Recent research suggests that ego dissolution can protect you from illnesses.
- Ego dissolution may protect you psychologically and physically.
- Psychedelics, transcendental meditation (TM), and virtual reality (VR) all assist with ego dissolution.
- When the self-circuit in the brain is reconstituted by psychedelics, TM or VR, inflammation may decrease, and well-being may be enhanced.
During adolescence, you may discover new parts of your identity and change who you think you are1, but most adults eventually settle into a more stable way of being. On the one hand, the idea of stability is reassuring. The brain is not particularly fond of change2. Yet, this stability may lead to a more “frozen” identity that limits your capabilities and life.
In September 2022, psychiatrist Lawrence Fischman explained that therapists notice that when people use psychedelics under supervision, they develop new beliefs about themselves and the world3. They have a more intense feeling of knowing and being known. The brain activity usually constrained in normal waking consciousness—to manage the complexity of interactions of the 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections—suddenly changes. And psychedelics challenge the status quo by inducing a state of brain entropy (disorder) during which users experience a transient shift in how they see themselves and the rest of the world4. Commonly, people return to normal waking consciousness with a renewed understanding of who they are.
“Who you are” is synonymous with the “ego”—the sense that your identity is fixed, integrated, and immutable. Yet, as psychedelic research indicates, your identity is likely far less fixed than you may believe. Indeed, interrogating this fixedness may yield many psychological and physical benefits.
The psychological benefits of ego dissolution
The thought of dissolving your ego may be petrifying due to the very real threat of psychosis5. Still,there are situations in which ego-dissolution leads to a transcendent state in which you feel a greater state of connectedness, and you unlock yourself from a world of fixed probabilities to one of possibilities6.
This freedom to be someone else—to be someone other than who you thought you were—can be very healing indeed. Studies indicate that psychedelics may relieve anxiety7 and depression and enhance an overall sense of emotional wellbeing8. In addition, other ego-dissolving methods such as transcendental meditation (TM) may decrease anxiety and stress9, and group virtual reality (VR) experiences are similar to psychedelics in leading to ego-dissolution10allowing people to feel more connected to one another. Indeed, in VR, when an illusory self takes on a primary experience of the virtual world, the self is divided into your actual self, and the one in VR, and the calming of the illusory self can transfer to your actual self too 11.
The physical benefits of ego-dissolution
In the brain, the self is represented by the default mode network (DMN)12. This network is affected by inflammation, which underlies many disease states13 such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and autoimmune and neurodegenerative disorders. Recent research indicates that the DMN can be disrupted or impacted by psychedelics4,14, TM15,16 and VR17. As a result, I hypothesize that when the network that represents the self is disrupted, inflammatory processes may be interrupted by ego-dissolving methodologies.
Indeed, psychedelics have been identified as potential anti-inflammatory agents18,19. Long-term meditators who practice TM can downregulate (turn off) 49 genes associated with inflammation20. And VR has been shown to significantly reduce pain intensity21 and inflammation as well22.
Putting this all together
When you fix “who you are”, you may be freezing the activity in the DMN, thereby starting a cascade of inflammation that leads to physical and psychological distress and illness. Ego-dissolving modalities (such as psychedelics, TM, and VR) can “unfreeze” who you are, allowing you to reconstitute yourself. As a result, this decreases the body’s inflammatory response to your frozen identity and the associated diseases and discomfort that come with it.
If you feel anxious, sad, inflamed, or sick, consider that you may have invested too much of your identity in an unchanging way of being. Take a step back from who you think you are and consider exploring another version of yourself for your well-being.
Posted October 22, 2022 by Psychology Today.
About the Author
Srini Pillay, M.D., is the author of Tinker Dabble Doodle Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind. He is also a former Assistant Clinical Professor at Harvard Medical School and current chief medical officer and co-founder of Reulay.
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