Updated: Dec 28, 2020
Is it any wonder that if you Google "Stars Wars and mindfulness," you will find search results for all kinds of articles, books, and essays on the subject? It has been said that George Lucas based Yoda's character on a wise, old Tibetan Buddhist teacher named Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche. Lucas met Rinpoche, who served as the Dali Lama's debate partner and tutor, on his travels to India prior to making Star Wars.
The scene in The Phantom Menace (1999) from the Star Wars movies series in which Yoda is having a conversation with young Anakin contains some of the most memorable dialogue in the entire Star Wars franchise. In fact, the influence of the mindfulness overtones in the film can be felt during this scene when Yoda imparts to Anakin, "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."
In this same scene, Jedi Master, Mace Windu (played by Samuel L. Jackson), encourages Anakin to, "Be mindful of your feelings." Why do Yoda's and Windu's words to Anakin resonate with so many of us on such a deep level?
The reason the dialogue in this particular scene sticks in our collective consciousness like a wad of gum on the bottom of our shoe on a hot day is because fear plays a central part in almost everything we do. As I often say in my mindfulness classes, "Our minds are wonderful for keeping us alive, but not so great for making us happy." We have all studied the "fight or flight" response, which is our physiological reaction that happens when we perceive an attack or a threat to our survival. In other words, having an undercurrent of constant fear keeps us alive. That's a good thing. The bad thing is that too much focus on fear stresses out our minds and over time, it takes a harmful toll on our bodies. Fear also, unfortunately, often keeps us from doing things that we need to do or want to do. Essentially, it holds us back if we let it.
We learn from practicing mindfulness and meditation that resisting unwelcomed emotions like fear only makes them stronger. Instead of repressing the fear or trying to push it out of our thoughts, we are better served to bring our gentle awareness to it. When we do this, it puts a little space between the stimulus and response, and we are more apt to be responsive instead of knee-jerk reactive to the fear. Often times, just knowing what we are feeling at any given moment enables us to deal with it better. So next time instead of immediately acting on your fear or shutting down because of it, take Windu's sage advice, "Be mindful of your feelings." (It's even better if you can cue up Windu's voice in that velvety deep, rich Samuel L. Jackson tone!)
I often tell the athletes I train that they can use fear to their advantage. For instance, if they are stressed out before a game, I ask them to notice what is happening to them physically. After a bit of self-observation they may notice some stressors brought on by fear. These may include: butterflies in their stomachs, rapid heartbeats, sweaty palms, constricted breathing, or the feeling of their throats closing up. I tell them to bring their awareness to these stressors and then "flip and script" on this fear by saying that this is just "their minds telling their bodies to get ready for action." Try it next time you feel like this before having to perform an important task. It doesn't have to be just for a sporting event.
There are a couple of mantras I like to use in these situation as well. One is by meditation teacher Jeff Warren. I tweaked it a bit. Whenever fear or stress overcomes you, say to yourself, "Welcome to the party." It basically is a reassuring statement to yourself that you may not always be able to control what happens to you, but you can bring your awareness to it and deal with to the best of your abilities. Another mantra I like to employ in these types of situations I borrowed from a song title from the 80's band, The Bears. It is called "Fear is Never Boring." For some reason, saying this helps me to lean into the situation a little bit more, and it enables me to settle my emotions while using the fear to make me feel more alive. In doing so, it opens up my attention and narrows my focus on the issue at hand.
All too often, we talk ourselves out of doing things we want to do because of fear. We are too fearful to train for a half marathon. We are too fearful to tell someone special we love them. We are too fearful to take guitar lessons.
We are too fearful to ask the boss for a raise, etc., etc., etc. In my book, Slow Your Roll-Mindfulness for Fast Times, I mentioned two fear acronyms I like to use. I did not create these, but I find them helpful in these types of situations: F.E.A.R. either stands for "Forget Everything and Run" or "Face Everything and Rise." The next time that fear has its grip on you, you decide which one you are going to choose.
In his book, Conversations with God, Neale Donald Walsch basically breaks it down to two human emotions that drive very much of what we do: FEAR OR LOVE, "Fear holds close, love holds dear. Fear grasps, love lets go. Fear rankels, love soothes. Fear attacks, love amends."