Confession: I never experienced death in my psychedelic trips. That is to say, I never felt like I was dying as so many other people describe in their journeys. Certainly countless of my experiences have been filled with tumultuous discomfort, fear, pain and suffering, the latter mostly brought on myself, now I know. But dying, the literal feeling that you are transitioning and passing away never to return — can’t say I know what this is like. Hearing psychedelic death stories from my clients and psychonaut friends have admittedly given me some “death envy”. I view them as brave warriors that have taken the plunge into the oblivion — denoting that perhaps I am simply not as brave to go through that myself. I also questioned my ability to offer support, empathy and understanding without having gone through a similar experience myself. But what is behind this “Ego death” that is synonymous with psychedelic journeying, perhaps even it’s hallmark moment? A simple definition is when your self-perceived and limited identity is obliterated into the wind, all sense of connection to your body is lost and you are left “floating” in your consciousness without hinge, free to explore new and unknown areas of your inner world. This expanded, different perspective invites the explorer to get to know their psyche inside and out, their true Self. The caveat: it is the whole true Self, and nothing but.
More often than not, initially this whole truth can be harsh, even devastating. For admitting certain truths about who we are can induce feelings of shame, guilt and remorse. These feelings can be so deep, so visceral, they can literally make you feel like you would rather die than face these truths and accept them as a reality. Typically these painful, toxic feelings are associated with past experiences, conditioning and reinforcing of familial, cultural and ancestral beliefs, values and stigmas — some of these we have experienced first hand, while some were passed down to us in our codes of lineage. Carl Jung described this as the collective consciousness we all share de facto as sentient beings. It can be difficult, to say the least, to completely dissociate ourselves from such deeply-ingrained belief systems. In fact, many of us never do. But it is absolutely possible to learn how to accept these truths for what they are and to manage these intense feelings without wanting to die. I will take this a step further and suggest that it is the unconscious that is what makes us want to experience death, perhaps as a form of self mutilation or punishment — also an infliction of that core belief system. Basically, we have been taught that if we are that and not this, then we should be ashamed of ourselves and we do not deserve to live. Ouch.
As a result, too many people on the face of this Earth are living lives that are incongruent with the truth of who they are. They have created lives that are based on the values of their family, community, nationality and/or religion. By most measures, they are successful and are doing everything “right” in life. But they are living their lives according to someone else’s standard. The result is individuals that arrive to their mid-late 30’s to realize they are unhappy. They work at jobs that while they pay the bills and perhaps allow them to live very comfortably, are unfulfilling. They rely on various self-medicating activities such as excessive drinking, shopping, watching TV, gambling, porn, over-eating or nursing a caffeine dependence. They might be addicted to substances like alcohol and nicotine, stimulants like Adderall, or other drugs. They are living unhealthy lifestyles and are stressed, anxious and depressed. The occasional burst of anger and sense of sadness or self-loathing can ruin their day (or week or months). They might seek to relieve these symptoms through pharmaceutical meds like anti-depressants, anti-anxiety pills or painkillers. They are suffering but don’t necessarily know why; again, on the surface they seem to be just fine and without major life incidents to blame. But they want more — peace, joy and the freedom to be themselves, without the crutches. They want a breakthrough, a fresh start to build a new life that is true to who they really are.
I’ve had a few psychedelic journeys that have completely wiped me out. By this I mean that once the felt effects of the substance wore off and I returned to an ordinary state of consciousness, my sense of perceived Self — my Ego — was so minimized to non-existent, that it took a while to carefully shape a new identity. In one instance, this took 6 months; and then at least another year to smooth refine the rough edges. Why? Because the revealed truth was so brutal that I wanted to make certain no stone that was related to this truth was left unturned, and no remains would return to haunt me in the future. I dug through the massive new cavity in my psyche, where my pompous Ego was once erected, to clear out any shred of the decay that was stuck to my soul like black tar. Then came a reconstructive phase, which I attended to diligently and with the same mindfulness, careful not to replicate any old patterns, building slowly to set a solid foundation which I can wholeheartedly declare as truly my own. This process of psychedelic integration was one of the most liberating experiences of my life, and though a peak of whuthering, withering heights of this transformative undertaking has been conquered, the journey is far from completion.
So while I’ve never experienced the Ego’s death in the moment, I’ve died again and again every time psychedelics have stripped me to the core and shown me all the ways I have been cheating my Self. All the ways I have been obscure, incongruent and inauthentic. All the times I have been telling my Self a million lies to fill the massive gap between who I’ve been taught to be tho who I really am. I’ve been neck deep in the festering swamp of shame, guilt and embarrassment realizing the depth of these lies, and how deceitful I must have seemed to others I care about. But this was a necessary part of my healing, a symbolic purification by shedding the weight that mudded me down to become the light that I am and shine it without reservation or fear. And no, I no longer think I need to die through psychedelics to redeem myself. If anything I am at a stage where I am eager to continuously experience the light and love of the Source to embody it with every cell of my being, and in that way offer support, encouragement and inspiration to those around me. To be a pure reflection of all that is holy in the world as a reminder of the wholly truth of the high Self — the whole truth of who we are.