Litany Against Fear

Paul Atreides
I Must Not Fear

In the great American novel Dune, author Frank Herbert gave us the Bene Gesserit, an exclusive sisterhood whose members train their bodies and minds through years of physical and mental conditioning, to rise to extraordinary abilities. I have  never forgotten their “Litany Against Fear.”

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.

There are times when we all feel fear. In these days, there seems to be plenty of good reasons. So many of us are facing major life changes, major losses. And we wonder how we will get through, how we will come out on the other side intact. Some mornings we awake and it all hits, seemingly right in the gut. It can feel like a physical blow. And we think, how can I have a productive day today when it is starting out like this?

Coping with fear is an essential personal skill. Many years ago I took the EST Training. Some of you might remember it. One thing I came away with that has stood me in good stead in the years since was the idea that it is possible to have a thought or a feeling and do nothing about it. I was young then, and that was a new idea. You mean I could feel frightened, or angry, or desperate about something, and just let it be?

I really soaked this up then, and it allowed me to go through the coming decades with a kind of strength I had not had before. I could just let those thoughts and feelings be there and keep doing what I was doing, what I had committed to, what I had given my word for. It was not necessary to act it out, make changes, or do anything, solely because of the urgency of  the feeling. I could choose, rather than be driven to act.

Fear is a part of our lives. The question we have to ask ourselves is, have we developed the ability to choose when to act on it, or does it drive us like a deer bolting from a noise? No doubt it is a wretched feeling, something we naturally want to escape. But often the circumstances that are generating the fear persist, and are nothing we can change. So we are left with the feeling. Then the moment of choice comes. Will I go on or will I let this cripple me? Will I keep putting one foot in front of the other, or will I make self-destructive choices?

The one constant in life is change. And this too shall pass. “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.”

29 thoughts on “Litany Against Fear

  1. Hi Carolyn

    Great to meet you – I don’t think I’ve been here before – and a timely article. I can’t say I remember much about the film Dune, but fear seems to be all around us these days. The world can be a scary place and made more so by the ever helpful media and it’s easy to become almost paralysed by fear.

    Of course, change requires change, and if paralysed that isn’t going to happen. I’m glad there are people such as yourself out there who are willing to lend a hand.



  2. Hi Carolyn neat post – Emotional fear is an interesting adaptation us homeo sapiens have cultivated. An apparent irrational fear of future loss, rejection, failure which often becomes self fulfilling seems a strange process of evolution.

    I guess self awareness is a pretty good armour – I like the philosophy of cultivating that gap between stimulus and response and using it wisely rather than just reacting. Most fears are manifested by taking events out of context. Terrible things can happen – sharks snakes lightening – and yet we’re a thousand times more likely to suffer injury on our trip to the supermarket!!

    Thanks for sharing Cheers Kiaran

  3. Hi Carolyn. Very interesting post. I like your point about having to put our fears or emotional reactions aside and just keep moving down the road we are on. I think if you start making course corrections every time fear pops up its ugly head we would never get anything done or achieve sometime important.

  4. Hi Carolyn,

    You’re absolutely right, despite any fear we may be feeling in our lives, we have a choice as to whether to allow it to cripple us, or just move forward. Moving on is always the better choice.

    A mentor of mine recently said something very profound to me, that fear is a belief that something bad is going to happen. When we have fear, we are in the absence of faith – both can never co-exist. Here again we have a choice. It’s this certainty that helps me to move away from fear, and toward faith, when that uneasy feeling starts to surface.

  5. Hi Carolyn,
    yes, I agree, ‘this to shall pass’ and ‘the only constant thing in life is change’.

    Fear is false evidence appearing real. We can be paralysed by it or we can grow by “Feeling the fear and doing it anyway” (Susan Jeffers book) “whatever happens I can handle it.”

    Thank you, Carylyn!

  6. Great post Carolyn. Fear is a strong thing, but your right we need to face them and let it know who is boss. I am always reminder from a great mentor Robin Sharma. He says “On the other side of your fears lies your freedom”. Thank you for the great post.

  7. It was probably more than seven years ago that I realized the feelings I was having in my gut were fear related. I had just started doing Landscape Design and it was terrifying for me to have to go to someones house blindly and do a design. Not knowing what to expect was terrible. It was a terrible knot in my stomach that was often followed by a litany of excuses. I came to understand that the feeling was nothing but fear and the excuses were rationalizing it. I learned to understand it and vowed to not live my life out of my fear reactions anymore. I think there are a lot of people who have not come to this realization. Thanks for this post. I have not seen Dune in a long time. It got me thinking, thanks.

  8. Fear can be a detractor or a motivator. I choose to use it to help me move forward in a positive light. All of us can do this when we have the right attitude and perspective.

  9. Thanks Carolyn, fear in my life can be debilitating at times….well in the past any way. Thank you so much for posting this, and don;t ask me to share the past, I beyond that fear 🙂

  10. Thanks Carolyn, fear in my life can be debilitating at times….well in the past any way. Thank you so much for posting this, and don;t ask me to share the past, I beyond that fear 🙂

  11. Wow, you got some really nice comments on this one Carolyn! Congrats. (Particularly the one from your son! Very sweet.)

    I never went through EST training, or anything, but I did go to Sunday school and church, which is where I learned “What by worrying can you change?” (Probably paraphrased.) That stuck with me through the years and has really helped me overcome worry and fear, which to me are related.

    My brother (God rest his soul) used to always say, “This too shall pass,” and that also stuck with me in a very helpful way. Your saying it brought a smile to my face.

    Great post, Carolyn. I sincerely enjoyed reading it. You are an awesome writer!

  12. Does anyone know where I can download the Litany Against Fear as an MP3 file? I will be starting dialysis using those dreadful needles soon, and I have trypanophobia.

    1. Hello, I am not sure where you could get an already recorded mp3. However, can you read it from the book, or from an online file, and record it yourself? Or have someone record it whose voice you like to listen to?

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