Monday, November 28, 2016

Everything I Need to Know I Learned From Star Wars - Mindfulness


Everything I Need to Know I Learned From Star Wars - This series of posts are all about the lessons I have learned from Star Wars through the years, from childhood to now.

Anyone who is a devoted Star Wars fan, who studies the church of the Force, picks up valuable lessons from it. Thank the maker, George Lucas created his space opera by mixing mythology with philosophy. Star Wars isn't your run of the mill science fiction or fantasy franchise, it is a multilayered guide book to life. There is always something new to explore and learn. This post will revolve around a lesson learned in the beginning moments of Episode I The Phantom Menace.




First, some background information...

When the Phantom Menace was released I was just over a month short of my eighth birthday. In the eight years of my young life to that point, my dad raised me on the original trilogy.  I can't imagine my life without Star Wars, so to him for that I'm forever grateful. I spent many nights in front of the TV watching it with him while he worked on things for work. It was something we shared just the two of us. A quote I read from Pablo Hidalgo speaks to me and these memories: 
"But the funny thing is, it came out when I was so young, and it was such an integral part of your childhood, that it’s really hard to distinguish when it was I first saw it because it was just a solid stream of Star Wars growing up...  It was just always there." 
That is how it was for me. My dad and I recently were trying to determine when he first showed me the original trilogy and failed miserably to pin point an age. It was always something I was into. But one memory that always sticks out to me was seeing the Phantom Menace for the first time in theaters. No matter your opinion on Episode I or the prequels, the hype leading up to it was undeniable and utter pandemonium! 



As a child, I was profoundly affected by the Phantom Menace. As mentioned above, it was released just short of my eighth birthday. My dad took the day off of work and held me out of school so we could go see the first showing at our local theater. Up until this point, the richest memory I had of Star Wars involved summers and a church.

My mom worked for ten years at the Methodist Church they attend. During those years I was making my way through elementary school, so summers I would spend toiling the halls of the church's administration building. The youth pastor had a VHS box set that I used to steal every day. Back in those days they still had the giant tube TVs up on carts like you'd see in the school cafeteria, well this one was in the fellowship hall (that's church speak for cafeteria.) I'd roll it in front of one of the tables, make some pink lemonade, and spend all day laying on table tops watching these three brilliant movies and daydreaming about swinging a lightsaber and blowing up the Death Star in my X-wing in a galaxy far, far away.

The release of the Phantom Menace took it to a whole new level though. After seeing it in theaters, you could not find me without some type of TPM toy. I had the communicator, a Naboo starfighter pool float, numerous action figures, lightsabers, and so much more. I wore an embarrassing Jedi braid (from the Jedi gear set pictured) constantly. When it came out on VHS I wore that tape out in a hurry. The prequels have their obvious flaws, but now looking back on them as a twenty five year old, I fail to be objective through the coating of nostalgia over my eyes and heart. It was my childhood.


The Lesson: Mindfulness.

This exchange between Master and Padawan is one of my favorites in all of the Star Wars movies. It quickly establishes so much about both characters. Qui-Gon Jinn is all about the moment, the living Force, and mindfulness. Obi-Wan Kenobi looks to the future and keeps in mind what he has been taught by both Qui-Gon and Yoda. Ever the student trying to learn and grow.

Obi-Wan's first words in the prequels are "I have a bad feeling about this." The line is famous in Star Wars, it is said many times throughout the series (a supercut can be found here.) Perhaps it is foreshadowing into his roll in the prequels, as he goes on in the other movies to witness the demise of his padawan and friend. His master Qui-Gon answers with "I don't sense anything." A trend that continues in the prequels as well, older masters failing to sense what is happening right under their noses. Yoda even admits to this later in the mvoie when he says "hard to see, the dark side is." Obi-Wan's pondering continues: "It's not about the mission, Master, it's something elsewhere, elusive." This is where our lesson comes into play as Qui-Gon answers "don't center on your anxiety, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration here and now where it belongs." The lesson is not just for young Obi-Wan, but for us all. Obi-Wan is far from the wise old Jedi he will become when we see him some decades later in A New Hope. This is a great insight into how he becomes that man.

I ponder this moment often. In times that are overwhelming, it often pops into my head. It is a great reminder to take a moment to breathe, to not worry about your anxiety, to simply be present.

As a Buddhist, this part in the early moments of the Phantom Menace speaks to me. Master Qui-Gon is teaching mindfulness to his Padawan Obi-Wan. Mindfulness is a lesson that can be found at the core of Buddhism. Matthew Bortolin, the author of the Dharma of Star Wars, covers this at length in the first chapter of the book. (You can read the chapter in this preview here.) The Jedi Order is a hybrid of many great philosophies and religions but the influence of Buddhism is obvious. They practice Zen, not allowing their emotions to get the best of them. As Yoda says later on in the Phantom Menace: "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering." Suffering and the secession of it is the core of Buddhist teaching, the subject of the Four Noble Truths.

Mindfulness is an extremely valuable lesson. When we are present, it releases stress. Imagine you're sitting in traffic, as we all have. We have somewhere to be, we're fearful that we're going to be late. We drum the steering wheel or honk at people to go faster or move up, weaving in and out of lanes of traffic. But what good does all of this do? It only adds unnecessary stress. Beating the steering wheel will not make the cars vanish. It is better to take a deep breath (imagine Rey in the Force Awakens battling Kylo Ren) and be present. As Qui-Gon said, 'don't center on your anxieties.' Granted, it is easier said than done. But it is something to keep in mind next time you find yourself annoyed by something.



The Phantom Menace has a ton of moments I want to explore in the coming posts. Make sure you keep eye here for the continuation of Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Star Wars as I work my way through the seven movies and two television series. As always comments, questions, thoughts, and shenanigans are always welcomed in the comment section! Or tweet me @kaityballgame!

Until next time... May the Force be with you!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

My Closing Argument - 2016 Election

I love Election Day. It's imperfect but it is where we make a decision. It's like the Super Bowl for political nerds like myself. It makes me emotional. After months upon months of crunching numbers, it is game time. Sure, I'm going to feel nauseated all day with anxiety through the roof... But it is the culmination of eighteen months of work by people all over our beautiful country. Beyond that, it is the most practical illustration of our democracy in action!

A lot of people have been disenfranchised by this election. I get it. Personally, I love Hillary Clinton and I'm excited that I got to cast my vote for her. I've seen Senator Kaine, President Obama, and President Clinton all at events this election. The vibe is so exciting. You can feel everyone pulling in the same direction. The direction that leads to change.

That being said, I'm well aware that plenty do not. Plenty of people wish there were other options. But to me, it can be as simple as voting for an issue. Oprah made the argument recently that you don't have to love Hillary Clinton, you just have to believe that she's going to work towards the goals that are important to you. “You don’t have to like her. Do you like this country? Do you like this country? You better get out there and vote. Do you like the country? Do you like freedom and liberty? Do you like this country? OK. Do you like democracy or do you want a demagogue?”  This is a little stronger than I'd push, but I think she makes an important point to consider here.

Ideally, we'd like all of our Presidents to inspire like JFK, Obama, Reagan, etc. That isn't always the case. Something happened around the time of President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush. It became, can you imagine yourself having a beer with this guy? It wasn't always this way. President H.W. Bush was not really that guy but he was a strong leader. The same goes for President Truman.

Even if I wasn't a fan of HRC, I'd vote for her. There are many reasons but mostly it has to do with the progress that is on the ballot. Equality for all races, sexes, and everything in between. Saving our planet from climate change. Better and more affordable education for all. Healthcare options for all. I couldn't vote for someone who brags about sexual assault, mocks those with disabilities, makes blanket insults about people of color, doesn't value our veterans, and insults every other type of group you can. A ticket who think that homosexuals should be put through classes to try and turn them straight. I do not want any of that. I want to continue the legacy of President Obama.


You may not agree with everything I stand for. You may not agree with everything Hillary Clinton stands for. You may not agree with everything the Democratic Party stands for. But there are levels and levels of issues that come with the other ticket. I honestly believe this is the most important election of my lifetime. The direction that we would head in if the opposition wins is terrifying to me. It is an attack on both our domestic and foreign politics and our country as a whole. This is how I feel.

Make no mistake about it, the opposition wants to suppress democratic turn out. They particularly want to suppress the vote from women and people of color. They've said it themselves! Your vote is the only firewall keeping hatred from going mainstream. Your vote is what keeps a candidate who was endorsed by the KKK out of the White House. Particularly young people, it comes down to you! If you support Bernie, look no further than the sheer amount of rallies he has done for Hillary. He knows that this election is important. He knows that he moved her to the left and has made the most progressive agenda he can. They're stronger together.

Election day is when we all make a decision. So on Tuesday, as President Obama has said multiple times, Choose Hope. Choose Hope. Don't give up. Don't set us back decades. Let's continue to progress.

I believe Secretary Clinton said it best:

"Starting right now, let's come together. Let's work together. And let's be hopeful and optimistic and unified in the face of division and hate. Bring people together in a spirit of mutual respect to solve shared challenges. Let's have each other’s backs, lift each other up, not tear each other down."

You will be asked where you stood. You will be asked what you did to stop it. I'll be able to stand proud because I know I fought my heart out. Where will you stand? Let's elect the first female President. Like she said, "when there are no ceilings, the sky's the limit."

That is my closing argument... Choose Hope.