Wisdom of Sci-Fi: The Litany Against Fear

Hello, friends!

I may lose some geeky street cred by admitting this, but I don’t have the Litany Against Fear from Dune memorized.  I can get through the first two or three lines, but after that I get the words all muddled up, and then I usually just trail off into silence.  That’s a shame, because I’ve heard that the Litany really does help people cope with extreme fear and anxiety.

Before I talk about the Litany Against Fear and why it apparently does work (at least for some people), I want to acknowledge the fact that fear is not always a bad thing.  There’s a scene from Star Trek: Voyager that’s stuck with me over the years, a scene where Captain Janeway confronts an alien being who is supposed to be the living embodiment of fear.  When speaking to this being, Janeway has this to say:

I’ve known fear.  It’s a very healthy thing, most of the time.  You warn us of danger, remind us of our limits, protect us from carelessness.  I’ve learned to trust fear.

People who are or who claim to be totally fearless are, in my mind, kind of stupid.  There really are things in this world to be afraid of.  But sometimes fear gets out of hand, either inhibiting us in our daily lives or causing us to react to perceived threats in ways that are harmful, both to ourselves and to others.

This brings us to something called the “amygdala hijack.”  The term was coined in 1995 by American psychologist Daniel Goleman, and it refers to the way the amygdala (a part of the brain associated with, among other things, fear) can sometimes override our more logical brain functions.  Once the amygdala perceives a threat (real or otherwise), it can hijack control over the rest of our brains and throw us into an immediate fight/flight/freeze response.

Earlier this year, I spent some time talking to a therapist.  Some family stuff was going on, and I needed help processing it all.  My therapist and I ended up talking a lot about the amygdala hijack, and I learned that it is possible to stop an amygdala hijacking in progress or prevent it from happening in the first place.  It doesn’t take much.  On one occasion, I tried simply saying out loud, “Hey amygdala, cut it out!”  That actually worked.

There are also mindfulness exercises you can try.  Reciting a prayer or mantra may also help.  Or you could try using the Litany Against Fear.  A few people have told me that the Litany really does work, and given what I’ve learned about the amygdala hijack, I can totally see why.  First off, the Litany calls direct attention to what your amygdala is doing: mind-killing.  Taking the time to recite the rest of the Litany then gives your brain the time it needs to recover.  Several sources I’ve looked at mention that it takes about six seconds for the rational part of your brain to reassert itself after an amygdala hijacking.  The Litany is just a bit longer than six seconds.

Maybe it’s finally time I memorized the Litany Against Fear in full.


Check out some of these articles:

“Why Dune’s Litany Against Fear is Good Psychological Advice” from Forbes.com.
“Amygdala Hijack: When Emotion Takes Over” from Healthline.
“Six Seconds to Emotional Intelligence” from Albertus Magnus College Blog.

#IWSG: Frank Herbert, Will You Be My Beta Reader?

Hello, friends!  Welcome to September’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a support group for insecure writer’s like myself.  If you’d like to learn more about this amazing group, click here!

This month’s optional I.W.S.G. question is:

If you could choose one author, living or dead, to be your beta partner, who would it be and why?

I’d have to pick Frank Herbert, the author of Dune, one the greatest science fiction novels of all time.  Of course there are other Sci-Fi authors I’d love to meet and chat with.  I wish I could talk politics with Mary Shelley and H.G. Wells, and I feel like Arthur C. Clark and Isaac Asimov would be great people to turn to for career advise.  But for the purposes of beta reading, it’s got to be Herbert.

First off, have you read Dune?  I mean, forget about all the Sci-Fi stuff.  Forget about all those planets and spaceships and psychic superpowers.  Forget about the giant sandworms and Fremen warriors and the plans within plans within plans.  At the most basic, most fundamental level, the way Frank Herbert strings a sentence together is marvelous.  It’s prose elevated almost to the level of poetry.  Even if Herbert wrote in some other genre, I’d love getting feedback from someone who had such mastery over the English language!

But of course, Frank Herbert does (I mean, did) write science fiction, and there are precious few Sci-Fi authors who handle the sciency stuff so artfully.  When you read Dune, you might not even notice all the ecology lessons sprinkled throughout the book.  That’s real science.  You’re learning real science!  But the science is integrated seamlessly into the story, like any other aspect of setting or plot would be.   I’d love to get a little guidance from a man who could pull off a trick like that!

Now I’ve worked with a lot of beta readers over the years, some good, some not so good.  The not-so-good ones make writing feel like a chore, with lots of rules and regulations.  Based on what I’ve read about Frank Herbert, I don’t think he’d be like that.  Shortly after Herbert’s death in 1986, Sci-Fi author Ben Bova wrote this about him:

He knew pain.  But to Frank, pain was something you got around, one way or the other, so you could get on with the main business of life: having fun.  Creating great novels was fun.  Being with friends was fun.  Living life to its fullest was the real goal of existence, and he did exactly that.  Life was a banquet, as far as Frank was concerned; his advice was to pull up a chair and enjoy yourself.

Someone who sees writing as fun—pure fun—just another part of the sheer joy of living?  Now that sounds like the best recommendation for a beta reader anyone could ever make.

P.S.: Oh, and if I were beta partners with Frank Herbert, that would mean I could give him a little feedback too, right?  Because I would like to talk with him, just a bit, about gender roles in his books.  That’s one thing I think he could’ve handled better.