Citation: Whitman. "Achieving Ego-Death: An Experience with Meditation (exp107662)". Erowid.org. Jan 11, 2016. erowid.org/exp/107662
I am writing this report approximately 24 hours after an intense experience that occurred during meditation on the morning of January 1st, 2016. I believe this report will be of particular interest to those interested in achieving intensely altered states of consciousness without the use of drugs, though I fully recognize the utility of mind-altering substances for providing that “push” often needed to achieve mystical states. I will first provide some brief context regarding my experience with meditation and achieving altered states of consciousness.
I first tried meditation on March 3rd, 2014. I was a Masters student in biology at the time, and was heavily indoctrinated into a mechanistic scientific paradigm. At the same time, my curiosity led me to learn about “fringe” topics in science, particularly near-death and psychedelic experiences. Once I began to understand better the political and social underpinnings driving public perception and decision making, I realized “truth” was far more subjective than objective, and so I felt more comfortable abandoning and rebuilding my own perception of reality. Though I was deeply interested in exploring altered states of consciousness, I remained very apprehensive about the use of psychedelics. My experience with “drugs” was sporadic and limited to cannabis use, which sometimes led to anxiety and fear. I was deeply uncomfortable with the altered perception that entails the “high,” namely altered perception of time, general confusion, spontaneous and sometimes repetitive and intense thoughts or ideas, and that “weird” cartoonish, dream-like feeling that is hard to put into words. Though I find these states much more positive and captivating now, at the time, meditation seemed to be the most appropriate route for exploring my own consciousness.
In the ensuing year, I had some success with my practice of meditation and mindfulness, though I struggled to meditate regularly. Nearly one year ago to this day, however, I took a university course that essentially gave me the push to start a daily meditation practice. Over the past year I have advanced my understanding of meditation, consciousness, the philosophy of Taoism, Buddhism, Zen, and non-mechanistic science. I estimate I have meditated formally some 300 times. I have had mixed success with binaural beats, yoga nidra, group meditation, and sensory deprivation.
I estimate I have meditated formally some 300 times. I have had mixed success with binaural beats, yoga nidra, group meditation, and sensory deprivation.
I recorded my thoughts and experiences from most meditation sessions. I am deeply entrenched in what has now become a spiritual practice. I must emphasize, however, that meditation has been mostly about dissolving or letting go of thoughts and notions. I haven’t “gained” so much as “let go” everyday. This is where I was in my journey when I had the intense experience I am reporting on. Note I am consulting my journal, in which I recorded my experience immediately after, and have expanded and adapted on these initial thoughts.
I woke up around 7:30 am on Jan 1st, 2016, and found myself feeling “heavy” and not particularly motivated to engage with my practice. I willed myself, however, to enter my office and play some meditation music, just soft background noise to create a calm atmosphere. I began with yoga, which I find gets me more “in tune” with my body. Lately I had realized my meditations were emphasizing the “mind” portion of whatever “I” am, and so I took the time to really explore my body and bring my awareness to it. I was trying more advanced yoga postures, including balancing on my hands in various ways. This seemed to bring more tension and subsequent release in my body.
After maybe 10 minutes I sat down for my meditation. Typically, I would set a timer but lately I have simply allowed myself to sit as long as I felt was needed. As I got comfortable on my meditation cushion, hands resting on my knee caps, legs cross legged, eyes open, gaze softened, I noted a subtle sensation around the crown chakra region of my head. I am not particularly experienced with chakras, nor am I quite sure how to interpret the concept, but I did note the sensation without thinking too much about it. I do not usually have an intention or plan for when I sit, I simply allow myself to relax and observe whatever is coming to mind or happening in the present moment. I began on a contemplative note, going over the mind-body connection I had visited in yoga. Reviewing the relationship between mind and body I settled on the notion that mind and body were categories, terms for convenience that did not accurately reflect reality. Mind and body were the same thing, and as I contemplated this notion, I allowed my awareness to filter throughout my body. Where I am oftentimes stuck “in my head” I was much more grounded in the present moment, feeling the floor beneath my feet, blood coursing through my limbs, palms on my knees. At this point I closed my eyes, which is what I normally do during meditation.
Within 5 minutes I settled into an expansive sensation I have experience many times before, where sounds and objects appear to be simultaneously close and far away. I used to get this sensation when I was overtired as a kid, noting how the walls of my room were bizarrely “far away,” miles in the distance, despite my knowing they were mere feet away. My feet in particular felt “far below” me, like I was a very tall statue. Though time doesn’t seem to alter in this state, the sensation of space and spatial awareness is completely skewed relative to normal perception. The sensation has an ineffable quality to it, but it is distinct and fairly routine in my practice. Simply noting the sensation, I rested in it and allowed myself to further relax. I had learned a long time ago to not strive or make a “big” deal out of the sensation, as this always seemed to inhibit it. It seems to come from a state of total letting go. Practitioners will appreciate how difficult it can be to sincerely let go completely.
Here is where the experience started to get much more unfamiliar and intense. The sensation of space continued to inflate. My feet were impossibly far away. The following is almost verbatim from my notebook. Space and more space, inflating, expanding all my cells. It kept going.
Space and more space, inflating, expanding all my cells. It kept going.
While I did not experience any visuals whatsoever with this experience, physically I felt like my body was splitting, like I was a collection of smaller units all moving together, like a flock of birds. It kept getting more intense.
I started to feel very apprehensive. My heart was beating much faster. My blood pressure was clearly rising. My brows were twitching unforgivably, I had to take a moment to try and calm them. I was able to move my body, but physically it felt as if I were dissolving. I felt disoriented, as if I might fall back suddenly. I should note here, I have only “gotten to this point” on a couple occasions. My first time using binaural beats, where at this point I felt so disoriented I had to stop; and one other time while leading a group meditation, but the sensation passed without much ordeal. I was therefore very determined and curious to see “how far” I could go now that I was at the boundary of where I had explored previously, and so I stayed with the sensations.
The feeling of dissolution was happening at a point just below and directly in between my pectoral muscles, as if just below my heart and in the center of my body. The dissolution expanded toward the margins of my body, all I could feel eventually were my hands and maybe my feet. In another way, it felt like an expanding ball of energy at my core, dissolving me. I was disappearing from the inside outwards, into this energy or nothingness. I had never felt anything like this before. I have to emphasize how PHYSICAL this all felt, the feeling of expanding space inside “me,” dissolving my body. I opened my eyes very briefly to ensure I had not fallen asleep and was simply lucid. Not the case, this was a fully alert physical experience to which my body was having a stress response.
I estimate this feeling of dissolution continued over the course of 10 minutes. Eventually I couldn’t even feel my mouth, I felt like I was being engulfed completely.
Eventually I couldn’t even feel my mouth, I felt like I was being engulfed completely.
I was faced with the seemingly very real possibility that I would just disappear into this state. This instilled enough fear that I fought to stay with it. I was worried I might not “come back.” The only comforting thought was that this was entirely mentally induced, and therefore I should likewise be able to “come back” at my discretion. But this was not enough and my “egoic” fear response got the best of me. I suddenly caved and stood up abruptly, walking around my office. The dissolved feeling remained for maybe 30 seconds. During that time, though I could look down and see my body, I felt nothing there. It was very bizarre. As I got my bearings, I quickly sat at my desk and wrote down what had happened.
I have never gotten that “far” with meditation. I’m not even sure this language is appropriate. It’s not that I felt like I was going into another realm, but there was this extraordinarily compelling and fierce sensation that I was nothing, fundamentally. I wonder what would have happened had I allowed the final contours of my body to dissolve into that experience. And I also ponder, who or what, then, was experiencing this “nothingness.” Of course the “nothing” I was experiencing was still “something,” otherwise it would not be an experience.
I therefore share this experience, as it seems to me that there was a nearly complete annihilation of the ego. I find it fascinating that despite countless hours or meditation and reading and contemplation, when put to the test, I was unable to “handle” it. I suppose this is where mind-altering substances will be of primary importance, to force the total letting go.
Over the subsequent day I have had a couple moments to sit and contemplate the experience. I felt a bit “lighter” during my walk through the woods. I also found I could not come up with any answer to “what I am” while relaxing later that day. The space that was left in lieu of a response felt uncanny, like that was somehow the answer, and yet there was nothing there. I’m trying to not read too much into the experience, but rather let it speak for itself. Physically I am completely back, feeling “solid.”
I do not seek to replicate the experience. I suspect it will be many meditations before a similar sensation takes over. I hope to remain with it longer next time. I do not fear or dwell on the experience, but it certainly validated my suspicions that consciousness is powerful and somehow integral to existence. I would rank this, along with maybe one other memorable meditation, within the top 5 most important experiences of my life. I would also caution readers against “trying” to replicate the experience. As I stated above, I think these states come from a process of letting go, it is not something one can cling to or force on themselves. There is nothing there, fundamentally.
I hope this experience will be of use to readers, to show how the simple act of doing nothing can bring about intense psychedelic and spiritual experiences. I also commend all the psychonauts who put their “mind and body” to the test, pushing the limits of human experience. I hope to share in those experiences someday. I have found tales of these adventures infinitely captivating and inspiring. Much peace and gratitude.
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