The Ego and Integralism


I’m curious about the community’s thoughts on the ego our relationship with it in Integralism. My own work with my ego has always been difficult (and I suspect I’m not alone): how much is necessary as a filter to interact with reality? How much is fluff trying to keep me “safe”?

Moreover, I’m really fascinated by the almost pathological emphasis on ego death in a number of spiritual traditions… especially in some of the more recent spiritual traditions that seem to make ego death an end goal (which is not the end, according to many religious traditions that entertain the concept). With the resurgence of psychedelics in the mainstream conversation, such as psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca ceremonies (both which offer some kind of deep ego analysis / death), it would seem that this trend is increasing.

I think some of my questions are: can the ego actually die (one might argue that it takes an ego to want to kill an ego)? If so, how would a person interact with the world? And would we actually want such a thing?

Or, is the goal to cultivate an awareness of ego and to take it off of “autopilot” in favor of some higher expression of consciousness? If so, how might we define that higher expression of consciousness?


Hi Russ,

Great topic. First of all, we all need a healthy sense of self, or I (ego). So for myself, I have to take care of myself and my responsibilities and make sure I have a healthy me. I also have learned that I need to learn practices to transcend the ego, or my lower case s self so I can experience the Self.
I know what you mean about the ego death, but this is just not the move. I know Ken has talked about this in his books. We need a healthy self, a healthy relationship to the self-not a smashing of who we are.
I also think with the rise of psychedelics (just as with any practice) be care of your guides and what the goal is. Hopefully they are integrally informed so the focus is on transcendence.


Hi Russ,

I think where some of the confusion comes in is that the ego is viewed differently in Western psychology, where it’s considered an essential and “positive” aspect of consciousness, an “I” or “self-identify” that develops or matures through stages, than it is in Eastern spiritual traditions/philosophy, where it’s considered largely as the “I, me, and mine” that is responsible for our experience of separation (from “God,” the Whole, one another, nature, the kosmos, etc.). Integralism of course focuses on, well, integrating them.

One way of considering ego death is in the context of states of consciousness, using Eastern descriptions–gross, subtle, causal, witnessing, and nondual. The egoic self-sense is typically associated with identification with the gross body/state/realm (physical, material reality). So someone who through spiritual practice/activity (or use of pschoactive plants, drugs, entheogens) experiences the subtle body/state/realm, associated with soul, can be said to have undergone an ego death (i.e. transcended identification with the egoic self-sense and gross reality, to identify with the soul self-sense and subtle reality). Whether the “death” is lasting or not, is another question.

If you have a copy of “The Religion of Tomorrow,” Chapters 12 and 13, which cover dysfunctions in moving/progressing through the states of consciousness, has great information on dying to each of the self-senses-- gross-ego, soul-self, what Wilber calls the “higher self” associated with the causal state, and the Witness self-sense, which he calls the True or Real Self. Highly recommended. (As you say, ego death is not the end in spiritual development.)

Also, in the same book, pages 443-447 discuss “the need for a soul culture,” his point being that subtle states of consciousness are already prevalent in the culture, having been jump-started in the 60s, but that identification with interior soul has been resisted or projected or otherwise not effected; hence we continue as a gross-ego or gross-reflecting culture (and individuals). You might find this subject interesting; I did, and hope to hear more about it–what exactly would a soul-culture look like? (Akin to your question about how a person would interact with the world, assuming they had experienced ego death.)


That is a beautiful summary.