Art Imitates Life in The Last Jedi: the Power to End the Battle Between the Light and the Dark Resides Within Us All (Part Two)

WARNING: Spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi follow. Read at your own risk if you haven’t yet seen the movie.

When I was 9 and my sister 6 years old, a group of kids from the elementary school we’d just begun attending followed us home. They called us names and threatened physical harm. The intimidation escalated a week later as the girls chased us to our front door demanding we fight them. They tried to break in through windows where we stood defending ourselves with bug spray.

My sister and I told our mom, who paid a prompt visit to the children’s home to put a stop to the bullying. Their mother pushed and threatened to punch my mom who attempted to address the matter civilly. Later I learned that this same parent used physical violence daily to not only discipline her kids but to vent her frustrations and solve interpersonal disputes.

I cannot recall how the situation was resolved; I only know the confrontations ceased in our case (though not with our peers). The experience changed the way I perceived bullies, however. Every time I crossed paths with those kids in school, I felt sorry for them. They never seemed happy, and teachers didn’t seem fond of them. Eventually they were expelled due to continued misconduct. I saw through their inflated postures and defensiveness and sensed their pain.

This became the lens through which I viewed human behavior. I understood that almost no one is innately horrid. [i] Dig deeper into those who commit atrocities towards others, and you’ll find most perpetrators feel somehow afraid and unlovable. This doesn’t mean we tolerate nefariousness—that’s what healthy boundaries and a justice system focused on rehabilitation (preferably one like Norway’s) can address.

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love.”  —John Lennon

Part one of this article began exploring how we can end millennia of war and today’s increasing polarization between the light and the dark, as depicted in the Star Wars saga, including its most recent, The Last Jedi.

First, we realize that all humans have within us both light and dark. We see this in Episode V, Empire Strikes Back, when hero and Light warrior Luke Skywalker gives into his anger when fighting Darth Vader and consequently loses a hand. Shortly after, Darth Vader, the galaxy’s most villainous character after the Emperor, succumbs to the pull of empathy by saving his son’s life.

Second, with regard to nature vs. nurture, we understand that most who act like scoundrels are not born; they’re created. [i] (Read part one to understand this further.)

For centuries, we’ve seen each other as other. Each of us perceives at least one person or group as opposite us, a threat, someone with whom to compete or to overcome. But what if we experimented with the notion that we’re all the same fundamentally, connected by the heroism of being human, our imperfection, our power and our frailty, our love and desire to be loved, and in our fear of losing love or of being unlovable?

“To condemn you would be to condemn me, and we are the same. ”      —Garret John LoportoHow You Change PeopleWayseer.org

If there is someone whom you despise, can you at least acknowledge that “the Force” is within each of us and all that lives (in the plant kingdom, animal kingdom, etc)? Recall the Hindu greeting Namaste, meaning I bow to the divine in you. It doesn’t mean you have to like those to whom you nod inwardly.

Once you’ve got that down, consider the ways in which you’ve participated in harming those you scorn, perhaps not personally but people who remind you of them.  Let’s consider some of the most obvious recipients since these are the object of worldwide focus.

U.S. President Donald Trump demands hefty doses of attention, praise, and validation, while his former rival, First Lady, and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, stands accused of dishonesty and corruption. Might there be someone in your life whom you’ve coddled or idealized, used to feel safe and loved or to build yourself up? Whom have you belittled for being authentic, attacked for being vulnerable, or teased for not measuring up to impossible standards? Whom have you emotionally or mentally hurt or neglected in the past?

We’ve all engaged in these types of behaviors. Waste not energy on self-blame or guilt. Rather, let’s take responsibility for the ways in which we can foster healing and bring our planet back into balance and harmony.

 

We could begin with the ancient Hawaiian prayer or mantra, Ho’oponopo, used traditionally to heal relationships between two or more people. It can also be used privately to heal your relationship with and forgive yourself or to send an intention to heal past hurts and traumas between you and another person or group.

It goes like this:

Please forgive me.

I’m so sorry.

I love you.

Thank you.

Don’t force it. Notice your emotional response. Is there resistance? If so, then simply say it to yourself. Be patient and kind with yourself. Let this be a practice, a journey.

Kylo: Did you come back to say you forgive me? To save my soul?

Luke: No.

[Kylo advances, drawing his lightsaber. Luke defends with his, and they fight.] 

Luke: I failed you, Ben. I’m sorry.

You may also enjoy this guided version.

Worldwide conflict will not end long-term until we’ve resolved the battle between light and dark within ourselves. It’s much easier to love our enemies, so to speak, when we’ve healed and learned to love ourselves.

Another favorite practice of mine is metta bhavana or loving-kindness mediation. For 15 or 20 minutes, breathe gently and recite the following to yourself:

May I be filled with lovingkindness.

May I be safe from inner and outer danger.

May I be free from suffering and healthy in body and mind.

May I be happy and at ease.

Feel each word and experience its effects in this now-moment. When you are full, either in this session or in a future one, extend the prayer to others, changing the “I” to “you” or “they.” Practice first on someone whom you love easily, until you feel able to pray for a national or world leader or someone you’ve labeled foe, for whom you struggle to find compassion.

May you be filled with lovingkindness.

May you be safe from inner and outer danger.

May you be free from suffering and healthy in body and mind.

May you be happy and at ease.

Prefer a guided meditation? Try this one.

Notice over time how your attitude towards others changes. You may even begin effortlessly to treat others with radical kindness.

What happens when someone’s poor behavior is met with grace instead of the shunning or criticism they expect? It confuses them. It even rewires their brain. If this occurs repeatedly, they begin to see themselves in a more positive light. Depending on the individual and how deep their wounds, it could take between a few days and an entire lifetime. Try not to think about how long the road ahead. Consider the power you have to in each interaction to make just a tiny bit of difference.

You have the power, with your love, to alchemize fear and hate and to light up the world, putting a stop to the cycle of fight, win-lose, peace, and more fighting. And don’t forget: you’re not the only real-life Jedi. There are thousands of us around the world who have chosen once and for all to put down our lightsabers and open our hearts. We don’t have to convince everyone. We need only to tip the scales.

That’s an ending I’d like to see in the Star Wars saga’s Episode IX. Does anyone have access to (and could share this with) J. J. Abrams?

Allison Brunner, LCSW, Body Talks Therapy

[i] Oxford University Research Psychologist Kevin Dutton argues that between .75% and 1% of the human population is born with untreatable psychopathy or brain abnormalities precluding the Hannibal Lectors of the world from feeling empathy or remorse. For the purposes of this article, we’ve focused on the remaining 99% to 99.25%. As noted above, though, this is all about tipping the scales.

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Invite Your Anxiety to Tea

Much of this article by Allison Brunner, LCSW, is reprinted from Natural Awakenings magazine’s (Lancaster/Berks edition) November 2016 issue.

Many of us know it well: a gnawing in the pit of the stomach, an ache in the chest, shallow breathing, rapid heartbeat or a lump in the throat. Roughly 40 million Americans (or 18 percent of the population above the age of 18), according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, experience anxiety as a full-blown disorder.

Most of us encounter the symptoms from time to time. Hardwired to avoid pain, we do everything we can to self-distract or problem-solve our way out. We try to convince ourselves we’re “worrying about nothing”. In cognitive approaches to psychotherapy, too, we examine the validity of the thoughts that create suffering and attempt to assuage our fears by labeling them irrational.

But how effective has that been for you?

Running and thinking (or arguing with our thoughts) exacerbate angst. The worse we feel, the more afraid we tend to become, wondering how long the discomfort will last or whether it may worsen and turn us crazy. Our minds are adept at tricking us into believing that what’s really a mouse in the closet is a six-foot monster with fangs.

What if we tuned into our bodies when the symptoms, like little lights on an automobile dashboard, indicated distress? What if we pulled up a chair and invited our anxiety to tea, so to speak? When we take the opportunity to face it, feel it and get to know it a little better, it calms. We can drop beneath it and find that where it was trying to turn our attention is an emotion that is far more tolerable than panic or fear. There may be sadness, grief, disappointment or anger—only a mouse when compared to the anxiety monster.

Try the following next time the body-mind gets noisy.

Find a safe, quiet space where you can turn your attention inward. It’s best to sit on the floor and allow yourself to feel the support of the earth beneath you. Squeeze all of the breath out of your belly, if you can; then fill it first, before your lungs, with fresh air. Notice whether your body is holding tension and relax if you’d like.

Let go of thinking. There is no future, not even a few minutes from now. There is only this moment. Breathe.

Enhance your feeling of safety by focusing on an object in the room that gives you pleasure. Notice the quality of light where you’re seated. Feel the texture of your clothing against your skin. Notice any sounds, smells, the taste in your mouth.

Where in your body are you feeling anxious? What are the physical sensations that accompany it? Place your awareness in that area. How much space does it take up? Does it have a shape; is it solid or diffuse; does it have a temperature?

Stay out of story. Remove the labels (good, bad, awful, terrified) from what you’re feeling. Simply allow yourself to feel what you feel.

What does your body want to do? Does it want to curl into a ball while wrapped in blankets? Do you need to cry into a pillow or scream? Do you need to shake, punch or kick? Allow the release.

Emotions move like waves; they don’t last forever. Give yourself 15 to 30 minutes to ride this one, rather than being pummeled by it, and know that the nervous system will calm again. When we resist, anxiety persists and either somaticizes or intensifies.

Once the waters still, ask your body what it needs. Reconnect to your five senses and where you’re situated in time and space. Soothe yourself with a warm bath, lit candles, low lights or relaxing music. Make yourself a warm cup of tea. After you’ve braved this storm, those in the future will feel more manageable.

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Body Talks Therapy owner, coach, healer, and facilitator of a community of Highly Sensitive People, Allison Brunner, LCSW, will facilitate a workshop on Thursday, May 11, 7:15pm to 8:45pm, at Mulberry Art Studios’ Mulberry on King, 253 W. King St., Lancaster (off-street parking is available against the side of the building, near the entrance. Join us for a combination of psychoeducation, hands-on learning, and experiential practice of tools for coping with and minimizing or even eliminating your symptoms of anxiety as a way of protecting yourself against the emotions that scare you.

Bring a pen and paper or journal. If you prefer to express yourself through art or music, bring the tools to do so. We’ll engage in body awareness and somatic work (grounding and resourcing), mindfulness practice and strategies, guided visualization, “parts work,” and journaling.

RSVP and pay here in advance. For questions, contact info@bodytalkstherapy.com.

Allison Brunner, LSCW, RM, Body Talks Therapy