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Death Practices: A Pedagogical Progression

A step-by-step guide to ego death experiences.
Death Practices: A Pedagogical Progression

"Waking up is an endless losing what you think you know, like a wave of destruction that leaves nothing but what is true." – Unmani

"If you die before you die, you won't die when you die."

This is one of the most powerful sentences you will ever come across. It was the tagline of the Eleusinian mysteries, engraved onto sacred proto-Christian worship halls, and formed the bedrock of both Greek and Christian culture for centuries.

This is the key to immortality. The fundamental recognition of your True Nature.

It's not something that can be understood conceptually. It must be experienced directly. It is a lived reality — a deep Gnosis.

Given the centrality of this experience in the entirety of your life, it's not wise to leave this up to chance. Maybe you'll have a near-death experience, or a sudden and complete awakening. But it's unlikely.

Fortunately, many wisdom traditions and mystery schools have cultivated and refined various death practices — deliberate experiences that invoke this death/rebirth experience.

This essay is an exploration of a pedagogical progression (difficulty increases as your strength does) of death practices. It is the technical how-to complement to the Ritualized Rebirth article. I hope this will meet you where you are, realize your True Nature, and to die before you die. 💀

☠️ Exploring Death Practices

Death practices are systematic rituals or activities one undergoes to facilitate varying levels of ego death. Ego death is a "complete loss of subjective self-identity".

It's been co-opted nowadays by the spiritual community as a badge of honour or triviality, but it is a very real, and very accessible experience. It was touted as the single-most important experience for the Greek aristocracy, and was arguably the fundamental driver in the development of Christianity and the act of 'becoming God'.

It can be a challenging, harrowing, and also extremely beautiful and blissful experience to go through. It is the foundation of Ritualized Rebirth, and a necessary part of the process of maturation in the individual psyche.

The foundational arguments for why someone would want to do this and what they stand to gain from it are laid out in Ritualized Rebirth, though it bears repeating. This is arguably the most fundamental practice you can undergo as an individual.

This is the great death. The death of the individual, localized Self. Transcendence of both Self (internal) and Game (external). Facing your own death dissolves all other fears, as all fear is fear of death. It dissolves all necessities, and provides untold levels of freedom and access for the spirit and soul after it is completed.

⛑ Contraindications & Considerations

As with any powerful psychotechnology, there are serious considerations and contraindications you should consider before embarking on these practices individually or with the support of a facilitator.

Take absolute responsibility for your experience, seek out support if necessary. Be smart, be safe, explore.

❌ Contraindications

This is a list of neurobiological and psychological conditions that indicate that you should not perform these practices, or most certainly under the direct supervision of an experienced and trained facilitator:

  • Personal History of Mental Disorder: this includes direct diagnoses of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, mania, multiple personality disorder, epilepsy, seizures, depersonalization/derealization.
  • Family History of Mental Disorder: direct diagnoses of family members with any of the above symptoms/disorders.
  • Physical Health Concerns: high blood pressure, high resting heart rate, heart attacks.

🤔 Considerations

There are a number of considerations one should make to be safe and supported throughout this process. They should all get serious consideration from you before embarking on this series of events.

  • Death practices can instigate or accentuate latent or developing mental health conditions as a necessary part of the healing/integration process. Personal destabilization may occur.
  • You may develop periods of being 'unable to be in the world/society' due to the intensity of these experiences.
  • If you don't know what you're doing, you should seek the support of a sitter, guide, or facilitator to assist with these practices.

🎚 Levels of Intensity

A pedagogical progression is a learning sequence that gets more challenging the stronger you get. It is done to help maintain the flow state – meeting competency with the appropriate level of challenge.

As the challenge of these experiences increase, so too does the felt intensity. This may include:

  • Physical Discomfort: you may temporarily experience shallow breathing, tingling sensations, warm/cold flashes, or other forms of physical discomfort.
  • Inability to Vocalize: you may temporarily lose your ability (via loss of motor control or cognitive capacity) to vocalize and use language.
  • Lack of Motor Control: you may temporarily lose your motor control, both gross (limbs) and minor (appendages).
  • Loss of Self: you may temporarily lose your sense of Self.
  • Loss of Humanity: you may temporarily lose your sense of Humanity, of being Human, of having ever been human (memory).
  • Complete Dissolution: you may temporarily lose your awareness of existence entirely, a complete dissolution of self-consciousness into total consciousness.

You may also be met with increasingly challenging experience 'material' or content:

  • Personal material: revisiting pain, problems, challenges, trauma.
  • Interpersonal material: exploring relationship challenges, your humanity, the magnitude of human suffering, the suffering of the planet.
  • Transpersonal material: you may experience the act of trauma itself, the nature of pain, the suffering of being, the reality of existence.
  • Experiential material: you may experience hallucinations (visual, auditory, somatic), loss of sense of linear time, multiple dimensions of reality, shadow material, archetypes, entities.

To be clear: though the intensity increases, it is not always negatively valenced (feels bad). Just as an orgasm is intense, it is positively intense. As you become more sensitive and the experience becomes more intense, you may experience more intense positive emotion/experience, and more intense negative emotion/experience.

This is all to give a lay of the land, a sense of the experiential stack we are working with here. This is serious work, information and awareness is important. The search and adventure towards the Edge of Being is a beautiful one, but beautiful because it is filled with challenges.

📚 Pedagogical Progression Stack

🧘 Micro: Daily (<90min)

The following is a list of daily death practices one can work into their own Hedonic Engineering growth stack, or for use in your own Yoga of Becoming. Do not be fooled, these daily practices can facilitate just as intense experiences as the more complete ones, though they often don't.

These experiences are excellent for a few specific purposes:

  1. Building your own capacity to continue moving up the levels of intensity.
  2. As integration practices for the larger experiences.
  3. A way to maintain the experience for a longer-tail exploration.  

These are listed as micro/daily practices because they are either less intense in general, or they require less time commitment, or a combination of the two.

  • Yoga Flows: Intense yoga flows, namely ashtanga or vinyasa sequences, where you really build up heart rate, inner fire, and sweat. The timing, in my experience, seems to be important: aim for 60+ minutes of action, with ~10min of shavasana (corpse pose) at the end. It's called corpse pose for a reason, yoga itself is a death practice. Maintain focus on the breath/awareness throughout, and utilize bandhas (energy locks) if you are trained with them.
  • Meditation Techniques: The true purpose of meditation is the dissolution of the subject/object distinction. This is synonymous with ego death. There are two powerful techniques here: candle (concentration/merging) meditation, as well as self-recursive meditations (look for your head). With concentration meditation, focus on a focal point in front of you, concentrate deeply on it, and begin to merge awareness with object. This induces various levels of samadhi with practice. With self-recursive meditations, focus on an object across from you, concentrate deeply on it, and then from that vantage point, turn awareness back on itself and look for your head.  
  • Sexuality/Orgasm Work: Taoist sages had a practice of sexual kung fu, as the post-orgasmic state facilitates a unitive experience similar to death practices.  For males, edging, multiple rounds of semen retention, and million-dollar points are practices to start here to increase intensity of orgasm/post-orgasmic state.
  • Wim Hof Breathwork: The Wim Hof method is included here because although it rarely provides ego death experiences, it does facilitate physical death experiences that can be helpful when cultivating your capacity. It provides strange and strong physical sensations, and due to the lack of carbon dioxide in your system via hyperventilation, your body lacks the signalling mechanisms normally available and it feels like it's dying. 4 full rounds of Wim Hof will get you started .
  • Spiritual Autolysis: Spiritual Autolysis is a practice coined by Jed McKenna in his book 'Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damndest Thing'. It is a mental/cognitive process, but can facilitate more enduring states of ego death/dissolution. The process is outlined below, and is enough to get you started on your own. You can view my own results.

Spiritual Autolysis – Jed McKenna

  1. Write something that you hold as absolutely true.
  2. Examine that statement, are you absolutely 100% sure this is true? If so, what makes you say this is true, what are the basic assumptions on which that true statement is based.
  3. Go back to step 1 using the basic assumptions discovered in step 2 as new material. Discard any idea or concept that is not absolutely true.
  4. Continue this process until you come to something that is true beyond a doubt. This can take months or years.

According to Jed this process is unpleasant at best. In his books he talks about the effect it has on students and they go trough emotional hell. In Jed’s book, there is an example of how the process starts:

There are three hundred and sixty degrees in a circle," says Arthur.

"Sure," I agree. "Start with something as seemingly indisputable as that, and then start examining the foundation upon which that statement is built and just keep following it down until you've reached bedrock, something solid - true."

"There aren't three hundred and sixty degrees in a circle?" he asks.

"The question presupposes that there's a circle."

"There's not a circle?"

"Maybe. I don't know. Is there?"

"Well, if I draw a circle..."

I? When did you confirm the existence of an "I"? Draw? Have you already raced past the part where you confirmed that you are a separate physical being in a physical universe with the ability to perceive, to draw? Have you already confirmed duality as truth?"

If you're just exploring these practices, start here. Spiritual autolysis, sexuality work, and deep meditative states are serious endeavours, and can deliver serious results. Don't overestimate yourself. Start low, go slow, build capacity over time.

🗓 Meso (Quarterly, Seasonally, 90min-3h)

There are a number of practices that take longer, provide deeper intensity, and are powerful enough that an integration period of a few days, weeks, or months is typically advised. Thus, the standard timing for these experiences is often monthly, quarterly, or seasonally.

These experiences are exceptional in a few core ways:

  1. Facilitating deep nervous-system level resets.
  2. Resolving latent trauma or behavioural patterns.
  3. Returning to the pulse and pace of life.

These are an often overlooked branch of death experiences, and arguably where the most continued and sustained developments are made. These regular, cyclical system resets keep your energy balanced, your sights focused, and your development continual.

  • Holotropic Breathwork: Holotropic breathwork was created by Stanislov Grof as a replacement for psychedelic compounds when they were outlawed in the 60's and 70's. It is a multi-hour breathwork journey filled with intense material and experiences. It is often reported to bring individuals through a birth process, helping resolve birth trauma through an exploration of the perinatal matrices as developed by Grof. They typically run 3-4 hours, and are best when working with a facilitator. You can find these events or facilitators online.
  • Death Meditations: Beyond concentration/samadhi and the self-recursive meditations, there are specific death meditations where one is invited to meditate deeply on their own death and physical decay. Maranasati is a Buddhist practice of death meditation, and I would recommend the Satipatthansa Sutra meditation in this link.
  • Psychedelic Ceremonies: Psychedelic ceremonies are well-regarded for their ability to reliable induce ego death and self-transcendence experiences. There are a number of levers you can work with for psychedelic death practices. I would recommend 3: substance (type of psychedelic, typically psilocybin or LSD to begin), dosage (increasing), intention (decision to specifically focus on death practice for the ceremony). I would start in that order. If you'd tried MDMA, try LSD. LSD, try psilocybin. Mushrooms, try ketamine. When comfortable with the nature of each, you can increase dosage from standard to heroic (LSD = 125mics - 300+, Psilocybin = 3g - 5g+).
  • Kambo: The Amazonian frog poison Kambo is a powerful death practice, as it is an extremely physical confrontation with death, due to elevated heart rate, blood pressure, disorientation, purging, and more. It also has psycho-spiritual elements to the experience which facilitate surrender and coming to peace with the discomfort of death.
  • Shamanic Journeying: Shamans pioneered death practices, using journeying to travel between realms to converse with the dead, visit ancestors, or with the spirit world. Sitting down with an intention, and using a shamanic drumming track is a way to start.
  • Ecstatic Dance/Trance States: Ecstatic dance is listed here because it can induce trance states. Trance states facilitate the merging of subject and object awareness, precursors to the ego death experience. The physical exersion also presents neurobiological benefits such as dampening of the default-mode network (DMN), responsible for the orientation of the individual sense of self.

This is firmly in the territory of working with an experienced practitioner unless you yourself are an experienced practitioner. An easy way to say that is unless you're trained and comfortable stewarding one of these experiences for someone else, exercise caution before embarking on them solo.

🌋 Macro (Annually, 6+h)

At the macro experiences, these often provide thorough and complete ego dissolution or ego death experiences, and require a comprehensive integration process afterwards. They tend to be full day or mutli-day activities as well, and will need to be scheduled into your hedonic engineering protocol to give adequate space to.

Major death practices/experience present nearly self-evident benefits:

  1. Complete death experience and ego death process.
  2. Dealing with material leading up to death, upon death, and return from death.
  3. Psycho-spiritual reset & rebirth for individuals.

Like any powerful experience, treat these like loaded guns. Very powerful, very dangerous. The edge has cliffs, but it also has the best views.

  • Macrodose Psychedelics: At this level, psychedelics are again incredibly powerful tools. In addition to the levels of dosage and intention, at this point you can escalate the compounds to provide more intense experiences. This would include higher-dose mushrooms, N,N-DMT experiences, ayahuasca, iboga, vilca, and peyote ceremonies.
  • Plant Medicine Dieta: Dietas, or longer-term diet work with particular medicinal Amazonian plants – offers a glimpse at an extended-state ego dissolution. From 2 weeks to 2 years, dietas help train the understanding of what an abiding state of ego loss can feel like.
  • Combination Stacks: If you are trained and working with others, you may also consider combining techniques to amplify their abilities. For example, death meditations while on psychedelics can be extremely powerful. Combining has potential, it is also dangerous as mixing elements presents opportunities for emergence that may not exist in the individual practices. This is an advanced technique, but I'd be remiss if it wasn't included here.

Given the nature of these experiences, the subtlety and nuances of the material that you're likely to be working with, it's very helpful to work with trained facilitators at these stages. Even if you are skilled, at this point you can actually unlock more by working with others, allowing for more complete and total release/surrender to the experiences.

🐸 Bufo Alvarius (5-MeO-DMT)

A final nod to what I have come to experience as the most thorough, the most complete death practice yet: Bufo Alvarius and the 5-MeO-DMT containing venom of the Sonoran Desert Toad.

Bufo seems to most reliably, and most accessibly (the experience is often 15-45min in total) induce complete and total ego death, bringing individuals to states of Being beyond awareness, beyond language, and beyond identification.

Bufo has been essential in my own process, and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone willing to seriously explore this space further. I will not recommend dosages here. Find a trained practitioner, prepare for the experience, and walk boldly towards the most beautiful experience of your life.

👨🏻‍🚀 Conclusion

A comprehensive, pedagogical progression of death practices designed to assist you along your way of personal evolution.

You have daily activities to get you started or to help integrate more profound experiences, and as your own capacity and strength increases, you can match this with equally challenging and rewarding experiences.

I consider most of life like Kung Fu – a cultivated skill over time. I'll have another premium post out in the future on Psychedelic Kung Fu. With these techniques, trainings, and a dojo to practice, you can elevate yourself and your craft.

Death experiences are incredibly powerful: they facilitate humility, enable identity/narrative shifts, cultivate presence, steward personal gratitude, allow for continued integration of personal material — and all move you closer to overcoming the fear of death — the last and final boss before unlimited freedom.

Death practice shows you, conceptually and embodied, that the true you is indestructible. The return to form is inevitable from emptiness, for they are the same. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. You have always been safe, you have always been enough — and if you die before you die, you won't die when you die.