Master Yoda says, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.”
I say, How you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.
As much as I adore Star Wars, the one thing about the Jedi that bothers me is their refusal to create space within themselves for the dark side. How is it that they acknowledge the Force has both light and dark sides but choose only to train in the light and against the dark? It seems to me that this oversight is partly responsible for the creation of Darth Vader and Kylo Ren. If Anakin Skywalker had learned how to deal with fear and anger besides just “rising above” them, perhaps things would have been different.
I know some people aren’t thrilled with the latest Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, but I loved it. Rey – the heroine – is in a remote corner of the galaxy trying to convince Luke Skywalker to train her in the ways of the Force. She stands on a precipice overlooking an untamed sea. In the rocks below is a deep, black hole out of which creep dark tentacles. Rey dives straight into the well of dark. She needs to know it. Rey does not hide from or attempt to push past the dark.
Last week I went to the grey place. The grey place is where I allow myself to feel the darker side of being human and yet remain connected to the core of something brighter and bigger than my little self.
After five or so days in the grey place the shades of emotion turned dark and on Saturday I had a panic attack. Full blown breathless heaves and a wash of tears. I let myself be in the panic for a time then I chose to regain control of my breath. I was shaking and exhausted and I knew there was more to come. I cried it out and vented to a friendly acquaintance who happened to be standing near me, and who did her best to offer all sorts of helpful solutions: Have you journaled about it? Focus on gratitude. Think positive. Get out of your head.
The thing is, in the darkest, most acute moments of panic I don’t need to journal or practice gratitude or think positive. Such “helpful solutions” are not helpful. They are irritating and shame inducing. They are the product of well-intentioned Jedi absolutes.
What is helpful is allowing.
During my grey week I read The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams. “The two leaders [tell us] . . . that there is no joy without sorrow, that in fact it is the pain, the suffering that allows us to experience and appreciate the joy. . . . The more we turn toward the suffering, our own and others, the more we can turn toward the joy.”*
There are dozens of practices that help us cultivate joy: yoga, mind training, shifting perspectives, gratitude, meditations. None involve turning our back on suffering or pushing it away as though it doesn’t exist. All of the joy practices involve acknowledging the dark aspects of life. Too many are in the midst of profound suffering as result of natural disasters or the violent, tyrannical actions of others, but, as illustrated by the lives of the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Tutu and others in The Book of Joy, a person can maintain compassion and even joy in the midst of profound pain. This is only possible by integrating the darkness with a firm commitment to the light.
In the year and a half or so after Cole was born I didn’t feel the core of light I’d become accustomed to accessing in my heart. Postpartum depression is no joke. With all of my yoga, meditation, gratitude, prayer, sharing, service, I couldn’t access the sensation of ground-of-being serenity. But I knew it was there. It was time for help. And by help, I mean medication.
I also mean the help of compassion from others that affirmed my experience without trying to shame me out of it.
The Sith Lords of Star Wars are correct that tremendous power can be drawn from the dark side of the Force. It’s how they choose to wield it that is the problem. Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama know how to draw on the power of the dark side not for supremacy but for the good influence of radical compassion.
When I gave into the panic on Saturday, I offered myself radical compassion. When I later shared my darkness with a safe friend who didn’t try and fix my emotional state, the tension in my body dissipated and lightness returned.
Wookipedia – The Star Wars Wiki offers two versions of the Jedi Code that are a part of the official canon. The first is the mantra of fully trained Jedi.
There is no emotion, there is peace.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no passion, there is serenity.
There is no chaos, there is harmony.
There is no death, there is the Force.
The second is recited by Jedi younglings – Jedi’s in training.
Emotion, yet peace.
Ignorance, yet knowledge.
Passion, yet serenity.
Chaos, yet harmony.
Death, yet the Force.
Perhaps if the Jedi stuck with the mantra of the younglings Anakin would not have become Darth Vader. Then again, after being offered radical compassion even Darth Vader accepted his darkness and reconnected with the light.
* Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Abrams, The Book of Joy, page 303