Fear of annihilation

A (Martin): I have made a life-long search for the meaning and reality of ‘myself’ and the world.

Apart from the advice (and different diagnoses) given by others, I am thinking of something else, which has a psychological as well as a philosophical side to it. It is not just fear of death but self-annihilation, an emptiness or void where there is no longer an experience of selfhood or continuity (“What if I don’t wake up?”).

This can become an obsession – an existential angst – one of the worst kind. A sensitive child may (I experienced it) entertain the idea of nothingness, including that of *me/myself*, that is, my very personal, intimate consciousness not existing or vanishing into nothingness. It may or may not be associated with the thought “Why is there something (a world) rather than nothing?”.

If that strikes a chord – and it is a question of temperament and inclination – there is an answer, which can be obtained at the end of a lengthy, arduous journey: ‘Know thyself’, as it was written on the frontispiece of the oracle of Delphos in ancient Greece. After a lifelong search, I found the most complete, satisfying answer in Advaita Vedanta. According to this philosophy or discipline, deep sleep is the most blessed state short of full awakening – that is, awakening from the ‘darkness’ of the awake state and its narrow ego-centered vision, shot through with doubt and suffering.

Q. 388 – Fear of Deep Sleep

Q: I am reading Dennis’ book ‘The Book of One’, and I am on the chapter about deep sleep.

From the age of around seven ( I am now 51), I have had a morbid terror of sleep. Not dreaming sleep which I enjoy (I am one of those rare people that has quite regular lucid dreams), but deep sleep, and equate it with “unconsciousness or non-consciousness” or death which leads to death anxiety. I understand that this fear is a result of constructs that I have devised, and am my own torturer. But the enquiry in this book and other books on Hinduism I have read seems to be returning me to the same cul-de-sac that is the dead end of my search.

Just reading the chapter now left me cold with fear and even worse complete dissappointment, as it doesn’t feel intuitive to me that this is our natural state? I really don’t want to return here at all, is this a normal reaction people feel when they are introduced to this concept?

I am not an intellectual. I have persevered with the book and it’s concepts, even though at times it is quite clearly beyond my comprehension. But is that it? Is that all there is? A kind of acceptance of annihilation of this ego-mind… forever?

I have some recollection of the Indra story where they ask the same question of Prajāpati and wasn’t quite satisfied?

Will this fear pass?

A (Dennis): You should take up meditation with the determination to practice fully. The nature of this would depend upon which method you chose. I took up mantra-based meditation similar to TM, which required 30 mins practice twice per day. This sounds impossible to begin with I know but, after a few months, it becomes part of your routine. And you benefit in so many ways, both mentally and physically. But the point is that, eventually (the time varies from one individual to another), you reach the point where you begin to experience periods of samAdhi. At these times, your mind becomes totally still. You are still aware of external and internal events but you remain entirely detached from both. You know that you are neither the body nor the mind but the observer of these. There is no ego at these times because you recognize this independence. Ego IS identification with one or other.

In deep sleep, you do not experience anything. But this is because there is nothing to experience, not because ‘you’ have disappeared. You see neither external world (because the senses are inactive) nor internal thoughts (because the mind is inactive). But the Self that is the witnessing Consciousness in deep meditation is still present in deep sleep. It never ‘sleeps’ (or dies) because it is the only thing that really exists. It is who you really are.

Hope this helps!

Being a bhakta (Q. 314)

Q: I take no great pleasure in what the Buddhists call samsaric existence, and, over a long number of years, by intellectual hard work, have extricated myself from sectarian Christianity. However, I have come to realise that my progress has been not so much spiritual as intellectual. In practice, I find that I seem to be incapable of devotion, or any emotional attitude to any avatar or guru. For me, Bhakti seems to be impossible even though I really try to avoid obvious “sins”, and try to be altruistic in my outlook. It seems as if I am damned to be merely a seeking, learning intellect, with very little emotion in what I do, except in times of crisis. For instance, in desperation at what I see as my condition, I have prayed to Ramana Maharshi, asking him to open my heart, and to allow me to feel more emotion/devotion than I do. Sometimes, on such occasions I have shed tears, but they pass, and soon, I am back to my usual practical self, doing  the usual, practical things, and taking an “intelligent interest” in things.

 Years ago, I used to attend a Buddhist meditation group under a very able teacher who, it was obvious, had seen through the ego and was beyond it. (It would be too complex a matter, and would take too long, to tell you how I knew this, but know it I did. He was a very powerful being, and his aura could be felt even after leaving him.) After a number of years’ attendance, this teacher made it clear to me (I must say, very skilfully, by implication and not directly) that I was not a suitable attendee. This was even though there had been many of what I would call transcendental experiences, and insights (all, I think, thanks to the darshan of this teacher) that have now been lost. For many years, since leaving the group, I have been a loner, living a very quiet and studious life, mainly. I try to do all the good for others that I can, by being helpful to others, and as generous as I can afford to be (I think) with money. Yet, I feel as if I am damned, having lost my chance to practice with a realised teacher. And all because (it seems) I was not able to forswear sex within marriage at that time of life. Even now, in old age, when such an obstacle cannot exist, there is still the problem of a lack of a capacity for devotion — only a capacity for intellectual understanding.

 What can be done? I am afraid of being re-born in unpropitious states because of my condition. Continue reading