If you are like me, you probably long believed that the most universal truths Star Wars had to offer came in Empire Strikes Back when Luke started his mentorship under Jedi Master Yoda. My favorite line from Episode V has always been, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”
The problem though is that it is nearly impossible to apply that principle (although I would not argue you should always strive to achieve it). The truth is that the most universal, and therefore basic spiritual principle Star Wars teaches comes in the first five minutes of Episode I, A Phantom Menace.
“Obi-Wan: I have a bad feeling about this.
Qui-Gon: I don’t sense anything.
Obi-Wan: It’s not about the mission, Master. It’s something elsewhere…elusive.
Qui-Gon: Don’t center on your anxieties, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration here and now, where it belongs.
Obi-Wan: But Master Yoda said I should be mindful of the future.
Qui-Gon: But not at the expense of the moment. Be mindful of the Living Force, young padawan.”
I’m sure you have seen that dialogue dozens of times by now (based on the average number of times most Star Wars fans watch these films) and never really paid much attention to it. I would ask you to stop and reread it though, focusing in on Qui-Gon’s words. How often throughout the day do you focus on “something elsewhere…elusive?” You may have been on what should have been a fantastic date, but were thinking about the term paper that was due in a week the whole time instead. Or perhaps you were sharing an intimate moment with your loved one and were being tormented by worries of how you are going to pay next month’s bills or about that promotion you didn’t get that you know you should have.
We miss all of life’s true beauty because we are never in the moment. If you are on a date, stop worrying about that term paper and simply enjoy the experience — you never know where it’ll take you. If you are spending precious moments with your loved ones, realize how precious few those moments are and put life’s issues on your mental back burner for a bit. You will be amazed how much happier you are just by keeping “your concentration here and now, where it belongs.” Read that scene one more time, and now you will understand why Obi-Wan seems anxious, and why Qui-Gon is at peace.
Yoda takes these teaches a step further with Luke and appears to somewhat recant his previous teaches to Obi-Wan based on his own life experiences. When speaking to Obi-Wan’s Force spirit, Yoda says of Luke, “All his life has he looked away…to the future. To the horizon. Never his mind on where he was — what he was doing!” You can see clearly that Yoda has more closely aligned his beliefs with those of Qui-Gon, proving you are never too old to unlearn what you have learned.
The point is not only that we should stop focusing on “elusive” worries, but we should also stop letting our mind spend so much time in the future because it just doesn’t exist. When I was younger I thought I knew exactly what I was going to be and what I was going to do when I grew older. As I did get older and my life began to diverge from my previously predetermined path, the difference in expectations and reality caused me years of angst and suffering. Had I just lived in the moment instead of comparing myself to a “future me” that was never to exist, I would have been infinitely happier.
Darth Vader is proof that the same philosophy is true for the past. Indeed Anakin Skywalker fell to the dark side because he could never escape his past. Anakin became one of the most powerful Jedi in the Order but would never be satisfied because he was unable to save his mother from death. He was also the youngest Jedi to serve on the Council but was unhappy with this because in the past, all those who had serve on the Council were Jedi Masters, a rank which he was understandably denied (although he could not see it this way).
Anakin became Darth Vader because his inability to stop dwelling in the past caused him so much misery. How true is this for most of us as well? Instead of appreciating our lives for the miracles they are, we are unhappy because we are constantly judging our worth based on past mistakes and failures. It is imperative that you focus on the “here and now”, for it is the only time that ever actually exists.
Obi-Wan did try to save his apprentice from this outcome, and herein lies the most essential spiritual teaching in all of Star Wars.
“Be mindful of your thoughts, Anakin. They’ll betray you.”
In the past week, how many of these thoughts have crossed your mind? I’m old. I’m fat. I’m lazy. I’m ugly. I’m not good enough for him/her. I’ll never get the job I want. I’m not really good at anything. I’ll never be happy.
Your thoughts betray you.
How often did someone say something along those lines throughout the Star Wars saga? There is very good reason for that. All this time I have misunderstood that line. I thought it basically meant, “Haha! I can read your mind!” No, it means exactly what it says: your thoughts betray you. The most basic definition of “betray” is “to be disloyal to”. This is a difficult concept to grasp because what I am saying is that your own mind is working against you, and you are not your mind.
Remember when Obi-Wan told Luke to bury his feelings deep down because “they could be made to serve the Emperor?” This again explains how Palpatine was able to subtly nudge Anakin towards the dark side, by feeding off and encouraging the young Jedi’s persistent negative thoughts. If your mind could be personified, I think we would find it would be much like Palpatine and it behaves in the exact same manner. It tells you that you should be the best, but in the next breath that you are not good enough. In its worst form it tells you that you can save someone you love from dying, and then tells you that “you killed her”. This is how our mind works.
Can you turn it off? Not exactly, but you can negate its harmful, sometimes destructive, effects. You do this by heeding Obi-Wans words, “Be mindful of your thoughts”. Realize and understand that you are not actually fat and ugly because a voice (not the real you) in your head said so. You can find true happiness, despite any negative thoughts to the contrary. Be mindful of your thoughts, and they will stop ruling your life.
I hope you have found this article as helpful as much as Star Wars has helped my spiritual well-being. Please leave a comment, let me know what you think, and as always, may the Force be with you.