Is it Safe to Let Go? Facing Existential Fear on the Spiritual Path

Question: 

The more I’ve been engaging with spiritual practice, the more I’m starting to feel a deep existential paradox. On one hand, I recognize that the only thing standing in the way of awakening is my investment in self-image. It seems so simple, logical, and achievable. 

But while awakening feels within reach, it’s still so terrifying to let go. The more I lean into letting go, the more I become overwhelmed with fear. What if everything falls apart? What if I’ll lose everything I’ve so carefully constructed? What if letting go will trigger a desire to change my whole life? This feels like I might die, and I’m not sure what to make of it or how to move beyond the fear. 

Answer: 

The question that you’re bringing up represents a really important reflection. I appreciate your vulnerability and the clarity you’ve expressed in laying out what’s happening within you. 

I have no doubt that many people can resonate with at least some aspect of what you’ve shared about your experience. There’s a lot in what you’re asking here, so I’m going to share a few different perspectives on it..

Whether or not you can relate to this exact question, this experience is something that comes up at some point for a lot of us on the spiritual path, and I can personally resonate with everything you laid out. 

Many spiritual practices revolve around letting go and letting things be, and when you engage this practice in  earnest, it’s natural—even inevitable—for existential fear to arise. Any genuine practice of letting go will eventually take you beyond who you thought you were. It will give you a direct experience of who you are beyond the mind. This is a part of you that your mind can never know. Any practice of awakening or enlightenment will, in one way or another, nudge us in this direction. 

At some point, these practices are going to threaten the existential attachment we have to our lives. The investment we have in our own self-image is going to be challenged and it’s going to feel like we need to leave something behind. This can create a deep sense of fear or even dread. It’s something that all of us on the path, inevitably, have to face. 

The good news is that you understand the dynamics of what is actually happening to you. You’re saying, “I get it. I understand that my investment in self-image is what’s in the way. I can see that. It’s crystal clear.” 

That’s good. The fact that it’s clear to you is really a good start. There’s no ambiguity about what’s being asked of you. You can see it in your own experience. 

You’re also saying that the more it feels within reach, the more the fear seems to grow. This also makes a lot of sense. 

Sometimes when I talk about the fear that we all face on the spiritual path, some people say, “I’ve never felt any fear on the spiritual path. I’m just excited to let go, and to awaken. I’m a big yes. I’ve never felt fear.” 

In these situations, I often say, “Enjoy it while it lasts, because at some point, fear and resistance will likely show up.” ,

The funny thing is that when we do experience the kind of fear I’m speaking about, we often think it’s a bad sign. When we experience the fear of letting go, or the fear of transcending, or the fear of what will happen when we awaken to who we are beyond the mind, we think it means that we must not want to actually do it. We think that fear means that we have a lot of resistance to awakening. We personalize the fear. This is what the ego does; it personalizes everything. 

But I actually think that having this experience of fear is a very good thing. Why? Because it means you’re close to something real. We don’t tend to feel fear of losing something until we’re about to lose it. We don’t tend to feel fear that our ego structure is going to fall apart until it starts to fall apart. 

So the fact that the closer you get, the more your fear intensifies, is a good sign. That’s exactly how it works and is always going to work. You should actually get a little bit excited about the fact that you’re feeling this tremendous fear, because it means something’s happening. Something extremely positive is breaking through. You’re on the cusp. In fact, it’s probably already occurring. You’re probably already letting go and starting to discover who you are beyond the mind. As a result, the ego structure is saying, “No, no, no! This does not bode well for me.”

Let’s talk a little bit about the particular fears you mentioned.  Specifically, you mentioned a fear that everything will fall apart and that you’ll lose everything you’ve so carefully constructed.

Let’s go into that. The first thing I would ask is:would it be so bad if everything fell apart? 

Let me nuance that a bit. If we get in touch with the part of us that’s spiritually seeking, that’s on the spiritual path, that wants to awaken, doesn’t it really want everything to fall apart? Doesn’t it want to break through and leave behind everything that you’ve carefully constructed? 

Isn’t the very feeling of being constrained and limited by the false world that our mind has created what we want to break free from? Aren’t we yearning for that to fall apart so that something new can arise from the rubble? Don’t we want to, in a sense, be reborn into a new, more glorious experience of being alive?

Spiritual awakening is called “awakening” because it means we’re waking up from being asleep. We are waking up from a dream. The fundamental premise of spiritual awakening is that we live in some kind of web of delusion or illusion. We’re not seeing reality clearly. We’re not in touch with the highest possibility. We’re not living a life that truly expresses our ultimate potential, and we want to wake up into a greater reality—into truth and the sacred, extraordinary possibility of living our life as awakened consciousness. 

In doing this, we’re inherently leaving something behind that we have discovered to be false or to be limited. We’re abandoning something that we’ve found to not be the whole story, to not be the real truth, to not be the highest possibility. We’re leaving it behind in order to go somewhere new. Something has to fall apart in order for something else to emerge. That’s the nature of it. 

This takes a profound degree of trust. In order to see this fear in context, you have to trust that you’re on the right track. You have to trust that your impulse to awaken is a good one, and that it’s moving you toward a better possibility—a more real, authentic, sublime existence. 

You have to trust that if you follow this impulse, the things that you’re going to lose weren’t worth having anyway. They weren’t the real thing. In other words, you have to trust that whatever is real and good and true—all the best parts of you and the best parts of your life—are still going to continue. In fact, they’re now going to be enhanced. They’re going to be amplified. They’re going to be allowed to fully flower because a bunch of other stuff is now out of the way. You let go of a lot of other things in order to make room for this higher flourishing—for this much deeper alignment. 

So you just have to trust that spiritual awakening is good. You have to trust that God is good. Those of you who know me know I mean “God” in a very universal sense. When I say “God is good,” I mean that the life process is good. The sublime, loving consciousness that is our own true nature, and also the essence and source of everything in existence, is fundamentally positive. And if it really is as good as it seems to be, then it’s worth pursuing. So you’re going to have to trust that what gets left behind in the process were all the things that were in the way of that, and nothing else. 

In other words, you really have to trust that awakening is leading towards something more real, more authentic, more true, more wise, more loving, more conscious, more whole, more integrated, more aligned with the moral axis of the universe. You’ve got to trust that. 

You have to say, “I feel fear, and I’m afraid that I’m going to lose everything, but the truth is that I want to lose anything that’s not aligned with the sacred trajectory of the cosmos. I want to lose anything that’s not aligned with my highest self. I want it to fall apart.” 

Of course, part of you is always going to be scared. But that’s okay. We all know how to do things that we’re afraid of, if we know they’re the right thing. We human beings act in spite of fear all the time. 

You have to learn to trust in your own deeper wisdom. That’s all we’re really talking about. I’m not talking about trusting someone else. I’m saying that as you become more clear, less biased, less driven by fear, more connected to your own deepest values, you’re going to want to live in alignment with it. What’s going to have to change about your life? Only the things that are not in alignment with your true essence. 

Let’s do a little exercise together. Think about your life as it is now: how you spend your time, what you do for work, who you socialize with, what activities you spend time on outside of work, how your day is organized, etc. Just think about your life. 

Now, imagine you’re a fully awakened self. You’ve woken up to the highest, deepest, truest part of yourself, and you’ve completely aligned with it. This higher consciousness has no interest in your story or your self-image. It has no investment in who you thought you were before you woke up. 

Now think about what needs to change about your life from the vantage point of this new, awakened consciousness? 

You might see things like, for example, the fact that a person you’ve been spending a lot of time with isn’t really aligned with this new trajectory and your relationship with them isn’t really very nourishing. In fact, it’s against the flow of your higher potential. It’s exerting a drag on it, and it’s not really healthy. In this case, you might have to change that relationship or let it go altogether in order to live your life in alignment with what you’ve found to be your higher potential. 

There are many other examples of the kinds of things you may need to change about your life from this awakened perspective. They could be certain things that are superficial or a waste of time or that feel out of alignment with your spiritual heart. 

Again, the things about your life that are already really good and wholesome and aligned with your spiritual aspirations don’t have to change. They’re already in alignment. They’re already enlightened, at least somewhat. The only things that need to change are those that are obstacles to this higher way of living and flourishing. 

So, in summary, my answer to the question, “Will I have to let my life fall apart?”, is, yes, you might have to let some things go. Some things might fall apart, and your life might radically change. But the only things that you’re going to have to let go of or allow to fall apart or change are the things that aren’t in alignment with where you want to go, with who you want to be, or with what you want to express. 

We have to be willing to trust. We have to be willing to say, “I don’t know what my spiritual path is going to demand from me or will require of me, but I trust that it will be true and right, healthy and positive, and move me toward all the highest potentials for my life. 

That trust, then, will allow you to let go and take the steps you see you need to take. If things about your life end up falling away, they were the things that needed to fall away to make room for this new possibility. You can let them go and let them fall apart, gladly. 

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