Fear of Death Hindering Progress

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.
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Fear of Death Hindering Progress

Post by Strive4Karuna » Fri Jun 07, 2013 1:18 pm

Whnever I feel myself about to enter into some sort of deep medititative state I become fearful I'm going to die, start panicking, lose my concentration and cannot enter into whatever state I feel I'm going to enter into. The practice I use is the one where I follow my breath. How do I overcome this fear of dying/panicking about my breath dissapearing.

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Re: Fear of Death Hindering Progress

Post by MidGe » Sat Jun 08, 2013 4:02 am

Hiya Strive4Karuna,

The facts are that the possibility of death is always present and meditation is probably one of the safest place to be (opposed to walking down the street, etc..).

Now, in vipassana meditation practice, you observe what takes place, so when that fear of death arises, notice it and, if simply noting does not make it disappear, note that as well and examine the feeling very closely in all its aspects. Simply make that feeling the object of your meditation. It is most likely that progression will get you to notice the arising of the feeling earlier and earlier, and after a while you will catch it early enough so that it will not develop in a panic attack.

Breath disappearing is not at all unusual, it is one of the possible good sign that progress is being made. On a physiological level, the breathing becomes very slow and very, very subtle, so that you barely, or even not, feel or notice it, but it is there and it does supply a sufficient amount of oxygen to the body which is not exerting itself, is untypically restful, and thus needs very little.

Given the progress you are obviously making, It might be very good to try to have a talk with an experienced meditator bikhu, if at all possible.

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Re: Fear of Death Hindering Progress

Post by Ben » Sat Jun 08, 2013 4:11 am

Strive4Karuna wrote:How do I overcome this fear of dying/panicking about my breath dissapearing.
Your breath doesn't actually disappear. However, it does become increasingly more subtle and harder to discern. Hence, it is an excellent object for the development of Samadhi. I inclined to believe that your anxiety may indeed just be the hindrance of restlessness manifesting. My advice to you is to try and maintain the awareness of the subtle breath for as long as possible and keep your undivided attention on the breath. Your anxiety may loom large but if you keep your attention fixed on the flow of the subtle breath then you will be developing your Samadhi.
wishing you all the very best,

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in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
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Re: Fear of Death Hindering Progress

Post by reflection » Sat Jun 08, 2013 9:40 am


When the breath disappears, first it becomes more subtle but then it disappears totally. It does not stop, but the awareness does not focus on it anymore. This is not a bad thing and you don't necessarily have to go looking for the breath again because there will be a new object, "the knowing" or "the mind" or a nice mental feeling or a nimitta, or however you perceive this. But you''ll know it is a mental phenomena.

I asked a monk about this and the advice I got was to investigate the fear, similar to what MidGe said. So if I were to relay advice, that'd be it. For me it was a fear of letting go, a form of attachment to the sense input. I thought if that last piece of sense experience disappears, I'll disappear as well.

I think another good way to overcome this is to generate faith that it'll be ok. For example read or listen to some talks of teachers who teach meditation where the breath disappears. They'll say this reaction is normal. Ajahn Chah talked about this in a number of his talks. There are also living teachers who teach it, most well known Ajahn Brahmavamso. He says if the beautiful feeling is not strong enough, to find the breath again, because it could be your breath is already too subtle but mindfulness still too coarse.

You can also read some suttas to generate some faith. If you have a little bit of knowledge about how some terms (like kamachanda - the hindrance of sense desire) can be interpreted, you can read the suttas as in teaching samadhi to go beyond the 5 senses. Thinking this way also gives more meaning to it when the Buddha said jhana is not to be feared (MN66). I think one of the things he meant was the fear you are talking about.

And then there is talking to monks. Having somebody confirm these experiences are going the right way is also very supportive.

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