We have already established that the perception of self (our awareness of the world and how we explain our self to ourselves) is actually the congress of accidental overlaps in the individual and independent agendas of different offices of the pre-frontal cortex (which is just a fancy way of denoting a specific part of the brain that is abnormally large relative to ‘normal’ brains of ‘normal’ animals). This ‘awareness’ (the story of who we are that we tell ourselves) is Ego.
Ego: noun \ˈē-(ˌ)gō alsoˈe-\ plural egos
1. : the self especially as contrasted with another self or the world
2. : In psychoanalysis, the division of the psyche that is conscious, most immediately controls thought and behavior, and is most in touch with external reality.
3. : An exaggerated sense of self-importance; conceit.
4. : Appropriate pride in oneself; self-esteem.
The ego is your sense of self, or in the new model, the story of you that you tell yourself,and so can be seen as perspective or point of view (though that’s a bit simplistic). Ego is as much your view of yourself and the things you value as it is the on going separation of “I” or “Me” from everything around you. As such, a certain amount of Ego is essential for a person (any person) to function, even at a most basic level.
If the Ego, or self, is inseparable, what do we mean by “Ego Death”?
Well, it seems pretty clear we are not talking about the clinical definition of Ego, the literal self-awareness of a person, but instead the self-identity of the person, the way that person defines themselves and thus the world around them. “Ego Death”, then, becomes the process by which we shed the illusory boundary between the self and the world around us and change our point of view so as to restrain judgment through the biases of our own perspectives and experiences by seeing all interactions (even personal attachments) as superficial and transitory (a fleeting moment soon forgotten).
So… How does it work?
Well, that gets a bit tricky. You see… I can’t endorse the use of dangerous chemical substances, especially when I don’t know anything about you. To do so would be Criminally Negligent as I know absolutely nothing about you (height, weight,metabolism), any allergies or preexisting conditions, or even if you have the sense to listen to admonitions NEVER to do this alone. It’s just not smart.
However, the traditional methods usually (but not always) included the use of entheogens, which were RESTRICTED to the sole and exclusive use of the religious rite leader. By that I mean, in most cultures, the use of sacred plants (entheogens) was strictly reserved for use only by specific individuals. The use by others was a sacrilege and would bring immediate and swift retaliation upon the tribe or community from outside supernatural agencies. In the few tribes where this was not the case (yes, they are the exception not the rule), we see it used in rites of passage or coming of age rituals where the individual member of the community might experience the effects once or twice in lifetime.
Are the use of Entheogens the only way to achieve Ego Death?
No. The use of Entheogens is a radical short cut but by no means the only path. Any means of entering an altered state of consciousness, from prayer and meditation to sensory deprivation and the more dangerous physical denial rituals will work.And, I dare say, are probably healthier and more reliable in the long run. In fact, quite a few people who have the experience of both actually endorse NOT using entheogens as the "journey" is different and there is a greater sense of control (not necessarily yours) and trust in the process.
However, dismissing the subject of entheogens entirely is also irresponsible as the two are intrinsically tied together with centuries of traditional belief. Well, in those cultures that bothered to work with trance states which was by no means universal… despite what some PhD authors would like you to believe. The tribes of the American South West (as one example among several) did not, and do not use trance state journeys (or ego death scenarios) in their traditional cultural beliefs.
It is, however,interesting to note, that the idea of Ego Death does not immediately derive from the traditional shamanic cultures. One would think, after reading all the ethnographies with interviews and dealing with the subject of “shaman” and“shaman trance states”, that the idea of killing the ‘self identity’ part of the ego would be mentioned, especially as the Spiritual or Ecstatic Trance state is clearly defined as “letting the ego dissolve” and “drifting free of the self”.
No, the idea of Ego Death is intrinsic to Eastern Cultures and comes to us from Transcendental Meditation, instead. That’s somewhat confusing as the Eastern Traditions are a blend of Heavy (self denial) philosophy, and evolved, post-neolithic revolution animism with only the rudiments of recognizable shamanic practices in ‘folk ways’, often categorized as superstitions.
This in no way invalidates the practice. As I said, the Ecstatic Trance (notably attributed to the theta state of brain activity or between 3 – 7 hz) clearly demonstrates this process as a part of the experience, and inseparable from it. Taking that experience away, making it a part of your everyday perceptions is where the idea of Ego Death really takes off.
I would just like to add a parting shot, if I may… If the world and all things in it are transient and temporary, why care? If you don’t care, are you just biding your time for the next life and missing this one? It seems to me, we should explore this tool of self control and perspective but not embrace it without some measure of perspective in its own measure. But, that’s just my opinion.