Ego-death and the science of transformation
What’s curious though is that whether a Bach, Kepler, Einstein, Planck, the saints and mystics from Augustine to Rumi, Plato or Confucius, none of them needed psychedelics to transcend and develop a higher self, and yet there seems to be a campaign that ignores that reality and presents a new quick shortcut to transcendence.
It’s all very reminiscent of Huxley final novel, The Island. Have you read it?
I know psychedelics can have benefits, but I really have to wonder when I hear a lot of the modern psychedelic prophets tout the benefits without much reference to the darker historical side of the question, and its implications today.
For instance, how aware are we of the ongoing MK-Ultra programs, the newer ones? The “official story” is that MK-Ultra was shut down and that’s the end of the story. But if we look at many of the discussions around psychedelics and their ability to help repattern the mind, it looks like the MK-Ultra program has simply been mainstreamed. Notably, one of MK-Ultra’s greatest goals was the creation of false memories. These could be used to program assassins or to simply repattern someone’s sense of identity ie to “forget” certain things and “remember others.”
Psychedelics played no small part in this. It’s know that psychedelics allow one to take a distance from their memories and past, and become open to new ways of thinking in a very drastic manner. Naturally, this can be used for good or for bad, much like hypnosis. But if it has such power, is there any doubt the first on the case are the intel agencies themselves?
There is a great book by journalist Tom O’Neil, “Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA and the Secret History of the Sixties.” Among many quotes and new research, he cited pages from journals by clinicians handling “the Family” at the HAFMC.
This quote stands out:
“One of these articles hoped to find out ‘whether a dramatic drug-induced experience’ would have a ‘lasting impact on the individual’s personality.’ Another observed that feelings of ‘frustrated anger’ led people to want to try LSD: ‘The soil from which the ‘flower children’ arise,’ the author wrote, ‘is filled more with anger and aggression, thorns and thistles, rather than passion and petunias.’ Under ‘emotional pressure,’ acid could induce ‘images and sensations of anger or hate magnified into nightmarish proportions.
David Smith had studied these same phenomena, formulating an idea that he called ‘the psychedelic syndrome,’ first articulated in 1967 or early’68.
The gist was that acid, when taken by groups of like-minded people, led to a ‘chronic LSD state’ that reinforced ‘the interpretation of psychedelic reality.’ The more often the same group of “friends” dropped acid, the more they encouraged one another to adopt the worldview they’d discovered together on LSD, thus producing ‘dramatic psychological changes. Usually the psychedelic syndrome was harmless, but regular LSD use could cause ‘the emergence of a dramatic orientation to mysticism.’“
This is such an important and nuanced conversation that is required in our current moment. The strengthening of the ego complex (rather than attempts at dissolution) truly does expand our sense of self, bringing in greater flexibility, relatedness, depth. It serves as the fundamental cornerstone for the development of a meaningful path of individuation. Further, death of the ego, the loss of "I", is what leads to psychosis.
I spoke about this topic as well in my post: https://alyssapolizzi.substack.com/p/finding-solid-earth
Thanks for the great article!
Since you mention The Beatles, it's interesting to note what John Lennon reported to Rolling Stone in 1970: "I got the message on acid that I should kill my ego, and I did, y'know. I was nothing, I was shit." It took him years to recover and he seems to have developed symptoms of depersonalisation-derealisation based on descriptions in The Beatles biography by Hunter Davies. Funnily enough, it was a later pair of LSD trips in 1968 that reconvinced him of the reality of the ego.
Someone else worth noting is George Harrison, who was also a heavy LSD user in 1966/7. You can see George's views on the ego in his later song 'I, Me, Mine':
"Having LSD was like someone catapulting me out into space. The LSD experience was the biggest experience that I’d had up until that time… Suddenly I looked around and everything I could see was relative to my ego, like ‘that’s my piece of paper’ and ‘that’s my flannel’ or ‘give it to me’ or ‘I am’. It drove me crackers, I hated everything about my ego, it was a flash of everything false and impermanent, which I disliked"
I have enjoying an embodiment practice that allows for the direct experience of the non dual nature of being. I was attracted to it because it does not ask or want you to go through an ego death. In fact, the more one can directly experience being embodied, the more one can experience being the fabric of consciousness. Judith Blackstone, PhD developed the Realization Process. Her writing is simple and direct. It used to be hard for me to get out of my head and go directly to experience. Now I get to live in the experience of existence while people discuss it.
Thanks for an excellent post. It seems you are putting your finger on a habit of binary thinking seen too often in the West. Would you agree that this form of binary thinking is the sign of an immature culture?
Our over-emphasis on our own individuality, discreteness and separation has generated a whole heap of problems for us, psychologically, spiritually and emotionally. We then swing to the other extreme - no individuality, no boundaries of self etc. The old saying has it that the opposite of one bad idea is usually another bad idea. It seems we just haven't got the traditional wisdom in place to deal with this maturely.
I'm a pre-publication hardback buyer, appreciating your good mind and jealous of you being in a such a radical program, although I come from the days when there were no programs and thanks to psychedelics and ecstasy I still got my life turned around. You enter a realm that has its way! Check me out to see if you like what I'm saying about turning the world around. Love to be thinking with you. I've got a dossier of what we-the-people can do to get us operating from a higher state of consciousness and see if that's interesting to you..
I read your essays for the captions alone. Hilarious.
My take on the ego, is that it emerges, naturally, as part of the process of our evolution into human form. It's evolution, the birth of our character, our story, our identity and whole way of Being, is invariably founded in a moment of 'trauma,' which can range from the apparently innocuous, to the more malign. Whatever the case, it is a point of differentiation when we begin to see ourselves as separate entities - and our identity is built on a decision we make at that point about ourselves, or about life.
Ostensibly, this process is one of 'heartbreak,' where we encounter an experience of hurt or pain, which we would prefer not to experience again. Indeed, the formation of our identity is predicated on this. Invariably it is founded on a belief about ourselves, or of life, or both, which we then spend our lives trying to disprove. A thankless task, and one we would rather not be faced with.
For many of us, our desire to be 'free of ego,' is an extension of this pursuit - a desire to steer clear of our earthly concerns, rather to return to a sense of deep connection and alignment, without having to trouble ourselves with the challenges we face in this domain, as Human Beings.
It explains the whole phenomena of spiritual bypassing, and the preponderance of spiritual gurus who provide access to spiritual enlightenment, while falling prey to their own (unresolved) human shadows. People would rather make contact with the divine, and identify with this, than the flawed character and story they'd prefer not to go to the roots of.
The path, as I see it, is along the lines of what you propose. That our invitation is to shift our relationship with the ego, and our understanding of it. Not get rid of it, per se, but to be less identified with it - but also accepting of how we cannot be human, nor operate in this earthly domain, WITHOUT it.
TO accept that we are BOTH our ego, and not our ego - that the I we observe ourselves from comes from a deeper realm. Transcendent experiences can give us direct access to the self beyond the I, and to the unified field of conscioussness we are all part of. But it is in the earthly domain that the work needs to take place, and our ego that will invariably provide the map for aspects of ourselves which require observation, clearing, and integrating.
Thank you for this! I'm not smart enough or experienced enough to steel-man your article so please be patient and generous with accommodating my ignorance. I've done about 2000 hours of meditation (Vipassana; S. N. Goenka) now and I've recently had some experiences that, from my perception of your writing, I can't fit into your propositions:
I (and I think most people) are holding onto the illusion that they (I) am immortal, and am too afraid to connect to the reality that I am going to die. If someone sold me an experience where I connect to, realise and accept that I am not permanent, not immortal, and that I will die (which I have experienced through meditation) then my experience of that was one of complete infinite terror... and if they had sold that to me as _just_ an "ego-reframe" rather than the reality of utterly brutal "ego-death" I would want my money back! :)
Perhaps there are ways to have this realisation that are softer, or more gradual but then...
> so that life becomes a dance, a joy, an adventure.
...if death also becomes a dance, a joy, an adventure, then I agree with your propositions. But for most people death is not that, when it comes, if they remain conscious, they will quite literally s**t themselves with fear assuming they haven't been nil by mouth for the last day or more.
> But you can’t dissolve or die, until you actually die.
I agree that your body can't die until, er, you actually die. But from my experience I believe you can prematurely kill your illusory sense of immortal self; that illusory sense of immortal self can "die" before your body dies. And that "die" doesn't even need air quotes because it feels so extreme and so pronounced that it's nothing other than the emotional content of death experienced before the bodily reality of death.
Just some thoughts. Would be happy to discuss in more detail. Thank you for your articles.
Thanks for a very interesting article. Coincidentally, I was chatting to my wife about this yesterday: she was saying "The problem with Eastern philosophies is that they say you need to kill your ego" *or rather, something in Turkish to that extent)and I was like "No, that's a Western interpretation of Eastern philosophies." But the important thing was the point she made about Sufism: there is a state of ego-dissolution (fenafillah in Turkish, fana fi-Allah in Arabic), which you might experience either as complete nothingness (hiçlik makamı in Turkish) or conversely as complete identification with God (enel Hakk / anal Haq). However - and this is what so many people miss - that is not the final goal; it's a half-way point, and it's very dangerous to get stuck there (as Mansoor Hallaj found out). From there, you have to go back to the self (nefs / nafs), but it's a transformed self. Now that is very similar to what you mention about combining the Eastern enlightenment and Western resurrection narratives, but in a therapeutic rather than a pathological way. Incidentally, you also see it in Zen; e.g., the end of the Ten Bulls poem.
Physics deals with the relationship between observed things. People deal with relationships between their spirits and the world. The equations of physics are pretty damn good. There will never be equations for spirits.
Having had a few mystical experiences under the influence of psychedelics and also experienced many a spiritual narcissist (sigh), I appreciate this new reframe of the role of the ego in expanding our consciousness, our awareness of self, and our relation(s) in this world. I cannot wait to dive into your book. Thank you for the thought provoking article!
Thanks. I got the Kindle and audible companion for under nine bucks.
Take a look here for some excerpts on ego from Meher Baba's works.
I sometimes wonder how we can dissolve ego in the west, knowing that individualism isn't the answer.
Thank you! There are so many better than excellent points here, & on the personal level, your ideas sparked an internal connection-fest.
There had been an irritant in my thinking patterns, & you have identified it! For decades it has bothered me to speak of "ego death" as THE metaphor for the process of breaking down & reconstituting the self, even tho I understand death as a life process, & havnt feared it for decades.
What, indeed, "died?" For that matter, how much of an individual incorporated consciousness is actually "alive," as we common conceive of "alive?" On a cellular level... that construction has little value.
So as you rightly pointed out, who is this "I" doing the reporting of other states of consciousness? I must admit to laughing out loud when you delineated the egregious "missing piece" of scientific data--that pesky speaking "I" science cannot define.
I look forward to reading more of your work. Youve already influenced mine.
I think the western like the eastern concepts of EGO aren't fully understandable without the knowledge, that the artificially invented EGO ISOLATION is an ageold divide and conquer strategy of invading inner eurasian steppherders to maintain governance over conquested population majorities. That means, that the patriarchally civilized EGO we know of is much more isolated due to it's psychic imprisonment methodology than it's use in sovereign tribal communities, where the Individual EGO is much more harmoniously integrated in the overall sense of community. The Hindu and Buddhist denying of the EGO is based on exactly that deep historical insight, that this kind of EGO is invented culturally and thus is not part of the divine human nature. Creative Greetings from Freigeist von Lebenskunst