Dread & Terror – befriending & inviting to heal

At some point in the dark night phase, I asked to the shown what’s left. And within a week, an overwhelming dread and terror surfaced. It lasted for about 9 months and then gradually subsided over the following years.

Of course, emotions or experiences are not a problem in themselves. They are expressions of life. They are put into us by evolution and have a function. They are expressions of – and are – Spirit, of what we actually are beyond our human appearance. They help us survive as human beings and point us to healing, maturing, and awakening.

And yet, we often struggle with our experiences and perhaps especially so with dread and terror.

The context: How we relate to our experiences. How we relate to our experiences depends on how we experience them. It seems obvious, and yet it’s easy to forget. If we struggle with them, the struggle itself will create discomfort. And if we befriend them, we have an opportunity to relate to our experiences with more clarity and kindness.

Since the dread and terror was with me for months (strongly) and years (in the background and in the heart), I have had ample opportunity to explore my relationship with it. My mind saw it as an enemy, as a problem, as something to get rid of, and created more suffering for itself that way. (And still does, now and then, with other experiences.) So I set out to explore other ways of relating to it.

I reminded myself that the dread and terror, too, is the divine. I found it when I looked.

I explored it and how I relate to it through dialogue. I found how it’s there out of a wish to protect me, out of kindness, and really as an expression of love. (Big Mind process etc.)

I investigated beliefs and identifications in me fearing and struggling with it. (The Work, Living Inquiries.)

I used heart-centered practices to see how it is to shift my relationship to the dread and terror. (Ho’oponopono, tonglen.)

And gradually, my relationship with it shifted. It seemed less an enemy, and more myself, life, and Spirit.

How I relate to my experience is the context. And by exploring it, I may befriend it and see it as myself, as life, as Spirit, and even as love. As something that’s OK as is. Something in me relaxes in relation to it.

The content: Inviting in healing. Within that, out of kindness, I can invite healing. Here are some approaches I found helpful with the dread and terror.

Therapeutic trembling. TRE (Tension and Trauma Release Exercises) has been very helpful for me. It has helped release tension and trauma underlying the dread & terror. It has helped my system relax as a whole. It takes time, and TRE works best if it’s ongoing and regular, and it has worked very well for me.

Notice and allow. Notice the sensations and images / words making up the experience of dread & terror. Notice. Allow. Give it space. Notice the space around and within it. Notice it’s already allowed. The mind – and space, life – already allows it. Rest with it, as is. Also notice and allow any reactions to the dread & terror. Notice and allow the fear, the wish for it to be different. Include that too. Rest with it, as is.

Separate out sensations. Notice the sensations making up the experience of the dread & terror. Rest with the noticing of the sensations. Notice, allow, and rest with the sensations making up any reactions to it as well. Include all sensation. Notice. Allow. Rest with the (noticing of the) sensations.

Inquiry. Identify stressful beliefs around the dread & terror. Inquire into them and find what’s more true for me. (The Work.) Explore how my mind creates its experience of the dread and terror and reactions to it. (Living Inquiries.)

Heart-centered. Explore how it is to change my relationship to the dread & terror and my reactions to it. How is it to befriend it? (Ho’oponopono, tonglen.)

Vortex Healing. More recently, I have used Vortex Healing for these issues. For instance: Do puja 5 min/ day for a while to help it shift. Hold it in the grid. Denetwork any emotional issues behind and related to it. Bring it to the issue awareness room, issue transformation room, meet your pain room etc. Use the main tools to clear conditioning. And so on.

So we have the context, which in this case is how we hold the whole situation. Do I see it as a problem, an enemy, something that really needs to change? Or can I befriend it, see it as myself, as an expression of protection + kindness + love, as life and Spirit? Something that’s OK as is?

And we have the content which, in this case, is a natural wish – out of kindness – for healing. Inviting in healing in whatever ways we are drawn to and have available to us.

The dread & terror was an invitation for healing, maturing, and awakening, as anything in our lives is. I learned about working with these types of emotional issues. I learned about how these things can happen in an awakening process. I learned how the dread & terror came up to be recognized (as Spirit), met with understanding + patience + love, and with a wish to heal. I invited in healing for those parts of me. I got to see and clear some beliefs and identifications around it.

So although it was immensely and overwhelmingly painful at times, it was also – overall – an amazing opportunity for healing, maturing, and awakening. It has genuinely been a precious gift.

As a human, I would probably not have chosen it. But life chose it for me. And in the big picture, it’s a very good thing.

There is another side to this: we rarely if ever make full use of these opportunities. There is always something left to explore, find healing for, and awake to. And that’s OK. There is always more to explore, find healing for, and awaken to. Noticing that is also a gift.

Note: I should mention that in my case, a non-dual opening/awakening that lasted for about half a year may have “taken the lid off” of old trauma. That, in addition to my “dangerous prayer”, is most likely what brought up this dread & terror. And the dread & terror, most likely, came from many larger and smaller traumas from this and past lives. If any particular issue was at the root of it, it was perhaps a raw and primal survivial fear.

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Awakening & deep, primal and visceral fear

There is a quite common pattern of (a) an opening or awakening, and (b) a deep primal fear happening in connection with each other. Some experience the deep, primal and visceral fear first, and others the opening or awakening first.

For me, there was an initial awakening without the fear, then a second one followed by that primal fear that was more a dread and terror. It was very strong for about nine months and has surfaced now and then – or stayed relatively stable at a lower level – for some years after.

I see it as related to trauma, and a very primal survival fear, and the two go hand in hand and are really the same. Some say it comes up since the imagined self fears for its life. It goes when there is a more clear awakening so it naturally fears for its life. (There isn’t any “it” there to fear for its life, but the mind makes it seem and feel that way through velcro and beliefs.) That may be true enough. The other reason, which makes as much or more sense to me, is that for the human self to deeply heal, that deep primal survival trauma needs to surface and find healing. This allows that part of the human self to realign more consciously with reality, with this new context of all as presence, love, Spirit, or the Divine.

Having this primal fear surfacing has been among the most challenging experiences of my life. It feels like every fiber in me resists it, and yet I know that what’s called for is meeting it in presence, feeling the sensations, and look at the imaginations connected with it. It’s been a long and difficult process for me.

It does feel like something just needs to run its course. Even as I also work with what comes up in a more intentional way.

This primal fear calls for a few different things, and what it is may be different for each of us and at different times in our process. For instance, it may be meeting it with presence, kindness, and patience. Exploring the associated mental images and words. (As mentioned above.) Recognizing it as coming up to protect the imagined self and coming from love. And the presence and love recognizing itself as this fear and trauma, surfacing in that form right now.

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Meet it more intentionally

A few days ago, I had a sense of dread and fear in my belly.

I recognized that feeling from going to elementary school. I sometimes had it walking to school in the mornings.

Back then, I didn’t know what to do about it. Nobody had shown me.

And now, somebody has shown me and I can relate to it more intentionally. I can meet with presence, kindness, allowing, patience. I can give it what it really needs and wants. I can meet it as it wishes to be met. And that makes all the difference.

It’s such a simple shift, and it changes the situation from feeling victimized by that dread to befriending it.

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Own inquiry: Dread

Inquiry on dread:

Where do you feel the dread? In the chest, throat, belly.

Feel the dread. Feel the sensations. Take your time.

What do you see? Any mental images? Words? There is a picture of a gray mass around and in front of that area of my body.

Look at the image. Look at the color, texture, lines. Is the picture a threat? (Any reaction in your body is a “yes”.) Yes, there are sensations in my forehead and face.

Feel those sensations. Take your time. Are the sensations a threat? Yes, there is a sensation in my throat.

Feel that sensation. Do you see anything? I see the word “suffocate”.

Look at the word. The letters, the shapes, the spaces in-between and around. Notice the space between you and the word, and around and behind the word. Is the word a threat? Yes, there is a contraction in my stomach.

Feel the contraction. Notice the space it’s happening within. I see the word “dread”.

Look at the word “dread”. Is it a threat? Yes, there is a sensation in the throat.

Feel that sensation. Is it a threat? No.

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Inquiry on dread

Since “the lid was taken off” a few years ago, I have experienced a sense of dread. It’s much milder now than it was previously, but it’s still there, often 24/7.

When I have explored it previously, I have seen the sensations connected with images of something dark and vague out in front of me, and words such as it’s a disaster, and something is terribly wrong. 

What do I find when I explore it now?

Look at the word “dread”. Is it a threat? (Q1) Yes, I feel it in my chest, throat and stomach.

Feel those sensations. Take your time. I see a picture of something dark there and out in front of the body.

Look at the picture, the texture, colors, lines. Q1? Yes, I feel it in my chest, belly, throat, face, jaw.

Feel the sensations. Is it stronger somewhere? Jaw. Feel that. The word “dread” is coming up again.

Look at the word, the letters, lines, spaces between and around. Q1? Yes, I feel it in my face and Jaw.

Feel it. As if it’s feeling itself.

And so on. There was more here, but the words disappeared for technical (WP) reasons. There were more words, images, and sensations. The outcome of this session is that the “dread” seems much less solid, and I recognize it much more easily as images, words, and sensations (now loosely) associated with each other.

Demystifying our experience

Inquiry is, at least partly, about demystifying our experience.

We may have a recurrent stressful thought or feeling, and don’t know what it’s really about, where it comes from, or what we can do about it.

Inquiry can help us see how it’s created by our mind at a more basic level.

I have had a vague sense of dread come up. When I look at it, I see that it’s made up by a set of mental images out in front of me with fuzzy dark shapes and textures. These are connected to words such as “it’s a disaster” and “something is terribly wrong”. And these images and words are associated with certain sensations in my body.

As I look at each of these, I see how the experience is created. By asking simple questions of each image and set of words, and the sensations, I get to see that none is a threat. I also see that the images are images, the words are words, and the sensations are sensations. I can also more easily feel the sensations as sensations, and rest with them. All of this releases the reality and solidity that seemed to be there.

My experience of the vague threat and dread is, in a sense, demystified, although I know there may be more there. I am OK with more coming up, since I know I can look more intentionally at that too.

Some aspects of the experience are demystified. And that doesn’t mean there isn’t mystery here too. It’s all a mystery, even if I see – to some extent – how my mind creates a certain experience. It’s amazing that something is here at all. It’s amazing that these experiences are here visiting. It’s amazing there is awareness to experience what’s here.


My old friend dread visited again this morning, and has stayed for a while. This time, dread is strong enough to notice and not so strong that I tell myself I am overwhelmed.

I have satsang with dread.

You are welcome here. (And notice dread is already permitted to be dread.)

Thank you for protecting me. (I take time to feel it, let it sink in, notice some of the ways it is protecting me.)

Thank you for your devotion to me. Thank you for your love for me. (This is easier to connect with after taking time with the thankfulness.)

How would you like me to be with you? (This invokes the answer and there is no need to put it into words. Although if it is put into words, it could be labeled respect, stillness, appreciation, gentle interest.)

What’s the stories behind you? The fear? (Something terrible has happened, will happen. Something is terribly wrong. Something is inherently wrong in me and existence.)

How big are you? Do you have any borders? Do you have an inside or outside? (Noticing it’s released from being bound up within imaginary boundaries.)

Who are you really? (Wordless noticing, then put into words such as presence, love, awakeness.)

I notice it sometimes helps to do inquiry quietly and sometimes wordlessly at first, and then notice that thoughts would label it. Then I get the intimacy of the wordless, and the clarity of words. I also get to see that these labels don’t quite fit, even if they are the closest thoughts can come up with.

I also see that images and thoughts puts a boundary around it, labels it dread, says it’s quite primal , and when it visits thoughts will sometimes put it on past, current and future situations.

It seems that it points to a very basic thought: Something is terribly wrong.

And related thoughts: Something terrible has happened, will happen, is happening. I cannot trust life. I cannot trust myself. There is something inherently wrong with life. There is something inherently wrong with me. (I am to blame for it.)