The Force is expressed as change. Nothing is stationary, and nothing is truly still. Sometimes, this change happens in ways we didn’t expect. The nature of cause and effect is that one event can have many different outcomes, rolling out across the universe through time and space. It is through this process of cause and effect that we learn: we test theories out, even if only mentally, to see if they work or to see if they fit with our view of the world. If they’re powerful enough, these ideas can even change our view of the world. Sometimes this process of cause and effect leads us into trouble; we do something we wish we could “take back”, but time and the Force only flow in one direction – forwards. So how do we move on from this bad outcome?

Many people don’t move on. I’m sure all of us know people who have experienced a single bad event which is enough to damage their lives. This may be an irreversible injury, a terminal illness, even a crime committed against them. Sometimes, there is little to be done to “rectify” the situation. However sometimes people are happy to be defined by the bad situation; they revel in victimhood, cherish grudges, take pride in prejudice. They subconsciously relive their bad outcome and let it darken their world. This view is underlaid by an attitude of entitlement; entitlement to a life free of unhappiness, a feeling that the world should move for us. It expresses a view of the universe where the individual is central and everything else is secondary, mirroring our experience of separation in life. Sometimes, other people turn inwards; they believe the bad situations they find themselves in express some weakness in themselves which they can never correct.

However, there is another way to understand the inevitable mistakes and mishaps which we experience through life. We can learn from them without allowing that knowledge to think less of ourselves. We do this naturally as children; if we fall over and bang out knee enough times we start to learn to be careful; we don’t blame gravity. We also do this in other fields when we view ourselves as beginners: the first time I cooked, it tasted awful. Too much salt. Then next time I put less salt in but burnt the food. I didn’t blame the recipe! The third time, I did neither of these things. OK, it still tasted awful… but I learned something.

We need to understand that the world as such isn’t “out to get us”. Yes, some damaged people out there want to hurt, rob or belittle us, and we must have defences against this; but that shouldn’t turn us into shut-down, suspicious or vindictive people. As Jedi, we are role models. We set the tone of our interactions, and approach the world in friendship and optimism. We don’t let events turn us sour.

We recognise that other people are going through their own journeys, travelling their own paths. The person who pulls in front of us at traffic lights might irritate us for a moment, but we can understand they have their own problems. Perhaps they’re rushing to the hospital, or to a job interview? Perhaps they’re just like that when they drive, but the rest of the time they’re sweet and kind people. Perhaps they’re arrogant and pigheaded and vindictive. Who among us hasn’t been, at some point? Again: we are role models. We set the tone, we “be the change we want to see in the world”. If we want a world where people are kind, forgiving and compassionate, we must learn to operate this way throughout our lives, even if it’s difficult.

Our weaknesses represent an opportunity. Where we perceive some deficit in ourselves, we know where to go to work next. We counteract the natural aversions we have to become more rounded people. Our teachings tell us to be compassionate, and this compassion isn’t purely external; if we are too hard on ourselves, too self-critical, we are not walking the Jedi path either. A desire for self-improvement and self-loathing are two very different things! So when we make a mistake, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get to work on learning the lesson.

One of the best lessons I ever had on compassion and forgiveness was given to me by a friend. He’s one of those people who seem totally unflappable, patient to a fault, kind, happy most of the time. If someone cut in front of him at the lights, he would laugh and give them room. We were once at a bar when someone started to get aggressive to him. He smiled, tried to placate the guy, and when he saw he couldn’t he got his coat and left – not in fear, but again with a smile on his face. I asked him how he remained upbeat in this sort of situation. “It’s simple,” he said. “I remember everyone else is already there. They already have their answers – they’re already enlightened.”

I considered this in light of the macho arsehole we’d just left smirking in the bar, and asked him to elaborate. “If you go through life thinking you’re better than everyone else,” he explained, “you shut yourself off from their lessons. But if you see everyone else as a master, a teacher, you learn something every day.” This approach, to imagine everyone else is enlightened already and it’s all just a lesson, was a bit of a revelation. It’s something I try to remind myself when something bad happens to me. I silently thank the guy who cuts me off at the lights for his lesson about driving considerately. I let the macho guy in the bar say what he wants to say and thank him for his lesson in communication and friendliness. I still work to protect myself mentally, just without shutting myself off. Our teachers can hurt us; they can be cruel and deliver harsh lessons, but there is always a lesson.

In other ways, I work to view the mistakes I make as lessons to myself about care, attention, attitude. One of the hardest things I’ve ever learned (and I’m still learning) is how to be kind to myself. By nature I’m quite self-destructive, quick to blame myself and prone to bouts of severe depression and anxiety. But I am learning… and although I stumble, frequently, I forgive myself. I keep learning the true path of compassion, and when I have the opportunity to express it I make more of myself than the shut-off, self-interested individual. I reach out to others and acknowledge that we are one nature, one life in the Force. I am on my path and they are on theirs, and that is the same path. If it’s made them bitter or aggressive I work to understand the path that led them there, and if I can, to help them. Every day, I am learning to forgive.

“For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned”

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