The Yoga of Star Wars

When my mother’s dog, Smokey, passed away last year, it was the first time my two youngest children, then two and four, experienced loss and death directly. Smokey had lost one of his legs when he was young, and my mom adopted him after finding him on a construction site. He was a member of the family and a sweet, gentle, noble being with a very Chewbacca-like quality.

As most parents do when explaining death to their children, I struggled. When I told my son, Stryder, that Smokey was gone, I said that he was old and had been sick and that he was now in a better place. Stryder asked, “But where did he go?” So, as people of different faiths or spiritual traditions often do, I pulled out a story that was central to my own frame on life and the Great Mystery, one that Stryder was familiar with.

“Well, buddy, Smokey became one with the Force.”

Stryder’s eyes opened wide and he smiled. “Like Obi-Wan Kenobi?”

“Yes,” I said, “like Obi-Wan.”

Stryder and I had watched the original Star Wars, and the scene where Obi-Wan was struck down by Darth Vader’s lightsaber is a powerful moment in cinematic history. Obi-Wan disappears, leaving only a brown monk’s robe in a pile on the ground. Before his departure, Obi-Wan says, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” And in the scenes that follow, although his physical body was no longer present, Obi-Wan’s voice and spirit remained to guide the hero, Luke Skywalker, in his journey to maturity and wisdom. This was a story Stryder knew, and it was one that addressed death, spirit, and renewal in a way he could relate to.

When George Lucas created Star Wars, his intention was to establish a mythological tale that would address the challenges of our modern time while drawing from timeless, universal themes. His mentor, Joseph Campbell, the great scholar of mythology, is quoted as saying that George was his greatest student because he had created a living mythology.

I remember as a child being struck by the idea of the Jedi Knights. These wise and gentle—yet powerful—protectors of peace and justice became exemplars for me growing up. The Jedi Code of using force only for defense and never for attack was an ethos I strived to live by. And, along with Paramahansa Yogananda, Lao Tzu, and Thich Nhat Hahn, the Jedi inspired me to pursue a life of spiritual inquiry, investigation, mysticism, and practice. To say that Yoda was my first yoga teacher would not be an inaccurate statement, and I am grateful for this story, which has brought so much inspiration, wisdom, and hope to millions.

As Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in theaters throughout the world ushering a new chapter of the story to this generation, I feel that the title is most appropriate. In yoga, the life force is referred to as prana, and its definition is identical to that of the Force.

“The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, it penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.”—Obi-Wan Kenobi

Many ancient wisdom traditions teach that life is one—yoga being a prime example, as the word translates directly as “union.” The experience of oneness has been spoken of by mystics and sages, and now sought out by contemporary practitioners of yoga, meditation, and other forms of spiritual or contemplative practice. When this awakening occurs and we catch a glimpse of the underlying reality that we are all connected, an appreciation of the Force has a profound potential to change our consciousness and our actions.

I am looking forward to watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens with my son and experiencing this latest chapter in my favorite mythology. As I continue on in my life’s path, I know that these stories and characters will be there to provide counsel and guidance, and I am grateful for that. As we move forward, together, fellow passengers on Spaceship Earth, let’s keep the awakening moving forward, moment by moment, breath by breath, and be the heroes our world needs.

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