In our never-ending pursuit of answers, the fear of dying and the afterlife often come to the surface. It’s natural to ponder what happens when we die. It’s equally important to confront and overcome this fear. After all, a life lived in fear is not a life lived fully.
Existential fear is the awareness of our mortality. This anxiety or fear culminates in many ways. It may be feelings of our insignificance in the grand scheme of the universe. To others, it is the absence of a clear purpose or meaning to life. By exploring these aspects, we can unravel the layers of this fear.
Facing the reality of our temporal existence prompts us to ask about the meaning of life. Coping with the fear of the afterlife and dying is something that has haunted humanity for ages. So, let’s meet this fear head-on and examine how to navigate through this issue. This journey will give us a newfound appreciation for our existence.
If we are to overcome this fear, we must understand it and learn how to defeat it. One of the first profound questions children ask is what happens when we die. Children are instinctively drawn to this mystery of life.
Overcoming Fear of The Afterlife
When we accept death as an inevitable part of life, it allows us to shift our perspective. Instead of fearing the unknown, we can embrace it and use it as an inspiration. It motivates us to make the most of each day.
Life after death is a concept that varies across cultures and belief systems. Researching belief systems helps to reduce fear. Learning about other afterlife beliefs reduces the fear of the unknown. Comparative religious study can be a transformative experience. We prefer a structured method known as Comparative Analysis. Exploring different religions is one way of coping with the fear of the afterlife and dying.
Knowledge is a powerful tool for overcoming fear. Reading books, listening to podcasts, or lectures about this subject broadens our perspective. There are several related topics, such as near-death experiences and spiritual awakenings. By gaining knowledge, we increase our ability to cope with this mysterious experience.
Exploring The Fear of Dying and the Afterlife
There is a name for this anxiety: thanatophobia. Existential anxiety is the realization that life has limitations. The fear of what happens when we die is something most people encounter at some point. It can be accompanied by thoughts of death, our insignificance, and the meaning of life. What if I told you that understanding our existential fear is the path of self-discovery?
One way to put this topic into perspective is to understand we are spiritual beings. We have a body, mind, and spirit. The term soul is interchangeable with spirit. Others call this the observer. The observer is the person you talk to inside your head. It’s the person who experiences your dreams. We know from experience that thoughts and emotions appear “real” in vivid dreams.
Many spiritual traditions see the fear of dying and the afterlife as important benchmarks. These events can bring about breakthroughs in perception. We may not plan or want this experience, but that doesn’t matter. All we know for sure is a message is making its way to our conscious mind. This message is triggering one of our primal fears. (1)
We don’t know the origin of this message. It could be something from our subconscious or some other source, like our soul. Some traditions believe it is the way the universe speaks to us. We may not know the origin, but it is a message trying to get our attention. We must deal with it.
Coping with Fear of the Afterlife and Dying
What we do with existential dread can be life-changing. Some people seek solace in religion. Others use it to fuel adventure.
Many ancient sages understood this as the desire for spiritual exploration. For death ultimately requires us to contemplate the existence of our soul. So, this is not something to shrink away from. Nor should we use a substitute like organized religion as an antidote. Coping with fear of the afterlife and dying is a response that directs the trajectory of our lives. It should be used as a motivational, prompting us to explore life.
1. Existential Fear as a Sign of Awakening
Contrary to what may seem like a negative emotion, existential fear serves as a catalyst for growth. It is the doorway to heightened self-awareness. The spiritual awakening often begins with this realization or eureka experience. It awakens us to the profound questions that drive our souls and compels us to seek meaning in every moment. When we embrace this fear, we can channel it into a source of inspiration. It can fuel our lifelong quest to understand ourselves and the world around us.
Discussing our fear of dying and the afterlife can help bring clarity and reduce anxiety. Sharing experiences and perspectives can offer insights and a renewed sense of acceptance.
2. The Freedom Paradox
Existential fear is closely intertwined with the concept of freedom. We fear the burden of choice and responsibility that accompanies our free will. Acknowledging that our lives are shaped by the choices we make empowers us to take control. We can create the meaning and purpose we crave. Our existential fear becomes a signal urging us to exercise our freedom.
3. Striving for Authenticity
Cultural beliefs can exacerbate our existential fear. It can arise from the tension between the expectations of society and our true selves. Western culture downplays the need for coping with fear of the afterlife and dying. Modern psychological approaches are not always accepted because they clash with religious beliefs.
Embracing authenticity entails breaking free from societal norms. This is especially necessary in Western cultures. We must let go of myths and superstitions. By embracing our unique identity, we can conquer existential dread. When we live authentic lives, we forge a path that is true to ourselves.
Engaging in spiritual practices can bring inner peace. Meditation and connecting with nature reduce stress. They reduce the anxiety and the fear of the afterlife and dying. By nurturing with healthy practices, we become more present and awake. We can find joy in the present moment. And therein, learn to trust that whatever comes after will be a part of our spiritual journey. When we seek spiritual practices or teachers, we must be wary. We must seek authentic tools and teachers while avoiding the counterfeit of religion.
4. Transcending the Darkness
Existential fear often manifests as a dark cloud hanging over our lives. By embracing it head-on, we can uncover profound insights and discover the beauty hidden within the void. Practices like mindfulness, meditation, and self-reflection illuminate the path toward self-discovery. Here, we can find solace in the depths of our existential angst.
Overcoming fear of the afterlife requires inner work. Inner work is any spiritual practice that deals with the roadblocks that are holding us back. These roadblocks are often unhealthy bias and prejudice like racism.
Fear thrives in the absence of presence. By practicing mindfulness, we can learn to savor and appreciate the beauty of the present moment. Reconnect with the world around you, and let go of anxious thoughts about the future. Embracing the here and now can ease fears about the afterlife.
The Obstacles to the Fear of Dying and the Afterlife
The best way out is to go through it. You can’t back up. You can’t change the past. When you face this turmoil, engage in self-care and find a “healthy” way to relieve your emotional distress.
First, The Fear of the Unknown
One of the primary hurdles on the journey to overcoming the fear of afterlife beliefs is the fear of the unknown. Death, by its nature, remains a mystery, leaving ample room for imagination and apprehension.
As humans, we tend to fear what we don’t understand. Instead of allowing fear to overpower us, it is crucial to embrace curiosity and begin an exploration of different belief systems. This thirst for knowledge can diminish fear. It provides us with a deeper understanding of the many perspectives surrounding the afterlife.
Second, Unhealthy Cultural Conditioning
Often, our fear of afterlife beliefs is deeply rooted in cultural conditioning. From a young age, we are influenced by the beliefs and doctrines of our families and communities. Breaking free from these perspectives can be challenging. Going beyond these traditions may trigger feelings of guilt.
It is important to recognize that personal growth requires challenging preconceived beliefs. To grow, we must notions and seek our own truth. By acknowledging the role of cultural conditioning, we can minimize its impact. Embracing personal growth enables us to overcome fear and move beyond myths. This freedom gives us the ability to align with positive, inclusive values.
Substituting the afterlife for fear of death does not address the issue. You can’t “believe it” away. You’ll need to face this anxiety and explore it. Understanding our existential fear is the only way to make it work for our lives. We must learn healthy skills for coping with fear of the afterlife and death.
So, what exactly is this experience? It’s the time when our deepest fears and memories of loss surface. These episodes often follow a personal tragedy. Then, when we are alone, we ponder the fear of death. We get lost in memories of lost love. It is a time when we relive missed opportunities and mistakes. There may be something to the “witching hour.”
“But at three o’clock in the morning, a forgotten package has the same tragic importance as a death sentence, and the cure doesn’t work. And in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald
The emotions that drive this experience are a slippery slope. Once these thoughts and feelings arise, they overwhelm your reason and common sense. Some become self-destructive, even to the point of committing suicide (2).
Our culture is the source of a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety. It fails to provide a sense of community, fairness, and safety. Instead, it promotes inequity and sectarian thinking. The divide between the rich and everyone else grows, and the pressures of life increase for the majority. Many people have more than one job. People lose their savings and homes to pay for necessary medical care. Children go hungry in the most developed countries, while billionaires buy a second yacht.
Therefore, it is important to keep questioning the cultural narrative. Don’t allow yourself to fall under the control of this propaganda. The more you expose yourself, the more susceptible you become to self-hypnosis techniques. It will enable others to control what you think. You don’t need to disengage from your social responsibility. However, it would help if you learned how it affects what you think.
Third, Confronting Mortality
Our fear of dying and the afterlife are linked to the fear of our impermanence. Contemplating death is uncomfortable. It is an anxiety-inducing experience. If we embrace the concept of impermanence, it brings freedom and an appreciation for the present moment. Reflecting on the impermanence of life motivates many to prioritize what truly matters. It is often the catalyst and enhances our ability to live with authenticity.
Death teaches us to value life. It should propel us on an inward journey of exploration. This quest is what we call spiritual exploration. If you are reading this, it could be because you need to start this journey. If you don’t deal with it, the dread of death will keep coming up.
Fourth, Fear of Different Beliefs
The fear of afterlife beliefs can also manifest as a fear of different belief systems held by others. People gravitate towards like-minded individuals, creating an echo chamber that perpetuates our trepidation. Breaking free from this cycle entails embracing diversity and inclusion. We must learn that differing beliefs do not invalidate our own, nor do they pose a threat to our convictions. Engaging in dialogue and embracing the beauty of varying perspectives can be a challenge. However, this practice is a valuable instrument in overcoming fear.
Religion contributes in a major way to the harmful programming in the culture. The most “popular religions” take advantage of your fear and insecurities. Instead of providing tools to explore your existential fear, it sells a false antidote. The afterlife is a counterfeit that substitutes one fear for another. Now, you get to worry about obtaining your afterlife benefits.
One needs to be aware of how to use metaphors and analogies found in mythology. Mythology is a metaphor, not a fact. So, thinking in mythological terms helps you to keep perspective. “The Vale of Tears” is similar to “The Dark Night of the Soul Test.” Both express the emotional turmoil of our spirit.
If we look more closely at the poem by St. John, it talks about sneaking out at night in other clothes so no one would recognize him as clergy. He describes being with his lover, “moving in unison,” a clear reference to sex. And so he finds peace, peace “laying face to face with his lover,” something he could not do as a priest. Here is where he wishes to spend eternity: “forgotten in the lilies.” It’s a type of surrender to his situation in life. He is separated from his partner by religious laws against same-sex relationships.
It’s hard not to treat myth as a fact, especially if your identity is part of your religious beliefs. Religion is the greatest source of this intentional misrepresentation of metaphor as fact. Be mindful of how to treat the power of mythology. Use the myth as a metaphor to help point you away from organized religion.
“Thinking in mythological terms helps to put you in accord with the inevitables of this vale of tears. You learn to recognize the positive values in what appear to be the negative moments and aspects of your life. The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.” ― Joseph Campbell
Final Thoughts on the Obstacles to the Fears of Death and Mortality
Overcoming the fear of afterlife beliefs is a transformative journey. It requires introspection, curiosity, and an open mind. We must confront the obstacles hindering our growth so that we can replace fear with acceptance and understanding.
The path beyond the fear of death means we must embrace the unknown and challenge cultural norms. It starts by accepting our mortality and being open to other beliefs. Through the use of inner work tools, we can learn to use our existential fear. Then, we can find peace and tranquility in the face of afterlife uncertainties.
How to Confront the Fear of the Afterlife and Dying
Step One ― Recognize it
Once you realize what’s going on, you can guide the process. Say to yourself, “I see what’s happening.” Now, you regain some control of reason and common sense.
You have two choices. First, you can stay in this downward emotional and spiritual spiral. Second, you can change the downward spiral into a circle.
Step Two ― Move Through it.
Changing the spiral to a circle means circling back to acknowledge the thought or feeling. Find out where it started, and then frame it positively. For instance, dark emotions might focus on lost love. If so, acknowledge the pain and find the lesson to be learned. Learn to recognize positive feelings and events. You frame it positively by saying this experience helped me understand the power of love. Minimize the negative and stress the positive.
If you can’t find a positive way, change the subject to something positive. Either way, decide this is not healthy. Don’t deny the thought or feeling. Instead, resolve to move through it. What you don’t want to do is to dwell on the pain.
Harmful programming can keep you from moving beyond fear. So, it is often necessary to remove the destructive values and beliefs. You can do this using the Enneagram and the Repeating Question exercise. With these tools, you identify the source that’s holding you back and then delete or minimize it. To delete it, you learn to “banish” the thought or memory. If you can’t delete it, you minimize it by turning down the volume of memories.
Step Three ― Seek Help
If you can’t move through it on your own, seek help. Call a friend. Call your spiritual teacher or contact the International Society for Suicide Prevention.
Overcoming fear of the afterlife and death requires understanding. It is a transformative journey of self-discovery; it’s one of the goals of the inner quest. By reframing our perspective, we can learn to embrace the uncertainties of life. In this way, we unlock the path to personal growth. In the process, we gain self-awareness and genuine fulfillment.
When we treat existential fear as a guide rather than an obstacle, we invite a renewed sense of purpose. So, let us venture forth and explore the abyss and emerge stronger, wiser, and kinder. We can become more connected to ourselves and the universe than ever before.
(1) The Interactive Factors Contributing to Fear of Death. The National Library of Medicine.
(2) International Society for Suicide Prevention.