Oct 232010

Lately, I have been reading Frank Herbert’s Dune. It is a great science-fiction masterpiece. As I was reading for pleasure, I did not expect to find a helpful litany on dealing with fear. I am sure that many of us are familiar with fear. In fact, I learned from my friend’s blog post that there is even a day dedicated to facing your fears.

Fear comes in all shapes and sizes. There is fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of public speaking and so on. Feeling fear helps to prepare us to face a threat or danger. But taken to extremes, our fear can paralyze us. What follows is the way I have been using the litany to calm my fears. Read on to find out how I did it.

The Bene Gesserit Litany

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 me I will turn to see fear’s path. Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

-Taken from Dune by Frank Herbert

Time to Fly by Chris O’Neill


To use the litany effectively, it helps to memorize it. As you commit the words to memory, reflect on the meaning in the words. At the same time, try to let the fear pass through you as suggested. Imagine the process as you repeat the words in the midst of fear. Visualize how the words calm and soothe you, allowing you to return to a state of composure. The purpose here is to familiarize yourself with the process so that it comes naturally to you when the need arises.

Repetition in the Face of Fear

The characters who knew this litany repeated it in the midst of fear until they reached a calm state. They did it aloud or in their minds. Both methods worked just as well. I have found that when I repeated the words, it helped me to shift my focus away from my source of fear. This did two things to my mental state. Firstly, it loosened the grip that my fear had on me. Secondly, this litany helped me to access my calm centre to regain my composure.

The key here is to repeat the words in a gentle but firm manner. It is also important to be aware of the words as you repeat them. The words itself serve as a guide to bring you from a state of fear and panic to a state of calm and composure. Repeat as needed until you feel calm again or as your situation permits. The more focused you are on the litany, the better it works.

Facing the Fear

Whenever I recited the litany, it reminded me that to beat my fear, I had to face and embrace it. I had to accept that I was afraid and to feel that fear within me. Acceptance did not mean becoming passive. Rather, accepting my fear allowed me to ease its intensity because I no longer struggled against it. The fear did not disappear completely, but it did become more manageable. From there, I had enough presence of mind to work out what I had to do to resolve my fear.

An Important Reminder

The last two sentences contained an important reminder for me. Fear was nothing more than my perception of events. Fear was also a doubled edged sword. On the one hand, fear helped to keep me safe by making me cautious. But on the other hand, if I allowed my fear to overwhelm me, it would hinder me from taking decisive action. Thus, I had to be aware that fear was all in my mind. Failing that, I had to try to keep my fear in check or to put it aside. The goal was to regain enough composure to find a way to deal with the source my fear.

Taking Action

Once you have memorized the litany, you will have at your disposal, a quick and easy way to deal with fear. All you have to do is to repeat the litany until you regain your composure. The litany will not rid you of all your fear. Instead, its aim is to make your fear more manageable so you can take effective action to deal with the source of your fear. So try it out and see if it works for you. I have been using it for a few weeks and it has been great so far. I intend to keep it as part of my arsenal on dealing with fear.

What do you think of using this litany to manage your fear? What have the results been like for you? What other ways do you have of dealing with your fears? Do share your thoughts and comments below.

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  15 Responses to “Managing Fear with a Science-Fiction Litany”

  1. Wow, this is a great post. I read through it twice, it was that good. Learning how to master fear is always helpful, because it will always be there. It’s in our biology. Thanks for the lesson!!


    • Hi Dandy,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. When I first came across the litany, I also thought to myself “Wow…I am going to put this with all the sayings I collected so far. It is definitely one of the more useful things I read.” But then I thought that it would be a shame to keep such a good thing for myself. Well your comment has certainly validated my decision.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Very interesting philosophy. I can see how contemplating these words would help diminish fear. Perhaps it simply puts fear in perspective. Realizing that fear, itself, is nothing but a perception.

    These words motivate me not to allow fear to determine my behavior (when appropriate).

    • Hi Bamboo Forest,

      You are right. Fear is largely due to our perception. Imagine two people at the top of a high building looking down below. If one is afraid of heights, he would be trembling and shaking due to his fear of heights. If the other does not have such a fear, he would not be too bothered by the view.

      From my experience, just the act of reciting the whole litany a few times helps me to forget my fears. The mind cannot focus on a few things at a time. Thus reciting this litany and placing your focus on it helps to diminish your fear to make it more manageable. It also helps to put fear in perspective as you have rightly pointed out.

      Thank you for your comments!

  3. Hi The Vizier,

    What a good way to get some objectivity into our view of fear… by ‘filtering’ it through the litany.

    Fear only has power over us until, as you say, we acknowledge and face up to it. Only then can we expose and critically examine it. This, in itself, gives the degree of objectivity that I think is the first step to overcoming fear.

    It’s a similar effect to what happens when we tell someone else about our fears. They can question the basis of our fears and help us see the reality. Then we can tackle it head on.

    Fear rarely survives having a light shone on it.

    • Hi Scott,

      Yes you are right, fear rarely survives having a light shone on it. It is when it remains hidden in the deepest and darkest parts of our minds that it grows strong and formidable.

      Seeking help and support is indeed a good way to deal with our fears. An objective view from someone else could help us to see things from a different perspective. At the very least we won’t be facing our fears alone and we can draw strength from support.

      Thanks for sharing your views! :)

  4. There are a lot of good truths to be found in fiction writings. I think all really good fiction writers are as much philosophers and psychologists as they are writers. This is because above all a good writers needs to Understand people on a deep level

    Dune is a great classic and the bene gesserit litany on fear is a great one. It has been over 20 years since I last read dune. I remember thinking it was okay, but not loving it. Perhaps it is time to give it a shot as an adult.

    Thanks for the share, have a great weekend

    • Hi Steve,

      I fully agree with you. I have always managed to find truths about life and living in the fiction books I read. This is because good writers are able to blend their understanding of people, with their own experiences to form compelling characters with wisdom to share.

      Yeah I remember going back to the books I read as a kid and finding that I look at those stories in a different light and from different angles. The good books are those that appeal to us in different ways at different stages of our lives. I think Dune is a great classic because of that.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  5. [...] to be superhuman powers.  The Vizier discusses a litany that is mentioned in the book as a way to overcome fear.  You do not need to know –or care- anything about science fiction to appreciate the concepts of [...]

  6. I think it helps too that one mediates briefly (or breathe) right before this exercise, so that it preps the mind for the message. clarity of mind allows for absorption of message. wonderful article.

    • Hi Saucy Interloper,

      I agree with you. If you are a practitioner of meditation, remembering your practice helps to instill a sense of calmness that will lead to better absorption of the litany. If not, repeating it by itself works just as well.

      Thanks for your comments!

  7. Very useful information! I will use this today for my fear of confrontations. :) I love that a sci fi novel can be of so much help. I also like that you explain how exactly to use this litany, and how it works – it makes me feel like I could do it because I’ve been prepared.


    • Hi Usagi Chan!

      Confrontations are usually tricky businesses which can go badly if you make the wrong move at the wrong time. Being calm and composed should give you the objectivity you need to manage the situation. Remember to focus on finding a solution instead of the problem. I hope that your confrontation turns out well. :)

      Thank you for your comments!

  8. Ok I admit – I had to look up “litany” but now I know….Well, science fiction isn’t my forte. The only one I have read in that arena is one my brother helped edit which is by Robert J. Sawyer called “Wake” and I have put the URL under my name if you like to see my review. It was my introduction to the world of science fiction – it didn’t stick so maybe I can explore with Dune. Right now the reading list is looking dreadfully long but if I venture out to it, I’ll come to talk to you more about it, Vizier!
    Farnoosh recently posted..Fyodor Dostoevsky- “Crime and Punishment”My Profile

    • Hi Farnoosh,

      This is such a prompt reply haha!

      No worries, I wasn’t too sure of the exact meaning of litany myself and I also had to look it up. But we live and learn. That is the important thing in life.

      I have never heard of Wake, but I do recall seeing Robert Swayer’s name. To be honest, although I love science-fiction, I don’t read a lot of them. I have always preferred non-fiction, especially history. History forms a significant part of my library because I love epic stories which are preferably real. Thus the stories I prefer have to be epic in scope haha!

      I will be happy to chat with you about Dune when you get round to it. There is no rush. I promise to look through your long and detailed post on Wake and comment on it soon. :)

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