“The Force is what gives a Jedi his power,” says Obi-Wan Kenobi to Luke Skywalker. “It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”
My favorite movies of all time come from the original Star Wars trilogy. Growing up, I often played with Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader action figures, pretending I too was a Jedi Knight. It’s not surprising when I entered seventh grade and faced adversity I turned to the power of the Force.
Middle school hurt. Social intimidation, academic challenges, and parental pressures all set against the backdrop of swirling hormones and my personal penchant for worry. Around age twelve, my anxiety really took flight and started to knock the wind right out of me–literally. The smallest challenges sparked internal firestorms of thoughts that manifested in stomachaches, crying, and often shortness of breath.
My parents tried to cleave me from the throes of panic with consistent love and reassurance, but to no avail. As I grew, so too did their feelings of helplessness. Not wanting them (or me) to suffer any further, I enacted a plan. I asked myself what a Jedi would do in this situation. The answer was obvious: use the Force to build a protective shield.
So I built one–an impenetrable emotional force shield. If I were anxious about an exam, I pushed the worry deep inside until I couldn’t feel it. If I didn’t get asked to a dance, I wasn’t hurt because it bounced off my shield and I felt nothing. By my first year of high school I had perfected the practice and became a full-fledged emotional stoic. When my parents asked how I was doing, I would say, “Fine. Fine. Nothing new.”
I believed my own words until the plan started to fall apart, and in the end was nothing short of an epic fail.
Instead of wielding the Force, I numbed it, particularly the dark side. Here’s the thing, numbing my dark emotions had unforeseen consequences… it also numbed the light. Research confirms that in squashing worry, sadness, anger, and fear, we also push out joy, gratitude, meaning, and purpose. In choosing not to feel, I became a veritable robot with a ticking time bomb inside.
That bomb went off at age twenty-five. Mired in a messy relationship, I hit rock bottom. Panic attacks, anxiety, and fear were untethered and came roaring back. I sought therapy, and with this blessing the trajectory of my life changed. I learned to focus inward, and for the first time in years I allowed all of my feelings–light and dark–to surface without judgment. In doing so, I finally unearthed the true secret of the Jedi: mindfulness.
You see, Luke Skywalker is a beacon of strength and a guardian of peace and justice not because he always feels happy and good. In fact, like all of us, Luke experiences fear, anger, worry, and even moments of hate. And though these emotions can be overwhelming, through his Jedi training, Luke learns to sit with his discomfort. He allows his emotions to surface and pass. In practicing mindfulness, Luke’s emotions are stripped of their designations. Instead of “dark” and “light” or “good” and “bad,” emotions simply become what they were always meant to be: communication tools.......