The parallel between Star Wars and Mindfulness
The Parallel between Star Wars and Mindfulness
As an introvert, a homebody, a therapist and a mom, I spend a lot of time filling my cup with movies and shows that offer me entertainment and hope.
Most of the stuff I enjoy watching is related to the concept of good and evil, with a healthy dose of action and adventure. In a career where I hold space for people to share their pain, I need escape.
As a therapist who specializes in mindfulness based trauma treatment, much of what I watch is from a mindfulness based lens. I find frequent parallels, and share that with clients in their process of healing.
What is Star Wars?
Prior to 2000, I had heard of the movie "Star Wars", but I had never seen it before. I didn’t even really know what it was about, other than some guy in a black mask who breathed heavy. Was it a war between planets? I just didn’t get it, and all the hype around it. So, imagine my friends’ surprise, when they realized that I had never seen Star Wars.
To be fair, I was born in 1978, in another country, so I was too young to know that Star Wars existed. And my parents were not into science fiction, nor was it possible to go to the movies as easily as we can do today.
Regardless of those facts, people my age had seen or heard about Star Wars and swore that it was something to put on my bucket list. Sure, one day, I thought, as I moved on with my life.
My introduction to Star Wars
Then one day, in May, in honor of Star Wars Day, one of my closest grad school friends invited me over to watch all of the original Star Wars movies. I remember thinking, “this is ridiculous, there’s a Star Wars Day?!?” “I have finals to study for and papers to write”.
I laugh at myself now when I think about how little I knew and how much I missed out on having never seen the movies as a kid. Needless to say, we watched episodes 4,5, and 6 and I was hooked. Now, I didn’t turn into a fanatic, and go down the rabbit hole of fandom, but I remember being in awe.
I was amazed that this guy, George Lucas, came up with such a creative story, basically speaking to the concept of good and evil. The graphics, the imagination, the complexity, this movie had it all. And what was even better was that this was a movie that you could watch all day and be entertained.
For my introverted self, these movies were heaven. I had escape. There was a good story and characters to root for. I could tell people that I was disappearing for the weekend to watch Star Wars and no one batted an eye.
Star Wars and Mindfulness?
What I also got from Star Wars was a reinforcement of my spirituality and my mindfulness practice. I feel like that is one of the big things I took away from Star Wars. The concept of the “Force” and the “Dark Side” I feel are things that seem too easily overlooked.
For the millions of people who have watched and are obsessed with Star Wars, very rarely do I hear dialogue around the spiritual nature of Star Wars. I hear talk about how cool Darth Vader is, or how badass Boba Fett was. But rarely do we discuss the “Force” and what that could represent in our daily lives.
As someone who recognizes the role of fear and anger when doing therapy with someone, I recognized how easily Darth Vader could go to the dark side. Many of us are ruled by anger and hate, and the need for power and control. Why is Darth Vader’s path not a warning to all of us?
So, in honor of Star Wars Day, May 4th, I offer some lessons that we can all utilize to bring more mindfulness into our lives.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness, as a general principle is the practice of being present in the moment. The focus is to observe your thoughts and emotions without judgment. It involves cultivating a non-reactive awareness and developing a sense of acceptance towards oneself and the world.
I have to believe that if Anakin Skywalker had done a better job of this, he may not have turned into Darth Vader. We ultimately love Darth Vader... in the movies. But we wouldn’t want him in our every day life. So here are some ways to incorporate mindfulness in your daily life to avoid turning into your own version of Darth Vader.
1. Cultivate compassion
The world is scared of Darth Vader. He has turned to the dark side and cannot be saved. Yet here Luke arrives and believes that there is still good in him. He seeks him out, in an effort to bring that good out. Now, Luke is not a pushover. He will defend himself and fight Darth Vader, but inherently, he has the belief that good still exists within him.
The reality is that there are people in our lives who we dislike, hate even. And we may wish bad things upon them. We have a hard time offering grace and compassion to those who are doing bad things. But the reality is that we don’t know people’s back story. We don’t always know what leads a person to do things.
This is not to say that we are ok with their behavior, but perhaps if we were a bit less judgmental, gave people the benefit of the doubt and saw the good in others, we could feel peace. This, by the way, is also important to apply to ourselves.
2. Practice acceptance
There are many occurrences in Star Wars that are out of the characters' control. Leia’s planet of Alderaan gets blown up, Luke loses his hand, Han Solo gets frozen in carbonite. Bad things always seem to be happening to the “good guys”. It’s enough to lose hope and just give up, looking for peace and quiet away from the Empire.
Inherently though, the characters are able to accept the things that have happened and keep going. Notice that to practice acceptance is not to say that it’s ok for the Empire to terrorize people and rule the galaxy unchecked.
Practicing acceptance is more about accepting these events as they unfold, without trying to resist or change them. Acceptance does not mean approval, but rather acknowledging reality as it is. Only then can you appropriately respond.
3. Focus on the present moment:
When you're watching Star Wars, there is a lot going on. And I’m only referring to the original three movies. There’s Luke’s back story of life on Tatooine, being raised by his aunt and uncle. Leia is handing over Death Star plans to R2D2 and getting caught by Darth Vader. The Empire is ruling the galaxy and terrorizing planets. A Death Star is being built. The Rebellion is fighting battles throughout the galaxy. Han Solo owes Jabba the Hut money. Goodness!
It can feel overwhelming as you try to predict what is happening now and what might happen next. Will they get caught? How will they escape? Instead, stay focused on what is happening and unfolding in front of you. Appreciate the story and the relationships being established.
So often we live in the past or get caught up in the future. We think we know how something is going to turn out and we either react negatively or cower in fear. Something in our past makes us ruminate about current events. We let past events keep us in guilt and self-loathing.
By trying to practice on staying in the present moment, we focus on making choices that support our well-being now. We focus on our present choices and thoughts with the hope that will ease suffering for us in the present moment, and possibly in the future.
4. Observe your reactions.
There are many moments throughout Star Wars, where you are reacting to something happening. Darth Vader’s theme plays and he walks into the room. The Death Star blows up after Luke miraculously uses the force to make his shots. Throughout the movie, reactions, judgments and feelings are elicited.
In practicing mindfulness, your job is simply to observe your reaction without giving it a good or bad label. It is when we give a label to something that we often get excited or dread something.
Consider this, how do you feel when I say Monday. What about when I say Friday. Most people have an inherent reaction. But why? Why are Mondays so dreaded and Fridays so celebrated? They are both days of the week. By allowing yourself to observe your reactions, you foster an opportunity to explore why that is. You develop a greater ability to practice acceptance. And ultimately it may help you make choices the elicit less of a reaction and more of a response.
5. Find meaning
Star Wars is a story about the struggle between good and evil, and the importance of standing up for what you believe in. Within the movie, the characters are standing up against a large entity, the Empire. Yet also, characters, like Luke, are trying to find their meaning and purpose as a Jedi while also battling the Empire. The stakes feel so high and the task so insurmountable.
Every day presents us with challenges and opportunities to stand up for what we believe in. Part of the mindfulness practice is to move beyond the expectations we set for ourselves and beyond the expectations of others. Part of figuring out what gives us meaning and what our purpose is to sit with the stories we have created in our minds.
As you incorporate a mindfulness practice (i.e. meditation), try to find meaning in the stories you tell yourself about yourself and others. How do these various thoughts or identities serve us? DO they serve us? How can we begin to explore what is meaningful to us? How can we develop a sense of purpose and meaning and then take aligned action?
Star Wars and Mindfulness share parallel concepts. Star Wars is a complex and multi-faceted franchise that is also surprisingly simple. The movies have much to teach us about mindfulness while also entertaining us. Take some lessons from Star Wars and apply them to your own life. Take one domain and attempt to apply it to your own life for 30 days. The galaxy may depend on it.