Mystical experiences can be very frightening experiences. I have found this to be true based on personal experience and 15 years of research.
Let’s look at this further.
Eastern traditions have long described sensory, motor, mental and affective symptoms associated with the concept of Kundalini.
Symbolized by a coiled sleeping serpent, Kundalini activation (either through spiritual discipline or spontaneously) is believed to bring new states of consciousness, including mystical illumination.
Many people have an aversion or fear of snakes. Nonetheless, the ancients around the world thought of snakes as a symbol of life and change.
This is probably because of the capacity of snakes to activate the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS regulates bodily functions crucial for arousal and wakefulness (e.g., heart rate, respiratory rate, pupillary response).
In fact, many of the symptoms of the Kundalini experience are like those reported during panic attacks.
Otto’s influential book, The Idea of the Holy, described the “numinous” quality of mystical experience as having two aspects: mysterium tremendum, the tendency to invoke fear and trembling; and mysterium fascinas, the tendency to attract, fascinate and compel.
Anxiety attacks have much in common with spiritual experiences (despite differences in affective tone).
For instance, both involve powerful feelings, sensations and perceptions no longer conform to actual events, the total experience is ineffable (i.e., difficult to describe in ordinary language), and an actual or impending dissolution of the self-as-object.
If we only focus on the positive aspects of spiritual experiences — without increasing our understanding of the intense fear involved — we run the risk of avoiding what the negative emotions of fear and anxiety might be trying to teach us.
But if we become stuck in fear and terror, we run the risk of increasing our inability to maintain adaptive functioning.
So, you see, both positive and negative aspects of mystical experiences go hand in hand. Both need to be there for us to experience understanding at its maximum capacity, and to execute our skills in a way that maximizes results in our daily lives.
I hope this has given you a more complete understanding of mystical experience, and how important it is to have a healthy relationship to our fears — whether they be about death and dying or any other fears.
Because overcoming our fears is the primary way we can ensure our own happiness in life.
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