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.
(Litany against Fear, from Dune, by Frank Herbert)
I spent most of my childhood afraid. I was terrified of pretty much everything – fire, water, heights, enclosed spaces, strangers, electricity, the dark. More amusingly (looking back now) I was also frightened of mummers, topless men and men with beards! (Well and truly over all of that.) Then there were the existential ones – death, eternity, oblivion, god, infinity and the distance between stars had me panic stricken too. I had a lot of nightmares as a child. Looking back, I’m not sure why I was so frightened, but the world seemed a dangerous, troubling place and I had no sense of how to face any of it.
Growing up, I learned to cope – to swim, to strike matches. I’m still nervous on ladders and claustrophic, but the rest I’m ok with. Especially topless men with beards… well, topless man (but I digress).
Fear makes people stupid. I know, I’ve lived with it enough. Fear makes it hard to think or act well, it makes us overly cautious, and sucks the joy out of life. Existence is laden with risk, the only certainty is death, but fear, as the litany says, is the mind killer.
How do we release fear and live without its influence? I can share what I’ve been through, it may work for others. The first stage for me was learning (mostly this late spring) how not to imagine the worst. If I spend my time imagining every possible thing that could go wrong, then all I do is watch for the signs of doom, and fret that I’ve missed something to look for. It doesn’t actually help and makes me miserable.
The next stage, for me, has been learning to trust – primarily myself, but also the people around me. I have learned to trust that I am fast on my feet, think well, that I know what I want and can react to setbacks accordingly. Things have not gone my way much this summer, but I roll with the punches as best I can, and then I get up and try the next forward move. Knowing what I need has enabled me to be very calm about everything else. I could lose my home, potentially. I could lose the way of life I have created if I am forced to up sticks. But so long as I have my child, and my bloke, I can work around that. I know I won’t lose my friends. The physical objects that matter to me, I could carry out of here in one go. I know that I can and will do whatever proves necessary, and that helps me not to be afraid of what the future holds.
I have also learned to trust myself in the sense of coming to understand that I am a decent enough person, and that I do my best. I accept that sometimes I will fail or fall short, I’m human, we do that sometimes. Most of the time that will not in fact cause the world to end. I’ve lived a long time being afraid of making mistakes or causing harm through lack of due care and attention. But it’s very hard to learn or strike out in new directions if you don’t have the freedom to make mistakes. Its difficult to live fully and happily if you devote an excess of energy to fretting over every possible slight you might cause. Sometimes, people take offence. I have learned to live with that, and to accept that I cannot please everyone all of the time.
The fear has passed, and only I remain.