Killing the ego: wait, say what now?
August 7, 2019 4:10 AM   Subscribe

I keep seeing this phrase online, used as though it’s a known thing. Googling isn’t helpful. Is this a term of art for some subculture (Christian, extremely online Stoics, etc?) and if so, what it mean?
posted by chesty_a_arthur to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Meant to add: I tend to understand this as Freudian, but that doesn’t make any sense obviously.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 4:11 AM on August 7, 2019

Perhaps a reference to ego death?
posted by inire at 4:59 AM on August 7, 2019

I would associate that with Western/American casual Buddhism -- the kind of person who isn't all that seriously Buddhist but, e.g., meditates. It might be a part of more serious Buddhism as well, that I don't know much about.
posted by LizardBreath at 5:29 AM on August 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

I think a more serious Buddhist would probably say something like "realizing the delusion of a separate Self" rather than "killing the ego" but yeah, if someone is studying Buddhism by way of Alan Watts and Jack Kerouac they might shorten that to "killing the ego." I would understand it to mean basically the same thing: freeing oneself from the idea that just because you perceive yourself as an individual separate from the rest of the universe that you actually are.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:58 AM on August 7, 2019 [13 favorites]

The ego is the bad guy in many spiritual practices. Here's an excerpt from (presidential candidate) Marianne Williamson's book on A Course in Miracles:

The ego is like a gravitational force field, built up over eons of fearful thinking, which draws us away from the love in our hearts. The ego is our mental power turned against ourselves. It is clever, like we are, and smooth-talking, like we are, and manipulative, like we are. Remember all the talk about a silver-tongued devil? The ego doesn’t come up to us and say, “Hi, I’m your self-loathing.” It’s not stupid, because we’re not. Rather, it says things like, “Hi, I’m your adult, mature, rational self. I’ll help you look out for number one.”
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:36 AM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

I associate it more with psychedelics than with Buddhism, but I think the goal is similar with both. A lot of people who use psychedelics in therapeutic or other thoughtful ways (i.e. not just getting wild at a festival) describe the phenomenon where you're less wrapped up in your self as a distinct entity.
posted by witchen at 7:25 AM on August 7, 2019

The Christian Mystics, John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, referred to the ego as the "false self." The ego should not be so much "killed" as controlled and not allowed to steer all the time. The practice of contemplative prayer (much like meditation) is intended to help one bring one's ego in proper balance.

So "Killing the ego" is kind of an oversimplification of that idea. Although the idea of "dying to self" is (or should still be) pervasive in Christianity -- sacrificing one's own self-interest for the good of another. I could see how "dying to self" could be equated with "killing the ego."
posted by cross_impact at 7:40 AM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Or it could be related to this: "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him."
posted by cross_impact at 7:56 AM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yeah I've been hearing this quite a bit in the last several months or so, but I hear the phrase "ego death" more often. It's generally from folks who are talking about either psychedelics (I took mushrooms and had this experience where I felt one with ____) or Buddhism, but in a western, appropriative way (as in, they're not practicing Buddhists).
posted by bluedaisy at 10:09 AM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by terrapin at 11:05 AM on August 7, 2019

This is one of the purported benefits of psychedelics, notably LSD, per Leary, but also DMT, psilocybin and MDMA. Your mileage may vary.
posted by klangklangston at 11:20 AM on August 7, 2019

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