When Plant Medicines Lose The Battle With Ego

Artwork by Robert Duval

Artwork by Robert Duval

Caroline Knight

During a plant medicine experience people may undergo some major shifts in perception. Although this often feels very positive and can result in positive behaviour, how these shifts are handled ongoing is the most important factor.

After ceremony people might feel that they have found their purpose or Earthly mission. The feeling of oneness often replaces its conceptualisation when people use entheogens. People feel they ‘met God’, and that they can drop their heavy human load in favour of self-appreciation. This is a relief. They may see themselves in ‘past‘ lives, transformed into other types of beings or archetypes, or they may lose the perception of their ego.

Such changes in perception of identity can be a very good thing; but we should bear in mind that although ego may have taken a backseat for a while, it probably hasn’t ‘dissolved’.

The ego may be waiting with its net

The plant medicine experience may bring about a profound level of self-assuredness that can end up fortifying the ego – the exact opposite of most people’s intentions. The ego wants to stay in control, and will use an awakening experience to its advantage if allowed to. Adyashanti speaks of this phenomenon in his brilliant book ‘The End of Your World’.

The exhilaration of feeling like part of ‘God’ can be heady. I’m not saying the feeling is a misunderstanding, but it can morph into fuel for the human ego.

Next, self-importance and righteousness creeps in; there can be no misperception, nor propensity for errors… your advice becomes the most relevant, and your experiences the most valid. 

"But I took the medicine 100 times…"

Medicine forums are full of such behaviour. The number of times someone imbibed doesn’t guarantee awareness of the ‘right’ way to do things, nor the right to insist that others do them that way.

It is not always about quantity. Quantity may deepen understandings for some, but the ability to process a few profound experiences and practice what has been learned once back in the ‘real world’ is the most important factor.

Along the medicine path I have known people who have been using plant medicines for years – sometimes decades - yet their behaviour is consistently devoid of compassion or understanding, and full of arrogance. Is the medicine even working for them?

The shamanic ego

There are also shamans who have this problem, but with the added issue that they are often worshipped unequivocally for their status. This explains why some people venture into the jungle only to come out more traumatised - if at all.

It should not be assumed that entheogen use guarantees integrity. ‘Shamanic ego’ is far from uncommon, and I have been thinking about how it manifests. Mysticism is attractive and some love to feel that the plants ‘chose’ them. Only hindsight can confirm this, as it isn’t easily verified by strangers.

Fortunately there are many who are more than capable of fully integrating and understanding the plants’ teachings, and they exude genuine humility and compassion. They may not always be perfect, but they are wise enough and compassionate enough to take proper care of others during plant experiences.

Do the plants know when they’re ‘wasting their time’?

Sacred plants are incredibly powerful. They can bring true healing, insights and understanding, and glimpses into ‘other dimensions’ or layers of reality. How can we so easily miss the point? I’ve wondered whether the plant knows it is being wasted or used detrimentally when a person consumes it without bothering to apply its lessons.

Plant spirits are intelligent enough to know humans inside out. If we use them (even inadvertently) to fortify our egos or further selfish agendas, might they realise that consciousness won’t evolve through us?

Could we be a detriment to the plant spirits’ agenda to help the Earth, discouraging others from awakening through them? I’m speculating, obviously, but it makes sense to me that the plants may ‘wash their hands’ of those who won’t truly work with them.

Might they even encourage a person’s ego to get so out of control that they can’t help but trip themselves up later, leading to understandings that the plant wasn’t able to induce in the ceremonies?

The real work starts in the ‘real’ world

Everyone can feel happy, connected and loving during and after ceremony. But we are conditioned beings, struggling to free ourselves from the burden of heavy emotions, which is often why we turn to sacred plants. We say we want to work on our issues. We say we want to love everyone. In ceremony, we might see our darkness and accept it. We may see our light and fall in love with it. We might feel that we truly understand others.

Then we land back in the ‘real’ world with its cultural quirks and rules that seem at odds with this. Others aren’t practicing the ideals we envisaged for a perfect world; they might even seem like a hindrance... an irritation. They don’t ‘get it’, so they seem inferior.

We are the ones who need to show them the way; tell them how to help themselves. We know the plants will help them! The plants will turn them into just the types needed for a new paradigm. The irony is, if we insist on this, we probably haven’t learned much from the plants ourselves.

Why didn’t the plants heal me? 

Sometimes people see that they haven’t changed, or healed. The plants can only work with true willing. We may be more comfortable in our habitual thinking than we know; ego is a force of nature like no other – when you think you’ve thrown a net over the ego, the ego is the net.

It can take a lot of effort and reinforcement to undo lifelong patterns and conditioning. Turning to plants repeatedly for insights is common. But it is no use becoming addicted to plant medicine teachings (or highs) if we can’t integrate them in daily life.

The dedication to ongoing work over quick fixes is what leads to lasting healing. How you handle everyday challenges when the ceremony is a distant memory is a true indication of your state and how much work is still to be done.  

The fact remains that sacred plants like ayahuasca can bring about profound healing and freeing insights. The question is, are you ready to accept them?

If you have had an ayahuasca experience that you’d like to share on the site, please check out our ayahuasca experiences page and upload there. Thank you!