Friday, November 25, 2011

The Litany

"I will not fear.  Fear is the mind killer.  Fear is the little death that brings total annihilation."   --From Frank Herbert's Dune

When I was a teenager, I read Dune on the recommendation of a middle school (We called it Jr. High on those days) English teacher.  I remember being profoundly changed from the books in Herbert's series.  I memorized the litany against fear that Paul uses in it and I used to chant it daily, using it whenever I felt overwhelmed by the world.

I used it a lot.

I was often afraid, though I suspect no one knew it.

I reflected on the litany just the other day, for two unrelated reasons.  First, in channel flipping, we came across the movie adaptation of Dune and struggled to stand to watch it for even a few minutes.  Yes, it was as dreadful as I remembered.  It wasn't so much that the effects were terrible (they were), but having the characters whisper out their internal thoughts and feelings at every turn was both laughable and insulting to the watcher's intellegence.

But I digress.

This isn't about critique of a screenplay.  It's about fear.  The second unrelated reason I recalled the litany is that someone I love is dealing with significant fear.  So I told him about using the litany when I was his age.  And the more I thought about it, the more I came to believe the litany is wrong.  Or at least not completely right.

Yes, fear can be corrosive.  Yes, it can feel like it's going to destroy you.  But to deny it, to push it away doesn't diminish its power; it only strengthens it. 

So here's what I think:  Everyone is afraid.  No matter how old we are or how seemingly confident.  Deep down, we all fear.  We all wait for the other shoe to drop.

Some people are better at covering that fear than others.  Some are really skilled at putting their fear in a blind spot and never looking directly at it.  But the thing is, it's still there.

In my adult life, I've done things that have terrified me.  I take emotional risks every day, in every social interaction.  We all do.  That's the crazy thing.  We're all running around pretending that it's all under control. If we could all hear one another's internal dialogue, first, I think life would rival the sheer awfulness of the Dune movie, and second, it would also show just how pervasive the experience of fear is.

Ultimately saying "I will not fear" is like saying to the universe "I don't feel like dealing with the laws of physics.  I think I'll fall up, today."  That method didn't really work out very well for me.  Now when I am afraid, I let myself feel it.  I look at it.  I say hello to it.  Let it know it's not alone.  Hello, fear.  There you are again.

It's a different path.  It's not easy and it doesn't make the fear magically disappear, but it sure is a shorter litany--a whole lot easier to memorize.



  1. This is such a great post! And so timely for me. You're right. We deal with fear every single day, all day long on some level. If you let it, it can consume you entirely. Something as simple as leaving the house to go to the store can become a major anxiety attack ("What if my car crashes? What if someone mugs me? What if I forget something? What if I run into someone I don't want to talk to? What if something just awful happens while I'm out? What if my house burns down while I'm gone?) It goes on and on and on. Because you're right--life is filled with scenarios that provoke fear. I also think you're right that you cannot pretend it's not there. I think you need to acknowledge it but choose to live your life anyway and try to focus more on positive things than on the ever-present fear. Great post!!!

  2. Thank you, Lisa. Another of the little tricks I use is to totally inflate the catastrophic thinking. ("OMG and now the meteor is going to smash into the planet and it's all my fault.")