The Last Jedi

Source: http://www.starwars.com

Count Down

Tomorrow at this time I will be a settling in to watch “The Last Jedi”. I’ll be honest I haven’t been to see a Star Wars movie at the cinemas since 1983 with the release of “Return of the Jedi”. The prequels and the last two offerings from Lucas / Disney I have watched at home months after they were released.

I’ve never white knuckled the count down to release date or stood in a queue with the Sci-Fi geeks wearing a Jedi robe at a midnight screening. Given that I’ve never bothered to watch a Star Wars movie on its release date, the question “why this one, what’s so different?” is a valid one. There are two reasons.

Firstly I have a movie voucher which needs to be cashed in.

Secondly, I’m intrigued by the choice of title. There has been a lot of discussion about the actual meaning of “The Last Jedi”. Is it reference to Luke Skywalker? Is there finality in the statement that we will see the final end of the Jedi in this episode and the emergence of something else that is more palatable to mainstream opinions?

 

Disclaimer

I know next to nothing about the actual plot of the movie. I never got invited to the Premier or exclusive early screenings. I don’t even known anyone who knows someone who did.  Disney has also closely guarded details about the actual story.

I can’t offer spoilers, only guesses and a bit of philosophy. If you are reading this after having seen the movie you may say “Ha! You got it completely wrong!” If so, that’s fine. I have some questions for you.

 

Questions

During a recent interview Mark Hamill was very cryptic about the movie plot. Many pundits online wondered whether there was a hint of disillusionment or antipathy about the movie coming from Hamill.

It is no secret that the current trilogy brings an end to the original Star Wars line up. Han Solo is dead and Harrison Ford is out of the picture. Carrie Fisher as General Leia will make her last appearance in this movie on the eve of the first anniversary of her untimely passing. Does this episode also see the demise of Luke Skywalker?

Is that the whole story though? Is something else afoot? What is Disney’s intent with the Jedi Order? Is there a deeper reason to Luke Hamill’s apparent non nonchalance and rumored misgivings about the plot than a possible final retirement from the franchise to make way for newer and fresher blood? Are the fans of the original trilogy going to be walking out disappointed or will we be begging for more?

Since 1977 I’ve been asking questions about the plot and direction of Star Wars. The franchise has become very successful at keeping us guessing.

 

Populist

I read this statement from a LA Times review:

 “The Last Jedi is so beautifully human, populist, funny, and surprising. I cried when one POC heroine got her moment because films like these leave their mark on entire generations – and representation matters.”

 

Two words jump out at me; “populist” and “representation”. Both words suggest a carefully calculated social agenda built in to the plot. Hollywood is an epicenter for the assimilation of popular thought in to mass consumption through movies.

If we go back in time we can see how the views and attitudes of the day are reflected in the story lines and movies characters of the day. Movies have always been an effective way to communicate change to generations and to hold a mirror to the face of society. Star Wars is certainly no exception.

 

Mythology

Stars Wars is a mythology that was born at a different time. When Episode 4 “A New Hope” was released in 1977 America had recently been defeated in a long and bloody war in Vietnam. The counter culture was winding down in America. Hippies that had not found responsibilities, careers and suits were getting high and spiritual in places like the Hindu Kush and Himalayas. The Jesus revival was in full swing in America.

The nation at the time was finding itself and trying to determine its identity after the turbulent post-war period. George Lucas was a product of these times and had cultivated a personal philosophy which resonated within the movie through the mystical and enigmatic Jedi. As a 10 year old I identified immediately with what the Jedi had to offer.

 

 

Representation

Things have changed in the last forty years. The buzzwords of the current times are “political correctness and representation matters” among other hashtags.

There is nothing wrong with ensuring that gender and race are given fair hearing in Hollywood Blockbusters. No producer in Hollywood wants to release a movie that may come across as misogynist, racist, patriarchal or homophobic.

The fallout however is that the Jedi may no longer be welcome in the modern era. The Jedi Order after all was a pseudo monastic religious order that was by nature patriarchal and full of “old male” stereotypes at the helm. Not exactly diverse or representative.

There were female Jedi and Jedi Masters but no females existed in the Jedi Council at the fall of the Republic in Episode 6 “Revenge of the Sith”. With the exception of Princess Leia and to some extent Padme Amidala all of the hero archetypes in the Star Wars original and prequel line up were male. The only person of color who could be called a hero was the scheming smooth-talking smuggler, Lando Calrissian. Jedi Master Mace Windu had a minor role in the prequels and was more “Realpolitik” than progressive.

 

Screen Rant

In a recent article on “Screen Rant” a compelling case was made maligning the Jedi Order for a series of bad decision throughout its history. The Jedi Order were not perfect in fiction but they were nothing like the Sith. The faults that ran through the Jedi Order ultimately led to the rise of the Empire and its ultimate betrayal and destruction. The whole cannot be blamed for the errors of the few.

Is a type of revisionism in Star Wars really appropriate? Do we now need to ensure that the story fits snugly in to a politically correct agenda in order to avoid offending anyone at the Oscars? Should the fictional Jedi be relegated to the dust bin of history? Are we ready for a feminist Star Wars with a secular, sexy and independent light sabre wielding Grey Jedi out to rid the galaxy of the oppressive patriarchy in all its forms? Does Star Wars need its own Wonder Woman? I guess the Box Office sales and reviews will answer that question in good time.

 

After Tomorrow

Whatever happens in this movie, after tomorrow I’ll keep being Jedi regardless. None of it really matters. No matter what happens in my life I’ll likewise keep being sober. What happens outside of my control is outside of my control. The real reason I want to rush out and see this movie boils down to one question; is this really the final end of the Jedi on the big screen? If so, I want to see Luke Skywalker one last time.

 

May you enjoy the movie.

Do these things

Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try” – Yoda

Try Hard

In the scene in “The Empire Strikes Back” on Dagobah, Yoda admonishes Luke for stating that he would “try” to lift his X-Wing out of the swamp. The audience is given the impression that “trying” is not good enough and Yoda expects nothing less than a winning performance from Luke. This is not entirely the case. Yoda is teaching Luke a lesson about “right effort”.

Yoda was not admonishing or challenging Luke Skywalker. He was showing him that the Force did not require effort and anger to be harnessed. A small amount of focus and concentration could direct the Force to do anything Yoda desired including moving an X-wing out of the swamp. Luke was trying too hard and getting flustered and frustrated before giving in.

Anakin had used anger to direct the force but it was clumsy and ugly. There was no need to “force” the Force. All Anakin and Luke had to do was relax and just do it.

Yoda was not a perfectionist. Unlike Anakin and Luke he had reasonable expectations of himself and others. Yoda saw no point in forcing things. Yoda knew that slow and steady wins the race. Living by a philosophy of life is like that. It is easier than we realize. We just have to do it and do it easy.

 

Do it Easy

Having a philosophy for life need not be hard or even complicated. When we embark on a journey of self improvement we often want to change everything about ourselves. We throw ourselves in to the work and try our hardest to put in to practice the things that we have learned. It becomes difficult to keep a track of all the precepts, principles and rules that we set for ourselves. As we stumble and fail we get frustrated and start to force change, making things only worse.

“What” you say, “but I thought right effort was everything”. Right effort need not be over-effort or making earth shattering changes. Let us not forget that none of this is about trying to save the world or changing others. We are only improving ourselves so that perhaps we can in some small way make a positive difference in the lives of others. Through self betterment we lead to world betterment. There is no need to break ourselves getting there. We should apply the “easy does it” or rather the Pareto principle in our lives.

Sometimes  just doing a few things well makes all the difference. Not just in our own progress but also in positive outcomes for others. Applying the Pareto Principle often works in our favor.

 

Pareto

The Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, is a theory maintaining that 80 percent of the output or success from a given situation or system is determined by 20 percent of the input. The idea was proposed by an Italian economist who noticed that 80% of property was owned by 20% of the population. People started to notice the same 80/20 rule appearing everywhere.

If we apply approximately 20% of the effort towards change we will get 80% of the way there. The Pareto principle works everywhere, in business, physical training, study and nature. For example:

  • 20% of clients produce 80% of a companies turnaround
  • 20% of effort produce 80% of a target output
  • 20% of exercises and habits produce 80% outcomes in physical training
  • Natural systems are efficient with energy and default along a line of “least resistance” effectively the Pareto principle demonstrated in ecology
  • Going over the key points in a subject (20% of the volume) will cover 80% of the material required to pass an exam
  • Trying too hard when attempting to attract the opposite sex ends in them losing interest resulting in a 80% strike out rate.
  • 80% of mistakes are caused by 20% errors. 80% of accidents are the result of 20% hazards.

 

Work Smart

What all this means is that we should strive to work smart not hard for change.  We can get by with little. Yes change can be difficult but we do not need to hang ourselves on a cross to get the optimal results that we seek. Instead of going over the mountain we can sometimes go around it or through it. 20% of the effort will get us 80% of the way there so there is really no excuse for not doing something. We don’t try, we do, but we do it easy not hard.

 

Low Fruit

Having a philosophy for life by definition means we want it to serve us in some tangible and practical way. Jedi philosophy like the 12 Steps is not meant to be something that we memorize and commit to in such a way that it makes our lives inflexible, difficult or complicated. It is not a book on the shelf outlining unreachable goals that we exhaust ourselves trying to reach. A practical philosophy for life can be applied without much effort if we are willing to do the work. The benefits of doing so can be immediate and significant.

The idea is to harvest the low hanging fruits. Take away the key ideas and points of our chosen philosophy that are easy to remember. Use them in such a way that they accord with your internal value system and set of personal principles. Nothing could be easier than that.

 

Take Homes

Let’s break it down. What are the few things that we should strive to do? What are the take home jewels that stem from all this talk and contemplation of philosophy? I have boiled it down to five key areas for consideration:

  1. Treat your body like a temple; it’s the only one you have and you need it to function on this plane. Science has not yet offered replacement bodies that you can trade in your old one for in order to keep living indefinitely. In practical terms this means being mindful of what you put in to your body. It also means we should exercise regularly, meditate and rest when we need to.
  2. Respect your self and others; treat others as you would want to be treated with respect and dignity. Give others the love and compassion that they deserve. Work for the common good. Strive for synergy and cooperation.
  3. Be objective and rational in all things; defer to reason where opinions differ. The truth may be a matter of opinion but accept only what is true as you believe it. Accept that the truth can change and we must change too. Don’t hold on to ideas or beliefs so tight that you can’t let them go when they are proven wrong.
  4. Embrace your full spectrum of emotions as they make you fully human; but take charge of how you respond to your emotions moment to moment. Let emotions go that do not serve you.
  5. Learn what is in your control and what is not; align your wants and needs to that. Be ready to accept the things you cannot change and learn to let go of attachments including people, things and circumstances. All things eventually return to the Force. Embrace change, do not fear it.

 

Progress not Perfection

Remember we are not here to be perfect people or perfect Jedi or to achieve a level of spiritual perfection. We want continuous and incremental progress that never ends. Aiming for perfection is likely to lead to disappointment while deciding to coast along will ultimately see us regress and slide backwards. The objective is to trudge slowly uphill but without getting worn out. There should always be enough gas in the tank and fire in the belly to keep going.

 

A Journey

Follow your heart and whatever code you call your own, be it the Jedi Code or 12 Steps or anything else. This is your journey and no one else. We all have free will and we make of our lives as we see fit. There is nothing we have to do. No one is judging you but you and if there is a God it does not mind. You are already forgiven, you were never not.

You accept the consequences of our decisions as the natural order of things determine. By learning from our mistakes, we can only resolve to do better and not repeat or regret them. The ball is in our court and it is our game till the day we die. So let’s make the most of it and enjoy this grand adventure of life. We really only do get one shot at it so don’t waste 80% of your time when 20% will do. Do not “try”, just do it but do it easy.

Living like a Stoic Jedi

Stoic Week

For the last seven days I have been living like a Stoic. For those that are not aware the international group called “Modern Stoicism” hold an annual conference in one major city to discuss Stoicism and how the philosophy can be applied in modern times. After the conference invitees and the global community are invited to try living like a Stoic for a week. This year several thousand people signed on to the free event and put the Stoic practices to work in their own lives. Following a week participants were invited to complete a life satisfaction survey and compare results with the same survey taken the week before. Given that the exercise only went for a week it is unlikely that people new to Stoicism would find much difference in their lives however we can agree that the philosophy does has a lot to offer.

So why is someone who promotes and advocates Jedi philosophy so inclined towards Stoicism? What are the similarities between Stoicism and Jedi philosophy? Why should we care?

 

The use of Philosophy

Well the goal of Jedi Philosophy is to achieve “world betterment through self betterment”. Stoicism is pretty much the same. Many people out there are in to self improvement and there is nothing wrong with that. I have been embarking on self improvement campaigns of one sort of another most of my life. The problem that I and many other people had was the underlying motivation and intent that went in to our efforts to improve. We wanted to be “better” but not necessarily better people. Practical philosophies help us to identify our values, define our goals and keep us motivated in our efforts to be a better person and live a better life.

 

Motivation

We can decide to do something about our weight and fitness. Getting ripped at the gym to look better is great but if we are doing it only to impress other people with our physique then it’s actually a little pretentious and fake. If your motivation and goal is to be fitter and healthier so that you can improve your quality of life and be a better partner, friend, father, mother and so on then you are trying to be a better person. Studying philosophy simply for the purpose of being able to quote dead people in front of your friends might be impressive for a while but unless there is genuine application of the philosophy in your life then it’s shallow and not going to impress anyone for long.

Having a personal philosophy for life helps us to align our values with our goals in life. We find that having a goal to be rich and famous and own lots of stuff no longer has the appeal it once had. Being a better person and living with virtue becomes more important than superficial goals. What’s your motivation?

 

Appearances

I’ll share a secret; I’m an alcoholic but I won’t tell anyone unless it serves to help them in their own pursuit of sobriety. I don’t look like an alcoholic, few people do and how would we imagine an alcoholic to look like anyway? I’m also Jedi, not a light sabre wielding, cloak wearing Jedi Knight who can move objects using the Force but a person who applies the virtues and principles that are common to the Jedi fictional archetypes. That does not mean I go around telling people that I’m a Jedi. There is no such a title in our universe and to go about claiming to be one is not sane behavior. I can treat the noun Jedi as a verb and be Jedi. If you saw me walking down the street you would not be able to pick me for a Jedi. Even if you got to know me you would never think to ask “Are you a Jedi?” anymore than you might guess that I am an alcoholic who has been sober for a long time. I would hope that my actions and words demonstrate the virtues I imagine to be common to Jedi. If they do, then the philosophy has served me.

 

Just People

The Stoics were no different. In ancient times Stoics were very much a part of mainstream society. They had received their training and mentoring through schools of Stoicism and then moved in to jobs and careers pretty much the way people do these days after receiving an education. The Stoics were taught a formula for living that would help them get through life on life’s terms. They were given the psychological tools to master their response to emotions and better handle the challenges they were presented with. The Stoics were not a grim bunch of men who were flaccid about life and completely void of emotions because they felt life was not worth getting worked up about. On the contrary the Stoics were fully engaged in life. They were leaders in commerce and  civil, military and political spheres. The Stoics included artists and musicians, military strategists and politicians, emperors and slaves as well as ordinary people on the streets of Athens and Rome. For the most part they were indistinguishable from other citizens except in their unique and pragmatic approach to life. People who practice Stoicism today are no different, they are military, academic, business leaders in our society and every day people like you and me.

 

Shared and Common

Jedi Philosophy shares a lot of similarities with Stoicism. The Stoic concept of God as being the all matter in existence and a universal reason or primordial fire is similar to the concept of the Force. We are all luminous beings but we are also crude matter as well.

The Stoic ethics and virtues of wisdom, courage, justice and temperance are similar to the core Jedi virtues and states of peace, serenity, harmony, knowledge and the Force as cited in the Jedi Code. The Jedi Code is the basic point of reference for all Jedi. The code being underpinned by principles of objectivity, reason, self discipline and justice. Passion and dark emotions such as anger, fear and hate are seen as a sure path to suffering. The Dark Side is to turn over to these dark emotions, a personal rock bottom. The Stoic branches of Logic, Physics and Ethics find common ground in Jedi philosophy.

None of this means that Jedi Philosophy is Stoicism. Jedi also share similarities with Buddhism, Taoism, Humanism and other traditions. Jedi Philosophy puts a great deal of importance on meditation and physical fitness while Stoicism does not. To be Jedi is to be prepared to practice both, daily if possible. The philosophy puts a great deal of emphasis on balance between our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs.

Stoicism and Jedi Philosophy both place a great deal of emphasis on duty and self discipline. Daily spiritual practices are also encouraged by both. Jedi Philosophy urges physical fitness, meditation, etiquette and service to others, Stoicism teaches daily reflective practice such as self dialogue, negative visualization, mindfulness, contemplation and self reflection. Stoicism places a great deal of importance on duty and integrity. Many of the Stoic practices have been borrowed and modified in modern Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. We also believe that Jedi Philosophy can help people achieve a sense of calm, serenity, peace and purpose in their lives. It helped me stay sober.

 

Keep Practicing

So this week we covered seven major themes as we explored Stoicism. I would argue that each can be regularly visited and practiced to get real benefit. Any practical philosophy requires consistent application and practice. Self discipline is required if we are to make an honest go of it.

 

  1. Taking Stock: Sit down and contemplate where you are currently at in life. What are your goals? Are your actions consistent with achieving those goals? What are your values and are you living in accordance with them? Daily self reflections is a great tool we can use to keep us on track. Start the day with a morning meditation and end the day with an evening review.
  2. Commit to Change: If we want something out of life that requires change on our part then we must be prepared to change. Firm commitment is required. We cannot expect things to improve for us on their own. Focussing on the things what we can change we take action. We have to accept that things may not work out the way we want despite our efforts. Doing what we can do is up to us the outcomes are largely out of our hands and we must be prepared to accept them.
  3. Virtue: Clarify your core values, they are all you truly have. When we know what our core values are and commit to them we are more likely to stand by our principles. Our life becomes consistent with our stated values and guide our decisions.
  4. Relationships: Be mindful in your relationships with others. Are your relationships productive and mutually beneficial? Are they co-dependent or interdependent? Be prepared to apply your values and principles in to your relationships. Be a better partner, father, mother, sibling, friend or co-worker but be prepared to never compromise on your own core values.
  5. Community: We are part of a global community, a member of a big family. Be prepared to look past the differences, look for the similarities between you and others.
  6. Perspective: Be willing to take a “step back” to appreciate the “Big Picture” while never losing sight of the finer details. Learning to be able to look at life from different angles, close up and from a distance helps us get a better appreciation of our place in the world and the interrelationships between us and others and our environment. We are strands in the rich tapestry of creation.
  7. Resilience: Being realistic and pragmatic is accepting that life is also suffering. Loss is inevitable. Sometimes it pays to contemplate the impermanent nature of things and realize their loss. Negative visualisation helps us fortify ourselves for that inevitability by contemplating it beforehand. By practicing poverty we can also harden ourselves for leaner times and better appreciate what we have over what we want.

 

MTFBWY

Stoic Week

“At every hour, give your full concentration… to carrying out the task in hand with a scrupulous and unaffected dignity and affectionate concern for others and freedom and justice, and give yourself space from other concerns… You see how few things you need to be able to live a smoothly flowing life.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.5

Self Renewal

For the next seven days we will draw our attention to Stoicism. For over a year I have been a practicing Stoic incorporating the fundamental practices and principles of Stoicism in to my Jedi training as well as my 12 Step journey. The Jedi path itself carries many elements of Stoicism as does the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Many of the entries on “The Daily Jedi” have attempted to capture the essence of Stoicism in the context of both. I hope that over the next seven days I can summarize how applying the practical philosophy of the Stoics can bring many benefits.

This year the theme of Stoic Week is “Self Renewal”. For me the last five years has been a daily journey of “Self Renewal”. My sobriety is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of my spiritual condition; therefore recovery is a “one day a time” process. We get up in the morning and we face the new day.

The sun may rise in all its splendor or behind a blanket of clouds. There has never been a day like this one and there will never be another like it again. We each have the choice how we arise to the day and what we do with it. Yesterday has passed with its mistakes and blunders or achievements and victories, it is gone beyond recall and remains but a memory. Tomorrow is but a promise and one that is neither granted nor guaranteed. The present moment, this day, is all we really have.

So begins Day 1 of living like a Stoic. Click here to learn more.