The Main Obstacle to Awakening and What to Do About It
A wonderful question that many spiritual seekers have. “Does a change of this sort mean jumping off a cliff and losing everything? I’m scared of drama and terrified of irrevocable shifts.” Just last night at Satsang someone asked a very similar question. “Will abiding in this deep peace mean that the life I have worked so hard to create will fall apart?”
I think many people have deep questions like these. It is natural and maybe inevitable. The nature of the egoic separate self-identity we call “me” is actually created of fear. Much of this is repressed so we’re not aware of it. But as the door to awakening comes closer, we begin to become aware of the true nature of the ego, and that is fear. So this is a very deep and important question. And I’m happy to honor it.
Thank you for this question as its authenticity relates to many people who have the same question. This is a very deep and honest question. Just last night someone in Satsang asked this very same question. I thank you for expressing it. I feel your heart in this. So it also requires a deep and honest answer.
Yes, it does feel like we’re jumping off a cliff and risk losing everything. That is the initial fear of surrender. And, yes, we have to be willing to do that, to jump off this imaginary but very real feeling cliff and to risk losing everything, to surrender everything. That’s why it takes great courage. Eventually we just have to do it. Jump off the cliff, surrender absolutely everything.
This is not a place for careful, cautious stages. Surrender is a very bold move when the very nature of the separate self is fear. And it is. So the fear of doing this is natural and inevitable. The separate ego self identity is made entirely out of fear, fear of not surviving. And to surrender fully, we are saying, “Yes, even this. Even death.”
What We Lose and What We Gain
This all sounds like very bad news. It is what the ego is afraid of. The good news is we give up everything, we surrender everything, we lose everything, including ourself AND as a result, we GAIN everything. We have only really surrendered our attachment, an illusion. What we gain is reality. We gain the world. We gain relationships that were never possible before. We gain peace. We gain love. We gain a complete uninterrupted contentment, gratitude and joy. We gain freedom. We gain life. And we gain our True Self.
What we lose (illusion) pales in comparison to the unlimited magnitude of what we gain. So this news is very, very good. But you can only know this when you take the leap. My words are only encouragement if you take them that way. I’m saying, “Jump in. The water is fine. It’s wonderful.” But you have to jump. I can’t do that for you.
I know it’s terrifying to take that leap. Every awakened being has done this. And all have experienced this terror. It is part of the nature of waking up. And this terror is a big obstacle. Some never pass through it. In my case it was experience the terror and do it anyway. Not initially. I backed off many times. But finally, I took the leap. And then another. And then another. Eventually I realized this fear had no reality to it. I only realized this because I tested it again and again and what I feared never happened.
I gave up all my talent as an artist and creative person. The result turned out to be more talent and creativity than I ever imagined possible. I gave up my relationships or ever having a relationship ever again. The result was the flowering of all existing relationships and new relationships beyond anything I would have thought possible. Everything I gave up came back to me in abundance. How could I know this? I didn’t. I just surrendered.
I gave up a limited, vulnerable, separate self identity and realized This, the unlimited, infinite, beyond all possibility of identity. Nobody who has ever awakened to Truth said, “I wish I didn’t do that. Is it possible to return to illusion again?” No awakened being has ever said that. Nobody ever will.
It’s worth the leap. It’s worth all the struggle and seeking and suffering that helped to open this door. Even a single moment of this great presence is worth a thousand lifetimes. I know the fear, My Friend. And I know what happens when you leap anyway and discover for yourself what happens. Nobody has ever said all that went before was not worth This. Thank you for the wonderful question that so many also hold deep in their hearts.
I am at a crossroad I believe again. With surrender do I stop making choices and let the Universe make it for me, be it personal or professional?
With surrender do I stop having intimate physical and emotional relationship with my spouse because there is lust? With surrender why do I feel guilty for being attracted to my spouse? I have these sudden spurts of racing confusing thoughts about choices i am making regarding my personal life: Should I be making this choice or not since this choice I am making is filled with lust? And this creates a fear and confusion in me. Hoping to get some insight please.
Part of a human body’s purpose is procreation for the continuation of the species. It is the same for the bodies of all animals and other species. Don’t worry about it. In meditation, Suzuki Roshi recommended, “Allow thoughts to come and go. Just don’t serve them tea.” It means thoughts will come and go. You don’t need to give them your attention. Beginning meditators focus their attention on their breath instead of their thoughts. Later, we focus on the pure bliss of being itself. What we focus our attention on becomes our life. The body wants to procreate. That is part of the body’s purpose. If we give our attention to this, then we procreate or at least have sex. If we don’t give our attention to it, then we do whatever we have placed our attention on. Surrender means to focus our attention on something other than our thoughts, desires, and fears. Thoughts, desires, and fears are about me, the small self. We surrender our attention on the small self for something more than that. We can call it God, the universe, or the Quantum Field. It is beyond all names. But it is not the small self. We surrender by turning our attention to something that is not the small self, I, me, mine. Somehow this is where we find our greatest happiness.
Thank you for the amazing post and answers – i think and feel and agree with everything you have shared.
So, I am not even sure if mine is a spiritual awaking, but sharing the challenge anyways: –
I use to be at peace doing great work with love, managing the different situations (personal and work) by knowing or thinking that I am the empty “here now” which gets filled with whatever the universe brings and everything being one in this “moment”.. this was my state of being or thinking… i don’t know.
But over the past few months I went through separations with my family (they all moved on with life, nothing bad) which made me sad as i felt lonely. But i continued on the path of being in here and now thinking i was all fine but was irritated, agitated and not at peace. Had a lot of arguments with my partner. And suddenly out of nowhere recently I started having anxiety and fear(it comes out of nowhere and at weird times) that i cant control my thoughts and mind, fear of dying and confusion on everything that seemed very clear. Plus burning sensations sometimes in my chest, sometimes in my throat and back of the neck and tingling and tightness in the head .
If i start doing things like typing this message, talking or some activity I am usually stream lined and fine. But if I am not doing anything and start analyzing or start becoming aware of the thoughts coming in , the panic sets in as i fail to stay in the here now and start over analyzing, thinking vs being/aware i guess. I have been saying to my self ” I surrender I surrender to the universe to god. please help” – this has helped as well to calm down.
The one fear that keeps cropping up is that if i will become like my sibling who has a diagnosed mental illness – i have been there at the hospital when the sibling had episodes where the sibling keeps saying “I am god..i am god”. I fear if i will end up like that and loose control.
How can I get my old self back or as you have stated move to the next state of being because all I want to be doing is share a few words, thoughts and deeds filled with love at work or with family and friends.
Thank you again for your time, care and love.
It’s interesting that your sibling would say, “I am God.” because of course we are. And sometimes people who say this simply have a mental illness and think “I am God, and nobody else is God.” That’s a mental illness. If you realize that God is all that really exists and everything and everyone are God, or as Ram Das said, “God in drag.” and there is really no separate person or separation anywhere, then you are enlightened.
As to fear, fear is really the essence of the ego or the experience of being a separate person. That is where fear comes from. God has no fear. The illusion of a separate person is basically built on fear (fear of death, fear of failure, fear of not being accepted, liked, or loved, fear of being alone, etc. There is a very long list of what the ego fears.) Most of all the ego fears truth. It fears the truth that it does not really exist in reality. Often we experience enormous fear before we wake up. What we are experiencing is the true nature of the illusory ego. It doesn’t feel good. Surrendering the attachment to the ego is good, as you are experiencing. Without the illusion of the ego, there is no fear. Without thoughts, there is no fear. The more you surrender to something more than the ego, more than your self, the more free from fear you will be.
You are already realizing that when you are deeply involved in some activity and attention is not on you, the self, the ego, there is no fear. As soon as attention returns to you, I, me, mine, fear comes back. This is very unpleasant, but it is teaching you something very important. When you are not thinking about you, no fear. When you are thinking about you, fear. Pay attention to what this is showing you.
You are not going to end up in a mental hospital. That’s just the fear of the ego. The realization that all is God and there is no separate self anywhere is a realization that comes on by itself. When it comes, you will not go around telling everyone you know, “I am God.”, even though you know you are because you also know everyone else and that would not be a skillful thing to say to most people. They can’t understand unless they also realize it and very few do. I am sorry for your sibling.
What happens when you realize your True Nature and the True Nature of all existence is there is no longer the illusion of a separate you. There is no longer any fear or anything to fear. It was just a dream or a nightmare that you awakened from. Your True Nature is the essence of love. When you realize this, that is all you will share because that is what you are.
Thank you my divine intervention for your kind words, thoughts and light; it has shown the way for the next step. Thank you with the greatest respects.
You are very welcome.
Carissa Rivera says
About a year ago I woke up out of a dead sleep, looked at my sons Halloween bag with his name on it and I feared death. Feared my husband would become a widow and my son would no longer have me. He is now 5. For a solid 8 weeks I was like a zombie. Nauseas all the time. Panic attacks. And just constant anxiety. I saw a therapist who I love and he is so helpful. He said I was having a spiritual awakening. And something triggered this. And that day before, we got into an argument with my step daughters
Mother. She up and moved and we got full custody. She was mad we weren’t okay with losing out holiday because she moved and she made it this big deal etc. my therapist said this triggered from last trauma. Which would make sense seeing as I had a lot of past trauma coming from divorce parents. It’s been a little over a year now. Happened 11/26/20. I still suffer from anxiety and the fear of death. It’s definitely better than what it was in the beginning. My therapist also said it’s “death of the ego”. My ego is dying off, and The way he put it was growing into a butterfly. He has helped me a lot. He said god knew j was in a good place, and he knew it was time for me to face past traumas. Just looking for help, is this correct? I know what helps me, gym, eating healthy, meditation and praying. But when the anxiety is high, I’m nauseas and can’t eat the way I want. Im 30, and want to be able to live and be happy. And not live in fear 80% of the time. I hope you can give some type of advice or guide me in a way to help heal myself better. Thank you
When the ego dies there is no fear at all. On the way to that liberation from the illusion of a self and duality, there can be a lot of fear. The ego is based mostly on fear, primarily the fear of death. If we actually were separate individual beings whose bodies will inevitably die eventually, they would certainly be a lot of fear. Most people don’t even want to acknowledge the unavoidable inevitability of their death. It is brave of you to do so. And, yes, it is very unpleasant. The only real escape from this fear once acknowledged is the realization that there never actually ever was a separate you. That is the experience of waking up from the dream of ego and separation.
I would Google the practice of Self Inquiry and Ramana Maharshi. Self Inquiry is a discipline where you inquire of every thought, fear, experience, etc. What is experiencing this? What is thinking this? You search for this I that you think you are. Eventually you realize that what you believed so strongly for so long cannot be found. It is not here. Nothing is separate from anything else. There is no self to protect. When you discover this, not though thought but through direct experience, you are free. Ego death only means the illusion has been seen and you can no longer believe it and be a slave to it.
The fear of death can be terrifying, you need to understand why it is here and what it is trying to show you. In Buddhist monasteries we often recite the Five Rememberances every day because of how often we forget or don’t want to acknowledge reality. One of those is “This body is of the nature to die. There is no escaping death.” It may seem like a bummer to acknowledge this, but it is true. And when we do fully acknowledge it, we are no longer afraid. It’s just the nature of life.
I need some advice.
What is the fear I have to fight? During this process I feel devastated and I feel that I have a lot of negative energy that catches me more at night when I wake up at 1-3 am. In those moments it seems to me as if I am calling out the dark forces and I will become a bad person. After that I have the feeling that something is touching me. What is it just a release of energy, a fantasy or a fear to fight?
I have read endless information, I am confused and I can not find the strength to end it. I have no will. I am locked in a circle from which I can not get out.I am muslim.
I apologize for being so late in answering you. I have been very busy. The belief in a separate self is filled with fear. One of the primary fears we have when we believe we are a separate person is the fear of death. It may be hard for you to question now whether there even is an “I” at all. Most people are not willing to question this. That brings up even more fear because deep inside we know that there is not. The cause of your fear, the cause of everyone’s fear is the belief that we are a separate person separate from everything and everyone else, that we are a separate being alone in the universe. Until we see through the illusion of this belief that almost every human has, we cannot see that we ARE the universe and everyone and everything in it. There is no separation at all. We are absolutely and totally complete. We are nothing like what we think and believe we are. That realization is the end of all fear. As long as you believe you are a separate self, you have plenty to fear. For one this body will eventually die. This belief in a separate self is made of fear. Your True Self is not a personal self. It is the totality.
Since you are a Muslim, you may know a little about the Sufi teachings. In Sufism essentially God is and there is nothing else but God. This is also the same as all nondual teachings like Advaita, Zen, and all awakened wisdom teachings. There is only One. There is no separate personal self. All that is illusion. There is only God. The more you let go of the belief in a separate self and open to the onenes of all existence, the less you will experience fear. If all there is is God and only God, what is there to fear? God does not fear God.
As long as we believe we are a separate self, there will always be some fear. Everyone experiences it whether they admit it or acknowledge it or not. Fear is part of the belief in and experience in a separate, individual self. The good news is that no such self has ever existed. God is. That is all there has ever been. And God does not fear God. God simply is. And that being is peace, happiness, love, and freedom from all suffering and fear.
Right now you may feel that you are locked in a circle from which you cannot get out. That’s is only because you believe and experience that there is you to be locked in a circle. When there is no you, there is also no circle and no locks. There is only God imagining for just a moment that it is a separate person locked in a circle with no escape. Some part of you already and always knows that you have always been completely free. But that part has been distracted by the thoughts that say there IS a you and this you is locked in a circle and cannot escape. Question those thoughts. Question all thoughts. Let them go. See what your true inner wisdom has always been saying without words or thoughts. In the silence of your heart you know. That knowing feels like love. Listen to it. It has never left you even when your thoughts make it seem that it has.
Thanks for this article. It is of great help. I’ve been experimenting a lot of fearful thoughts during the last 4 months. Related to death and loosing control of my self. At the beginning it was al new and I was really scared. Couldnt understand where those thoughts and emotions came from.
After some inner work I’ve learned not to believe my thoughts at all. They still appear (not as usual as before), and sometimes I get cougth in them. Some fear arise, but not as much as before. Trying to accept them, and understand them. My fear is about loosing control, so i think that once I really surrender and accept that we dont have any control in life, the lesson would be passed.
Thanks for the teachings and the articles here. The Map is really helpful (I think i am experimenting between stages 2 and 3)
Hi Juan, Yes you are on the right path. What you say is correct and continuing with this will bring you the freedom you seek. Your inner work is good, accurate, and true. Keep on, My Friend, although from what you have written I’m sure you already are. Congratulations, I am happy to hear it. It is often challenges and difficulties that end up bringing us to truth. Fear was a big one for me as well.
Luka V says
Like other people in the posts up here, Im’ also stuck in this path. I can feel this freedom on the “other side”, but its so hard. I’ve gone through so many things in the past. Kundalini awakening that was a bit “premature” maybe, but it was good, it made me stop a lot of my addictions ect. I’ve gone through so much stuff, really metaphisical I could say, but I was not able to let go. The terror was too great. This cut from the flow put me in a relly distressed state and wierd physical and psychological symptoms, to the point where I rather leaved it alone, but I still feel it underneath. The symptoms were so strange I could not imagine to work on them and also be present here in the world and to be part of it with all things we must do as humans. The problem I have now, is that when for example you say: do it anyway….I agree from an intelectual perspective, but Im afraid that that part inside of my who doesnt want to let go, will produce a conflict inside and put me in a psycho state, I was close enaugh before and I know this was a resistance. And Im afraid to re-awaken again to hit that same wall again. I cant even meditate, this ego is so strong that I back of in the moment when this start to happen.
Thankn you, Luka
Yes, I understand, Luka. There is great resistance in all of us to wake up from our conditioned dream. We are going from something we think we know to what cannot be understood with the human mind. It is the unknown, and the unknown frightens us. We think it could be bad. It might kill us. We all kinds of fearful thoughts. The only way we can know is to let go.
Until we let go completely, the ego will struggle and fight and the resistance will be experienced as suffering. This is so for all of us. In the process of awakening, many things are strange. When we first experience the energy that has always been in our body but we were unaware because we were asleep, it can seem very strange, even frightening. But we are simply becoming aware of the energy that has always been in a loving body. Without all this energy, the body would not be alive. So it’s a good thing. Eventually we realize that this is the experience of bliss, ecstasy. But, at first, it seems very strange. When we first realize that we know what other people are thinking and feeling very clearly without them saying anything, that can also seem strange. Perhaps we have some special psychic powers. But we have never really been separate from any being, now we are simply becoming aware of it.
The more resistance we have, the more we suffer. The more we let go to life, the more peace, happiness, and love we experience. It is very common for fear to hold us back. Fear is resistance. And it doesn’t feel good. What happens if we simply let go and experience whatever is arising without needing to know what it is? what happens if we let life show us what life is instead of relying on our thoughts or the thoughts of anyone else? It’s worth a try and see what happens. Think of it as a little experiment. Go slow. Pay attention. See what happens.
I hope this helps.
Luka V says
Thank you Peter,
I just watched your interview with Rick on buddha at the gas pump. Amazing interview, so beautiful, your story is amazing and it was really nice to hear all of that.
Yes I guess I need to move slowly and see what happens. Thank you again
Hi Mr Peter ,I had this fear when I woke up in a trance state,and saw clearly the “I” I thought was myself. It was a mystical experience where after it I saw a white light that was going to replace me .It had never occurred that the me is that real ,it is actually me ,and all that I had worked for my whole life was for that me .I didn’t accept that I was going to disappear .I felt like I was really going to die and I didn’t accept it .I thought ego was like a character mask and not that fundamental .And I woke up with tears in my eyes because I didn’t want to die .Something tells me that if this is what enlightenment is ,I don’t want it.
Thank you for writing.
Fear of Awakening
As people come closer to awakening a great deal of fear can arise. This is usually in the form of an intense fear of death and a feeling that death is very close.
One fellow wrote me about this today. He said, “I’m terrified of dying. I don’t want to die. If this is awakening, I don’t want it.”
Of course, this isn’t awakening. This is clinging to a dream. This is fierce attachment to illusion. There is no fear or suffering when one is awake. But there is plenty of fear and suffering in the illusion of separation.
The only thing that is dying is this illusion of a separate self. And in the process toward awakening from this illusion, the illusion is losing its believability and power over you. As you continue to cling to this illusion, it may feel that you (the illusion of a separate you) is dying.
Once you actually do awaken from this illusion, all fear and suffering are instantly gone. The illusion has already died, so there is no longer the fear of it dying. The illusion is dead, but you are very much alive. More alive than you have ever experienced before. And you are completely free of all fear.
So quite intense fear can arise as you get closer to awakening because you are still clinging to a dream and that dream is being exposed and no longer as solid-appearing as it once was. But there is zero fear after awakening, only this unlimited freedom of your True Self.
I hope this helps.
Thanks very much for your reply sir ,I have been following the instructions of Mooji who is an advocate of Advaita Vedanta regarding self inquiry and this is what lead me to this realization .I now understand that enlightenment is not an advantage ego can have or a phenomenal feeling,its not as playful as I thought of it before .But as I stated I firmly believe in the “I” which is seen by the self even though there is knowing that it is seen ,I firmly believe it is me this felt “I” has caused both suffering and reward .And I love it I am invested in it .Maybe Moojis way is too direct thus I guess I am looking for a way to detach but step by step so the illusion can be revealed over time. What would you recommend ?,I am already grateful for your help sir .Thanks very much.
It is wonderful that you can see your attachment to this sense of a separate self. Most people cannot even see this. In Self-Inquiry, we simply look to see if this self is actually real, if it actually exists and has ever existed. Yes, most of us are very attached to it, but we never consider inquiring if it is actually real, because to us it feels as if it is.
If it turns out that it is not real, which every awakened being will be happy to tell you, then what are we spending so much energy and effort attaching to, worrying about, and suffering over?
Let’s begin with the idea that there actually could be a separate independent being called “me”. Could this me exist without the sun, or the earth, or water, or parents, or ancestors? Impossible, right? So perhaps it is not as independent and separate as it feels. If you truly look, you will discover that what we think of as me and the story of me could not exist without everything that exists. If this me depends completely on everything else, then how can it be separate from anything. When we realize this, then this me as a separate self existing independent entity no longer makes any sense at all. At that point, can you find this me? Look and see? Where is it? Is it real or a dream? Was it ever real? What does that say about the story of me and my life? It’s all a dream. Then attachment to this dream ends by itself.
The full realization of this takes as long as you want it to. As long as you continue clinging to this dream, you will not wake up from it. It will still appear real. Suffering will continue. In the very moment that you stop clinging and let it go, you wake up and suffering is no more. You enter life beyond thoughts, concepts, beliefs, dreams, and illusions. You enter a life of freedom, peace, bliss, and unconditional love that encompasses all of existence. Life has always been this, but as long as we cling to this illusion of separation we do not experience it and cannot see it.
I’ve been meditating intensively for about two years, vipassana style. And now I feel I’m totally devastated, and think that I would be better off not starting that. This little “me”, the ego, became way stronger and annoying than it was before I started. It is so afraid of extinction and it clings so forcefully to everything. I can see this selfing process clearly, but I CANNOT let go, this process is so beyond my control. This clinging is virtually a spasm, with the corresponding tension and spasms in the head and the body, and nearly constant anxiety. I would be happy to surrender, but when I try to do that, the selfing process would not diminish and perhaps becomes even stronger. Hope this is a passing stage, but I am really sick of this now.
Hi Alex. Thank you for your question. Your meditation practice has brought you far. This IS a challenging time because now you are seeing the ego self for what it is. It is created from fear and resistance to life and Truth. The ego is not getting stronger, you are simply becoming far more aware of it. Before you were aware of it, you were not aware of this great fear, attachment and resistance that is the ego self. Now you are. It’s not pleasant.
It IS a passing stage. But you must go through it. Here is HOW to do that.
Instead of resisting the fear and clinging, open to it. Open to it completely. Ask yourself, “Can I be space for this? Can I be space to experience this completely without resisting it?” In Truth, the answer can only be YES, because you ARE infinite space. You ARE space for everything. So, yes, you can be space for these terribly uncomfortable feelings as well. This is HOW you go through this stage. Not only go through it, but learn the essential lessons they are here to teach you.
When you ARE space for these feelings, they will not overwhelm you. You will not drown in them. But you will still feel them just as strongly. As you open fully to them, without any resistance, they will change. They will shift. They will reveal why they are here. They will teach you what is false that you have believed is true. And they will eventually reveal what is true. This stage is as much a part of awakening as any other. Yes, it is not pleasant. We sometimes call this the “rude awakening” or “fierce Grace”. But, make no mistake, this is an essential part of the awakening process. So open to it. Learn from it. Allow it to teach you the great gift that lies hidden beneath this seemingly terrible package.
Don’t wish for it to end. Don’t wish it away. Open to it. Open the package. You cannot receive the gift unless you do. It takes some courage. You don’t want to do it. But do it anyway. First ask, “Can I be space for this?” That will prevent you from being overwhelmed by these feelings. You will experience these feelings from a greater space and awareness. You will watch them shift and change. You will see the repressed thoughts connected to these feelings bubbling up to the surface and dissolving. All these thoughts and feelings are connected to this sense of “me”, this separate self identity. As they begin to fall away, you will experience an underlying Truth, a great peace, freedom, unconditional love and complete contentment that has always been here, hidden behind this belief in a limited separate self. This great fear and resistance hides this Truth from you. The way to freedom from this fear and resistance is NOT to continue resisting it and wishing it would pass. That will only increase it. You transcend the fear and resistance by opening to it, by learning why it is here. You end resistance by not resisting resistance. You open to it all. That is the awakened way. No resistance. No attachment. And right now you are receiving a great gift, a “fierce Grace”. You must open this package and receive this gift.
Many people let this stage block them from continuing. They allow fear to turn them away from their natural inevitable awakening to Truth. That is not the way. You must go through it. There is no way around. There is no other way. Behind this painful package of “fierce Grace” is the greatest gift you can ever imagine. Beyond anything you can ever imagine. But you must open it. I hope you do. I know it takes great courage to do this. My hopes and prayers are with you that you do this. If you need help with this, I am available. You are on the cusp of a great dawning that you don’t realize right now.
Peter, thank you so much for your kind response and encouragement. This is exactly what I need at this time. Thanks once again.
Peter, thank you so much for your kind response and encouragement. This is exactly what I need at this time. Thanks once again.
You’re very welcome, My Friend.