2017: Star Wars Life Lessons

Image credit: Ribastank / Pixabay (Public Domain)

For me, 2017 was a big year. As a Star Wars fan, I’ve been looking forward to The Last Jedi. As a human being I had to deal with sorrow and loss when my father passed away. Looking back at the year, it struck me how both events were deeply entwined.

A Jedi’s Commitment

So, how do Master Yoda’s teachings relate to my year? In the original trilogy he comments on Luke’s restlessness, his negative point of view and about his fear to let go. For example, in ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi‘ he reminds Luke of their conversation on the planet Dagobah.

“A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away…to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing.”

He calls Luke foolish, because he is still like that. I’m as foolish as he is. Looking back at the year that just passed, we see the things that were not good, the things we regret. When we look ahead and make plans for the year that is still to come, we dream of the life we want to live. But the time that really matters is today. This moment.

It’s what mindfulness training in psychology is all about. If you get locked up in your head by either being preoccupied with the things that happened in the past or with the things that might happen in the future (and plan for it), you’re not in the here and now. You lose grounding. You disconnect from your body, from your emotions. Mindfulness is about reconnecting again. This is exactly what Yoda is talking about.

There is nothing wrong with making plans. Or with a sound evaluation of the things that weren’t good. But getting stuck in the past isn’t good. At one point you need to move on. When things already have happened, you can’t turn back the clock. Or play a blame game. You need to work with what you have. Right here. Right now.

This year, my father got diagnosed with cancer. He heard in February that he would not make it to the end of the year. We had to live in the present, day by day, because nobody knew for how long my father would stay with us.

Do. Or Do Not. There is no try

There was one complicating factor that made living in the present hard: coping with someone near to you who is dying is hard. Especially when it is someone you are supposed to like a lot, but in reality don’t go along with. The relationship wouldn’t get better, and I had to make the best of the time that was left. It seemed impossible to make it work because I was looking at it from a negative point of view.

It made me think of the scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke is about to give up raising his X-Wing fighter from the swamp. It’s too big. It can’t be done.

“Always with you what cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say?…You must unlearn what you have learned….Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

How often are we approaching a problem from a negative point of view? We live in uncertain times. A lot of things are in motion. We can’t take anything for granted anymore. That makes a lot of people anxious.

Our human mind is rigged to pay attention to negative things, dangers, more than it does to positive things. At the same time we are drawn to hope and positive vibes like moths to a flame. For instance, all the negativity on my social media evaporated when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.

Right before my father died, I was finally able to let go of a lot of things because I committed to a positive approach.  I had to remain in the positive and let go of the negative things. There was no try.

The fear of loss is a path to the dark side

This brings me to the last life lesson Yoda taught me this year. He says in Revenge of the Sith:

“The fear of loss is a path to the dark side. Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is. Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”

My father died in October after a long battle. He refused to let go of us until the very end which made it very tough to witness how he passed away. He feared death, because he didn’t believe there was anything afterwards. But he wasn’t 100% sure of that either. It would have been a much easier process for him had he been able to let go of things.

I realised I am just like that. I’m in many ways just like my father. It is like looking in a mirror. It is very painful, but Yoda is right: if you train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose, life will be so much easier.

I will not be able to prevent my own death when the time comes. There are two certainties in life, as my grandfather always said. First you are born and then you move on to the day that you die. I would add that it matters what you do between those two moments. Be in the present. Do or do not, there is no try. And let go of everything you fear to lose.

Before the year ends, I think I really have to see The Last Jedi one more time. Its main theme is overcoming failure and imperfection and be hopeful not thanks to everything that happens in life, but despite of it.