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Mindful : December 2013
December 2013 mindful 63 family To read about how much fun we had putting this article together, go to mindful.org/starwars re-released 3D version of Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace. It’s the first in a series of prequels that a re set a generation before the one I saw in 1977. Within 10 minutes, we meet boyish Padawan Learner Obi-Wan. “I have a bad feeling about this,” he says, a phrase uttered by every main character in the series. “ Don’t center on your a nxiety, Obi- Wa n,” replies stern Jedi Master Qui-Gon. “Keep your concentration here a nd now where it belongs.” Obi-Wan, brash young buck, isn’t buying it. “ Master Yoda says I should be mindful of the future...” “...but not at the expense of the moment,” cuts in Qui-Gon. Then out come the light sabers, the shooting starts, and Jar Jar Binks is soon saying, “Mesa yous humble ser vaunt!” But I’m not paying attention to any of that. My 41-year-old brain is stuck on that word: mindful. Looking back now, after spending years of my adult life reporting on the science of mindfulness, I can see that the practice of moment-to-moment, nonjudg- mental awareness of thoughts, feelings, and surroundings darts in and out of the Star Wars movies like a pod-racer through Beggar ’s Canyon. Mindfulness is in The Empire Strikes Back, when Yoda chastises Luke: “This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away to the future, to the hori- zon. Never his mind on where he was.” It’s in Return of the Jedi, when Luke bests the Emperor by becoming aware of his own hate and anger, then decides to embrace kindness instead. It’s in Revenge of the Sith, when Luke’s father, Ana kin, a llows his emotional states to interfere with his perception of reality—and thus he becomes Darth Vader. And all this appea rs in some of the most popular, influential movies of our lifetime. But their lessons in mindfulness seem largely lost on my son. After watching The Phantom Menace, he races right into the mall toy store. There he pulls weapon after weapon down from the shelves—a light saber, a blaster—and begs me to buy him one. Hey, I did that, too. At 7 years old, I begged my pa rents to buy me Star Wars toys a nd slaughtered legions of Storm- troopers in our backyard. It’s only in ret- rospect, it seems, that the mindfulness of Star Wars has influenced me. At the time, I just wanted to blow stuff up. Which raises a question: Are the messages of mindfulness lost in the explosions and running and shooting a nd commercialization of Star Wars? Curse them, the critics are right: the Star Wars movies do indeed portray slaughter on a vast scale, with little attention to the emotional and spiritual consequences. Through video ga mes and toys, boys like my son are invited to cast themselves as Luke and Han and Lando—and kill as many bad guys as possible. No part of mass culture is asking them to stop and breathe and pay attention. And frankly, as a parent, I don’t ask my own child to do that nearly as often as I should. Indeed, finding holes and contradic- tions in the philosophy of Star Wars is like shooting womp rats in a ba rrel. But, I’d like to argue, that’s not the whole story. While explosions sell tick- ets, underneath and around them the films consistently preach that mind- fulness fosters compassion, mercy, and restraint. The mindful Jedi Knight uses violence only in defense of others, while striving to alleviate suffering. It’s when Ana kin Skywalker kills the helpless Count Dooku out of revenge that he starts down the path to the dark side. “Fear is the path to the dark side,” says exiled Jedi Master Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, released in 1980. “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” The generation that hea rd these words as children is now middle-aged. As I dis- covered when I polled my contemporar- ies in real life and on Facebook, many of us have gradually taken Yoda’s words to heart, moving from fascination with the machinery a nd explosions of Star Wars to its philosophical underpinnings. “ Yoda’s fear-leads-to-anger sequence had the most influence on me,” says my buddy Dave Pai, who saw the first movie at age 9. “It helped me learn that it’s okay to adjust my expectations a nd let things be.” This is a sentiment echoed by several friends in a Facebook discussion. “ Rac- ism and desensitization to violence aside, Star Wars at least introduces the idea of mindfulness to the typical preteen male,” says Dave. That’s not Yoda’s only philosophi- cal hit. Here’s another: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” This is advice Yoda delivers to Luke Skywalker as Luke is about to attempt to use the Force to lift his X-Wing fighter out of the Dagobah swamp. My friend Auey Santos saw the movie at age 7, and she actually recalls the “there is no try” speech when she’s trying to lift her own X-Wings out of the swa mps of her life. Yoda’s words ask us to focus on the moment we’re in and not worry about the unknowable next one. Dave and Auey are now parents, as are most of my peers. We drag in Star Wars at times as a way to meet our children where they are, usually in a playful way but with real intent. I often remind Liko of the Jedi when I need him to pay atten- tion, ma nage negative feelings, or just clean his room without stopping every five seconds to play with his toys. Some- times I adopt a silly Yoda voice—“ Do or do not!”—that makes him slap his ha nd across my mouth. “Daddy!” he says. “Stop trying to sound like Yoda!” To which I reply, “I will. When act like Luke Skywalker, you do!” Resist this lesson now, he might. But the Force is strong within him. The deeper lessons of life that are dotted throughout the Star Wars epic will grad- ually sink in. As Darth might have said, “Like father, like son.” ● The practice of moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness of thoughts, feelings, and surroundings darts in and out of the Star Wars movies like a pod-racer through Beggar’s Canyon. ILLUSTRATIONBYJESSICAVONHANDORF