand the concept of an ego. In very basic terms, the ego is your sense of self or your identity. It is what we know and who we believe ourselves to be.

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A concept first popularized in the modern world by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, from a psychological perspective the ego is the combination of three aspects of the human psyche: our self-image, our self-esteem, and our self-identity. From a scientific standpoint, research seems to show that the ego is related to a system in the brain called the Default Mode Network which is responsible for modulating the flow of information we receive. 

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This filter of self is constantly influencing how we experience reality ─ it is a gatekeeper of consciousness, funneling and reducing the vast amount of information we are constantly exposed to. 

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However, this constant filtering can lead to a cognitive bias toward reality and tends to enforce a dualistic lens (ie. self/other good/bad, love/hate, right/wrong). This can be the basis of a lot of our suffering, not to mention the source of judgment, condemnation, and alienation. When we can only accept some things, we reject the rest. This can lead us to feel separate from the world and isolated from existence. 

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What does ''Ego Death Mean?

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The dissolution of the boundaries that enforce the individual perspective and the subsequent increased experiential interconnectivity with the universe is referred to as ego death. In other words, it is a complete (and usually temporary) loss of subjective self-identity, an experience that can fundamentally transform the psyche. 

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The phenomenon has different names in different traditions: ego loss, ego dissolution, fana (annihilation) for Muslim Sufis, and the ‘kiss of death' for Jewish kabbalists. From a neural perspective, it is hypothesized that an ego death happens when activity in the Default Mode Network is reduced, which acts as a kind of reset for the system. 

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The experience of ego death can give deep personal insights and even a glimpse of enlightenment, but the ego will inevitably seep back into place, albeit to a more expanded state.

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How Can it Happen? 

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There are many ways that this state of being can be induced, including deep meditation or sound journeys, breathwork, near-death experiences, childbirth, and especially psychedelic substances like psilocybin, DMT or LSD. 

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The trick with using psychedelics to achieve this state is that it requires a willingness to surrender and truly let go. Resisting or trying to fight ego dissolution while tripping can prove to be challenging and even terrifying. If you find yourself on the cusp of experiencing ego death, have courage. The intense fear the ego creates is a defense mechanism, an illusion projected to resist losing control. 

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Integration & Final Thoughts

 

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Death is a concept which can be pretty loaded for us, something often associated with fear, grief, mourning, decay and other things we tend to shy away from. So if the term ego death freaks you out, perhaps you can tune into the idea of dissolution ─ the state of self dissolving or melting away as new neural pathways open up that may allow you to participate with reality in a totally new way.

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After this profound experience, there can be a renewed focus on integrating your concept of self into a more cohesive and unified whole. An ego death is not a casual experience and is not something to be taken lightly ─ it can be life-changing and incredibly intense. Yet it is a means through which we can view our thoughts and actions from a more objective (and hopefully more expanded and loving) perspective.

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Note: If you’re suffering from a mental illness and are curious about using psilocybin or any other psychedelic therapy, please consult one of the relevant medical authorities first. Do not self-prescribe, it’s vital to have the right support and guidance when using psychedelics as medicine.