In Dune, the litany is used as a mantra and one character even argues that it represents the core difference between humans and animals. The ability to face one’s fear and overcome it is what separates us from animals who seek self-preservation even if this short sighted focus results in their ultimate destruction. While admittedly Dune is a fantasy book not a treatise on philosophy, there are many valuable lessons which can be learned from fictional settings. The escape from our reality and exploring ideals in a different setting can open our minds up to the broader possibilities and help us to rethink deeply held beliefs and biases which are holding us back from reaching our full potential.
Along a parallel tangent, the Jedi warn that “Fear is the path to the dark side … fear leads to anger". It is interesting that the focus could have been on the desire for power, greed, hatred, or any other negative emotion or trait but fear is specifically cited as the starting point of the downward spiral towards the dark side of the force. Fear causes characters to act irrationally and their poor decisions cause ripple effects which they cannot control until ultimately they are trapped into a vicious cycle which they despair of ever escaping.
Arrakis and Tatooine have many similarities but the common thread of fear is particularly interesting since it is a natural human emotion. Fear is programmed into our nervous systems, and gives the survival instincts needed to keep humans safe from danger so the opening line of the litany, “I must not fear” is an impossible goal for a human but focus of the litany is to face the fear, trace the root cause and understand it. When we truly understand something, we can love it for what it is and remain strong in who we are.
Fear will always be a part of our lives but modern life has dramatically increased the stimuli and potential threat vectors which can easily put people into a nearly constant state of fight or flight. This has especially potent effects when combined with the much more sheltered lives people live which results in a lessened understanding of one’s own capabilities in a situation that one is afraid of. There are ways to rectify this such as taking self-defense classes if one is afraid of physical danger or lacks confidence in one’s ability to defend one’s self but this must now be sought out and most people who would likely benefit the most are not the most likely to seek out such a class. For example, if one is afraid of being fired or becoming homeless, there aren’t really good ways to face those fears without detrimental consequences to one’s career and it is not socially acceptable to do things like becoming voluntarily homeless like George Orwell. However gaining a wide range of experiences is often one of the best ways to become significantly less fearful and more resilient so that we can do as the litany says:
“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.”
While not advocating anything too extreme, it is a question worth pondering - what are you afraid of? When considering those fears, try to think of a time that it influenced your decisions negatively or positively because sometimes fear is healthy but if we don’t get in tune with the root causes and influences it has on our lives, it can easily shift from informing our decisions to directing our actions.