This is not a general question about how to deal with overwhelming fear, but a question about an specific experience.

I contemplated about the 4 elements and how my body is made up of it (for the first time ever you could say). I was not having a formal sitting with closed eyes, but I was rather looking at my body like 'here I can see the solid bones of my hand (through the skin)', 'when I press with my fingers at this spot of my arm it moves, so there must be fluid under the skin' ...

And while doing this I had a feeling as if I was some scientist who examines the body of an unknown species and my body looked so strange to me, that great fear (of the body I think) suddenly arose. I was so shocked and overwhelmed, that I had to stop there immediately.

My question is: What happened there?

  • 1
    The terror that jostles us out of complacency is a friend often misunderstood.
    – sova
    Dec 23, 2015 at 3:46
  • Very wise words. If possible, could you elaborate on this and post it as an answer?
    – user2424
    Dec 23, 2015 at 13:32

4 Answers 4


Most of the time people live most of their lives without changing contexts too much. For the mind, living in the same context gives a sense of security. It also makes us dumb and highly vulnerable. Once we believe in a context and objectify it, it becomes reality for us. At the end of the day, this is why we die.

When you start playing with your context by adopting a different perspective (mode) of seeing things, you are getting into an unknown territory - unknown for your mind anyway. Naturally, there is a sense of panic.

What Buddhism teaches us is freedom from any context. Doing what you did is a first step. It's not necessarily valuable in and off itself - but it gives you a glimpse at how your mind reacts to its attachments being challenged.

  • I've often wondered if we have to sleep/eat simply because we were told we had to and believe it
    – Ryan
    Dec 23, 2015 at 0:46
  • Well, don't dumb it down that much.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Dec 23, 2015 at 3:07
  • The experienced conveyed also reminds me of single-pointed awareness of the modicum of wilderness. Are you familiar with the sutra? accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.121.than.html May your abidings be unobstructed and clear
    – sova
    Dec 23, 2015 at 3:46
  • I am going to die at the end of the day? (ha ha) Anyway, I was telling someone a very similar thing recently: that people get so stuck in their conceptions and habits that eventually they cannot make further progress, so they must die. This is not an easy idea for people to accept! Fear of annihilation blocks them. I would say instead: keep growing!
    – user2341
    Dec 23, 2015 at 14:14

The terror is likely caused by the clinging to wrong view of the self.

Who was the unknown species? Why did it look so strange? Was it because you, like everybody, already greatly cling to an idea of what you are and this new mindful approach to experiencing what you are, can show you something that is real but alien to your normal way of experiencing yourself?

So if I understand what you are saying, the terror happens because you have the wrong idea or wrong view that you are dying or being wiped from existence when really it is just a different way of perceiving reality.

These kinds of experiences are common with insight practice. Sounds like your practice is going in the right direction towards dropping the wrong view of self.

Remember that nothing is permanent like these terrorizing experiences.

  • 2
    It is noble of you to make your answers community wiki so you do not get attached to reputation. But having said that for the site to graduate there will be couple of adjustments do privilege levels in all cases you need users with higher privileges after the adjustment to meet the quotas. So it makes sense for overall betterment to leave without making community wiki. Also until you get past 10k it is best to accumulate reputation, after which it does not matter much, other than to know someone appreciated your Question or Answer. These just my thoughts. Be well and happy! Dec 23, 2015 at 10:30
  • 1
    There must be many ideas on how we can make this community more effective. There must be a lot of ideas that haven't been thought of yet. Maybe we could have effective brainstorming sessions on different topics. Metta :)
    – Lowbrow
    Dec 23, 2015 at 15:31
  • 1
    I opened this to find out what needs to happen: meta.buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/1869/… Dec 23, 2015 at 16:00

Very good, Tealine, don't be scared and try to find that point again and investigate more. In regard of terror, samvega is less introduced, but the main source nad drive for the effort to walk the path to awakening. This essay might be useful: Affirming the Truths of the Heart-The Buddhist Teachings on Samvega & Pasada as well as Body Contemplation A Study Guide

Although early Buddhism is widely believed to take a negative attitude toward the body, the texts of the Pali canon do not support this belief. They approach the body both in its positive role, as an object of meditation to develop mindfulness, concentration, and the mental powers based on concentration; and in its negative role as an object for unskillful states of mind. Even in its negative role, the body is not the culprit: the problem is the mind's attachment to the body. Once the body can be used in its positive role, to develop mindfulness and concentration, those mental qualities can be used to free the mind of its attachments to the body. Then, as many a modern meditation master has noted, the mind and body can live in peace.


I cannot give you an exact answer to what happened, but it seems like you've had a moment of "seeing yourself as you really are" (in the words of the 14th Dalai Lama). The acute experience of seeing oneself as detached and naked is bound very closely to the experience of existential anxiety, the "just-is-ness" of being in the world, that phenomenology and existentialism speaks about. They call it "being there".

I've had the same experience and after some reflection and repetition it can be very helpful indeed. I've also found that seeing the "compositeness" of oneself and one's body gives you a more realistic and irreconcilable view of your existential situation.

If you want to go more systematically forward with these kinds of trainings, I recommend trying the exercises described in the book "The Direct Path: A User Guide" by Greg Goode, a non dual inquiry into direct experience, both of your own body, thoughts, feelings and the external world. Goode is definitely and directly inspired by the Buddha.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .