Psychedelic Shadow: Ego Inflation
Introducing the Psychedelic Shadow series where I will explore the dark side of psychedelics and offer insights on what to be aware of, what to avoid, and how to stay grounded, humble, kind, and compassionate in psychedelic exploration and integration.
Perhaps the most prevalent psychedelic shadow is "ego inflation". What do I mean by this? This is often how this experience unfolds... We come to psychedelics in search of knowledge, wisdom, perspective, and healing. Many of us arrive a bit anxious, curious, mostly open, and humble. Somewhere along our journey of psychedelic exploration, our ego dissolves and we experience ourselves as universal consciousness; also referred to as "God", "The Great Spirit", etc depending on the philosophical stance of the participant.
Experiencing ourselves as universal consciousness is indeed very common in psychedelic explorations, so much so that an entire class of psychedelic substances are categories as "entheogens" which translates to "God within".
The experience of "God within" is indeed a truly profound, perspective-shifting, and potentially life-altering event although confronting and even terrifying at times. As we experience "ego death" or dissolution, we are awakened to our innate divine essence and the interconnectedness of all life forms across the universe.
When integrated properly, this experience can have far-reaching positive consequences. As we experience ourselves as "God", we are awakened to the divine essence in all beings and through this awareness, we are empowered and inspired to break down and reject frameworks, philosophies, and institutions that promote hierarchical structures like social class, racial superiority, misogyny, and xenophobia. We acknowledge our innate connectedness and recognize that there is no separation in our suffering or joy so we commit ourselves to alleviate suffering and share beauty, joy, kindness, and resources wherever and however we can.
As we become aware of the divinity threaded in all life forms, we are inevitably awakened to our own divinity with deep reverence and humility recognizing that our body temple, our mind, and our heart are sacred altars of worship to be tended to with great care and intention. We recognize that at each given moment we are indeed interacting with "God" within and without. As the Sufis so eloquently have put this wisdom to practice; treat each living being as if you are interacting with "God" himself at all times. The knowledge of our divinity, therefore, becomes a compass for "kind thoughts, kind words, and kind deeds" as articulated by the ancient Zoroastrians.
While properly integrated entheogenic experiences can be life-altering with many deep spiritual and practical gifts for the betterment of the self and the community, experiencing oneself as "God-consciousness" can also have the polar opposite effect without a proper integrative container or support system. In this context, as the individual experiences himself as "God", he is filled with a sense of superiority that can manifest as both superiority over others (often those without a spiritual practice or those who do not engage with entheogens) and/or superiority of knowledge and perspective. While he might believe that his experience sets him apart as more conscious or advanced than others, in reality, he is indeed experiencing ego inflation.
Although in essence, we are all one and the same, our capacities, competencies, and authority differ based on our age, education, academic expertise, and vocational experience. A grounded and integrated psychedelic practitioner recognizes that our shared divine essence is not a substitute for our subjective knowledge, wisdom, and experience. We are invited to appreciate, respect, and celebrate the many manifestations of divine wisdom and consciousness recognizing that there are no real substitutes for experience, education, and expertise. An integrated practitioner is, therefore, a humble being.
Humility is a fundamental teaching of many mystical philosophies of the world and offers a healthy and reliable gauge for the spiritual health and depth of a practitioner.
As access and awareness of entheogens grow in inherently individualistic western societies, the dangers of ego inflation through poorly integrated entheogenic experiences is perhaps the most expressed and common shadow of psychedelic use. Prioritizing proper integration with a skilled and trained practitioner or in the presence of a community, and embodying humility as a daily practice are the guard rails guaranteed to ensure that psychedelic practitioners are a force for good and positive impact in their respective communities and societies. Stay humble my friends!