One of the most universal human fears is the fear of dying. It is instinctual to act in ways that preserve life and rightly so, for we are not meant to seek death.
However fear of dying, which is as much a part of life as being born, limits our ability to live life to the fullest. And according to yoga philosophy, it is an avoidance of truth. In the classic yogic text the Bhagavad Gita, Paramahansa Yogananda translates, “For that which is born must die, and that which is dead must be born again. Why then shouldst thou grieve about the unavoidable?”
To live a full and happy life, we cannot allow our energy to be drained by fear — especially the fear of what is unavoidable. To do so is considered one of the five obstructions or kleshas, to a clear consciousness and therefore a full life.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali identify the kleshas that keep us from the complete, free experience we are meant to live as: ignorance of our true spiritual nature (avidya), egoism (asmita), attachment (raga), aversion (dvesa), and the fear of death (abhinivesa).
By looking at how all of these fit together, we can start to dismantle the power of abhinivesa and reclaim the totality of our life force energy. Let’s begin by defining what we consider to be our “self. “ Most of us define ourselves by our personality, our bodies, our relational roles, career, or creative expressions — all of which are temporary, changeable, bound by likes and dislikes, and destined to physical death.
Every day we experience some degree of fear that these temporary aspects of the "ego self" will die. Consider the innumerable ways in which we are afraid to let go of anything relating to our public image, our physical bodies, our relationships, or our material possessions.
If it our belief that we may fade away when these expressions of the ego self do, then no wonder we are afraid of dying!
Take stock of the ways in which you cling to life as you know it right now. Do you consistently avoid change? Are you battling the natural aging process of the body by obsessing about a youthful appearance? Maybe you are afraid to take reasonable risks or are unwilling to embrace the unknown. We spend much time in "small self" preservation.
However, when we begin to inquire into the immortal nature of the "soul self," we discover something changeless and eternal.
The simplest way to connect to this Higher Self is through meditation. When the mind is quiet and our sensory connection to the external world is turned off temporarily, we find within a vast Self of love and beauty that is rich in its essence, although intangible in form. Through stillness and other devotional practices such as prayer, chanting or rituals that access the Divine within, we can break free from our fear of death and the bondage of the other kleshas.
When we focus on preserving the connection to our true Self, we transcend our limited beliefs and access something a higher, universal intelligence. From there we can observe in a detached manner, the tendencies of the egoic self. We can return to the ego's attachments (raga) and aversions (dvesa), but can choose to identify with what is infinite and everlasting instead.
As we recognize our true nature as an intrinsic part of the cosmic whole, we live life with deeper connection and we engage consciously with our evolutionary process. We embrace life and death as experiences in self-awareness, rather than self-preservation. We align ourselves with universal principles of love and unity and expand into a newfound state of freedom.
As we begin to embrace this shift in how we identify ourselves, we experience change in our lives with more ease and find that "we" actually always remain the same. The essence of who we are still exists, regardless of the external circumstance that fluctuates around us in constant ebb and flow.
By loosening our grip on all the ways we cling to life, eventually we overcome the fear of dying. And then even when the body passes away, we remain peaceful and complete. We are part of the whole.