Fear is the Mind-Killer?

I love me a good line from a book, and when I first heard this one from Dune (admittedly I was exposed to the movie from the 80s first, then I read the book later – and of course the book is better) I was rather naive about how life and the mind worked, but this line stuck out to me. My first reactions ranged around this set of thoughts:

“Really? ‘Cause that doesn’t seem right.”

-a rather young and idiotic Sare

Life, psychology, and delving deeply into my own issues has taught me that fear really is the mind-killer. But let me give you the complete quote from page 12 of my edition of Frank Herbert’s Dune:

“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.”

-from the Litany against Fear in the Bene Gesserit rite, as written by Frank Herbert

My only problem with this is that it doesn’t actually tell you how to do it. Maybe the most useful part is ‘I will permit it to pass over me and through me.’ And yet the big problem there is that, in my own experience, the fear has very little interest in leaving. Whether or not you ascribe sentience and malevolence to your fear (evil, Evil, or a Power of Evil), or you just slap the label ‘ego’ on it and call it a day, doesn’t matter. Prying fear out of our lives is like trying to rid a house of termites without just demolishing the entire house.

Now, one could treat this like a zen koan, something that intentionally does not make perfect logical sense because it’s inviting you to meditate on it (literally), let your mind go soft, and allow yourself to make cognitive leaps and new connections. And yes, if you’ve got a decade or two to devote to it, fear free, that also works, too. For those of us looking for slightly faster results, read on.

I’ve been wrestling with this out loud in the digital world recently. It would be easy to say I did so because I was writing a thing (a novel-length-story-type thing) and it came up. I remembered the quote from Dune and thought, ‘yeah, the military I’m describing would have a method, a protocol for their soldiers to deal with fear and it would have to be super practical, super useful, or else it wouldn’t continue to exist – no bullshit, here’. That story is called Venus In Effigy and my patrons are getting first access to it, and I’ve blogged about that method that actually gives a how-to. (Results? Results! Well, maybe results, maybe, if you practice. Then again, there are no guarantees, as with the zen koan meditation method.) It’s not the definitive how-to deal with your fear, but at least one useful method. And then I wrote a reflection and action piece on it for my new newsletter, Truth From Fiction.

But the nearer and dearer truth is that I write in stories those parts of my life that I’m also wrestling with. Oh, sure, I dress it up with aliens and magic and vampires and werewolves and put it in strange cultures and awkward interactions, and naturally there’s explicit sex because I do not do romantic sub-plots. I do romances in the midst of the rest of life and my characters always live fascinating lives. But they do say write what you know.

And I know perfectly well what it is like to have my mind killed repeatedly with the little-death that brings total obliteration. It happened today, as I wrestled with just how honest I wanted to be in this blogpost, and if I ever really wanted to write anything again. (Melodramatic? Sure. My delves into fear tend to be melodramatic, however, when I actually voice what they say. In fact, a key part of the method I outline here is saying the ridiculous, melodramatic fearful thing you’ve been believing out loud so you can hear how it actually sounds.)

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