March 2010


Growing up, I was probably no more than fourteen when I read  Frank Herbert’s “Dune.” Nearly everyone has heard of the movie, but what I read was the book – a ground-breaking science fiction masterpiece. The movie barely touched on the intricacies of the story, and depicted only a tiny fraction of the book. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it highly. One particular mantra, courtesy of the Bene Gesserit, was repeated over and over throughout the book. That saying has stayed with me for years. It goes like this…

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.

This morning my husband Dave was reading an article written by his teacher, a master of many martial arts including Tai Chi, Chi Gung, Ba Gua, and countless others. Dave studied under him for nearly two decades and recently opened his own business, Kansas City Chi Gung, and teaches Tai Chi and Chi Gung. In the article, Dave’s teacher, Bruce Kumar Frantzis, drew a direct line between Frank Herbert’s “Dune” and Taoism and as I heard those words repeated I thought about reading them so long ago and how I have learned to embrace them in recent years.

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.

Those words resonated through me and I found myself asking, “How often does fear stop us from becoming what we are meant to be?”

Think about that for a moment.

Fear of the unknown…

Fear of the “Well, what if…”

Fear of the “I’ve never done that, how will I succeed?”

We learn doubts and find ourselves consumed with fear at such a young age. At three, my daughter is already showing the signs of it. She will bring me a pen, marker, or crayon and say, “Draw an ‘A’, Mama.”

“Would you like me to help you draw an ‘A’ Emily?”

“No Mama, I CAN’T draw.”

She always looks sad and scared and I wonder where it came from. It wasn’t anything her dad or I said, and I can’t imagine a teacher or other family member being anything but positive and supportive.

I tell her, “Your big sister didn’t know how to draw once. But you know what? She kept trying, and she kept getting better, and now she draws beautifully. You can learn anything you want to and are willing to try at.” She nods and sometimes she lets me guide her hand, other times not.

What is it about us? Why do we stand in our own way? Is it cultural? Is it environmental? Is it biological? It seems as if sometimes our unconscious simply generate roadblocks where there is nothing but level land to walk on.

How about an example of what I mean? Okay, here goes…

I recently decided to represent myself in an upcoming court case. I checked out a book on the particular subject (one of the NOLO series) and began to read through it, looking at all of the forms I would have to fill out and learning the lingo…pro se – to represent yourself. I paged through the schedules, read the descriptions, and I was feeling good. I understood this, it wasn’t terribly difficult, and I felt capable. Right about the point that my feeling of capable was at its zenith, I got lost and didn’t understand a particular form. Was this something I needed to fill out? What did this form mean? I set the book down in a fluster and walked away.

Folks, I walked away for THREE days. I couldn’t bring myself to touch the book. In other words, I had allowed the fear to consume me. What did I know about law? How could I even consider representing myself? What if I filled out the forms wrong and the financial and legal ramifications were significant? If I screwed up and it meant us losing a significant amount of money or with judgments against us, I wouldn’t just be harming me, I’d be harming the financial future of our family. My little girl. My husband. My grown daughter who is hoping for a little bit of help with college if I can swing it.

But then I was reminded of a completely separate incident. One I have quoted before, but it bears repeating. A few years ago I wanted to get my recliner re-upholstered. But I knew nothing about it and there were few books on the subject with enough photos for me to be able to follow. I didn’t want to pay an exorbitant amount for someone to do it for me, so I needed to somehow swing it myself. My mother said, “Honey, someone put it together once, you can take it apart.” And that one sentence was IT. That was the impetus I needed to move forward.

And as I thought about the legal paperwork, those words ran through my head and I thought, “Others have done this. And if they could do it, then so can I.” I sat down and I began pushing through the paperwork, one schedule and addendum at a time. It took hours, but I finished them all. When the fear or confusion came I researched the lingo through the internet and made sure I understood what the questions were asking. I pushed aside the fear and allowed reason and questions and learning to roll through.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear stops us from accomplishing the unknowable, from learning in the moment, from living lives freer than what we have now.

Don’t let fear stop you. Recognize it for what it is and choose to believe in your capabilities, in the you, and the bright tomorrow that you can effect change in. Do not let fear kill your dreams or stifle your ambition. Know that you are capable of so much more and do not allow it to control the outcome of your future. Let it pass through you.

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.

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“I’ve got a Master’s in life.” My friend laughed when she said it, but I had to agree.

I spent a lot of years worrying about how I was going to get those pretty little letters behind my name. And after 12 years of ‘on again, off again’ college and an assorted training I have to say this…

I too have a Master’s in life. I got that Master’s mainly outside of the classroom, although classes in Philosophy, Psychology, World Religion, Literature and, oddly enough, Algebra certainly helped.

Now I’m not saying to NOT get a higher education. By all means, do so if you can! I miss those hours spent drinking up knowledge and pushing my brain to understand statistics and advanced algebra as much as I do dissecting poems and contemplating the nature of humanity. And if you knew me from high school (where I railed against those hated math classes with splendid regularity) then you will see what a jump forward that was for me.

Instead what I am suggesting you do is…LIVE.

Live as if you may die tomorrow.

Learn as if the world is depending on you for your knowledge.

Love deeply and without regret.

Experience a world outside of the daily hum of existence.

Taste new foods and new cuisines.

Meet new people.

Dig your hands into the soil and grow a vegetable or fruit for the first time.

Listen to classical if you like rock, jazz if you like country, gregorian chant, and celtic and so much more.

Drive somewhere different – out of your way, into a new corner of town

Write an essay, a poem (it doesn’t matter if it rhymes or not), or heck, even a manifesto on what it means to be alive!

Make today different and do not fear change or the unknown. Put away regret for another day and turn each mistake into a learning experience. Get a Master’s in life and then nothing and no one will ever hold you back from tapping into the joy of the you inside.

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 5 or 6 medium russet potatoes, sliced thin
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • One 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons minced rosemary leaves
  • 3 green onions, light green and medium green parts, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons minced chives
  • Cooking Directions

    Preheat the oven to 350°F. Rub the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with softened butter. Combine the half-and-half and the cream in a large measuring cup.

    Using a mandolin or a very sharp knife, slice the potatoes very thinly. They’ll cook better that way. Place the potatoes in a large bowl. Drizzle with half of the half-and-half/cream mixture and set aside.

    In a large skillet over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and onion and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes.

    Cut the bar of cream cheese in half and add the halves to the skillet, stirring constantly. Continue stirring until the mixture is smooth and combined, about 3 minutes.

    Pour in the remaining half-and-half/cream mixture and stir to combine.

    Add salt and pepper and stir. Taste and adjust the seasonings as necessary. Do not under salt! Add the rosemary and green onions and stir to combine.

    Finally, add ½ cup of the grated parmesan and stir to combine.

    Pour the cream-soaked potatoes into the baking dish. Pour the cream cheese mixture over the top and spread it evenly over the potatoes. Scrape out the skillet to get every last drop.

    Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup grated parmesan generously over the top and bake the potatoes for at least 1 hour, or until golden brown and bubbly.

    Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the chives, then cut into squares to serve.