Notes from Friday, 12/15/17
*This post contains spoilers for Star Wars VIII The Last Jedi*
Watching Star Wars last night made me remember how special moments are where you can take part in a larger cultural experience. Yes, at the heart of all cultural experiences such as this are capitalist machines just attempting to generate money, but it’s a bit easier to suspend those negative thoughts if you focus on being in a crowded movie theater, surrounded by people who are looking forward to a film or performance just as much as you are. The anticipation of wanting to know what’s going to happen next, of progressing through a story together, is something that I’ve really only felt with A Game of Thrones and Harry Potter. Despite all of the chaos and issues that divide us in real life, such powerful fictions can bring us together on a basic level for entertainment but also for discussion about issues that, despite being parallel to those of reality, can be examined on a further removed, less political landscape. (Admittedly, it was hard not to think of the Resistance in terms of Doug Jones’ recent win in Alabama.) In any case, such large franchises can feel as much of the story of our generation as actual historical events in that they have an effect on the way we think and reflect the best and worst of us.
Aside from some musings on what makes fiction great and the uniqueness of such communal participation in larger works as well as that of what can be called modern theatre (being present among others and sharing a live performance), I really sat down today to write up thoughts on the Force and its relation to Eastern religions.
There’s a decent post on this blog that brings together explanations of the Jedi order’s inspirations: Taoism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism, and the paradoxes in synthesizing them together. I am no expert on any of these religions, but the reason I was moved by the scene in which Rey meditates and Luke explains that the Force is that which lies between good and evil was because a few months ago I became interested in meditation. It was during a period in which I became really set on making a better daily routine, and one of the things I read about was that meditation is one of the best things you can do to improve your overall “mindfulness and wellbeing” (terms you hear so much in college but never think of until you really need it). There are of course studies about meditation improving aspects of your brain and whatnot, but for me, even in the earliest stages of trying to figure it out I still felt the potential for immense benefits.
All the instructions said, in a short couple minute tutorial on meditation I found on Youtube, was that you should give yourself around 10 minutes to just close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Nothing else, just your breathing — the way you breathe in and the way you breathe out, that small pause in between. After doing this for about a week I discovered that I felt more alive in those 10 minutes than I did in a lot of other stretches of the day. That is, because all I was doing was focusing on my breathing, I actually paid attention to the fact that I’m alive and that it is a process, not just something that’s a given. We spend so much of our energy thinking about why we’re alive, what we’re going to do with our lives, etc. that we seldom have time to sit and appreciate the fact that we actually are here now, breathing and existing just like everything else. The other thing I noticed was the sheer magnitude of thoughts that would come hurling towards me in those 10 minutes, ranging from larger existential issues to “What am I going to eat for lunch today?” “Did I leave the heater on?” etc. In casting these thoughts aside rather than wrestling with them I started to feel like I was strengthening a muscle sorely needed in my day to day life. Unfortunately, despite growing fond of the time, I eventually lost my motivation (or more precisely the discipline to wake up early enough to follow through). In 2018 one of my resolutions is to start waking up earlier than I have to, and hopefully once that habit is setup I can reincorporate this one (it becomes quite hard to wake up early in the winter!).
I thought of these experiences while watching Rey sense the living and the dead, good and evil, light and dark, and it felt like such a shame that we don’t think more about nature in our everyday life. Most millenials living in cities feel obligated to state their love of nature, but it’s almost always in an abstract sense — hiking for a couple of miles, driving by the beach, or flying to Iceland for your Instagram is not a pure, full appreciation of coexisting on a planet with other living organisms. An offshoot of that thought was how Taoism and Buddhism (I don’t know that much about Zoroastrianism) take into consideration nature perhaps more so than Christianity (which makes sense because once you have a deity in the picture then there becomes a distinct order of living things). After living in the Western world for my entire life, it wasn’t until after at least half a year in Korea and traveling around Asia that I started to realize that there is a lot more merit to Eastern religions than Western culture would like to admit (I wrote a piece here about my experience developing such thoughts). The aforementioned post on Jedi philosophy raised interesting points about the differences in Taoism and Buddhism and being part of the world and attempting to reach a state of being away from it. While this may be an oversimplification, at the current moment of my writing this I find the concept of existing in a kind of non-existence, of living detached from that which makes us suffer, to be not only wildly idealistic but also just ridiculous. We are given life and death, love and hate, good and bad, in its entirety — to seek a state in which we are apart from all of that seems to be nothing more than glorified escapism (again I could be reacting to a misconception or oversimplification of the philosophies).
My real aim in writing this is to just get some thoughts down and to encourage myself to learn more about Eastern religions and just religions in general. When I was younger and wrestling with Christianity I distinctly remember searching the internet for the main faiths in order to just check of my list that I had done my research before settling on any religion. But that was not only a really superficial skimming of Wikipedia pages but also a generally disrespectful way of going about life — assuming you can know entire belief systems through simple, detached readings, and using such superficial knowledge as a means of undermining and rejecting many people’s way of life. That younger version of me was more interesting in proving his intellectual weight than in anything else, and I feel there are many other self-righteous intellectuals parading their logic and philosophical reasoning skills to further inflate their own egos instead of realizing that religions are not just fantasies but embedded in entire cultures with people just as fragile as they are. Religion is a terrifying thing, perhaps these days especially where they are beginning to unveil themselves as the ancient origin of “alternative facts.” Everyone of different religions and also atheists all live under a different sense of order and justification for their existence. If anything we are all constantly going about our lives for different reasons, whether it be for power and fame or simply for taking care of our children — at the end of the day we are all living in different realities when it comes to our fundamental understanding of the universe and our place in it.