Terrifying Meditation

Ask The Yogi

Terrifying Meditation with guest ‘Yogi’ Maredith

Q: I was meditating recently, looking into a mirror in a class when I saw what, for me was a terrifying sight.  My body began to decay like a corpse right before my eyes.  The only thing left on my face were my eyes, perfectly unchanged by the situation, the little bit of my tooth that shone out of my mostly closed mouth and a striated face with decayed skin all in black and gray.  The only thing I could feel was death.  The figure looked like a demon (and I am not a person who believes in darkness).  It was absolutely horrifying.Have you ever heard of anything like this happening. What do other people see when they do this exercise? I never meditate and have no experience in such things (nor do I ever want to again).

A: I am going to preface my response to your question in the best way I know how.  I am not wise enough or experienced enough in meditation to try to interpret your experience but I can offer the following…

I don’t know what your thoughts are on karma or past lives but I am going to throw it out there for you to consider or reject.  As I read your e-mail,  the first thing that came to mind was the idea that you were watching some part of you dying- your ego, a past idea, life or ideology, something that you’ve had a strong attachment to now or in a past life.  Monks meditate for years to get to the state that you’ve experienced because it usually means an enlightment of sorts, a letting go or freedom of bondage that they actually witness during deep mediation.  They would in fact, consider you lucky and would embrace an experience like yours. It is unique because it happened to someone fairly new to meditating, but consider for the moment that in a past life, you’ve meditated before and you are just fortunate in this lifetime to experience it.  (I know that may sound far off, and again, the idea is for you to contemplate or reject)

When you were asked to look in the mirror and be the observer, it was like running an experiment in the mind, trying to see what happens when you focus on one thing for a long period of time and in your case the image came up. I won’t say “horrifying image” because that gives this experience a bad connotation, which some people would interpret as a “gift”. Ask yourself why am I resistant to the idea of death?  The feeling of death was a reaction to the image.  You equated the vision as the physical you dying but you mentioned that only your eyes were left,  this reminded me of the fact that you are the observer.  The little bit of tooth you saw reminded me of a glimmer- a light in the sea of gray and black, an “enlightment”.  Last night I mentioned that it’s good practice to die daily,  to be free from abhinivesha.  I said it light heartedly but I mean it with the utmost sincerity.  When monks, or persons have a very real vision of themselves or a loved one dying, they come out of the meditation a changed person, a little bit more enlightened, if you will, because they’ve just experienced “moksha”.

I also want to mention that it is okay to be afraid, this is new territory and maybe you’re not ready to explore it or embrace this, and that is okay too.  I don’t want to discount your feelings so with that in mind,  you may want to employ a mantra the next time you are asked to come into meditation or savasana- the repetition of a word or phrase-  for example “hum sa”, “sat nam”, “thy will be done”, thine”, etc…  This will help to dispel the vision(s).  When you start to notice that you’ve forgotten the mantra, gently bring your attention back and continue to recite the mantra with attention to breath.  Steer clear from reacting.

In meditation you try to watch what’s happening in the mind with a sense of dispassion. Bad images or things may come up in the meditation and you try not to react and get worked up over them; good things might come up and you don’t try to keep grab at the image to keep it”alive”. You watch them, and instead of allowing the mind to say “Yuck, this is not good, this is ugly, let me get away from this or let me think of something else” or in the opposite spectrum “Wow, this is great!  Let me meditate on this, because this is good”, you just BE.  When something comes up in the meditation, try to not be quick into interpret it, because you bring the mind into the equation. Try to keep the mind on an even keel, so that no matter what happens, good or bad, the mind doesn’t have to zoom up with the good things or crash down with the bad. You simply watch. If the mind is centered, you can ask yourself, “This seems good. Where did it come from? Where is it going to go?” If the mind is scattered, ask yourself, “Where did this come from?” Try to trace it out. Try to understand what is happening in terms of cause and effect. This requires that the mood not take total possession of your mind. Try to maintain a sense of the observer watching the mood come and go.

Perhaps read this article.

With Great Respect,


EDITORS NOTE: The Klesha Abhinivesha, (literally abhi – to move toward, ni – near, vesha – life: To move toward liking life too much) or the fear of death is the greatest fear in existence and is the root of all other fears.  It is said that even the most accomplished yoga practitioners can fall back into this state of fear.  — Jeff

Maredith is a teacher and Assistant-Director of teacher training programs at Inner Vision Yoga.  All suggestions are voluntary.  Consult a qualified teacher or your physician before you embark on any practice in which you are unfamiliar.