Introducing… Star Wars mindfulness!

Star Wars mindfulness: Master Yoda lays it downLike any other pre-90’s kid with a beating heart, I love the classic Star Wars mythology. Now, with the obvious out of the way, you’re probably wondering what Star Wars mindfulness is all about. In fact, how are the two things related at all?

If nothing else, you’ve at least heard of Star Wars, because you have an internet connection, and a fairly normal human perception. Mindfulness, on the other hand, although a greatly expanding phenomenon, still seems to be somewhat less pervasive in the public domain.

This is also part of the reason it seems near-impossible for anyone practicing mindfulness to talk about it in a manner that doesn’t seem like they want you to join some neo-religious cult of sorts.

But if you haven’t heard of mindfulness before, it is, among other things, a way of practicing meditation. This description from Psychology Today is quite apt:

“Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you carefully observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to your current experience, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future.“

I shouldn’t have to elaborate as to the benefits of meditation if you’re often struggling with low confidence and self-esteem. In fact, practicing meditation could reduce quite a few of the problems of non-fident people.*

Anyway, as it turns out, Star Wars mindfulness is just totally a thing.

It first occurred to me when I was watching “The Empire Strikes Back” for the umpteenth time, having learned about mindfulness since the last time. For this purpose, I’ll be concentrating on Luke’s initial Jedi training.

When Luke first visits master Yoda, he’s restless, edgy, and impatient to get started. Yoda, being Yoda, then tells like it is:

“For 800 years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained. 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; what he was doing.“

Non-fident people tend to dwell on the past and worry about the future. Confident people accept their past by learning from their mistakes, and they prepare for the future by making the best of the present moment.

From then on, those Star Wars mindfulness moments just keep piling up.

When Yoda trains Luke in lifting rocks, he tells him to “feel” the rocks, and to concentrate. Of course, concentration per se might be a little misleading, since mindfulness isn’t about deliberately straining our minds.

But mindfulness IS about undivided focus. And to lift the rocks, Luke must give them this focus by “feeling” them, by concentrating on them, one at a time.

It becomes even clearer when Yoda tells Luke about the Force before he is to enter the Cave of Evil: “Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight.“ About how the dark side is “quicker, easier, more seductive”. And about how one will know the difference between the two sides when one is “calm, at peace, passive“.

This is, essentially, all another good reason to practice mindfulness. We so often give in to the basic human condition of fear that we often get carried away by it, only to find ourselves struggling negative emotions galore.

But when we’re calm, passive, and at peace, it’s much easier for us to distance ourselves from those emotions.

When Luke starts asking questions, Yoda quickly cuts him off: “No. There is no “why”. Nothing more will I teach you today. Clear your mind of questions”.

This, like mindfulness, is about acceptance. When we’re mindful, we accept things for what they are. We neither actively reject or pursue any information or idea. We simply let them pass through us without judgment.

Finally, before Luke enters the Cave of Evil, Yoda tells him that it contains “only what you take with you”. This applies to how we perceive and judge things. When we’re mindful, we observe things without labelling or judging them. But when we label or judge something, we ascribe it certain traits — positive or negative — that we bring along.

It’s only because Luke fears Vader that he sees him in the cave. — And, as he destroys the apparition and sees his own severed head, he sees how the fear might end up destroying himself.

Ultimately, when Luke returns to face Vader in “Return of the Jedi”, he is stoic and calm. You can almost detect the hint of a smile in the corners of his mouth. Having successfully learned the ways of the Jedi, he is able to withstand the temptation to fight the Dark Side, throw down his lightsaber, and take the path of calmness and peace.

Of course, Luke already has the Force within him that enables him to destroy the Death Star in “A New Hope”. And that’s kinda the beauty of it all. Because I totally think we all have the Force within us, and we should all find out how we’re gonna use it. And mindfulness helps us do that.

I could go on and on about Star Wars mindfulness. But don’t just take my word for it. Other people have long made the same discovery as I. Like I said: Star Wars mindfulness is totally a thing.

I was planning to be totally original and end this with a well-meant “may the Force be with you”. But for the purpose of generally writing about confidence and confidence-related issues, I’ll quote Yoda one last time. From when Luke complains about being unable to levitate his X-wing fighter from the swamp:

So certain are you. Always with you what cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say?


* Sources: https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/buildingselfesteem/2013/03/how-mindfulness-can-increase-self-confidence/; https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shift/201411/overcoming-low-self-esteem-mindfulness; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ed-and-deb-shapiro/meditation-self-esteem_b_1803862.html

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How action reduces fear

Action reduces fear, because doing something scary effectively tells our fear to shut up.Action reduces fear, so act.

Truth be told, this neat little quote isn’t my own. It’s one that I came upon while reading a summary of David Schwartz’ classic “The Magic of Thinking Big”. But it stuck with me.

For someone plagued by low confidence and self-esteem, the idea that action reduces fear could very well seem counter-intuitive. Because often, it’s when we need to take action on something — especially something important — that fear arises.

There’s the fear that we’ll mess something up, and that, as a result, people will judge us and ridicule us. But there’s also the fear that we might successfully carry through with our endeavor and advance to a higher level. — We’d have expectations coming at us from all sides! And responsibilities!

Whether it’s one or both, or some other fear, fear associated with taking action is definitely real. So, why would anyone claim that action reduces fear??

To find the answer, take a moment to think about another topic that seems to cause non-fidents a lot of pain: Over-thinking.

We’ve all been there. Stuck with a seemingly unsolvable choice, entirely unable to weigh out the pros and cons. Or, having done just that, unable to make a decision because either option seems just as good — or bad — as the other.

No-one’s exactly a fan, that’s for sure. But still, as it is said in the personal coaching world, there’s always a pay-off.

You see, over-thinking is, deep down, a defense mechanism. When we over-think something, it’s because of exactly those aforementioned fears.

No-one likes over-thinking. But it still feels way less uncomfortable than having to make a tough decision or do something that makes you feel exposed and put on the line.

Over-thinking, then, is the antithesis to the action that it prevents. The two cannot co-exist. It’s either one, or the other.

Sometimes, the over-thinking wins, and we end up doing nothing at all. That’s when we really give in to our doubts and fears.

And so, it’s when we stop thinking and just do it that action reduces fear.

Action reduces fear, because when we act, we only do it because we’ve sufficiently silenced that fearsome part of our brains telling us to abort and run away. Like I said, the two cannot co-exist.

But doesn’t that mean that I’d have to compromise my thinking if I want to get things done? What if I, like, really treasure my thinking?”

Sounds like a defense mechanism to me. 😉

No, seriously, it does. But I DO get where you’re coming from. I was there.

The thing is, thinking isn’t necessarily good for us altogether. Thinking isn’t a means to an end. We have more thoughts every day than can be measured, and that’s not exactly beneficial.

On the contrary, many a study have been done on how meditation helps us by training us to simply observe our thoughts and stay focused on the ones that matter, rather than blowing the insignificant ones out of proportion.*

Also, after we’ve done whatever frightening actions we’re doing, we can evaluate ourselves and get better at it the next time. And, of course, we wanna start out by taking babysteps. This goes for whatever we’re doing. Some people even get help from a confidence coach. (Something I obviously highly recommend doing.)

Bottom line: If you’re feeling anxious about doing something, it probably means it’s important, and you should do it. And really, there are lots of ways to go about your challenges safely and securely. But only the action reduces fear. And, as another quote from the initially mentioned summary goes: Nothing happens just by thinking.

Yes, it’s scary. Do it anyway.


* Sources: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2719544/; http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-may-ease-anxiety-mental-stress-201401086967

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