Ego death is a state of the mind which has been regarded as an influential concept in the realm of spirituality. In addition to being part of ongoing psychological research and spiritual/religious teachings, ego death symptoms are a recurring theme in mythology and contemporary western thinking. To understand the concept, it is crucial to know more about ego and its consequent interconnection with ego death.
Ego as we understand it today was first explored by Sigmund Freud in his structural model of the psyche. It is that part of the human mind which fluctuates between the instinctive desires of the “id” and the critical, moral role of “super-ego”. In Freud’s writing, he described ego as the conscious part of the mind in which the words I, me, or mine figured prominently while making decisions. When we say, “I am going to the park”, or “I like this color”, that is our ego.
In modern times, psychologists have explored the concept of ego further to describe it as a culmination of three parts within the human psyche. These include the image a person holds of themselves (self-image), the various beliefs, affiliations, and ideologies a person possesses (self-identity), and the amount of value people place on themselves (self-esteem). This understanding impacts our past and present thoughts by helping us assess reality. Ego thereby functions as a guardian of our consciousness by allowing us to be aware of only those thoughts that respect our self-image.
By this reasoning, ego acts as a sieve which prevents damaging thoughts and sensors from entering our mind since they could harm our self-image, self-esteem, or self-identity. Psychologists say that it is important for some thoughts to be eliminated because they are irrelevant or useless. However, ego might give rise to cognitive bias or a dualistic lens through which we understand life. A dualistic lens corresponds to self-constructed reality which divides our understanding of all aspects of life into good or bad, positive or negative.
Due to duality or cognitive bias, ego can erect boundaries which make us feel isolated from nature, people around us, and even ourselves. This is the reason why many people seek dissolution of the ego which enables the breakdown of boundaries created by ego. In this state, a person feels more interconnected with the universe and all its inhabitants while temporarily forgetting oneself. A person no longer feels isolated and can discern things from an objective perspective.
This state of ego dissolution is also known as ‘ego death’. Definitions of ego death have been influenced by past experiences, culture, religious background, context, education, age, and various other socio-economic factors. David Nichols, cofounder of the Heffter Institute, says ego death is when the “I” inside cannot talk any more but is a part of “all that is”. Parapsychologist Stanley Krippner describes the nature of ego death as a suspension of “one’s ordinary reflective awareness”.
In scientific terms, ego death is a consequence of reduced activity in the Default Mode Network (DMN) region of the brain which separates the “self” from the “other”. This temporary suspension of activity facilitates rewiring of thought processes otherwise restricted by ego. Ego death can lead to more empathy and honesty by showing us an unbiased reality. It also allows us to feel connected with other people which could lead to personality shifts and even awakening in spiritual terms.
How Is Ego Death Induced
Humans have experienced signs of ego death in different forms throughout centuries. Sufi Muslims pursued religious devotion by entering a state of consciousness called Fana. Buddhist monks sought spiritual enlightenment in a similar manner.
This state can be attained through different methods like childbirth, meditation, near-death experiences, and by using psychedelic drugs like LSD, DMT, or psilocybin. Of all these methods, psychedelics are the quickest way to induce symptoms of ego death. Use of psychedelics is associated with serious health risks and should be used under supervision and with caution.
Psychedelics can be alarming if a person is afraid to let go of their ego. It could also be frightening if people are not prepared to accept the consequences of ego dissolution or if they want to fight the process. Any attempt to fight ego dissolution may cause an individual to think they are dying or losing control of their mind and body. It is recommended that when a person is experiencing signs of ego death, they should surrender themselves to the experience and be immersed in unity and connection. It can improve overall well-being and outlook towards life.
Symptoms and Stages of Ego Death
The symptoms of ego death include loss of subjectivity, feeling of excitement or elation, more connection with one’s surroundings, and greater control over mind and emotions. There are seven stages in ego death, and these are explained below.
1. Spiritual Awakening: The first step takes place upon waking up. Instead of delving into our daily routines and desires, we ask ourselves- Who am I? What is my purpose here?
This awakening happens when we realize the presence of a void inside that cannot be filled. It is often accompanied by the feeling of being lost or in a depressed state.
2. A Dark Night: This is when we are at our lowest. It is also the deepest part of our spiritual awakening. We are feeling dismal and know that something meaningful needs to happen to us even though we do not know what it is. This phase is when we isolate ourselves from others.
3. Exploration: Despair leads us to look for things that might make life more meaningful and fill the void within us. We indulge in activities involving art, astrology, music, energy healing, and other practices which connect the mind, body, and the soul. We reach out and find methods beyond spiritual ones to comprehend what we are feeling.
4. A View of Enlightenment: Upon completion of the third phase, we experience our first glimpse of enlightenment which is called “satori”. We come across our true nature during this exploration and may become afraid upon such an encounter. Our fear might prohibit us from exploring this phase further or finding out more about ourselves.
5. Growth of the Soul: During this phase, our souls grow over a long period of time. This phase can take months or even years to accomplish. When our souls begin to mature, we start comprehending which spiritual practices function well for us and which ones do not. We may even develop our personal spiritual beliefs that help us cognitively and emotionally. As our souls grow, we adopt those practices which improve our focus, discipline, patience, and ability to think objectively.
6. Surrendering of The Self: In the sixth phase, we slowly surrender ourselves. Upon becoming familiar with our ego and soul, we identify and surrender all which are created by our ego and thus not part of our true nature. This is achieved by surrendering practices and fears that hold or limit us and do not allow our souls to grow.
7. Awareness and End: When we reach the last phase, we have explored and grown to a version of ourselves that is not hindered by our ego. We look back on where we started and realize that our ego was showing us illusions. Armed with our true selves, we know that ego must not define who we are and it should exist as a tool for whenever we need it. We ultimately realize that we are greater than our ego.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Ego Death
While ego death can be a mesmerizing experience, it can be burdensome for many. Here are some benefits and risks associated with symptoms of ego death:
1. People could feel extremely positive about themselves and their surroundings.
2. Ego death helps people to see who they truly are. It helps them see what they do not appreciate about themselves and think rationally about how they can become a better version of themselves.
3. People experience emotions which they usually do not due to their ego. With dissolution of the ego, people get in touch with their true selves.
4. One’s view of the world changes with ego death. Insecurities, fears, and desires do not cloud a person’s judgement or decisions.
5. People go through feelings they did not encounter since childhood. Ego death purifies the mind and frees it from preconceived notions or judgement.
1. People can see who they truly are and are unable to find protection through their ego. This feeling can make some uncomfortable and reluctant.
2. People experience emotions and feelings they have not felt in a long time or have been hiding from themselves.
3. No insecurities or hidden desires are left upon attaining ego death. This might be frightening to some people.
4. Symptoms of ego death include changes within a person’s thought patterns that could make them feel disappointed in who they were in the past.
5. It can trigger health risks especially if using psychedelics to induce ego death. Common side effects of using psychedelics include paranoia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and increased anxiety. Some of these side effects can stay long after the experience is over.