Archives for the month of: August, 2015

The Force is the energy which moves in all things. It sends planets around stars, pulses through electrical wires and propels each component of reality along its respective path through space and time (perhaps it is better to say it is the path ). It is star and void, vortex and glacier. However whilst the Force is, in my opinion, no more “present” in certain places than others, it can be more immediately obvious or available in some settings we may encounter. We can know objectively that the busy city streets bustle with the energy of the Force, and likewise that the cold vacuum of space is exhibiting a quality of the wider Force; but for me there are few places as “Forcely” as the forest.

I recently moved to a new apartment, in a small village beside a country park – essentially an area of protected woodland. In the UK large forests are rare, at least by Northern Hemisphere standards. We are a small and densely populated island which finds its wilderness is at a high premium, constantly under threat from the encroaching need for cheaper housing and more urban space. Despite this, many Brits love the woods, spending time there each day, just walking, sitting, perhaps exercising our pets. And for me, the woods have become my primary place of refuge; my space for meditation, stillness and reflection. My place to “just be”.

My temple.

Woodlands are, by nature, ruled by trees. These mighty presences illustrate the cyclical journey of life in the Force beautifully: seeds fall into fertile earth, itself the consequence of death and decomposition for countless generations gone by. If all is well germination starts, a bud grows, watered by clouds, swayed by wind, fed by sunlight. Soon a sapling rises, sprouting supple twigs which become strong, supportive branches. These, in time, come into seed themselves, perhaps producing offspring, perhaps falling to the soil to fertilise other plants. Many seasons later, the tree itself reaches old age, or perhaps falls ill, and dies, returning to the fertile earth below a rich cocktail of nutrients and the raw building blocks of future generations.

And for that whole time, the tree is part of so many other stories. The competition of young saplings for light and water, the passing deer which threaten a young tree’s very existence. The birds and insects which may nest in its branches, lichen and moss which clad the trunk and branches of the maturing tree. The creatures which live in and feed on the decomposing matter of branches, trunks and leaves. Every tree!

But the forest is not just about trees. Each animal, bird, insect, fish, every creature which chooses to live or visit. The migratory birds which may roost for a night or two on their bi-annual fly-past, travelling thousands of miles a day to stop a night… and not just mobile life, but fungi, plants, the sunlight, the wind. The Force is so available in the forest it strikes me as impossible to miss.

Perhaps that’s one reason people choose to spend time in green space. The energy of grown, growing places rich with life has long been acknowledged as a calming, soothing and enriching experience. Not least because forests and woodlands are hives of life-giving oxygen, although of course this is no detriment to travelers on the brown paths of the wood. For me, those who love the woods, who know the peace beneath the swaying branches, are natural Jedi, attuned to a very clear exhibition of the Force’s pervasive power.

During recent periods of stress and heartache, this availability of an immediate Forcely experience has been a tremendous solace. Taking time to “just be” in a green space has taught me many things about the true scale of my problems, the enduring stoicism which is available to me at all times, and of course the permanence and ubiquity of the Force. Around me in green tendrils, emerald shoots and rich red tree bark I find the same power which moves through me; the same eternal entity which grows the trees, moves the rivers, and sends birds fluttering through the undergrowth.

For me, the forest has become and will remain my Temple. It was built by the Force, without the intervention of human hands. It is self-sustaining, like the Force. It is filled with examples of the cyclical nature of existence, of life and death and rebirth in the Force. It is a storehouse of information, and to one ready to see it imparts knowledge, wisdom and strength. A single fallen tree tells tales greater than any saga, and each forest is therefore a library to the observant Jedi.

Every plant, tree, every leaf, every glimmer of light through the branches tells a new tale of the all-encompassing Force.

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As humans we are used to compartmentalising. We are used to seeing a certain collection of things as a chair. A certain collection of furniture as a room. A certain collection of rooms as a house. Our entire life is about compartmentalising, subdividing and grouping. Two people are a couple, a group is a family, enough families become a nation, or a species.

The further “out” we cast our net, the more it encompasses, the smaller our individual influence. We go from being all-powerful individuals, to compromising couples, to one voice in three, four, five as a family member. By the time we’re thinking as a nation, our influence can be extremely diluted. And as a species? We barely make a ripple.

Perhaps this is why people are so attached to their compartmentalisation. They are happier as a “big fish in a small pond” than as a single cell of plankton in the wide ocean. But that doesn’t mean the ocean isn’t there.

Think of it like a beautiful, spiral shell. The shell is chambered into camerae (yes I looked it up):

chambered-nautilus-shell-se40
Each is a single element of “shell”, but on its own, we would consider it “shell” rather than “A Shell”. We require all these many parts to be considered together for the whole to be revealed; taken as individual components, these elements serve no useful purpose.

This is also the truth when we think of elements within the wider Force. It is beyond our comprehension to take all things into account at all times: all history, all space, all futures. Only a mind as wide as the Force itself could hold all that information. Yet all of that, all of everything, is relevant to any part of our existence. And decision, any action. The whole Force in its entirety plays on every subdivided moment, every smaller, component part. All of it is necessary. All of it is relevant.

As Jedi we consider our place within the wider Force, our influence and the consequences of our actions. We are, as elements of the vast Force, insignificant. Yet each moment of our lives is also, genuinely, incredibly significant. A shell with a missing chamber, sinks. It doesn’t work. It is a fact of how the shell is formed that every part of is is necessary. It is beautiful for this reason; every part “fits together” (not that it’s built part by part, like a lego model, but the symbolism is the same), perfectly.

As Jedi we are elements of the Force. We are necessary, if tiny, components. But just as the chambers of a shell can be considered individually, we are also simply parts of the wider entity. We are not just the chambers, and not just the shell. We are the ocean, the planet, the cosmos.

It’s only a matter of perspective.

Fictional Jedi are, ordinarily, divided into two major factions: the light side and the dark side. We are told that this dichotomy is also present in all things, up vs down, left vs right. But the more I learn, the less realistic I find this view. True, in isolation elements of reality may appear one thing or its opposite. That is a function of our heuristic ability to quickly conceptually interpret things – one is up, so the other is down.

Heuristics are ways of learning which enable us to quickly (another word would be “dismissively”) learn or approach problems by making certain assumptions. Whilst I haven’t consciously monitored the trajectory and rotation of the earth today, given the likelihood of it’s happening, I predict without additional computation that there will be a sunrise tomorrow. Given my understanding of human biology and neurology, and my experience of life so far, I assume it’s sensible to take a pen into my right hand rather than my left hand when I hope to write something. Heuristics are often sensible.

But reality, whilst composed of such heuristic dichotomies as “light and dark”, is not really about blackness or whiteness. If I take one black dot and one white dot, and repeat them in sequence over an area then stand back, they appear as something else: grey.

This is, in my opinion, the true nature of the Force. Reality is never exclusively one thing or another, and whilst we acknowledge the interdependence, the insinuation one thing brings of its opposite, we are wrong to interpret this as a fundamental split-into-camps. Reality is blended, merged, mixed. In my own life I’ve worked with the darker parts of my nature, my alcoholism, my anger issues, and a number of other large “dark” issues. And what I’ve learned is that the wrong way to approach them is to try to “extract” them from myself. It doesn’t work – taking something out of your life creates a void, a void which begs to be filled until it is.

Better is the more harmonious, more Forcely, more “grey” path of accepting some things about ourselves which we don’t like, from a purely white perspective. We can learn to channel the energies and impulses which give rise to “dark” elements within our nature without submitting to ferocious anger or substance dependency. We can learn moderation, compromise, harmony. We can learn that it’s better to be grey, than always to fluctuate between black and white.

It’s a common feature of all philosophies that they look to answer questions in isolation. To pull out a single thing, look at it “objectively” outside of its regular context, and then to put it back in place as though we now understand how it works. Whilst that works well for relatively simple systems like a car engine, where we can pull out a single cog, inspect it and then replace it, in our lives, in the world, in the wider system of the Force such an approach is, frankly, useless. To give a comparison it would be like extracting a cog from a car engine and trying to infer from it the meaning and purpose of all life in the universe.

The Force is “more than the sum of its parts”. Necessarily so. It is not just about one part interacting with another, but all parts interacting with all other parts, across all time and space. It seems wiser, therefore, to investigate the currents, eddies and patterns we find within the Force, the small ecosystems within the wider system, to infer things about the system as a whole: as above, so below.

And as we only ever find objects or concepts “in situ”, we never once have found a free-floating idea simply waiting for us in space, we must examine things with a true phenomenological rigour; instead of imagining things in isolation, we must choose to see them as they are, situated, contextualised. The Force is nothing if not the sum of contexts! And where we find ideas is with other ideas. Where we find objects is with other objects. For every “light” there is a “dark”. The sum total of that arrangement is the most perfect grey possible – literally all the white and all the black ever, entwined at the deepest and most subtle levels.

It isn’t black and white. It’s grey, and must always be grey.

And so are we; as expressions of the wider Force we are simply subsystems, the “below” to the overarching “above” of the whole. We reflect an aspect of that great system and we are, universally, flawed. We are imperfect. We are complex and changeable and difficult to define. We are not cogs! We are systems, systems many trillions of “black and white”s deep. We are grey to our very core.

So why does this matter? Some describe TOTJO Jediism as rather grey, not defined by any particular requirement that Jedi or even Knights at the Temple perform or maintain great acts of “light” virtue. I think the challenge of greyness comes when considering our doctrine. We ask followers of this faith to speak in favour of one side of a dichotomy, in contrast to the necessary opposite. I don’t find a strong philosophical basis for this; we trust in the Force, in greyness, in both the positive and negative, or we betray it.

Perhaps the idea is that we are seeking to be light to counter an overabundance of darkness. That is certainly how I used to see the role of the Jedi, which drove me to ministry and to taking apprentices of my own. But the truth is we’re all of us imperfect. No Knight of this temple goes a single day doing something which isn’t at least grey. It’s an ideal, something to aim for an not to achieve – I know that. But it’s not true of the Force. It’s not embodying that which, as jedi (small J intentional) we have faith in, put our trust in, seek to embody.

I’m not advocating going out and harming as many people as we help. I am perhaps questioning the idea of virtue as held up in this Temple. I recognise that the more senior Jedi have approached, accepted, integrated the very challenge of purpose I describe here. They have answers which are complex, grey. I respect them.

But to the wide community of curious visitors, guests, and Jedi of all stripes, this distinction is lost. We talk of embodying the Force whilst doctrinally misinterpreting it.

I’m reminded of Wittgenstein’s oddly chilling conclusion to the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, and not for the first time in this journal:

6.54
My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)
He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.
7
Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

Perhaps our doctrine is there as a similar heuristic to seeing the world in black and white. It’s not the truth of what we find, at least not the whole truth, but it is elucidatory of some key underlying principles of reality. It’s a ladder for the new guys to understand concepts and ideas we can’t yet speak to them about directly, not a working functional model of the Force. And, naturally, as our understanding of the Force deepens, so too does our appreciation of its underlying – and desirable – greyness.