Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ask Asha: Fear in Meditation

[You can ask your own question here.]


Sometimes if I have a deep experience in meditation it makes me fearful. My heart yearns to meet the Divine but I am also afraid of such an experience. How should I conquer this fear, particularly the fear of going into the unknown and experiencing the Divine?

From S.B


Dear S.B.:

I was in my early thirties when I got married. Before that, I had never been out of the country (U.S.A, where I was born). I didn’t even have a passport.

By contrast my husband loved to travel and had been to India and also spent six months traveling around Europe before our marriage. His karma trumped mine, and together we have traveled to many places in the world.

As a novice traveler, I experienced some anxiety about being in what was to me any “foreign” country. The only language I speak is English. Some 30 years ago when we first started traveling, in many places English was hardly spoken. (Things are different now.)

What if I broke some important cultural taboo and didn’t even know it? I imagined myself surrounded by hostile “natives,” yelling at me in a language I didn’t understand about something I knew nothing about.

Just for fun, God manifested for me a bit of what I feared.

We were in Athens, Greece. It was my first trip -- our honeymoon, in fact. We liked to walk, and had been wandering around the city. It was rather late at night and we decided to take a taxi back to our hotel.

The driver took a circuitous route in order to drive up the fare. I often joke that I always know what I think, I usually know what I feel, but I rarely know where I am! So he fooled me completely.

David, however, pays more attention than I do, and he saw exactly what the driver was doing. When it came time to pay the fare, David offered him the appropriate amount and refused to budge when the driver pointed to the meter and demanded more.

Communication, as you can imagine, was not smooth. The driver knew a little bit of English; we knew not a word of Greek.

We had gotten out of the cab and were standing in the street having what quickly escalated into a major disagreement with the driver. A crowd gathered -- all eagerly contributing to the discussion in loud voices, in Greek, of course -- and pretty soon my imagined scenario was playing out around me.

I didn’t enjoy it, but at the same time, I noticed that it wasn’t so bad. The fear of it was much worse than the real thing.

Still, I would have paid off the driver and put an end to it. David saw no reason to allow him to take advantage of us and stood his ground.

Finally, in what, even at the time, I saw as a brilliant conversation stopper, the driver reached over, quickly removed from David’s face the prescription glasses he always wore, carefully folded them and placed them in his own shirt pocket. Then he got into his cab and closed the door.

Within a few seconds David realized we had been defeated. He paid what he now understood to be the ransom to get his glasses back. The driver took the money, returned the glasses, and we went into our hotel.

What you may well ask does my honeymoon trip to Athens have to do with your meditation?

There is an often quoted saying, “As above, so below.” I always thought this was from the Bible and apologize now for the many times I have declared that to be so. In fact no one knows exactly where the saying came from.

Doesn’t matter, the meaning is what is important. Science, religion, and philosophy all refer to it. The microcosm illustrates principles you see also in the macrocosm.

From the Self-realization point of view, what this means is that the seemingly unfathomable reaches of Infinite Spirit can be understood to a surprising degree by building on what we already know.

One aspect of Swami Kriyananda’s genius as a teacher is that he can make even the most subtle teachings comprehensible by relating them to experiences that everyone already know to be true.

For example, in order to explain how the up and down flow of energy in the spine relates to our state of consciousness, Swamiji reminds us of how children respond to positive and negative experiences.

Excited children often jump up and down when they are pleased with something. And, at the opposite extreme, throw their bodies full length onto the ground when things go contrary to their desires.

A happy person lifts up eyes, head, and chest; a despairing person bends over and looks down.

Even if we can’t feel the rising and falling currents of energy in the spine, we see the evidence of their presence -- the positive nature of rising energy and negative nature of downward moving energy -- all around us.

As another example, when asked the perennial unanswerable question, “Why did God make creation?” Swamiji gave this quite original answer: “It is the nature of Joy to want to share Itself.” Sounds good, but still a little beyond the reach of the ordinary person to understand when you try to picture God Himself. So Swamiji elaborated.

“If you go to a restaurant that you really enjoy, or a movie that is particularly good, what is your first impulse? For most people, it is tell your friends. It is not enough merely to enjoy it yourself. You want to share your joy with everyone,” Swamiji explained.

Obvious, when he puts it like that. Our understanding of God’s very nature can be built upon our own experience. A perfect illustration of “As above, so below.” As it is with God, so each of us, as a reflection of His consciousness, express the same principles. That’s the extraordinary power of the path of Self-realization. It is based on experience, not mere belief.

Back now to our trip to Greece.

Meditation is like traveling to a foreign country. Yes, philosophically speaking, we are in fact not leaving home but going home. Still, we have grown up in exile, so to speak, and even though we may be divine in our true nature, we have been living in the servants’ quarters all our lives. The palace and its ways seem strange to us at first.

It is no surprise that we feel a little nervous, just as I was on my first trip away from the good old U.S.A. Now, three decades and a few dozen trips later, I have come to understand how much people everywhere are all the same. What is there to be nervous about merely because customs and language vary?

I remember very early on in my meditative life asking Swamiji about some experience I had. Nothing notable, it was just unfamiliar to me.

Swamiji responded, “Don’t be afraid. You’ll get used to it.”

Until that moment, it hadn’t occurred to me that I was nervous, and I didn’t want to accept it as true even though Swamiji had said it. Intellectually, I knew I should love the experiences of meditation and there was a big disconnect between what I thought I should feel and what I actually did feel. (This was before I became better acquainted with my own feelings.)

I responded quickly, and defensively, “I’m not afraid!” My voice, however, betrayed my true feelings. It was tense, hurried, and high-pitched. Fortunately, I noticed my tone of voice and later reflected on my fear and Swamiji’s reassurance.

Why was I afraid? Swamiji had answered that already: because the experience was unfamiliar and I was not used to it.

Same for you: You’ll get used to it. In the meantime, don’t compound your difficulty by worrying about what is, in fact, a perfectly natural response. Otherwise you’ll have not only the anxiety of being in an unfamiliar realm, but also a complex about your anxiety! Yes, you could analyze the ego and its fear of being annihilated and past experiences that may cause you to fear losing control, etc., etc.,etc. But why bother? It won’t solve the problem anyway. It will just make you more self-concerned. No point in making things worse than they already are!

Here is the simplest and best solution I know.

In my experience in Greece, one reason I was able to weather that adventure relatively well is because I was with David. My dear and wonderful husband, who was also an experienced traveler, was right by my side. I trusted him and therefore was not overly concerned about what was going on around us.

When we enter meditation, our guide is Master himself. We are in good hands! The answer to all fear is love. “Perfect love casts out fear,” the Bible tells us (1 John 4:18). When you find yourself in meditation feeling anxious about what you are experiencing, call on Master.

Imagine yourself walking hand in hand with him, not only in meditation, but also in the everyday world. Feel the security a little child feels when his father grasps his small hand with his larger and stronger one. As with the earthly father so with the Heavenly Father. In the presence of such certainty and love, what is there to fear? His love for you, your love for Him casts out all fear.

Practice this visualization in meditation before the anxiety sets in. Make your meditation itself a communion with Master. The inner worlds may be foreign to you but they are Master’s natural home. You have a “local” guide who knows the territory and speaks every dialect imaginable.

And if the fear still overtakes you, resolve it by taking refuge in Master’s consciousness. Inwardly run to him, cast yourself upon his lap like a little child. Curl up there and visualize his arms around you. Feel his love. Love casts out all fear.

I first went to India in 1986, as part of a pilgrimage called “In the Footsteps of Master.” We visited many of the places made holy by Master’s presence, including his childhood home at 4 Garpar Road in Calcutta. At that time Master’s nephew, Harekrishna Ghosh, was still living in the family home. We returned to the house about a dozen times over the next 20 years, gradually coming to know more and more members of Master’s family.

Harekrishna had a younger sister named Sheffli. Both of them met Master when he returned to India in 1935. Harekrishna was fifteen then and has almost adult memories of being with Master. Sheffli was only three, and doesn’t remember the visit herself but has heard the stories of her relationship with Master from older relatives.

Apparently she was completely enamored of Master and whenever she was in the same room with him, would run to his side, cling to his leg, or climb onto his lap. Master returned her affection and would keep close her to him whenever possible.

Once they were all going to a movie theater and Sheffli was considered too young to go along. Master, however, overrode the objections, lifted Sheffli to his chest, buttoned his coat around her. In that way he took her into the movie theater and held her next to his heart the entire time.

When I first heard stories of Sheffli and Master, my first thought was, “What a waste! To have met Master only once in a lifetime and be too small even to remember it!” Then, as I reflected more deeply, I also saw the deep blessing of meeting him in early childhood. Because she was so young, Sheffli was entirely uninhibited in her love and devotion to Master. It never occurred to her that she might not be welcome or that her extravagant expression of devotion to him was anything other than perfectly appropriate.

Often since then I have visualized myself as a tiny child, throwing myself against Master’s leg, clinging to him, climbing on his lap, resting against his heart with his buttoned coat around me. Ah, bliss!

We are Master’s chelas -- a word for disciples, but it also means “child.” We are children of the Guru and as such have both a right and a duty to surrender completely not only to his guidance but also to his protective love.

With a Self-realized Master taking care of us, what harm could possibly come to us? His perfect love for us -- and our perfect love for him -- casts out all fear.

Nayaswami Asha

[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of]


  1. Sri Nayaswami Asha, Thank you so very much for your moving letter! I am extremely moved! This letter has reflected your hearts love for Guru as I have always suspected....but you usually communicate albeit eloquently in a "jianic" way. Namasti!


  2. The beautiful explanation about the fear.Yes it is guideline who r facing the problem when introvert and the obstacle comes.
    I thanks for this blog.


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