“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” — Frank Herbert, Dune – Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear
This litany has been a part of me since I first read “Dune” in 1989. It accurately reflects the impact that fear has on the self while providing the best solution to coping with fear. I remember using the litany once shortly after reading the book. My freshman class was taking a trip to an amusement park. Friends of mine wanted to go on the scary rollercoaster at the time. I have always hated rollercoasters. The entire way I chanted the litany over and over in my head. When we arrived at the park I went to the rollercoaster with my friends and successfully enjoyed the ride.
Fear has a way of encroaching on everything we do. Giving in to fear prevents us from making decisions, moving forward, thinking clearly, and sometimes even doing anything at all. It truly is a metaphorical mind killer. Fear can be both rational and irrational with our reactions being nearly entirely governed by our “fight or flight” response system. With phobias the fears can often be irrational and no amount of education can clear the fear. An arachnophobe is afraid of all spiders regardless of the fact that in the north most spiders are harmless. An acrophobe is afraid of heights and even has troubles flying despite the fact that flying has proven to be a safer mode of travel than almost any other method. The reaction in both cases often tends to be hysterics or paralysis and neither is an effective tool in dealing with the object of the fear.
Fear has a detrimental impact on perception as well. When fear is present our perceptions of the object of our fear become amplified. In the above examples heights and spiders become far more dangerous than they truly are. There may be some aspects of each that truly are as dangerous as the fear indicates, but that is not representative of those exposures as a whole. In relationships fear produces most of the communication breakdowns. When we fear that we will be abandoned we amplify the potential for abandonment. When we fear resentment we amplify the likeliness of that resentment. When we fear disappointment we amplify the growing disappointment. Our reactions, as given in the “fight or flight” model, tend towards angry argument (fight) or withdrawal and paralysis (flight). Improper recognition of fear will thus prevent us from growing within ourselves and with each other as the fear continues to produce irrational reactions that do more harm than good.
If fear appears to be such a negative reaction then why do we have it? Fear, along with many other emotional responses, is a diagnostic tool. Instead of looking at fear as a crippling emotion, in which you are giving it more power than it deserves, look at it as an indicator of an upcoming cause-and-effect moment. By this I mean that an event is coming where any action is going to produce a series of effects afterwards. Our acrophobe knows that heights produce falls with the potential to injure and kill. Our arachnophobe knows that spiders will produce webs that stick to our faces, that they will bite and potentially injure and kill, and that they may decide to crawl into warm moist places. In relationships it is precisely the same. When we are afraid that another person will leave us based upon what we say we are essentially diagnosing that if we talk about something we don’t like we are going to argue and if we argue someone will say something to hurt the other and if that happens then someone is going to want to leave. Cause. Effect. When we are faced with choices fear is an indicator that regardless of what you choose things will never be the same again. If a woman breaks up with her boyfriend then she will be alone. If a man quits his job then he won’t be able to survive. If a family decides to move then they have to start over.
Often these choices become overwhelming because the cause-and-effect moment exists in either choice. Thus when driven by fear the choice is made to be paralyzed. It is a choice because it is introduced by cause and effect. A choice was presented, the choice was made not to choose, emotional paralysis was the end result. In this manner it seems clear that not choosing is neither functional nor appropriate. The deer, stuck in the headlights, still gets struck by the oncoming motor vehicle. No choice results in death. As the Bene Gesserit in “Dune” stated, “Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.”
When faced with fear the healthiest solution is to face it head on. As we face the fear we are given the unique opportunity to observe the potential cause-and-effect moment. There is, in that moment, two ways to view the potential choice — one is with fear in your heart and the other is with the fear set aside. As discussed previously fear is going to amplify potential negatives. This alters the reality of the situation and prevents you from seeing the Truth. This doesn’t necessarily mean that when fear is set aside that you will make the right decision. It does mean that you will be closer to seeing the Truth and making the appropriate decision based upon that. The woman in the abusive relationship is afraid to leave. The fear drives her to stay. Even if she isn’t killed, her identity and life as a free woman is as the abuser rains down his abuse upon her. When originally faced with the decision to stay or leave she could see that if she left she would have nowhere to go and that she would be alone. Fear clouded her judgement. She didn’t see that even without friends she had places to turn — shelters, the hospital, social workers. Life would be hard adjusting to a new normal, but once the adjustment would be made she would be both safe and happy.
The Truth is that all things change. This cannot be denied and fear of it does not stop it. Choices may produce opportunities for a new normal, but the new normal doesn’t need to worse than the old normal. Are there growing pains during the transition? Absolutely! Even with our children as their bones lengthen go through growing pains. I highly doubt that the caterpillar that transforms into the beautiful butterfly does so without pain. Thus fear of pain, which paralyzes you from decisions, is irrational. All things change. Let it happen. Flow with it. When you flow with the river and the river wears away at the stone that resists it, you are one with that river.