Best-Of Advice

On ego death and spirituality

You’re the first person I’ve heard explain ego death as a constant gradual process (re: is your ego really dead?) rather than some kind of singular, life-changing event an ex-frat boy experienced after sucking on three tabs of acid. Would you care to elaborate?

 

The constant, gradual process of ego death. Yes. You’ve just tapped into the core of what spirituality is to me.

I’m not religious, and I don’t hold any supernatural beliefs, but I am still very spiritual. I believe that spirituality can be a rational and valid practice of philosophical exploration, and that exploration most often comes in the form of some kind of ritualized exercise in killing one’s ego.

The human condition comes with a built-in capacity for mystical states of transcendence, ecstasy, and bliss. Unfortunately, for most people that capacity either goes largely untapped or it ends up warped by religious flimflammery.

Nevertheless, those transcendent states can be discovered, studied, and developed like any other human experience, and if you devote yourself, those states can be sustained for longer and longer periods of time. (And yeah, there are those who say a transcendent state can be sustained permanently, but I find those claims are almost always adjacent to religiosity and charlatanism.)

As a general rule, anyone who claims that ego death is a singular life-changing event is either missing the point or selling something. I don’t mind the ex-frat boy who sucks on three tabs of acid and then gets smacked in the head with a little taste of transcendence. Good for him. That kind of thing can certainly be life-changing, but he is woefully mistaken if he thinks that experiencing ego death means that he’s actually killed his ego. (This is especially true for those whose first and only ecstatic experience is chemically induced.)

I guess part of the problem is in the phrasing itself. “Ego death” and “killing your ego” are useful as conceptual shorthand, but they imply a certain finality. Perhaps “annihilation” is a better term. Then again, perhaps “self” or “mind” might be more useful as terms than “ego.” Regardless, it can all sound like a bunch of eye-roll-worthy mumbo-jumbo to someone who’s never personally experienced it, and even for those who have, it’s still intensely personal and nearly impossible to describe.

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21 thoughts on “On ego death and spirituality

  1. Jingles says:

    I don’t really understand it, Coke. Like you have said, I’ve only experienced it once, chemically induced, and it was the most terrifying experience of my life. The inability to string two thoughts together, to have my mind go silent, it’s a feeling I now dread completely. Maybe because I was alone when it happened, and I didn’t expect it at all. I only knew what it was called because of your blog and I didn’t understand what it meant. That experience left me feeling splintered, and I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve done permanent damage to myself. Even now, getting too high induces panic attacks because I’m afraid of crossing that threshold once more. Am I just a coward who can’t hold her high anymore?

    • Brynn says:

      Hell no. When you’re fucking with psychedelics and you reach a state of ego-death, there are a lot more things going on than just the death of the ego. And I can’t speak for Coke, but I doubt she would wish ‘ego annihilation’ to be forced upon you. Personally, I loved every fucking moment I spent tripping to oblivion, but there’s no easily ascertainable reason for why I loved it and you feared it. There are all those kids who tripped and make it a point of sharing how fearless they were in the face of their world being twisted ass-up, and they chalk it up to some personal quality of open-mindedness and blah blah blah. Fuck that, whatever you took that induced those feelings you TOOK. You added something to your system and it fucked with your brain chemistry so hard your ego died. Nobody has a very complete picture of that process, so don’t start ascribing negative qualities to yourself to explain your reaction. If getting high freaks you out, who cares. That’s not “the path” to ego-death. Letting go of the desire to invalidate yourself based on a bad reaction to DRUGS, however, is a clear step in an ego-less direction. If that freaks you out, not invalidating yourself… well, it freaks a lot of people out. But it’s a fair bit more manageable than having your brain forced to do something you didn’t want it to do.

  2. gauzy says:

    I’m so glad you answered this! It’s something I had been curious about for so long, but was afraid to seek knowledge on outside of your perspective. I asked this after a brief search about the subject on your blog didn’t really yield anything new (definitely useful, just all things I had already read as a Die-Hard Coketalk Fan.) I think exploring this subject for myself is going to be a lot easier now that some parameters have been set for me. It’s one of those things where I’m pretty damn confident in my position and curiosity, but completely ignorant regarding specifics like terminology. Again, thank you! My spirit is grateful.

  3. definitely not batman says:

    For some reason I always envisioned my ego as a huge rottweiler that angrily sniped at everything that wasn’t me. I managed to chase it away once, but then let my guard down and it came back with a vengeance. The corresponding anxiety knocked me on my ass for a while. I had to take benzos for the first time in my life and it pissed me off. Now that I know it won’t stay gone, maybe I should just put it on a leash, or through obedience training. I guess that makes you Cesar Millan in this scenario, then. These last two posts were pretty much exactly what I needed. Thank you.

  4. Anna says:

    Oops i posted my previous comment by mistake.
    I don’t know if I ever had a fully formed ego. I was a troubled teenager suffering from a narcissistic personnality, depression and an eating disorder. At some point I realised that if I wanted to survive into adulthood I had to tear down everything that I thought I was. Bit by bit, I had to destroy and recreate every aspect of my personality.
    Also, as a professional caretaker one learns to subdue an ego. You have to learn to practise empathy without too much compassion.
    All that to say that killing my ego has never been a drug induced experience for me. It’s surprising to me that this seems to be the typical definition. There are a lot of states of altered consciousness and they all give insight into how our brains work, but I can’t seem to pinpoint which one would be the state of ego death.
    So then how to define ego death ? I’d say it’s just a nicer way to get through life. Colours seem brighter, people seem more interesting, depression and self pity seem less terrifying, tragedy washes through you then good things seem easier to do. All in all, the narrow slice of the universe we experience seems like a better place when you don’t reflect to much on the space you occupy in it, and more on the undending expansion of tiny opportunities it offers to most of us.

    • bildungsroman says:

      As someone who definitely wants to experience the state you write about at the end, could you tell me what eventually led you there?

      • Anna says:

        Hi! I don’t know you at all and you are a unique human being, so I can maybe give you a couple of ideas where to start, but I can’t tell you what you’ll find along the way ^^
        Methodical and detached introspection, as well as detailed observation and study of the outside world are good places to start. Use all the opportunities for learning offered to you on a daily basis, and devour the huge library of intellectual resources hat have been compiled by humans living in a ton of different cultures and social situations for centuries and millennia. The facts will help you understand more about yourself as a human that has an ego, and the whole learning thing changes the very nature of your ego.
        I don’t know if I can say much more than that, because I have no idea who you are, why you want to start killing your ego, also because I’m not at all qualified to be anyone’s spiritual guide, nor do I think you need one :you need many, all of whom you should be skeptical.
        I hope you find many fascinating, and beautiful, and deeply touching things/ideas/experiences in your process of ego annihilation πŸ™‚

  5. Jules says:

    I experienced it once, as a teen, while just walking down the street. It was lovely, but I’m not sure I’d want to do that all the time. There’s a lot I want to get done, and that universal view makes it hard to focus on smaller things.

  6. bildungsroman says:

    Is there a beginner’s guide to ego annihilation? If not, could you please write it, Coke? I feel like I need to at least be pointed in the right direction, because I’m not a fan of psychedelics, have tried and failed repeatedly at meditation, and don’t really know where to go from here. I’m eager and willing, but I need a spirit guide to get me started.

      • http://egodeath.com/EntheogenTheoryOfReligion.htm

        My article from late 2006 has stood up well after 9 years, which is good since it’s all over the Web. It can be improved.

        Updates needed:
        tree vs. snake = Possibilism vs. Eternalism (see posts from Dec. 2013 to 2016 at Egodeath Yahoo group, for all these updates). My podcast with Erik Davis (TechGnosis author) summarizes my theory that what’s revealed is block universe spacetime producing ego disempowerment.

        Myth decoding corrections/updates:

        The part about Moses’ snake on a pole as “time pole” should explain as snake on debranched tree instead. Add Asclepius’ snake on a debranched pole.

        The part about Actaeon — he was turned into “an animal” should read “a stag with branching antlers”.

        Add the idea of conditional entry into the altered state banquet; gateway; doorway; guarded by a dragon or by an angel with flaming sword.

        Add {pregnant woman persecuted by dragon}.

        Read the article, and my most recent postings at: groups.yahoo.com/egodeath

        — Michael Hoffman, Feb. 2016

  7. Hanbanjo says:

    If spirituality is a rational process, can it be subject to some forms of the scientific method? Is it a based on a series of beliefs?

  8. Andrew says:

    On Friday 22nd of April, my girlfriend and I took one 170ug acid tab each (first acid experience together.) It started off like any other trip, we waited and waited, then it hit us like a train. I wasn’t scared, but she was, we were lying there in bed, looking at the ceiling, painting happy pictures in each others minds. It felt like we were stereotypical hippies, living in a hippy camp. We were walking around the house enjoying things and talking about spirituality, how socialism is what shaped the world. I was thinking a lot about these thoughts and how I was having them because before the trip I was very naive to how the world goes around. Around 7pm, She had to go home, so I decided to not stay home that night because I would get caught by my parents. I took the London underground to my friend Nicky’s, he’s always been a helpful person, always has his life organised. He would be described as a very wise man if you look deeply into him. I arrived at 8:00pm, he and my friend were there and “coincidentally” they both had the same thoughts as I was when I was at home. We all talked about these thoughts i was having, my friend left to go home at 9pm. Me and Nicky continued talking and he basically let me know that these thoughts are not just random thoughts that make no sense. Around 2am, Nicky went to sleep, I was alone in the dark, with my eyes closed. During this time I felt the darkness of the room and my mind finally started to focus on one thought at a time. I was lead into the belief that life had no true ending, every thought fell into limbo. I realised that the main reason for me being in the mindset was because I was focused on nothing, so I decided to enter the world of nothingness to release my thoughts. In this world I would finish the thoughts I was having, which would lead to more thoughts. I wrote these thoughts down. “Each thought always ends in limbo. No matter what there is nothing to stop you from changing. I get lost in my thoughts because I don’t know what I’m searching for. Our future being is unwritten, but our present being is what makes the difference between a well written future and a poorly written future. But then when deep in nothingness you realise how written your future is and how you trip over your questions with answers that aren’t necessary. There is always a path deeper into limbo, I just need to get in the flow and not get sidetracked. That’s what reality is, being sidetracked. Everything makes everything go by, each force has an opposite force pushing it into reality, our minds are what confusion does not want our minds to be, such as how confusion does not want our minds to be pure and is what keeps us from centering ourselves with our thoughts. Feelings are birthed through experience, make every experience one that will impact your life positively. Sometimes you confuse yourself, but that’s because you believe in a different outcome to what reality gives you/you’re not going with the flow.” After writing all of this down, I’m still very deep in thought, but then a light appears in the realm of nothingness. I begun to think about my girlfriend, the only thing keeping me in reality. Her perfect smile lit up the realm of nothingness. Then I could see into the realm of nothingness clearly. Nothing confused me, nothing worried me, I had no negativity. The realm of nothingness was full of life, I could feel the energy of everyone. I imagined a place where there was no skeletons and everyone was free (No reality) I was at the most purest state of happiness, I cried tears of joy, because I finally found what the meaning of life is. To bask in the beauty of our spirits, in a form which we call, life.

  9. L says:

    Just saying, everyone has an ego. Ego is a synonym for “self”, and was originally coined by, I believe Freud in the breakdown of the human psyche. To kill your ego means to completely flip that ego to something it’s not. Imagine, for a second, you are a coin, and the heads is you current ego, your current self, at least on the surface. to subvert the behavior you express, you must first either flip the coin to make it a tails, or eradicate the coin and replace that bitch with a new one (don’t try that route, though, without a firm core, a strong “id”. May result in a divide of the self from repression and the likes. DID and all) The part of the self that would flip the coin is deeper in the psyche, the super ego, which is more of a subterranean self. Your desires and thoughts exist here, and to tap into the super ego and decide on this deep a level that the coin needs to change face, we’ll that’s either unpleasant or time consuming. If someone doesn’t have a drug-induced epiphany, they usually find themselves in a state of feeling broken, lost, mentally fractured, emotionally gone, maybe even feeling a little bit of insanity growing in them, before they come to the point where they may decided to kill their previous ego. My point is, instead of being afraid of getting too high and feeling that absence of self, maybe embrace it. Think about this and that which you know you yourself need to fix, and you’ll eventually move past it. You’ll redefine who you are. After all its easier to rebuild from nothung than to rennovate on something. I apologize if I got off topic or if I have failed to be of any use. Just, expressing my thoughts on what I’ve read.

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