“Fear is the Mind Killer”

This is a post in my project series, tentatively titled “Overlapping Magisteria” – which is a project to bring together old spiritual wisdom about how to live as human beings, with current scientific understandings.

If you’ve read the science fiction classic “Dune” by Frank Herbert, or you saw the movie, you know this scene. A young Paul Atriedes, son of Duke Leto Atredes, is being tested by the Bene-Gesserit. There is a box, and he must put his hand in the box. And the woman testing him places a poison needle next to his neck – if he removes his hand from the box, he will die.

The box is a box full of pain. He feels as if his hand is being flayed. And he says to himself, “Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings obliteration. I will face my fear.”

As I read over my Facebook and news feed this morning, it seems soaked in fear. On one hand, you had a speech last night by Donald Trump which was basically “be afraid and I’ll save you.” And on the other side, we have people who are deathly afraid of a Trump presidency.

Fear is literally the mind killer. I’ve talked about the Amygdala hijack already. When we are actively feeling fear, our Amygdala, which mediates the fear response, hijacks traffic that would normally go to our neocortex – our wise, rational, creative brain. And our fear will get re-stimulated over and over again, not just by hearing new things, but by thinking old ones – continuing the process of hijack.

Fear is the most powerful of emotions – it’s evolutionarily designed that way. And if you look back at history, the worst of leaders that created the conditions for the worst atrocities ruled by fear.

The most important thing you can do between now and November 8 is to get yourself out of the state of fear, face your fear, and befriend your fear, and help your friends and family do the same. Because if you’re not in fear, you’ll be much better able to act in ways that will have more impact, because those actions will be smarter, more rational, and more creative than actions you take out of fear, because fear is the mind killer.

So how to do that? Spiritual traditions have developed these practices over many hundreds and in some cases, thousands of years. They include mindfulness meditation, centering prayer, yoga breathing, and many, many others. Today, I’m introducing the concept of concentration practice (including saying the rosary) on my Life as Practice Blog.

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