Fear of Death
Words by Clare Lovelace
Death of the physical body is the ultimate surrender. In yogic philosophy the term Abhinivesha describes fear of death as the greatest obstacle to freedom.
All yogic practices prepare us for death. By practicing Ahimsa we are asked to let go of our apathy and greed and ensure all our actions are non-violent (for example, choosing plastic free consumption over convenience). In meditation we learn to let go of our ego and surrender to discomfort. During asana we have multiple chance to practice death – surrendering to the sensation of a tight hip or the fear of falling. Savasana (corpse pose) is a daily practice of surrendering our physical body to the earth. Every breath out is a reminder of the ephemeral nature of existence.
Why do we fear death?
This may seem like an obvious question but it is imperative to explore our motivations for fear and ask ‘what in me is afraid and why?’.
For those of us fortunate enough to live in a country that is stable and prosperous, literally fearing for our life is a rare occurrence.
However an underlying anxiety pervades due to our survival based fear response. Left unattended our minds will constantly scan for potential problems, escalating superficial events (such as scratching a new car) into a ‘problem’. All ‘problems’ stem from fear.
Two root causes of fear of death (inspired by Aadil Palkhivala).
Fear of change. One of the most bizarre aspects of human nature is fear of change. The fact is everything in life is impermanent including ourselves, yet we resist even the smallest changes to our work environment, relationships, living situations and physical bodies. Death is the greatest change all. So why do we resist? If we were certain that change would make us happier than we are now would we still fear it? The solution: meditate on what in me fears change and where am I attached to the ’status quo’.
Fear of the unknown. We have no idea if the future will hold more suffering or more joy than this present moment. This activates our fear response. Death is unknown, therefore we fear it. The teachings of karma and dharma remind us that the intention behind an action is far more important than the outcome. If we act, speak and think with truth, integrity, courage and kindness our actions will be imbued with love, therefore the outcome is irrelevant. The more we give, the more we will receive. Ask yourself why you do not trust? Where are you practicing greed? How could you give more?
After all, our fear of death is never so great as our fear of not having fully lived.