In Frank Herbert’s Dune – The Bene Gesserit are a matriarchal group, key in the novel series as a social, religious, and – always indirectly – politically influential entity. The Bene Gesserit practice mental conditioning techniques to gain powers which they use to guide humanity.
While the novels are – of course – an epic work of science fiction, the Bene Gesserit employ an incantation called “The Litany Against Fear”. It is regarded by many mental health professionals as being exceptionally strong psychological advice. “The Litany Against Fear” can be applied during times of peril to calm debilitating & rising panic caused by the flight or fight response from an over stimulated amygdala. It reads as follows:
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.
The Litany Against Fear is a useful tool. It acknowledges that fear is destructive, regardless of the trigger. Perhaps you are being chased by a wolf and require the efforts of your perfectly evolved amygdala and limbic system to sharpen senses, boost adrenaline, redirect energy. Or perhaps the wolf is your boss and he has just criticised your work, hormones are released, blood pressure and heart rate increases, your muscles tense ready to run or kill… and…. nothing happens, your boss hangs up the call, your body remains tense and flooded with stress. Feelings of anxiety build, which can spark heart palpitations and worse. Unmanaged fear is not only a mind killer, it is a danger to almost every aspect of your health.
The amygdala and our fight or flight response is still important even with the absence of literal wolves hunting in our woodlands. Observations of animals with damaged amygdales show that they have no fear, are completely feral in their behaviours, the eat everything, copulate with anything, they take extreme risks. Fear is natural and necessary, but we also need to understand the impact it has on us and control our often over stimulated limbic systems.
Incantations such as this will actually help do this. It is essentially a form of meditation, which helps to flush the stress from your system and reset your mind. With training we can create links in our brain, switches that control these primal systems. Once these wires, connections and switches are in place, you can operate them at will.
I could – of course – have made exactly the same point with an arguably higher-brow reference to Winston Churchill’s quote – “There is nothing to fear but fear itself”. Churchill may not have been the first to use this quote, as it is thought to have been uttered first by Roosevelt . Churchill was, however, attributed with the equally applicable quote – “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.”. Winston Churchill, a powerful and influential leader, suffered from very severe bouts of depression. It would loom over him, triggering anxiety and despair to such an acute level that he would physically position himself back from station platform edges for fear that his intrusive thoughts would take over and he would jump in front of the approaching train. Winston Churchill, the man who led Britain through one of the darkest periods of the 20th century, taunted by fear that he manifested into his ominous and stalking “black dog”.
Fear will reach for us all from time to time. But we can train ourselves to fight back. There is no more powerful a feeling than controlling fear.