On Jedi Mind Tricks: For Your Mind, Body, and Soul

(SWCA - Darth Vader art | William Tung)

(SWCA - Darth Vader art | William Tung)

"Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose."

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

How we think makes all the difference. The way we position ourselves in the world makes a difference. The words we use makes a difference. If that makes the difference, then that is where we should focus our attention.

We over-think rather than thinking effectively. We're busy, but we're not productive. Before I ever threw a punch or a kick in martial arts, my teacher explained to me why. Why I bowed. Why I took off my shoes. Why someone may attack me. Why I may need to defend myself and others. Why I need to think a certain way. Most of all, why any of this mattered. If I never thought about why, I may have quit long ago.

Even as a child, if someone told me to do something, I wanted to know why. This is universal. Knowing why is the basis of survival; if resources and supplies were limited, we needed to know why before we sacrificed precious energy. If not, it could mean eventual death for ourselves and our tribe. If we keep the village healthy, our lives serve a purpose. In return, the community keeps us alive — spiritually and physically.

Starting Point Vs. Endpoint

We often start things without knowing why or even why we should care. We think about some goal, something we want. Want being the only reason to do something. Yet goals are the expressions of purpose. Wants can change, be flexible, have different deadlines, but are always secondary to purpose. Much like a river, it can bend, fork, maneuver, change, but why it exists is to meet the ocean. It's not important what it does, but why it does it. To thrive, one must be responsive.

There is but one endpoint, one final deadline — why rush to it? Why miss everything on the way? What you will accomplish, and recognize too late, is a wasted life.

On Thinking

My thoughts create my actions. What you think, you become. If I always thought "try" instead of "do," my life would become subjective and less meaningful. Full of fear and doubt.

Words can be wishful, used to imagine outcomes rather than actively pursuing outcomes. This is the subjunctive — how most of us speak:

Maybe I’ll try?

Words can be indicative of actions. Yoda only speaks in the indicative:

Do or do not. There is no try.

One of the beautiful things about Star Wars, especially the character of Yoda, it was a way to transmit Zen and Stoic philosophy to the general public. And how did the public react? It was a way of living they had been waiting for all their lives. But much more to learn, there is.

One of the beautiful things about Star Wars, especially the character of Yoda, it was a way to transmit Zen and Stoic philosophy to the general public. And how did the public react? It was a way of living they had been waiting for all their lives. But much more to learn, there is.

The Force is a language; do you speak it? To live life to capacity means thinking indicatively and subjectively. This takes control. To think compassionately requires the subjective mind. To act on thoughts requires the active mind. Luke Skywalker could do both, something even Yoda could not. This is what made him the most powerful Jedi.

In the East, the Jedi were martial arts wise men. In the West, they were Stoics. They not only controlled their actions but also their thoughts and their words. Yoda only spoke in the indicative. Trying means hoping, doing means doing. Everything measured, nothing taken for granted.

Many people have ample motivation, what they lack is control. The ability to turn motivation into anything lasting and meaningful. It needs unification. Each aspect of your life will affect another. To leave confusion in one will create confusion in another. Categorizing does this; rather than thinking on being, on whole-being. It clouds judgment. It makes us believe we want to look better or become richer, when what we really want is to value ourselves more. To value the world more.

Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.
— Yoda

Yet control is also about yielding to the unknowable. Controlling our thoughts and emotions. We choose to anxiously control outcomes that are outside of our effect because that seems easier than controlling our own reactions to those events. Yet our reactions are within our means of control. We can cause an effect in ourselves. We cannot always cause an effect in the universe. The Way is to control the self and to accept the rest. We often do the opposite, we try to control everything else except ourselves. This only causes more suffering and disharmony.

Force, muthaf*cka, do you speak it? | Pulp Fiction/ Star Wars mashup

Force, muthaf*cka, do you speak it? | Pulp Fiction/ Star Wars mashup

On Mastery

Mastery is goalless practice; to practice with purpose. Two identical twins begin karate. One has set a goal of becoming a black belt. The other trains with the purpose of continuous practice; to continuously hone and improve without end. Who'll get better every day? Who'll get their black belt first? Who'll keep going after their black belt? Who'll always win in sparring? Who will quit in a short amount of time and talk about the good old days when they used to train karate?

Like karate, artful living is a skill. Practice is the honing of skills. Do you practice your ability to overcome conflict and adversity? If not, there is no other option then for adversity to overwhelm you. How you think will affect every choice that you make. Then thinking and speaking itself requires practice. It deserves proper respect. The pen requires the same respect as the sword.

Comfort Is Seductive

If all we do is chase comfort, what need do we have for change? Meaning and happiness become difficult and far off. Important things in life aren't always pleasurable or exciting, but that is the process. Like school, career, family, relationships, causes, and every other important thing.

Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things.
— Yoda

Babies make weird faces, fall over, make strange noises, try to touch everything, and hurt themselves. Things that are not comfortable, but if they didn't, they wouldn't be developing. That's their one job in life, to develop as human beings. Jobs are challenging but self-development is still our job.

The Dark Side is a metaphor for the seductive nature of comfort. It is the easier path. The selfish path. The destructive path. It's effortless to think only of yourself. It requires less energy. It is comfortable.

In The Dharma of Star Wars, Matthew Bortolin writes:

Luke’s true Jedi mastery is demonstrated by the fact that he allows himself to be vulnerable to suffering. By doing so he discovers an inner strength greater than that of any Jedi of his time and even of the previous era of the Jedi’s ascendancy.


In Return of the Jedi, Luke’s wisdom and compassion propel him to turn himself over to the Empire in order to rescue his father. He tells Leia, ‘There is good in him, I felt it. He won’t turn me over to the Emperor. I can save him. I can turn him back to the good side. I have to try.’ Luke allows himself to be made a prisoner of the Empire in order to ‘save’ Vader, to draw his father out of suffering. Offering understanding and compassion, Luke appeals to the good Anakin that remained in the shadows of Darth Vader.

Judging the Action, Not the Self

Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? And well you should not.
— Yoda

We tend to find motivation through value judgments of the self. For example: you're good, you're bad, you're smart, you're a genius, you're amazing, you're a loser, you suck. Unmistakably, if it is flattering, we don't consider it a judgment, we consider it a compliment or a truth. Only when it is negative, do we consider it a judgment. Yet they both work to create temporary motivation. One can create an emotional high, the other a surge of defiance — but it only lasts so long. This is not the same as giving objective feedback or affecting real change.

These methods are not self-sustaining and require constant external stimuli — someone cheerleading or barking at us. It takes the focus off of things we do and puts the focus on ourselves. Productivity is about actions; the focus should be on the actions we take or don't take, not on ourselves. What you did was brilliant vs. you are brilliant. Thinking we are the ones being judged creates anxiety, pressure, expectations, a fear of failure, and a constant comparison of who we are vs. who we think we ought to be. It diminishes resilience.

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.
— Yoda

That's subjective judgment rather than objective observation. Use the language of productivity. If you are a traveler, being told you are good at directions or bad at directions does not help nor prevent one from getting lost. Being told you are going the wrong way or the right way, that is beneficial. Productive, unproductive, effective, ineffective, optimal, suboptimal — this method of evaluation gives us a roadmap to improve methods. It is a better path for learning.

Your Destiny, You Must Choose

Everything is information, even food. What is it telling you? Give yourself the right information to be at your peak. Seek guidance, think better, and choose your actions wisely. For our current actions shape our future — but so do our future actions.

In The Dharma of Star Wars, Matthew Bortolin writes:

Yoda tells Luke ... ‘If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.’ The teaching of karma demonstrates that our actions today stay with us and impact us tomorrow. Obi-Wan’s apprentice, Anakin Skywalker, becomes Darth Vader-in that action he makes certain his journey down the dark path, and once he starts it consumes him, dominating future actions. Vader becomes trapped by the dark side; every evil act he commits takes him deeper into the dark side and makes it harder and harder for him to break the karmic chain of his malefactions until evil seemed his only choice.

If we take Yoda's words to be absolutes, there are no choices. Your destiny is already set in motion. There is truth to this; the more you do something, the more it becomes deeply embedded into your character. Our character determines our actions. But we all know only the Sith speak in absolutes.

Remember, a Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him.
— Obi-Wan Kenobi
You mean it controls your actions?
— Luke Skywalker
Partially. But it also obeys your commands.
— Obi-Wan Kenobi
[A]s Luke stands over his fallen father prepared to destroy him the Emperor is ecstatic. He gleefully says, ‘Good! Your hate has made you powerful. Now, fulfill your destiny and take your father’s place at my side!’

By this point, Luke is a Jedi, a Jedi that sees through the shroud of the Dark Side and perceives life with right view. To kill Vader, as Obi-Wan [and Yoda] wants, will place Luke exactly where the Emperor desires him — at the Sith Lord’s side. Either choice will produce the same result. But Luke is not controlled by destiny. He is free to choose, and his choice saves the galaxy.

Eventually, there are no more books, outlines, brainstorms, mantras, meditations, or resolutions. You need guidance, but only you can do the work. It can't be done for you. In the end, your destiny, you must choose.

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