A lot of people don’t know this about me, but when I was young I was an avid reader. I could read a 500-page book in a day and a half or two and actually digest it. Then, I went through a long period where I didn’t read at all, especially not in English.
I didn’t particularly like fiction when I was young. In fact, I almost exclusively read non-fiction with two exceptions. I actually really liked Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, which is about the French Revolution. In junior high school, when I was 12, I picked up the book The Hobbit on a Friday afternoon and I had read the entire Lord of the Rings series before the weekend was out.
Even still, I really didn’t care for fiction. I still find most fiction novels boring as hell.
One of things that I did when I came back from China, at some point in the 90’s, was pick up the book Dune by Frank Herbert because a friend of mine said that it was really cool. I found that there are many ideas in Dune that mirror those in Taoism…
The Dune Series and Taoism
I read a big chunk of the Dune series. It’s one of the few fiction books I’ve enjoyed, and there are a lot of things about the book that are very interesting. It has an immense number of quotes and ideas that either parallel Taoist philosophy or let’s just say they can appreciate the point of view–whether or not they agree with it.
I think there are a lot of things in the Dune series that are relevant to my blog subscribers and my students. I would say that my personal appreciation and the Taoist appreciation is that if anything is true you are going to find it popping up in all sorts of different places, times and ways. It isn’t like something is true only for this moment. Truth has a way of repeating itself throughout history.
Contrary to the idea that history begins at breakfast, it actually started before you were born.
So there are lots of points in the Dune book that are relevant. Frank Herbert is a great writer. His message is delivered in a very concise way and leads into some points with which Taoism is concerned. The guy hit the nail on the head on a lot of points.
Fear is the Mind Killer
The Dune series is based 10,000 years into the future. In the world at that time there is a small segment of the population called the Bene Gesserit. “The Bene Gesserit are a powerful and ancient order of women whose objectives and actions formed a critical element in the evolution of humanity and many of the major plot developments.” These women have, shall we say, taken all the esoteric sciences to the highest level and are able to do the most spectacular things with their body chemistry, such as literally changing it at will, and changing their biochemistry if they get a disease.
The Bene Gesserit are trained from a young age and part of their training is learning to tame and use the mind. This of course is one of the purposes of Taoist meditation.
In the Dune series, when fear appears, the Bene Gesserit would repeat an incantation to help move their minds past the fear. The Litany goes as follows:
“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.”
Now this is a nice way to look fear in the face and to dissipate its effects when faced with a dangerous situation. It helps to focus the mind inward and to have courage. However, this incantation does not really get to the root of fear and how it arises…to get to that point you have to go much deeper.
Two Perspectives of Fear
When it comes to going beyond fear you can use two different methods. One is the method of hypnosis, which is offered in a lot of the self-help material these days. The other, which is very different, is the method of meditation.
The perspective of hypnosis, to a great degree, uses mind tricks for dealing with fear at a moment in time. Repeating “The Litany Against Fear” in Dune induces a hypnotic state, so as to allow fear to wash over you. That lasts for a few seconds but it doesn’t necessarily get you beyond fear. It is useful in the moment, but the change is not everlasting, for that we must dig deeper.
From the perspective of Taoist meditation, to get beyond fear you have to go to a place where the mind simply has the ability to stay open–allowing anything to flow through it. Anything occurring in your outer environment does not close down that space within your mind. Fear is essentially a closing down of the space at the center of the mind and spirit or soul (depending on which term you care to use).
It is impossible to go beyond fear permanently by only having this trick or that trick that can help you for a few minutes. To get beyond fear, you essentially must change your internal landscape. So when fear attempts to grab hold of you, you reside in a place where it can’t.
Part of the process to get beyond fear will involve strengthening your kidneys. At a biological level, at least in terms of the way the Taoists and Traditional Chinese Medicine thinks of fear, it’s essentially a bodily reaction that is rooted in your kidneys.
Once your kidney’s are strong, then that fear-trigger won’t be activated as much. You can then go beyond fear to where the space of the mind, the openness of the mind, the flow of the mind is able to maintain that which allows spontaneity.
Real Fear and Fake Fear
If fear arises it may be a real fear, such as I’m going to walk over a cliff, then you just step back. Or, if a car is moving toward you at a high speed, you must be motivated to move out of the way. But that’s not really the kind of inner fear I’m discussing.
It’s the kind of fear that eats away at your insides. Real fear is nothing more than heightened awareness. That is awareness of a real situation and the fear that arises to protect you.
It is important to recognize that most fear has nothing to do with reality. Most of the time people are afraid of things that will never happen to them. This is an effect of the mainstream media and news constantly bombarding the public with negative images. This puts people in a weakened state of fear and decreases the immune system of the body. Often your mind picks up these pictures and replays them, creating a story about them. This is not useful nor is it good for the body.
So to go beyond fear, one of the first steps is to recognize that fear which is truly helpful: It makes you more aware, in real situations, in real time. Inside your fear is something that says, “Wait a minute, I think we have to do something sensible and prudent here,” rather than running around like a chicken with your head cut off, or becoming paralyzed and ducking under a chair, hoping that everything will pass one day.
Next, to really go beyond fear, you must summon the courage to look at all the fears that are inside you. Fears arise from childhood experiences and from terrible events that have happened to you or that you witnessed.
When you find these fears you can use meditation to get to a place where you simply can move to the space of awareness. Otherwise, you’ll too easily go to a space that contracts your awareness into a tiny, little box that scares the living hell out you.
As you move into the space of awareness, you can then release what is not real. This is the path to finding a peace place inside. This is a destination that can be achieved through Taoist mediation.